Sunday, 25 April 2010


Written by Steven Moffat, directed by Adam Smith, 2010

Although not up there with Steven Moffat’s best stories, the bravura pre-titles sequence alone puts Victory of the Daleks' stringent traditionalism in the shade. A country park, spaceship, and River Song contacting the Doctor across 12,000 years and blowing herself out of an airlock… That’s a brilliant couple of minutes of Doctor Who. (Though it would have been fun to see Churchill hurtling through space into the Doctor's arms...)

I didn’t really have any expectations of this story, with its returning elements making me forget to wonder what it'd actually be about. In a way, I was slightly apprehensive about the return of the Weeping Angels, as they’re such an integral part of Blink I wasn’t sure they’d work outside of that context. However, it's nice to see them not only in an entirely different situation, but being expanded upon and not used in exactly the same ways.

As for River - well, you've got to love a woman with a gun small enough to fit in her handbag. Her hallucinogenic lipstick and female Indianna Jones shtick is fab, too. Also, her Marilyn hair and glam outfit suggest a Romana-like potential for varied costumes, which is welcome, given how little eccentricity the series' recurring characters have displayed since 2005. The idea of her carrying photos of all the Doctors' faces is a pleasingly mundane way to deal with their timey-wimey relationship, and means I can't help imagine her turning up, Iris Wildthyme-like, throughout the classic Doctors' lives. Although, with those prior to the sexually-awakened Eighth, she'd probably be slightly disappointed.

The archness of River’s teasing about her future role in the Doctor’s life becomes almost too contrived here to be truly intriguing. She also seems rather smugger than in Silence of the Library/Forest of the Dead - but then there's still next week's episode, where perhaps she'll display more of that story's sensitive side. Her lasciviousness is still fun though, if slightly overplayed.

In a way, the setting for this story is a little underwhelming, though at least the caves have been filmed on location - if all the Doctor Who stories set in caves had actually been filmed in caves, I can't help but feel its reputation for shoddiness would be much diminished. The maze of the dead reminds me quite strongly of the labyrinth in Barbarella (which also features an angel… I’m on to you, Moffat), with its living inhabitants becoming calcified into the walls. For all the inevitable chatter about how scary this episode is, in Vadim's film it's a lot more uncanny and freakish. However, where the story excels is with little twists like the Iraq war-style soldiers in fact being clerics (“Bishop! Lock and load”), or the TARDIS not being supposed to make its 'wheezing, groaning noise' (the sort of thing the vast majority of authors'd take for granted). These details do enliven the story somewhat, and are one of the joys of Moffat’s scripts.

A lot of people have commented on the recurrence in this series of tropes from Moffat's previous stories (the ward of 'possessed' patients, etc), and here we're again treated to typical tricks like repeated phrases ("Come and see this"), trickery with radios/voices from beyond the grave, and even mundane names being used to humanise a future setting. I’m not really sure whether those elements are reassuring or verging on becoming tired. The Angels using Sacred Bob's apologetic voice and speech patterns though (another of Doctor Who’s pretty, doomed soldiers), is extremely effective, while also undermining any expectations of what they might sound like should they talk.

Amy and the Doctor continue to be great here, but I still feel like they're being taken for granted. Much as I liked them both immediately, as I’ve said in previous reviews, I’m still not convinced they've really had the chance to come into their own. Amy, particularly, is acting like an old hand, when we haven’t really seen much evidence of her coming to grips with her new lifestyle. Having said that, it’s good to see a more pained side to Smith’s performance, in his reaction to River’s demanding presence (in fairness, you’d be pretty sore about being bossed around by a wife (?!) you hadn’t really met yet). On balance though, the teasing, sibling-like relationship between the two leads is shaping up nicely.

Strangely, I also find myself missing the anchoring effect that returning to the Powell Estate or phoning Martha or Donna’s mothers had between 2005-09; at the time, I always felt that inability for the series to entirely detach itself from the companions’ home lives damaged the magic of being whisked off in time and space, but I feel - albeit over only four episodes - this season would benefit from the context a 'home' situation would provide. (Having said that, I realise we must be returning to Leadworth at some point, though not until after Vampires in Venice.)

Overall, I'm not quite sure what to make of this episode. I liked it…it’s good – but I will reserve judgement till the second part has aired. Maybe it’s the pressure of being a twofold ‘event’ story, with greater expectations to live up to, but it doesn’t seem to have quite the complexity of Moffat’s past two parters (or even the - albeit overrated - Blink), and the cliffhanger is a little weak. Surely it was also really obvious that all the statues were Angels, even from the pre-series teasers?

No doubt lots of people'll praise it as a return to the 'scary' Moffat of The Empty Child and Silence in the Library, but, although that's by no means unwelcome, I enjoyed the opening up of his writing to encompass lighter openers. I’m even almost looking forward to his take on the season finale - a definite first.

Mike Skinner though…? Also, on a music-related note, I just saw in an interview with Matt Smith that aside from the xx and Grizzly Bear he also likes gay Canadian videogame-nerd violinist/singer Owen Pallett, aka Final Fantasy. That’s it, favourite Doctor ever…

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