Sunday, 2 May 2010
Reaction: FLESH AND STONE
Written by Steven Moffat, directed by Adam Smith, 2010
As Steven Moffat has made the analogy of this story being the Aliens to Blink’s Alien (the overrated and dumbed-down action version, then?), presumably Weeping Angel³ (underrated, but beautiful and uncompromising) and Weeping Angel: Resurrection (of which, frankly, the less said about the better*) will soon be on their way… Not to mention the superb and not superfluous at all Weeping Angel vs Smiler spin-off.
Enough facetiousness (…maybe). Much as I am loving almost everything about this series – Matt, Karen, the fairytale sensibility, and the feel of a synthesis of the old and new series – on balance, this wasn’t one of Steven Moffat's strongest stories. At least not compared to his pre-showrunner numbers. It fitted together, but, though I appreciated its relatively small focus, as a four- and, after Octavian's death, three-hander, there didn’t seem to be a massive amount of substance to this episode. Similarly, nothing particularly unexpected happened, and in fact, on a second viewing which usually consolidates my impressions, I found Flesh and Stone strangely unengaging. Nevertheless, depending on how much this series adheres to the template of the past few seasons, it's still relatively early days and there's presumably space for deeper, richer stories in its second half.
The most notable element of the episode was having the arc-seeding crack play a substantial role in the series well before the finale; I was worried it would simply end up glimpsed in every episode… However, that would have been below Moffat, and I’m glad to see he’s shaken the Bad Wolf/Saxon precedent. Both as an arc and in terms of its potential repercussions on the continuity of the last few years, it is becoming very intriguing. Also, it's quite fantastic to see the sort of questions asked by fans actually addressed by the Doctor within the show, for example, regarding the CyberKing. The willingness of the program to not only address but make something out of continuity gripes like this – and with such a fast turnaround - is part of the joy of modern Doctor Who.
River, of course, is also a continuity issue in progress. If River perhaps eventually kills the Doctor, it’s a rare author who deals which such monumental elements of the Doctor’s life (however obliquely – so far), much like the skirting around his name in The Girl in the Fireplace and Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead. (This suggestion also calls to mind what Lawrence Miles did with the Doctor’s corpse in (the brilliant) Alien Bodies.)
I am a little dubious about a character who’s predicated around ‘being mysterious' - hopefully just not indefinitely. Like the revelation of the Star Whale not quite matching up to the apparent magnitude of Starship UK’s secret, there’s always a worry that the truth about River will be underwhelming if it’s dragged out too long. (Having said that, that’s a measure of how fast things move in The Broadband-Speed Age, seeing as this is only her second appearance.)
Given everything River apparently knows (the Doctor’s name, again, and how to fly the TARDIS or write in Old High Gallifreyan), I just hope the series can muster the scale to realistically portray their relationship – whatever that relationship turns out to be. This was my worry with Silence in the Library; that future stories wouldn’t do justice to how expansive their relationship seems when told as backstory. The Time of Angels/Flesh and Stone has certainly raised more unexpected questions, so I suppose we’ll just have to wait and see.
Also in terms of unanswered questions, presumably the people who also mentioned this are simply reading too much into a continuity error (of the production variety), but when the Doctor returns to Amy to tell her, “Remember what I told you when you were seven,” he appears to have both rolled up his sleeves in one shot, and regained his jacket in another. I doubt this is deliberate, as there just isn’t enough emphasis, but… will he return to this scene in a later story? Hmm.
As for Amy, I was starting to find it hard not to see her as a return to the old days, in that she hadn’t really contextualised her adventures in relation to her real life... I’m not convinced whether this is good enough any more, so I’m glad she expressed a desire to go home, even if only briefly; it’s good to see her acknowledge the life she’s been prevaricating about.
While we’re on the subject of the return to chez Pond… I’m sure loads of people (Daily Mail readers?) will loathe Amy’s play for the Doctor, but I loved it; once again, the Moffat administration undercuts the Davies approach. Where Rose was in love with the Doctor, the earnest emo yearning is here replaced by Amy simply wanting to jump his bones.
Though her having a wide-on for the Doctor is very funny, it does seem to come out of nowhere. I like that she’s a bit wanton though (on the night before her wedding, no less!); it makes her more human than Rose or Martha’s mooning around. Also, if Amy is perhaps a return to a pre-2005 companion template, the Eleventh Doctor’s reaction to her advances feels like a return to the Doctor of old who was completely befuddled by sex (a far cry from the Tenth's glee in having apparently devirginised Elizabeth I...). Although, let’s face it, One to Seven never even made it to first base, unless Polly got the horn in a lost episode or something. (Look, if previously unheard-of test footage of the first regeneration has just been found, anything’s possible.)
When not fighting off sexually rapacious companions, I’m slightly surprised the Doctor didn’t encounter the Angels face to face more, given that this is the first time we've really seen them together. Although, I guess there's only so much interaction you can have with something that doesn't move when you're looking at it. Speaking of which, it was fantastic seeing the Angels move when Amy’s eyes were shut; though obviously not stop-motion, there was something pleasingly Harryhausen-like about the sinuous movements of 'stone' figures. (Also very reminiscent of certain moments in Mike Nichols’ Angels in America.)
I do wonder though if the Weeping Angels are too complicated, relatively speaking, to ensure their longevity? Compared to the Daleks (fascistic robot creatures) or Cybermen (mechanised humans), stone statues that are defined by the rules governing them (you have to stare at them… but not for too long) aren’t perhaps straight-forward enough to support numerous rematches. Look at Victory of the Daleks though; maybe that’s for the best.
Like The Beast Below’s glorious production design, the ludicrous idea of a forest aboard a space ship is quite inspired, and, as with The Eleventh Hour, it's wonderful to see more non-urban environments. It also forms a good hunting ground for the Angels, but, it must be said, in terms of the much-overstated ‘scare factor,’ the Angels are creepy, and they’re used effectively to create tension… but this is no scarier than Doctor Who’s ever been. Though a combination of humour and scares is bread and butter to Doctor Who, perhaps this is due to a jokiness which persists from the previous four series – especially in regard to the Doctor – which all too often means the former negates the latter.
I’m slightly uncertain as to how to feel about this story, but I think that’s mainly down to the frustration of not being able to put it into the context of an entire season yet. As Matt Smith’s first two-parter though, it’s a welcome addition to the student-Doctor’s freshman year, where – for once - the resolution to the cliffhanger is actually better than the cliffhanger itself. Crap titles, though.
*I can forgive Jean-Pierre Jeunet pretty much anything, but still - what?!