“I hate endings.” — The Doctor
The Doctor makes a habit of tearing out the last pages of books so he doesn’t reach the ending, but the rest of us don’t have that luxury, at least as far as Doctor Who is concerned. The revived version of the show has featured three doctors and a handful of companions and with each it’s been easy to get comfortable. Why not, for instance, have The Doctor and Rose travel together forever? They’re so good as a team! If that's not your companion/Doctor grouping of choice, fill in your favorite here. Everyone’s partial to one set or another. But the show, as they say, must go on, however. And with “The Angels Take Manhattan,” The Doctor’s time with the Ponds comes to an end.
And what an end. Writer Steven Moffat comes full circle back to Amy’s first appearance (and back to the beginning of his run as showrunner) at the start of the fifth season. In fact, the Moffat era has been largely about Amy, the girl who saw The Doctor, grew up dreaming of his return, and formed with him and Rory a sort of surrogate family that traveled through space and time having adventures, including adventures that eventually revealed Amy to be The Doctor’s mother-in-law. Time travel’s confusing, but we’ll get to that later.
First, the episode opens with a New York story involving a hard-bitten private eye, an unscrupulous collector, and the Weeping Angels, the terrifying living statues Moffat introduced back in the instant-classic episode “Blink.” The private eye doesn’t make it too far, but his misadventure introduces all the elements that will factor into the episode: The collector’s muddy motivations, a hotel with a mysterious second function and the Angels themselves, including one conspicuously monolithic one hiding in plain sight. The prelude also re-establishes just how scary the Angels can be. The hotel provides them with the perfect habitat in which to claim victims. Trapped in a narrow corridor, their victims have no choice but to look away.
None of that’s on the minds of The Doctor, Amy, and Rory, however. They’re happy just to enjoy a day in the park. The Doctor even has a gripping mystery, novel to read complete with a cover that makes him go “Yowzah.” Why will be revealed soon enough, as will the book’s role in the story at hand, but not before some nice character moments (moments that carry with them some foreboding notes, however). Rory and Amy seem more in love than ever, The Doctor having become almost a companion to their marriage rather than they companions to him. Time, however, is moving on. Amy needs glasses now and behind those glasses are some newly formed lines. The Doctor stays the same but his companions, even companions as comfortable in his presence as these, keep aging. “Never, ever let him see you age,” River tells Amy later, shortly after advising, “Never let him see the damage.” That those around him might get hurt, and that they might get hurt because of him, is more than The Doctor can handle and the one thing, it seems, from which he must be protected.
It’s inevitable, though, for those traveling with him to run into danger, and it wouldn’t be much of a show without peril and adventure. In this episode that takes the form of a trip back to 1938 where the dangerous hobby of the collector introduced at the top of the episode threatens everyone around him. That includes Rory, who winds up in a basement filled with Weeping Angel babies and River, the living embodiment of the heroine from The Doctor’s novel. (The name “Melody Malone” should have been a tip-off.) So the adventure unfolds on two fronts at once: In the pages of The Doctor’s book—which The Doctor advises Amy not to read lest she seal fate—and in Rory’s timeline itself. It’s a clever setup that also creates a lot of tension along the way. The Doctor has to break something. And at some point Amelia has to deliver her last goodbye.
Part of what makes this episode work so well—and it’s one of the best of the Moffat era—is the way it does double duty as a twist adventure and a highly emotional story of farewells. Everyone who’s been paying attention already knows this is the swan song for Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill, but would anyone have predicted what a wrenching it would be? Maybe it should have been predictable. Throughout the Ponds era, River has provided a constant reminder that people meant to be together don’t always get to stay together. But Amy and Rory’s story has been one of people ready to defy this possibility at every turn. Even, as we find out this week, in the face of death.
Rory taking the ledge provides episode with its most breathtaking moment. His logic makes sense—in as much as any time-travel logic makes sense—and he has the guts to follow it through. Moffat smartly makes the scene play out for a long time without The Doctor or River’s presence. The decision the Ponds make is one they have to make together. And the plan works.
And then it doesn’t. Again, wrenching, though I have to admit to not fully understanding where they went. They got pulled back in time… somewhere. But presumably they didn’t get pulled back into the grim, Angel-run hotel to live until they died. (And at some point Amy had to publish the novel, right?) What’s important, and what gives the end such weight, is that the Ponds will not see The Doctor again. This is goodbye. The end of the story. The moment The Doctor hoped never to reach. Even though it’s a story that circles back on itself, it’s still at an end. It's a good story though, sad ending and all, and one sure to leave The Doctor a little lonelier at Christmas this year when the next story begins.
- I’ve never thought of the Statue Of Liberty as scary, even after Ghostbusters II. This changes that.
- “Englishman In New York.” Really? Couldn’t have gone for a less on-the-nose song choice?
- “Why is it smiling?” Shivers.