In the UK: Saturday 17th April 2010, 6.15pm, BBC1
In the US: Saturday 1st May 2010, 9/8c, BBC America
Phew. Crisis over, again. Stevie’s back with 17 degrees of awesome to scare you, excite you and make you go, “Hang on, isn’t this just Aliens but with the Weeping Angels?”
The enigmatic River Song hurtles back into the Doctor life but she’s not the only familiar face returning… The Weeping Angels are back!
Was it any good?
For a terrible moment or five, I was worried. I thought, “He’s blown it. He’s thrown it all away on the first couple of episodes and has nothing left.” But then, all became good again and the world began to revolve on its axis once more.
Before we end up on the planet of the angels (as I will refer to it throughout this review because I’ve forgotten its actual name and I can’t be bothered to look it up), everything was looking very nice, everything was plotted very nicely, but the dialogue was all a bit “Oh dear” and Matt Smith was just too OTT for comfort (since this was filmed before The Eleventh Hour, and was in fact the first story to be shot this series, I’m gathering he was still finding his level at this point).
Nice timey-wimey idea though it was to have River Song leaving a distress signal 12,000 years in the past for the Doctor, our Stevie’s default position for his male characters’ dialogue and personality appears to be “twat” so throughout these opening scenes, in contrast to Amy and River Song, he’s a complete imbecile designed to make River Song look like Lara Croft in a ballgown.
Stevie: he’s the Doctor. He’s a Time Lord. Could we have an exception to your “all male protagonists are twats” thesis just this once? It’s not cool, it’s not big, and I thought we’d left most of that behind in crap TV adverts of the early 00s.
Once on the planet of the angels, though, things began to pick up significantly as we entered Earthshock/Aliens territory. As well as once more showing us just what a talented guy former rock vid director Adam Smith is in the directorial department, because there was barely a shot in the entire episode that wasn’t immeasurably beautiful and well framed, we got a slightly more sober Matt Smith, a slightly less cocky River Song (who may or may not also be a duplicitous so-and-so), an Amy Pond who varied between “What’s going on, Doctor?” and one of the smartest companions around, and a frankly ostentatious Steven Moffat showing off in the writing department.
Now I have no idea whether Stevie wanted to have a reference to Aliens in his story, decided to have a character called ‘Bishop’ in it and everything went from there, or whether some other motivation was in there (prediction of the changing nature of religious worship, an updating of the Crusades, a reference to Equilibrium, a suggestion to the C of E to man up). There is, of course, the obvious irony of bishops and clerics fighting angels. But having a bunch of vicars as the marines/alien-fodder was a simultaneously amusing and thought-provoking idea, allowing a brief rejoinder to the usual Doctor Who view of religion as being the area of silliness (Gridlock) and evil (The Daemons). The fact that Matt Smith comes off as a bit of a lightweight next to Iain Glen probably wasn’t intentional, but it only reinforces the point that the Doctor’s glibness about such things isn’t necessarily a good trait.
We also got changes to the Weeping Angels to make them a viably scary but not totally indestructible monster when in a huge pack. It wasn’t much of a surprise, given the title of the episode, to discover the entire maze of statues was in fact a collection of Weeping Angels, although whether being faced with one angel among a host of statues is any less scary than having a whole bunch to deal with, I wouldn’t like to argue. But the ambiguity – would they all turn out to be angels or not – gave the episode an added scare.
Similarly, the creepy voices on the radio which turn out to be brains hijacked by the Weeping Angels was another new innovation and a seemingly effortless bit of scariness by Moffat. But stand-out scene of the entire episode had to be Amy facing the monitor version of the Weeping Angel, which slowly becomes a real Weeping Angel that stares into her soul and does a bit of mind control on her. Very The Ring, and absolutely terrifying since it takes the angels out of sci-fi land into the realm of the supernatural. Ditto, the following ‘possession’ of Amy, the pay-off for which will mostly be in next episode but still provided us with some effective moments this episode.
Kudos to Stevie, Karen Gillan and Adam Smith for hopefully giving children everywhere with a souvenir Blink edition of Doctor Who Magazine or even a third-season Doctor Who DVD box set something to terrify themselves with. I wonder if repeat viewing figures for Blink are going to drop off any now?
This is, of course, the first of a two-parter and much of the pay-off is going to be in the second part. Great to give the Doctor the chance to have a proper plan to save the day as the cliffhanger, given the events of The Beast Below and Victory of the Daleks; bad to give us a week to wait to find out what it is. The series arc – the cracks in space and time – looks like it’s going to register properly now, so might well turn out to be less of a Rusty affair and actually affect the plots of episodes before the finale.
Although obviously a slight lift from Aliens and fifth-Doctor cyberfest Earthshock, The Time of Angels was an excellent and distinctive piece of work in its own right and shows you just how good Stevie can be when he hits his stride. Bar the slightly frenetic, slightly irritating opening few scenes, it barely put a foot wrong, and pretty much for the first time since, erm, anything else written for the show by Steven Moffat, showed you just what a good vehicle for horror and scares Doctor Who has been and still can be.