Review: Doctor Who – 5×5 – Flesh and Stone

Cry me a river

Flesh and Stone

In the UK: Saturday 1st May 2010, 6.25pm, BBC1
In the US: Saturday 15th May 2010, 9/8c, BBC America

So the Doctor, Amy and all the warrior-vicars are surrounded by Weeping Angels. He has a cunning plan. Will last week’s cliffhanger be resolved satisfactorily?

Spoilers and more after the break.

Plot
The Doctor, Amy and River faced the Weeping Angels but discovered an even more sinister force threatening them…

Was it any good?
Interesting question. Glad you asked it. Obviously, yes it was, but it wasn’t quite the masterpiece we’ve come to expect from Stevie Moffat.

The problem here was two-fold. First, the weeping angels, while scary, weren’t really scary in this episode. It’s almost as if they were scary because we remember how scary they were in previous episodes. They’ve no energy to do anything too cool like send people back in time with a touch. The whole “don’t blink” thing wasn’t such a problem this time round and indeed even the angels seemed to have no trouble looking at each other. They’re just a bit threatening and break people’s necks when the lights are out. Instead, the real menace was the crack in space and time. More on that later.

Indeed, after the build-ups – for there was more than one – of episode one, episode two consisted mainly of not-quite pay-offs. River being a criminal – odd, but not wholly unexpected, particularly given the start of The Time of Angels. River’s terrible secret – slightly unexpected but not as good as we all thought it might be and probably won’t come to pass anyway. The Weeping Angels – largely ineffective and even Amy wandering around with her eyes shut (wot no blindfold?) proved something of an obstacle to them. Amy’s eye infection – cool idea that didn’t get a cool solution (wouldn’t it have been fun to have had a black screen with nothing but the Doctor’s voice guiding Amy around through the angels?).

Not much pay-off after the build-up.

Second, it was all largely over by the halfway point, leaving an odd 10 or 12 minutes of series arc to carry on with at the end. That made it all feel a bit bitty, if you know what I mean.

But these flaws aside, Flesh and Stone was still a good ‘un, with both tense and clever moments: Amy’s countdown, treeborgs, the artificial gravity solution to the Weeping Angel problem, the disappearing memories and people, the Bishop’s sacrifice (someone getting killed in a Steven Moffat script!) and indeed the whole series arc finally coming into its own. River Song could have had more to do, as could the clerics after such an interesting opening; there were a few plot holes that needed closing; and the pacing was a bit off, but generally, a good ‘un.

Emotions
Now, in contrast to previous RTD seasons of Who which did their best to anchor the companions in the here-and-now, we had relatively little grounding for Amy in the opening episodes of this season. For the last few episodes, Amy and Doc have sort of been co-occupiers of the TARDIS, not really friends, certainly not lovers. The Doc hasn’t exactly been very warm to her, either, and although we’ve had glimpses of Amy’s personality traits, we’ve not really seen much of her as a character, beyond being smart.

So, for once, I’m going to say Rusty had the better take on these things and this series has lacked that vital emotional quality that made us care about the characters.

Flesh and Stone had a couple of points that attempted to get us to care about the Doctor and Amy, although not in the same way as we’ve cared about previous nu-Who relationships. We have the Doctor trying to be kind and protective to Amy and asking her to trust him for no readily apparent reason. I’d desperately have liked this point to be where there was some actual bonding and emotion, but there wasn’t. It felt like an alien not really getting human emotions, and actual distanced the Doctor and Amy for me.

So when Amy tries to get it on with the Doctor towards the end of the episode, it did feel a bit of a jump. Had it happened at the end of The Eleventh Hour, that would have been fine and would have followed on nicely, particularly given the Doctor’s striptease. But with so little emotional content to their relationship since then, it doesn’t quite compute.

All the same, I did enjoy it. First, after so much coy metaphor and nancying around the subject during the Rusty years, it was nice for a companion to shove the Doctor up against the TARDIS and snog him, then lie on a bed waiting for him to come get her – and not because she’s in love with him and wants to build a dream cottage with him, but because she’s a bit damaged and fancies a shag with her childhood crush on the eve of her wedding.

Cracking.

Second, although it feels a bit like retcon, the Doctor not having the faintest idea what she was on about and totally failing to read the signals was amusing, and I’m sure bound to please the old-school fans. You couldn’t see Doctor 10 ever doing that scene, so was quite iconic as a Doctor 11 defining scene.

To be honest, though, I think I’d have preferred them to have got it on and not just to cause outrage in the Daily Mail, but because it might have made the 11th Doctor just a tad more appealing as a character: Doctor as cad really hasn’t been done before. Still, at least there was a decent get-out clause: the series arc.

It’s all Amy’s fault
So for some reason, the cracks in the universe are all Amy’s fault or linked to her in some way. Interesting, if a bit Charley Pollard (cf the Big Finish eighth Doctor stories). As I’ve remarked before, it’s good to see a series arc that’s more than just a few hints in one episode that pay off in the final episode. Stories are being shaped and changed and the narrative driven by the presence of these cracks.

We can guess that River’s back towards the end of the season when the ‘Pandorica’ will open – maybe she’ll kill the Doctor as hinted. That would be unexpected.

But given the time cracks can erase things from history altogether, there’s a worry that a certain degree of what happens isn’t going to matter. Fingers crossed Stevie’s going to make it all count.

Conclusion
On balance, a decent ending for the two-parter
with some clever touches. The direction wasn’t quite as good as part one’s, but was still beautiful. Matt Smith was much improved and Murray Gold was thankfully unnoticeable (at least on my tele in HD – your sound mix might vary). Possibly the best two-parter of the nu Who years, but it might well be a close-run thing.




  • MediumRob

    I would add as a kind of mini-update (ie I remember thinking this at the time but forgot about it by the time I came to write this) that while we were all focused on Stevie making a clean break with Rusty’s era, it was very clever of him to actually tie in to the specials and suggest that the time cracks have some cause there.
    So maybe the ADHD I accused Rusty of suffering from in my review of The End of Time was in fact just some glorious set-up that Rusty generously gave Stevie as a going away present. In which case, sorry Rusty.

  • SK

    It certainly looks like at the very least Moffat gave Davies licence to be as big and daring as he could in the specials, which Davies then grabbed with both hands.
    I note that it’s been cleared up that it’s not just Amy who doesn’t remember the Daleks; or at least, that was what I inferred from the line about the Cyber-king (still makes my skin crawl to type that), that time has been rewritten for everyone in some way that just centres around her.

  • Vin

    Thanks for the review! I’ve been clicking your page for days waiting for it.
    I would disagree with “more appealing as a character: Doctor as cad really hasn’t been done before”. I don’t think I would find Doctor as cad very appealing. Remember, Doctor as psychopathic killer hadn’t been done before, and then we got the 6th Doctor, and we know how that turned out. Similarly, I think Doctor as cad wouldn’t work for me personally. That’s what Roger Delgado was for.
    cheers
    Vin

  • “Murray Gold was thankfully unnoticeable”
    THANK YOU! I am so annoyed by his scores. During the specials I spent half the time half shouting at the screen “shut up, Murray, just SHUT UP! You don’t HAVE to use the whole orchestra every.single.second just because you have one. Just let the actors do the work, don’t telegraph every single emotion on the screen all the time. Please?”. Maybe I shouted loud enough so they heard me in Wales.

  • Yes, the music has been REALLY oppressive, to the point where the dialogue has become incidental. Let’s have a bit of Dudley “Two Saxophones” Simpson again. Less is usually more (and what’s wrong with silence every now and then?)
    However good the music is, it loses its impact if it’s non-stop.

  • MediumRob

    @SK: That’s what I got from the cyberking line, too – as well as the hint that the Ood tech advancements, etc were going to be explained, maybe as the result of the Doc’s own messing in Waters of Mars, etc
    @Vin: Hey, Vin! How you doing? Review would have been up sooner, but it was Bank Holiday weekend here so I was busy looking at the rain instead. As for Doc as cad, I could see Matt Smith doing an Alfie, complete with fourth-wall breaking à la Caves of Androzani.
    @Skreee: If it was you, thank you thank you thank you!
    @Steerforth: Murray Gold’s intrusiveness has definitely been less since the first episode – my suspicion is that Steve Moffat has had a word. But a lot of it depends on the sound mix. I could barely hear anything during most of the fourth series. I’ve changed TV since then and have a Sky HD box now, so I don’t know if that’s an effect as well.

  • MediumRob

    Too late! The Daily Mail is already seething about it all, and has, as usual, gone into extraordinary detail, complete with pictures, about how outrageously sexy it all was.

  • MediumRob

    Too late! The Daily Mail is already seething about it all, and has, as usual, gone into extraordinary detail, complete with pictures, about how outrageously sexy it all was.

  • Loved this episode, for the sheer scariness of Amy being left alone in the forest, even if it didn’t make much sense. Also quite liked the fact that it was River who got her out, not the Doc.
    I found the snogging at the end hilarious, actually, and in keeping with bonkers Amy. I can see where you’re coming from about letting them go the whole way, but with my mum’s head on don’t think I could have coped with it watching en famille. a) this is a kid’s programme and pre watershed, and b) older 2 even more prudish then I and would squirm, making viewing uncomfortable (watching sex on tv with your kids is MUCH worse then watching it withyour parents(-:) and c) younger 2 would have asked awkward questions and I would have squirmed even more. Watching Dr Who on a Saturday evening, I do not want to be squirming.
    Aside from that am REALLY looking forward to the vampires next week. Toby Whithouse, you’d better not let me down…

  • Loved this episode, for the sheer scariness of Amy being left alone in the forest, even if it didn’t make much sense. Also quite liked the fact that it was River who got her out, not the Doc.
    I found the snogging at the end hilarious, actually, and in keeping with bonkers Amy. I can see where you’re coming from about letting them go the whole way, but with my mum’s head on don’t think I could have coped with it watching en famille. a) this is a kid’s programme and pre watershed, and b) older 2 even more prudish then I and would squirm, making viewing uncomfortable (watching sex on tv with your kids is MUCH worse then watching it withyour parents(-:) and c) younger 2 would have asked awkward questions and I would have squirmed even more. Watching Dr Who on a Saturday evening, I do not want to be squirming.
    Aside from that am REALLY looking forward to the vampires next week. Toby Whithouse, you’d better not let me down…

  • Ha. That DM article is hilarious. I think the snogging was ok, because the implications of what Amy was saying went over the little ones heads. And actually the Doctor’s gentlemanly reaction was a good response I think, as it shows not all men are swine, which was good for the older two. I can’t think how you can describe vampires in long dresses as scantily clad – and as for their low cut dresses, they wouldn’t look out of keeping in a Jane Austen novel. 43 complaints, eh? And HOW many people watch Dr Who?? (the comments from mumsnet, remind me why I never ever want to become a member.)

  • SK

    I’d be surprised if the Ood’s technological achievements are gone into in much detail. A few throwaway lines to connect to the past and say ‘this has been going on for longer than you know,’ fine, but I can’t see Moffat really exhuming what’s gone before: I think this series is going to be one self-contained, looped story.
    For instance, I don’t think that the cause of the time crack is going to reach back farther than this series (no ‘Oh my, I opened this on Mars!’ moment).
    As for the music, it’s got better but there are still stings where they’re not needed (Amy’s countdown, for example). But yes, someone seems to have made Murray Gold realise that when it comes to the scary bits, silence is in fact scarier than wailing plus some synth-noise crescendo to tell you something’s about to happen.

  • SK

    I’d be surprised if the Ood’s technological achievements are gone into in much detail. A few throwaway lines to connect to the past and say ‘this has been going on for longer than you know,’ fine, but I can’t see Moffat really exhuming what’s gone before: I think this series is going to be one self-contained, looped story.
    For instance, I don’t think that the cause of the time crack is going to reach back farther than this series (no ‘Oh my, I opened this on Mars!’ moment).
    As for the music, it’s got better but there are still stings where they’re not needed (Amy’s countdown, for example). But yes, someone seems to have made Murray Gold realise that when it comes to the scary bits, silence is in fact scarier than wailing plus some synth-noise crescendo to tell you something’s about to happen.

  • Electric Dragon

    Or given Moff’s fondness for metafictional conceits, perhaps this is the Universe rebelling against being written by Rusty for so long, and trying to wipe out his crimes against scriptwriting.

  • Electric Dragon

    Or given Moff’s fondness for metafictional conceits, perhaps this is the Universe rebelling against being written by Rusty for so long, and trying to wipe out his crimes against scriptwriting.

  • Seeing as 10 deflowered Queen Elizabeth and bragged about it we’ve already had a cad Doctor.

  • MediumRob

    “Seeing as 10 deflowered Queen Elizabeth and bragged about it we’ve already had a cad Doctor.”
    But that was a throwaway line in a special, not something we saw on-screen or an actual character trait of the Doctor. I’m looking for something a bit more front and centre.

  • MediumRob

    “Seeing as 10 deflowered Queen Elizabeth and bragged about it we’ve already had a cad Doctor.”
    But that was a throwaway line in a special, not something we saw on-screen or an actual character trait of the Doctor. I’m looking for something a bit more front and centre.

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