The Time of Angels
This two-parter was instantly hailed as a classic Dr. Who story by fans and TV critics. I didn’t care for it much. It was clearly technically brilliant. Powerful location shooting bucked the trend for increasingly alienating CGI in the past few years, and the cinematography was remarkable, especially in the cave sequences which were lit perfectly for maximum eerieness.
Moffat’s breathless pacing provided a thrilling pre-credits teaser but continued unabated into the episode stunting the growth of the characters, especially the Doctor and Amy. It forced the actors into maintaining the pace of the action rather than refining their performances. The re-introduction of mystery scientist River Song (Alex Kingston) seemed lamely underwritten, as the actress struggled to maintain a coherent tone. Even Matt looked nervous.
The main problem was the mishandling of the Weeping Angels, first seen in Moffat’s acclaimed Blink in 2008. The mythology of these monsters had been re-jigged so that they no longer sent people back through time and were now capable of coming to life through images. This jettisoned that which made them genuinely dread-inducing in the first place for the sake of a few gaspworthy set pieces.
And while I like the notion of the Doctor as a man of action (martial arts master Pertwee is my favourite) the episode tried to oversell the idea to the viewer. This resulted in an embarrassingly babbled rabble-rousing monologue in the closing moments, completely undermining the silent mystique of the action hero.
Flesh and Stone
Contrary to popular opinion, as I usually am with Dr. Who, I much preferred the second part of this story. Unlike the opener, which leapt around aimlessly for much of its running time, this concluding episode was intense and exciting throughout. Like The Beast Below, the episode was saved by an extraordinary horror moment: a scene where viewers finally witness the Angels move. It played brilliantly on deep-seated anxieties – like inanimate objects coming to life – and made fine use of the inherently sinister art of mime. This really pushed the boundaries of horror in a way promised but never achieved by The Time of Angels.
I was also pleased that the show used this episode to put to bed (quite literally) the annoying sexual tension between the Doctor and his female companions, introduced by the flawed 1996 movie and institutionalised since Davies took over as producer. While still acknowledging the viewers who, since 2005, tuned into the show as a soap opera, the show finally distanced itself from the romantic undertones of the central double act.
Reducing romance to base comedy and innuendo (‘Amy Pond, I need to sort you out’), Flesh and Stone demonstrated clearly to the viewer that consummation was no longer a possibility in the show’s fictional world. Elsewhere, Moffat’s overly busy plotting reared its head again, unsuccessfully trying to merge a one-off story with an increasingly self-important season arc. The real victims of this were the Angels, surely fascinating enough monsters on their own.
Vampires of Venice
I have nothing but good things to say about this episode. This was simply the best Dr. Who story since the melancholy Survival in 1989, the last serial starring Sylvester McCoy before the 15-year hiatus.
Being Human creator Toby Whithouse’s handling of some fairly clichéd series conventions (gothic horror monsters that turn out to be aliens) was pitch-perfect; wittily crafted, dramatically sturdy, and the perfect mixture of flamboyance and restraint. Whithouse has an amazing talent for intermingling the macabre and the comic. Nowhere better can this be seen than the pre-credits teaser which passed seamlessly from sixteenth century Venice to a stag night in modern day rural England.
The emotional impact of the episode, whether in the relationship between Amy and fiancée Rory or the tragic backstory of the ‘fish from space’, was always poignant and sincere. But the expert use of the 45-minute format is what really impressed me. Impeccably paced and minimally written, this episode didn’t lack or condense story and content, as with so many of the others in this season, and across the last five years.
Tonally, Vampires of Venice was flawless. Storylines about genocide and racial exile were given due seriousness whilst the wackier elements, such as swordplay and magic ‘on/off’ switches, were suitably ludicrous. The imminent threat and danger in this episode were underlined by some nicely understated yet charismatic villain performances and unseen budget-saving monsters. Charmingly, the most vicious of the aquatic aliens was signified indirectly by bubbles effervescing on the Venice canals.