“The Angels Take Manhattan,” despite its silly Muppetsesque title, is actually a pretty good Doctor Who episode. Mostly because it takes everything that has grown old and tired about Doctor Who — River Song, the Weeping Angels, Amy and Rory’s love — and made them interesting again. River is cool again because instead of the episode being part of a long, drawn-out, unnecessary origin story, she gets to do what she does best: show up, be awesome, and leave us wanting more. The Weeping Angels are actually scary again, the way they were when they were first introduced in “Blink.” And Amy and Rory get a very sweet send-off that befits their devotion to each other, rather than cheaply manipulating it like in “The Girl Who Waited.”
BE WARNED! MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD!
The Doctor, Amy, and Rory are on vacation in contemporary New York City, hanging out in Central Park and reading in exactly the way tourists don’t. The Doctor is reading The Angel’s Kiss, a noir novel written by Melody Malone, which he inexplicably found in his coat pocket. Before you can say “fan fiction,” the Doctor discovers the novel is actually about him and the adventure that’s about to happen, Rory gets angel-zapped back to 1938, and River Song catches everyone up in her usual shenanigans. Oh, and River Song is Melody Malone, making her the first Doctor Who companion to write a Doctor Who novel. (Buy it as an e-book later this week!) The Doctor and Amy follow Rory back to 1938, where it turns out the Weeping Angels have substituted themselves for almost every statue in the city (including the Statue of Liberty!) and are trapping people in an apartment building in order to keep sending them further and further back in time to feed on their time-displacement something-something energy. Rory is their latest target, but technobabble-something-technobabble, jump off the roof, and none of it ever happened. Then one last angel zaps Rory back to the 1930s again, but the Doctor can’t save him because the technobabble energy will technobabble and destroy New York, so Amy lets the angel zap her back to the 1930s too, where she and Rory live happily every after, and she apparently goes into publishing because River sends her The Angel’s Kiss to publish. Amy also adds her own afterword to the novel, a letter to the Doctor informing him that she and Rory are doing great, which she has to do because he can’t come see them in the TARDIS because technobabble. (One wonders what the average readers of The Angel’s Kiss in the 1930s thought of this confounding afterword written by someone other than the author and addressed to someone other than the reader!) Anyway, River says ciao for now, the Doctor goes back to visit young Amelia, and scene. It’s actually a very sweet end to the Rory and Amy story.
Provided, as always, you don’t look at the details too closely. Emotionally it all works, but logically, well, there are a hell of a lot of holes.
The Statue of Liberty is one. If the Angels freeze into stone when being looked at, how on earth is the Statue of Liberty able to walk off Liberty Island, cross the East River, and then walk all the way to the apartment complex to loom over the roof like that — not once, but twice! — without anyone seeing it along the way? I mean, every-fucking-body in New York City saw the Statue of Liberty walking in Ghostbusters 2, but here, apparently, New Yorkers have far more pressing things to do than look out their windows, or look up when they’re on the sidewalk, or wonder what that loud stomping noise is.
This, I think, is indicative of the worst parts of the Moffat years: the style over substance moments, the wouldn’t-it-be-cool-if developments that pay no attention to logic or detail. Wouldn’t if be cool if the cyborg gunslinger in “A Town Called Mercy” teleports into the distance in the shimmering desert whenever someone tries to leave the town, then slowly teleports closer and closer like Clint Eastwood emerging out of the haze? Never mind why it doesn’t just appear right at the city limits and grab you if it can teleport like that. That wouldn’t look as cool. It’s the same kind of thinking that says, wouldn’t it be cool if the Statue of Liberty were replaced with a giant Weeping Angel? We’ll gloss over the hows and whys later.
But the biggest problem of all is the handwaving technobabble. Okay, so the TARDIS can’t go back to the day in 1938 Amy and Rory got zapped back to because all the time displacement energy will blow up New York. I’m willing to buy that. I can also buy that he can’t take them out of that time period for the same reason. But what about visiting the next day? Or going the day before and waiting for them? Amy and Rory presumably live a good forty or fifty years more in the past. Are all those years now off-limits to him forever? Or is it just New York he can’t visit during those years? What would that mean for “Daleks in Manhattan,” which was roughly concurrent?
Presumably, however, River is able to visit her parents in 1930s Manhattan because she gets the novel’s manuscript to Amy to publish, and apparently her time travel bracelet isn’t as affected by the time distortions as the TARDIS is because technobabble. I think it would be fun if during River’s next visit to the TARDIS she says, “Mom and Dad say hi.”
Other questions: Why does reading something in a novel turn it into a fixed point in time? How do Amy and Rory set up new lives for themselves in 1938 Manhattan with no paperwork or documents whatsoever? Does going back to visit young Amelia Pond now, before he returns to see older Amelia Pond in “The Eleventh Hour,” change the future at all, since he pretty much tells the girl everything older Amy will do? And also, what the hell is the Doctor going to tell Rory’s dad?
In more enjoyable neepery, it turns out River has been pardoned now that the Doctor “never existed.” (Except to UNIT, the Daleks, and the ISA, anyway!) Is the Doctor going around erasing records of himself, or is something else happening? Also, River is a professor now, which means she’s a little bit closer to who she was in “Silence in the Library.” The Doctor very sweetly gives her some of his regeneration energy to heal her broken wrist, the way she gave him hers to save his life in “Let’s Kill Hitler.” She’s upset by it, though, and says, “You embarrass me,” just as he said to her right before their wedding. Ah well, every marriage has its ups and downs. Lastly, we get to see Rory die and come back to life twice in this episode, and Amy once. Nothing can keep those crazy kids down!
So, all in all, a good episode despite its gaping plot holes (and inexcusably poor understanding of Central Park’s geography), and a sweet farewell to Amy and Rory, companions I never really cared all that much about. Well, I didn’t care much about Amy. Rory I kind of loved. Anyway, I’m eager to see what happens with the introduction of the new companion. I’m hoping she will give the show the creative jolt it needs, and bring it back to the Doctor Who I used to love so much.