Thursday, February 3, 2011

"The Time of Angels"

I think this episode's supposed to be incredibly scary but I'm one of those weird people who enjoys horror but isn't scared by it. That being said I don't have a problem with this episode but I think without the thrills of the scares from the Angels this episode can at times seem a little bit dry. It was also the first episode filmed and there's significantly less humour, which is appropriate, and it's the first part of a two-parter, so it's a different sort of experience to the previous few episodes. It does start off with a bit of classic Moffat time travel cleverness, and it's a wonder that this sort of thing has appeared in the show so rarely before; River can get an instantaneous rescue by marking an object which has to wait twelve thousand years due to time travel and it makes the mind have to come to grips with these concepts. One thing I will say is that they could have done something to make the Delerium Archive which Amy and the Doctor are visiting more visually futuristic or alien because it does look a lot like they're wandering through an exhibit in a cathedral in the present day.
Of course the ship is called the Byzantium and so we're reintroduced to River Song, the mysterious archaeologist who encountered the Tenth Doctor back in the library two-parter: his first meeting with her, but her last with him. She referenced this adventure, and now it's happening. The Eleventh Doctor is incredibly mysterious himself about her, obviously not wanting to know his own future, and so is River, and you can tell Moffat is wanting to stir up the fan speculation even more. I think the solution will be surprising. I think making her the Doctor's wife is too obvious, and also rather implausible considering the muddled-up way they encounter each other.
We're also reintroduced to the Weeping Angels, a Moffat creation from "Blink", probably the one genuinely special Tenth Doctor story. It's good to see a decent New Series villain being utilised and it's good to have them with River because both concepts aren't so heavy that one outweighs the other. In support we have Father Octavian and his Clerics, who in terms purely of their 'military-religious' nature remind me of Warhammer 40,000 Space Marines. One thing that's good about this episode is that it has these religious figures but it doesn't ram the "religion is bad" message down our throats the way the previous era did. It's clearly ambiguous; the Doctor doesn't seem to especially approve, but Father Octavian doesn't entirely approve of him either and their uneasy relationship forms more of a display of tension between science and religion rather than one being promoted and the other being ridiculed. Again, I'm in no way religious and I don't support religion at all, but it's very relieving to have episodes of Doctor Who with some discourse present in the story rather than hammer-blow pronouncements.
There are also some chilling developments in the plot. The notion "that which holds the image of an Angel becomes itself an Angel" is quite menacing but could have done with a scientific explanation. I like the line from the book about how "What if we had ideas that could think for themselves? What if our dreams no longer needed us?" and I think this aspect of the Angels could have been played up more; that their power lies in the minds of others and in the world of concepts, ideas, imaginings, thoughts and fears. They clearly have unexplained telekinetic powers, for instance, in locking Amy into the dropship, but I would have liked some attempt by the Doctor to rationalise these goings-on. I suppose it's all part of the science versus faith debate which is intrinsic to these episodes; what if there were creatures who could cause things to happen simply because they could, or because we believed that they could? We do get some of that with Amy believing there is stone in her eye or that her hand has turned to stone, but we could have done with a bit more. The language from the book is also believable and rather poetic, not overblown and purple as was all too common with that sort of thing previously. It's also excellent when Bob comments over the radio as to how he escaped "I didn't, sir. The Angels killed me too." It's chilling and the notion of the Doctor letting someone down is a powerful one. The cliffhanger is quite intense as well.
One thing I will mention is that we're on an alien planet but again the aliens are entirely absent, apart from the Weeping Angels of course. It would have been nice to have seen the Aplans, even if the 'two heads' thing seems silly. Also, Father Octavian mentions that human colonists have settled the planet and the human population is now at six billion, but we don't really get a very good impression of that so it's hard to think that there are future lives at stake. I also think the contemporary-looking guns and camouflage military uniforms are a little unimaginative. Nonetheless the blend of location footage and CGI at the crash site is very effective for establishing the scene and the caves are all suitably atmospheric. It's unfortunate that the Angels never use the 'sending-back-in-time' method of "Blink" because I think some more clever time-based stuff could have been implemented that way, possibly with the Doctor encountering the aged remains of some of the Clerics or something, but it's good that they at least explain. Sometimes the sound effects and music are so loud though that important pieces of dialogue are hard to distinguish and in episodes like this where pretty much every line might count for something it can be frustrating. The Smith is as reliable as ever, although as this was the first episode they filmed you can tell he's still easing into the role. Karen Gillan and Alex Kingston both give strong performances and they both have excellent rappor with the Doctor; River Song certainly has much more chemistry with the Eleventh Doctor than she had with the Tenth, and while her smugness can grate a little at times when she's serious she does it very well. Another worthy mention is Iain Glen, who puts in a great performance as Father Octavian: very stern and proper, but also fatherly - the perfect blend of military man and man of God.
As I say, it's a change of pace from the previous episodes and at times I must admit it can feel a little dry, but I think it's got some genuine brilliance in it and if you find horror scary rather than just cool you'll probably get even more from it.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.