Monday, May 27, 2013

"The Angels Take Manhattan"

Your love is lifting me higher than
I've ever been lifted before.
Yet another unnecessary voiceover drags us kicking and screaming into the much-delayed and unnecessarily dramatic sendoff for Amy and Rory and hopefully also for the desperately overused Weeping Angels, which I greatly desire to never see in the show again. Moff trots out the paradox bonanza he's been making seem less and less special since "Blink" to give us a typical fatalistic melodrama that uses arbitrary and selective determinism as a kind of all purpose emotional bollocks missile which will inevitably hit its target. The cold open is an utterly pointless detective story to show a man investigating the Angels finding himself in a bed in a creepy old building. "I'm you!" the old man tells him after he's found the identical wallet and papers on the dresser. Really? We get lots of Brits doing poor attempts at American accents and the fear established of "living statues that moved in the dark." Angels, then? We know what they are, and they've completely lost all menace. We know how they act and what they do. With them returned to their "Blink" style MO of sending people back in time we can predict that the gumshoe will find his older self in the bed after seeing the bizarre image of people staring out the windows presumably to halt the Angels, including a little girl needing to put her hands over her eyes to not look, apparently. Yep, you need to look at Angels to stop them moving! We know this, and this whole set up sequence, finishing on the ridiculously hyperbolic image of the Statue of Liberty Angel only serves to give the game away for the rest of the plot we haven't seen. It's totally unnecessary time wasting that doesn't even really serve to set the mood in any meaningful way.
"'The Hand of Fear'? Never heard of it."
Amy has glasses now to reinforce to us that she's old apparently and the Doctor tears a page out of a book complaining that he hates endings so that we can receive foreshadowing with a spade to the face. The feeling that they've spent a long time on and off with the Doctor is just as artificial as it was in "The Power of Three", if not moreso because despite Amy allegedly having crow's feet Karen Gillan more or less looks as young and fanciable as ever. They love telling. Showing is for twats. Rory goes to get coffee and is sent back in time by the Angels. I think it's kind of confronting that the Angels could strike at any time without you knowing but I think it's an appallingly predictable cop-out that Rory is separated from Amy and the Doctor so early in the piece. He's menaced by some giggling baby Angels who aren't very scary, we get a laboured "yowza" gag from the Doctor and we discover who the author of the god-awful prose in this novel which is predicting everything happening is: none other than the now incredibly unappreciated River Song, who's another gumshoe in the past. The Doctor tries to go back in time to save Roryyy but the TARDIS shits itself due to "time distortions" in New York in 1938. What? Since when? Apparently it's okay for River to time travel there though because she has a vortex manipulator. It's okay for a vortex manipulator, a piece of hokey bollocks from the fifty-first century, but not for a hyper-advanced Time Lord device. Why is the vortex manipulator always presented as being better than the TARDIS? Even when Tennant criticised it back in "Utopia" he looked like a right knob when it ended up being far more snappy and reliable.
"If lost please return to..."
The Doctor refuses to let Amy keep reading the book because apparently anything you read becomes the show's magic-thinking catch-all 'fixed point in time'. Seriously? So in case reading about Rory's death becomes inevitable due to being proposed in what could be partially fiction they go back in time to ancient China to put a message on a vase so that the TARDIS can 'lock on' to 1938 or some similar bollocks. It's ripped straight from "City of Death" and exists purely for a cheap gag where 'Yowza' appears on some antique pottery. God almighty this is awful. Rory gets chucked in a dungeon where he's menaced by some baby Angels in a boring and not scary sequence of him having to burn matches over and over in a drawn out way before Amy and the Doctor arrive. The Doctor preens himself to meet River, which establishes part of the episode's character exploration, particularly River and the Doctor's marriage from last year. I simply don't buy it. The whole 'marriage' thing is once again telling rather than showing; the Doctor got married to River last series for absolutely no necessary narrative reason just so that Moff can be the guy who caused the Doctor to get married onscreen, and absolutely nothing of their relationship is shown afterwards so we have absolutely no genuine idea of their relationship, which is always in flux and only inconsistently observed. The fact that we're expected to care is one of the Moff era's most unjustified leaps of faith and the fact that the Squee brigade as observed on Facebook, Youtube and the like actually does care causes me nauseating astonishment.
Your face and my ass.
While Amy looks for her reduced-to-a-plot-device husband the Doctor and River have a chin wag where River reveals she was released from prison because no record of the Doctor exists, putting an even bigger question mark over how or why she was imprisoned at the end of Series 6 in the first place, something Moff never bothered to explain. It only exacerbates how badly the arc was handled last series, which I never understood given how neatly most things were wrapped up in Series 5. Then he reads ahead and sees that the final chapter of the book is the inelegantly titled "Amelia's Last Farewell". As such he has a rant because apparently what he reads in a book can't be changed. Rory's still missing because he's been moved in space but not time - the Angels can do that apparently - and he goes into the 'Winter Quay' building from the cold open for no reason without bothering to try to find Amy or the Doctor. River breaks her wrist to escape from the Angel that was grabbing her - apparently cutting off its hand or waving the sonic screwdriver around was no good - and she has a big angst-laden chat with the Doctor. We get some absolutely god-awful screen punchingly atrocious dialogue about how hard it is "when one's in love with an ageless god" and how much the nature of their relationship, never detailed on screen, hurts. How can we care when we never see it? Or are we supposed to go back and rewatch all the River episodes after the Series 6 finale to make notes? It's just weak storytelling. One again we're told rather than shown, and in an appalling 'get out of jail free card' moment the Doctor uses some of his 'regeneration energy' to heal River's wrist. Unless this is payed off for in the Eleventh Doctor's regeneration, which I seriously doubt, this is unimaginably weak writing, but River gets into a huff anyway for reasons unexplained, trying to hide everything from the Doctor like he's some kind of monster. There's dreadful forced angst outside as she tells Amy to avoid letting him see her cry or age because he doesn't like endings - then why are they married? Why did they get married? None of it makes any sense. It's all just shoved in our face like we're expected to understand and cry with no motivation.
"Help me, I'm covered in latex and I can't move my mouth."
So through some energy scan rubbish they figure out where Rory is - at 'Winter Quay' from the cold open - and they piss off to go find him. Rory's just got to the top of the lift - that took a long time - while Amy, River and the Doctor burst in to find him inside one of the rooms with virtually no delay. What was the point of separating them? In the room is a bed-ridden figure: Arthur Darvill in some atrociously fake-looking old man makeup. Apparently everyone is trapped in the rooms and repeatedly sent back in time by the Angels to provide them with 'time energy' until they age to death. Amy incredulously questions how this whole operation works, but it's dismissed. The Angels have a hotel farm thing with little nametags for all the rooms and are capable of keeping all the inhabitants alive indefinitely 'just because'. The Doctor claims that New York is the perfect place because it's "the city that never sleeps". Wouldn't that make it harder for the Angels to feed, if there were so many awake, aware people around about? He goes into a depressingly fatalistic and deterministic mode, arguing that Rory must die in the room because "it's already happened." As usual, Rory is victimised not only out of sheer lethargy and cowardice regarding writing and developing him properly as a character but as an extension of Moff's own self-hatred and defeatism. Rory refuses, hastening to the rooftop where the Liberty Angel reappears like Ghostbusters 2  gone wrong. And not 'more wrong', mind you. I'd rather rewatch Ghostbusters 2 than sit through this garbage again. Apparently a paradox will kill the Angels... somehow, because it "poisons the well" of time energy from which they feed. I'm not even going to bother. We're expected to nod our heads and accept that a paradox will kill all the Angels and destroy Winter Quay and that will be that. Rory decides the only way to definitely create a paradox is to off himself, so he climbs the ledge, and Amy at first isn't having any of it. Rory argues that he'll just come back to life after the paradox, claiming "When don't I?" Moff's taking the outright piss, lampshading the totally unfulfilled and utterly ridiculous motif of Rory regularly dying in Series 5 and 6 to try to make a narrative point which only emphasises his own lack of earlier self-awareness. "Fair enough," realises Amy and decides to off herself too so they'll be together, which I actually appreciated because fortunately this episode does a good job of conclusively presenting the outcome of Amy's "Choice" of Series 5 fame.
I like bouncing, boing, boing, boing.
The bit where they fall off the building is absolutely horrendous, however, with RTD-esque 'ooh ooh ooh' wailing female vocals warbling pointlessly in the background. Everything disappears with a lot of crackling electricity and bam, we're back. How the hell did that work? No explanation. Rory, however, goes back to look at a gravestone with his name on it like an absolute plum duff and gets thrown back into the past again by the last angel. That's it. No more Rory. Thanks for your contribution to the show, Arthur Darvill. The show's first full time male companion and that's all he gets. No goodbye with the Doctor to allow them to show any real emotional connection between these two characters, no sense of closure, just some cheap effects and that's it. Amy, to Moff's writing credit, immediately elects to get sent back with him. What really ground my gears with this scene is the Doctor's appalling immaturity, complaining to Amy that if she goes back she'll never be able to see him again, totally ignorant of Rory and what just happened. River, appropriately, encourages her to go, while the Doctor gets to rant and fume and look like an absolute selfish tit, and while it's in tune with the story's theme of the Doctor not liking endings and having to justify them, it doesn't half make the Doctor look like a right bastard in a way that totally diminishes any sense of heroism or moral justice on the part of the character. He comes across in most of this story, in fact, as a whining baby who throws tantrums when he doesn't get what he wants, and it's tedious, cynical and depressing. I know the story's not meant to have a 'happy ending', but the Doctor's character doesn't have to be a casualty of that.
"Did you hear? They're replacing you two with a young,
attractive woman! Imagine that!"
Suddenly the grave bears Amy's name too, and now the past can't be changed - because it's written on a gravestone that could have been mistaken or faked? And how is the presence of a name in any way more meaningful than its absence? The Doctor, the ultimate scientist, is reduced to a blubbing occultist who's confounded because he's gone beyond the point from which magic thinking can rescue the characters. Amy and Rory are trapped forever, apparently, because if he goes back again it will destroy New York, the city in 1938 having too many of these 'temporal distortions' we're suddenly hearing so much about. How inconvenient! Apparently the gravestone precludes them from, say, waiting a year or going over to New Jersey. It's one of the most utterly, ridiculously contrived reasons for writing out a companion I've ever seen. I think it'd be perfect if in his frustration the Doctor had nutted the Angel and given himself a concussion. River says she's leaving because there should only be "one psychopath per TARDIS", as if either of the characters are really like that, and the Doctor runs off in completely unnecessary slow motion (short running time?) to collect the last page of the book to find out what happened. It's a message from Amy saying they lived well, blah blah blah, go see my young self. Wouldn't this create a paradox too? It's not clear if it actually happened or not, and once the concluding pointless voiceover is done (to death) we end on a cheesy as hell 'fade to sepia' (intended to homage Sarah Jane's departure, allegedly) of Caitlin Blackwood as young Amelia sitting in the garden from the good old days when New Who temporarily didn't suck.
Stan Laurel returns.
I remember a time when seeing Moffat's name in the writing credit for a New Who episode would be a source of good cheer; those times are long gone when now it is a herald of dread. "The Angels Take Manhattan" may not be Moffat's absolute worst script since taking over as showrunner - "Let's Kill Hitler", "The Wedding of River Song" or "The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe" jostle for that position without a doubt - but it's still an incoherent mess which beats the dead horse of the 'time loop' (I refuse to describe it as 'timey wimey', because it's at some level meant to be a sci fi for goodness' sake) and 'fixed point in time' (a stupid concept but not phrased as stupidly) narrative conceits Moff's now totally overexposed and disguises all of their shortcomings, holes and blatantly unresolved hand-waves with the Weeping Angels, overused to the point of total disinterest, much less fear, combined with self-indulgent tear-jerker 'are you crying yet?' sentimentality as badly as RTD ever was but cynical of rather than fatuous about its own shortcomings and failures, knowing they'll be ignored by the general audience too busy abusing their hankies to even bother paying attention to the plot. He knows his viewers all too well: people who will cry at anything given the right provocation and as long as their musical cue is played, their tears almost being an interactive component of the televisual experience, and then give the episode full marks because it made them cry. It's lazy, cynical and manipulative writing that subverts the show's own fundamental themes of rebellion, resistance and liberation.
After hearing of a Hollywood role going across the street.
As a departure for Amy and Rory it's sub-mediocre, a depressing runaround which denies Rory so much as a goodbye and Amy ultimately nothing more than a sound bite. Indeed in the end the narrative serves no other purpose besides writing out Amy and Rory; all other concessions to plot are convenient but incidental side-effects. It's disturbing to think that the most realistic departure from the TARDIS ever seen in the revived series is probably Martha's. For the Doctor it fulfils the bizarre metamorphosis of his character across Amy and Rory's time, from substitute father figure to Amelia, to potential lover for Amy and love-rival to Rory, to the point where he is subsumed via marriage into becoming for all intents and purposes their son, a petulant child who can't abandon his parent-friends until they're ripped from him; to what end? Didn't we already see these moody abandonment issues manifest with the Tenth Doctor? Isn't all this angst old news? It's still my utter, unshaking conviction that Amy and Rory's final episode should have been "The God Complex" without a doubt, a more believable character development for the Doctor which was eventually completely ignored. I would be sorrier to see them go, but banal writing has rendered their characters emotionally neutral to me after Series 6. I can unfortunately state that the by now completely unnecessary and totally meaninglessly presented River Song has at least one more appearance, but please, no more than that. I hope I never see the Weeping Angels again. "The Angels Take Manhattan" leaves me cold; it's an illusion, a body with no soul which presents itself as profound by rote by exploiting the tired language of New Who emotional drama in the same exhausted ways. It relies on an audience willing to ignore or blissfully unaware that the entire thing is a sham, and functions only by having propagated this same expectation in earlier episodes. It is a causal loop, a failure which creates itself, one paradox too many.

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