A better goodbye: The Angels Take Manhattan

In case you're just starting to watch the show, I'll let you know that this is a SPOILER ALERT FOR DOCTOR WHO SERIES 7 EPISODE 5 AND THE CHRISTMAS SPECIAL.

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Let's be honest. There were plenty of things that I didn't like about Amy Pond -- some to do with her personality, but most to do with the way that Moffat wrote her character. I also wasn't always a fan of the way that Rory was written. But the truth is that I miss the two of them, and even after Christmas has come and gone and we've been introduced to the mystery of Clara Oswin Oswald, I miss the two of them. Immensely. Months later, I'm still sad about it.

But mostly, I'm angry. These two lovely companions, who we've now spent the entirety of two and a half season with (more time than any other New Who companion, I might add), have been chuffed off in the sloppiest excuse for an episode I've ever seen. Yes, Doctor Who makes a hobby of plot holes, and Steven Moffat is the king of them, ever since he discovered that he could use his clever "timey-wimey" joke from Blink as a real reason and get away with it. I can handle plot holes in an episode. But I cannot handle an episode that the entire thing is one gaping plot chasm. And I cannot handle that mess of an episode forcing us to say goodbye to two companions forever.

As io9 has pointed out, this episode is built around stories. And I should love that, because if there's anything I love in the universe, it's a story. (I mean, my future career, my interests, my hobbies, practically my psyche is built around that love.) We tell stories, to give things meaning and purpose. We take events and make narratives, with beginnings, middles, and ends, though not necessarily in that order. Doctor Who is full of stories, and always has been, and there's always more than one story in an episode. It's practically a tradition for the pre-credits sequence to include a minor character who will inevitably discover and often be killed by the monster/alien/evil force in question, before the TARDIS arrives. It's a great tradition, because it introduces the stories of what you might call little people. And this tradition stands here as well.

But here's the thing. In The Angels Take Manhattan, those stories are crap. The detective opens the story with his typewriter narration. He might be a sympathetic character who serves the purpose of foreshadowing the Angels for the audience except that--well, he's not at all sympathetic. In the two-minute exchange he has with the rich guy who pays him, it's obvious that he's sort of a bastard. Why should we care that he becomes a feeding receptacle for the Angels? And the rich collector who is aware of the dangers of the angels, and yet keeps one chained in the office and several in the basement--are we supposed to feel sorry for him? Who is he, anyway? Does he honestly think he's smarter than the Angels? Is he part of their plan--does he just send people to meet their deaths at Winter Quay?

The real question embedded in all of these minor things is this: if these two characters are so inconsequential that Moffat doesn't even take a second to wrap up their stories, why include them at all? The story at no point needed them (the whole thing could have been set at Winter Quay), and in fact would have been so much stronger if more screen time had been spent with the characters who we were about to lose.

"Yes, the wrist hurts pretty bad too."

"Yes, the wrist hurts pretty bad too."

Because there were some good moments. And as always, they come when the characters really sit down to talk. And they all relate to stories. The Doctor's declaration: "I don't like endings," is sad at the moment and in retrospect--but it's also problematic. This is a guy who basically, can't die, and thus doesn't want to be reminded that the people he cares about will die eventually. It's very human, but also horribly selfish. The sadness he's feeling is not for his companions, really, it's for himself. When River tells Amy "Never let him see the damage. And never ever let him see you age," it seems tragic, at first. But the more I thought about it, the more problematic it seemed. River is protecting him. Protecting the Doctor, the "ageless god who insists on the face of a twelve-year-old," from the knowledge that he can't save everybody, that his friends will die, and that eventually he will be lonely, until he finds someone else to care about. It bothers me a bit, if only because at this moment, by hiding things from him, River is acting like his mother as well as his wife. And it saddens me as well, because from the moment we met her, River has been a fantastic character, and yet one whose life, from the day she's conceived till the day she dies, revolves around the Doctor. I wish she could be more than that. And yet, I am reminded of that quote, from the very first time we met Professor River Song.

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"When you run with the Doctor, it feels like it will never end. But you can't run for ever. Everybody knows that everybody dies and nobody knows it like the Doctor. But all the skies of all the worlds might turn dark if he ever, for one moment, accepts it."

To keep going, to keep saving worlds, the Doctor has to have hope. And the function of the companion in his life is to keep up that hope. So though I have a problem with River's lack of agency, I can't have a problem with the part she plays in the Doctor's life. I wonder if we'll see her again. Her character, after all, has a place in the story before, and after her parents.

And then there's the Ponds themselves. They weren't half as good as they could have been. Clearly the point of the episode was to zap the Ponds back in time, and have them live out their lives there together, unable to see the Doctor again. So I'm not going to complain about  the arbitrary rules that are thrown out in this episode about not travelling back into New York, because throwing out rules like that is part of Doctor Who's history and tradition. I'm also not going to complain about the idea of having a fixed future, because the moments where the companions feel that everything they do is constrained already results in the best moments of the episode. But there could have been so much more of those moments. They could have taken up more time. There could have been more discussion of the Angels themselves, rather than an inevitable feeling that they would win no matter what--a feeling that is most unlike the Doctor. Amy didn't seem half as disturbed by the fact that she was chasing Rory backwards through time as she should have been.

"Together, or not at all."

"Together, or not at all."

There were too many plot devices and not enough story, and that is where this episode went wrong. Amy and Rory's scene up on the rooftop was wonderful--but before that moment, they had literally no purpose in the story. In fact, they haven't had a purpose in the show for awhile. All of series 7 just felt like a coda to the Ponds -- a coda that went on too long. Karen may have wanted to leave when her character was still strong, but honestly, apart from the Power of Three, and about half of the Angels Take Manhattan, Amy and Rory have been anything but strong characters. Since the Doctor's continuous run with them ended after The God Complex, and since the parallel world of The Wedding of River Song was tied up, they found out he was alive, and since he finally admitted he missed them and dropped by last Christmas after he was done with the whole wardrobe business--well, they've been lingering. The publicity around the show, and the fact that everyone and their mother knew they were leaving, probably didn't help. Their final moment of departure was beautiful and wonderful. But it was spoiled by the mediocrity that led up to it (see our previous review of the first three episodes).

"Raggedy man... goodbye."

"Raggedy man... goodbye."

For Amy, the poignancy of never seeing the Doctor again was ruined, ruined by the fact that he's left them to their lives, so many times. Although maybe there's something significant in the fact that this time, she is leaving him. She is no longer the Girl Who Waited. She knows that when she goes back, she will no longer be waiting, because there will be no rescue.

And then there's that last little moment, where Amy tells the Doctor to go visit young Amelia, waiting out in the yard for him. I don't quite understand how that works. This is the second time he's done it--the first in the Big Bang, where he carried her back to bed, talked to her, and we came up with the beautiful quote, "We're all stories in the end." Did that never happen, because the universe was re-created? And if he talks to young Amelia, why don't they go on adventures then? How does he convince her to wait nine years?

I try to not let these things bug me. I try to remember that Doctor Who will always have plot holes, that it's about the bigger picture. The reason I watch this show, after all, is not for the science or the time travel (though I do love time travel). It's for the fact that the characters are so good, the dialogue so beautiful, and the stories so poignant and heartbreaking. It's for the fact that really, when I look at this show, in all of its adventures and complexities and timey-wimey-ness, what I really see reflected back at me, is life. My life, my friends' life, the lives of billions of people. Our hopes and dreams and desires and stories.

But it's like when you're learning to write--academically or creatively--and you have that teacher or professor who nags you for grammar, punctuation, spelling, and syntax every single time. And it's annoying, but later, you realize that they're right. If you can't make your argument or tell your story clearly, concisely, and fluently, those minor errors will add up, and they'll detract from your thesis, or from your story. They'll jerk your audience out of the spell you put them under. And that's where this episode was for me. There were moments that were absolutely gorgeous, and lines that I loved. But the bad storytelling, the inconsistencies, the plot holes, the painful inaccuracies of character brought me back to Earth--brought me out of 1938 New York and the world of the Angels--and made me wince. They reminded me that I was only watching a story that a fairly sexist (nope, sorry, can't get over it) writer had cooked up, that it wasn't real, that I didn't have to cry for these people--they were just characters. They ruined the essential element of fiction--the suspension of belief. And that made for a weak episode.

I love Amy and Rory. So much so that I'm arguing for them here: they should have had a better story to exit on. Moffat, you owe them. They deserve better. 

What did you think of the episode? How did it match up to your expectations? How do you feel about it four months later? Let me know in the comments!