Umm, I watched the episode via the BBC Previews site while I was on holiday in France, I guess… Is that interesting? No. So: This is from DWM #453.
Now rewind to last Christmas. We’re at the BBC’s Television Centre and the lights have come back on following the press screening of The Doctor, The Widow and The Wardrobe. Smartphones are hurriedly flourished across the room, because Steven Moffat has an announcement to make. Amy and Rory are to leave Doctor Who. Soon. But, how will they be written out? All he’ll say is: “That story is going to be a heartbreaking one”. Well, of course.
In addition to heartbreaking, we also expect something epically complicated. Because it’s Moffat.
Bets are subsequently placed that Annette Crosbie’s character in The Eleventh Hour, Mrs Angelo, is to be revealed as having been an aged Amy all along. Some take a flutter on the couple heading off for a fresh start in old New York having been finally reunited with little Melody. Or – and this is where I put all my chips – maybe the Daleks are going to be involved, somehow (in a fashion I’ve yet to settle upon) ensuring the Weeping Angels fail in their efforts to remove the companions from history. After all, the Doctor did pointedly instruct Amy to “make them remember you” when they faced the pepper pots on Skaro.
But that’s not what happened in The Angels Take Manhattan. The loss of the Ponds is indeed heartbreaking, but it’s also brief, blunt and brutal. Rory, in fact, is gone before we realise it, and you can almost hear the needle-scratch as the triumphant end-of-episode incidental music is suddenly wrong-footed by this vicious change of step. When Amy then elects to follow him, there are tears, yes, but this parting of the ways (to coin a phrase) is contained, and very nearly functional. That’s how Doctor Who has always best handled moments of high emotion. It’s kept them boxed in.
What I like about the end of Amelia Pond’s story is that it allows Amy to be brave, in spite of the Doctor’s cowardliness. He refuses to entertain any talk of giving herself to that lone Angel, but not so much because he thinks her plan to be reunited with Rory will fail. No, it’s because he knows he will never see her again, and that’s what scares him. Amy’s final decision is one she has to make alone, and one that celebrates her courage, her love for her husband and the fact she’s finally grown up: “Raggedy Man, goodbye”.
Then she’s gone, and the moment is too – we don’t hold for long on the Doctor’s tears.
The Angels Take Manhattan is a brilliant finale and feels like one of Moffat’s most confident ever scripts. It’s unusually straightforward and wisely doesn’t attempting to counterweight the Ponds’ departure with a load of plotting pyrotechnics. Sure, there are some tricksy moments here and there, but by establishing the conceit of the story being contained within the Melody Malone novel we’re being assured of a sense of linearity. A beginning middle and end, in that order. Chapterised! As a result, there are no last-minute reveals or revisions to undercut earlier assumptions – well, aside from the lovely final scene which bookends a whole era of Doctor Who. But otherwise the tale plays out as it must, respectful of the task at hand.
Okay, let’s jump back to the beginning of the end, and a glorious pre-credits sequence that’s as air-punchingly tremendous as it is nonsensical. The whole gumshoe business is great – this time, there’s a solid stylistic reason for the voiceover – and the reveal of the Statue of Liberty as a Weeping Angel is something the programme just had to do when the decision was made to set this episode in New York. It’s sublime. That’s the movie poster. But… but, who’s typing the words Garner’s saying? Is that River Song? On the same typewriter she uses when she turns pulp fiction writer? If so, how does she know his section of the story? More glaringly, how did the world’s most iconic statue manage to peg it from Liberty Island across town without being observed? Then trot home again? Oh, and the fact the thing is actually made of copper and iron, not stone – is that an issue?
To be honest, it feels petty and a bit joyless to throw up such niggles. A Doctor Who story should be able to survive some interrogation, yes, but would I have wanted Steven Moffat to trash the Statue of Liberty gag in the face of a few logistical concerns? Or slow things up with a bit of explanation about how the Weeping Angels have now extended their influence to metal (iron is present in stone, I guess… something like that) and the statue’s means of transportation across the city (erm)? Gosh, no. Something that continues to delight me about this incarnation of my favourite show is how much it glories in being Doctor Who – doing Doctor Who-y things. There’s adamantly no other programme on TV that can throw in an evil cameo from America’s beacon of hope, and then go skipping gaily into the opening credits. How it got there? I’m not all that fussed.
After the titles, we’re in one of those old ITC globetrotting adventure serials with a postcard representation of this week’s foreign locale and an on-the-nose music track (Sting’s ‘Englishman in New York’) to nail any remaining doubts about where we are. Because this is defiantly Doctor Who in New York, so much more so than 2007’s Daleks in Manhattan. This time around the travellers are actually touching stuff, picnicking in Central Park – they’re there! However, from this point onwards (a brief interlude in Early Imperial China, aside) we’re into a story about haunted houses.
The first is the home of Julius Grayle (Mike McShane – it’s been a while), someone who’s been unfortunate enough to encounter the Angels and has remained thoroughly spooked ever since. He brought to mind Henry van Statten from 2005’s Dalek, keeping the creature as a pet, tormenting it. As he lifts the curtain to reveal his prisoner, River’s true relationship with the Doctor is also uncovered. When the Angel grabs her wrist, the Time Lord assumes his missus will – as always – find a get-out clause. But of course, she can’t and suffers the most hideous injury. “Never let him see the damage”, she tells Amy. All of the professor’s breeziness and confidence, it’s because she knows the Doctor would be turned off if she showed her vulnerabilities. That’s depressing, isn’t it? A pretty miserable basis for a relationship. Her reaction when he then opts to use regenerative energy to heal her – “You embarrass me!” – underscores that. She’s mortified she hasn’t been able to maintain the facade.
There are plenty of dark corners in Grayle’s house. The cellar being another one. The scene with Rory being stalked by cherubic Angels is a masterclass of horror filmmaking, and the moment when the baby-faced killer blows out his lit match is simply terrific. The best baddies in the modern-day run of the series still have new things to shows us.
The second ‘house’ – if you’ll allow me that conceit – is the apartment block at Winter Quay. And it’s a house haunted by the living. The notion of the Angels’ “battery farm” is a thoroughly chilly one; victims being kept prisoner so they can continually be sent back in time for the sustenance of their captors. Or at least, that’s how I understood the situation. Much like last year’s sublime The God Complex, you tread the corridors within, hoping against hope you won’t find a door with your name on. Which is what happens to Rory.
Amy’s declaration that, “I won’t let them take him,” amounts to the Ponds’ last stand. Although, I wasn’t so sure about the similarly valedictory: “Changing the future – it’s called marriage”. Changing the furniture, maybe. Nonetheless, I was impressed with the real grown-up sense of passion at play here. Not lust, passion. Amy and Rory’s deeply held and fiercely strong belief in their union. It moves them both to climb the ledge atop of the apartment block and then… jump.
If there’s one moment in this story that takes time out to glory in what we’re seeing, then this is it. Deservedly so, it’s a sensational sequence, not just a culmination of writing, performance, music and direction, but a culmination of our years spent following these two characters. This is the big goodbye – before one last hello. And then the end.
So let’s do a last bit of tidying while we also finish up. What do we know? Rory lives to be 82, Amy, 87, and yes, she did find him – they share a gravestone. But the Doctor can never see them again. How come? Even if it’s too dangerous for him to pilot the TARDIS back into that time period of New York, there’s surely nothing stopping him parking it in London, perhaps, and then jumping on a transatlantic flight. Or even landing in NYC at a point a few years down the line, and dropping by the Ponds’ pad.
Maybe so. But that would be breaking an implicit rule in Doctor Who, which underpins everything. It’s a weird but comfortable kind of logic which dictates that, in this show, once the Doctor has seen the ending, there’s no going back. It’s the same reason why, for example, since hearing of the Brigadier’s death, he’ll never meet his old friend again, even if he happens to touchdown in the Home Counties circa 1973. Sure, it makes no actual sense, but it makes romantic sense, don’t you think?
“Time can be rewritten,” says Amy. “Not once you read it”, counsels the Doctor. And so this is how it ends.