The Angels Take Manhattan
Review by Paul Bowler
The Angels Take Manhattan opens in the shadowy streets of 1930’s Downtown New York as Sam Garner (Rob David) narrates the darkest day of his life. Garner has been given the task of investigating an old apartment block, Winter Quays, by an odious collector called Grayle (Mike McShane). When Sam arrives at the run-down building he explores its dark corridors, where he is shocked to discover a version of himself as a dying old man. His older self urges him to escape but before he can flee Sam is attacked by the Weeping Angels…
We join The Doctor, Amy, and Rory in present day New York as they enjoy a relaxing day in Central Park. The Doctor has been reading aloud from a pulp-fiction novel that he has found, although his companions don’t quite share the Time Lords enthusiasm for the adventures of private detective Melody Malone. But this idyllic moment of happiness for the TARDIS crew soon gives way to horror when Rory goes to fetch them all some coffees, only to be hunted by a cackling stone cherub near a fountain that transports him back to 1938 where he is reunited with Professor River Song before they are both captured by Grayle’s henchmen.
The Doctor and Amy must travel back to Manhattan 1938 to save Rory, as the Weeping Angels begin to unleash a wave of terror from within Winter Quays, but as The Doctor and River race against time to help the Ponds escape, the time has come for Amy and Rory to make the ultimate sacrifice…
The Angels Take Manhattan sees The Doctor faced with an almost impossible situation. Matt Smith is excellent in this episode, giving his most emotive performance yet as he effortlessly walks the fine line between the Time Lords turbulent eccentricity and menacing gloom. Indeed, Matt Smith has done some remarkable things with The Doctor’s character this season, nevermore so than here – when the stakes have been raised so high – do we get to see the strength and humility that makes The Doctor such a universal force of nature.
As this is the last story to feature Amy and Rory as The Doctor’s companions, it is perhaps all the more poignant that Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill are to depart just as the Ponds are at the height of their popularity. Steven Moffat’s incredible script for The Angels Take Manhattan sees the Ponds lives ripped apart by the Weeping Angles as their plot to ensnare the Time Travellers draws them inexorably towards the episodes tear-jerking climax. This is an episode full of fraught emotions: even the stoniest heart will melt when Rory tries to get Amy to push him off the roof of Winter Quays, and you’ll be dismayed as River Song is forced to allow fate to take its course, but nothing will prepare you for The Doctor’s heartrending cries of despair as Amy valiantly stands her ground against a Weeping Angel to be with the man she loves.
Ever since their first appearance in Blink (2007) The Weeping Angles have gone on to become one of the series most popular monsters. Here they are at their horrific best, lurking amongst the shadowy halls of Winter Quays, ready to strike from the dark without warning, and the startling new “Cherub” Angels with their mischievous giggling are particularly unsettling when Rory is trapped with them in Grayle‘s basement. Steven Moffat’s quantum locked creations are utterly remorseless and without mercy, predators of time who feed on the timelines of sentient beings in order to survive. After their apparent destruction in The Time of Angles / Flesh and Stone (2010), the Weeping Angels are back with a vengeance, gorging themselves on the latent energy of “the city that never sleeps” to feed their relentless hunger: turning every stone statue, monument, and gargoyle around Winter Quays into Weeping Angels. Even the Statue of Liberty itself becomes a twisted monstrosity as it silently stalks its prey across the Manhattan skyline.
Alex Kingston makes a welcome return as Professor River Song, making her most timey wimey entrance yet as she inveigles her way back into the Time Lords life from the very pages of the Melody Malone novel he’s been reading. The Professor River Song we meet in The Angels Take Manhattan is as vivacious as ever, and still flies the TARDIS better than The Doctor, but the woman that Alex Kingston portrays here seems more akin to the River Song we first saw in her fateful encounter with the 10th Doctor (David Tenant) in Silence in the Library / Forest of the Dead (2008). There are some great scenes between Matt Smith and Alex Kingston in The Angels Take Manhattan: when River is trapped by Grayle’s chained Weeping Angel we learn she has been pardoned for her crimes and that all knowledge of the man River was imprisoned for killing has been wiped from every data bank in the universe; which perhaps explains what The Doctor has been up to while the Ponds decided to remain on Earth between adventures. The Doctor now dwells within a mysterious veil of anonymity, even the Daleks don’t seem to know who he is anymore, leaving only River Song to weave the last remaining threads of his past, present, and future to form the unequivocal testimony of the woman who killed Doctor Who…
River may have been able to help Rory after he got transported back to 1938, whilst able to keep one step ahead of Grayle and his sinister plans, but even her incredible foreknowledge is no match for the power of the Weeping Angels. The Melody Malone novel holds even more secrets than River’s diary, binding them all too future events that cannot be changed once they are read. She lies about breaking her wrist to escape Grayle’s prized exhibit, the chained Weeping Angel, but the Doctor uses his regeneration energy to heal her – which leaves River none to impressed with The Doctor. A brief interlude between River and Amy after they’ve escaped Grayle’s building also foreshadows the gathering storm that will soon engulf them all. When River warns her mother never to let the Time Lord see the damage he does, adding that The Doctor“doesn’t like endings”, which is especially poignant as they both know the risks inherent when The Doctor travels alone for too long.
Mike McShane’s villainous collector has foolishly imprisoned a Weeping Angel. He needs River Song to help him find out what the creature is, but is unprepared for the full extent of their terrible power. Having tortured the latest addition to his collection, it is perhaps fitting that when the Weeping Angels come for Grayle, their revenge is sure and swift.
Nick Hurran’s lavish cinematic direction elevates this episode to a whole new level; the location filming in New York looks absolutely stunning. The impeccable attention to the period detail of the scenes set in the 1930’s also help Hurran to strike the perfect balance between the two time zones. The Angels Take Manhattan takes full advantage of New York’s famous landmarks: Tudor City, Central Park, Times Square, and The Brooklyn Bridge, all play a part in Doctor Who’s most ambitious transatlantic adventure to date. Hurran also filmed some key scenes in Cardiff: locations that range from Cardiff University, The Glamorgan building in Cathays Park, and Box Cemetery in Llaneli are all flawlessly enhanced by the magic of CGI to give them the distinct look and feel of the high rise buildings of New York.
Murray Gold’s score for The Angels Take Manhattan is as equally spellbinding, enhancing every key emotional moment as the Ponds exit draws near; no doubt leaving many fans reaching for the tissues as we say goodbye to Amy and Rory for the last time.
Steven Moffat promised that Amy and Rory’s departure from the TARDIS would be truly heartbreaking, and he is true to his word. From the moment you see the black swirling vortex of the title sequence – and the Doctor Who logo wickedly tinged in green – you are propelled into one of Moffat’s most labyrinthine scripts ever as he effortlessly ties everything up, even finding time to include a lovely coda for the young Amelia Pond’s very first story: The 11th Hour (2010.
The weeping Angels have been feeding off the residents of Winter Quays, using them like a battery farm, but when The Doctor, River, and Amy catch up with Rory at Winter Quays they find he has discovered an old man – and just like Sam before him – Rory is confronted by the fully horror of his elderly self dying in a bed. Rory and Amy witness the older Rory die as The Doctor and River look on, soon the Weeping Angels begin to come for Rory, determined to send him back in time again and feed off him like the other residents. But Amy has other ideas, leaving The Doctor and River to cover their escape, they plan to leave and cause a paradox – the only thing powerful enough to destroy the Weeping Angels. Trapped on the roof by a giant Weeping Angel, Rory decides to jump to his death to create the paradox. Amy refuses to let him, instead joining him on the ledge, and as Ponds decide to jump from the roof and face their destiny “together, or not at all” they sadly find that the last page of their story has already becomes set in stone; and not even The Doctor can save them.
As the Paradox wipes out the Weeping Angles it returns Amy and Rory safe and well to the Graveyard to rejoin The Doctor and River in the present – where we caught a glimpse Rory’s grave earlier. Tragically a lone Weeping Angel has survived and catches Rory unawares as he finds his own gravestone. As Rory is catapulted back into the past a distraught Amy confronts the Weeping Angel, ignoring The Doctor’s warnings, she turns and says goodbye to her “raggedy man” and fades away to be together with Rory in the past. As the wailing Time Lord sinks to his knees Amy’s name appears alongside Rory’s on the gravestone. River leads The Doctor back to the TARDIS, where The Doctor asks River to travel with him. She agrees, at least to joining him at some point in the future, as right now she has a date with history and a novel to write…
So as the credits roll and we leave the girl who waited and the last centurion to their fate, the brief teaser for the Christmas Special will at least go some way to easing the pain of Amy and Rory’s final adventure with the mad man in a blue box. The Angels Take Manhattan is one of the best episodes so far this season, full of grand spectacle and fantastic scenery; it also offers a thrilling finale for Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill. Together they have found a place in our hearts, they will be fondly missed, and their time during the 11th Doctor’s era will be forever in our thoughts.