Doctor Who: ‘The Time of Angels’ and ‘Flesh & Stone’


WARNING: spoilers if you have not watched these episodes.

Rating 3½

Written by Steven Moffat

Directed by Adam Smith

Starring Matt Smith (The Doctor), Karen Gillan (Amy Pond), Alex Kingston (River Song), Ian Glen (Octavian), David Atkins (Bob), Darren Morfitt (Marco), Mark Monero (Pedro), George Russo (Phillip), Mark Springer (Christian), Troy Glasgow (Angelo), Simon Dutton (Alistair) and Mike Skinner (Security Guard)

The Doctor spots a 12,000 year old “home box” (a starship version of a black box) in a museum, with a message burnt into it written in ancient Gallifreyan text. Recognising that he is the intended recipient of the message, he takes the TARDIS back in time to rescue River Song from the starship Byzantium, which then crashes into an ancient and long deserted monastery on the planet Alfava Metraxis. A group of soldier clerics led by Father Octavian arrive and the Doctor is informed that a Weeping Angel was in the bowels of the ship and they must now go down into a catacomb of tunnels known as the Maze of the Dead in search of it.


The fifth season of the revived Doctor Who (the thirty-first season in total, not including “specials”) started promisingly with ‘The Eleventh Hour’. The second episode ‘The Beast Below’ felt slightest flat first time around, but has benefited from repeat viewings. The rather rushed ‘Victory of the Daleks’ was a slight disappointment, but now the season has hit a high with a two-part story that sees the return of River Song and the Weeping Angels.

River Song, a role originally written with Kate Winslet in mind, but ultimately played by the actress Alex Kingston, first appeared in ‘Silence in the Library’ and ‘Forest of the Dead’, a two-part story in the fourth season of the revived series in 2008. It was hinted at the time that she might have been the Doctor’s wife and in the first of those episodes she asked the Doctor if he yet knew about the crash of the Byzantium, creating a link to this new story. This time around we have stronger hints that River Song is the Doctor’s wife in the future, although it is never explicitly confirmed and denied.

The Weeping Angels made their first appearance in ‘Blink’. That highly-acclaimed episode from 2007 starred Carey Mulligan, who has since received a best actress Academy Award nomination and is tipped for big things in the future, including, so it is claimed, the lead role in a remake of ‘My Fair Lady’. ‘Blink’, ‘Silence in the Library’ and ‘Forest of the Dead’ were all written by Steven Moffat, who has subsequently assumed the role of executive producer and head writer from Russell T Davies. He wrote these two new episodes.

I liked ‘Blink’ very much and thought the Weeping Angels were a fascinating creation. However, because that was such an unusual episode I was not sure about their use again. As it turns out, they work brilliantly here. I didn’t have any strong opinion about River Song following her first appearance, although watching those two episodes again very recently has led me to the conclusion that they are much better than I had remembered, not that I disliked them first time around. I think she works extremely well in these new episodes, but my own preference would be that we don’t meet her again too frequently in the future. The occasional encounter would work best and help to maintain the air of mystery and ambiguity.

I think I am right in saying the budget for this new season of Doctor Who has been cut. It certainly doesn’t show here. These episodes look spectacular and there are some superb special effects. As is the style of Doctor Who now, it is very fast paced, but telling the story across two episodes has allowed for it to build up without the rushed and rather under-cooked feel of ‘Victory of the Daleks’. There is a well-judged aura of foreboding and claustrophobia throughout the two episodes, but particularly in part one. This reaches a crescendo when the young soldier-cleric Bob radios Octavian and the Doctor and it is discovered that he is, in fact, already dead.

There are one or two moments that don’t really work that well and are perhaps best not given too much thought – for example, Amy walking with her eyes shut amongst the Weeping Angels, tricking them into believing that she can see them. I guess this works if we assume the Doctor did not have any better solution to the problem and this was the only thing he could think of in a seemingly hopeless situation. His demeanour and loss of temper with River Song certainly suggests that he was feeling the pressure and I for one am pleased to see this side of him, previously evident in Christopher Eccleston’s Doctor, starting to come to the surface again.

I still do have a sense of déjà vu, something that has been with me since ‘The Beast Below’. Apart from the return of River Song and the Weeping Angels, there are many other things here to remind us of previous stories in the revived series. Episodes that immediately came to my mind include ‘The Satan Pit’ and ‘The Waters of Mars’.

The closing scene in which Amy passionately kisses the Doctor and tries to entice him into bed has caused some debate and disquiet. I had not read about this before watching ‘Flesh & Stone’ and it did come as a surprise on first viewing. I have subsequently learned that the Daily Mail has rather predictably taken against it. That newspaper has already previously complained about Karen Gillan being too sexy, laughably and implausibly claiming that at no time previously could any of the Doctor’s companions be described as “sexy”. Having watched ‘Flesh & Stone’ again, I think the scene works very well. I am not going to worry unduly about where it might lead to just yet.

Reaction to the new Doctor and to this new season has been generally very positive, but there have been some dissenting voices. One particularly angry fan comment I have read in response to ‘The Time of Angels’ and ‘Flesh & Stone’ suggests that it is now so bad on every level that it should be cancelled immediately. The only reason I am not more taken aback by such opinions, apparently coming from fans of the show, is that I encountered exactly the same thing in the days of ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’. At that time I was quite shocked that a large minority of fans seemed so angry and critical and so quick to voice their disapproval, but now I realise it is just a symptom of such loyal and fanatical fandoms.

The cameo appearance by Mike Skinner in the opening scene of ‘The Time of Angels’ passed me by completely because, up to that moment, I did not actually know what he looked like.

My expectations of this new season are probably still too high just now, but this was very good. I don’t think there is a better show on television at the moment.

Review posted 2 May 2010


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