Steven Moffat’s very own Weeping Angels return to face the Eleventh Doctor Matt Smith in arguably two of the best episodes of the new series. Then Rory joins the Doctor and Amy on a trip to Venice where some vampires show up to make life difficult for the TARDIS trio, as Series five continues on DVD.
When the latest series of Doctor Who began in April, showrunner Steven Moffat and new Doctor Matt Smith had much to live up to and (for some) a lot to prove. Just four episodes later they hit their stride with a brilliant two-parter, penned with some confidence by Moffat.
The story showcases Matt Smith’s quirky oddball charisma as the newly regenerated Time Lord, sees the welcome return of the excellent Alex Kingston as the ever-enigmatic River Song, and the much-anticipated re-match with the Weeping Angels from Moffat masterpiece Blink.The Time Of Angels
Mike Skinner, frontman of The Streets, makes a low-key cameo at the start of The Time Of Angels. Though not apparent at this stage, he’s a victim of the hallucinogenic effects of River Song’s new trademark: the psychic lipstick. Meanwhile the Doctor and Amy Pond, checking the Delirium Archive Museum for consequences of their travels, find a flight box for The Byzantium starship and a message from River Song in Old High Gallifreyan.
Amy is determined to visit an alien planet, but the Doctor decides to rescue River. Aboard The Byzantium, River is cornered by collector Alistair (80s Saint actor Simon Dutton), and his guards, telegraphing her co-ordinates to the now nearby TARDIS, she teleports herself into time and space.
So River Song, looking very glam in shades and toting a handgun, dramatically launches herself, her infamous diary and a huge pair of ruby stilettos back into the Doctor’s life as he rescues her from deep space. Somehow able to fly the TARDIS, River lands on Alfava Metraxis. The TARDIS crew meet a troop of 51st century churchmen who resemble extras from The Hurt Locker.
The clerics are led by Father Octavian, played by Iain Glen with a voice so rich and expressive, it’s as if he’s auditioning to narrate an audio book as he intones the latest bit of exposition. The troops, meanwhile, are being silently hunted by the Weeping Angels.
Believing she is watching a video loop, Amy soon finds herself looking directly at a statue, later her arm turns to stone and in a scene reminiscent of Moffat’s Silence In The Library, the Angels reanimate one of the churchmen, Bob, in order to set a trap for the Doctor and his colleagues. Their mistake…
Energetically directed by Adam Smith, The Time Of Angels is a fun, action-packed episode, and there are some wonderful throwaway ideas designed to tickle the long-term Who fan – most notably when the “wheezing, groaning” TARDIS noise is dismissed as the Doctor erroneously deploying the brake when landing.
Perhaps one of the biggest joys of this particular episode on DVD is being able to view the cliffhanger to The Time Of Angels as intended: for once mercifully free of annoying Graham Norton cartoons, not to mention lengthy continuity voice-overs and screen “squeezing” to remind us once more that Norton is next.
There is a strong argument this kind of contempt for viewers sent many to iPlayer and ultimately to DVD. This unforgivable trend of treating viewers like morons seriously marred this series generally, and this episode in particular when originally broadcast.
The Norton cartoon blunder was heavily criticised by fans of the show and underlined just how irritating the BBC’s presentation of its programmes in general, and Doctor Who in particular, has been.
Flesh And Stone
After a clever gravity jump, the Doctor and friends board the starship Byzantium. The Doctor discovers the ship’s oxygen is supplied by a decidedly creepy forest, and suddenly Amy is counting down and has something in her eye. Aware the Angels now inhabit Amy’s mind and could escape, the Doctor advises her to keep her eyes shut. Amy is haunted by the reappearance of the crack in time as one by one the cleric troops start to forget each other.
Amy is forced make her way through the forest alone. Meanwhile, the Doctor struggles to make sense of the crack in time, and concludes that time can be rewritten. Father Octavian reveals River Song has been imprisoned for “…killing a man, a good man”. The Doctor manages to erase the Weeping Angels from history, allowing Amy to see once more. Before teleporting herself back to prison, River tells The Doctor she will meet him again when the Pandorica opens. On a brief trip back home, Amy reveals her wedding plans to the Doctor before throwing herself at the bewildered Time Lord.
The last episode written by Steven Moffat before the finale two-parter sets up the Pandorica and many other elements of the series denouement. Having seen the conclusion of the series, it is fascinating to reflect upon just how much is put in place in this story. The intervening episodes merely add to the fun, with mentions and further appearances of the crack in time as it becomes more destructive.
The Doctor has realised Amy Pond is key to all these strange events. He questions why her duck pond has no ducks and why she has forgotten the Daleks. Steven Moffat cleverly pays homage to his favourite Doctor Who serial City Of Death, with the Doctor’s exasperation at the paradoxical line “time is running out…” I found myself unable to resist the temptation not to retort “what do you mean time is running out? It’s only 1505!”, though chronologically speaking that date would be more appropriate to the next episode (give or take 75 years!)
The Vampires Of Venice
So onwards to Venice 1580, via a quick stag party detour to pick up Amy’s fiancé, Rory Williams. Rory was last seen in The Eleventh Hour. In a brilliant pre-credits prologue, the Doctor emerges from a cake to the disappointment of Rory’s mates eagerly expecting a stripper.
After inducting his daughter Isabella into a school run by the powerful Madame Rosanna Calvierri and her son Francesco, boat-builder Guido becomes increasingly alarmed and suspicious of what may be going on inside the institution.
The Doctor, visiting Venice as a wedding gift to Amy and Rory, encounters Guido and decides to investigate, whereupon he finds several beautiful young women have become vampires. But things are not as they seem, and soon the Doctor realises these are no ordinary vampires: these are alien vampires…
Vampires Of Venice writer Toby Whithouse has had a wide-ranging career, including stand-up comedy to acting, with a notable role in popular 90s costume drama, The House Of Eliott. His previous writing credits include creating No Angels, the “naughty northern nurses” comedy drama for Channel Four, and School Reunion for Doctor Who‘s 2006 series.
His creation of the popular Bristolian BBC3 vampire/werewolf/ghost houseshare thriller Being Human made him a front-runner to devise new vampiric creatures for Doctor Who.
This is an enjoyable tale, and a nice change of direction after the heavier Weeping Angels episodes. Personally, I would have preferred a straightforward vampire story – why do the evil protagonists always have to be alien? A strong cast includes Helen McCrory as Rosanna, Alex “voice of ‘Confidential” Price as Francesco, Lucian Msamati as Guido, and playing the Inspector is Michael Percival (Tucker Jenkins’ form tutor Mr Mitchell in the first series of Grange Hill, fact fans!).
Unlike the previous DVD “vanilla” releases of the RTD era (where all the extras were saved for the Christmas boxset) we are treated to a 25 minute slice of cast and crew interviews, and monsters in the shape of The Monster File. This one concentrates on the Weeping Angels and features a selection of behind the scenes clips from Doctor Who Confidential.
Time of Angels: