“If I always told you the truth, I wouldn’t need you to trust me.”
Flesh And Stone is easily the trickiest episode of Doctor Who to write a spoiler-free review for thus far, and not just for the obvious reason of it being the concluding part of a two-episode story. We’ll come to why a little later. Rest assured that we’ve sucked out anything coming close to a story spoiler here, but for this one in particular, it does mean you’ll have to bear with us while we’re a little bit vague in places. We’ll have the full dissection as usual once the episode has aired on Saturday night.
Firstly, the news you came here to find out: Flesh And Stone, at its best, is just brilliant. It feels like an exciting back end to a really tense movie, sandwiched into an episode of Doctor Who. It also lays things down for the future, and adds on an intriguing ending that’s likely to generate a lot of discussion afterwards.
It picks up immediately after the cliffhanger we were left with in The Time Of Angels, and it’s an episode that then gets down to business very quickly. The cliffhanger is resolved in a fun way, but it doesn’t leave the Doctor, the clerics, Amy and River any safer.
Instead, it escalates, as you might expect, the ongoing threat of the angels, and sets up some terrific, really very tense scenes. There’s nothing quite as outright scary as the angel coming out of the television last week, although there are one or two moments that run it very close, and we jolted upright on more than one occasion too. Expect to remain on edge for most of the running time here.
What we love about the angels is that the Doctor is basically fighting a turn-based foe. It thus weaves in some strategic moments. Not deep ones, granted, but it brings the idea of consequence very much to the fore. If you turn off the lights, those angels there are going to move. If you take your eyes off them for a second, then they’re going to do something. Moffat has a lot of fun with that here, and continues to make the statues a thing of nightmares.
Thus, Flesh And Stone, for most of its running time, is tense, thrilling, and has a very real feel of peril about it. It might be down to the fact that we’ve still not seen the angels too many times in Doctor Who (they’re hardly at the stage where they’ve become diluted like the Daleks), but there are moments here where you really do buy that they’re as dangerous and utterly threatening as they are clearly intended to be. There aren’t too many Doctor Who monsters you can say that about.
Steven Moffat’s on fire here, too, matched toe-to-toe by director Adam Smith, taking full advantage of the fact that the angels are in greater supply than we ever saw them in Blink. What’s more, there’s space and time here to have them do just a bit more, and it’s very well utilised.
Moffat focuses more on the angels than he does with River Song this time, but there are things about her worthy of dissection once the credits have rolled too.
Flesh And Stone also gives us a real chance to see how well Matt Smith’s Doctor handles a proper, full-on crisis. He’s got a lot to puzzle out here, and he’s quite on edge as he does so (at one point in downright rage). Smith’s Doctor isn’t a controlled creation by any measure, and there’s an unease, a casual harshness about him that continues to impress, and takes a little bit of the comfort zone out of the heart of every episode. That’s a good thing.
A quick word too for Murray Gold here. He gives Flesh And Stone an action movie score that fits the episode entirely appropriately. Appreciating that not everyone warms to the intensity of the music in modern Doctor Who, he really deserves credit for some excellent work here.
There are, on top of what we’ve discussed here, a few other threads in Flesh And Stone that you might not be expecting from an episode that you’d assume is just about closing off a two-part adventure. And there are continuing signs of some very dense plotting going on. Our take on that will have to wait for the spoiler-filled review coming on Saturday night.
For now, the news is good: Flesh And Stone is really, really good, the latest episode from a series of a show that nearly five decades after it first appeared, is in the midst of an excellent run of form.
Not for the first time in recent weeks, we can’t help concluding that it’s a brilliant time to be a Doctor Who fan…
The spoiler-y review will be here Saturday night…