“That’s a fairytale”“Aren’t we all?”
So how about that then for a blockbuster episode of Doctor Who? Never mind the talk of tighter budgets on this year’s Who, Flesh And Stone looked and played out for the vast bulk of its running time as a thrilling and really entertaining Saturday night adventure.
And quite a scary one too.
Lesser writers could have easily recycled their monsters from yesteryear and just dished up more of the seem. Here, Steven Moffat subtlely evolves his weeping angels. The moment near the back of the episode where they start to move was utterly, utterly creepy, and throughout the episode, he still manages to generate jumps from creatures who had seemingly gone through their playbook last time we met them. How about suddenly taking a cleric in a headlock, for instance? A brilliant moment, terrifically executed.
Then there’s the angel in Amy’s eye. The simple weaving in of a countdown into Amy’s dialogue was great for starters (be honest: how far into it did get before you realised she was counting down?), but as it became clear the angel was inside her, it was played out to terrific effect.
Take that little effects shot of the angel literally in her eye – was it just us that found it really unsettling? And then the fact that she had to sit with her eyes closed, in utter isolation, knowing the angels were around her? Even appreciating the clumsy bit where she dropped the walkie talkie, this was terrific drama, that the writers of every other Saturday night drama need to sit down and watch.
And what’s with the Doctor explicitly telling Amy she’s dying, in such a matter of fact way? Matt Smith continues to excel in his portrayal of a Doctor who is by turns angry, erratic, occasionally ineffective and yet brilliant. The Troughton comparison is not going away, and having such an emotionally unhinged Doctor is a great dynamic to sit at the heart of the show. At one point here, we had him pretty much bellowing at people. For such a generally friendly character, it was surprising and very effective.
But then the Doctor had a lot to bellow about here. The angels were coming in droves, and then there was that aforementioned outstanding moment where you realised Amy was counting down, in a non-flashy, very matter of fact way. Once you twigged what she was doing, you knew that more trouble was coming.
And it came in the form of the crack on the wall.
Full credit again must go here to Steven Moffat for this. The series had attracted a little bit of criticism for the not-very-subtle layering of the cracks in previous episodes, and there was an assumption that we’d be getting them for 12 weeks before we got an answer.
But not so. Instead, Moffat makes that crack a pivotal part of the resolution of this episode, and starts dealing with the greater underlying arc of the series even before it reaches the half-way point (in some ways, Flesh And Stone did actually have a feel of a series finale). In doing so, he helps us understand the threat, but hasn’t yet shown how it’s going to be resolved. Throw in the fact that Power Rangers Daleks are still out there somewhere, and it’s two adventures running where the Doctor may just have ultimately won an empty victory.
The crack serves its purpose here nonetheless, both in directing the narrative firmly towards Amy – and we’ll come back to her in a minute – and also in forcing the Doctor to address some issues of time. Could time run out? Can it change? Can it be rewritten? Something seems to be happening, for that crack in time takes out the angels, and appears to be at the heart of the reason that memories are disappearing. Time will tell, we’re guessing, just what’s causing it.
The time energy, if you were being really picky, turns out to be a very sudden way to take out the weeping angels, and there’s almost a feeling of two episodes here, one that stops very quickly dead after 35 minutes (and everything did seem to be resolved very quickly), and one that eats up the last ten.
But for the first two thirds, this was a terrific blockbuster piece of Saturday night television, and brilliant Doctor Who, packed with snappy lines and escalating levels of excitement.
If there was a slight disappointment it’s where River Song is concerned. Clearly she’s going to be coming back again at some point in the future, but she didn’t really aid the story particularly here – she was certainly nowhere near as involved as she was back in Forest Of The Dead, for instance – and was relegated to being another assistant at points.
However, she did drop major hints that she killed the Doctor. Could that be the spoiler that she’s been warning us about? Possibly, but we don’t quite buy it. Here’s hoping we get more answers when she returns. That’ll be when the ‘pandorica’ opens by the sounds of it (first mentioned in The Eleventh Hour if memory serves), whatever and whenever that proves to be.
So let’s, then, deal with the most contentious part of Flesh And Stone, that epilogue at the end, which we just happened to really like, especially given how much it shakes up Amy’s character.
There were rumours before the series started that Amy was to have a bit of promiscuity about here, and while you couldn’t say they were realised, she was certainly keen to have her way with the Doctor. It was an odd scene in ways (and granted, it came following one of the more terrifying situations that a Doctor Who assistant has had to go through alone), although we were glad to get back to why she ran away from her wedding so easily back in The Eleventh Hour.
There’s a mirror, of course, to the Donna Noble story here. A wedding? Hints that she’s pivotal in some way to a problem the universe is facing? That sounds familiar, certainly. But there are clearly surprises up Amy’s sleeve yet. She’s not followed the Donna Noble template as a character thus far, and we don’t expect her to start now.
What we do expect is for that basecode, which is dated to 26th June 2010, to become a huge part of where the series is going. That date, if our calculations are correct, is the day when the 13th and final episode of the series is due to be broadcast (unless there’s the usual Eurovision break, in which case it’ll mark the first episode of the end two-parter). More clues are likely to be coming in due course, and they’re not all likely to be overt as that crack in the wall.
We might not have long to wait for more information either if that episode ending is anything to go by. For once again, one Doctor Who episode looks like it’s going to loop into another here. It’s certainly left open one or two intriguing narrative threads, and as we leave the Doctor and Amy for another week, it really looks as if the weight of the universe is on their shoulders.
In short, a terrific, terrific 45 minutes of television.
Next week? It’s Vampires In Venice, an episode that some seem to be writing of already for some reason. We’ll see you back here to talk about it all pans out next Saturday…
Our review of last week’s episode, The Time Of Angels, is here.