It’s probably best, not for the first time, that we get some expectation management out of the way here. Just because The Time Of Angels marks the return of the weeping angels, easily the best new monster the show has brought on since it returned in 2005, that doesn’t mean it comes close to matching the one-off genius of their debut in Blink (which many, including ourselves, regard as one of Doctor Who’s best-ever episodes). By its very nature, it can’t: Blink was an ultra-tight self-contained episode, while The Time Of Angels actually has a lot more on its plate to deal with, not least setting up part two of this particular adventure.
Furthermore, not only is Steven Moffat bringing back the angels here, he’s also reuniting the Doctor with River Song for the first time since series four’s Forest Of The Dead. And it’s River who Moffat is concentrating on for the first significant chunk of the episode.
When we first begin The Time Of Angels, River and the Doctor are 12,000 years apart, although by the time the opening credits roll – and courtesy of some again slightly underwhelming effects work (contrasting with some excellent production design later in the episode) – the two are united.
The episode then continues to tease us as to the nature of their relationship. As usual, we’re not going into spoiler territory in this review (we’ll have the full spoiler-y version once the episode has aired), but River sums it up nicely when she says, “We keep meeting in the wrong order.” For River remains from the Doctor’s future and he from her first, and her journal makes a return here.
It’s left to Amy to glue the assorted stories together, asking the questions of the Doctor that we want to know of River, and also, in the episode’s best scene, re-alerting us to the fact that the weeping angels are very much back.
Inevitably, perhaps, the angels didn’t quite have the same impact here as when we first met them, a by-product of bringing them back for a second outing. But that’s not to say Steven Moffat doesn’t find ways to squeeze every bit of tension out of them. There’s some really unnerving stuff in the episode, and while it lacked a jumped-out-of-the-seat moment for us, the weeping angel is still a terrific foe for the Doctor to face.
As you’re likely to have seen from the trailers, the challenge here is tracking down a single angel in a chamber full of stone statues. It plays out in a mixture of predictable, interesting and surprising ways (and yes, we appreciate the contradictions there!), and just as with Blink, you’ll find yourself examining every inch of every frame at times just to see for the slightest bit of movement.
What helps The Time Of Angels, though, is that, with a second episode of this particular adventure to come, it can take its time. As such, we found ourselves as interested in the hints about River’s character as the angel’s return, and there’s space in here to explore both. It’s perhaps disappointing that it doesn’t come up with a better cliffhanger to glue the two episodes together, but then the story does seem to reach a natural point for a break when the credits roll.
Appreciating that our liking of Victory Of The Daleks last week proved a little bit divisive, it’s feasible that The Time Of Angels will be a little polarising too. We warmed to the episode, perhaps not as much as we were expecting to, but Moffat is clearly putting some intriguing building blocks in here, continuing to tap on the underlying Troughton-esque moodiness of Matt Smith’s Doctor, and showing a rarely-matched ability for coming up with very simple yet very clever devices.
That’s about all we can say about the episode without beginning to spoil it, so it’s best we wrap it there. We’re certainly looking forward to next week’s episode, and there’s a lot to like about The Time Of Angels. But as we noted at the start, once more some expectation management still wouldn’t do any harm here…
The spoiler-y review will be here Saturday night…