Subscribe to our RSS Follow us on twitter Visit our facebook page Subscribe on youtube

Doctor Who: 705 “The Angels Take Manhattan” Review

Reviewed by Adam James Cuthbert

The Angels Take Manhattan continues Series 7’s filmic leitmotif by delving into the ‘wartime period’ of film noir: the private detective being paid by a crime boss to investigate a mystery forming only the backdrop for the heart of the story. It’s to Steven Moffat’s credit that his opening sequences this year have been phenomenally dramatic, successfully luring the viewer in with their striking imagery. This is enhanced by atmospheric direction and evocative narration that informs the foundation of the story: “New York. The city of a million stories. Half of them are true. The other half, just haven’t happened yet.”

From the beginning, Angels reminds us of the omnipresent presence of statues, with two statues ‘weeping’ in the rain, foreshadowing the real thing. The detective, Garner, is appointed by Julius Grayle, a man who prides himself on his collection of antiques and art, to look into an apartment complex called ‘Winter Quay’, “where the statues lived”. Garner willingly takes up Grayle’s generous offer. Grayle notes Garner’s disbelief that the statues of New York are alive. In a subsequent POV shot reflected through a window, the fear on Grayle’s face is evident as one of the two statues outside his home has vanished from sight. This draws a parallel with Blink and the implication any statue can be an Angel.

Outside the complex, Garner sees two women and a young girl observing him through the windows, the little girl mimicking a Weeping Angel’s stance. It’s an intricate detail that could easily go unnoticed, but it’s implied that this is the same woman at different points in her timeline, another victim of the Weeping Angels, as it’s revealed that the Angels inhabit the building after all. Garner enters the building, the elevator descending into the hallway, as if expecting him, a Weeping Angel stalking him as he enters the elevator, which ascends, seemingly, of its own accord. The accompanying music is suitably eerie as Garner walks along the red carpet of the hallway to his unsuspecting fate. Garner sees his name emblazoned on a sign outside the door. Inside, he discovers a copy of his possessions. An old man in the bedroom motions to Garner (“I’m you”) before dying.

It’s later revealed that Winter Quay is a “battery farm” operated by the Weeping Angels, feasting on the cyclical ‘food supply’ of time energy. Their victims are sent back in time, forced to live their lives in the same room, before encountering their past self on their deathbed, and repeating their actions. Winter Quay is a disturbing concept that has emotional resonance for the main characters.

Unfortunately, any sense of dramatic tension created by the opening is tested when Garner, escaping from the Angels onto the rooftop, is confronted with the Statue of Liberty – itself an Angel. This raises questions. How does no-one not notice it’s moved, especially when it can be heard stomping its way through the city? Also, why don’t they dispatch an ordinary Angel? His only escape, after all, is to commit suicide; and if no-one’s watching the Angels, as they’re chasing him, wouldn’t it only be a matter of seconds before they caught him?

I do believe a line has to been drawn somewhere between the earlier implications and the grandiosity of scale this series is directed towards; otherwise, I interpret it as a tawdry gimmick. While it may be an elaborate demonstration of the Angels’ powers, it lacks both the gravity and depth it ostensibly aims to project in its defamiliarisation of a famous icon (isn’t that the purpose of his ongoing story-arc; so why the need to extend it here?)

My interpretation of Moffat is that he aims for the grand and ambitious. While he undeniably triumphs in his objective – constructing complex, engaging, significantly emotional stories, grounded within a distinct sense of world-building exercises, occupied by strong supporting characters (e.g. Liz Ten, Canton), and complemented by their atmospheric and sophisticated use of setting – it appears to elude him that sometimes simplicity is the key to success. Angels could quite easily have been a noir pastiche, tracking Garner through the streets of Old New York, as he, like Canton before him, participated in an adventure with the main characters following a catalysing mystery (the blue envelopes in The Impossible Astronaut; the Angels’ presence here).

As it stands, Garner was a likeable, underdeveloped character (within the context of a noir pastiche, he could have been the focaliser of the narrative, the audience’s ‘outsider’ perspective, so to speak, to the tragic events which follow, symbolic of our own inability to deny the external reality). I enjoyed Garner’s narration as it enhanced the sombre mood, without being overtly dark. I would have appreciated more screen-time for his character.

Whatever Moffat’s tendency to experiment, his ‘timey-wimey’ signature is prevalent. Whether intentional or not, he does, occasionally, over-emphasise his trademark to the detriment of organic storytelling. This leads me to discuss the plot device: the Melody Malone novel which foretells future events. It’s a convenient means to render the Doctor powerless throughout the story. I would have preferred a more organic development of the Doctor’s powerlessness, resulting, not from reading a novel, but through solely happening upon the Angels in 30s New York. The chapter titles themselves serve little purpose but to reinforce Amy and Rory will leave. There’s also unsubtle foreshadowing when the camera lingers over Rory’s gravestone in the initial cemetery scene.

One of my major criticisms this series is the Doctor-as-childlike. I find it embarrassing for the character to be portrayed as if he’s a child, resulting in inconsistent character development, especially given his darker turns. I’ve postulated myself whether or not the Doctor as he appeared in Dinosaurs and Mercy was a future Doctor, travelling back through time, darker and less merciful from his experiences in this story, tortured by the loss of the Williams in his life. I would have preferred more closure, some poignant visual cue signifying a confirmation, not necessarily to my theory, but the start of the Doctor’s descent into darkness. I would be chagrined if his darker side was simply for the purpose of dramatic effect in these earlier stories, rather than a longstanding development in the character. I find it hard to believe the man here who shows a sentimental, childlike adoration of River Song is the same man who pointed a gun at someone and was prepared to kill them, in his eyes, in an act of justifiable murder. Some connection would have been appreciated, seeing as The Power of Three failed to do so. Regardless, Matt Smith gives his usually excellent performance, conveying the Doctor’s anguish as the Williams are forever lost to him.

The focal point of the story was the departure of Amy and Rory. It goes without saying that Karen and Arthur will be remembered: both have been brilliant actors. It’s been exciting to watch these two mature in their own performances, bringing such a bright, absorbing dynamic to the show that will be missed. Although I found the scene where the characters discover an older Rory to have fallen victim to the Weeping Angels in Winter Quay to be lacking in the emotional intensity it aimed for, Arthur Darvill did deliver the shocking news with a suitably naturalistic conviction: a slight choke in the throat, the news not fully sinking in. It was by the time of the suicide, in defiance against destiny, that I was gripped. The beautiful and haunting simplicity of the dialogue (“It’s marriage”), the slow-motion fall, the dramatic music, all the while the Doctor looks on, would have been a suitable ending for them: an eternal love; together in the end. It’s my personal preference as well: a bittersweet ending that makes their departure unquestionably definitive. The gravitas of such a dark ending, though it sit uncomfortably with some, would have given the story the closure I feel it needed, seeing the Doctor turn volatile with rage and bereavement, resolute that this won’t recur in future.

Their actual ending feels lacklustre in comparison. The paradox erases the Weeping Angels from history. Finding themselves in the cemetery, Rory is suddenly zapped by a survivor Angel. Amy decides to join him in the past, to the Doctor’s grief and River’s insistence. I do find River’s lack of emotion to be a little upsetting and the banter between the two feels tacked-on; as if the scene should play out in silence, the Doctor channelling his myriad of emotions through body language, while River, rigid, sheds a single tear, wipes it away, and, in a single sentence, tells the Doctor to find someone who he might listen to – cut to the last page sequence.

Lastly, I have to discuss the situation of River Song. I wholeheartedly disagree with how the character has been developed. That aside, the story did attempt to add a layer of humanity to her sociopathic,  flirtatious personality of late, during the scene where the Doctor learns she in fact snapped her wrist to escape Grayle’s captive Angel’s grasp, her hand bloody from the damage. It certainly put the Doctor’s dearth of maturity into perspective when she hotly slapped him for being a sentimental fool, using regeneration energy to heal the wound.

Overall Verdict: 8/10

In conclusion, The Angels Take Manhattan was a fairly emotional and atmospheric story, returning the Weeping Angels to form, with the Cherubim being a delightfully sinister addition to their mythology. As the end to an era, I’m ambivalent: I prefer the original death. Events may come full circle with a photographic finish on the young Amelia Pond, a sophisticated freeze-frame, but the noir aesthetics didn’t feel enriching enough and could easily have contributed to a more ‘Gothic’ evocation of the Angels’ menacing design.

Related posts:

  • YouWillObeyMe

    Great review, Adam. You make very good points, and I don’t think I can find one I disagree with. Excellent!

  • http://thehordeoftravesties.weebly.com/ The Horde of Travesties

    Brilliant!

  • ThePowerofTheCherub

    Just finished reading it

    What a piece of writing :D Thrilled by the article

    You make a lot of good points, and offer great advice on how they could be improved on. I don’t agree with some of the things you’ve said, but that hasn’t spoilt the article :)

    How good is The Strangers article? Out of ten? Eleven

  • The Watcher

    Great review.I do disagree with a few of the thing you said but we all have our own opinions. Brilliant article as usual you just keep getting better and better.

  • http://thehordeoftravesties.weebly.com/ The Horde of Travesties

    A Troll is on here! Disliking our comments

    • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mNNLDGPHBq0&feature=youtu.be The Gene Genie

      It’s probably LegoDaleks; hiding in the shadows.

  • TardisBoy

    A marvellous article yet again Adam! I have certainly enjoyed reading your thoughts on Series 7 part 1 over the past few weeks, even if I haven’t necessarily agreed with you, but that’s opinions I suppose.

    Anyway back to your review at hand, I agree with you whole-heartedly on your point about the Statue of Liberty, to put it bluntly it was a crap decision on Moffat’s part, I agree with your thoughts that it was too much of a gimmick, a simple lone angel would have sufficed, and created more of a thrilling atmosphere in the opening sequence.

    However I do disagree with you on your views of Amy and Rory’s departure, the fall scene, whilst extremely horrifying and heart-brakingly sad, I believe that would have been too dark of an ending, even for Doctor Who. Think of it this way, my sister (who is 10 years old) was absolutely distraught watching that scene, she couldn’t stop shaking, but when she realised that they survived, she grew visibly happier, and even though their ending was hear-braking anyway it didn’t effect her as much as in some way the Williams got the happy ending that they deserved to have.

    My own criticism of this episode was that it was only one part, so that meant there wasn’t enough attention to detail, and some of the most important answers, where left to passing references, which as you can tell by some of the comments on DWTV, has led to much confusion over the ending. I feel it would have been a much more effective ending, if it had been two parts.

    Anyway I’m digressing again…what I need to say is this, you should be immensely proud of the reviews you have created over the past few weeks, they have been insightful, articulate, and sometimes (I mean sometimes ;) ) impossible to argue with :P

    Thank you for writing such a marvellous review! I look forward to reading your thoughts on the Christmas Special and beyond! xD

    P.S You did ask for a longer reply this time, on your own head be it ;)

  • TimeyWimey

    Very well done, TheStranger.
    Of course I disagree with a lot of what you said (lacking gothic direction, emotionless reaction to parent’s death, and the Doctor’s childish behaviour). That’s natural nowadays.
    The article itself? Very detailed, coherent, and well-written. Your writing is too good. There’s not much to say anymore. Apart from ‘THE STRANGER. GIVE ME YOUR BRAIN FLUIDS, OR I’LL ZAP YOU BACK IN TIME!’ But I think that would seem moderately agressive. And an Angel never threatens; actually, I lied.
    Personally, I think ‘TATM’ is an unrivalled masterpiece. Emotional, as it is engaging and clever. A brilliant balance. Scary, gothic, enriching, chilling, haunting, beautiful, poignant, clever, sharp and bloody heartbreaking.

  • http://thehordeoftravesties.weebly.com/ The Horde of Travesties

    river should have been more sad.

  • ThePowerofTheCherub

    The Troll is here…..

    *Prepares Wibbly Screwdriver*

    • TardisBoy

      You know I’ve been thinking, and they might not be trolls, they could just disagree with what the person is saying xD

      • ThePowerofTheCherub

        O_o

      • ThePowerofTheCherub

        Its hilariously ironic

        Your comment was disliked XD

  • The Watchful Guardian

    Interesting review. Not entirely in agreement with it but a ver good review. Glad you share my feelings on the child- like Doctor.

  • Pdurston

    Fantastic review Stranger, as usual. I found myself agreeing with a lot of things; in particular your thoughts on the Statue of Liberty and how much of a flawed concept it was, and River Song’s lack of emotion and empathy towards the loss of her parents, which irked me a lot, even if she can visit them using her vortex manipulator, it still felt a bit jarring. It’s these littile things that make the The Angels Take Manhattan less than perfect and not exactly another magnum opus from Steven Moffat.

    Aside from that, I thoroughly enjoyed the episode and the Pond’s exit was fitting and managed to be as emotional as it could. I have to kindly disagree with you in your opinion of the suicide which should have been their exit instead. As much as it was heartbreaking and emotionally impactful, it would have been too dark and brutal of an ending to their tenure and it could have caused a lot of uproar and controversy. No, I think their exit in the graveyard was just perfect. Just when you thought that they’ve survived their demise and it’s all a happy ending where they can finally go home – their fate creeps up from behind them unexpectedly and they’re taken away from the Doctor. It just goes to show that certain circumstances are inescapable, that they’re literally set in stone and the effects are irreversible. It’s a powerful and bitter message that resonates through the whole story.

    TardisBoy has made a valid point in his comment that this episode should have been a two-parter, to really flesh out everything that felt undeveloped and give more cohesion to parts of the plot that may have felt weak. The Pond’s deserved their swansong as a two-parter and perhaps their goodbye would have been more grander than it was.

    That’s all I really have to say on the episode and in response to your superb review until I watch it again which I will endeavour to do tommorow just to fully digest it all. I have to say Stranger, it has been terrific reading your interpretations of each of these episodes every week. I have gained so much pleasure and educative insight from them. They’ve helped me re-evaluate my own thoughts; looked at what worked and what didn’t, and agreed with issues raised and disagreed with some others. All I can say is my great friend, thank you. You are a real inspiration and I mean that with my two hearts.

  • http://www.youtube.com/user/TheGoodYear92 GoodYear92

    Okay, you can stop now. It’s becoming ridiculous for you to keep up this level of quality so often. It makes me jealous… I don’t like feeling jealous. In all seriousness, though, it goes without saying that this is, as per usual, an exceptional piece of work. Great use of language, as always (“Very emotive words, Stranger.” “Oh, I’m a very emotive man.”). So, with all the compliments now out of the way, it must be said that your unique views have once again managed to shed some light on things in the episode I hadn’t really noticed myself. However, as you probably expected, I do largely disagree with certain of your criticisms.

    In regards to River Song, I don’t see a problem with how she deals, or reacts, to her parents’ fate. There is enough explanatian to that, both in this episode itself, and some of her earlier ones. It can’t be ignored that her behaviour could just be a ‘poker face’; putting her feelings aside as it would only serve to sadden The Doctor further; increasing his own personal guilt. It’s also possible this is just another case of her doing exactly what she told Amy to do earlier in the episode — “Never let him see the damage.”. So, because of how she cares about him, she’s not likely to let him see the damage that he’s effectively caused in this instance.

    And that’s all I’ve got time for, I’m afraid. I was planning on writing more, but I guess I’ll have to leave it there, as something’s just come up. Don’t you hate it when you’re in the zone; typing like a madman, and something disturbs you? It’s bloody irritating. So, yes, I’ll pick this up another time. Sorry about that.

  • Stormageddon, Dark Lord of All

    Great writing, I only wish I was half as good as you. Amy
    and Rory’s last episode was about as good as Doctor Who can get, and it successfully
    lived up to the expectations promised. Now, I do find myself disagreeing with
    almost everything you said about the episode.

    The Weeping Statue of Liberty, was a brilliant idea it was
    funny and at the same time freakin’ scary. There is nothing to suggest that the
    statue wasn’t seen by people. If you notice the footsteps aren’t constant
    footsteps which means it was probably seen, but what do people do when they see
    the impossible…the ignore it. Also, the timeline could be very different form
    the main one that existed before the Angles took Manhattan or after the paradox
    wiped it out. We don’t see anybody reacting because we don’t see anyone. The
    streets of Manhattan aren’t always full 24/7. Plus in the beginning of the episode
    Grayls said that no one noticed the angels moving.

    I also feel that one of the reasons we don’t see the darker
    side of the doctor is because of The Power of Three the Doctor spent a year
    with them also having adventured in-between and the he was traveling with the
    Ponds for a while before coming to Manhattan. I feel that there was really no
    need for us to see the darker side of the Doctor, as I mentioned above.

    The scene where Rory dies the first time was a very
    emotional scene for me and was very dramatic and I feel all the emotional
    intensity was there. Then when the run up to the roof to die…again…I felt that
    that was a scene that was lacking the emotional intensity, yes Amy and Rory
    falling down was very touching, but in all honesty the reason that it was
    lacking the intensity was because I was so shocked I honestly couldn’t speak a
    word. If the Ponds would have ended there I feel that it would have lacked the
    emotional intensity that Moffat promised us. Were onto the graveyard scene, when
    Amy and Rory shoot up on screen I was shocked yet happy…very happy. Once I saw
    Rory get zapped into the past again that is when I realized that it was final
    and that is really when the tears started coming, and then one of the happiest
    yet most heartbreaking moments was when Amy chose Rory over the Doctor showing the
    love that dominated her throughout the second half of the 6th series.
    Closing thoughts on this are basically if Amy and Rory would have gone after committing
    suicide I would have been very upset at Moffat, in the end I believe Moffat got
    it right and made it the most emotional.

    River was played perfectly and I find her lack of emotion
    was the right choice. She was shocked and was still fighting with the feelings.
    I can relate with how River was feeling, she was sad, wanted to cry, but really
    doesn’t want to accept what just happened.

    The Angles take Manhattan was beautifully scored, written,
    and acted.

    10/10 for The Angels Take Manhattan

  • EternalPonds

    Thank you. Thank you for these wonderful reviews of Series 7; Part 1. Reading your elegant sentences and masterful words is a complete joy to me. Your talent in writing is unprecedented!

    Our opinions do differ sometimes, but you are so great at formulating yourself and therefore your opinions become very easily agreeable. There’s one point of yours which I strongly agree on – Amy and Rory’s first death should have been final! It’s one thing which I have criticized about this episode (apart from its plot holes). Their suicide really tugged at my heartstrings and it would have been a perfectly dark departure for them. The sequence leading up to it was beautiful too. It was truly the finest moment of the episode, with harmonic music, brilliant acting and a presentation of Amy and Rory’s maturity. They didn’t need the raggedy man to guide them anymore, they could make their own tough decisions and take risks to save themselves. Getting zapped back in time was mild and perhaps better for the younger fans, but it didn’t satisfy me. Rory didn’t even get a proper farewell as his final shot was just giving an ignorant look at the camera. Hardly a deserving departure for such an iconic companion!

    Okay, done with the rant – now back to the review! The structure of your review is great. I love how you describe the opening sequence and turn it into literature. It explains many things and also gives an insight to your interpretation of it. Earlier on in your career as a reviewer I had a criticism about that there was no conclusion. It was very nice to see you giving a rating and a fully-fledged conclusion of your verdict in these newer reviews. For me, it is a perfect review! Brilliant writing as always and our opinions didn’t even differ much as I would give the episode – 9/10

    I do hope you return to your position as a reviewer when Christmas comes. It would be nice to have more wonderful reviews from you and your views on Clara!

  • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mNNLDGPHBq0&feature=youtu.be The Gene Genie

    Great review.

    I agree with you on the fact that the story should have ended with the rooftop scene, though the ‘last page’ scene was produced so brilliantly that it made up for the childish hiccup of Amy and Rory popping up in that graveyard.

    In some ways I feel the story lacked simplicity. Steven Moffat was once again attempting to be too ‘Timey-Wimey’, a familiar notion from the previous two finales which I wished not to experience again.

    I also agree with you on the Angel liberty issue, with some explanation it could have been a marvelous edition to the plot. Which suggests, perhaps, that this story would have benefited from being a two-parter. I like to believe that somehow LIberty can teleport, which would explain that (sort of), though I do wonder why on earth it had to get them instead of just a normal Angel.

    Complaints aside, I have one more comment to make. The Doctor from Dinosaurs couldn’t have been that Doctor; he didn’t recognize Brian, and even if he was pretending not to for the sake of lacking confusion amongst the main character, it still doesn’t explain how he knew Brian in episode 4. Oh Brian, poor, poor Brian…

    In the meantime, I don’t expect much of a discussion to arise from here as we’re on cultfix which is substantially more dark and quite than DoctorWhoTV, so I have all intentions of re-posting this on your next review.

    I have one question:

    If you had to rank all your NuWho episodes in order, about where would it go?

  • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dQw4w9WgXcQ dalekjack

    I don’t have much to say on this, I’ve said most of it on Clint’s DWTV review. The only thing I can say is that the “It’s marriage” jumping off the building scene would have been my least favourite exit scene. I preferred the graveyard scene, but then again I preferred Rory’s death bed scene. Anyway, great review!

  • https://twitter.com/#!/Jawsey The Weeping Jawsey

    A very interesting review Adam that I enjoyed reading. While our perspectives on DW tend to vary, I do find your opinions and ideas on DW’s direction (and perhaps more specifically Moffat), like adding Garner as a supporting character enlightening and thoughtful.

    I will focus on the ending, as you have covered most of my opinions on the rest of the episode rather well. Why is the final ending better than the suicide? Because the Doctor once more gets a very, very bad and sad ending to this story, while the Ponds do not.

    The show is not called “The Amy and Rory Show”, and the whole point of a companion is for them to act as us, to ask the questions and think the thoughts that we, the viewer do. So that is why companions must have a happier ending, because otherwise we are relating to a dark, miserable end that will not appeal to the wide audience

    As an after-thought, I think this is probably why River and Jack are so popular in the Whoniverse, characters who do not have as rosy futures as the main companions. It’s these sort of characters that give the series balance, and allows it to deal with the darker tones of story lines without compromising the role of the main companion(s).

    So were the Ponds to have died first time, that would have been a very dark ending indeed, and not the sort of tone that DW should go down to maintain it’s long-term success. Such tones should be saved largely for the Doctor himself, who can take all the pain and suffering because he must, and so can keep the story going

  • GibbyBlogger

    Thank you for awarding it 8/10. For a moment, reading through, I thought you would give it 5 or 6 out of 10. It was a great review, as always, which pinpoints the good and bad points of the episode. Some are the same as everyone else’s, some are completely the opposite but, they are all explained in great detail as to why you’ve come to that decision.
    I may not agree with some of the points you have made but, we seem to have both come to the same sort of conclusion – although there were a few confusing moments, the heart breaking elements of the episode, and the shocks, and creepiness of the Angels and the Cherubs, bring it up to deserve a high rating. I awarded it 9/10 but, still, I am happy with your decision on 8/10 :)

  • http://www.twitter.com/TheLostTsundere The Oncoming Angel

    Great review TheStranger, great piece of writing. I have more than a few disagreements, but I need to note that childlike Doctor is a facade. It’s protecting himself from looking deeper and seeing what he hates within him.

    Also, I thought the graveyard scene was very fitting, particularly with what it’ll do to the Doctor.

    ‘You have me hope and then you took it away. That’s enough to make anyone dangerous. God knows what’ll do to me.’

  • Aithusa

    The statue of liberty?!

Follow

rss twitter youtube facebook