Doctor Who Series 7 Roundtable: “The Angels Take Manhattan”

Every week, my buddies and I will discuss the new episode of Doctor Who. We call this the Doctor Who roundtable. Creative, huh? 

Cory: It’s been a few days since the Doctor Who fall finale, “The Angels Take Manhattan.” And I don’t know about you three, but I’m still pretty sad. While we were ready for Amy and Rory to say goodbye, it was emotionally-wrenching to watch happen. There are some timey-wimey things I’d like to discuss as we get more into this but on an emotional level, this episode hit all the high marks. It was partially celebratory, somewhat tragic and ultimately, quite powerful. The episode circled back around to Amy’s first appearance and somehow managed to pay all that off while still setting up some compelling things for the next string of episodes. So, how are we feeling? Still sad? In shock?

Myc: I’m not in shock at all. They’re departure was expected, and their deaths were sort of what we predicted. Though how they went about achieving that, allowing the companions to die but still being rather cheerful about it, was very interesting. Very well done. And very sad. I’m not too proud to say that I was a little misty eyed by the end of the episode. It was extremely powerful to see Rory’s willingness to sacrifice himself to save everyone, and to see Amy’s refusal to let him go alone.

The afterword written and read by Amy was a brilliant touch that really brought everything full circle and allowed us to accept the departure (and death) of the companions more easily. Having Amy echo the whole “girl who waited” thing worked really well. And the Angels. That worked so brilliantly. It really takes me back to S5 when Amy really began to come into her own as a companion and is introduced to River. There’s some nice narrative reverberation between “The Angels Take Manhattan” and “The Time of Angels”/“Flesh and Stone” that I really appreciated. 

So this worked really well, and I’m not in shock at all. Though I am sadder than I thought I would be, which is a tribute to both how much attachment I have/had to Amy and Rory and to the Who team’s ability to really make this episode hit every emotional moment perfectly.

Tony: Not really shocked, as Myc said, the departure was expected. A bit sad, though. I’m always sad when a companion leaves. Just like the Doctor, we won’t ever get to see Amy and Rory again, and the long-time attachment is hard to get over. It took me a second viewing to have the tears come (the first viewing I was entirely too focused on how their departure would actually happen) but those tears were earned by all the people who did great work in crafting “The Angels Take Manhattan.”

I love, love, love how this episode (and “Blink” before it) makes the audience a part of the experience. In “Blink” we never saw the Angels move; our eyes kept them from moving as much as any character in the program. “The Time of Angels” and “Flesh and Stone” ruined a lot of the appeal of the Angels, at least for me. We saw them move and we were no longer a part of the show, we were back to becoming spectators. The amount of joy I had in not seeing the Angels move here cannot be overstated. 

Travis: This ending was very well done, with enough emotion weight to pack a punch. I enjoyed Matt Smith’s performance as the Doctor wrestled with the idea that he was going to lose Amy and Rory and tried his hardest to stop it. This was the man who was fairly calm about undoing his own death but was pretty distraught about others. Like you all have said to provided a nice bookend to the whole Amy arc and really tied the last few seasons together. I have a minor concern with how the show will continue from here. The primer of season five was narrated by Amy and told from the point of view of the girl who waited. In many ways Matt Smith’s Doctor was been defined by Amy (and Rory). It will be interesting to see how the Doctor changes when separated from these companions.

I felt the Statue of Liberty Angel was a bit hokey, but worked. Is this the last time that we will see River now that her parents are gone? While I enjoy River and would like to still she her now and again, it seems that this also provided some conclusion to her story. Thoughts?

Cory: I’m apparently a sap because I’m still a little sad about it. Matt Smith is my Doctor and Amy and Rory are my companions. This is the first time I’ve really had to go through this with the show (since I burned through the first four seasons on Netflix in a short time) and it blows. I’m happy that the show is now forced to write stories about the Doctor not having to rely on Amy and the emotional beats were wonderful – but I’ll still miss her. And golly, I think I’ll miss Rory so much more and I appreciated that he took charge with the plan to create the paradox. It was fitting for him to save them all by dying yet again. 

Now, I don’t want to divulge into navel-gazing here but I’m curious to hear what you guys think about the logic of this episode. It’s Doctor Who and we have to go with it, I get that. But some of the plot mechanics of this episode were problematic, right? So if it’s written in a book, it can’t be undone? BOOKS? Like, really? And the Doctor could never go back and see them but River, with whatever it was she used to get there (vortex something?), could? Couldn’t the Doctor just borrow that machine to go back to NYC? Can he never go to NYC again? I understand and frankly, appreciate, that Moffat made sure that there’s really no way for the Doctor to go back and that this is a true goodbye but that seemed a little silly to me. 

Myc: I agree to an extent Cory. The thing with this show is that they always have to come up with something to prevent the Doctor from just fixing everything, which sort of consistently breaks the logic of the show. So we get rules like the Doctor can’t go back in his own timeline or that there are fixed points in time that can never be changed. The vortex manipulator is a weird device. The Doctor once called it a dirty and inelegant way to travel in time. It was present “The Big Bang” and has been used frequently by Jack and River but you’re right it is a little problematic. And the book thing is less that it’s simply written in a book and more that it’s their future that has been written as history – so in this case for some reason it’s fixed. We’ve seen allusions to this before in the journal of River. Basically this book contains spoilers. Though we’ve seen in the past how diegetic historical facts have changed depending on the actions of the Doctor (“The Waters of Mars”) – though even in cases like this the ending results are ultimately the same.

Yet, the Doctor doesn’t seem completely locked out of ever seeing Amy and Rory again: there’s a loophole. He can’t go back to NYC in 1938  in the TARDIS (though he could probably use an alternative form like the vortex manipulator or the Teselecta). So theoretically Amy and Rory could return in a future episode for a guest spot but the Doctor couldn’t change their fate because that is now fixed in time. I think. Maybe. Probably not though.

Cory: Yeah, and if he can’t go to NYC, can’t he just transport to New Jersey in the TARDIS and then take a cab? Or a horse, or whatever? 

Myc: It seems like it. Or he could just go to 1941. Or 1953. Or something. He can grab them later in their timeline or something. I mean it seems like there are totally ways around it.

Tony: My interpretation of the narrative is that Amy and Rory don’t live out life in normal time. The Angels repeatedly transport you back in time to the same “time-locked” point and feed off your time energy. The Doctor can’t see them in their 50s because they will be in the same spot in time during their 50s. I thought it was an eloquent way of making sure there was nothing that the Doctor could do in order to go back.

In regards to the vortex manipulator: David Tennant explained it as hitching a ride on the energy created by traveling through time. The manipulator doesn’t actually travel through time itself, but rather needs another to travel so it can tag along. This is why Captain Jack and River are always bumping into the Doctor. If the Doctor can’t travel back to see/save Amy and Rory then the manipulator is worthless in being able to go back as well. I thought Moffat did an excellent job of covering his tracks with Doctor Who mythos.

Myc: But doesn’t the paradox created by Rory and Amy destroy the Angels time-loop? The Angel that transported Amy and Rory back was a survivor of the paradox and the paradox is one of the things that locked that point in time. So my understanding is that after they are transported backwards in time by the graveyard Angel they would move forward through time normally because the Angel-Time-Loop-Hotel doesn’t exist anymore. No?

Tony: The Doctor referenced the rogue Angel as a survivor. Presumably a survivor of the paradox. Both River and the Doctor state the difficulty in actually traveling to that point in time prior to the paradox. My read of the narrative was that the Angels have no difficulty accessing that point in time, as they are beings that “control” time in a fashion, and that Rory/Amy were transported back to the time locked point.

Travis: I had the same read as Cory and Myc about the ending. I am pretty sure the Angels were removed by Rory’s sacrifice. This is why the Statue of Liberty and the rest of New York is no longer overrun with Angels. The big deal with them escaping 1938 New York is that it undid Rory’s timeline of dying in that bed. He wouldn’t have died alone crying out to see Amy one last time if she was not only back with him, but also outlives him (assume she isn’t too much older than him). The whole wrap-up of the episode seems to point out that not only was the narrative tension resolved (Angels) but that Amy and Rory also had a pleasant, albeit sad, send off. I am pretty sure The Doctor wouldn’t be too cool with them being used a time energy slaves for about 50 years. It also makes it a completely tragic send off.

Cory: So, what did we think of River’s re-appearance? I noted that she wasn’t my favorite and that’s mostly based on how broad the character was portrayed last season and just how integral she ended up being. Season six’s ongoing mythology was simply too convoluted for me and as the focal point of that, River became a problematic character. But here, I thought she was dialed back a little bit. Not so much overly-verbose Moffat-y language. Thoughts?

Myc: I love River, always have. The relationship between her and the Doctor has continued to grow, and the way they play with and off of one another is fantastic. The Doctor prepping to go see her and his using time energy to heal her was particularly nice. As was her conversation with Amy about never letting the Doctor see you age. It added a lot to their relationship without having to say too much. It left room for the audience to infer and interpret the particulars of what it means to be married to the Doctor. Subtlety in Doctor Who!

And I think they’ve done just a fantastic job of developing her as a character. She was great and Alex Kingston was magnificent in playing her this week.

Travis: I like River. I kind of mentioned this earlier that I feel that main reason why she was included in this episode because it was the sendoff for her parents. With the end for Amy and Rory, it almost feels like also the end for River. Since we already know River’s fate (unless it gets changed) and the events of season six, it seems ever-likely that we will be seeing her less. I wouldn’t be surprised if we never see River again, unless it is for a big season-ending type of an episode.

It was also a bit odd to see River being River but now actively referring to The Doctor as her husband and Amy and Rory as parents. We haven’t seen them off on adventures together since all that info was found out, so it was just interesting to finally see the shift in relationship titles.

Tony: I loved the Doctor’s final checks before exiting the TARDIS and the “yowza” comments were perfect when we found out that he was referring to River. I’ve been waiting to see those little moments for years knowing that River was someone very important to the Doctor but he didn’t know it yet. I really hope she gets to stay around for more adventures because I’d really enjoy seeing River develop even more as a character alongside the Doctor without this constant reference to “spoilers.”

Cory: What do we think this means for the Doctor? Despite some bumpy moments, these first five episodes have really hammered home that he shouldn’t travel alone – which almost guarantees that he will, at least for a bit. You don’t do that warning without actually showing us the consequences of him not heeding it, right?

Tony: I think we’ve seen the consequences of traveling alone. We’ve seen the Doctor take multiple lives and lose the desire to find a solution that keeps everyone from harm (re: wanting to hand over the other doctor to his death). River has mentioned a time period where she traveled with the Doctor and we have yet to really see that take place. I presume that the Christmas special will include River and the Doctor’s travels along with Oswin becoming the new companion. 

I’m curious as to where this season leaves us. The Doctor is “unknown” by large portions of the universe and you would think that the story would turn back around to the story arc we left in season six (unless that is completely done now?). Are the Silence done with? Are there problems for the Doctor without his reputation?

Myc: I’m with you Cory on the whole “we should probably see him travel alone for a bit” deal, but that virtually guarantees that we won’t. That and the preview for the Christmas special already teased Oswin. The next episode will probably show us a Doctor who as traveled alone for a spell and somehow finds Oswin in some sort of wacky space coincidence. Tony, I like your mention of a possible appearance by River, and while she didn’t appear in that 14 second preview I would welcome that. I’ve wanted to see River and the Doctor travel together for a long time now. At least for a few episodes. Maybe we could see their adventure with Fred the Fish!  That would be interesting.

I’m still at a point where I want to refer to this season as S6.5 instead of S7. As I mentioned when we discussed “The Power of Three” I still feel like last season was incomplete, that the Doctor allowed the Silence to think they’ve won and that we ended the series with a prophecy. Maybe this self-erasure from the universe’s memory is an attempt to circumvent that prophecy and end the Silence thing without having to delve into the whole Fields of Trenzalore thing. I honestly don’t know.

As for the Doctor without his reputation, it does seem problematic. Time and again he has relied on his reputation to save the day/protect the human race without having to resort to extreme violence ( “Forest of the Dead” and “The Eleventh Hour” most notably spring to mind); then there’s the fact that half the universe is in his debt and he is seen as a God-like figure (a big theme in S6), so this problematizes his history and ability to do his thing somewhat. And weirdly it seems like he’s messing with fixed time. He’s erasing himself from history and feeling fine about that, which seems oddly non-Doctor-y (as Tony noted when we discussed “Asylum of the Daleks” – he was completely fine with Oswin deleting any trace of him from the Daleks shared memory). I’m curious to see where this goes. Moffat has a lot of balls in the air to keep juggling, and it feels like he’s always adding more, eventually it feels like one is going to have to drop.

Travis: I wonder if the Doctor, already aware Oswin’s fate, will have a better time wrestling with the eventually loss of her as a companion. Does this then remove that tension that we had with Amy and Rory? We know they have to leave, but The Doctor doesn’t want them to leave, so something drastic has to happen. With Oswin, her fate is already “sealed” therefore it removes that tension of how the companion eventually leaves the Doctor’s side. Or the whole focus could be on the Doctor trying to undermine time and free Oswin of her Dalek fate. Thoughts?

Cory: That’s a great point. And you could also maybe suggest that because the Doctor is presumably going to be depressed because of Rory and Amy and because he knows Oswin’s fate, he’ll be extra motivated to save her. His hang-ups with the Ponds could very well be projected onto her in a way, perhaps he’ll grow obsessed with saving her because he can’t save the other two?

Myc: That’s an interesting thought and one I’ve often thought about River. Since the Doctor knows her fate, might he try to get around it somehow? The weird thing about Oswin, though, is that if her fate is “sealed” and she is to eventually wind up as a Dalek (and presuming that this is after all of her wacky adventures with the Doctor) wouldn’t she have recognized him? I can’t imagine that a companion of the Doctor’s is going to be trapped on a Dalek nightmare world and when the Doctor shows up they don’t instantly go off on how glad they are that he’s there and yada yada yada. What would be the reasoning? She isn’t sure where he is in his timeline so, spoilers? I think Moffat is going to work around that somehow or else Oswin becomes too much like River, which would be bad. I agree that after the Ponds he would be very much more motivated to save Oswin if he could, so maybe her not recognizing him is somehow indicative of an alternative timeline. In any case, I don’t want to wait until Christmas to begin to find out!

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