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Doctor Who XXXI.4: The Time of Angels

April 29th, 2010 (12:44 am)

There are noises in my loft; sudden fleeting scrapes, the gentlest and most abrupt of taps.

I dare not open the door. I dare not enter that darkness. I dare not even let my thoughts dwell on what lives there.

For if I did open that door, I might see a statue looking down at me, its face contorted in hate and hunger, its mouth open, its fangs bared, its wings ready...

...and if I don't see that statue, I'll know that I am very unlucky.

I've been late with this review, through one thing and another, hence the fifth Doctor icon which graces this post rather than my eleventh Doctor one; but have been flattered that it has actually been asked after! Thank you.

The Time of Angels was a welcome return to form after the uncertain execution of Victory of the Daleks last week, and the abrupt rush to a conclusion which jarred my admiration for The Beast Below the week before. It wasn't perfect. The Delirium Museum was clearly a church location, which threw me, and I then expected a series of lingering looks over the contents of each case until we reached the item which would advance the plot, as we surely would, and did. However, it has long since stopped being 2005, and the audience can now be trusted to imagine the sort of items with which the Doctor might 'keep score'. In Dalek, when the TARDIS landed in Henry Van Statten's underground museum, the alien was still presumed to be something new which had to be spelt out to the Saturday night audience, the Doctor's history a treasure which might prove too rich for them. Now all we need is one item and long-term viewers would surely be able to anticipate the message inscribed upon it.

River's reintroduction contained one element which was perhaps a little too arch, as her conversation with Alistair lacked the chemistry the dialogue demanded; but if one is to be expelled into 'the airless vacuum of space' (as I think the prefaces to the early Target Cybermen novelizations put it) in the hope that the message you have scrawled onto a spacecraft's home box will at some point be read by a time traveller with whom you have an ambiguous relationship, then wearing a black dress with silver sequins is probably the way to go. (I didn't notice that the shoes were red until later; and there was an animated discussion among my viewing group over whether the handbag was an appropriate one for the occasion.)

The Doctor encounters River some time before her death in Forest of the Dead; there is enough room in the Doctor's reaction to her, and River's to him, for there to have been one or two further encounters with the Tennant Doctor between then and The Time of Angels. (This impression may of course be contradicted by information in the next episode.) Professor Bernice Summerfield, another archaeologist close to the Doctor, but a habituée of the niche realms of books and audio rather than  of mass-audience television Doctor Who, is in Dr Song's DNA; and Benny's credentials were suspect too. The audience is kept guessing over just how far River really knows the Doctor; what her relationship with Father Octavian's church militant is; and whether archaeologist is a cover identity for something else. A confidence trickster, perhaps even with ties to the Time Agency like her contemporary Jack Harkness? Or is this just trying to fit her into established moulds? Whatever the truth, River has said and done enough to convince the Doctor of their relationship, and enjoys her wifely familiarity with him. Perhaps, though, she learned the secret she shares with the Doctor in Silence in the Library from the same source she learned Old High Gallifreyan, or how to fly a TARDIS... perhaps there is a fobwatch, which remains closed; its owner might value her humanity too much to open it, but she occasionally lets it talk to her...

“SPOILERS!” - perhaps.

River is consultant to a party of 'clerics'. It grates a little to hear the term used as a form of address or as an honorific, but the Church has moved on as the Doctor says; a pity there were no women, though. I leave further analysis of the implications of this episode, for the time being, to an expert on the clergy) complements the angels well, and not only because most viewers will associate angels with Christianity. The Angels are creatures of faith, at their most powerful when they are unseen, and preying on self-doubt; it would appear that the Angel whose image is held inside Amy is an idea struggling for the independence River cited in her rare book, growing stronger as Amy doubts herself, and able first to change Amy's perception of the universe and then possibly reality itself. One might wonder whether Block Transfer Computation might be mentioned next week; it would be tidy for Steven Moffat to tuck Christopher H. Bidmead's mystic science into his fairytale horror, if we are to find out more about where the angels and their power comes from. The Angels have evolved successfully as a threat: the design of the regenerating Angels, gaining features as a skeleton might regain flesh, and then caught in mid-restoration (the scripted term, again emphasising that these are living architectural features) was gruesomely and coldly suggestive, while their brutality in commandeering cerebral cortices was juxtaposed well with their physical grace.

Amy, meanwhile, seems much more familiar (or willing to attempt familiarity) with the Doctor than she did, particularly with the 'Mr Grumpyface' comment; one suspects she is interacting more with the Doctor of her imagination than the Doctor with whom she now travels, something which might be developed more later in the season. Alternatively, though, she knows that she can treat the Doctor irreverently because he needs a best friend; where Russell T Davies needed to foreground that the Doctor needed someone through dialogue, for the moment Steven Moffat lets this play out through character moments alone.

The script implies that the Doctor and Amy have not made any other calls since they left Whitehall at the end of Victory of the Daleks. It's not immediate, though, as Amy has changed her outfit, now wearing clothes similar to those worn by Emma, the Rowan Atkinson Doctor's companion-fiancée from The Curse of Fatal Death, the Steven Moffat-scripted Comic Relief special from 1999. An in-joke, perhaps, and a tribute to Steven Moffat on the grounds that this was his first story as head writer to go before the cameras. I still wait patiently for a guest role for Julia Sawalha.

The cliffhanger was greatly effective, giving Angel Bob dialogue reminiscent of the Daleks' lines at the close of Bad Wolf, and allowing the Doctor a forthright statement of self-definition. As other commentators have noted, this series has shifted the Doctor away from playing the role of emotionally tortured protagonist, to someone whose inner world is much more mysterious and difficult for other beings to read. This doesn't make him less real within the drama; just that he becomes less open to the audience as he has to be interpreted through other characters' attempts to interact with him. Amy is doing very well at this so far; next week's developments with the story arc will see Amy and the Doctor come face to face with the crack in the wall – or crooked smile, as some are now calling it – which might lead to a more uncomfortable conversation between them than we have so far seen.

 

Comments

Posted by: Susan (lil_shepherd)
Posted at: April 29th, 2010 07:44 am (UTC)
hug

Thanks for this. It take a scholar of the series to pick up on detail, and I'm happy to let you do it for me!

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: April 29th, 2010 10:56 am (UTC)

Thanks! I'm glad that you are enjoying this series.

Posted by: ooxc (ooxc)
Posted at: April 29th, 2010 10:13 am (UTC)

"party of 'clerics'. It grates a little to hear the term used as a form of address or as an honorific"

????
In the several Anglican clergy households where I've lived, (including childhood) "clerics" was normal to cover a mixed party of deacons, priests and bushops.
If you mean "Bishop", that's how we always addressed a bishop staying in the house - perhaps until about 1962. If more than one, e.g. at a gathering or conference, the second person address was"Bishop 'forename'") and the third person was simply the name of the diocese, which sometimes became problematic -( "Do you know where Durhan is?")
After about 1962, when forenme alone became more usual.
Admittedly, Catholics were more formal unitl much later

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: April 29th, 2010 10:44 am (UTC)

I'm thinking of the way the form of address is used - 'Cleric Angelo', 'Cleric Bob', rather than Father or Brother, or Bishop etc.

Posted by: ooxc (ooxc)
Posted at: April 29th, 2010 10:53 am (UTC)

Thank you! I missed that - I rely very much on subtitles, and it can be difficult to read them as well as follow the action.
However, it's a logical progression, to avoid the confusing Father/Brother/ Mother/Sister
E,g I know an Anglican priest who insists on being called Mother, which makes people think that she's the Superior of an Anglican Order.

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: April 29th, 2010 10:55 am (UTC)

This is why I regretted slightly that there were no women clerics, though with the Angels appearing to be female perhaps a gender contrast was being thrown in.

Posted by: widsidh (widsidh)
Posted at: April 30th, 2010 07:01 pm (UTC)
K9

seeing the way the clergy has developed, maybe the women just know better than to get involved ;-)

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: April 30th, 2010 07:13 pm (UTC)

What about equality in the armed forces? :)

Posted by: widsidh (widsidh)
Posted at: May 3rd, 2010 12:36 pm (UTC)
K9

Equality does include the right to say no!

And anyway, we are hardly looking at a statistically relevant sample of th clergy here :-)


[toned-down version, as promised...]

Posted by: ooxc (ooxc)
Posted at: April 29th, 2010 10:20 am (UTC)

"particularly with the 'Mr Grumpyface' comment"

Thank you - that's a reference I might have used in my speculation anout Amy's age and identity.

http://ooxc.livejournal.com/21422.html#cutid

Posted by: daniel_saunders (daniel_saunders)
Posted at: April 29th, 2010 12:13 pm (UTC)
Doctor Who

I thought this was the best episode since Turn Left, although for obvious reasons I have not had the time/inclination to type up my notes on it yet.

River reminded me more of Paul Magrs' Iris Wildthyme than Benny in this episode, although you are right that there is an element of Captain Jack in her too, which I did not notice at the time.

Posted by: Virgers! How are we doing with those explosives? (tree_and_leaf)
Posted at: April 29th, 2010 02:28 pm (UTC)
slope

a pity there were no women,

That was one reason that I assumed they were some kind of order, which might potentially also explain the rather odd honorific use of 'cleric', and the fact that only Fr Octavian gets called 'father', which would normally imply he was the only priest. Perhaps the clerics are a revived sort of minor order, like exorcists used to be.

Or possibly I am overthinking it.

Edited at 2010-04-29 02:30 pm (UTC)

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: April 29th, 2010 02:51 pm (UTC)
Troughton

Octavian is also a bishop second class; perhaps a suffragan, or a bishop in partibus Dalekium.

I didn't know that exorcists were a minor order. In a sense this lot are exorcists...

Posted by: Virgers! How are we doing with those explosives? (tree_and_leaf)
Posted at: April 29th, 2010 03:01 pm (UTC)
Anglicans not angels

Suffragan would be my guess (though of course to an extent the ranks were chosen to sound incongruous, I assume)

I think the minor order of exorcists has now been abolished (though not the office, of course...) And yes, dealing with the angels struck me as a kind of exorcism.

Posted by: Dewi Evans (wonderwelsh)
Posted at: April 30th, 2010 02:07 pm (UTC)

Fascinating as always - especially on the significance of the angel imagery.

I didn't think too much about the significance of the miltaristic 'clerics', I must admit. Although I enjoyed the comedy value afforded by the incongruity between the perceived stuffiness of the church and the pragmatic millitarism of these soldiers: 'Verger! Are those explosives primed?', in particular, raised a smile.

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: April 30th, 2010 02:53 pm (UTC)

Thank you, as ever. I'm heading somewhere with the angel imagery, and hope to be able to say more about it following tomorrow night's episode. What exists above suffers from my mind being a room decorated with disparate pieces of furniture which don't necessarily complement each other.