Keeping Score and Snapping Necks
“Ooooooh, Doctor, you ‘sonicked’ her.”
We open in a grassy field. More accurately, we open in a grassy field of a guard’s mind, where he stands in a daze, a vision induced by hallucinogenic lipstick. Snapping to reality in the hallway of a spaceship, his superior finds him, sees the telltale pink evidence on his face, and simply says, “She’s here.”
The “she” in question strides down another hall in heels, sunglasses, and a long dress. If you have been paying attention to the upcoming scenes in any previous episodes, you likely have a good guess who this is, but she will be shrouded in mystery about one minute longer, as she breaks into a room and burns an impression into a metallic box-shaped item using a gun that doubles as a mini-blowtorch.
12,000 years later, the Doctor is enthusiastically taking Amy on a tour of the Delirium Archive, a museum on an asteroid that serves as the final resting place of the Headless Monks. (Moffat must have had a silly grin on his face when he came up with that one.) It’s the biggest museum in history, and the Doctor inspects the display cases, as he shouts out corrections and admires his own donations. Amy is bored with the Doctor’s way of “keeping score” and wants to visit an alien planet. The Doctor pauses at a starship “home box,” the equivalent of our airplanes’ black boxes, except that these automatically fly home in the event of an emergency. He notes that there is ancient Gallifreyan chiseled into the exterior that reads “Hello, sweetie.”
Briefly flashing back, we catch sight of River Song lowering her sunglasses to wink into the security camera, and the Doctor and Amy steal the home box and escape on the TARDIS with museum security in pursuit. Amy and the Doctor plug the box into the TARDIS and watch River Song’s escape from the ship. The aforementioned superior and two guards catch up with River just in time for her to announce coordinates for the security recording intended for the Doctor’s ears, warn them about the contents of their vault that will never allow them to reach their destination, and blow open a hole in the hull of the ship, known as the Byzantium. With characteristic River Song sass (in just a couple minutes Moffat has already made her a recurring character that we will anticipate even more), she is sucked into the vacuum of space, where the Doctor pilots the TARDIS just in time to catch her.
After a very hasty reintroduction, she exclaims, “Follow that ship!” (What an opening.) There is a bumpy pursuit as the Byzantium goes into warp. The Doctor is on the verge of losing their quarry, but River keeps them close by activating stabilizers that seem to be beyond the Doctor’s knowledge. Amy is surprised to see that River can skillfully pilot the TARDIS, a fact that makes the Doctor very grumpy. River brings the TARDIS to a completely quiet landing next to the ship’s final destination, which leads to one of the most amusing exchanges in Doctor Who history.
“But…it didn’t make the noise.”
“You know the…” The Doctor imitates the TARDIS’s trademark disappearing and reappearing noise with a repeated wheeze.
“It’s not supposed to make that noise. You leave the brakes on.”
The Doctor lets River Song exit the TARDIS to chase her ship, which has crash-landed, and then he shuts the door behind her so that he and Amy can leave. Amy demands an explanation, and the Doctor tells her that River is his future. He would rather run away than remain with her. Amy, however, convinces him to let her explore this alien planet, Alfava Metraxis.
Outside, they discover that the Byzantium has crashed on top of an old temple that would seem to be unoccupied. Amy and River have a more proper introduction and share a bonding moment over the inevitability of the Doctor’s turning up in a museum to “keep score.” The Doctor inadvertently reveals to River that in the future she will be a Professor. They ponder what caused the ship to crash, and River reveals that deep in the belly of the ship is a creature that cannot die. This merits the Doctor’s attention.
Using a helpful sonic boost from the Doctor’s screwdriver, River calls down reinforcements from a ship in orbit that has followed her. Reinforcements consist of a group of “Clerics” that are dressed in camouflage and outfitted like soldiers. Led by Father Octavian, they have been working with River on a covert investigation; their mission is to neutralize the Weeping Angel that is inside the ship, which of course cements the Doctor’s attention.
The Clerics set up camp in the temple and plan to access the ship by going through the temple’s catacombs and cutting their way into the ship from below. The Doctor and Amy engage in some very cute circumlocution that teasingly reveals absolutely nothing about whether or not the Doctor will marry River Song one day. This conversation also establishes that Amy will be tagging along for the adventure despite the Doctor’s warning that the Weeping Angel is as dangerous and malevolent a force as the universe has to offer.
River, Amy, Octavian, and the Doctor examine four seconds of a looping security tape that River had obtained from the Byzantium that is footage of the Weeping Angel inside the ship’s vault. The Doctor reveals that the Angels encountered in “Blink” were nothing but weak scavengers and recounts for Amy (and any audience members who did not see Carey Mulligan’s pre-Oscar role of Sally Sparrow) the ultimate defense mechanism that is the nature of these creatures: As long as they are being watched, they are unmoving statues.
The Doctor quizzes Octavian about the nature of the planet with its many human colonists and senses danger. River requests his help in Angel lore, and they pore through the only book of Angel expertise that River could find. Amy has nothing to do but gaze curiously at the security feed of the Angel.
That’s when the creep-out begins, folks. The image of the Angel - which should only be four seconds of repeating footage - is slowly moving when Amy is not watching and turning toward the “camera.” It moves closer to the monitor. Amy’s dread rises as she tries to turn off the monitor that continually switches itself back on. The Angel creeps closer and bares its fangs as Amy’s gaze strays from the screen. She tries to escape through the door, which is now electronically locked.
The Doctor realizes that the book contains no pictures of the Angels and determines the meaning of the words contained therein: “That which holds an image of an Angel becomes itself an Angel.” The Doctor and River try to reach Amy, but the room is deadlocked, as is the power to the screen. The flickering image of the Angel is now beyond the screen and in the room with Amy. The Doctor warns her not take her eyes off it but also not to look into its eyes, as the eyes are the doors rather than the windows to the soul, per the book. Amy does look into its eyes, but she vanquishes the Angel’s projection by pausing the monitor at the point on the tape that resets to the beginning. This momentary blip in the image causes the door to unlock and the screen to switch off, as it was no longer the image of an Angel. Amy seems to be okay, but outside the sight of the Doctor and River she rubs her eye in irritation.
Octavian and his men use demolitions to access the temple and its catacombs, also known as the “Maze of the Dead,” owing to the fact that the native dead are buried in its walls. In the dark labyrinth are innumerable humanoid statues, a fact that will make finding the single Angel all the more difficult. The Doctor illuminates the cavern using a gravity globe (a lantern that floats in the air above them) that the Clerics have on hand and sets out to lead them in finding the Angel. Octavian takes his absence as an opportunity to confirm with River that the Doctor does not yet know who she is. Were he to know, he might not help them. River assures him that she will help the Clerics and has no intention of returning to prison.
Amy is following the Doctor and stops. She is disturbed to find that rubbing her eye causes sand to fall from it. River asks her if anything is wrong, but Amy is too unsettled by this development to admit to it yet. River treats her for potential radiation exposure from the Byzantium, and Amy quizzes River about the nature of her past relationship with the Doctor (i.e., his future). River is teasingly vague.
Meanwhile, unknown to the rest of the party, two soldiers — Angelo and Christian — that were sent by Octavian to explore an exit in the first chamber are ambushed by the Angel. Another soldier, Bob, has an itchy trigger finger and fires his gun at one of the statues. Octavian admonishes him, but the Doctor tells Bob being afraid is understandable. Octavian sends Bob back through the cave as reinforcement for Christian and Angelo.
The Doctor muses over the planet’s original inhabitants, a two-headed race of beings that are now extinct. The Doctor offers a bit of not-too-veiled social commentary when he mentions that these creatures ran into trouble when the church decreed that they could not self-marry. The discussion prompts the Doctor to realize that all the statues in the catacombs have only one head. The Doctor orders them to back against a wall and dim their torches for a moment. The statues - which do not have the defined grotesque features of the Weeping Angels that we know - have moved toward them. Every statue in the maze - dozens if not hundreds - is a Weeping Angel.
Bob is lured into a trap by a false transmission from Angelo, and the Weeping Angel attacks. The Doctor and company realize that these Angels in the catacombs were the cause of the extinction of the two-headed race, but they have now been starving for centuries with their images - the source of their power - slowly eroding. They are not as fast as the fully energized Angel that was on the ship. Hence, the Doctor concludes that the Angel crashed the Byzantium into this site to restore power to these dormant Angels.
Bob establishes communication with Octavian, and Bob reveals that Christian and Angelo had their necks snapped by the Angel. The Doctor is puzzled that these Angels are killing people rather than transporting them backward in time as the Angels of “Blink” did. They must have a use for these bodies. To Octavian’s chagrin, the Doctor interrupts by snatching the communicator and learns from Bob that his neck was also snapped. The Angel has no voice and is using Bob’s reanimated cerebral cortex to communicate. This is a simple but eerily effective device that Moffat employed in a similar manner in “Silence in the Library” / “Forest of the Dead”: a matter-of-fact recorded voice from beyond the grave that is not quite itself.
Bob lets the Doctor know that he - i.e., the Angel - is on his way to them. The Doctor orders them to the hall of the temple directly beneath the Byzantium. The Doctor and Octavian share a pointed exchange in which the Doctor apologizes for the loss of the Clerics that the Angels killed, and Octavian bitterly tells him that he will convey the sentiment to the families of the men after the Doctor has flown away in his little blue box. The Doctor and Amy are delayed during their retreat when Amy’s arm seems to turn to stone, thus keeping her from running any farther.
The Doctor realizes that she looked into the eyes of the Angel and tells her that her stone arm is a hallucination. The lamps are flickering and the Angels are closing in. Amy insists she leave him behind for the sake of his future with River, and the Doctor refuses to go. He snaps her out of her hallucination by biting her hand, and they regroup with the others.
Beneath the Byzantium their flashlights and the gravity globe above are flickering, as the Angels are draining their power. Once the lights are out, they will have no protection against the ever-approaching Angels. They are surrounded, and they have no way to climb to the Byzantium above. “Angel Bob” contacts the Doctor once again via the communicator and taunts him with the fact that Bob died alone and afraid. The Doctor had failed him.
The Doctor asks everyone to trust him and borrows Octavian’s gun. (Yes, the Doctor is going outside of his usual character to wield a gun.) He tells them all to jump as high as possible on his signal, despite the fact that his plan is incredibly stupid and dangerous. The lights continue to flicker, and the unwatched Angels draw nearer. Angel Bob doubts the Doctor’s ability to escape the Angels’ trap.
“There’s one thing you never put in a trap if you’re smart - if you value your continued existence. If you have any plans about seeing tomorrow, there’s one thing you never ever put in a trap.”
“And what would that be, sir?” Angel Bob asks.
“Me,” The Doctor replies, as he fires the gun upward toward the gravity globe, which showers streaks of light downward.
That does it for part one, with part two, “Flesh and Stone,” and its answer to this cliffhanger a week away. (Yes, I know some of you have already seen it, but once again please try to avoid the spoilers or keep them clearly marked if you absolutely must delve into them.)
I thought this action-driven episode was certainly the strongest of the season thus far. The return of the Weeping Angels and River Song together lived up to the billing, and neither element suffered due to crowding from the other. Moffat kept the adventure rolling with his characteristic witty dialogue.
Do you like the seemingly inevitable romantic path that the Doctor and River share? Is she suited for him? Do we even want more romance out of Doctor Who? Alex Kingston would seem to be set up for a recurring role that will last this season and more to come. How many incarnations of the Doctor will it take for their relationship to fully develop?
Does the homicidal shift in the nature of the Angels feel like blasphemy against “Blink”? Do you like the addition to their mythology that imbues power in their mere images?
Is it a cheat for the Doctor to fire a gun, even if he is not firing at a living thing, or is that what makes this cliffhanger all the better?
I leave the floor open to your thoughts. If you feel the need to revisit the episode, though, try not to blink, and please remember not to look the image of that Angel on your screen in the eyes.
C. Robert Dimitri spent many of the prime Saturday nights of his youth staying home to watch syndicated episodes of Doctor Who on PBS, and his social skills might be beyond repair as a result. He’s not the most hardcore Whovian, but he’s a respectable representative. The first episode he remembers watching was Tom Baker’s “The Creature From The Pit.” At one point he obsessively watched all the Hartnell, Troughton, and Pertwee episodes that were available to him, and sometime around the age of 14 he dragged his mother to a Doctor Who convention. All he truly has ever wanted for Christmas is Perpugilliam Brown, but he would be almost as content with K-9.
He has yet to have a vivid nightmare about the Weeping Angels, but he thinks that would be pretty cool.
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