Episode Title: "The Angels Take Manhattan"
Writer: Steven Moffat
Director: Nick Hurran
Previously on "Doctor Who":
If you’ve been following “Doctor Who” news for any length of time, then you were probably well aware ahead of time that this was the final episode for Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill. There are full spoilers ahead, so turn back now if you’ve yet to see “The Angels Take Manhattan.”
Amy Pond and Rory Williams are dead.
Together and happy, maybe. But still dead. The story kicks off some time in the ‘30s when Private Investigator Sam Garner (Rob David) is dispatched by a shady collector named Grayle (Mike McShane) to an apartment building “where the statues live.”
Sure enough, the building is infested with the Weeping Angels and they aren’t the only ones who live there. Garner encounters his aged future self in an apartment before he makes an ill-fated attempt to flee and he runs into the biggest Weeping Angel of them all… the Statue of Liberty. That was a great “holy s***!” moment and funny as well.
In present day New York, the Doctor (Matt Smith) reads a pulp novel about a very River Song-like P.I. called Melody Malone. And when Rory gets up to bring back some coffee to the park, he finds himself back in the ‘30s facing his daughter, River (Alex Kingston), who is using the Melody Malone identity before they are both brought before Grayle.
Back in the present, the Doctor and Amy realize that Rory’s story is unfolding within the book and they attempt to travel back in time to save him… only for the TARDIS to literally bounce off of 1938 thanks to the numerous paradoxes created by the angels.
Steven Moffat found a way to make the Weeping Angels even creepier by introducing the Cherubs, child-sized angels who torment Rory in Grayle’s basement. Upstairs, Grayle shows River the reason that the angels are after him. Somehow, Grayle captured one of the angels, bound it with chains and tortured it for his own amusement. And just to get River to share all she knows about the angels, he maneuvers her in front of the angel so it can get a death grip on her wrist.
After the Doctor’s arrival, Grayle is little more than an annoyance for the angels to deal with. The Doctor is far more frightened about the spoilers from their lives within the Melody Malone book. He claims that knowing their futures will ensure that they happen whether they want them to or not. This feels like Moffat rewriting the rules of time travel on this show just to fit the episode.
We’ve rarely seen the Doctor as freaked out as he gets when one of the chapter titles in the book hints that Amy will soon give him her final goodbye. And he’s also angry enough that he insists that River find a way to get away from the angel without breaking her wrist as predicted in the book.
The Doctor is even angry when River escapes and lies about how she was able to accomplish it. But he also shows River more love and affection than in most of their previous appearances together. This is the first time we’ve seen them together since “The Wedding of River Song” as both the Doctor and River actually appear to take their marriage seriously. However, the Doctor gets more bad news when he learns that River is now a Professor. Longtime “Doctor Who” fans should recall that the Doctor’s first meeting with Professor River Song was also her last. How long does River have before her time runs out as well?
As for River’s father, Rory is infamous for being the “Kenny” of “Doctor Who.” He’s died over and over again, including three times in this episode alone. By the time that Amy, River and the Doctor catch up to Rory, he’s already at the apartment building where Sam Garner met his end. And they get there just in time to meet Rory’s aged future self see his wife one last time before dying.
To escape the fate laid out by the angels, Rory makes the drastic choice to commit suicide and create a paradox that could destroy the angels. In a show of love and solidarity, Amy jumps with Rory to their demise and they all wake up back in the present. All four of them are safe and sound, just long enough for you to think that this story may have a happy ending.
But Rory stops just long enough to gawk at his own grave before a surviving angel sends him back in time to die for the final time. Gillan has always been great on this series, but Amy’s last scene was some of her best work to date. Amy is so distraught about losing Rory that she convinces herself that the angel will reunite her with him in the past. So she says goodbye to the Doctor and allows herself to be taken. Moments later, Amy’s name joins Rory’s on the tombstone that marks their passing. Curiously, “Amelia Williams” is listed as five years older than Rory; which may suggest that she outlived her husband by half a decade.
There’s a very compelling reason why Amy and Rory had to meet their ends at the hands of the Weeping Angels. The angels may be the best new “Doctor Who” villain of the revived series, but they’ve never really won before. These angels are actually “kinder” versions than the vicious killers whom the Doctor and Amy encountered alongside River.
The angels’ ambitious plan to farm New Yorkers may have failed, but there’s no getting around the fact that Amy and Rory lost their lives to them in this encounter. The Ponds… or the Williams are reunited and they get a happy ending of sorts by living out their remaining years together in the past. It doesn’t change the eventuality of their deaths in present.
Moffat’s script seemed to bend over backwards to explain why the Doctor can’t see the Ponds again without putting New York at risk by creating another massive paradox. And yet somehow River is still able to go back in time and give Amy the Melody Malone novel to publish so that the Doctor and Amy will follow Rory to 1938. It’s unclear why River can’t just bring her parents with her back to the present, although that could also have triggered a paradox.
It’s a little disappointing that after bringing in a great character like Rory’s dad, we never see Brian Williams get the news that his son and daughter-in-law are forever lost to him. And this show never checked back in with Amy’s family after her wedding to Rory. Although the Doctor and River were family for Amy and Rory, their permanent departure is sure to cause plenty of heartache back in the present day.
At the very least, Amy gets to use the afterword of River’s novel to say farewell to the Doctor and encourage him to never travel alone. Presumably Amy is worried about the Doctor’s state of mind, especially when grieving for her and Rory. But the case could be made that the universe should be afraid of the more merciless Doctor that emerges when he has no one to humanize him or hold him back.
It’s telling that the Doctor’s first instinct is to ask River to travel with him, but she turns down the opportunity to join him full time. That leaves the door open for Oswin, or whomever Jenna-Louise Coleman will be playing. There’s also a hint that Oswin may be responsible for more than just the Daleks forgetting who the Doctor is. It seems that River was released from the stormcage because all records of the man she “murdered” ceased to exist.
Looking back at “The Eleventh Hour,” it’s clear that Moffat already had the ending of Amy’s story in mind even if the details weren’t locked in place. The closing seconds revisit a dream memory Amy had of her younger self (as portrayed by Caitlin Blackwood) getting a second visit from the Doctor before he tells her a story about the adventures they would have together. That was a cool way to bring things full circle.
The reality of “Doctor Who” is that actors will always come and go. Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill had a great run and their last episode was very memorable. Gillan has previously said that she doesn’t want to return as Amy because it would take away from the poignancy of her goodbye. I respect that decision, but that doesn’t mean that I wouldn’t welcome another chance to see Amy and Rory again, especially with the 50th anniversary event coming next year.
Even Matt Smith will someday walk away from “Doctor Who” before a new actor comes on to play the Twelfth Doctor. When that day comes, I hope that Moffat and company give Smith’s Doctor at least as good of an exit as the one that the Ponds received.