New Series

Caves and Twins: The Angels Take Manhattan

So, for the 433rd time in the new series of Doctor Who, someone was definitely going to die. They didn’t, of course, just as they never have; just as we never believed they would.

I’ve complained before that the habit of Moffatt and RTD of teasing deaths, then backing out of it with a big emotional pay-off in the hope that no-one would notice, was drawing diminishing returns and weakening the satisfaction that these stories deliver.

That’s perhaps why the departure of the Ponds – two companions I’ll genuinely miss, played by two actors who really seemed to get their roles – didn’t have the emotional impact that it should have.

Because we’ve been cheated, misdirected, swerved and conned so often over the last few years that there’s no faith in the production team – Moffatt is most guilty of this as a writer – not to simply defy the internal logic of the show.

People will argue that complaining about a show like Doctor Who not making sense is willfully obtuse. “It’s a show about a time traveller in a police box – of course it doesn’t make sense!,” they cry.

Needless to say, this is either a disingenuous or a genuinely stupid line of reasoning. Of course Doctor Who is a show that has departed quite significantly from reality; we shouldn’t hold its observation of reality to the same standards as those for Holby City, but when programmes stop making sense according to their own established rules they lose their impact, their agency, their reason to exist.

The new series of Doctor Who has been predicated on emotion, by both Davies and Moffatt. I’ve no real complaint about that either, though I think it’s been rather over-egged. My chief problem is that the narratives that spawn the emotion are overthrown, ignored or cancelled out again and again.

The result is the boy who cried bad wolf. You simply don’t believe what you’re told; what you’re shown. Even when apparently final something happens – a companion dies, leaves or is lost to a dimensional macguffin – we don’t really believe it.

When Doctors and companions die again and again and again we simply don’t buy it, so there’s no meaningful emotional pay-off when it happens. We’re inured to it and have been taught to disbelieve what we’re told by the successive show-runners.

I guess that’s why I didn’t really feel especially sad when the Ponds departed, even though I think they were easily the best-drawn characters of the new series. I’m conditioned to expect a swerve, to suspect a cheat, to feel like I’m being fooled.

The fact that the Ponds’ consignment to history and a life without the Doctor didn’t really stand up to scrutiny either didn’t make help. Couldn’t the Doctor just go back to Boston and get a train? Why does seeing a grave or reading a book mean that time can’t be changed? Within the confines of The Angels Take Manhattan it may be established that time can’t be changed, but narrative rules have been chucked in the bin so often over the last seven years that these arbitrary rules don’t seem to mean much anyway.

Time can be rewritten. Death has no sting. The irrevocable becomes… revocable. It’s possible to overlook this from time to time, but when it comes to default setting for a series it’s hard to invest much emotion in it.

So, while I enjoyed The Angels Take Manhattan, with its spooky cherubs and dashes of timey-wimey-ness (although thoroughly nonsensical, as it seemed to me), the Moff’s sparkling dialogue and the performances of all concerned – it simply didn’t amount to that much by me.

Doctor Who has become something that’s gratifying in a fairly shallow, instantaneous way. Not because of the dearth of strong characterisation, performances or (occasionally) some clever scripts.

Because the rules of Doctor Who, the rules of honest narrative and internal logic, have been stripped away to the point where it becomes impossible to invest anything more than the most scant care over what is happening and to whom.

As a result, what should have been a devastating climax to the episode felt like the latest in a long line of false endings. That, for me, is the inevitable result of the deliberately tricky, breakneck, crash-bang, watch-the-birdie style of storytelling that RTD and Moffatt adopted by relentlessly upping the ante and relying on ersatz emotion to paper over the cracks.

Doctor Who works when viewers can suspend their disbelief; where River’s confusing timeline, the apparently arbitrary nature of what can and can’t be done within the laws of time and causality and the difficulty in believing that the Ponds have actually gone for good can be ignored in favour of the whole. I think the series is now reaping the whirlwind; as a result I’m finding it hard to believe in Doctor Who, or care about it.

The Angels Take Manhattan fails, not because of the story itself, but because of the previous seven years.


The setting – Manhattan looked great and Moffatt made better use of it than previous foreign excursions had.

The tone – The noirish/gothic atmosphere and devices were a nice tic that worked well in relation to the story.

Performances and characterisation – Even River was less smug in this one. As ever, Arthur Darvill imbues Rory with genuine character, believable emotion and makes him perhaps the best companion of the new series.

Fear factor – The Angels are clearly far and away the best monsters to come from the new series; they’re novel, imaginative and very frightening. The addition of the giggling, cherubic Angels was another sinister aspect to these monsters.

Big screen moments – I’m fairly non-plussed by the ‘film poster’ idea as it’s turned out mostly underwhelming episodes in this odd series. But moments like the Statue Of Liberty as an Angel, even though it doesn’t hold up the slightest scrutiny, and the baby Angel blowing out Rory’s match worked well as iconic moments.

Angel food – I liked the conceit of the Angels farming humans, with Battery Park as a kind of rest home for zapped victims.


Timey-wimey, wibbly-wobbly – Previoulsy I thought Moffatt’s time-travel tricksiness was well worked out, but this time there was too much that didn’t seem to make any sense to me. Moff’s stories always seemed to have more care lavished on them when RTD was show-runner; nowadays he seems to be employing some of RTD’s less desirable tricks to bring confusing stories to a conclusion; here the timey-wimey stuff just seemed to serve to create a dramatic conclusion – and it didn’t really stand up for me.

River – River’s timeline doesn’t seem to make the slightest sense to me any more. Beyond that I don’t really like the character. She was written as much less smug this time around, but I’m not sure this character has ever been likable, sympathetic or especially interesting.

Won’t Get Fooled Again – As mentioned above at length, the cumulative impact of several years of dishonest writing and media chuntering robbed the Ponds of their deserved exit.

The Ponds’ exit – In many ways this was a nice conclusion to their story but, aside from all the dubious logic of it I thought there was a stronger ending that had been teased in previous weeks, with its origins in The Time Of Angels. The suggestion was that Amy would turn into an Angel in this episode and, while that was perhaps never a realistic alternative, I think it a much stronger one.

Direction – Some great moments here, but somehow the way Rory and Amy eventually departed didn’t seem quite right; like an amusing punch-line delivered with timing that’s slightly off.

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New Series

Caves and Twins: The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe

It’s Christmas, it’s BBC1, it’s that time between the afternoon snooze and the turkey sandwich. It can only be another Doctor Who special.

Not one of the Christmas specials has been much good by my reckoning, the first one and the one with Gambon in were OK; most have been utterly awful.

I did not really look forward to the Doctor Who Christmas special this year; mainly because I never think they’re up to much but partly because I found myself tiring of Who over the year. All of a sudden fatigue set in and I wasn’t really bothered any more. But, because it’s Doctor Who and I’ll never truly dislike it, I tuned it.

So did I find a succulent turkey – or was it overcooked sprouts all the way.


It was nice to see Matt Smith again

The reproducing, sentient trees were a nice idea.

The sets and all the period detail were impeccable.

Like most fans I appreciate the nods to the past – something that seems increasingly nice when faced with the possibility of a reboot film series.

Nice to see Amy and Rory again.

Like the tree monsters.


I know it’s Christmas and I know expectations are low and I know these specials are kind of duty bound to be stupidly Christmassy, but for fuck’s sake.

I just didn’t care and I didn’t believe it and I didn’t like it. About half an hour before it actually happened I’d guessed, no, feared, that the Power of Motherhood was going to save the day. Just like a kiss saved the day and love saved day and hope saved the day again and again and again over the last couple of years.

RTD shrugged, made Tennant cry and just fell back on some MacGuffin when he’d written himself into a corner; Moffat just relies on schmaltz. It’s usually done in a clever way – and in a way that’s possible to overlook for a while.

But it happens so frequently that it’s impossible to ignore – and deeply tiresome. And predictable. And rather cheap and cynical.

Because at Christmas Moffat gets a bit of a bye. Perhaps he should be allowed his indulgence once a year, like we are when we stuff our face for a day. God knows the man is busy enough, what with his 15 series that he showruns.

But what I’m left with is a story that almost feels like a waste of my time. I’m sure lots of people enjoy it and would shout humbug at me. But judging these Xmas specials on the same basis we judge the usual episodes show them up badly.

Something else that creeps into these recent Xmas episodes is a Moffat-patented wackiness; last year a shark-drawn sleigh, this year a forest-possesed Edwardian mother piloting a golf ball through the time vortex.

What can we expect next year, I wonder? A TARDIS disguised as a polar bear running trough Albert Square? A Timelord that’s regenerated into a reindeer with a nose made of strange matter? A flying penguin powered by faith and ridden by John Masefield?

I suppose I should mention Bill Bailey and Claire Skinner and Alexander Armstrong and Arabella Weir. I didn’t care. Neither did I care for the emotional manipulation that struck a rather dubious tone, in my opinion. Once again, death has no sting. What does this say to kids about their nature of life and death? Either way it’s damn lazy and cynical.

It’s incredible how quickly Moffat’s take on Doctor Who seems staid, overfamiliar and out of ideas. And I don’t take ay pleasure from saying it. Just as I don’t take any pleasure from watching it, much as it pains me to admit.