Review: Doctor Who Series 7 Episode 5 – The Angels Take Manhattan

Directed by Nick Hurran

Written by Steven Moffat

Starring Matt Smith, Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill

The Weeping Angels are back with a vengeance in this episode of Doctor Who, marking the end of the first half of series 7 with The Angels Take Manhattan. Show-runner Steven Moffat picks up script-writing duties once again, also using the episode to give a fond farewell to Amy and Rory (Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill), who make their final appearance on the show.

The Angels Take Manhattan is one that oozes an air of pulp detective novel, with the structure of the episode being influenced quite literally by the medium. From the cold open that sets up the return of the Weeping Angels and their involvement in the episode to the very end, the framing structure of using pulp fiction is used quite effectively.

The episode also uses shooting on location in New York City very effectively, showing the beauty of the city captured so many times on film, but taking a nice Doctor Who twist on it all, complete with eerie things going on behind the surface. There is certainly no waste in the set-up, showing the city that never sleeps in the cheerful brightness and the things that lurk in the darkness…

The Doctor (Matt Smith) is introduced in this episode enjoying himself with the Ponds (Gillan and Darvill) reading an old novel, only to soon realise that the book is speaking to him quite directly. It turns out that River Song (Alex Kingston), on-again off-again companion and wife of the Doctor and daughter of Amy and Rory (it’s a long story), has contacted the Doctor because of a chain of events caused by the Weeping Angels. Of course, the Doctor and the Ponds answer the call, but this time the stakes are a lot higher than usual, and there are no guarantees on everyone’s safety…

As a monster the Weeping Angels are certainly some of the most memorable and dangerous antagonists in Doctor Who in recent years. Also created by writer Steven Moffat, the Angels have enjoyed tense stories before, such as the two-parter The Time of Angels/Flesh and Stone and the absolutely amazing Blink. The Angels Take Manhattan certainly makes for a swan song for the Angels however as the stakes have never been higher with them. They are implemented brilliantly in this episode harkening back to the more contained Blink as opposed to the expansive two-parter.

Moffat certainly is the man for the job with this episode. He has always been brilliant with plots that specifically play about with aspects of time-travel and paradoxes, something that goes hand-in-hand with the Weeping Angels, creatures who send their victims back in time and feed on the energy that generates, leaving their victims to have to catch up with the present.

He is also the man for the job to deal with the Ponds farewell, something that is executed wonderfully in this episode. The episode is written with the idea of skipping ahead and hating endings and such, all the tropes towards reading and writing that are in-turn incorporated and used to emotional effect.

Of course all of the good writing would not mean anything if the acting wasn’t up to snuff, and it is satisfying to find that the entire cast give some of their strongest performances in this episode. Smith and Gillan especially excel as the Doctor and the girl who waited sharing their last episode together. Everything is neatly rounded up and packaged together in a particularly poignant last few scenes.

Alex Kingston also makes a welcome return as River Song, a character that has been criminally underused even more so than the Ponds this series, only now making her first appearance in this episode. What she lacks in episode appearances she makes up for here, instantly working her charm and connection with the Doctor as well as trying to keep the Doctor grounded when things get a little too tough.

A little too tough indeed, Moffat’s writing certainly works to tug on the heartstrings, and fans of the Ponds shall certainly be put through the wringer this episode. It doesn’t relent on the emotions in the third act and it would be hard to not draw a tear to one particularly enamoured with the companions. Moffat also does well to draw many parallels to previous episodes for both emotional clout and a nice tip of the continuity hat for dedicated viewers.

On top of the emotional side, the escalating action and tension is played very well in this episode, something that certainly can be put on not just Moffat, but director Nick Hurran. The space is used very well in the episodes, and the claustrophobic, badly-lit habitat that the Angels reside leads to many tight spots played up well with great use of lighting, sound and editing. The pace is certainly spot on and it works very well balancing the Ponds’ last episode with some of the Doctor’s most formidable foes.

This is all not to say that the episode is perfect, for it is not. There are some questionable decisions made in the writing, especially with some solutions to problems the adventurers face, not to mention whatever plot-holes picky viewers will find.

These negative points don’t particularly hurt the episode, but it won’t register as strongly as an episode like Blink, nor could it be to say that it isn’t as emotionally moving and some over Who episodes and farewells to companions.

Overall though, it must be said that The Angels Take Manhattan is possibly the best episode of the series so far, delivering on some of the best things about Doctor Who: time being wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey, tense showdowns with dangerous foes and evoking strong emotional reaction.

It must also be said that hopefully the rest of the series goes above and beyond this new benchmark, the second half of which hopefully shall be even bigger and better to even try to compete with some of the other Doctor Who series.

Only time will tell. It is going to be yet another long wait until the next Doctor Who fix, with the Christmas special coming in December with the introduction of a new companion played by the already interesting Jenna Louise-Coleman. Let’s hope that they go anywhere they want. Any time they want. On the one condition: it has to be amazing.

The Angels Take Manhattan premiered on BBC One on Saturday 29th September 2012. It is available on BBC iPlayer, and Doctor Who will return this Christmas. 

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