Timestamp #239: The Angels Take Manhattan

Doctor Who: The Angels Take Manhattan
(1 episode, s07e05, 2012)

Timestamp 239 The Angels Take Manhattan

Goodbye, Ponds.

The Angels Take Manhattan

Julius Grayle, an art collector and mob boss, hires private detective Sam Garner to investigate statues that move in the dark. Garner thinks that Grayle is crazy, but the mob boss knows that the threat is real. Garner follows his instructions to Winter Quay, an apartment complex with familiar weeping angels out front.

When he enters the building, he goes up to a room on the seventh floor where he finds his name on the door. He enters, unwittingly avoiding the Angels as he goes, and finds artifacts from his own life. He also finds an old man who claims to be him. The old man dies after warning Garner that tonight is the night he gets sent back.

He tries to run, eventually ending up on the roof, but is cornered by an Angel. An Angel in the form of the Statue of Liberty.

[Insert facepalm here.]

Moving forward to New York City, 2012, the Doctor and the Ponds are enjoying a picnic in Central Park. The Doctor is reading aloud from a pulp novel, Melody Malone: Private Detective in Old New York Town, a habit that drives Amy mad. He pokes fun at her use of reading glasses and then the wrinkles around her eyes. Rory tries to dodge the situation by going for coffee, but Amy defuses the whole affair with a kiss. The Doctor borrows her glasses for fun and Amy asks him to read to her. He rips out the last page and sets it aside – a habit he’s formed because he doesn’t like endings – and begins to read.

Rory heads back with the coffee, hearing cherubic laughing as a small statue under Angel of the Waters disappears and rattles around in the shadows. As the Doctor narrates, he realizes that he’s reading a tale about River Song and that Rory has somehow traveled back in time. Amy and the Doctor use the TARDIS to travel back to April 3, 1938, as the story continues. As Melody Malone, River tells Rory that the city is full of time distortions and will prevent the TARDIS from landing. She only arrived by use of a vortex manipulator.

After the TARDIS bounces off of 1938, it lands in a 2012 graveyard. As the Doctor uses a fire extinguisher on the TARDIS, he stops Amy from reading the book because once she reads from it, history will be written in stone. It will become a fixed point.

What they don’t see is a headstone nearby that reads “In Loving Memory: Rory Arthur Williams”.

Back in 1938, River and Rory are taken to Grayle’s mansion. River remarks on the mob boss’s affinity for Qin artifacts and the number of locks on his doors. Rory is taken to the basement to wait with “the babies”, a box of matches as his companion.

Once the Doctor knows about Grayle’s affinity for Qin artwork, the Doctor sets a course for China, 221 BC, and has a special vase made. In 1938, River notices the vase and translates the symbols through residual TARDIS energy: It reads “Yowza!”, prompting River to utter a trademark “Hello, Sweetie.”

River uncovers a chained Angel in Grayle’s office, then transmits the “Yowza” as landing lights for the TARDIS, offering the Doctor coordinates to lock onto. Grayle has damaged the Angel, which prompts River to tell him that the Angel is screaming. Grayle uses it as an interrogation device, flashing the lights to drive it closer to intended targets.

Down in the basement, Rory is being tormented by the smaller statues. The whole house shakes as the Doctor arrives, punching through the interference and literally spinning the TARDIS into place. Amy searches for Rory as the Doctor reunites with River in a humorous exchange about The Wedding of River Song.

The Doctor knows that River can only be freed from the Angel by breaking her own wrist. Amy has the idea to use the novel, but only to use the chapter titles instead of the actual contents. Through them, the Doctor finds out that Rory is in the basement, but he also finds out that Amy is due for a final farewell. This angers him because it’s now a fixed point, and he demands that River figure her own way out while he tends to Amy and Rory.

Unfortunately, Rory is missing. The Doctor and Amy surmise that he’s been taken by the Angels, but River deduces that he’s only been moved in space. The Doctor notes that River has escaped, but soon finds out that it was because she followed the future as written. He has Amy track Rory while he patches things up with River by transferring a bit of regeneration energy into her broken wrist.

River doesn’t take that well and storms out. Amy follows and has a heart-to-heart with her daughter about endings.

The trio makes their way to Winter Quay, leaving Grayle behind, unaware that the mob boss is trapped by the statues. Rory has been exploring the building and the trio reunites with him near a smiling Angel. The door nearby reads “R. Williams” and behind it lies an elderly Rory on his deathbed. It is the Death at Winter Quay forecasted by novel’s chapter.

The building is a battery farm for the Weeping Angels. They keep their victims imprisoned and send them back in time repeatedly. The elderly Rory’s death means that Rory is destined to remain there, and Amy won’t be with him because of how eager the elderly Rory was to see her. If Rory doesn’t remain, the Angels will chase him forever. River realizes that if Rory escapes, the subsequent negation of the timeline will cause a paradox that will poison the time energy the Angels feed on and kill them, but the Doctor is unsure because of the power that it would take.

The stomping of the Statue of Liberty Angel grows closer, prompting Amy and Rory to run. The Doctor and River are trapped behind but eventually catch up via the fire escape, reuniting with the Ponds on the rooftop. Rory considers jumping off the roof to cause the paradox. After some discussion, Amy joins him, jumping just as the Doctor and River arrive.

The companions embrace as they fall. Their deaths traumatize the Doctor but disrupt the timeline as the paradox takes effect. All four of them escape the collapsing timeline and awaken in the 2012 graveyard with the TARDIS nearby.

Rory is drawn to the nearby gravestone, puzzled by his name being engraved upon it. He’s suddenly touched by an Angel and disappears. Amy cries out and the Doctor determines that it is a survivor of the paradox.

Amy sees the headstone and realizes the truth. They cannot use the TARDIS to travel back and get Rory because any additional paradoxes would destroy New York City. The timelines are scrambled enough already. The only alternative that Amy sees is to join Rory, assuming that she’ll be deposited there with him.

She says her farewells and then turns her back on the Angel. The headstone tells the tale. Amy survived and created a fixed point. The Doctor can never see her again.

The Doctor and River take off in the TARDIS, and she makes him promise in his grief to never travel alone. They discuss the novel and River promises to make Amy write an afterword for him. He runs back to the park and pulls out the last page. He puts on Amy’s glasses and reads it.

Afterword, by Amelia Williams.

Hello, old friend, and here we are. You and me, on the last page. By the time you read these words, Rory and I will be long gone, so know that we lived well, and were very happy. And, above all else, know that we will love you, always. Sometimes, I do worry about you though; I think, once we’re gone, you won’t be coming back here for a while, and you might be alone, which you should never be. Don’t be alone, Doctor.

And do one more thing for me: there’s a little girl, waiting in a garden; she’s going to wait a long while, so she’s going to need a lot of hope. Go to her. Tell her a story. Tell her that, if she’s patient, the days are coming that she’ll never forget. Tell her she’ll go to sea and fight pirates, she’ll fall in love with a man who’ll wait two thousand years to keep her safe. Tell her she’ll give hope to the greatest painter who ever lived, and save a whale in outer space.

Tell her: This is the story of Amelia Pond — and this is how it ends.

The TARDIS is heard as young Amelia sits on her luggage in her garden. The Doctor honors Amy’s last request.

P.S.

Picking up directly after The Power of Three, the Doctor leaves with Amy and Rory after having dinner with Brian.

A week later, Brian answers a knock at the door. His visitor is an American man named Anthony, a sixty-year-old holding a letter addressed to Dad. The visitor waits in the hall while Brian reads the letter. It is from Rory.

The letter tells the story of how Amy and Rory were permanently trapped in the past in New York City. Rory assures his father that they lived happily together for the rest of their lives. In 1946, they adopted a son named Anthony, who is the man that delivered the letter. Rory tells Brian that he misses him and loves him, and he understands how weird it must be to have a grandson who is older than he is.

Brian returns to the hall to see Anthony. Anthony offers a handshake, but Brian hugs him instead.


Starting with the good stuff, I really love how this story plays with the notions of fixed points and temporal paradoxes. Fixed points are a narrative tool developed for the post-Rose revival era in an attempt to deal with things that shouldn’t be changed despite the inherent power of time travel. We’ve seen how violating fixed points can break the universe (Father’s Day), delay the inevitable (The Waters of Mars), and assist our heroes in creating loopholes for victory (The Wedding of River Song).

The concept plays around with the First Doctor’s imperative in The Aztecs: “You can’t rewrite history. Not one line!” It turns out that a time traveler can rewrite history, but it’s complicated.

In this story, our travelers play around with the rules of fixed points and paradoxes, exercising them a bit to play a “will they, won’t they” game with the fate of the Ponds. The end result is a victory for the Weeping Angels and a tragic blow to the Doctor as his faithful companions are locked away from him forever by powers beyond his control. The first paradox that destroyed the Winter Quay battery farm – since it never existed, they never traveled there in the first place… even though they remember everything about the trip – prohibits the Doctor from traveling to that exact time and space again to rescue the Ponds.

What stops him from parking the TARDIS in New Jersey and crossing the Hudson River to Manhattan? I guess it depends on the Doctor’s intent or something. The Doctor has yet to travel (on television, anyway) to 1930s/1940s New York City since. It’s a complicated conceit to lock the Ponds away permanently without killing them off. I give Steven Moffat credit for the effort.

I also give him credit for a tearjerker of an ending that finally makes me believe that Amy actually cares about Rory. I’ve talked many times about how selfish and poorly communicative Amy is with respect to the Pond relationship, but here she twice displays how important Rory is in her life.

I also give a ton of credit to Chris Chibnall for his follow-up that ties off the thread for Brian Williams that was laid down in The Power of Three. The Doctor kept his promise and the Ponds technically survived.

One conceit nearly ruins this whole affair for me: The Statue of Liberty as a Weeping Angel. The concept is just dumb from both the writing and in-universe logistics. In the Doctor Who universe, who isn’t going to notice a series of stomping earthquakes as the most popular local statue leaves Bedloe’s Island/Liberty Island and maneuvers through a tightly packed city? In our universe, it’s a pretty bad example of making enemies bigger in an attempt to make them badder. It’s just terrible.

The Doctor once again uses excess regeneration energy to affect the world around him. Here he heals River’s wrist, while previously he recharged the TARDIS in Rise of the Cybermen. One presumes that it’s a leftover from Let’s Kill Hitler, because (within the timeline to this point) this is the Doctor’s final regeneration. Even though he doesn’t remember the War Doctor at this time, he shouldn’t have physically been able to muster the power unless it came from somewhere outside himself.

River has been pardoned since she never killed the Doctor, though this does wreak a little havoc with the opposing timelines nature of their relationship. This phase of their lives may be somewhere in the middle of the two converging timelines.

This story also prevents a crux by which to explore the alternative theory presented in The Power of Three, specifically how that story and A Town Called Mercy take place after the Doctor loses the Ponds, giving him one more adventure with his dear friends as he tries to overcome his grief. Thanks again to Jennifer Hartshorn and Mike Faber for that discussion.

The Statue of Liberty aside, I find this story to be an engaging and emotional mind-bender well worth watching again. I’m not sure that I’ll miss the Ponds, though. It was time for them to go.

Rating: 4/5 – “Would you care for a jelly baby?”


UP NEXT – Doctor Who: The Snowmen

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The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.

4 thoughts on “Timestamp #239: The Angels Take Manhattan

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