“I’m a mess!” gasps Katy Manning, dabbing her eyes, as The Angels Take Manhattan draws to a close. She’s been silently sobbing from the moment the Doctor cured River Song with his regeneration energy. “Urgh, that was the first tear, goddammit! When he fixed her wrist.”
And while we watched an ancient Rory dying in bed, his younger self jumping off a roof with Amy, and then the two of them being dissolved into the past for good, “I had tears flowing down right under my scarf,” says Katy.
Forty years ago, Katy Manning was the quintessential Doctor Who girl. Her character Jo Grant – a sort of intrepid, accident-prone, self-sacrificing sexpot – was the Amy Pond of her day. For three years, she too shared an inseparable bond with the Time Lord, then played by Jon Pertwee. And millions of young fans (myself included) were inconsolable when Katy/Jo left the series in 1973.
How will the children of today react to the tearjerking, irrevocable departure of Amy and Rory after their three series in the Tardis? And, I wondered, how would Katy react to the episode herself?
Two weeks ago I invited her round to my house for a special preview and to deliver her verdict for Radio Times. Already a fiend for twitter (@manningofficial), she’s fast becoming an RT blogger! She recently reviewed Asylum of the Daleks for us. Of course, there’s journalism in her genes: her father, JL Manning, was a respected campaigning journalist.
You name it: Katy’s up for it. The game sexagenarian has her first adventure of the day clinging on to the back of my Vespa for a bumpy ride across London – yes, for a moment I am definitely channelling my inner Jon Pertwee. Then, as Katy primes her Skycig substitute cigarettes, we settle down to watch one of the most ambitious, enthralling Doctor Whos from the mind of Steven Moffat.
We’re impressed by the moody prologue as Mr Grayle, a crime boss with a collecting fetish, sends private eye Garner across Manhattan to Winter Quay. “It’s got this lovely Mickey Spillane vibe,” says Katy. “It’s like Dragnet, with the typing going across the screen. It feels like all those film noir gumshoe movies. I’m loving it.”
She quivers at the sight of the snarling face of the Statue of Liberty – “Oh yes!” – and then we’re into the title sequence. There have been weird colour variations across all five episodes, but I reckon this latest stony-grey wash is the most effective.
The action resumes with establishing shots of Manhattan; Sting’s An Englishman in New York provides an obvious but irresistible backing track; and we’re shown an alarming number of statues looking a little too innocent. The first glimpse of our heroes is an extreme close-up of Amy’s eye. She blinks…
The Doctor, Amy and Rory’s jolly banter in Central Park has Katy hooting, but from the moment Rory is zapped back in time by a Weeping Angel, she is quietly gripped. She uh-ohs at the revelation of Rory’s tombstone. Wows when the Tardis appears spinning in Grayle’s hallway. Is choked when the Doctor heals River’s wrist. Cackles when River clouts him. Lets out a massive “Phew!” when they find Rory in Winter Quay. But from then on, Katy is doing more weeping than the Angels.
Moffat ratchets up the tension, delivering twists, temporal paradoxes and tears. Only when the credits roll do we sit back, exhausted. Katy gasps: “Well, how old am I and I’m sitting here sobbing like an absolute twit!” (She actually uses a stronger word.)
“That was so damned good. I laughed. I cried. I was on the edge of my seat. I jumped out of my skin. That to me is perfect entertainment. Every piece of my emotional machinery was fully engaged. I’m now going to have to have a lie down and take a valium because I don’t think I can actually get through the rest of the day!”
Sorry for putting you through all that, I say. “No, I love going through all that!” she laughs. “It’s so beautifully written by Steven Moffat. An absolutely slick, schmick piece of television. The music worked really well and didn’t overpower me. And the way it was shot – every choice was on the money for me.” I point out the director is Nick Hurran, who also did Asylum of the Daleks. “Well, he’s bloody brilliant, isn’t he?”
She thinks Matt Smith, Karen Gillan, Arthur Darvill and Alex Kingston have surpassed themselves. “Arthur Darvill as Rory! He’s been such an extraordinary character. I was crying over him even before I was thinking about Amy leaving.”
It’s hard to write out companions for good, and avert questions like: why can’t the Doctor use the Tardis to rescue them? Or, in this case, go back to 1930s Manhattan and get Amy and Rory? But Moffat makes clear that their fate is written in stone (literally, on a gravestone). It’s a fixed event in time and even the Time Lord cannot create another temporal paradox without ripping New York apart.
Evidently, River Song is luckier and will see her parents again. At some point she’ll get Amy to publish Melody’s book and write the Doctor a comforting afterword.
Katy was critical of River’s confusing timeline in our last review, but says, “I liked her position in this. I knew that final page of River’s book was coming back somewhere, going to be vital. All through, you’re taking pictures in your head of these little details, but then you stop thinking about them. I told you last time I get really upset if I don’t get my dramatic pay-offs, but the pay-offs were all there for me.”
We were both chilled by the Weeping Angels – as eerie and implacable as ever. But Katy reminds me that the Angels have a forebear in Doctor Who. In the 1971 classic, The Dæmons, a hideous gargoyle called Bok came to life and zapped people out of existence.
He’s usually remembered for the Brigadier’s immortal line: “Chap with the wings there. Five rounds rapid!” But Bok gave me nightmares for years as a child. “I felt terrified acting in it. A piece of stone coming to life was very frightening back then,” she says, then hoots: “And yet now when we watch it, we all laugh because Bok is wearing these little baggy tights.”
Katy has followed Doctor Who since it came back with Christopher Eccleston in 2005. “It’s been consistently good,” she reckons. “OK, you’re gonna like some more than others, but what a remarkable piece of television this has been over the years. What keeps it going is the passion of the writers, the commitment of the actor to playing that character. I was listening to Jon Pertwee on Radio 4 Extra the other morning and I was thinking how he’d have loved what Doctor Who has become.”
She can usually watch modern Doctor Who and forget her own involvement long ago. Today is different. “That ending really did touch a raw little nerve in my heart. It brought it all back. My big, emotional leaving. God yes!”
In The Green Death (1973) – aka The One with the Giant Maggots – the third Doctor was devastated when Jo left him to marry a hippyish professor and search for a special fungus up the Amazon. It was one of Doctor Who’s most heartbreaking partings. “That’s why there was almost no dialogue – none of us could speak. And people said it was the first time you saw a major emotion in the Doctor. Jon and I really did feel that loss.”
She’s a great believer in underplaying emotion and cites her eventual return in The Sarah Jane Adventures in 2010. “Playing that scene with Matt Smith, when Jo realised he was the Doctor… it doesn’t need to be over-the-top hysteria if you really feel something deeply.”
“It’s absolutely right to me that they do change the companion,” she asserts. But imagine if you had stayed in it, I tease. Imagine what your wage would be now. “Yes, and how many facelifts I would have to have had!” Well, the BBC would have had to pay for them.
Viewers have seen Amy and Rory develop over the years, just as many people watched Jo growing up. “She was this little kiddie going into the series and a young woman coming out. The moment Jo reached that woman stage, it was time for somebody else.” That person being the similarly adored Sarah Jane Smith (Elisabeth Sladen.)
“I don’t think any actress who’s ever been in it can say – and it doesn’t matter what they’ve gone on to or done with their life – they can’t say they haven’t been kissed by the Doctor Who kiss.”
Of course, Gillan and Darvill have had a couple of years to adjust to their new-found fame – and they were besieged like rock stars while filming this episode in New York earlier this year. But perhaps they don’t yet realise that Doctor Who will never leave them.
To this day, Katy is constantly being recognised. She regales me with a tale of being interrupted by a fan while she was trying to liberate a bumblebee from a double-decker bus. “And, you know, I might be dropkicking a toilet roll in a supermarket to amuse a girlfriend and someone will come over and say, ‘Excuse me, are you Katy Manning?’ No wonder I have this reputation for being odd.”
She’s boundlessly positive about the Tardis tag. “I don’t think about it often, because I’m so busy taking on life and its vicissitudes, but watching Doctor Who reminds me how absolutely joyous I am that I’ve been involved in that programme. What a treat! To watch this wonderful piece of modern television and be so proud that I was a part of it, all those years ago.”
I wonder if Gillan and Darvill’s young fans will be pursuing them in 40 years’ time. “You bet they will!” says Katy.
Katy Manning on Asylum of the Daleks
See photos of Katy Manning throughout her career
“I’ve been a naughty girl” – Katy Manning RT interview (April 2012)