The Time of Angels / Flesh and Stone ★★★★★

Confident, eerie thriller – Alex Kingston is back as River Song and the Weeping Angels have deadly new tricks

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Story 206

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Series 5 – Episodes 4 & 5

“You might want to find something to hang on to…” – River Song

Storyline
River Song escapes captivity on a spaceship, leaves the message “Hello, Sweetie” across time and is rescued spectacularly by the Doctor. She pilots the Tardis to Alfava Metraxis, where the starliner Byzantium has crashlanded into an ancient Aplan temple. The Doctor, River and Amy join Father Octavian and his military clerics in the search for the ship’s cargo – a Weeping Angel. They descend into catacombs full of crumbling statues. These are dormant Angels who are revived, absorbing power from the ship and the crack in time.

Amy has the image of an Angel lodged in her mind and can only keep it at bay by keeping her eyes shut as she stumbles through the forest vault. As the Angels attack with more aggression than ever, the Doctor sends them plummeting into the crack in time. River is returned to custody, having told the Doctor they’ll meet again “when the Pandorica opens”. Back on Earth, on the eve of her wedding, Amy pounces amorously on the Time Lord.

First UK transmissions
Saturday 24 April 2010
Saturday 1 May 2010

Production
July to November 2009. Southerndown beach, Dunraven Park; Aberthaw quarry, Vale of Glamorgan; Puzzlewood, Royal Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire; Clearwell Caves, Gloucestershire; Bute Park, Cardiff; Brecon Cathedral; The Vicarage, Rhymney; Upper Boat Studios, Pontypridd.

Cast
The Doctor – Matt Smith
Amy Pond – Karen Gillan
River Song – Alex Kingston
Alistair – Simon Dutton
Octavian – Iain Glen
Christian – Mark Springer
Angelo – Troy Glasgow
Bob – David Atkins
Marco – Darren Morfitt
Security guard – Mike Skinner
Pedro – Mark Monero
Phillip – George Russo

Crew
Writer – Steven Moffat
Director – Adam Smith
Producer – Tracie Simpson
Music – Murray Gold
Production designer – Edward Thompson
Executive producers – Steven Moffat, Piers Wenger, Beth Willis

RT review by Patrick Mulkern
That River Song – she knows how to make an entrance! Hallucinogenic lipstick, red stilettos, laser pistol. “She’s here…” Then 12,000 years later: “Hello, Sweetie” inscribed in Old Gallifreyan… Back to: “Like I said on the dancefloor, you might want to find something to hang onto…” And whoosh! She blasts down an air corridor in space, through the police box doors, flattens her Time Lord toyboy and demands, “Follow that ship!” Fast, funny and exhilarating, this five-minute sequence is a blinder, and arguably the most impressive opener to any Doctor Who thus far.

Steven Moffat is relying on the fact that viewers will instantly remember River, the Doctor’s future love, from the library of flesh-eating shadows two years earlier. (My parents certainly didn’t.) But I love the sight of her commanding the Tardis controls, amazing Amy and deflating the Doctor as she initiates the never-before-mentioned blue stabilisers. Her smooth Tardis landing harks back to the 1970s and the one-upmanship between Tom Baker’s Doctor and Time Lady Romana. River’s “You leave the brakes on” is a great line, even if fans know that every other Tardis has made that racket, too.

Alex Kingston reprises the role of the intergalactic archaeologist with gusto, and looks magnificent – be it glammed up like Rita Hayworth or roughing it à la Orla Guerin in army fatigues. I was worried that, aged 47, she might overshadow such a youthful Doctor and Amy but they match her with their own peculiarly timeless edge and assured performances.

Karen Gillan is cheerfully free of the emotional baggage that mired her predecessors, and Matt Smith is already shaping up as the best Doctor since Tom Baker. Simultaneously intense and subtle, he doesn’t put a foot wrong.

The petrifying Weeping Angels are also back and Steven Moffat turns the fear dial way up for the first time this season, investing his creations with deadlier powers than we saw in his Bafta-winner, Blink (2007). In March 2010 he told RT, “I did watch The Ring on DVD on a plane not long ago, and I kept jumping and shrieking…”

It’s not clear whether he caught the bleak Japanese original (1997) or the schlockier US remake (2002), but Moffat has cleverly distilled The Ring’s nerve-shredding denouement for a family audience. I mean, of course, the scene tonight where Amy is trapped by a video recording with a life of its own. Not only will young viewers look twice at statues, with any luck they’ll be unnerved by the medium of television itself.

Studded with tension and shudders (“They’re Angels. All of them”), this is simply superb television. The writing, direction and Murray Gold’s urgent Doctor theme work in beautiful harmony. I know it can’t be like this every week, but this is just the way I like my Doctor Who served.

For me, The Time of Angels is marginally more dazzling than its conclusion, Flesh and Stone. The decaying Angels in the Maze of the Dead are more macabre than their chiselled chums aboard the Byzantium. But the second episode bombards us with shudders and tension – especially Amy stumbling through the forest with her eyes closed.

In Blink, the Angels were relatively benign, in that they sent victims back decades in time then fed off the temporal displacement energy. Now they’re the “most malevolent life form evolution has ever produced”. How and why have they become neck-breaking killers?

Some uptight viewers might choke at Amy’s amorous antics at the very end but I’m much amused. None of the protracted, doe-eyed mooning of Rose and Martha, or even Donna’s classic: “You’re not mating with me, sunshine!” Pinging aside the Doctor’s braces, Amy isn’t “suggesting anything quite so long-term”. She’s just up for a quickie on the eve of her wedding – or is she perhaps falling in love with this dorky/dishy Doctor as much as we are now?

As is often the case, Steven Moffat’s script leaves the audience with more questions than answers…

The base code of the universe is 26.06.2010… The airdate of the final episode. “Amy’s time.” Oooo! What does it all mean? What connects Amy to the crack in time? What are River’s blooming spoilers? Will she get her pardon? River admits to having killed “a very good man. The best man I’ve ever known.” Now who could that be? (We’d find out in series six.) River’s parting shot tells us we’ll be seeing her again soon – earlier in her life, later in the Doctor’s, “when the Pandorica opens”. But what is the Pandorica?

The Doctor tries to shrug it off: “That’s a fairy tale.” “Ah, Doctor,” River laughs warmly. “Aren’t we all?” – an oracular remark that blissfully reinforces the ethos of Steven Moffat’s first series.

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All in all, The Time of Angels and Flesh and Stone are two episodes of Doctor Who that deserve 10 out of 10 in anybody’s scorebook.