Doctor Who – Village of the Angels review: This chapter is a stone-cold classic

Chris Chibnall and Maxine Alderton take the Weeping Angels and fly.

WARNING: Embargoed for publication until 00:00:01 on 16/11/2021 - Programme Name: Doctor Who S13 - TX: 21/11/2021 - Episode: Doctor Who - Ep 4 (No. n/a) - Picture Shows: *NOT FOR PUBLICATION UNTIL 00:01HRS, TUESDAY 16TH NOVEMBER, 2021* Weeping Angel - (C) BBC Studios - Photographer: James Pardon
5.0 out of 5 star rating

After last week’s needlessly complicated, off-putting concoction, it is a relief to turn to Chapter Four and heap praise: thrilling storytelling, faultless production, terrific performances and a jaw-dropping conclusion… in sum, or by multiplication, this is several orders of magnitude greater than anything that has Fluxed before. Expertly directed by the fittingly named Jamie Magnus Stone, Village of the Angels is an hour of drama that is coherent despite its complexity, exciting and satisfying as a slice of TV sci-fi.

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Showrunner Chris Chibnall and his co-writer for one week, Maxine Alderton, make a strong partnership. (She wrote the 2020 episode The Haunting of Villa Diodati, one of Jodie Whittaker’s finest outings.) It must have been both daunting and a buzz to be the first Doctor Who writers other than Steven Moffat to be allowed to play with his nightmarish creations, the Weeping Angels. Not only to honour what’s been established in the past but to flutter their wings further.

These “quantum-locked” statues gain more mobility and agency. An Angel has hijacked the Tardis! They’re in alliance with the Division (shady Gallifreyan operatives from the Doctor’s forgotten past). We’ve long known “an image of an Angel becomes an Angel” – now one can emerge from a 1960s telly, even from a torn-up pencil sketch. A cluster of Angels have the power to take the whole village of Medderton “out of space, out of time”, while mounting an attack on Professor Jericho’s house, bashing down his doors. “Are they really ringing my doorbell?” he gasps. We also learn what happens if you’ve already been Angel-zapped into the past but, like elderly couple Gerald and Jean, are foolish enough to stray near an Angel again. Instant petrification and disintegration.

There are reminders of The Time of Angels in Matt Smith’s first season 11 years ago, when Amy Pond had an Angel in her mind’s eye and saw her arm turning to stone, and when the Angels first found a means to speak (through dead cleric Bob). These aspects are developed through Claire Brown, a “percipient” with second sight – as the Doctor says, “You had a premonition of an Angel in your mind and now it’s living there.” Claire’s arms turn to stone and she sprouts Angel wings.

The blue-stonewashed encounter between Angel-Claire and the Doctor is riveting (superb performances from Annabel Scholey and Jodie Whittaker). Here the imagery starts to become biblical. This rogue Angel is like Satan, the fallen angel, tempting the Christ-like Doctor, if not in the desert, on a beach where the sea is parting. She dangles the one prize the Doctor desires: her erased memories. Temptation also comes elsewhere in the form of Azure (Rochenda Sandall), high on a mountain, enticing the dispossessed masses, while Bel (Thaddea Graham) leads Namaca (Blake Harrison) not into temptation and is his saviour. Here endeth the lesson.

Kevin McNally is strong as Professor Eustacius Jericho and is no stranger to Doctor Who. He was one of the few plus points in Colin Baker’s debut stinker, The Twin Dilemma, 37 years ago. Jericho is steadfast in the face of unimaginable horror, having been “one of the first British soldiers into Belsen”, albeit insulted by an Angel via his TV set as “loveless, childless, hiding in academia for fear of the real world… a life of failure”. He and Claire are like a 20th-century Doctor/companion pairing, also extremely close to Dougray Scott and Jessica Raine’s characters in the 2013 episode Hide. They’re people we’ll want to spend more time with as Flux enters its latter stages.

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Village of the Angels presents the quaint English setting of Medderton cut off from the outside world and is very John Wyndham (The Midwich Cuckoos). It is of course redolent of 1971-vintage Doctor Who. The Jon Pertwee classic The Daemons saw the village of Devil’s End isolated and beset by a living statue that vaporised the locals. (Bok the gargoyle, who terrified me as a nipper, was a clear antecedent for the Weeping Angels.)

I’ve no qualms about referencing Who’s ancient past when Chibnall does it freely himself. He peppers Whittaker’s dialogue with the fan-pleasing catchphrases of her predecessors: Pertwee’s “I reversed the polarity of the neutron flow” and Patrick Troughton’s “When I say ‘run’, run!”.

Chapter Four brims with tense sequences (the Angels’ pursuit of the Doctor’s party in Jericho’s “assignation tunnel”) and impressive visuals. The illusion of Medderton teetering on the edge of space, and the split-screen between day and night and 1901/1967 are excellently achieved by CGI. There are smaller, precise FX such as Claire’s pupils suddenly dilating “on camera”. The most striking image is saved to last with the hideous petrification of Whittaker’s Doctor into a Weeping Angel. It elevates this segment into “stone-cold classic”.

As a final Flux flourish, the credits roll is interrupted (a rare event; Nick Frost’s Santa did it at the close of Death in Heaven in 2014). It bleeds into an extended scene with Vinder (Jacob Anderson). Finally, the trailer for Chapter Five flings out a mini-reveal of Jemma Redgrave as Kate Lethbridge-Stewart, the Unit leader introduced by Chibnall in 2012 and last seen six years ago. More on her next time…

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