We finally bade farewell to erstwhile Doctor Who companions Rory Williams and Amy Pond this week in The Angels Take Manhattan. In fact, we bade farewell to Rory three times and Amy twice in an episode that squeezed in a bunch of character deaths!
The Angels Take Manhattan was perhaps one of Steven Moffat’s better-written episodes since he took over as showrunner. For a start, he rebooted his Weeping Angels back to how they originally worked – sending their victims back in time and letting them “live to death” while feeding off the time displacement energy. None of the ridiculous neck snapping and voicebox hijacking of the truly awful Time Of Angels/Flesh And Stone two-parter.
The plot in a nutshell has The Doctor, Amy and Rory visiting New York, and while Rory goes to get some coffee for them, The Doctor reads from an old noir detective novel by an author called – wait for it – Melody Malone. Except Rory gets blasted back in time, where he meets River Song. The first that Amy and The Doctor know about this is when they read it in the book. Yes, River is Melody and the book is a clue from the past intended to tell The Doctor what happened and ask for his help.
So, there’s much timey-wimey-ness for people who love that phrase, and The Doctor and Amy find a way to lock on to downtown New York (courtesy of a brief stopover in the Chin Dynasty). It’s a bunch of fun, and Moffat is clearly enjoying writing New York detective fiction in the middle of an episode of Doctor Who. Well, until the TARDIS crew are finally reunited at a building called Winter Quay. They find their way into an upstairs room where an old man is dying, and The Doctor notices that a sign on the door says “R Williams” (Which is fine until you ask yourself which Weeping Angel has the job of labeling the doors?).
The aged version of Rory dies, which leaves the time-travelers in a quandry: having witnessed his death, it’s a certainty that Rory will be sent back to the past to live out his years alone and miserable in the Angels’ weird retirement home. So Amy and Rory decide that a paradox will give the Angels a taste of their own medicine, and they decide to run. And then after running for about two minutes, they decide…SUICIDE PACT! And jump off the roof of Winter Quay.
Which works wonderfully, thwarts the Angels and has Rory and Amy waking up in a graveyard with The Doctor and River nearby. Except…there’s one sneaky Angel left over, and it taps Rory on the shoulder just as he’s looking at his own gravestone. Unfortunately, having already created one paradox in New York, it’s simply far too dangerous for The Doctor to fly in and rescue Rory, leaving Amy distraught and bereft. So, she allows the Angel to touch her, sending her backwards in time. And with that, Amy’s name appears on the gravestone too.
On the plus side, both companions die – but only after living long, happy lives together. So, it’s a bittersweet departure for the Ponds. But for once, Moffat gets the emotional balance just right. I was welling up, both as Rory and Amy stood on the edge of the building declaring their love for one another, and as Amy prepared to join her husband in the past. Less robotic viewers may actually shed tears.
What I Loved About This Episode
High points were a-plenty. It was a masterstroke introducing the rule “if you’ve read it, it can’t be rewritten”. The Doctor says that line, just as the viewer sees Rory’s headstone for the first time. This brought the viewer right into the episode – because we’d read it, did that mean we’d sealed Rory’s fate from the beginning? I loved this concept, and it’s one of the few times I’ll ever refer to Steven Moffat as a genius.
Likewise, Moffat built up his reasons for not being able to save Rory from very early on – New York was a minefield of distorted time energy and it was almost impossible to land the TARDIS there. And with the paradox that Amy and Rory created adding to the difficulties and dangers of trying to rescue Rory again, it was clearly an impossible task. And so The Doctor had to leave two companions behind.
Or did he?
I mean, let’s face it, New York might have been a hotbed of temporal activity, but couldn’t The Doctor have landed the TARDIS somewhere else and took a bus or a train into Manhattan to visit the Ponds, make sure they were alright? Or couldn’t River, with her vortex manipulator, have made contact with them? Let’s be honest here, if The Doctor can visit the Chin Dynasty and have cheeky messages printed on ceramics that will end up in New York in 1938, then there are ways and means of breaking the Ponds away from their temporal prison.
My theory? He’d noticed the wrinkles around Amy’s eyes, and decided she was getting too old for the life of a space gypsy. River had said something similar earlier in the episode when she advised her mother “not to let him see you getting old”.
Still, quibbles aside, The Angels Take Manhattan was a solid goodbye to two of the most complex companions in Doctor Who history. Amy and Rory’s timeline has been confusing and mixed up. They’ve dreamed an entire series, had a universe rebooted, their daughter met The Doctor before they did and ended up married to him. But despite all that complexity, the story cleverly came back to young Amelia, waiting with her suitcase for her Doctor, the Raggedy Man who would take her away from her lonely childhood.
In many ways, it was a beautiful ending for the two characters. If I were more emotionally invested in the Ponds – which for some reason I never really have been – I would say this was a really touching and resonant episode. And it was. I just think many readers who’ve discovered Doctor Who through Amy and Rory will be much sadder than I am. My one remaining grumble is that Moffat, having introduced Rory’s Dad and given him assurances that Amy and Rory would be fine, never actually went back and told Brian what happened to Amy and Rory. So, the dangling thread here is that Brian Williams is sitting somewhere wondering where his son and daughter-in-law have gone to. (Come to think of it – does Brian even know that he has a granddaughter in River Song?)