So as much smack talking as I have done about Matt Smith and the rehashed plots of the first few episodes of season 5 of the rebooted Dr. Who, you know that if I am saying what I am about to say, you better take it seriously: If you watch no other episodes this season, you need to watch “The Time of Angels” and “Flesh and Stone”. The two episode story that brings River Song and the Doctor back together to face the Weeping Angels are classic Doctor Who episodes that I would argue are among the finest the series has offered overall. (In the U.S. they air this weekend and next weekend.)
The writing is fresh and compelling; even though they are bringing back old villains, there is no re-hash in this episode at all. Everything is new. The story moves both the plot and the characters forward in truly compelling ways. More than that, it reinvents certain aspects of recognizable characters in ways that honors the past, something that has been missing from other episodes, while taking a fresh new and complex look at them. I wasn’t scared of the Angels before, in fact I found them kind of boring, but Moffat’s version ratchets up the creepy in ways that will make you think twice about how you look at statues and shadow.
Matt Smith’s emotional range in these episodes continues to be spot on, and unlike previous episodes, the arrogance he brings to the character is appropriately tempered by both the gravity of the situation he is in and the return of complex concerns the Doctor has about time and human connections. Watching these two episodes confirmed for me what I thought when watching the original one this season, when this year’s cast and crew gets it right they are going to knock it out of the park and knock it out they did. Smith’s Doctor was all the right mix of strength, concern, inquiry, and compassion. Unlike other episodes where I have worried that both the lack of restraint in his acting and in the writing itself was transforming the Doctor into a morally ambiguous arrogant twat, the Doctor who stand us in these two episodes is the Doctor I think any fan would follow to the ends of time and back again.
The only place these episodes fail for me, is when Amy Pond tries to jump the Doctor’s bones at the end of the two episode story arc. For younger viewers, this will no doubt go down in the “the new Doctor is HOT!” drivel that is dominating reviews of the show; for those of us with a more critical eye, it is another attempt to make Dr. Who racy instead of just trusting the plot and the audience. Obviously, I am not opposed to the Doctor having a life or hooking up with a companion, but the feminist in me sees nothing empowering about young Amy Pond’s googly eyes at the Doctor while he backs up in farcical horror. My issue is with the tone of this scene more than its content. The actors and the director seem to switch gears from typical Dr. Who fare to a British comedy in which the actors are laughing with the audience at something none of us is supposed to take too seriously. It isn’t just a totally different direction than Davies took with Dr. Who’s relationships, its that the direction lacks any real weight or seriousness that compels us as an audience to question what Amy Pond’s desires mean for her and for the Doctor or ties into the plot in ways that can be transformative or even sexy. (I am not saying the actors lack sex appeal for many people watching, I am saying it lacks sophistication and thus comes off comedic and I think that is intentional.) And I worry about how Moffat will make the leap from his comedic leanings with regards to these characters desires to the moments in every season of Dr. Who where these desires become serious.
Far more compelling for long term viewers is the way River Song takes the Doctor’s aid for granted and wraps him up in winks and nods tied up in a “Sweetie” bow while Pond teases him about it. Alex Kingston brings her A game to these episodes and raises the bar for everyone else on set and it shows. These three characters are at their best in this episode and especially when on screen together. If this is what is in store for us with Smith’s 5 year contract, then I am finally excited and on board.