That was good.
That was actually good.
For the first time since about half way through the Eccleston series, an episode of the Welsh series has felt to me like a proper Doctor Who episode. For the first time since Dalek, I’m wanting to watch it again straight after seeing it.
I’m far from convinced yet about Moffat’s take on the show as a whole, and I still don’t think they’ve got the character down properly – that cliffhanger line is, as Lawrence Miles pointed out, more suited to Clint Eastwood than to the Doctor, but with surprisingly little modification that could have been a Troughton story, and it would have fitted in nicely in series 12 too, and would have held its own against the rest of that year.
And the thing is, it definitely *shouldn’t* have worked. It’s entirely built out of cliches and reused ideas, cobbled together in a way that shouldn’t possibly work.
I believed the Weeping Angels should be a one-off thing. Blink, the story they first appeared in, is deservedly thought of as one of the best episodes of the Welsh series (thanks, in large part, to the fact that it didn’t have Tennant’s travesty of a Doctor in it for more than a few seconds). It was a wonderfully constructed piece of TV, albeit horribly emotionally manipulative, cynical, and with a nasty nerd-mocking aspect to it, and the Angels were a fantastic monster for the story. But they were essentially a plot device.
And indeed, for much of this story, the Angels could be any monster at all, as a big chunk of it is just standard eighties action-movie formula stuff. But if any show has a right to do eighties formula action-movie it’s Doctor Who – this story is clearly a descendant of Alien, but Alien itself was ripped off almost entirely from The Ark In Space, and this feels nicely like a combination between that and Tomb Of The Cybermen. Not as *good* as those, but it’s got that feeling.
But Moffat has always understood that one of the things Doctor Who always did best was to use the fact it was on TV as a plot point – the Troughton era was full of things on monitors, while the Colin Baker period was almost Brechtian in the way it emphasised its own televisuality. Even in Hartnell’s day the TARDIS had a horizontal hold…
Moffat has often had people speaking out of TV screens – most obviously in Blink – but here he takes it one step further. Here we have monsters that *WILL COME OUT OF THE TV AND GET YOU IF YOU STOP WATCHING*. If you’re looking for a way to absolutely scare the shit out of little kids – one of Doctor Who’s hallowed functions since its inception – then that has to be a good one.
And the idea that the Angels are in fact living *ideas* – thrown out quite casually – not only explains this new power, but fits with the quantum handwaviness in their previous appearance. Moffat has actually made these creatures make *MORE* sense.
And while each part of the story is absolutely cliched – we’ve got the James Bond bit, the time-travel message sending, the action movie and a load of Moffatisms on top (things in the TV, repeated phrases from dead/possessed people), but the way the tone of this episode could wheel around on a pinhead, the sudden realisation of just how bad the situation was for the Doctor and his companions… there wasn’t a single new idea in the entire thing – in fact there wasn’t an idea that wasn’t as worn down as those Angels’ faces – but it was rather like watching a master bluesman play a twelve-bar. It’s all in the execution.
As for River Song, the returning character, I’d not seen her previous appearance, having given up on the RTD show in disgust long before, but I’d heard she was essentially Bernice Summerfield (a companion from the books and audios). Luckily, she seemed far more interesting here. In fact, with her hallucinogenic lipstick and the way she treated the Doctor, she reminded me far more of Iris Wildthyme, just without the annoying joke-Northernness.
And this was clearly an episode done on a budget, too. Other than one or two shots, there was nothing here that couldn’t have been done in the 80s – including some slightly dodgy matte work. And the lack of money has clearly made the programme-makers concentrate on the script and the drama rather than the big moments.
This was by far the tightest script of the series so far – which is to say, the tightest script since the Welsh series started – and while it wasn’t perfect – I’d put it at somewhere in the top 35 or 40% of Doctor Who stories, no better – there were no actual *problems* with it either.
I’d still like to see this series have some ambition to it – it’s very clearly sitting in a very comfortable, formulaic place right now – at the same time, it’s doing the formula very well. If it doesn’t break out of that formula soon, it won’t really be Doctor Who – Doctor Who should never be about doing the safe thing – but for now, at least, it’s just good to see something *competent* and *enjoyable* going out under the Doctor Who name.
I am very scared of what’s coming up – we have episodes by Richard Curtis and Simon Nye to come, and one with that horrible annoying bloke from Lesbian Vampire Hunters – but at this point Moffat would actually have to make an effort to mess this up.