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.
“that horrible annoying bloke from Lesbian Vampire Hunters”
I enjoyed this episode, and I do enjoy reading your little reviews, because there are a lot less bitchy tears than in, say, a Lawrence Miles review, but I guess I don’t quite see the difference between this one and any of the supposedly reprehensible Davies-and-Tennant episodes you seem to hate.
Delurking to say that “This was by far the tightest script of the series so far – which is to say, the tightest script since the Welsh series started” is a surprisingly sweeping statement from someone who admits — and gives personal justification for — not regularly watching the 21st century TV series, and who is usually scrupulous in demarcating between the Eccleston season and Tennant’s run.
Were you deliberately overlooking Shearman’s script from 2005? (I also think — each to their own and all that — that The End of The World was very well constructed, as was Father’s Day; in fact, I think Father’s Day is even more tight in construction than in Dalek, given what it is trying to do within its time constraint.) About two-thirds of Moffat’s 2005 two-parter is also very neatly put together, though this is only really apparent once we get to the “moment of reveal” in its second part.
Otherwise: liked your metaphor about playing old tunes *well*. Although the flipside is when people start playing bad or cynical music well; would they still get your qualified praise or appreciation.
No, I wasn’t forgetting Dalek, which I thought by far and away the best of the Eccleston episodes. But I thought Dalek a surprisingly weak effort by Shearman, who is capable of much better. I’ve not watched Father’s Day since it was broadcast, but remember being quite unimpressed with it at the time.
Aren’t the Weeping Angels suppose to permanently freeze when they see each other?
I’m fairly certain that’s how they’re defeated in “Blink”.
Eh I don’t really see any of Eastwood’s major characters uttering the cliffhanger line, maybe a caricature pastiche, but I don’t see Blondie, Callahan, Walt Kowalski saying it, but I do conceed it sounds more likely from him than Tom Baker (though from I’ve seen It wouldn’t be a stretch for the 7th or 6th)
It was a clumsy line, is the real problem, like most of the smack-talk in nuWho. If he’d mentioned two things, casually tossed off a “me” as he lifted the gun, and then followed up with a reference to whatever the thing he shot was, that’d be closer to the sort of thing Batman or whoever would say.
It’s a shame in a way because with his history and age the Doctor could deliver a pretty stellar smack-talking, but all the writers can come up with is a million variations on “I’m the Doctor”.