Wednesday, October 3, 2012

A Crappy End to Great Companions

I have to say that The Angels Take Manhattan could be considered one of the worst send-offs I've ever seen on Doctor Who.  Okay, yes, it was a tear-jerker and I'd be lying if I said I didn't enjoy the episode.  But the ending was incredibly weak, which is what we've come to expect from a bad writer like Stephen Moffat.

The story opens being narrated by a two-bit gumshoe in 1920s New York, Sam Garner, who is hired by wealthy mobster Mr. Grayle to investigate statues that move on heir own.  Garner thinks Grayle is full of it but for the money offered he isn't going to complain.  Going to a hotel called the Winter Quay, he finds a room with his name on it, an elderly version of himself inside, and Weeping Angels stalking him.  He manages to escape to the roof of the hotel when he turns around and sees the Statue of Liberty, which has been transformed into a 'Weeping Lady Liberty'.

Then it's on to the credits followed by a visit to modern day New York where the Doctor, Amy, and Rory are hanging out enjoying themselves.  The Doctor annoys Amy by reading aloud from a book, and he notices that she's wearing glasses, disturbed by the realization that the first face his current face saw is getting older.

The Doctor tears the last page out of the book, a cheap dime store detective novel, saying he hates endings and that by tearing the last pages out of books the stories can go on forever for him.  Remember this for later.  Rory goes to get more hot dogs or something and is hunted by a cherub-like Weeping Angel who zaps him back in time.  We then see Amy reading from the book, and she and the Doctor realize that Rory has somehow made it into the story.  They quickly deduce that somehow Rory got trapped in the past and the very book they're reading must have been written specifically for them so they can go back and find him, having realized that the female detective illustrated on the cover must be River Song, Amy and Rory's daughter and the Doctor's wife.

Unfortunately, the TARDIS bounces off of 1938, the year Rory has apparently been sent to, and they need help to do it.  River creates a temporal beacon for the TARDIS to home in on by having the Doctor go back and alter ancient Chinese vases at their creation so that they can get to Rory in the past.

From there all pretenses of actual plot fade and we end up with a monster-in-the-house story wherein the Doctor, River, Amy, and Rory must survive the Weeping Angels.  Apparently a bunch of them have created the hotel as a sort of pantry by trapping visitors inside and sending them into the past to feed off the time energy generated from this.  How they got there is never explained, as is typical of Moffat's inexcusably poor storytelling, but they're there and they've seemingly inhabited pretty much every humanoid statue in New York.

As a fan of time travel stories, I am constantly irritated by the disrespect so many of today's storytellers give the genre — especially in the area of paradoxes.  Very few have handled such tales well:  Robert Zemeckis' Back To the Future trilogy and Eidos' Legacy of Kain video game series being only two that come to my mind.  Moffat is arguably the worst of the lot of bad storytellers who disrespect the material, which is even more infuriating seeing as how he's head writer for a show that features time travel and its consequences as its central theme.

SPOILER ALERT: Our heroes escape the Weeping Angels by creating a fatal paradox that zaps the Doctor, River, Amy, and Rory back to the present — in a cemetery.  And it is here that the final, tearful goodbyes are said to Amy and Rory.  It's also where the story is at its weakest.  We're supposed to believe that once the future is known a fixed point in time is created and Bad Things Happen when anyone tries to change it.  But just minutes before in the episode we saw a "fixed point" created and prevented from ever existing, and in Series Six the entire story arc revolved around the Doctor getting around a fixed point in time and space to outwit the creatures trying to kill him and escape certain death, so obviously this new "fixed" point should mean absolutely nothing to the Doctor or to Amy.

What's more, there's also the cat, namely, Schr√∂dinger's cat: the paradoxical moment before opening a box with a cat inside it following some random event that either kills the animal or leaves it alive.  Since we can't know whether the cat is alive or dead until the box is opened and we can observe it, this means the animal is in a state of temporal flux; is it both alive and dead, or neither alive or dead, until someone observes it.

So surely, having not actually seen Amy and Rory die in the episode's final moments, and having not seen the Doctor scan the ground underneath a headstone bearing Amy's and Rory's names, the Doctor can actually go back in time and rescue them, or just send River back to bring them out of the past, and as long as the headstone bearing his friends' names is still there, everything will be fine.  It's so obvious to anyone who has devoted even a casual amount of consideration to paradoxes that Moffat should have thought of it from the start and just filmed those extra few seconds' worth of footage showing an elderly Amy somewhere in the past.  Yet he doesn't seem to have bothered, having completely dismissed the intelligence of us viewers.

In any fictional story there is always a certain amount of disbelief that must be suspended, especially in the genres of science fiction, horror, and fantasy.  But one can only suspend so much disbelief, and then a poorly written story just becomes insulting.  That's what Moffat does: he regularly insults the intelligence of his audience, not caring one bit as long as he gets his paycheck.

Oh, and that last page of the book that sent them to 1938 to face the Angels in the first place?  River tells the Doctor she'll have her mother write an afterword for him, prompting him to rush back to Central Park to fetch and read it.  And Amy asks the Doctor to do something they both know he can never do: go back in time and tell Amy's younger self, the one who sat outside waiting for the Time Lord all night, all about her future adventures with the Doctor.  What.  The.  Hell?  No assurances that she and Rory found each other, no request for the Doctor to tell their families their kids are all right (albeit trapped in the past), but Amy asks the Doctor to violate laws of time to tell her younger self what will happen to her in her future.

BULLSHIT on a stick.

Doctor Who has given some crappy endings to companions' stories before, but this one arguably tops them all.  Not only is it an insult, but it shows just how wasted were the considerable talents of Arthur Darvill and Karen Gillan.  Darvill especially was much stronger in his role as wet blanket Rory than Gillan was as lead companion Amy, and both actors have had to struggle to make their characters' stories work.  Matt Smith has shined as the 11th incarnation of the Doctor, but with so little for the main cast to work with, no thanks to Moffat, the two and a half seasons of Smith's run have fallen far short of what they could have been.

Now, having written all this, there is one thing I did like a lot about this latest story involving the Weeping Angels: the notion that they are not strictly corporeal beings, but can and do inhabit existing statues and from those fashion themselves bodies with which to hunt their prey.  It's a very interesting concept and should be explored a bit further — but not by Moffat, who can only mess it up with some stupid throw-away explanation that he'll just toss out the window later on.

We fans should start a letter-writing campaign to have the BBC remove Moffat as head writer before he completely screws up the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who.

For an alternate take on The Angels Take Manhattan, see Jayne Gudkov's review.

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