Doctor Who: Review supplemental on Flesh & Stone
|REVIEWS - DOCTOR WHO|
John Bensalhia waited out both episodes (Time Of Angels and Flesh And Stone) before giving us his opinion...
Remember when the Fourth Doctor was dismembered into several pieces on a giant floating bubble screen? Just suppose that as the camera zoomed in on The Doctor's screaming mouth, from out of nowhere, a badly CSO-d, disembodied Larry Grayson head popped up, urging viewers to tune into the brand new series of The Generation Game.
Now just suppose that Peri, fresh from auditioning for Right Said Fred, has apparently been blasted into oblivion by King Yrcanos. The Doctor is angrily determined to get to the truth when all of a sudden, Roland Rat bounds on to the screen shouting "Yeeeeaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhh!!! Raaaat Faaaaans!! Tune into my crap show in two minutes time!!! Yeeeeeeaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhh!!"
OK, neither of those would have happened back in the day, but in 2010, anything goes, especially when faced with one of The Doctor's deadliest enemies.Yes, Graham Norton, who turned up in cartoon form to fingerpaint all over the cliffhanger to The Time Of Angels with a trailer for Over The Rainbow, another musical audition borefest that just lags behind the dreadful 'Bootiful' advert as the most horrendous TV experience of Spring 2010. Presumably this wacky idea came from the same type of person that thinks it's a jolly wheeze to shrink the TV credits to the size of a postage stamp while advertising the next TV show - because of course, TV viewers are too thick to look this up in the Radio Times, yes?
That said, Norton - cartoon form or not - is small fry when compared to the creepy Weeping Angels, who returned to the sound of bated breath in Matt Smith's first two-parter. Time/Flesh as I'll call it (why do two-parters have to have separate titles these days?) was probably one of the most anticipated stories in the new season. Blink has been lauded as one of the best examples of Doctor Who by various fans, due in part to the terrifying Angels, a marvellous concept that's successfully managed to send kids back scurrying behind the sofa. Sure enough, in Time/Flesh, for the most part, they don't disappoint. They've acquired deadly new powers, and no longer kill with kindness, snapping cleric soldiers' necks and scooping out their brains for rather messy communication devices. They also manage to enter the mind of poor old Amy, who's apparently going to die if she opens her eyes for too long.
"Whereas Blink was smaller in scale, Time/Flesh is more of a straight-ahead action adventure (albeit with plenty of mystery and food for thought to keep the adults satisfied) just like Aliens was"
Time/Flesh does differ from Blink, just like comparisons have been made with the first two Alien films. Whereas Blink was smaller in scale, Time/Flesh is more of a straight-ahead action adventure (albeit with plenty of mystery and food for thought to keep the adults satisfied) just like Aliens was. Heck, even Father Octavian is constantly referred to as 'Bishop' just like the Aliens android. Time/Flesh has an awful lot to cram in into its two 45 minute segments - the Weeping Angels, the return of River Song, and also the mystery of the glowing crack that's following The Doctor and Amy around like an evil puppy. Generally, Time/Flesh stands up very well indeed, but unfortunately, it's not entirely perfect.
But as River Song would smugly pronounce: "Spoilers!" River Song is back with a vengeance (was Steven Moffatt listening to Dennis Wilson's Pacific Ocean Blue album by any chance when he devised the character?) and although she's still indulging in flirtatious banter with The Doctor and reeling off mysterious encounters with abandon, there's a slightly uneasy side to the character that we haven't seen before. She's apparently responsible for the death of a good man, which leads to much speculation about how much The Doctor can trust her. This is actually a brave move to take, especially since River Song isn't everyone's cup of tea (what with the relentless smugness). It's nice to have a returning character that isn't necessarily on the side of right, and it'll be interesting to see what she gets up to in the closing two-part finale of the season. Will it be The Doctor that she kills? Or Rory? And why did it look like she was being monitored by an Atraxi eyeball on the spaceship? All these mysteries aside, Alex Kingston puts in a fine performance again, achieving a fine balance of flirtatious charm and ambiguous shiftiness.
"Steven Moffat avoids that 'Difficult Second Album' Syndrome with both River Song and the Weeping Angels by giving them extra dimensions"
It's difficult bringing back a familiar character or adversary. Luckily Steven Moffat avoids that 'Difficult Second Album' Syndrome with both River Song and the Weeping Angels by giving them extra dimensions. The most successful scene of the first part is the eerie homage to The Ring, when the Angel on the monitor moves of its own accord, closer to the screen, and then out of the TV. The scene is brilliantly directed by Adam Smith, shot in fast, cutting stages, alternating between close-ups of Amy's worried face and the Angel's leering visage. The decaying Angels in the Maze Of The Dead are no less scary, and the moment in which The Doctor realises his folly of leading the troops into a minefield of Angels only heightens the tension further.
The way in which they take over Amy is also really well done. There's that marvellously weird scene in which Amy rubs her eye, only for a fountain of dust to trickle out. No wonder they had The Streets' Mike Skinner in a cameo appearance - I thought he was going to pop up behind Amy and mumble "Droy your oys, mate, droy your oys". They also make Amy count down from 10 - purely for fun it seems, according to Angel Bob. The idea of a talking Angel is quite a neat one, although Bob's recollection of his death does recall the Data Ghost of Miss Evangelista in the Library two-parter too much for my liking.
All these tricks draw upon Moffatt's real talent in taking simple concepts and giving them a deliciously deadly edge. Statues. Blind Man's Buff. Two party games that kids still play today, but they're made terrifying in Time/Flesh, thanks to Moffatt's skilled writing and the strong performances from the cast. And how many kids were spooked out by the simple concept of a monster coming out of the TV?
Doctor Who fans were presumably also bowled over by the many references to past adventures. Blink and the Library saga aside, Time/Flesh also recalled earlier adventures such as Earthshock (the troopers searching in dark caves) and even City Of Death with a neat misquote of Tom's "Not bad, bit boring in the middle" line.
"We never see the Angel kill Octavian but the sound effect of his neck breaking and the image left in the viewer's mind does the job adequately enough. Brutal and poignant by turns, it's a marvellous scene, one of many in the story"
Most of the characters tended to be faceless grunts again in Time/Flesh - yes, even Sacred/Scared Bob, who was just your archetypal scaredy-cat soldier. The one exception to this was Father Octavian, excellently portrayed by Iain Glen. Initially a rather cynical, argumentative bully boy sergeant, we only get to see Octavian's true worth, ironically, in his last moments. Taken by surprise by a materialising Angel, Octavian is held in its vice-like grip and only seconds away from death. It's a rather typical "I'll sacrifice my life so you can escape" scenario, but the quality of both Moffatt's writing and Glen's performance elevate the moment much higher. Even The Doctor says that he wished that he had got to know Father Octavian better - we never see the Angel kill Octavian but the sound effect of his neck breaking and the image left in the viewer's mind does the job adequately enough. Brutal and poignant by turns, it's a marvellous scene, one of many in the story.
This was the first story to be recorded, but judging from both Matt Smith's and Karen Gillan's performances, you'd never guess this. Both have their characters down to a tee. Smith's Doctor is on top form, constantly working out theories and solutions like Magnus Pyke on too much black coffee. He gets plenty of great moments, including his chats with Angel Bob, his imitation of the TARDIS materialising and also his tender scene with Amy in the spaceship forest. Loads of quotable lines: "They're blue... boring-ers!" "Sacred Bob? More like Scared Bob." Another fantastic performance from Smith, which is made all the more impressive since it was his first as The Doctor. Oh, and I've just realised: Surely, give or take a bow tie, the 11th Doctor's based his look on Graeme Garden from The Goodies?
Karen Gillan is also excellent again as Amy. It's the first time that Amy's been in perilous danger, and Gillan adds a lot of weight to Amy's terrifying predicament, especially when she's forced to walk blind among a whole horde of statues. This contrasts well with Amy's feistier side, and the scenes in which she teases The Doctor over his relationship with River Song. "You are Mr Grumpy Face today."
The only main downside of Time/Flesh is the fact that it's not really a standalone story in its own right. Yes, the curse of the Season Arc rears its head again. Even before the days of Big Bad story arcs in Buffy and the like, Doctor Who still had season-long arcs with the Key To Time and the Trial Of A Time Lord. The problem is, Time/Flesh still felt like it was only part of the Bigger Picture. The mystery of the crack in the wall arose again, and although we know what it is, unfortunately, there are still - as a wise man once said, Johnny Nash, was it? - more questions than answers. Inevitably, all of these (What causes the crack in time? What's this got to do with Amy? How does it have the ability to wipe people's memories and even existence?) will be answered in the closing story of the Pandorica, but in terms of wrapping up Time/Flesh in a neat little package, it's a bit of a letdown. And also, the Weeping Angels in the end, only get to play second fiddle to the threat of the Crack, which for me at least, kind of reduced their impact.
And then there's that rather odd conclusion in which Amy hands herself on a plate to a spluttering Doctor. Hmmm, not quite sure what to make of this - it kind of jarred with the strong quality of the preceding 85 minutes, and just seemed like some ropey 90s sitcom scene had been crowbarred in for no good reason. The other problem is that it harks back to both the characters of Rose (the love/lust interest) and Donna (a companion's at the centre of a universal mystery again) a bit too much - hopefully, the concluding two-parter will tie all this up in an imaginative and intriguing fashion.
Altogether though, Time/Flesh is hugely enjoyable. Plenty of scares for the kids, many laugh-out-loud lines and well executed drama for the adults, and plenty of sly references for the Who aficionados. Slickly produced and well acted by all, The Time Of Angels and Flesh And Stone carries on the high standards of the new season - I just hope that all the questions posed get answered satisfactorily.
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