Don't Look Away (The Time of Angels/Flesh and Stone)

(64 comments)

Oh shit oh shit I need a new caption joke.
It’s April 24th, 2010. Usher and will.i.am are at number one with “OMG,” with Lady Gaga, Plan B, and Timbaland also charting. In news, the Deepwater Horizon exploded in the Gulf of Mexico, creating one of the worst ecological disasters in history, and Standard & Poor’s downgrades Greece’s credit rating, worsening the Euro crisis. Also, flights resume following the Eyjafjallajökull eruption, and we reach the last few days before the UK general election.

While on television, the first-filmed episode of the Moffat era. In the history of Doctor Who, there are two standard tricks that people have come up with to smooth the transition for a new Doctor. The first originates in 1966 with The Power of the Daleks, when Patrick Troughton’s debut was consciously and deliberately overshadowed by the return of the Daleks. Basically, you use existing characters as guest stars to lighten the load a bit on your main actor while he beds in. Variations were used in Spearhead from Space, Robot, Time and the Rani, The Christmas Invasion, and Deep Breath. The other, only ever executed once, but terribly clever all the same, is to film the first few stories out of order so that the new Doctor’s debut sees the actor self-assured and with a more developed take on their character, creating a strong impression so that the audience will subconsciously fill in the gaps when subsequently shown the earlier performances. It was used in Castrovalva. Moffat, faced with the change of the entire lead cast and most of the production team, made the sensible decision to do both, filming The Eleventh Hour as Smith’s fifth episode, and using this two-parter, featuring big iconic returning monsters and a major returning guest star, to let everyone bed in. 

On broadcast, this worked well. As we already discussed, The Eleventh Hour is the one Moffat episode even his detractors tend to embrace, making the exact big splash and statement it was supposed to. And this slotted into the season order nicely, feeling like a big turning point and an event, as opposed to like a production team desperately trying to get up to speed. In hindsight, a number of gaps are present, of which Matt Smith’s hair is only the most obvious. Many are subtle and along those lines - the decision not to pare back Alex Kingston’s makeup once she’s in camouflage, for instance, was a sensible one from a realist perspective (why would she redo her makeup, after all), but it smothers Kingston’s performance. 

But others are larger. Moffat is eventually going to develop a much more nuanced sense of what can be handwaved away and what needs explanation, but here he several times gets bogged down doing exposition about things that could be handled intuitively, while missing key bits of setup. The fact that the gravity globe is never explained in episode one makes what would actually have been a quite cool cliffhanger into a bit of a “blink and you miss it” moment. The reintroduction of the crack is great in terms of subverting the expected Davies-style “codeword” season arc, but its a conceptual mess, becoming a weird vent of “time energy” that works like all the other energy spilling out in this story only not. Perhaps most significantly, he falls into what, since a conversation with Rob Shearman, I’ve thought of as the Paradise Towers trap, in which you have a story that’s structured around an ascent and traversal of space, but that doesn’t emphasize the physical layout of that space enough. You don’t realize they’ve been climbing to the primary flight deck the whole time until you actually get there, which undercuts the story’s central gag of River’s “you might want to find something to hold onto” being the end solution, such that the whole story is actually about gravity and falling.

The result is a messy episode held together by the fact that Alex Kingston and Karen Gillan take to their roles like fish to water, and the fact that there are some fantastic Weeping Angel menace scenes. Smith actually has an extremely rough time in places, in particularly poorly managing the transition to anger and frustration. In many ways, as with any marriage, the central question of the Doctor and River’s relationship is how they handle their inevitable fights, but Smith isn’t getting the gradiations right yet. (It’s worth comparing this to Angels Take Manhattan, where the plot really is about the Doctor and River having a fight, and where both Smith and Moffat have a much better handle on how to manage this.) Which was the point, of course, and it’s hardly a flaw that the strings are visible once you know what the magic trick is.

In many ways, then, the more interesting angle to take is to look at the ways in which much of the Moffat era emerges fully formed here. For one thing, right from the start, Moffat is engaged in his most fundamental innovation as showrunner, which is a transformation of the show’s visual logic. Under Davies, the camera was strictly there to document - there were occasional uses of good old fashioned monster-vision, but broadly speaking what you saw on screen was an objective view of what was happening. Throughout Moffat’s tenure, though, that stops being true. And the central turning point is the Weeping Angels, who span the two eras. Under Davies, as we discussed, they obeyed an unstated rule, which is that they couldn’t move when the viewer was looking at them either. In other words, the camera was quietly an active participant in Blink

But these two episodes expand on that dramatically. Instead of simply being monsters who the camera can see too, they become something altogether more sinister - something that is, for my money, the single scariest idea that Doctor Who has ever presented. First, of course, is the idea that the image of an Angel is itself an Angel. This is creepy, but in many ways a restatement of the basic premise of the Angels. It’s introduced to us with an Angel on a television screen - that is, with the Angels as they’d previously appeared. Ultimately, the Angel that attacks Amy only does so according to the rules stated in Blink, only with the mild twist that Amy is put in the position of the audience, with a Weeping Angel on television that moves whenever she’s not looking at it. But the idea that the image of an Angel is itself an Angel was always baked into the premise - both in the sense that the Angels were only ever fictional constructs of television and in the sense that images of Angels were bound by the same rules due to the gaze of the audience. And sure enough, this sequence is ultimately governed by the logic of Blink. That story was largely about the nature of television as a medium, and so the idea that the Weeping Angels can be defeated via a medial glitch - by pausing during a moment when they’re not on-screen - makes perfect sense.

Then we get the second twist - that Angels can attack you via the eyes. This is trickier, but makes sense both in a literal sense (if the image of an Angel is itself an Angel then the image on your retina counts) and in a symbolic one. If we can affect the Angels via our gaze then it makes sense that their gaze should be dangerous. But it also begins to rend the veil between the screen and the audience. Our gaze becomes something that can be interacted with. And this sets up the wonderfully creepy moment in the climax where the audience’s gaze unexpectedly stops working and the Angels begin to move on screen. We become helpless to impact the screen right as the companion is at their greatest peril. (In this regard, the thematic weight of River unexpectedly swooping in with a better solution is significant.) 

But all of this is secondary to the quietly implied horror of the Angel’s origin story. This is never quite stated explicitly, but the broad strokes are clear enough. The fact that an image of an Angel is itself an Angel, and that Angels can attack from within your mind makes it clear where the Angels came from: their own idea. “What if we had ideas that could think for themselves? What if one day our dreams no longer needed us? When these things occur and are held to be true, the time will be upon us. The time of Angels.” In other words, the idea of the Weeping Angels took over the Aplans and converted them all into Angels. 

Moffat has form in this regard - most notably with his Twitter microfiction that read, “the worm became an idea, which hid itself in words, until it could climb, devouring all, through the eye of the reader of this tweet.” And, more broadly, it’s completely consistent with his aesthetic of horror elsewhere. Consider the ending of Blink, where he goes out of his way to render all the statues of the world scary. Or, of course, the Silence, monsters who are never so scary as when you’ve never seen one. Moffat’s favorite sort of horror is concepts that cannot be escaped simply by not watching anymore.

This is what’s key about the Weeping Angels after this point - the fact that they’re fictional is no longer a useful defense against them. They are just as terrifying if they are imaginary. Indeed, they are even more terrifying. If they were real you’d only have to worry about statues. When they’re imaginary you have no protection whatsoever. They are monsters that defy the act of comfort. All efforts at reassurance fall flat, or, worse, reiterate the problem. “It’s just a dream.” “There’s no such thing as Weeping Angels.” “It’s only your imagination.”

But this also serves as a sort of structural mission statement for the entire Moffat era, and serves as the main delineation between his Doctor Who and Davies’s. Under Davies, monsters might have thematic resonance or be extrapolated out of real-world problems, but they’re still characters in stories. But for Moffat, monsters, and indeed the entire show are explicitly works of fiction. (This is, notably, also the story where the tried and true “that’s a fairytale” “aren’t we all” exchange comes up.) It would be going too far to suggest that Moffat is a conscious devotee of the Alan Moore-style “art and magic are synonyms” philosophy, but his work is clearly in the same vein, if not the same conscious metaphysics. Moffat’s work is invested in its own fictionality. Suspension of disbelief isn’t even a meaningful concept for a story like this - your disbelief is irrelevant. The ideas have power unto themselves, and are interacted with directly.

In this regard, then, we have the most overtly alchemic approach to Doctor Who ever. One of the central premises of alchemy is that the distinction between symbol and object is not absolute. This is central to how Moffat’s Doctor Who works. Because the show is consciously aware of its status as a collection of images and narrative, there’s a straightforwardness to it. If you’re trying to engage with the show on a level that doesn’t acknowledge the fictionality of all of it and the way in which narrative expectations are built up and subverted, you’re already doomed. From this point on, the show is always metafictional. 


Other stories will fully sketch out the implications of this - indeed, arguably they already have in The Beast Below, which hinges on its symbolic parallels to contemporary Britain. This is not the story in which Moffat makes his grand statement on the fictionality of Doctor Who and what it can be used for. But it is the story where he makes it unambiguous how things work now - how, within the narrative, the idea of a thing and the thing itself are no longer distinguishable. It’s a new way of doing television, and certainly a new way of doing Doctor Who. But as we’ll see over the remaining ten months or so of TARDIS Eruditorum (barring any major changes of plans, we should get to Time of the Doctor at the very start of February 2015), it’s an immensely potent approach that lets Doctor Who do genuinely new things. In effect, Moffat has casually reinvented the series in his first week on the job. Good start, you’ve got to say.

Comments

dm 3 years, 1 month ago

Maybe it's just because I am a total genius, but I never had any problem with the under explained bits in this story. This is one that, for me, just unambiguously worked. It is by a wide margin my favourite of the three main angels stories, probably because it's the only one I actually like, and the only which doesn't get bogged down in the "timey wimey" stuff that Moffatt has now finally relegated to the extra-diegetic where it belongs.

Yes, I know that time travel was part of the original premise of the angels, but IMO it was the least interesting thing about them, not just because they never did the obvious and explicitly deal with how they mirror the doctor's own tendency to take ordinary people and displace them in time.

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mimhoff 3 years, 1 month ago

I love it, you don't even notice that the Doctor and River achieve precisely nothing in this adventure. Their whole team dies and the villains are only defeated because an even greater existential threat decided to pop up in the same place.

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Monicker 3 years, 1 month ago

I don't intend to sound pedantic for the sake of it, but it has been established now that the reason for recording Castrovalva fourth in the season was because the script wasn't ready until then. It was commissioned to replace a planned debut story that had been cancelled, and was still being written when they were starting to record the season, as I understand it. The explanation about it all being a means of letting the actor settle in was just a cover story. Doesn't affect what's being said above all that much though, but it was more a case of adapting as best as possible to circumstances that weren't ideal than an acting-connected decision.

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David Anderson 3 years, 1 month ago

I can't remember: was this the point from which some of the Moffat-haters started to profess their hatred of Amy as a character?
There's a bit where the Doctor is complaining how hard his day is going to be, and Amy, instead of humouring him, asks him who River Song is (in a tone that suggests she thinks he's just whinging about things). And of course she's right: the reason he's complaining has a lot to do with stuff she doesn't know about River Song. But female characters are supposed to indulge male leads who are moping like that.
Another reason why I think Amy is either the best companion of the new series or the joint best with Rory. But at the time one was used to seeing female characters being sympathetic when the Doctor was having an emote.

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matt bracher 3 years, 1 month ago

Interesting. Didn't know that. You have successfully shattered a childhood misconception....

Ah well. Won't diminish my view of the Davison era. Wish we'd had more of him, and bless Moffat for bringing him back at Christmas years ago.

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Dustin 3 years, 1 month ago

The shift in an actor's performance as his characterization matures is a thing I've always had difficulty noticing. I can't truly say that I perceived Smith as notably more comfortable in "Eleventh Hour" than in this two-parter, nor did I pick up on anything here that one might attribute to it all being early days for him. The rapid mood-swings he undergoes seemed to me to simply be something that he always did, skipping so easily from whimsy to fury and back. Maybe this is because I've never really cared about any of the behind-the-scenes work. I can't even tell the difference between the work of different television directors, and don't really understand the role of a director in a thing, like a TV show, that comes with a pre-established visual vocabulary.

I don't agree that the ability of the Angels to move here in spite of the audience's gaze was some cunning metafictional innovation. I felt, at the time and I still do, that it obliterated what was neat about them in the first place. Liberating them from our attention seems to revert to a more "classical" notion of the camera: that the viewer doesn't matter, and is simply observing events that have already transpired and which it is too late to influence, rather than being participants. That Angel turning its head in the forest was, yes, unexpected, given what we believed about them, but it was for little more reason than a dumb shock.

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David Ainsworth 3 years, 1 month ago

Depends on how you perceive the Crack. If it's the Big Bang version then it ought not to appear or it ought to appear everywhere. That implies it's the Pandorica Opens version, a crack in space-time which is closing, and it appears because the Doctor is here.

Seems fitting that the Angels can be defeated by having the very idea of them erased.

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Seeing_I 3 years, 1 month ago

Loved this story! But I agree - seeing the Angels move robbed them of their mystery and uncanny power, and turned them into just moving statues - and also undermined the Doctor's previous assertion that not moving when seen was "a fact of their biology" and instead something they do out of habit or instinct, like playing dead. It's pretty noteworthy that they've never been shown moving again.

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Philip Sandifer 3 years, 1 month ago

I don't think it's particularly noteworthy - the breaking of the audience's power to stop them really is a trick you can only pull once. But it's a good trick.

I'm also not sure what's wrong with throwing shock into the climax of a horror story. :)

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John Seavey 3 years, 1 month ago

Yes, it was about this time, mostly because at the end Amy displays interest in using her ladyparts and as we all know, there's only two kinds of fictional women, virgins and whores. And if Amy's not a virgin, well...

(Oh, sorry, is my open contempt for the way Amy was slut-shamed by fans showing? My bad.)

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Nyq Only 3 years, 1 month ago

This was my favorite of the first Matt Smith season and was a relief after the woeful Dalek episode - an episode that I just really didn't like at all. So as a trick, it worked.

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Nyq Only 3 years, 1 month ago

So we have Pandorica/Big Bang and Silence in the Library to go, filling the slots of Name of the Doctor and Time of the Doctor - or have I got out of sink somewhere?
Silence in the Library December 11th, 2013: To Think of a Way to Save Her (The Name of the Doctor)
Time of Angels April 7th, 2014: Here Standing In Front Of You (The Time of the Doctor)
The Pandorica Opens April 28th, 2014: Make Me a Warrior Now (A Good Man Goes to War)
The Impossible Astronaut June 9th, 2014: Street Corner, Two in the Morning, Getting a Taxi Home (The Wedding of River Song)
A Good Man Goes to War July 21st, 2014: The Things That He Might Remember (The Impossible Astronaut/Day of the Moon)
The Wedding of River Song August 18th, 2014: The Angels Have the Phonebox (The Angels Take Manhattan)
The Angels Take Manhattan November 3rd, 2014: Don't Look Away (The Time of Angels/Flesh and Stone)

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Melissa Robertson 3 years, 1 month ago

Also, if you would like a handwavium explanation, there's always the fact that a camera shutter closes about 12 times a second. You could say that normally they don't make use of that because it's difficult or whatnot (sort of like sprinting at top speed), but since they're fleeing for their lives they make use of it in this case.

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TheSmilingStallionInn 3 years, 1 month ago

Oh, thanks, it took me a moment to recall that Pandorica/Big Bang was still left, but I had no idea about the second one, forgotten about Silence in the Library. Even though I have loved this mixed-up River Song episode order and I had fun trying to guess what the order might be near the start, it might have gotten away from me there for a minute/slipped my mind a little.

And when I was reading the beginning of this post, I was actually confused for a moment. Because I consciously saw the Statue of Liberty picture from Angels Take Manhattan and was mindlessly reading the date details (not noticing the discrepancy) and then that sentence "this is the first filmed episodes of the Moffat era" kind of threw me for a loop until I realized/recalled what was going on here.

Then I had to go back and read that first paragraph again, but otherwise it was fine. Great joke about the fish to water thing.

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TheSmilingStallionInn 3 years, 1 month ago

(I was going to reply to you--see my comment below)

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John 3 years, 1 month ago

Were there organized Moffat-haters at this point? I thought Moffat hate really got going as a mass phenomenon some time around Season 6B and Scandal in Belgravia.

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Matthew Blanchette 3 years, 1 month ago

So, once again (as with telling Toby Whithouse to avoid "The Gunfighters" while writing "A Town Called Mercy"), Moffat relies on tried-yet-untrue fan-lore as a basis for production decisions. Quite a habit with him, isn't it?

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J Mairs 3 years, 1 month ago

It kinda took off in force, and then worked retroactively all the way back to The Empty Child. Consider it a timey-wimey critique.

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J Mairs 3 years, 1 month ago

To be honest, what I like about it is the sense that it's a glimpse "behind the curtain"; that the audience gets to view something that we really, really shouldn't be viewing.

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J Mairs 3 years, 1 month ago

"This is central to how Moffat’s Doctor Who works. Because the show is consciously aware of its status as a collection of images and narrative, there’s a straightforwardness to it. If you’re trying to engage with the show on a level that doesn’t acknowledge the fictionality of all of it and the way in which narrative expectations are built up and subverted, you’re already doomed. From this point on, the show is always metafictional."

Like.

It really annoys me whenever someone brings up "fairy tale" in Doctor Who, as though we're talking about, say Disney's Cinderella, when it's been plain for a while that we're talking Ende's "The Neverending Story / Momo".

The above also explains, say, the Silence's S6 plot, or Moffat's Time-is-Memory-Is-Story themes.

Even at MoffatWho's... less impressive moments, it's hard not to find something metafictional to point at and say "See? This is why it is brilliant. How many other shows can do this?!"

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dm 3 years, 1 month ago

First up, this isn't really a response to this comment and it's not particularly aimed at the commenter, but it is motivated by it in a straw-that-broke-the-troll's-back sorta way.

Need to vent. I really hate the approach commenters on this blog take to feminist Moffatt critique. Yes, sometimes, some people miss the point. Yes, sometimes, STFUMoffatt is wrong. But it embarrasses me that a blog, and comment-community, I absolutely adore can be so blinkered and pig headed about a bunch of people being angry about something they have every right to be angry about. This is a blog which champions historic countercultures and literary criticism! The "haters" don't always get it right, but the world of DW fandom, an indeed Doctor Who itself, is enriched by their point of view.

Without a doubt, Doctor who is made better by the ongoing online feminist critique. I honestly believe that series 8 would not have been so consistently brilliant if the "Moffatt haters" hadn't been so consistently and pointedly scathing over the last four years.

Phil is absolutely right to defend the writing of Steven Moffatt against feminist critique, as is anyone, but the sneering tone taken by some commenters against the fans who just want a better, more positive version of doctor who on their screens that they can be proud to be fans of is really despicable.

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Melissa Robertson 3 years, 1 month ago

You're totally right about all of that, of course. I just find that hating on something doesn't tend to make it better, but instead tends to make everybody miserable.

There is most certainly room for "ongoing online feminist critique," and where I have found that, I have usually enjoyed reading it. It has opened my eyes to new perspectives and is very enlightening. It also often has good points, even if I disagree that what it outlines is important to correct. (Which happens a lot.)

However, I disdain Moffatt-haters because yelling that you hate something in no way helps to make it better, and it usually causes anger and resentment on all sides, which I see no point to. I know that I, personally, do not want to spend time dwelling on what I don't like unless I have something constructive to say about it. It just makes me depressed and angry, and it makes the people who read my comments angry, whether they agree or disagree. This actually irritates me so much that even if I agree wholeheartedly with the criticism, I still wish it had never been posted.

Could I be better about this? Yes. While I haven't really talked about it on here, mostly because I'm fairly new, this is, too often, how I think of Moffatt-hater. I really should respect them a bit more, even though I often think that the problems they see aren't actually very big problems, if they are problems at all. However, the methodology they often employ really makes it hard to respect them. I will try to be better at this. In fact, by taking a sneering tone, I am basically setting myself up to be hypocrite.

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encyclops 3 years, 1 month ago

I mostly enjoyed this story at the time, but you've made it even better for me with a much better exploration of the "image of an angel is an angel" idea than I've heard anywhere else. Great post.

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sleepyscholar 3 years, 1 month ago

@Melissa: I am absolutely in agreement with you, and I think @dm is slightly mistaken in writing about "the approach commenters on this blog take to feminist Moffatt critique" because it isn't homogeneous.

Indeed, I get the impression that most commenters have sympathy and respect for, and some agreement with, feminist critique. The snark is directed not at those who are producing feminist critique, but at those who are snarking: at reflexive Moffat-hating.

As a concrete example, I read FlickFilosopher's Doctor Who reviews, and enjoyed them, even (especially?) on the many occasions when I disagreed. But in the last few seasons they have become profoundly dull, as the critique (and love) has been replaced by nit-picking and kneejerk snark (and hatred). The hatred seems to prevent the writer from coherently expressing insights (positive or negative) about the show in the way that she used to. In the current iteration, for example, she claims that Missy represents the one of Moffat's two female characters that he doesn't want to shag, and has been introduced to foreclose on the possibility of the Doctor regenerating as a woman.

I absolutely would not sneer about this, because I find it very sad.

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Melissa Robertson 3 years, 1 month ago

Exactly.

On another level, this is why I don't have problems when Moffatt's technobabble doesn't make any sense, even within the narrative - usually it instead has some metafictional aspect that you can find rich symbolism and meaning in, which I enjoy a lot more than a string of science-y nonsense that sounds cools (and it really does), but doesn't actually mean anything.

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Pen Name Pending 3 years, 1 month ago

Whether you like metafiction is really whether or not you like Moffat's Who, at least in most cases, it seems. "Day of the Doctor" is the prime example, as it's almost an entirely meta story about bringing the new series (Ten and Eleven) in confrontation with the old (the War Doctor--think of all the jokes) and closing off some past stories to look forward. (I also don't believe the War Doctor story is a retcon because really it does not explicitly contradicts anything but rather inserts story into where there was none, but I've never really followed the Time War storyline and angst that closely. This seems to be the basis of the argument that Moffat doesn't care about the past and want so to make everything is own, though?) This culminates with the Curator, in which either you think it's such an absurd theory that the Doctor would regenerate back into an aged version of his previous self, or you realize it's just Tom Baker and Matt Smith having a nice chat in the 50th Anniversary Special and probably nothing more.

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encyclops 3 years, 1 month ago

I...sometimes like metafiction? And I sometimes like Moffat's Who, so I guess that fits. I think I like it best when it's not the reason why something works, but an extra layer you can appreciate or not.

As for science-y nonsense, "science-y" doesn't have to be nonsense. "Block transfer computation," for instance, I'd say sounds science-y but is also wonderfully evocative.

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dm 3 years, 1 month ago

Yeah I definitely made some sweeping generalizations there, and as a reformed hater I can see the times when I, personally, think the approach is wrong.

And I love this blog and its many contributors, I just think less of the patronising sneer at a group of people who go a bit far because they're genuinely offended and upset by something would be good.

Really not aimed at the people in this comment thread in particular at all and I definitely agree with a lot of what's been said. In particular, I too find it tiresome when a review refuses to engage with the entirety of a text that may have a wealth of interesting ideas just because of one or two possibly misinterpreted aspects. That basically killed discussion of Kill the Moon for me across essentially the entire internet and it was a bit sad.

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inkdestroyedmybrush 3 years, 1 month ago

i would have thought that much might have been made of maybe, to me, the very best cold opening in the history of Doctor Who, and the first true extreme time compression/ story compression "blink and you'll miss it" experiment that has become the norm. More happens in the first part of Time of the Angels than entire episodes of the williams years: doctor and amy at the museum of the headless monks, river in the byzantium, the etching of the home box, home box found by doctor with a good punchline, stealing the home box, set up of the "thing" in the hold of the byzantium, time puzzle to rescue river from vacuum, and boom, "follow that ship!" have we become so used to this pace and short hand that it now seems like normal? yes, we have. welcome to the 2010s Doctor Who, you're caught up. A three minute tracking shot on the beach chairs at the beginning of Leisure Hive seems further away than An Earthly Child, doesn't it?

As far as set pieces go, the set up with the church soldiers is magnificent, and its hard to believe that the beach scene is the first stuff smith shot. He's not settled in, and the Doctor/River double act would get better and better, but there is nothing wrong here with the acting. The only thing missing is the set up of the gravity ball, as Phil noted. But the image of the Angel attacking Amy is amazing, and the tension of the Doctor and River with the book while Amy is in the cargo ship is textbook set up. And they don't let that hard fought tension go too easily do they?

This episode takes the Angels in to a much larger sphere as enemies doesn't it? In Blink, they're a one trick pony. And the sending people back into the past isn't the horrible fate that we might think it is, as all the characters who go back have the horror in their lives softened in the final end. A sop to make the episode a little less horrific I suppose. Here, the image aspect is far greater evil, because the spread of the Angels is, once seen, potentially unstoppable. This is brilliant stuff. and it took Doctor who is a whole new direction.

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Nyq Only 3 years, 1 month ago

I forgot Lets Kill Hitler - which was in the right place, I think
1 Silence in the Library The Name of the Doctor
2 Time of Angels The Time of the Doctor
3 The Pandorica Opens A Good Man Goes to War
4 The Impossible Astronaut The Wedding of River Song
5 Lets Kill Hitler Lets Kill Hitler
6 A Good Man Goes to War The Impossible Astronaut/Day of the Moon
7 The Wedding of River Song The Angels Take Manhattan
8 The Angels Take Manhattan The Time of Angels/Flesh and Stone

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Ciaran M 3 years, 1 month ago

This and Amy's Choice are pretty much the only stories from the Moffat era that I've been inclined to revisit, though for this one I have to stop it before the risible final scene.

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Ciaran M 3 years, 1 month ago

I don't think I revisit it because the story is particularly interesting or noteworthy, but because it is a pretty well made action flick with Ian Glenn in it.

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Daru 3 years, 1 month ago

Interesting point about Moffat hating and the need for ""ongoing online feminist critique".

One thing I genuinely love about the community on this blog (which means a lot to me), as many points of view are shared and expressed with civility and in interesting ways. I do myself like to give time to read viewpoints that may be very opposed to my own - and I did give a lot space to attempting to read STFUMoffatt but simply the tone in which it was written distanced me. I have found other very well written critiques of Moffat which were easier for me to read.

I got to this blog from Neil Perryman's Adventures with the Wife in Space. Often in the commenters there, there was a lot of criticism of us - but that did not turn me off from reading both blogs. Also, connected to both of these blogs I got into reading FlickFilosopher's Doctor Who writing - but sadly yes, I also faded away from reading her as she seemed no longer able to fully engage with the text. Obviously she has her reasons for that, but I was quite sad as I had previously really enjoyed her writing and style of criticism.

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Daru 3 years, 1 month ago

I thought that the head turn was stunning moment - suddenly we had not power and then that image of the Angel had power over us. Oh and yes agree J Mairs with your comment above - *that* was the power behind the moment.

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Daru 3 years, 1 month ago

So with the above - the development of Who into a metafictional show under Moffat has just made it into a show that I love more and more. Sorry but I can't gush enough!

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Daru 3 years, 1 month ago

"In this regard, then, we have the most overtly alchemic approach to Doctor Who ever. One of the central premises of alchemy is that the distinction between symbol and object is not absolute. This is central to how Moffat’s Doctor Who works. Because the show is consciously aware of its status as a collection of images and narrative, there’s a straightforwardness to it. If you’re trying to engage with the show on a level that doesn’t acknowledge the fictionality of all of it and the way in which narrative expectations are built up and subverted, you’re already doomed. From this point on, the show is always metafictional."

Perfect.

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Adam Riggio 3 years, 1 month ago

I hadn't seen Flick Filosopher's blog, but I checked it out after this discussion. I only had time last night to read the Dark Water review, but what I saw disappointed me quite a lot. And it wasn't just her aggravation that a continuity point from back in Logopolis was being ignored to develop this episode's story (though I found it disturbingly Levine-esque).

Specifically, I'm rather tired of the complaint on the STFU circle that Moffat only has "two female characters," the one he likes and the one he doesn't like. Moffat writes sarcastic banter and camp in his adventure stories, and the common tropes of his style of banter seem to influence people to think that he only writes sassy MPDGs and campy bitches. It's almost as if Moffat's harshest critics can't understand how characterization can work in the style of a sitcom, and that the approach and instincts of a lifelong sitcom writer (which he is) will tend to recur in later projects.

Honestly, my biggest problem with most feminist critiques of Steven Moffat (with some notable exceptions, like some lines where he should know better) isn't just that they're wrong; it's lazy reading.

(I just wrote basically the same comment in a discussion on my own review of Dark Water, but I thought it'd be relevant to send the same note here)

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Daru 3 years, 1 month ago

Sure thing Adam, have been enjoying your writing, so thanks.

I haven't read Flick Filosopher's current review and frankly have given up on finding quality there as far her writing on Doctor Who goes now. I did enjoy her for some time - and not because she was always positive, but the analysis was interesting and written well. She just does not seem interested anymore and that makes for poor reading and feels like (as you say) lazy writing.

I really enjoy well written critiques, as they are designed to make readers expand their thinking and to explore new ideas. Criticism used simply as attack just feels lazy and becomes boring to read.

(posted on Adam's blog also)

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Seeing_I 3 years, 1 month ago

Ah, see, I was saying it's "noteworthy" in the same way the Paradigm's rapidly-decreasing visibility is, because they realized they'd made a mistake with it. It really didn't work for me, but as always, your mileage may vary.

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jane 3 years, 1 month ago

That's an interesting point about the use of narrative compression in the cold open. It's even more tightly packed considering how those images -- no, those narrative artifacts, let's be archeological about it -- pay off not just in Flesh and Stone, but the season finale and indeed beyond.

It's got just about everything: the Doctor's reflection, a closeup of an eye, and of course the iconic Circle in the Square of the home box itself. The Headless Monks are invoked. We see that River knows Gallifreyan. "Find something to hold on to" -- yes, the whoosh of air out into the void of space creates a situation that's mirrored at the end of the story, but it's also a cute way of saying you might want to find someone to hold onto.

And River showing up on the video monitor, as if she's the star of her own TV show, while at the same time the black-and-white aesthetic is shared by the Angel itself, creating an uneasy juxtaposition. And this too pays off in the second part when Amy herself is threatened with becoming an Angel.

The Angel appearing in her eye is also an iconic shot, and one that unlike the Circle in the Square, which comes from Freemasonry, seems unique to Doctor Who. A figure in an eyeball, this comes up over and over again. And it's not the only one -- Amy dressed in red coming into the Byzantium is also an iteration of this motif.

But what I find most interesting (of course) is that right off the bat we're getting into Moffat's exploration of the near-death experience and a broad examination of religion itself. The labyrinth in the first part is literally called a "maze of the dead," the Angels themselves are religious icons, and Amy even recognizes in the end that she had something like a near-death experience, though it's surely comparatively mild to some later experiences.

The scenes that really get me, though, are the ones in the Forest. The Forest, of course, harkens back to the Library, and the one in the Byzantium is implicitly of the World Tree variety -- alive and technological, converting starlight into the breath of life, a union of opposites. And it's here that we get some nods to that other show which played with the juxtaposition of time-travel and death, namely LOST.

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jane 3 years, 1 month ago


AMY: You won't, because if you go back there what happened to the others will happen to you.
MARCO: There weren't any others.
AMY: There won't be any you if you go back there.

So, one of the key phrases in LOST was "go back." It was uttered over and over again, suggesting time-travel before it even unpacked that possibility on the Island, itself a Forest. We also get "the others" in this dialogue, another recurring word and concept in LOST.

And to be clear, to "go back" in LOST -- as showed in Flashes Before Your Eyes -- is to conflate time-travel with death. Death frees up the consciousness to travel back in time, which is what happens to Desmond. Here on the Byzantium, to "go back" to the Light coming from the Crack is also a conflation of "time" and "death" but not time-travel so much as time-erasure. It's an interesting twist.

The way Amy describes it is poignant: "There was a light and they walked into the light. Doctor, they didn't even remember each other."

Walking into the Light is perhaps the most commonly reported phenomenon for Near Death Experiences. But Moffat makes a devastating twist here, which subverts it. NDEers often describe a "homecoming" -- reunion with those who have gone before, which is of course a way of remembering all those people who've been loved. But the NDE of the Crack denies a homecoming, even amongst the living, making it a truly awful fate.

The other nod to LOST, at least for theorists like myself, is how a "continuity error" is used to signify another time-travel event. The Doctor appearing with his coat on again and telling Amy to "remember" was roundly mocked in fandom as a blatant continuity error, but it was in fact planned and paid off at the end of The Big Bang. In LOST fandom there was an ongoing debate about whether the plethora of grossly suspicious continuity errors on that show had anything to do with the Island's properties, and specifically if time-travel was being indicated, as if certain scenes had been changed or edited or buried by the time-travelers themselves.

Not that that would have been a particularly original concept, given Moffat's short story on the very subject, but it would be (or in fact is) the first time for its execution in a televisual medium. If so, one could even make the argument that LOST was technically perfect, because if continuity errors have been redefined as narrative artifacts of time-travel, then there aren't really any errors as such at all, at all.

Which makes an interesting statement on the concept of "error" itself.

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Melissa Robertson 3 years, 1 month ago

@Daru "I got to this blog from Neil Perryman's Adventures with the Wife in Space."

Me too!

"I really enjoy well written critiques, as they are designed to make readers expand their thinking and to explore new ideas. Criticism used simply as attack just feels lazy and becomes boring to read."

This is just how I feel. I'm trying to become a writer, and I love reading well thought out criticism, as it helps me understand why some things are objectionable or just don't work. Also, I love going back and noticing the ideas and themes that are laid out in the critiques, both good and bad. At some point, I'm probably going to re-watch all of New Who just to enjoy noticing the things Phil has outlined in his blog.

It really all does depend on the critic's tone, no matter whether their criticism is overall positive or negative. For example, SFDebris' reviews are often fairly negative, but they aren't provocative, at least not to me. He doesn't insinuate that anyone who likes what he thinks is crap is an idiot or anything. He just writes an often funny review that outlines his opinions.

In contrast, I had a teacher once who had very definite views on history, especially on things like the Enlightenment and the Constitution. They were views that most people would agree with, including myself. However, the tone in which he spoke of the people who didn't believe as he did, and his overall attitude to the topic, were so inflammatory that I often found myself arguing with him, even though I mostly agreed with him. He made his contempt of the people who didn't agree with him very obvious. For me, that is where I draw the line. Once someone starts being derogatory towards others with differing opinions, that is when the criticism is no longer worth reading.

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Daru 3 years, 1 month ago

@ Melissa - Great points thanks and good to hear of someone else who found this great blog via Neil (wonderful project).

Yes I am pretty much happy to read any point of view if the tone as you say makes the ideas accessible. One of my jobs is as a professional storyteller and when starting out, my mentor showed me how the most fundamental and important skill was to know how to reach your audience, actually *any* audience. That's key I think and does apply to writing also. people don't need to agree with you, but they can be entertained and enlightened by you.

Great examples - thanks!

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Daibhid C 3 years, 1 month ago

Can I just defend the grav globe? Because IMO the failure to explain exactly how it works is not just a deliberate choice, it's the whole point of the cliffhanger. The Doctor is pursued by monsters you need to keep in sight and his response is to shoot out the light.

Obviously he has a reason but what on Earth could it be? Tune in next week to find out!

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Jarl 3 years, 1 month ago

I definitely see feminist critique of Moffat's writing and Moffat hating as two distinct phenomena. In these comments, and in many written reviews and blogs and such, you mostly get the former, and it's generally good and generally worth reading. The latter is generally bad, and generally not worth reading. We don't get much of it here, but there's a current of it on Tumblr and an overwhelming deluge of it on other websites, including the one whose identity can be determined by the fact I refuse to name it. Moffat Hate can involve feminist critique of his characters, but just as frequently delves into misogynist critique*. Moffat Hate, I've come to theorize, has little to do with his actual qualities as a writer or a showrunner, it's just the latest iteration of "The Showrunner is ruining the show", only exacerbated by Who's even larger international profile. You saw the same thing with Davies, and the same thing with JNT, and we'll see it again with the next lunatic to run the asylum**. It's background noise, and should largely be ignored.

*"River's an unrealistic Milfdiana Jones taking over the show, Rory's the omega beta, Amy's vagina is carnivorous and predatory", that sort of gibbering, useless nonsense.

**What's really interesting is how the Hate tends to transfer and leave the prior showrunner behind. You still get RTD Hate, but it's long since diminished in both vitriol and volume. You even, these days, get people saying "If Rusty was in charge, all this split season/mary sue/female empowerment/misogyny/ stuff wouldn't be going on." I think when the Hate moves on to Mark Gatiss or whoever, you're going to see the oft lamented season 6 start to raise in fan appraisal. For my money, there's no episode that better inhabits the qualities implied by the phrase "Steven Moffat's Doctor Who" than The Bells of St. John, and I look forward to the day it's regarded as the classic it rightfully should be.

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Jarl 3 years, 1 month ago

I generally like metafiction, and I generally like Moffat's Who. Admittedly, I tend to prefer my metafiction to be humorous rather than serious, but even I can enjoy a rousing Infinite Crisis every now and then. Moffat's Who is generally better than that, though. Nobody's lost an arm since Rose.

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Jarl 3 years, 1 month ago

Would the angels forcing their way into the circular hatch/chimney of the Byzantium be a further example of the figure in the eye motif? If so, it's just when you mentioned it that I realized that's foreshadowing Amy's predicament, which begins manifesting itself numerically during that scene.

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inkdestroyedmybrush 3 years, 1 month ago

@jane - There is a significance to the loss identity with regards to the crack in time. erasing you from all time lines EVER is the worst of all possible outcomes. If you believe in the soul and the wheel of life then having that light, something that we typically associate with enlightenment, be the biggest eraser of all is a horrific nihilistic concept. Does this drag us back to the Cybermen, that level of horror that they stared in to the abyss and not only did the abyss stare back, but it took everything from them: individuality, life, soul, past and future. Setting this in the forest, to contrast with the Tree of Life is indeed a dark and evil inversion. Again, especially with the coat, I'm not surprised to see Moffatt throwing in "errors" all along the way for us to pick up and pay off later, some of which he never got back to: Why are the silence trying to build a TARDIS? Why are there no ducks in the duck pond?

I believe that you're giving Lost too much credit in you next to last paragraph. I don't think that they handled the timey wimey-ness of their plot as well as Moffatt has, espeically in season six. Neither did Heroes. They lack the time travel pedigree that Doctor who has, and that Moffatt is clearly confident playing with.

Regarding the change in the Angels: when the Doctor tells the eyes closed Amy to walk through the "forest" of angels, they are frozen, and not just because Amy is pretending to be sighted, but because WE are observing them, at least for as long as the scene lasts. But we keep jump cutting to Matt, and letting them, potentially, move. Given the video possession earlier in the first part, have we not moved into meta-text already by the second part of this story?

And did we not note that the Doctor treats the clerics like UNIT here? He seems as comfortable with Father Octavia as he did with the Brigadier and Benson.

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elvwood 3 years, 1 month ago

I knew it was done with Davison because they couldn't shoot the post-regeneration story when they wanted to - but they were lucky and found it worked. I assumed that was why Moffat did the same, not because of any fan theories. Certainly my favourite two surviving post-regeneration stories are Castrovalva and The Eleventh Hour...

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elvwood 3 years, 1 month ago

The angels moving when we are looking at them - combined with them not moving because they can't tell Amy's not looking - really didn't work for me either. It removed some of their uniqueness, and didn't shock me, just disappointed me. The "image of an angel" bit, however, was a great addition.

Not really connected but I'll just add that I liked Alien and didn't get on with Aliens, and this felt like a similar situation (though I like TToA/F&S much more than the latter)

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5tephe 3 years, 1 month ago

I'm unlucky in that I like meta-fictional stuff only when it never emerges into the foreground. I've admitted before that I'm a bit of a literalist, when it comes to my engagement with fiction. I'm around 10 years older than Phil, and have no formal study of literature or media behind me, and so unlike him, I really do enjoy suspending my disbelief.

As a result, the Moffat era has been a slow process of diminishing returns for me, with this episode being the first markedly disappointing moment. (I mean, Victory of the Daleks was terrible, but this one actually disappointed. As a Who fan you have to accept a dose of terrible, every now and then.)

HOWEVER: I would like to thank Phil, and all of you commenters here, for opening up a door that allows me a way to appreciate what Moffat is doing with Doctor Who. You've all opened my eyes.

I fear I will never be able to love this story, however.

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5tephe 3 years, 1 month ago

Gods! One thing I have just realised jane, is that when we are first introduced to Karen Gillan in the Fires of Pompeii - she has an EYE painted onto her hand (or eyelids, or something) doesn't she?

I'm probably terribly dense, and you've probably pointed that out before. I just had a jaw-drop moment after I read your post. Sorry.

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Aylwin 3 years, 1 month ago

He seems as comfortable with Father Octavia as he did with the Brigadier and Benson.

Indeed. I've thought for a while that Octavian is the nearest thing to the Brigadier the new series has produced. "I beg to differ, sir" has a Briggish degree of sang-froid about it, as well as hinting that Moffat enjoyed the 1993 Tombstone, which is something everyone should have the opportunity to do (even if it occasionally has unfortunate consequences - one or two of the more bafflingly clunking lines in Babylon 5 make a lot more sense when you realise that JMS plucked them from that film and plonked them down out of context).

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jane 3 years, 1 month ago

5tephe, not only does Gillan have eyes on her hands that allow her to communicate remotely with her Sisterhood, she's also slowing turning into stone, like all the other prophets who breathe in the volcano.

Amy believes she's turning into stone during the trek through maze of the dead.

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jane 3 years, 1 month ago

Jarl, absolutely the Angels following through the Byzantium hatch that Amy just went through continues the motif, and foreshadows her eventual plight. Nice catch!

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Triturus 3 years, 1 month ago

This has been a really interesting and thought-provoking comment thread. I don't have much of substance to add to it, but I agree with Melissa that while I am happy to read criticisms of stories that I like, I tend to switch off when the criticism shades into outright vitriol. I've enjoyed reading Phil's criticisms of episodes I've liked, and the blog comments here are also really good in that regard, but some things I've read on other sites just tip too far into outright condemnation for the sake of it.

I stopped reading the Shobogan Graffiti blogs on the Matt Smith era because I didn't like reading that degree of venom directed at something I like. I dont mind people pointing out why they hate stuff I like as long as they're not beating me over the head with the reasons. And yes, i fully expect an infinitely small chorus of the world's smallest violins to be playing at this point - I'm aware that it's not All About Me.

But I feel the same about some of the Moffat criticisms; it's not that I would ever claim there are no valid feminist critiques of Moffat's Who, of course there are, but some of what I've read online just seems to be declaring that he himself "has issues" with women and using every possible angle in his writing to back this up while ignoring any possible mitigating evidence on the other side. And it is hard to engage with that, because the positions seem so entrenched that there is little to be gained from discussions.

This blog, on the other hand, is excellent for these discussions, and although I don't participate that often I always find them interesting and civilised.

TL;DR: I do rattle on sometimes.

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Kit 3 years, 1 month ago

I'm not surprised to see Moffatt throwing in "errors" all along the way for us to pick up and pay off later, some of which he never got back to: Why are the silence trying to build a TARDIS? Why are there no ducks in the duck pond?

The duck pond was explained in The Big Bang, and the TARDIS above Craig's was explained in The Day of The Moon.

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Kit 3 years, 1 month ago

^ absolutely. All three of Moffatt's cliffhangers in this 12-month period are so great as to be, by themselves, an argument in favour of two-parters.

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Daru 3 years, 1 month ago

This comment has been removed by the author.

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Daru 3 years, 1 month ago

Yes Jarl, I certainly see good feminist critique of 'current writer' hating as very distinct things also. It is very interesting isn't it, how the vitriol follows mostly the current head writer/producer?

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Daru 3 years, 1 month ago

Good to hear your thoughts 5tephe, I have no formal training in the study of literature either, but in my role as a professional storyteller I really get into the study of narrative structure, how narrative works (especially when delivering it to the public) and the worlds of myth. One of the things I really enjoy here is hearing people's very different experiences in relation to my favourite show - I certainly always find my perceptions opened here.

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David Anderson 3 years, 1 month ago

They're all good. But this cliffhanger had me unreasonably excited to see how it turned out.
I think I can see Phil's point that it's not obvious that the Doctor's shot out the light, but I don't think it really matters when the rest is strong. (Unless you have Graham Norton over the top of it. I watched the repeat so I didn't get Graham Norton.)

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Anton B 3 years, 1 month ago

Fires of Pompeii turns out to be pretty seminal then, providing a foreshadowing of both Amy and the Twelfth Doctor. I wonder if that's a theme Moffat will pay off? He seems to have hinted at it with Capaldi' s line in Deep Breath "Where have I seen this face before?"
A related theme seems to be the Twelfth Doctor's selective amnesia regarding previous adventures and his seeming refutation of the 'The Doctor Lies' trope. This Doctor tells the truth, even when it hurts the person hearing it. It's his companion who's done the lying this series.

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heroesandrivals 3 years, 1 month ago

I like this episode because it clearly signals the need for the Angels to be retired as foes.

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