BOBBY: With the gentlest of taps on the shoulder, we close the book on "The Angels Take Manhattan," season seven's half-season finale, and the end of the Ponds' tenure as companions to the Eleventh Doctor. But so many questions at the beginning of the episode! How do we get to that ending? Why are we watching a hard-boiled gumshoe talk to the tubby bald guy from Whose Line is it Anyway? How the hell is River Song going to factor into th—wait, I know the answer to that one: with a storytelling shoehorn and almost no real justification whatsoever. Because that's River's thing now. But the biggest question isn't how we get to that ending. It's whether we feel the feels we're supposed to feel when we get there. Erik?
ERIK: I feel that this episode boasted the best use of Sting ever. Because the Doctor is an Englishman! In New York! Whoa! He's an alien! He's a legal alien! He's an Englishman in New York! Let's listen to it now.
BOBBY: Firstly, the Doctor isn't an Englishman, he's from Gallifrey. Secondly, we're in the middle of a recap an—
ERIK: Whoa-oh! He's an alien! He's a legal alien! He's an Englishman in New York!
I'd like to first note that this episode featured Amy Pond in glasses, which means I loved it for that reason alone, and also featured the Weeping Angels, River Song's cleavage, and the Doctor ripping out the last pages of books because, as he says, "I hate endings." I think Steven Moffat might hate them a little bit too; this send-off episode for the Ponds didin't feel as satisfying as I'd hoped it would. I've always liked Amy (and never thought that criticisms about her being "too mean" ever held much water), and Rory really grew on me throughout his time on the show. That said, them just getting zapped back to old-timey New York was pretty underwhelming. I'm not entirely clear on why the Doctor couldn't just go back and get Rory after he was sent back (the explanation that "one more paradox will tear New York apart"— because there's like a limit on paradoxes, I guess?—seems... iffy), and the idea of Rory and Amy living happily ever after in the past seemed... well, like they deserved better than that. I'm glad they're happy in old-timey America, that seems fine, but here are two people who've helped save the galaxy and done all sorts of insane things. Having something a bit more happen to them—or even just a bit less boring—probably should've been in the cards. Especially since the whole reason of Rory's initial sacrifice—to get rid of the Weeping Angels!—didn't even work. "Welp, failed mission! I guess we live in the past forever now."
BOBBY: This episode basically asks you to just roll with things for the sake of rolling with them. The Statue of Liberty is more like a hollow brass tourist trap than an actual statue, plus apparently nobody in New York noticed this thing moving? But Moffat is betting you'll go, "Eh, whatever. These yokels forgave Dan Aykroyd driving Lady Liberty around with an NES Advantage, they'll forgive this so long as it looks cool." And that's a solid bet, really. I willingly traded plausibility for visual power in that instance. But everything else in the episode is about as subtle as a giant statue tromping through New York. Including what I percieved to be meta-commentary by Moffat on the nature of storytelling. Tearing pages out of the book, shedding red herrings like Cloverfield shakes out giant flea creatures; Moffat seemed to spend a fair amount of this mid-season finale essentially wagging a finger at people who don't consume his stories "The right way," and it's a split in focus that I think has made him a less-impressive storyteller. Basically, he's gotten so wrapped up in writing "spoiler-proof" Doctor Who stories over the last few years, he's lost some of his ability to just write a story, period. Not only do those tendencies manifest themselves strongly in this episode, it hinders the emotional impact he's going for, precisely because he's spending more time trying to juke you off the plot then he is trying to create a logical/emotional throughline that make sense.
ERIK: I have to say, Doctor Who just about always has an emotional effect on me, even when logical stuff doesn't make sense—I don't know if it's the characters or the music or the fact that, ever since Moffat took over, most of the episodes seem to have a strong, core emotionality behind them that supersedes nitpicks. Even when a story isn't working on technically, I find the emotional level's usually right where it needs to be. Character and emotion are frequently more important to me, I guess, than plot. Which is what makes an episode like this one frustrating: On a story level, I'm like, "Wait, that's how the Ponds go out? Really? C'mon!" but I'm also sitting there all mopey that the Ponds are gone. So. This might mean I'm an idiot?
BOBBY: Are you referring to this one specific thing as making you an idiot, or are we opening the floor for suggestions?
ERIK: Whoa-oh! He's an alien! He's a legal alien! He's an Englishman in New Yoooorrrk!
BOBBY: I'm sure some of the frustration I'm feeling is coming from the same place you're coming from: the episode very much worked, emotionally. I cringed when River pulled back her mangled wrist from the Doctor's grasp. I shuddered when those cherubs started giggling their way towards Rory in the dark. I got appropriately affected when Rory placed Amy's hand upon his chest, and asked her to push. And watching Karen Gillan, maybe for the first time ever in her role as Amy, completely let go in the graveyard and just put herself up there on the screen with so much vulnerability? Her last episode as Mrs. Williams gave her a chance to be as funny, strong, clever, caring, and adorable as she's been in any one single episode of her run, and even though I've had problems (serious problems) with her characterization as of late, when she turned her back on the Angel and blinked? I was really sad to see her go. The fact those moments worked as well as they did with all the hand-wavy shortcutting Moffat was doing just made those moments all the more frustrating for me once the show was over and I was left to think about what I'd just watched. I wanted to just enjoy the gift of this particular goodbye, but the wrapping on it was too sloppy and tattered for me to completely give in.
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