Sting: "I'm an alien,
I'm a legal alien,
I'm an Englishman in New Zealand…"
I don't even have to check back that quote! :)
With Brian's blessing from last week, The Doctor, Amy and Rory are slouching around present-day New York, more specifically Central Park. The Doctor's reading an old crime novel, which is a bit of a pain because he reads out loud. He remarks that he'd quite like to meet one of the characters. Then it dawns on him that he is one of the characters. They all are. The book begins to recount their present, and therefore their immediate future too.
Before you know it, Doctor Who has become a Crime Traveller.
To slip back into the real world for a moment, if such a thing is advisable when reviewing a story that blurs the line between its own real life and fiction, Crime Traveller was an absolutely reprehensible BBCtv series in the 1990s. As the title suggests, it featured a couple who solved crimes using a time-machine. Among its dimensionally-transcedental control room of shortcomings, Crime Traveller kept changing its philosophy on how its central premise functioned. One week they couldn't meet their younger selves. Another they could, but mustn't look them in the eye. Every week, by implication, the operation of the time-machine required the characters to be present in the same room with themselves at the same time. Don't remember it? Lucky you.
The reason why I draw a comparison with Doctor Who: The Angels Take Manhattan, is because this is the point for me at which Doctor Who's own multiple muddled and contradictory statements about time-travel over the years confront each other. A bit.
There are really three worth mentioning:
1. Changing your history causes your present to change.
2. Changing your history causes only some aspects of your present to change.
3. Changing your history is impossible.
In this one, when the Doctor takes the crime novel off of Amy to stop her reading ahead and causing its history to become established for them, he comes up with a fourth one:
4. Changing your history is impossible if you've read it. (I think he meant once you are aware of said history, including your future)
Joined by River, the resulting forty minutes find our two married couples (nice unusual dynamic for a popular TV show there) in a mild battle to avoid reading anything about their futures, lest they seal their own destinies. Not just the book, but signs on doors, and their very own tombstone too.
At the end, you can sense the Doctor's defeat as he sits despondent in the TARDIS, no doubt reflecting on having seen River's future diary in Silence In The Library / Forest Of The Dead. Giving up on fighting it, he invites her to travel with him, apparently finally resigning himself to gritting his teeth through being beaten by causality.
This is just not the optimistic maverick Doctor who in recent years we have come to be inspired by knowing. To see the Doctor defeated is always great. To see him not even try to fight back, well, that's depressing, for the wrong reasons.
For a couple of years now, I've reasoned that to reconcile the various behaviours of time on display in the series, they need to be interpreted more as philosophies. We've had the theory of fixed-points in time being unchangeable for a while now, but I think it functions better as a belief, rather than as a cold hard absolute.
In a show like this one, I think it's enthralling to suppose that all of its statements about time-travel and changing histories are true, but to fluctuating degrees, like the weather. Just as some days can look hot, sunny, cold, rainy etc., so there can also be different fronts of time. You might look at the darkening sky and say with complete faith that "it's going to rain today," only for it to, against the odds, turn out to be sunny. Equally, the Doctor may take in a time and place, declare an upcoming event to be "a fixed point in time," and then turn out to be able to change it after all. Any of the above four laws could emerge as successful today, although some often look a lot more likely than others. That may sound wishy-washy and a bit of a catch-all, but that's precisely why I've had to apply it to take the series on board.
And yet, causality is not a word that even sits well within this episode. One of my most frequent criticisms of Doctor Who's scripts is their lack of being proof-read. It's a pretty basic part of the writing process, and yet in even a short self-aware episode like this one we get:
1. Old Garner not giving young Garner any useful advice, despite the lifetime that he has had to prepare it.
2. Rory, and the others, meeting River apparently by coincidence.
3. River stating that she has a vortex manipulator, and then breaking her own wrist sooner than use it. (indeed, there are a number of situations right into the final scene in which it would have proved extremely useful)
4. River the trained assassin not having a gun handy, throughout.
5. A Weeping Angel, while frozen in its statue state, still being able to move inside to blow Rory's match out.
6. The Doctor stating that he cannot fly the TARDIS to New York without a signal to lock onto, despite the multiple times that he has done so in the past.
7. The Doctor not using his sonic screwdriver as a torch with which to see the Angels, nor the bulb that he was revealed to keep in his pocket in The Vampires Of Venice.
8. Unable to be rescued from New York in the past, Amy and Rory remain there, instead of, say, catching a train to Los Angeles. Even the Doctor doesn't think of doing this in reverse to collect them. He doesn't even discount it. He does say that one more paradox "would rip New York apart", but a book and a gravestone are pretty easy things to falsify. And again, River still has that vortex manipulator, which can can get there "like a motorbike through traffic."
9. The Angels getting wiped out by the paradox, but one of them inexplicably (ie. it wasn't explained) escaping. How on Earth did it manage that?
10. Angels remaining static while no-one is looking at them, for example when Amy and Rory make eye-contact with each other on the top of the building. From the other angle, how could the Statue Of Liberty get so far without being seen by anyone?
I'm also at a loss as to why the Statue Of Liberty was headless while on Liberty Island (to be explained later?), or indeed what it was doing as an Angel in the first place.
River: "It's like they've taken over every statue in the city."
Is that how they reproduce - by taking over existing statues that have been built by other races? That could work, although it would make this episode's Angel-children merely statues of kids rather than more traditional offspring.
And as for his visiting young Amelia as a kid and telling her about her future... well! Like that wouldn't be classified as a paradox! I guess he must have been sketchy about the details, giving her just enough to imagine all those stories with, and maybe promising to be back in ten minutes at the end, if the rest of The Eleventh Hour still happened. (which after The Big Bang I guess it didn't)
Having said all that, it may sound like I didn't like this episode. It was okay. Doctor Who tends to work well when it has a small cast, and with the baddies in this one predominantly being mutes, all the better. All three regulars have come a long way since they began in the series, and the mellowness about their banter makes all their material at the very least friendly. River gets dealt a difficult hand as she doesn't really have much to do except cause tension. No matter what she usually says about spoilers, here she's the spoilsport parent. Still, I think that's more watchable than man-eater.
It all leads to an uncharacteristically downbeat ending, not least because of the 'Next Time' trailer at the end.
What did it say? Doctor Who returns… at Christmas? B-but it's still September - the same month in which this series started?!?