The Angels Take Manhattan, seemingly getting it’s title from The Muppets Take Manhattan, is yet another great example of a Moffat mess. Think The Time of the Doctor, A Good Man Goes to War, Let’s Kill Hitler, and Sherlock‘s The Final Problem for other examples of Moffat incoherent storytelling.
Sure, it’s dramatic storytelling, with a noir theme included. Sure, Moffat created the Angels, so it seems fitting to include them in such a pivotal story, but doesn’t this make the Weeping Angels too powerful of a foe? According to the Doctor Who TV review by Clint Hassell:
“Because Steven Moffat says so.”
Forget New York being ripped apart by paradoxes; “The Angels Take Manhattan” is nearly destroyed by plot holes and unanswered questions.
While the concept of the Winter Quay apartments is terrifying – discover a room, marked with your own name, only to find your aged self dying inside – there were numerous problems with its presentation. Who made the little name cards for the rooms? The Angels? Why bother?
The Quay had existed for at least 50 years – long enough for Detective Sam Garner to grow old, trapped in his room. In all of that time, with nothing to do but stare out of the windows or sit in bed and wait to die, why had not one person committed suicide? Rory and Amy’s Angel-destroying paradox should have occurred long before the Ponds jumped from the Winter Quay‘s roof.
Why was Detective Garner trapped the hallway? The Angels at either end could see each other and, therefore, should have been frozen in place, allowing him to escape. The same is true with the Angels in the stairwell, and the Angels who surround the Doctor and River in Rory’s room. How does the graveyard Angel attack Rory while Amy’s looking at it? How does it make Amy disappear when it’s in the sights of the Doctor and River?
Conversely, why does the Angel not kill River when it has her by the wrist, and she is not looking at it? Why does the Statue of Liberty not attack Rory and Amy (or, later, the Doctor and River) when they were facing each other, on the roof of the Winter Quay?
Further, how is it even possible for the Statue of Liberty to be a Weeping Angel? Not only is the Statue of Liberty even remotely stone-like in appearance (it is sheets of copper over a steel framework), it’s hollow, and people can famously walk around inside of its crown. Most importantly, how would the Statue of Liberty crawl off its pedestal on Liberty Island, cross New York Harbor into Manhattan, and stomp down city streets with not one single person looking at it and quantum-locking it into place?
The TARDIS can tow Earth through space, in “The Journey’s End,” and restart the entire universe via a second Big Bang, but it’s not as adept at time travel as a vortex manipulator? That’s just laughable, and insulting to the entire canon of Doctor Who.
Since when does knowing your future lock it into place? The entire Series 6 arc was comprised of the Doctor knowing in advance the details of his death and, with that foreknowledge, taking steps to both assure that future came to pass and to avoid his fate in the process. It was a neat trick that captivated our attention, but according to this episode, it could never have happened.
Most frustratingly, the episode never makes the point of why New York is nicknamed “the city that never sleeps.” Why can New Yorkers not sleep? They have to keep their eyes open – they cannot even blink – due to the Angel’s presence.
While extreme gaps in logic are to be expected from a Moffat-penned episode, it is the final seven minutes of the episode that are truly infuriating. While Amy and Rory aren’t the first revived-era companions whose tenure has ended under tragic circumstances, they are the first to be killed by plot holes.
The Doctor claims that he will never be able to see Amy again. Why? River will see her when she takes Amy the finished Melody Malone manuscript. Why can the Doctor not also use the vortex manipulator to visit the Ponds? Since “The Sound of Drums” demonstrated that at least three people can travel through time via one vortex manipulator, why can’t the Doctor rescue Rory and Amy?
“The Time of Angels,” “The Pandorica Opens,” “The Impossible Astronaut,” and “Let’s Kill Hitler” all demonstrate that Amy and Rory, the Doctor, and River are quite adept at sending messages through time. Heck, “The End of the World,” “The Long Game,” “The Sontaran Stratagem,” and Pond Life, are evidence that the Superphone can make calls across time and space, so verbal communication should even be possible. Really, the Doctor and the Ponds being separated by a few years (and a paradox or two) shouldn’t be any more trouble than, say, having a friend move across the country. Why is the Doctor so sad? Why is he doing nothing to rescue the Ponds?
Although much of these answers can be attributed to dramatic storytelling, Steven Moffat did manage to actually answer the State of Liberty Angel question that was lingering around fandom:
When asked how the Statue managed to get across New York – even New York in the ’30s – to Winter Quay, without causing, at the very least, a huge traffic jam, he said:
“The Angels can do so many things. They can bend time, climb inside your mind, hide in pictures, steal your voice, mess with your perception, leak stone from your eye… New York in 1938 was a nest of Angels and the people barely more than farm animals. The abattoir of the lonely assassins!
“In those terrible days, in that conquered city, you saw and understood only what the Angels allowed, so Liberty could move and hunt as it wished, in the blink of an eye, unseen by the lowly creatures upon which it preyed. Also, it tiptoed.”
Ah! So that explains how appears that the very metal Statue of Liberty is one of the ‘living stone’ Angels…
And this isn’t even the first time these questions have come up. In a recent interview with Blogtor Who he answered the other big timey-wimey question: why didn’t the Ponds just leave New York and meet the Doctor somewhere else?
His answer is just-as-brilliantly detailed:
“New York would still burn. The point being, he can’t interfere.
“Here’s the ‘fan answer’ – this is not what you’d ever put out on BBC1, because most people watch the show and just think, ‘well there’s a gravestone so obviously he can’t visit them again’. But the ‘fan answer’ is, in normal circumstances he might have gone back and said, ‘look we’ll just put a headstone up and we’ll just write the book’. But there is so much scar tissue, and the number of paradoxes that have already been inflicted on that nexus of timelines, that it will rip apart if you try to do one more thing. He has to leave it alone. Normally he could perform some surgery, this time too much surgery has already been performed.
“But imagine saying that on BBC1!”
Oddly enough, by the time we reach The Time of the Doctor, the Angels appear remarkably less powerful… hiding in snow.
According to The A.V. Club review:
“I hate endings.” — The Doctor
The Doctor makes a habit of tearing out the last pages of books so he doesn’t reach the ending, but the rest of us don’t have that luxury, at least as far as Doctor Who is concerned. The revived version of the show has featured three doctors and a handful of companions and with each it’s been easy to get comfortable. Why not, for instance, have The Doctor and Rose travel together forever? They’re so good as a team! If that’s not your companion/Doctor grouping of choice, fill in your favorite here. Everyone’s partial to one set or another. But the show, as they say, must go on, however. And with “The Angels Take Manhattan,” The Doctor’s time with the Ponds comes to an end.
And what an end. Writer Steven Moffat comes full circle back to Amy’s first appearance (and back to the beginning of his run as showrunner) at the start of the fifth season. In fact, the Moffat era has been largely about Amy, the girl who saw The Doctor, grew up dreaming of his return, and formed with him and Rory a sort of surrogate family that traveled through space and time having adventures, including adventures that eventually revealed Amy to be The Doctor’s mother-in-law. Time travel’s confusing, but we’ll get to that later.
First, the episode opens with a New York story involving a hard-bitten private eye, an unscrupulous collector, and the Weeping Angels, the terrifying living statues Moffat introduced back in the instant-classic episode “Blink.” The private eye doesn’t make it too far, but his misadventure introduces all the elements that will factor into the episode: The collector’s muddy motivations, a hotel with a mysterious second function and the Angels themselves, including one conspicuously monolithic one hiding in plain sight. The prelude also re-establishes just how scary the Angels can be. The hotel provides them with the perfect habitat in which to claim victims. Trapped in a narrow corridor, their victims have no choice but to look away.
None of that’s on the minds of The Doctor, Amy, and Rory, however. They’re happy just to enjoy a day in the park. The Doctor even has a gripping mystery, novel to read complete with a cover that makes him go “Yowzah.” Why will be revealed soon enough, as will the book’s role in the story at hand, but not before some nice character moments (moments that carry with them some foreboding notes, however). Rory and Amy seem more in love than ever, The Doctor having become almost a companion to their marriage rather than they companions to him. Time, however, is moving on. Amy needs glasses now and behind those glasses are some newly formed lines. The Doctor stays the same but his companions, even companions as comfortable in his presence as these, keep aging. “Never, ever let him see you age,” River tells Amy later, shortly after advising, “Never let him see the damage.” That those around him might get hurt, and that they might get hurt because of him, is more than The Doctor can handle and the one thing, it seems, from which he must be protected.
It’s inevitable, though, for those traveling with him to run into danger, and it wouldn’t be much of a show without peril and adventure. In this episode that takes the form of a trip back to 1938 where the dangerous hobby of the collector introduced at the top of the episode threatens everyone around him. That includes Rory, who winds up in a basement filled with Weeping Angel babies and River, the living embodiment of the heroine from The Doctor’s novel. (The name “Melody Malone” should have been a tip-off.) So the adventure unfolds on two fronts at once: In the pages of The Doctor’s book—which The Doctor advises Amy not to read lest she seal fate—and in Rory’s timeline itself. It’s a clever setup that also creates a lot of tension along the way. The Doctor has to break something. And at some point Amelia has to deliver her last goodbye.
Part of what makes this episode work so well—and it’s one of the best of the Moffat era—is the way it does double duty as a twist adventure and a highly emotional story of farewells. Everyone who’s been paying attention already knows this is the swan song for Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill, but would anyone have predicted what a wrenching it would be? Maybe it should have been predictable. Throughout the Ponds era, River has provided a constant reminder that people meant to be together don’t always get to stay together. But Amy and Rory’s story has been one of people ready to defy this possibility at every turn. Even, as we find out this week, in the face of death.
Rory taking the ledge provides episode with its most breathtaking moment. His logic makes sense—in as much as any time-travel logic makes sense—and he has the guts to follow it through. Moffat smartly makes the scene play out for a long time without The Doctor or River’s presence. The decision the Ponds make is one they have to make together. And the plan works.
And then it doesn’t. Again, wrenching, though I have to admit to not fully understanding where they went. They got pulled back in time… somewhere. But presumably they didn’t get pulled back into the grim, Angel-run hotel to live until they died. (And at some point Amy had to publish the novel, right?) What’s important, and what gives the end such weight, is that the Ponds will not see The Doctor again. This is goodbye. The end of the story. The moment The Doctor hoped never to reach. Even though it’s a story that circles back on itself, it’s still at an end. It’s a good story though, sad ending and all, and one sure to leave The Doctor a little lonelier at Christmas this year when the next story begins.