You gave me quite a shock there Doctor Who, after last week’s particularly dodgy episode the first thing you decided to start this week’s episode with was a shot of geezer-rap musician The Streets (aka Mike Skinner), whirling round and round in a park with a big lipstick smudge on his face, which as far as episode openings go isn’t a particularly promising one. Thankfully that was the extent of Skinner’s cameo (which I wouldn’t be surprised to find out was the result of him winning a competition, like when they left the design of Peter Kay’s monster suit to a Blue Peter contest), it turns out that he was a particularly useless spaceship security guard, his whirling round in a park was a result of the psychedelic properties of the lipstick on his face, planted there by the Doctor’s future wife River Song, here taking on an action heroine persona as she led a daring raid on the spaceship’s vault. Although she was caught before she made it into the vault, she did have enough time to create a distress signal for the Doctor to find 12,000 years in the future (in an otherworldly museum that looked awfully like the interior of a British cathedral – I wish I could be more specific but really most of them look the same inside, feel free to mention it in the comments section if you know which one it was), allowing him to turn up just in time to save her as she blasted herself out of the spaceship’s airlock, so despite the unpromising start it ended up being a pretty exciting pre-title sequence.
And fortunately the rest of the episode continued at this level of quality, making it by far the best one of the new series, with Moffat using the opportunity to bring back possibly his scariest creation The Weeping Angels who made their first appearance in the season three ‘filler’ episode Blink. After some playful banter between the Doctor and River, during which it was revealed that the distinctive sound that the Tardis makes when rematerialising only happens because the Doctor forgets to take the brake off (I imagine that it might be almost sacrilegious for some old Doctor Who fans that such a famous part of the Doctor Who canon could be finally explained away in such a silly manner, but I enjoyed it), River revealed to the Doctor and Amy that the spaceship vault contained a lone Angel, supposedly kept in check by the constant watch of a security camera. Of course, things weren’t as simple as that – after River left the spaceship, it crashed into the remnants of a ‘city of the dead’ – an elaborate mausoleum built by a long-gone alien civilisation – and really where better for a stone based monster to hide than in a dark, vast network of catacombs, already filled with statues.
Really that was it for the episode plot-wise, there was a reveal close to the end that the Angel had caused the spaceship to crash as the resulting radiation would heal the decaying Angels in the catacombs (the Angels had long ago taken the place of the statues there, which the Doctor took a surprisingly long time to notice, considering that the species that built the place had two heads, whereas all the statues only had one), and the episode itself ended on almost the literal opposite of a cliff-hanger – with the (surviving) characters trapped underground desperately trying to find their way up into the remains of the ship. The episode’s sidekicks/expendable characters also deserve a mention – as apparently in the future members of the church start to look awfully like members of the army. Although covering organised religion in sci-fi isn’t a particularly original thing, I thought it was an interesting area for Doctor Who to explore, and reminded me of The Satan Pit two-parter from series two, and the fact that in the future ‘Bob’ counts as a sacred name was amusing.
Despite the relative absence of plot (and judging by the rushed storylines of the previous three episode that’s not really a bad thing), the episode managed to hold the interest, both thanks to an enjoyably creepy cat and mouse chase through the dark underground maze, and because it provided an opportunity to learn more about the enigmatic Angels and River Song. Not that we learnt too much though – River seems to have a bit of a shady past, including some time spent in jail (hardly surprising considering the heist she attempted to pull off at the start of the episode), and the Angels were given a range of interesting new powers (if I was being negative, I would say too many as they scarcely had time to fit all of the abilities in, but they did serve to make the Angels seem even more terrifying), as explained in a book written by a mad priest that River had found, and mostly experienced by Amy. First of all she was locked in a room with the image of an Angel gradually emerging from the security camera footage, very much like something out of The Ring (and although it’s unlikely that in the future security camera footage will look quite so low-tech and grainy, the effect did give the scene a particularly uncanny feeling), then she found that looking directly into the Angel’s eyes has an unfortunate hypnotic effect. The Angels also apparently have the ability to speak in the voice of their recent victims, something reminiscent of the previous adventure featuring River Song, ‘Silence in the Library’ in which the voice transmitter of a dead astronaut kept repeating the last phrase he said ‘Who turned out the lights’ over and over. The army of decaying Angels were also very effective, with the usual erosion stone statues undergo here rendered so that the figures looked oddly skeletal. Moffat so far hasn’t given any explanation as to why they look like Angels, or are made out of stone, and I’m not sure I agree that they have evolved to be the ultimate killing machine, as the Doctor effectively described them. But the idea of them still intrigues, particularly the fact that they seem to work like a reverse of Schroedinger’s cat, where they’re only alive when you can’t see them. And even though the preview of the next episode looks like it’s going to play around with the Angels’ abilities even more, I’m very keen to find out what happens next.
And so, what did you all make of the episode, how did it compare to the rest of the series, and are you eagerly anticipating what comes next?