I’m loving Moffatt’s preoccupation with non-linear time, and the opening sequence spanning 12,000 years is great fun. Hardly mind-expanding, but a welcome extra layer to events and appropriate enough for River Song’s return.
Unfortunately I found River a bit on the smug side this week. Not catastrophically so, but making her an oh-so-quirky mercenary with a line in hallucinogenic lipstick and ludicrous high heels puts her the wrong side of two-dimensional. Alex Kingston isn’t given a lot of genuine emotion to work with here, so I’m hoping for better things next week. If I’m to like her, I need to see some chinks of a real person beneath the glib patter. It doesn’t help that, at a time when we’re still establishing the new Doctor, her presence puts the title character on the back foot: no longer always the most knowledgeable person in the room. It diminishes him a little, and I’m not one of those people who normally objects to the companion saving the day. I feel we need a bit more authority from the Doctor early on in this episode.
That said, Matt Smith is very good again here, so much so that it’s hard to believe this was his first filmed episode as the Doctor. He’s slightly more the hunch-shouldered professor — slightly more Troughton-esque — than we’ve seen, and his relative youth still occasionally intrudes on my consciousness, but for the most part the actor nails the part immediately.
I wasn’t sure where the series could go with the Weeping Angels but this episode has me convinced. The sequence in which Amy is trapped with the video recording is a fine piece of tension and a very inventive idea to boot. And if she perhaps should call the Doctor sooner, it’s entirely in character that she doesn’t. Add to that the army of zombie-like angels who don’t exhibit the classic winged profile and a strange ability to absorb the identity of those they kill and you’ve got a race who are much more versatile as villains. As in Blink I’m not quite convinced that the Angels took every opportunity to sneak up on Our Heroes, but here they excuse it by having most of the Angels coming out of dormancy.
I particularly like the way the episode gradually changes tone and scale as the full extent of the threat is revealed. The episode is helped enormously in this respect by atmospheric design and effects work: the cave looks superb, and the spacecraft atop the cliff feels like the cover to an SF novel. In a good way.
At the end of the day most of what’s interesting here is set-dressing to a very conventional tale of marines (okay , clerics) versus aliens, but it’s interesting, fun inventive set-dressing and the conventional tale is well-executed. Let’s see if part 2 can keep up the pace.
Odds and sods:
* The mangled timelines of River’s relationship with the Doctor are pretty much as we’d been led to expect. It’s not quite clear if the Doctor has encountered her off-screen since ‘Silence in the Library’ (would have to have been the Tenth Doctor if so), but I get the impression that he hasn’t.
*Loads of good gags and lines this week. The running gag about River’s knowledge of the Tardis is the source of a few good zingers, even if they feel slightly fannish. Marvellous line about High Old Gallifreyan too.
* Amy’s plight is interesting – wonder if having the Angel reflected in your eye is a bad thing?
* Shame the Doctor’s line about traps was so heavily trailed. It’s a great line, both archetypal and slightly odd in rhythm and delivery.
* Some unusually spiky stuff about the Church here, albeit at a very low level.