Doctor Who – Flesh and Stone

Really liked this episode. It’s highly unusual for a part 2 to match the quality of a part 1, but if anything this episode was the better of the two.

It’s a well structured blend of action, characterisation, humour and some imaginative SF ideas. Best of all it’s not a retread of part 1 but a genuine continuation that develops its ideas and characters.

After years of rabbit-out-of-hat solutions to plotlines it’s pleasing that the denouement is set up at the start of the episode with the gravity field in the corridor, yet can’t easily be foreseen until it happens. Neat plotting.

As always I’m far from convinced the angels take every opportunity to kill our heroes; that’s the trouble with setting up monsters with rules requiring such specific stage directions. I’m also not entirely sure about the Doctor’s ‘pretend you can see’ reasoning when the angels are supposed to be governed by fundamental laws, and Amy doesn’t exactly move like she can see — but somehow this didn’t bother me. Probably because the scene is such a neat reversal of “don’t blink”. It also reminds me of the blind adventuring girl in M. Night Shyamalan’s The Village, itself a neat reversal of a fairy tale story. The whole forest sequence is very fairly tale in feel, a mood only enhanced by setting it on a starship.

Matt Smith is as good as he’s ever been here, with a better dramatic range than previously (albeit reliant on shouting) and some fantastically quirky mannerisms. It helps that the Doctor is front and centre in full-on heroic mode. What comes across strongly in this episode is that the Doctor’s weapon is… to talk. The Doctor is always extemporising, and he’s always mouthy, but this week the two are explicitly linked. He tells the angels “Never let me talk” while skipping out on them. He doesn’t have a plan until he speaks it: “I don’t know yet, I haven’t finished talking” and “I don’t know yet, it’s a thing in progress. Respect the thing.” When he works out that the angel is inside Amy’s mind he claps his hand over his mouth, not in horror but as if he doesn’t understand until it comes out of his mouth.

There are some lovely moments in the relationship between the Doctor and Amy. He’s protective of her, showing off for her approval (“Have I impressed you yet, Amy Pond?”) and she is both drawn to and suspicious of him, unable to trust him after his repeated failure to come back for her on time. (“If I always told you the truth I wouldn’t need you to trust me.”) Amy remains a slightly odd, quixotic character — part swagger, part insecure — but that’s part of her charm. I still feel that she needs more development, but we know her much better this week.

She also fancies the pants off him, in a scene which I’m sure will cause outrage somewhere. I realise it’s possible to read it as Amy being over-sexualised, or some kind of loose woman, but I don’t see anything wrong with her fancying the Doctor (as she more or less said in Victory of the Daleks). She’s a grown woman, she’s known the man since her childhood, and she’s clearly been obsessed with him all her life. (And although every companion seemingly fancies the Doctor these days, to be fair he is impossibly heroic.) She’s terrified about her wedding, having second thoughts, and after a one night stand and nothing more. For me it’s quite refreshing that Amy can want the Doctor without mooning over him or needing a romantic relationship with him. It’s a funny scene, if a bit ‘sit-com’ in the writing, and it sets her a million miles apart from Rose or Martha with their respective coy crushes. Whether what Amy wants is good for her is another matter: on the verge of her wedding and having recently survived death she can hardly be thinking clearly, and the impact on her fiancee seems far from her thoughts. I think it’s absolutely right that the Doctor turns her down. The fact that he doesn’t just turn her down but is by turns flustered and oblivious to her advances is more delightful.

I really like the progression of the ‘crack in time’ plot. So many of RTD’s alleged arcs were just vague forshadowy phrases which superficially got paid off at the end of the season while not really making much literal sense or even being internally consistent. This actually feels like a genuine story arc that ties to Amy, and moreover given the amount of timey-wimey stuff including River’s last encounter with the Doctor being his fateful next encounter with her, it almost has to have been planned in intricate detail.

River is much less annoying than in part one, with Alex Kingston giving a more measured performance. I do hope that her future doesn’t hold anything resembling a traditional marriage with the Doctor, and it’s still difficult to see how they can arrive at that place from here. I like the fact that River is more dangerous than she appears, and may even have killed the Doctor (whatever that means, and in whatever context), although it’s hard to say if this is misdirection.

Overall, a hugely successful episode. Lacking the taut discipline of Blink, but far from an inferior sequel or retread, this is a fun horror-adventure with some clever ideas, sparkling dialogue and interesting monsters.

The Rest:

* Good final scene between the Doctor and Octavian (“I think, sir, you met me at my best”), although all the dancing around whom River killed is a bit writerly and manipulative.

* I appreciate the fact that River referenced the crash of the Byzantium last season. Clearly that is such a vague phrase you could work it into almost any story, but it’s a nice touch.

* The crack swallows your entire existence, so that you never existed. Amy trying to convince the soldier-priest that his friends had gone was a great idea (reminiscent of the Next Generation episode Remember Me).

* “Nobody panic… just me, then.”

* “I absolutely trust him.” “He’s not some kind of madman, then?” “I absolutely trust him.”

* “I made him say comfy chairs.”

* “That’s extremely very not good.”

* Need sonar on your communicator? There’s an app for that.

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