I may be in the minority here, but I am not a huge fan of the Weeping Angels. I agree that they were the centerpoint of one of the best single episodes of the new series, “Blink”, which was genuinely scary and well put together. The problem is that the attributes of the Angels as laid out in that story make them a bit limited as recurring antagonists. They have a singular shtick: quantum-locked into immovable stone when observed, not killing their victims but rather shunting them back in time. It all worked great for “Blink”, but later attempts at doing more with them sadly illustrated their limitations. Because they don’t speak, they don’t have a lot of personality, and so every time they reappear, it’s in sequences that seem like rehashed versions of that original scary premise. I don’t feel as though tonight’s episode broke that streak at all (it notably had to cheat by having the Angels begin to speak, the rogue through Claire, the other through Professor Jericho’s television.)
That all said, this was probably the best episode so far this season, for all that it falls apart a bit at the end when the plot changes direction to tie into the overarching mystery of the Division and set up next week’s installment. It helped, I think, to be grounded in the real world, even if the timeframe was 1967 (and later, 1901). DOCTOR WHO tends to be at its most effective when it’s transposing the mysterious and terrifying against the mundane and familiar. So after a few episodes that felt a bit remote and distant, this one hit the spot an awful lot better. I hate to think that it’s the result of this episode being the only one that showrunner Chris Chibnall didn’t write entirely on his own, but that thought is a bit inescapable. If I was a betting man, I would say that much of the episode’s structure and incident was mainly the hand of co-writer Maxine Alderton, with Chibnall doing the drop-in bits with Bel and Azure in space, and also contributing heavily to the climax, since it turns so heavily on the ongoing serial narrative.
It was a good outing from all three leads, even if Dan didn’t particularly get a lot more to do other than tag along and drop in the occasional line. But he and Yaz are an effective double-team, and I particularly enjoy seeing her step up and take charge in any instance where the Doctor isn’t present herself. I tend to think of that as her defining characteristic, and I’d like to see her develop further along those lines into somebody capable of being heroic even without the Doctor’s presence. I also found that I didn’t miss Vinder or Swarm, and that the limited amount of screen time given to Azure and Bel was helpful in clearing the way for everybody else. (Bel is becoming a bit of a favorite, the actress is able to do a lot with a little in that role, her natural personality helping to make Bel more interesting and enjoyable. It’s a bit absurd, though, that she recorded that whole message in the post-credits scene and didn’t at least get to begin rattling off her coordinates before the message ran out.) The guest cast was great as well, in particular Kevin McNally as Professor Jericho, a character who could easily have remained the stuff authority figure he was initially presented as, but who showed off a number of remarkable facets along the course of his journey. I hadn’t realized that he’d been in the classic Who episode “The Twin Dilemma” until I began writing up this piece. (And given how poorly it’s remembered as a story, it’s perhaps understandable that an actor wouldn’t lead off a resume with it.)
Anabel Scholey was fine as Claire, although, as I feared, her appearance in the opening episode had to be somewhat retconned to make this episode work properly. I could feel the grind of those pieces as Claire recounted how she had been getting dream premonitions of the Doctor and that’s how she recognized her on the street–none of which would have accounted for her familiarity with Yaz or Dan. This points to a general slipshod methodology of fitting puzzle pieces together that makes me worry about how any of this stuff is going to be resolved. It’s no fun if you either hand-wave away the clues you’ve laid or outright contradict them–as a viewer, I feel ill-used whenever a show does that.
This was a good outing for the Doctor as well, as she was effectively able to move and counter-move her Angel opponents all throughout the episode while not being so far ahead of them that there wasn’t any jeopardy. This is much more the interpretation of Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor that I’d like to see in play–though again, I do wish that she’d come up with the ending to the episode, rather than have everything fold in on itself and the Division subplot. Frankly, I wish the Doctor had offered herself in order to save Claire and the Rogue Angel and her friends, rather than the choice being taken out of her hands and her being victimized once again by her enemies. The Doctor ought to be smarter than that–it’s okay for her to be outmaneuvered during the course of the story, but especially when it comes to the climax, she should be the prime mover in how things come out. So I feel as though that was a bad instinct here–one that Chibnall’s work has evidenced consistently. If I can come up with that slight change of emphasis in order to give the Doctor more agency and make her come across as more competent and resourceful so quickly, then it really isn’t that hard to do. Come on, guys.
I do find it a little bit funny that the instant that the Doctor becomes aware of the secret past she has with the Division, suddenly all sorts of characters begin turning up who are well aware of it and who can tease her (and us) with tantalizing pieces of that past. It’s akin to when Wolverine’s true name was revealed as James Howlett, and then different new characters would show up and call him James as a shorthand to show just how important they are. Admittedly, some of that is a convention of the storytelling that simply needs to be accepted. But for all that the Doctor’s past is shrouded in such mystery, even from herself, it does seem to be widely known by virtually everybody else in the galaxy. A bit more “less-is-more” in this arena might have been a good idea.
What else? I called that the old woman in the graveyard was the missing Peggy pretty much instantly, but the way that plot point played itself out was still effective. As was the image of Medderton having been quantum-extracted and pulled out of time, floating in the void and crumbling at the edges. The shots of characters talking across the span of time from 1901 to 1967 weren’t quite as polished, but then I don’t really look to Doctor Who for superior special effects in the first place. I got an old fan’s delight at hearing Jodie dash off two of the more classic catch-phrases from the early show, “Reverse the polarity of the neutron flow” and, “When I say run, run.” And I guess there are now a bunch of theories circulating that Vinder and Bel’s child is the Doctor herself, the Timeless Child who will be sent through the rift to arrive at the dawn of Gallifrey. Admittedly, the architecture for such a move does seem to be in place, but I’m holding out hope for an ultimate reveal that’s a bit more spectacular than that.