James Bond: All The Time in the World – Bond reviews from the archive

Connery, Lazenby, Moore and Brosnan reviewed

Well, it’s kind of a Bond week, so to complement (and possibly disagree) with my Tweet notes on each film, I’ve dug out my reviews of six Bond films that were published for the release of Casino Royale in 2006.  It’s like some kind of 007 Legends, but only one of these made it into the game…

Originally published on 6degreesfilm.com

Dr No (1963)

Dir: Terence Young. 1962 USA, Britain, 105 mins
Cast: Sean Connery, Joseph Wiseman, Ursula Andress, Jack Lord, Bernard Lee, John Kitzmiller, Eunice Gayson.

AFTER MEETING the daunting challenge of casting James Bond with a young Scottish actor, cameras were set to roll on the film which was to kick-start a multi billion pound franchise from Ian Fleming’s novels.

With the first Bond book, Casino Royale, destined not to be officially adapted for forty years, the producing partnership of Albert Broccoli and Harry Saltzman, decided to adapt the sixth book of Ian Fleming’s Bond series, Dr No, mainly due to legal issues and its suitability for filming.  The result is a fairly faithful adaptation of a fairly simple tale and an excellent choice for introducing Bond to the big screen.

Bond (Connery) is dispatched to Jamaica after the disappearance of a British agent who was investigating interference in the American space program.  Aided by the CIA, Bond’s detective trail leads him – via superstition, fear and Honey Ryder (Andress) – to Dr No (Wiseman), an operative of the international crime syndicate, SPECTRE.

Filmed between Jamaica – where Fleming owned a house, GoldenEye – and Pinewood Studios – which was to become the franchise’s spiritual home – the film stretches its meagre budget to some impressive locales and Ken Adam’s impressive sets.  Especially the control centre of the climax, in which lurks the titular, radiation maimed criminal.  Here, Joseph Wiseman sets the pattern for Bond villains to follow, cutting a dapper and menacing figure despite not appearing onscreen for over an hour.  In particular, No’s rather sinister prosthetic hand is demonstrated with a subtler touch than later films may have given it.  Despite this, it is tempting to think of what might have been if Fleming’s original suggestion of Sid James had taken up villain duties.

As the first Bond girl, Ursula Andress has rightly become an icon thanks to one of the best entrances in film history.  However, cast just before filming, she would never have expected to be spoofing herself just five years later in Casino Royale.  Opposite her, Connery proved an excellent choice for Bond, cutting between the suave and ruthless elements of the script with ease and it’s no wonder he is still the Bond against which all others are measured.

Despite most of the boxes being checked, the formula would not be truly established until Goldfinger two years later, but as a pilot for one of the world’s largest film franchises, it’s remarkably consistent with what follows.  A simple and effective adventure that more than justified a sequel.

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)

Dir: Peter Hunt. 1969 USA, Britain, 136 mins
Cast: George Lazenby, Diana Rigg, Telly Savalas, Ilse Steppat, Gabriele Ferzetti

NOTORIOUS, YES.  The black sheep, yes.  But once you’ve got that out of the way, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is a long way from You Only Live Twice, and potentially the high point of the whole series.

To start the new era, franchise producer’s Saltzman and Broccoli returned to books, crafting a close adaptation of the source book and wiping the slate clean.  For the most part, this is a gentler, more epic film than Connery’s Bond entries, helped in part by Lazenby’s less bullying, persona.

When Telly Savalas’ super smooth Ernst Stavro Blofeld crafts a germ warfare plot that could kill millions, Bond must join with SPECTRE’s rival criminal organisation Union Corse, for – thanks to the series reboot – a fateful first meeting with his nemesis high in the Swiss Alps.  Ironically as the super spy heads to Blofeld’s cover operation, an allergy clinic full of models, it seems his womanising ways are behind him.  But can James Bond ever settle down in peace?

Well, maybe not, but OHMSS tries hard to show a new life for Bond, with romantic scenes set against a marvellous score, including ‘We have all the time in the world’  This is a tightly plotted, finely acted and beautifully filmed adventure, and it’s certainly beyond Lazenby’s rare woodenness to ruin that.  The Australian’s only attempt at the role, on the back of hardly any acting experience, is in no way a disaster.  The former model actually gets more character to play with than Connery received in any of his films.  As the film opens, Bond has been trying and failing to locate Blofeld for two years, and is prepared to tender his resignation when removed the task.  But there is intention to do more than just deepen Bond’s character.

Peter Hunt had worked on several Bond films before stepping up from being editor to the director’s chair, and the change from the previous five entries is noticeable.  There is something quite European about the film despite being the only one with an Antipodean Bond.  Hunt employs jump cuts among other techniques to create a highly artistic film, while the substance is ably supplied by a good cast.  Rigg and Savalas in particular set a high standard for Bond girl and villain respectively.  Lazenby and Rigg’s chemistry is crucial to the plot and they certainly rise to the occasion making for not only the most moving scene, but the finest ending of any film in the series.

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service sets heights that the franchise was not near again for many years.  It’s not surprising that the critical stock of the film rose significantly in the decade following its release, a fact acknowledged 12 years later when Roger Moore was to visit his wife’s grave in 1981’s For Your Eyes Only.

Diamonds Are Forever (1971)

Dir: Guy Hamilton. 1971 USA, Britain, 120 mins
Cast: Sean Connery, Charles Gray, Jill St. John, Lana Wood, Jimmy Dean, Norman Burton, Desmond Llewelyn.

DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER arrived like clockwork, two years after its predecessor On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.  But for the first time in the series’ history, it was clear a reboot was required.  Bond box office had slipped from its early sixties height and once it became clear that Lazenby wouldn’t be returning, Connery’s return must have eased some pains, even at the expense of a world record salary.

Effectively, to get back to the good old days, the production team chose to copy it.  The original Bond was back, so they looked to his finest hour – unarguably Goldfinger – even rehired that film’s director, Guy Hamilton, to recapture the magic.  Given that they even sought to bring back Auric Goldfinger – or even his diamond obsessed brother – it is a mercy that one standout part of the film is Charles Gray’s ebullient Blofeld.  That he is so vastly different from the villain’s previous incarnations is strange, but top marks must certainly go to his plastic surgeon

Sent to investigate the smuggling of diamonds from British mines in Africa, Bond infiltrates the trade, meeting the Amsterdam contact Tiffany Case (St John) on route, and helps her smuggle diamonds across the Atlantic.  In Las   Vegas it becomes clear that the spy’s old nemesis Blofeld (Gray) has seized a billionaire’s business and is using it as a cover to receive the diamonds he needs for a laser satellite weapon

Following the Lazenby lead, faithful and lovingly crafted adaptation, Diamonds Are Forever is a vastly different film, and a significant pointer for where the series would go during the Moore years.  Space buggy chases, ‘decoys’ of the main villain and an oil rig finale, it could have been when the series jumped the shark, but it is mainly some excellent villains – particularly henchmen Wint and Kidd – and Connery that hold it together.  Certainly, it would be hard to see Lazenby’s Bond in this world.  In fact, the events of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service are never even alluded to, the slate wiped clean.

Oddly, considering its ‘greatest hits’ Diamonds Are Forever is only film with just one main Bond girl, but a role that Jill St John copes well with the role.  Initially part of the opposition to Bond, by the end sequence where Blofeld holds her captive she has retreated to screaming, useless comic relief.

What is noticeable about Diamonds Are Forever, is how quickly the 1970s hit the franchise.  Just nine years after his debut, Connery is looking far older, though clearly glad to be back.  But it’s the clothes, cars and style that suggest the franchise was throwing itself into its second decade, or at least showing it wasn’t just a product of the sixties: the seventies had arrived with a kiss kiss bang bang, and Diamonds are Forever arrested the slump with pure brute force.

The Man with the Golden Gun (1975)

Dir: Guy Hamilton. 1974 USA, Britain, 120 mins
Cast: Roger Moore, Christopher Lee, Britt Ekland, Maud Adams, Herve Villechaize, Bernard Lee, Soon Taik Oh, Richard Loo, Desmond Llewelyn.

ROGER MOORE’S second outing followed hot on the heels of his first, but while Live and Let Die delighted in reinventing Bond and breaking the formula, MWTGG serves up some of the worst points of the era.

This is a shame, as the idea behind it is irresistible. Bond receives a gold bullet with his number on it, the calling card of ex-KGB operative now gun for hire, Francisco Scaramanga; no-one can match him, no hitman can catch him with the single bullet in his golden gun. But it soon becomes clear that, while Bond faces the closest battle of his career, his nemesis has higher ambitions than the million a shot he currently commands.

The casting of Lee as Scaramanga is the films strong point. A cousin of Fleming, the author had suggested the British actor as Bond himself, but his fit with Bond nemesis was always the most irresistible. Here is the perfect anti-Bond, and the first villain to take precedence over the super spy in the opening sequence. Evenly matched, if not surpassing 007 as a sharp shooter, he is a mirror image – glimpses of his lifestyle, tastes for wine and gadgets suggest what Bond could have become in different circumstances.

But opposite Lee, Moore is a Bond at his most misogynistic and Britt Ekland’s Mary Goodnight is one of the most irritating Bond girls in the franchise’s history. If she’s the standard of agents M16 recruits its no wonder M is so grumpy, constantly telling Q to “shut up.”

As often in the Moore era, ‘bandwagon’ seems to be the keyword. But whereas Live and Let Die had carried its Blaxploitation with style and later Moonraker was to at least incorporate its Star Wars intentions into a plot, here the Eastern promise of Golden Gun’s martial arts stylings is squandered. Few Bond moments drop as low as Bond’s completely irrelevant trip to a Karate school, only to get left behind by his allies. The open road car chase does make a comeback after Live and Let Die’s city traffic dodging, but the less said about ‘that’ car stunt sound effects the better.

The film does look lovely for the most part, with suitably exotic locales. The M16 base hidden in broad sight in Hong Kong harbour is a particularly good idea and impressive set, but for the most part, The Man with the Golden Gun seems very much a waste of good ideas. Most unforgivably, it’s gadget light. Scaramanga gets the flying car, the lighter-kit golden gun and laser and Bond gets, well, just a third nipple. So balanced in favour of the villain is the film, that it makes the anticlimax all the more disappointing as Bond and Goodnight pratfall around Scaramanga’s base. Very much style over substance for long parts this is real popcorn Bond but at least it delivers a belter of theme song at the end.

Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)

Dir: Roger Spottiswoode. 1997 USA, Britain, 114 mins
Cast: Pierce Brosnan, Jonathan Pryce, Michelle Yeoh, Judi Dench, Teri Hatcher, Ricky jay, Gotz Otto, Vincent Schiavelli, Desmond Llewelyn.

PROVING THAT nothing ages you like playing Bond, Brosnan was no longer the rather skinny, slight super spy of GoldenEye when he returned to the role in 1997’s Tomorrow Never Dies.

Considering the previous film did such a good job of recasting Bond for the post Cold War world, it seemed a bit odd that the sequel grabbed the nineties with such abandon. Everything about TND should shout ‘dated’, but in fact is one of the strongest in the franchise. If you are looking for a straightforward, artfully constructed action film, look no further. Any doubts are quickly dispatched by the stunning pre-title sequence, where Bond saves the Royal Navy from nuclear disaster embarrassment, thanks to some sharp flying.

Following a lavish tech savvy title sequence, with Sheryl Crow’s understated theme song. The Pacific is dragged to the brink of war when the Chinese seem to launch a devastating attack on a Royal Naval frigate. But M16 quickly dispatch Bond (Brosnan) to see if it’s a coincidence that Elliot Carver’s (Pryce) Tomorrow newspaper carried the story front page, especially when he harbours ambitions in the Chinese territory. M (Dench) presumably hopes that, for once, 007’s previous relationship with Carver’s wife Paris (Teri Hatcher) will aid the mission. But, of course there are two sides to every story and Bond soon meets his match in Chinese agent Wai Lin (Yeoh). Can the two work together to find out who is really behind the attack and avert the imminent war?

Surfacing from one of the most problematic shoots the franchise has seen, the first two acts of TND are astonishing. The script tight – in fact Bond has far less dialogue here than any other film – and high quality action sequences stack on top of each other, all with the plot to carry it. But by the end – a raid on Carver’s stealth boat seems so far, so Spy who Loved Me.

Pryce’s Murdoch-lite may be an acquired taste, but he’s actually a great villain and just the megalomaniac the series demands. While his stealth boat sounds and looks rather silly, the idea of a powerful media network, here the Carver Media Group Network, manipulating a war for its own benefit seems less far fetched every day.

Improving on his already engaging performance in GoldenEye, Brosnan really comes into his own here. His is a ruthless Bond, without the bullying of Connery, and the best equipped Bond actor to cut between pun and stun. In fact, despite a plot far removed from the books, he puts a valid case for being the most faithful page-to-screen Bond yet.

On the Bond girl front, Tomorrow Never Dies provides a curious assortment. Teri Hatcher’s casting smacked of stunt at the time, and while a weak element her tragic figure is suitably cast, making a believable lover of both Bond and Carver. On the other side, Michelle Yeoh’s Wai Lin is certainly not the first woman to give Bond a run for his money, but unfortunately like most she inevitably needs saving by the end. Something that certainly cannot be said of the franchise at this point.

The World is Not Enough(1999)

Dir: Michael Apted. 1999 USA, Britain, 123 mins
Cast: Pierce Brosnan, Sophie Marceau, Robert Carlyle, Judi Dench, Denise Richards, Robbie Coltrane, Desmond Llewelyn.

SURELY THE best start of any film in the franchise, The World is Not Enough’s pre-title sequence is breath-taking, well escaping its Cool Britannia roots as a boat chase on the Thames culminates at the Millennium Dome. That said, the repeated viewing it practically demands highlights that it is far too long, delaying the titles for almost fifteen minutes.

But the filmmaker’s had their reasons. The franchise’s return to connecting the pre-title sequences with the main plotline is continued as Bond (Brosnan) becomes an unwilling participant in an attack on M16 and the murder of one of M’s (Dench) oldest friends, the British oil mogul, Sir Robert King (Calder). Later, after an all-out title sequence, Bond is assigned to protect King’s orphaned heiress daughter Elektra (Marceau) from constant attempts on her life. However, this rather un-00 agent activity takes a turn for the complicated when Elektra’s one time kidnapper and the world’s most dangerous terrorist Renard (Carlyle) gains possession of a nuclear weapon and the future of oil supply to the west is placed in jeopardy. An ambitious, twisting plot then, but one that delivers on many levels.

The title’s acronym, TWINE, is apt. Surprisingly this film has a nasty little sadistic streak running though it. With torture, mutilation and degradation stringing the set pieces together. Here Bond occasionally wanders into completely deranged mode – maybe not surprising as he’s caught in the middle of other people’s games for most of the film. The ruthlessness Brosnan demonstrated with efficient effect in Tomorrow Never Dies has been upped to the next degree, and most of his puns are really not intended to be funny all. But, if you doubt the entertainment of Bond with an edge, you just have to look back at Octopussy.

Like Tomorrow Never Dies, TWINE displays willingness to subvert Bond archetypes. So many parts have been twisted from even the ‘reality’ of Bond’s world – the vertical submarine, the ‘car chase’ in the tunnel – the science fiction direction of its sequel, Die Another Day, is clearly signposted. Still, the filmmaker’s seem willing to take more risks with the formula, picking up some of Brosnan’s confidence – in a film he probably considered to be his mid point in the role.

The most science-fiction element here, Renard – a villain unable to feel pain thanks to a bullet working its way through his brain – is the film’s weakest point, as the character is criminally underused, a victim of a complicated plot. Probably the most criticism is levelled at Denise Richard’s Dr Christmas Jones. Yes, at last, a bond girl who is a rocket scientist. If this was an attempt to redefine the archetype, it fails badly and is a rather odd step back from Tomorrow Never Die’s Wai Lin.

Still, this is a truly great entry into the series, with the clear ambition to up the bar in every way, and represents the high point of the Brosnan era. GoldenEye may be a brilliant reboot and Tomorrow Never Dies the perfect Bond actioner, but The World Is Not Enough strives to have it all, and it really doesn’t miss that much.

James Bond: The Other Fella – Lazenby #Bondathon

Lazenby Bondathon - James Bond

The second in the Storified set of ‘Tweet notes’ for each film in a complete (canon) Twitter #Bondathon leading up to the release of Skyfall and the franchise’s 50th anniversary. Typos not as rare as George Lazenby.

NEXT UP, THE SEARCH FOR A NEW BOND GIFTED THE CHANCE FOR A FRANCHISE REBOOT AFTER THE EXCESS OF 1967’S YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE.  Following a collborative five films, the partnership of producers Cubby Broccoli and Harry Saltzman shifted slightly, with Saltzman taking a lead on the new direction.  The result was the most literary take in the series – a sumptuous adaptation of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969), far more faithful to the Fleming original other films had been.  The director Peter Hunt, previously the series editor grappled the snow sequences full on – they are a suspense master class, beautifully shot, with a real sense of danger.  John Barry’s on top form but best of all is the casting of Telly Savalas as Blofeld.  Confident and physical, this is the only time a visible Blofeld looks like he could run SPECTRE.  However, a quirk of the new literary fidelity is that OHMSS is the second time that Bond meets Blofeld for the first time, and the with the most tragic consequences…

There’s little to Tweet about this brilliance, so I don’t. because it really is honestly brilliant.  it is even unfair to point an octopus tentacle at the main man: a little stilted sometimes, but he can act!  However, contemporary reaction wasn’t kind.  It would take over a decade for OHMSS’ critical stock to rise…

‘Der Englander ist verschwunden!’

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)


James Bond: Man Talk – Connery #Bondathon

Connery Bondathon - James Bond

The first Storified set of ‘Tweet notes’ for each film in a complete (canon) Twitter #Bondathon leading up to the release of Skyfall and the franchise’s 50th anniversary. Typos as guaranteed as white cats.

FIRST UP THE SIX CONNERY FILMS: sublime colonial detective (Dr No) to Volcano-crashing ridiculous (You Only Live Twice). They also happens to be the Blofeld arc from unseen to grotesque to camp. Connery bestrides the franchise with ample and ruthlessly brutal shoulders. The mould was firmly set three films in with Goldfinger, oddly a film where Bond contributes nothing beyond seducing a henchwoman. It’s by Thunderball that Connery’s established the Superman Bond: No secret spy work or deduction, just introduce yourself to the villain and be as rude as possible. Seemingly unfazed by any danger the threat level and involvement in this Bond’s affairs is rapidly diminished. Terrence Young was coaxed back to the director’s chair by the luxurious budget of Thunderball, but later regretted making a film that doesn’t stand up to the brilliance of the first two films. But for good or bad, the formula would remain for many years. Bond fever swept the 1960s with Connery’s tenure taking in six films in nine years and irresistible excess – and crucially ignoring the very small elephant in the lair, topped by George Lazenby. Still while Diamonds are Forever may suffer in comparison to the films that precede and follow it, it’s hard to beat the cold war caper of From Russia With Love.

The Connery Bondathon: Dr No (1962), From Russia with Love (1963), Goldfinger (1964), Thunderball (1965), You Only Live Twice (1967), Diamonds are Forever (1971).


Doctor Who: In the thrilling adventure of the Twilight of the Ponds

Doctor Who and the Twilight of the Ponds

On the occasion of the most loyal companions Rory and Amelia Williams departure (with coda) from the television programme Doctor Who for as long as they both shall live.

A look at the latest companion exit…  Guaranteed to feature Spoilers.

THE PONDS’ STORY ENDED EARLIER THIS MONTH.  And it was finite.  It had to be because we’d read it.

But even before one of their descendents could issue a DVD bonus feature to their final tale, The Angels take Manhattan (TATM), the BBC released ananimatic film called PS – a ‘coda’ to the Ponds’ farewell.  Maybe things weren’t quite as finite as all that.  While PS didn’t unravel the companions’ fate, in tying up some loose ends – even without the commitment to film it – it did disturb the Pond water a little.  Have we really seen the last of them?  Doubts may be an inevitable result of the most trailed companion exit in Who history – but has that publicity actually done Amy and Rory and the great Who event of 2012 a disservice?

Companions are now also far more entwined in the fabric of the Doctor’s adventures

Companion exits fall far behind regenerations in the scheme of Who – slightly after season openers but ahead of Silurian come-backs.  That’s for good reason: they’ve had a past as chequered as Jamie McCrimmon’s kilt.  There have been insensible exits (Adric), nonsensical departures (Tegan, then Tegan again) and most unforgivable the squandered farewells of the most popular companions: Jamie himself and Sarah-Jane Smith in particular.  2005 changed this.  The standing of companions had grown.  They didn’t simply imperil themselves and test their lungs anymore – that had to tail off with the demise of the cliff-hanger.  Once again they fulfilled the role that Ian and Barbara first performed in 1963: they were a conduit for the viewer to meet and experience the enigmatic Doctor.  Companions are now also far more entwined in the fabric of the Doctor’s adventures, constantly causing and resolving adventures.  An inevitable result is that there is now far more at stake when they leave.

And which companions deserved a fitting send-off more than the Ponds?  Few have travelled with the Doctor so long – two and a half years off-screen, 10 years on – or had their lives so very entangled with the Time Lord’s?  And after all, they’re his in‑laws.

This is not a review of their final episode per se.  That would go a little more timey‑wimey.  When a story is rooted in an internal logic, and its resolution is a paradox based on that logic, it’s even easier than usual to latch onto plot holes.  There were certainly a few up for debate in TATM.  There were random room names, the sincerity of a time-scrambled 1938 New York, and the Angel’s code of conduct – but as always with a work of fiction there needs to be some leeway.  Some are solved in unseen events, some can be explained by the story in the round and some just lazy rely on the audience to accept them.  Though I may touch on that, it isn’t a plot-abyss dissection.  In any event, my review would go something like: it was a great episode, the first half more than the second.  So that is that.  TATM was a vehicle for the Ponds exit and as such it should be judged on whether it satisfactorily performed that action across three criteria: The threat, the journey and the fate.

The Threat: Smiling Angels

The Angels earned a title billing in the Ponds final episode – the second in their short history.  And why not?  They’re a great monster – generally held up as the strongest since the series returned.  They are given to suspense and directorial flourishes, they test story-logic and they’re also simple: blink and you’re dead.  No speech, no machinations are really necessary: nothing beyond simple bloody instinctive evilness.

Additionally, they’re creatures of time.  Evolution since the ‘dawn of the universe’ has led to them being innately time-linked – not the acquirers of time-abilities like the Daleks or Cybermen.  This lends them in fairly direct way to a story about a time traveller.  Also, they are the lonely assassins, a title which lends itself to suspense and fear in the best Dr Who tradition.

As Aliens to Blink’s Alien, the Time of Angels needed to be an expansion of the Angels’ remit

The Angels’ first appearance is heralded as one of the greatest in the Who pantheon and deservedly so: structurally Blink was a blinder (sorry).  With its origins in a short story, it was the best doctor-less story seen in the Tennant years.  Well cast, well pitched and rooted in a real and contemporary world.  With that success, there was never a chance that Steven Moffat could leave his greatest creation alone.  They duly returned in his first season as show runner in the two-part The Time of Angels (TTOA) and Flesh and Stone (FAS).  It was an enjoyable return and arguably the highlight of that season, with a particularly good cliff-hanger and great science‑fiction tropes.  But, it’s that difficult second story where the problems creep in.  As Aliens to Blink’s Alien there needed to be an expansion of the Angels’ remit as they straddled that two‑parter like the Colossus of Rhodes.  The Angels powers were developed, the means of escaping them were stretched and their defeat proved rather impossible…

With each appearance there is not only a temptation to expand a monster’s culture or modus operandi but a duty

Of course, with each appearance there is not only a temptation to expand a monster’s culture or modus operandi but a duty.  It not only helps dramatically but also encourages interest in the monster itself.  The doctor’s nemeses may be creatures or civilisations millions of years old, capable of interstellar or time flight and as such, they deserve a little exploration.  The trick is how you do it.  At various points there may well have been Draconian civil rights movements or Zygon pickets when they switched from analogue to digital transmission.  But mercifully, we never had time for these even in the seven part serials of the classic series.

While expansion is fine, and a dedicated fan-base can fill in many gaps, villain reuse comes with a responsibility.  This has come a cropper in Who in the past, leading to lengthy absences for Silurians, their devilish cousins and other races.  When it’s your own creation, the responsibility must be particularly keenly felt.  There are few useful ways to expand something marked ’villain’ and with the Angels it has shouted POWER.  Genre fiction will constantly tell us that
great – or more –power comes with great responsibility, but with the Angels it hasn’t all been web slinging.

In TTOA we saw the Angels’ ability to remotely affect lights/electricity, to the extent of crashing a very large spaceship singlehandedly and also to rearrange the brains of dead humanoids to communicate in a kind of third person.  They didn’t bother with any time zaps, as story-logically they were too weak.  In fact, as time-zapping could lead to the very paradoxes that thwarts them, it seems sensible to use it sparingly.  Chillingly we also saw the promise of Angels as extradigetic foes: one physically broke through the fourth wall to possess a watching Amy.  That’s one hell of a power line to add to a monster.  However, it’s also a nice thematic enhancement of their primal fear.  Blink rather mischievously ended with shots of everyday statues to make sure kids in the real world really had something to be scared of.  Now, those same kids could be scared of even watching them on TV.  It didn’t seem to hurt the ratings, they only dropped about 0.3 million the following week.

By TATM the Nagel’s powers were further enhanced.  They could infect other native statues – effectively giving them facelifts and mobility.  As this included the Statue of Liberty, this ability clearly isn’t limited to stone, but then as the Angels presumably aren’t stone themselves, that’s fine.  They also travel with, or adopt en route, Angel babies.  These really need another name, as cherubically unsettling as they are.

So, now we can expect a power inflation each time we meet the Angels, which seems fairly typical of this era of the show.  With the Eleventh Doctor we’ve seen civilisations we thought that we already knew widen more than before: Silurian space arcs, a Dalek parliament with a Prime Minister heading a coalition of bronze and New Paradigm Daleks and Sontaran punishment sentences.  However, the Angels pose two problems.

First, while you needed to expand their universe you don’t want to lose their original simple appeal.  As of TATM there are generations added and strategies formed – far removed from their initial pure and thrilling debut where they were practically creatures of instinct hatching ad hoc plans to nick a TARDIS as their timometers hit red.

The second problem wanders in the direction of timey-wimey-plot-holes via story logic: If, as the Doctor says, the Angels are ‘the deadliest, most powerful, most malevolent life form evolution has ever produced’ wouldn’t the Time Lords have dealt with them when the Daleks were still in their humanoid house music phase?  It’s the old ‘who can beat Superman debate’.  But for arguments sake, I’d assume that in the post-Time Lord universe – once they’d got over their inevitable time-war hangover – they decided to diversify, possibly breeding Reapers as guard dogs while they’re at it.

The main jump the shark moment came during a moment of otherwise superb tension in FAS and surprisingly it related to their primary feature.  It makes sense that the Angels are innately aware of suspense; it’s a very probable result of their time abilities and if they understand it then why not use it to scare pesky vermin for their own amusement.  But it’s while they’re busy using it in FAS, that the stretching escape comes in…

Forced to close her eyes by a fourth-wall jumping Angel, Amy evades other Angels by… Pretending that she can see.

This really challenged my perception of quantum-locked.  It feasibly meant that someone could just stick a couple of ping-pong balls to the back of their heads with pupils drawn on them, exude an air of confidence and they would never have to fear Angels again! Surely there are some creatures in the universe that look just like this – sitting in their cosy communities, waking up every morning and wondering why there are so many hooooo-man statues being left around over night.

Leveraged against them like a giant quantum super-weapon with additional weeping

That said, in FAS, the Angel’s gained their real status as predators, even if Amy’s ruse diminished them a little (well, potentially devastatingly).  In Blink they had been the lone assassins, hiding, stalking until they pounced.  In FAS they were in pursuit.  While Blink saw them tricked into freezing themselves, FAS reallyshowed their inherent problem (strength): they were unstoppable.  Indestructible, rejuvenating and with an ever expanding host of new powers – how in space could anyone defeat them?  Of course they were inevitably defeated, but not by the Doctor – by the still inexplicable cracks in time of Season Five.  Intoxicating but deadly, the Angels couldn’t resist these time tears – and just as the Daleks have hate, the Angels certainly have greed.  Effectively TATM used the same ‘paradox’ resolution, but there a paradox was leveraged against them like a giant quantum super-weapon with additional weeping.

The girl who waited and the Centurion who waited were finished off by the Angel who waited

So, as of TATM the Angels have greed, malevolence, strategy but also a quite irresistible vindictiveness.  I mentioned Angel amusement earlier, because it’s been firmly established that they have a mean sense of humour.  We’d seen it before with FAS’ Angel Bob but in TATM it worked particularly well.  There was somehow a winged survivor of the paradox implosion for whatever reason – perhaps it had been the original Angel before they entered paradox-prone real estate.  The Doctor had earlier said that the Angels would hound Rory forever if he escaped and sure enough here one was doing just that.  It had waited presumably some 80 years, tracing the TARDIS causal nexus or perhaps just hanging in the graveyard with an ironic time awareness, biding its time.  Its plan worked well.  Suddenly the Angel’s victim appeared and it zapped him good.  It worked so well, I’m not certain the Doctor or River dispensed of it afterwards.  The Angel had corrected the paradox that didn’t exist out of pure revenge: the girl who waited and the Centurion who waited were finished off by the Angel who waited.

Throughout, the episode was riddled with real and compelling threat, on a theoretical and physical level.  The Angels do both well.  We actually saw Rory die of old age.  Again.  To be menaced and time skewered is certainly enough for a companion exit, even a pair.  With an oblique history welded onto the Ponds, the fit was just close enough to make the Angel’s a fine villain for the demise of the chronological challenged couple.  The agents of time versus the victims of time.

The Threat: Fixed Time

In recent years Who has increasingly stressed that there are fixed points of time.  Time Lords, as time innate (although also acquired) creatures, are aware of time and its flexibility at various points.  Different points of the universe in the distant past or far future are fixed and that is that.  We’ve seen David Tennant’s Time Lord Victorious try to change this and fail.  We also saw him shudder when near good old fixed point Captain Jack.  Earlier in the series we saw Rose create a paradox and the Reapers of the time vortex who come to correct this.  Time of course flows in any episode, normally in a linear direction, but occasionally it sticks its head through the para(dox)pet.

Everything in TATM shouted fate.  Time, we were repeatedly told was written in this story.  The narrative was constantly framed by an omnipotent typewriter: River recording and relating the action simultaneously.  As the characters followed this typing in parallel, so did the viewer.  It’s quite an involving trick and a neat echo of the Doctor’s Easter egg messaging in Blink.  But then, that was really the major story point in a very plot-lite tale.  River’s presence was simply to record things and then in two key scenes, reinforce the Doctor’s time diagnosis: once with her wrist and then with her final words to her mother.  At least with River’s story, one of constant time-meddling, there has been some drama attached to it.  Here, those fixed points of time were a drama out of nothing.  The crux of it was also reminiscent of Series Six’s The God Complex where similar hotel rooms were filled with fears that residents would inevitably encounter –both had similar good room service, but with fears it was a little more effective.  It may be a spot of fixed-point fatigue.  While Water of Mars probably established the principle most effectively they still seem arbitrary rather than mysterious when they pop up.  Fundamentally, neither fixed nor flexible time are principally linked to the Angels.  If they were, the Angels would be asking for paradoxes all over the place.

The Journey: Lower Leadworth to New York

We know that the Ponds stories ended in America presumably in the early 21st century as an old and still married couple, proud parents of an adopted son.  It had been quite a journey and unique in the Who pantheon.

It was two and a half – or possibly 16 – years ago that we met the young Amelia Pond, an enigma of a girl and the Doctor’s and our new companion.  From the start, dates and years were rather unimportant.  The Doctor’s regenerative TARDISastrophe took him north, west and a decade back, crashing in Leadworth in 1996.  His subsequent and tardy return was in 2008 – to find a 19 year old Amy who promptly smashed him over the head.  By the time of Series Seven’s Power of the Three (POTT), Amy notes to a blissfully unaware Doctor that it has been 10 years since their second meeting.  As she’s informing him – unless he’s mind-blowingly blasé – this is not time spent directly travelling with him, but in Earth years – or rather, her Earth years.  If she had amassed 10 years by what is presumably 2012, she may be a little more concerned about her aging.  This timing places POTT around about 2018, when it’s reassuring to note that Brian Cox still has a contract with the BBC and series 16 of the Apprentice has not messed with a successful formula.

For a Doctor seemingly more time sensitive and savvy than his previous selves, time and universes are both more flexible and more rigid than ever before

But then again, the year doesn’t really matter.  The Ninth and Tenth Doctor eras respected a fairly consistent chronology, helpfully indexed through contemporary Christmas visits.  As of 2010 however, time was irrelevant.  Strangely, for a Doctor seemingly more time sensitive and savvy than his previous selves, time and universes are both more flexible and more rigid than ever before.  And just as time was to be treated differently, so Amy was a deliberate rejection of Rose Tyler.  She was a fish out of water, in the village with a duck pond without ducks.  Rose had craved to escape, Amy was already lost – out of time and out of place.  Leadworth was quaint, it was green, it was middle-England, it was… Not the Powell Estate.  Its residents were also a far cry from the Powell Estate’s dysfunctional family or even Martha or Donna’s London lives.

We were introduced to an array of characters In The Eleventh Hour (TEH) – an erstwhile family, but one we never saw again.  Later in Series Five, an alt-future Amy and Rory lived in Upper Leadworth, which hardly looked the same place.  Far later, following a few universe resets and a pang of conscience the Doctor bought the Williams’ a house in town… For us, their life was defined not by their personal story, but through the Doctor.  But this changed when the end-game swung into play.  Rather abruptly in the seventh series, the Ponds’ personal life burst onto the screen.  We saw the effect of time travel on the two, their observations on aging and worry at its appearance to their friends.  The prequel web‑series Pond Life (PL), a stylistic and thematic prequel to POTT, established strain in the relationship.  This is perfectly believable after leaving the TARDIS, let alone with what happened to them during their ‘adventures’.  An abandoned companion’s fate has been explored before, most notably through Sarah-Jane, but here the estrangement only served to provide a slight sub-plot to the season opener.  Once mentioned, it was soon forgotten and quite inconsequential to the narrative of Series Seven; almost an unnecessary reintroduction to companions who could have quite simply faded away on Earth.

Brian – an emotional hook in the vein of Bernard Cribbins’ Alfred

That relationship drama was replaced with Rory’s dad Brian – an emotional hook in the vein of Bernard Cribbins’ Alfred – someone who could have those chats with the Doctor that no one else could.  Now the ongoing back-plot was a twee ‘should they/shouldn’t they pop off in the TARDIS for adventure?’ While they constantly addressed their life in the real world, the dangers of their occasional travels were being heightened.  In all, this shift was a little sudden and not entirely successful.  A year and a half ago Amy (re)gained her parents, and when you think about it, it’s strange we never saw them again.  The new addition of Rory’s dad filled the gap – a sense of impending guilt while also a free ticket – but the threat always seemed intangible when compared to previous parents and the consequences of the Doctor’s actions.

There is the suggestion that the intention was to dwell on the Doctor’s naivety and the effect of his companions’ ‘death’ on him.  This is rather neatly tied up in his offer to River to travel with him.  Travelling with a woman he has already seen die – let alone who’s his wife – is pretty much purgatory.  But for all his promises, there’s no sense that the Doctor would ever face his late-companions’ families like he had Donna’s mum.  And that analogy is rather apt.  While the doctor couldn’t prevent Donna returning to her old pre-travel self, he was generally successful in returning the wonder of Amelia to Amy.  It’s also worth noting that from a Doctorly perspective, while it may indeed have been 10 years of the Ponds’ life – here I suppose the audience should gasp – the Doctor has suggested throughout the last two series that it’s been over 200 years of his.

It’s hard to see quite where PS would fit into the half-season

To some degree, in building up to an episode where time was the enemy, the Ponds’ sudden homeliness served to undermine the danger of TATM and their dislocated ‘retirement’.  Perhaps the short animatic PS sums it up.  It successfully resolved a few plot ends.  It gave Rory his sign off, in true writerly fashion.  It pretty much confirms that the Doctor never visited Brian while rather cynically resolving the sub-plot of family from Asylum of the Daleks – a plot that had not been picked up since Brian was introduced – by showing us a grandson.  Despite the links, it’s hard to see quite where PS would fit into the half-season.  While PS writer Chris Chibnall has produced some of his best Who work setting up the extended Pond Life that formed that emotional background of the first half of series seven (Dinosaurs on a Spaceship, POTT), it was show runner Steven Moffat who finished his companion creations off.  While that may explain why it wasn’t filmed, it’s strange it was written in the first place and then as it was, why it wasn’t just filmed as full missing scene.  The production seems a little muddled about placement, and so am I.

The Ponds’ fate was identical to that of the first Angel victim we saw way back in 2007

The real killer comes in the act of Angel-zapping itself.  Nicely low key in many ways, especially with Rory being denied a farewell – until that animatic.  But still, after all this, the Ponds’ fate was identical to that of the first Angel victim we saw way back in 2007.  We’d seen a journey end this way before.  With PS, we even saw a relative turn up in the present day with a letter.  I’d say the Blink Angel kill stoked emotions in exactly the same, if not a little more.  And damningly, that was a character we’d just met – which means that either that Blink was incredibly well written or this was very undercooked.  Hmm.  Blink was well written…

The Journey: From Page to Page

While Amy’s exit had to be finite, it also had to be literary.

When we first met her we saw the roots of her Raggedy Man, a creation as literary as he was visual; an imaginary friend soon reduced to a child’s stories.  A Grimm Dickens.  Subsequently, the climax of each of Amy’s full series has shared a few common elements: a daughter, a parallel world and a resolution latched into a real or supposedly real rhyme…

When the universe was reset, the Doctor was recalled by Amy remembering a rhyme almost built for the series: Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue.  A year later, Amy found herself again in a parallel universe where an old children’s rhyme gave strong hints, tick-tock goes the clock… When it came to her departure, it wasn’t a poem but a time straddling Chandelersquepulp paperback that dictated her fate, published by herself some 80 years previously.  There was no escape.  But when it came to TATM, it was refreshing how pulp it was.

In the end, Amelia Pond’s story ended where it began: a seven year old on a suitcase waiting for a man who never came – or maybe returned frequently.  Years ago we saw her as a girl, being carried in, reassured and then remembering her dreams.  Considering the number of times that house in Leadworth has been visited by the TARDIS, let alone the unknown scouts of the Pandorica plan, I would have thought lower-Leadworth was at least as time-scrambled as 1938 New York.  Again, that’s a little muddled, for what was initially such a pure idea.

From that pure idea, we had seen Amy grow in many ways, not least professionally.  So, mainly I wonder why the Afterward of the Melody Malone book wasn’t written by the just-established professional writer Amy.  It would have been perhaps the most fitting end for her character, rather than at the typewriter of her erstwhile daughter.

The Destiny of the Ponds

I’m going to clumsily entangle fate and destiny here, and blame the heightened role of the companion.  With each companion, however temporary since 2005, their fate within the show has to some extent reflected the toils of their travels.  Rose was exiled as an inter‑dimensional warrior with a human doctor, resolving her steadily amassed unrequited love.  Martha outgrew the TARDIS and joined UNIT to take her action science out to the enemy.  Donna changed the most during her travels and was then duly zapped straight back.  There’s always a repercussion of travelling in the TARDIS these days and while they may have a destiny to fulfil in it, that is often reflected by their fate outside it.

It’s tempting to think of destiny in Dr Who, but it seldom works, even in episode titles.  Name a character or species and while you may recall their fate, none have easily definable destinies.  There was talk of the Ponds being fated to meet the Angels in New York, which was a little strange as they weren’t inextricably linked.  Sure, it was hype for the most part, but why them rather than the Silence?  True the Silence are typically tied up in plots far larger than a Bond villain’s volcano, but the Angels weren’t a given.  They first arrived in a generally companionless episode.  Rory’s never met the Angels on screen, Amy only once.  (Admittedly they appeared in last season’s The God Complex, but as a hallucination and most likely as a representation of the the Doctor’s foes than Amy’s worst nightmare…).  That first encounter with Amy, the 2010 two-parter, TTOA/ FAS was certainly a highlight of the fifth season but what else tied the winged monsters to the married companions?

Well, crucially it was also Amy’s first meeting with River.  Indeed, it was immediately following those events on The Byzantium that River visited her parents (at the end of Series Six) to suggest the Doctor wasn’t dead at all – effectively tying the Ponds to their fate.  The Angels are wrapped up in River’s time stream and as such the links to Amy and Rory are doubled.  But is that enough?

While they had made a choice regarding their travels with the Doctor, and seemed very happy with their lot, trapping Amy and Rory in 20th Century New York didn’t feel terribly satisfactory.  Rory’s dad would be devastated sure, the Doctor’s mortified, but the Ponds were together; their choice made for them.  I’ve got to say I was a little mystified what was so upsetting.  True in hindsight, it didn’t seem a good end to the journey, but it’s well documented that it wasn’t the easiest thing to think up.  Moffat has said that it took many rewrites, only linking back to TEH at the last minute.  These were the most heightened companions yet, but perhaps perversely – and I may have had my sentimentality surgically removed here – why was their post-TARDIS life not be a happy one?

It saved her from travelling with a psychopath even Rory’s dad had accused of reckless abandon.  It could have been far worse

With an effort to develop the character over 10 years, certain character points were massively under-developed.  Amy had moved from kiss‑o‑gram to model to writer but then an Angel saved her from travelling with a psychopath who Amy, Rory and even Rory’s dad had previously accused of reckless abandon.  It could have been far worse.

One man who knows that is Rory.  One significant indicator of how fast the Pond story has rocketed along through all sorts of tonal shifts is that I’d forgotten how much Rory had died.  It happened even more than he waited.  To be fair, he hadn’t died for a while and I doubt he’s recounted those stories to his dad.  Still, he represents one triumph of the new heightened companion: the escalation in danger.  Companions always used to get into danger and be rescued, so why not kill them off and resurrect them instead.  Same difference and it works far better on TV, as indeed it does in comics.  Clearly there’s no lasting dilution of the character.  I may have laughed at it a year ago, but this time I was surprised.

But their destiny was to be Angel zapped?  That doesn’t feel quite right… Should they have packed all this in years ago, against Brian’s advice?  It could be said that Amy’s destiny was resolved in Season Five.  She was the key to the Doctor’s entrapment in the Pandorica and so was she the saviour of the universe, or certainly the last Time Lord of the universe.  Once resolved, was there any further function for the character?  Well yes, then we had the River saga and the seeding of Doctor Who?  … All that couldn’t have been achieved without her, even if the answer to the latter will not include her.

Despite the antithesis of Amy’s genesis, her fate was rather similar to Rose Tyler’s

In season Two, the same problem faced Rose Tyler.  In fact, despite the antithesis of Amy’s genesis, her fate was rather similar to Rose’s.  Rose had a role thrust upon her at the end of her first season, a destiny that was a direct result of her travels with the Doctor.  Rose had a sad, sorrowful farewell narrated in voice over when she was trapped – for a while – in a parallel universe the Doctor couldn’t reach.  So, effectively is Amy, just with time as a barrier.

And what of the Pond’s main link to the Doctor.  Did River know of her parent’s fate before?  It seems unlikely as she’s a professor and seemingly very near the Doctor’s first meeting with her.  It would have made a complicated backdrop to the Impossible Astronaut if Amy, Rory and River had known the doctor’s fate while River knew that of her parents and the Doctor knew River’s fate.  That would be the other silence: the awkward kind.

But TATM was about River’s reaction almost as much as the Doctor’s.  She knows the Time Lord better than anyone and was ready when the time was right to prompt Amy’s decision.  And who else was there for Amy to listen to but her daughter?  During a life dogged by strange events, hidden doors, alien robberies, changing family situation and occasional travels with the doctor, it was Rory who remained her only stable element.  Since 2010 she’s married, lost her husband, got him back several times, made him wait a long time, become a mother, near divorced and so after 10 years reached the point where she and her husband had to decide what wanted to do with their lives.  Amy and Rory were destined to be with each other.  But without their long lost daughter, and that’s really where the bleakness creeps in.  The strongest guilt came from Rory’s dad’s encouragement to travel and also the Doctor’s awareness that Amy made her choice in part because of his difficulty in watching his companions age.  In that context, his and Rivers mirrored regenerative power exchange is a little awkward.

In the Pond family foursome, the first death we saw was River’s – an immortal death inside a computer.  There, she had children, a boy and a girl.  For the assassin who grew up as childhood friends with her parents, I always thought hose children may have some significance to Amy and Rory, but actually no – not that we ever learned their names…

But far before this, River posted a book to her mother for easy publication.  Amy’s afterword poses a fresh legacy, but it doesn’t seem that substantial: The Doctor now has a remit never to travel alone.

The Doctor now has a remit never to travel alone…

As the longest serving of recent companions, the Doctor’s in-laws perhaps deserved a stronger ending to their raggedy journey.  It’s almost like they were running out of time, with the Final Destiny they overshot catching up with them.  They faced a brilliant villain for sure, possibly the ultimate Who monster (even if you watch them behind a sofa, they still might get in your eye!) and at least the Angels didn’t appear like the Ood in Pond Life: in the toilet.  Only knowing the Eleventh Doctor, they witnessed a life that was mostly a maelstrom.  His existence is a complicated, twisted, intangible, bigamous and yes, timey-wimey one and TATM was no exception.  In the blockbuster setting of Series Seven it rammed Angels, Chandleresque riffs and a companion exit into 45 minutes.  Other stories, such as Let’s Kill Hitler have laid on a similar clutter in 45 minutes so perhaps of complications the Ponds a mid 20th century life may have suited them.  At least this time they knew that they had nothing to wait for.  And they had, as ever, each other.

So, as the Angel stopped weeping, the audience started.

And what happened next?  the Impossible girl of course…

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