Tag: Weeping Angels

Doctor Who: Dawn of the Impossible Girl (Part Two)

The Impossible Girl - Silence Will Fall

Part two of a retrospective of the Dawn of the Impossible Girl. She had just over half a season to pose her riddle, so how did the ever so unaware Clara measure up?

The riddle had unravelled over half a half-season so far…

The Sharp Edge of the Roundel: Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS

“You’re an android. You don’t get bored.”

It was always going to go wrong wasn’t it? It may be the most hyped episode of Series Seven, so it’s no surprise that it’s such a let down. I feel a bit for writer Stephen Thompson. Great episodes of Sherlock, fine plays, Quatermass incoming – and he doesn’t half get a short straw on Who. The pirate episode we shall not name was rushed and edited into nonsense while here he ended up penning a sequel to Castrovalva. Remember the old days? Corridors of the same white roundels? Well in this brave new age of intricate design and multi-million pound TARDISes… Nothing has changed. The claim that we’d go further into the TARDIS than ever before may not be too inaccurate, but it’s like promising Asylum of the Daleks would feature every Dalek. We’re wise to those tricks now. Still, it starts of fairly promising… Apart from the blink and you’ll miss it shoe-horned paradox cutaway and any idea quite how Clara ended up where she did.

Amid the middling dynamics the guest cast have to work with, the only things of interest are glimpses at the swimming pool, a rather familiar telescope and at last the library!  Other than that, a curious tone is set by the Doctor’s peculiarly devious, and unnecessary, ruse of a Faustian pact. In an episode where a time limit has no meaning, impalement injuries are brushed off and characters appear from nowhere in an infinite ship the rather effective paradox monsters don’t stand much of a chance. The Doctor’s name signals its intention to steal the Impossible Girl’s thunder soon enough – though quite why the Doctor keeps a reference book on the Time War is inexplicable. Pure sadism.

The companion riddle returns when the Doctor gets the chance to go a little psycho on Clara – he’s really on edge in this episode, are things getting to him? He’s now reached that point that’s strike a chord with many: Millennium old alien meets girl who does twice and refuses to reveal how she’s alive once again.  Now needs to prove once and for all whether she’s a deliberate trap or not and the TARDIS has gone to great lengths to create a suitable atmosphere. To be fair to the Time Lord, he had run through River Song and Bad Wolf storylines in the past few hundred years. That joins the well placed misdirection of the console rooms as a high-point: alas few and far between. Somehow during these sex sticks an oar in, pretty much discounting – we very much hope – that Clara is actually Susan (or Jenny) may be his granddaughter.

It soon becomes clear – thanks to a strangely Hellraiser monster and a giant neon sign saying ‘Eye of Harmony’ that we’re back to paradox. You know, those are the ones that we were reliably told generally resolve themselves in Cold War? Fortunately in this instance they intervene to create a convenient plot resolution and repair some family damage in the meantime. It’s a mess, which is a shame for an episode that contributes a fair amount to the Impossible Girl riddle (albeit through negation). Fortunately, it’s sandwiched between two classics.

Current Clara theory: Now the Doctor knows she’s not a trap – she must be a future echo and NOT REAL.

Rockets at Dawn: The Crimson Horror

“The Wrong Hands”

Could this be the time Mark Gatiss lives up to his true potential? Yes, but it takes significant splatterings of Carry on Screaming, Frankenstein, Bond villain, Joker origin, Total Recall, Bioshock and the Doctor’ own previous scrape with The Green Death to get there. Once again in the Moffat era, too much is packed into this one-parter.  A lot sticks but thanks to the skill of all involved that it’s not overwhelming.  In particular, The Crimson Death is saved by its excellent direction. The flash-back trick – whether it’s down to Gatiss or director Saul Metzstein – works very well indeed.  If only it wasn’t quite so derivative. Homage can only get you so far.

On the Impossible Girl front, it’s the first time back in Victoriana since the Doctor actually met Clara for (yes, the second time he talked to her), or the idea of her at least.  That brings the potential of reuniting her with the so called Paternoster Gang. Unfortunately for them, they already feel tired after less than a handful of appearances. Even when Jenny makes an emphatically ninja statement of her own… the Doctor has to step in to rescue her. Strax’s humour continues to grate and amuse in equal measure, fortunately not reaching the nadir of the season finale (Repeat mantra: “They’ve ruined Robert Holmes’ Sontarans”).

It’s easy to pick at a fantastically enjoyable adventure. There’s the (deliberately) stilted dialogue, the ‘hilarious fainting gentleman’, the pointlessly anachronistic rocket technology (surely Mr Sweet, a ‘bacteria’ at the time, didn’t pick up the tech from the Silurians), and the fact that everyone survives the rocket chamber during the old school shoot out. But then you also have the Rigg dynasty on top form, gorgeous set design and fantastic quotes. “I’m the Doctor, you’re nuts and I’m going to stop you” – brilliant. Up against that lot, Clara was always going to come a cropper. In fact, it’s astonishing that any danger can be wrung from a girl we’ve already seen die twice.  Even more so that the Doctor’s new success in saving her is wonderfully realised. By the time the TARDIS crew board their craft there’s a real sense that the plot’s moved forward– perhaps accelerated by the Doctor’s lost impotence when it comes to this compulsively fatal friend. You know what I mean…

While the Doctor may appear to have more of an idea as to what’s going on with his erstwhile friend, the Paternoster trepidation reinforces that Clara’s still a live mystery and very unaware herself. Fortunately, even in the clutch of a riddle, this Doctor is insistent on having breaks from companions – only seeing Clara every Wednesday we would learn the next episode. And when Clara returns home she finds that of all things… She’s undone by the internet.

And there on the side sits the oddest toy in a house of 21st century children – a mid-1980s Galvatron Transformer. Something’s really not right there…

Current Clara theory: She’s just a bloody Victorian or not of the 21st century anyway – there’s a Galvatron toy in her house!

Upgrading Cyberia: Nightmare in Silver

“The Time Lords invented chess, it’s our game”

After the universally praised The Doctor’s Wife, Neil Gaiman may have returned to Who a little too quickly, but what an irresistible draw: make the Cybermen scary again. After all, their non-Mondasian birth in Series Two left them on the back hydraulic foot compared to the Daleks’ first appearance.

It’s reliving to jump straight in without the extra scene explaining Clara’s charges’ arrival in the TARDIS. That’s a welcome theme this half-season.  The preceding cliff-hanger had done enough, but really, could the Doctor have chosen a more dangerous place for them? Apart from Skaro about 6,000 years ago or Vulgaria.

The little seen Cyber wars have always held a firm fascination for me. Moffat has touched on them more than most, but here they’re at the heart of the story: and it’s the old phoenix paradigm just a few episodes after the Ice Warriors tested the water. Ramping up the threat and avoiding one of Who’s curious weapons, this time Cyberia didn’t get wiped out by gold: entire galaxies were blown up to rid humans of “The Great enemy” at the cost of trillions. This is big stuff.

When the retooled Cybers appear, Gaiman makes some shrewd decisions. The upgrading instinct and ‘remote detachability’ is a modern and relevant ‘upgrade’ of the spare parts idea that everyone’s clamouring to see on screen. Quite rightly they march and don’t fly, although it’s a shame that the tombs we glimpse aren’t of a more classic design. It’s a wonderfully broad set-up, almost as though he was an expert at setting up entire comic book universes.  It’s also suitably biblical for another one of Doctor Who’s great good versus bad conflicts. Time Lord and Dalek skirmishes are increasingly too blurred.

There are some interesting character points for the Doctor here; the suggestion that he can’t be converted, that he could regenerate out of the Cyberplanner tussle. If there are any doubts about the Fenric throwback chess conceit, just look how ham fistedly Terry Nation tackled logical warfare in Destiny of the Daleks. In all, Gaiman’s goals are achieved in a creditable bordering extremely good episode… sadly after The Crimson Horror’s great advancement of the Clara/Doctor’s dynamic, this must be the least important story in the Impossible Girl arc. Not that she does do anything however; in fact Clara’s brush with power shows her rather too comfortable sending her troops to their inevitable doom. She’s quite the leader…

Current Clara theory: It’s all misdirection – she’s destined to become the Doctor’s greatest adversary. Could she be… the Rani reborn?

Standing on the Magic Carpet : The Name of the Doctor

“I’m the Impossible Girl. I was born to save the Doctor”

No, no Clara, no you weren’t. Like Rose before you, you created yourself and how much more tiring it must have been. Sat somewhere in the middle, how increasingly tragic does time-strapped, kidnapped and infertile Amelia Pond look…

The excitement when this episode aired on 18th May 2013 was palpable. Or was that just fear when some American DVDs jumped the traps a bit early?  In any event, we were possibly minutes away from learning the Doctor’s name (did anyone really think that may happen?), so close to wrapping up Clara’s inexplicable story and just 45 minutes away from the anniversary special. This is when we’d get all the answers, hurling vats of red herrings into the vortex.  But which one of these would make the episode memorable?

It kicks off brilliantly, with (logically presumed) Time Lords in the workshop on the day it all began, swearing under their breath at an idiot thief. There follows a ‘rather’ lovely montage of Clara chasing after every Doctor. If you look too deeply into it, it falls apart of course. I mean, she was there during that Dragonfire cliff-hanger? But still, it’s a nice and fan-consciously generous act.

Could there be the slightest bit of Moffat-Gaiman baiting going on here? An episode previously, Gaiman blew apart the Doctor’s attempt to remove himself from the time continuum with some cold logic dressed up as script. Here Moffat returns the grudge by contradicting one of The Doctor’s Wife’ssentiments. If it was Time Lady Clara who chose the Type 40 capsule, why the ill feeling Big Blue Box? Or is she after all a little more connected to the TARDIS than she seems..?

There follows 40 minutes of explaining the why, with the standard season ending rhyme and some outrageously good acting from a rather upset Matt Smith. Overall, this marks the biggest suspension of disbelief this series.  Steven Moffat’s desire (or Doctor Who’s need) to reach an emotional peak and move the plot forward seems a little forced, again in a single episode. It doesn’t have the neat, in-built plot device of The Angels Take Manhattan. The few disappointing non sequiturs include how the Great Intelligence mastered space and (presumably) temporal travel without any craft apparent, how the Doctor touches dead and hallucinatory River Song, how the TARDIS crew even gets from a corridors to the ‘exterior’ of the craft’s front door and how everyone instantly recovers from a heart squishing. Again, pointing out plot holes in a work of fiction is sinful, but frankly the list grows like a mourning TARDIS.  Only the Great Intelligence’s suicide stands as remotely understandable: Surely because he’d created the cliff-hanging short-cut in Dragonfire in the first place!

That said, there is a resolution and a reason given for the impossible Girl, all wrapped up this single episode. The list of irregularities fades against that and the host of new reveals. Because unlike her predecessors who were robbed of their main function in one season, Clara’s drawn the really short straw and resolved herself in half that. And all the time it was contrived to get her standing there in the quiet recess of the Doctor’s lifetime and unearth a darker, deeper mystery: the only Doctor who doesn’t ignore her, and isn’t a Doctor at all.

Real Clara fact: She’s a superhero, the Impossible Girl, born to save the Doctor on Trenzalore. She’ll never, ever need to have regeneration explained to her. The show-running Bible is quickly updated. 

Dawn Arrives

At the end of this preposterous journey it’s a bit of a shock to have a resolution, but it’s an immense disappointment that it’s merely a set-up to a BBC vision mixers wet dream. Ah well. We got a good companion out of it and the following two episodes were classics, so fair enough, right?

Well not quite. The riddle of the Impossible Girl is unfortunately one of the weakest arcs to grace the new show yet. It doesn’t seem to have had anywhere near as much attention as River’s did. Perhaps it’s a shame that so much of it lives extra-diegetically. Clara wasn’t just born into the story, but, nudge, nudge wink, wink her birth date was all part of the anniversary year itself.

In the Whoniverse, any coherent explanation of her story renders it so broad and coincidental as to make it pointless. It’s clearly inexplicable in the context of the show, and that’s accepting, to stress once again, that questioning plot holes in a work of fantastical fiction is totally redundant.

Conscious Companion

Take that early stop on Gallifrey. She must be a Time Lady, one who stayed on Gallifrey and quite probably is now living on in a pocket universe saved by the Doctor. We know she didn’t fade Quantum leap style when her tasks were complete as we’ve seen her die in timelines twice before. Now that would make more sense.  True, it’s not necessarily the case that our Clara was consciously aware of what she did on Gallifrey, but the fact she uses the name Doctor suggests she is, as does the fact she chases all the classic Doctors down. Come on, the classic series didn’t move that quickly! The montage shows a Clara, time specific, actively pursuing the Doctor. All we’d known previously is that she lived entire time spans, unaware – this almost makes her another City of Death-style Scaroth, this time faceted through time and space the universe.  In future or alien places she probably bumped into herself so what happened then?  If she’s a Time Lady and a Dalek is she also a Weeping Angel or a Fendahl? If she’s actively seeking the Doctor, how does that tie into the Clara of Asylum of the Daleks or The Snowmen who are unaware.  What if on this mission she doesn’t find the Doctor?  What if she lives entire  lifetimes, starts thousands of families on every known world.  Calm down.  It’s fine: Most paradoxes resolve themselves remember.

It’s a good thing that he whole and only real, compelling dramatic purpose is to delve into all the Doctors’ time streams, thus exposing his darkest secret: The War Doctor.

It was a relatively short arc, but one that says a lot about the modern show. The need to find a modern equivalent for those classic cliff-hangers is greater than ever; the need to convolute to create viewer involvement so strong that these mysteries need to overlap and spawn each other.  No more simple bad Wolf references for us.

Perhaps the Impossible Girl’s main function was extra-diegetic.  Perhaps subconsciously it was to confirm that the show’s a phenomenon after all. One Clara may well have broken through to our universe and make that Asylum of the Daleks appearance all the more important on both sides of the camera. That means of course, the Doctor could do the same – all part of that nice world of opportunity opened up by the Land of Fiction and continued through all sorts of meta-fiction, including the IDW comic The Girl Who Loved Doctor Who. PerhapsClara is actually Jenna Colman and it simply makes no odds if she is or isn’t.

When saved from a personal time stream that’s clearly and handily name dependent, that leaves a whole other issue that should, in a right-working universe, create opportunities and challenges for writers: there’s now no surprises left for Clara. She’s seen regeneration, some classic adventures, so perhaps she could become that greatest ever companion after all. That said, having seen all that, I would leave him and the TARDIS right now, wouldn’t you?

A Neater Puzzle

Thank goodness Clara didn’t leave him, even during the drawn out events of The Time of the Doctor. For all the faults and missed opportunities of the Dawn of the Impossible Girl arc, adding bureaucracy to the Daleks, seemingly wiping out one of the show’s most enduring, rediscovered monsters and defrocking Ice Warriors, it also left us with a fantastic companion.

The Dawn of the Impossible Girl had been linked to the Great Intelligence ever since Christmas 2012 served up The Snowmen, in the middle of a very drawn out series. Unfortunately that meant that, much like the Ponds’ fate was rather oddly linked up to the Weeping Angels, she was part of that entity’s story and that proved to be to her and the arc’s detriment.

The “Fall of the Eleventh” had a wealth of plotlines to tie up and miraculously it managed to do so quite well, but it just seems that it could have been so much neater. As the running theme through the Eleventh Doctor’s first two series it seems bizarre to have minimised the Silence/Silents in his last. And if you’re going to create the Whispermen anyway, why not use the Silents? Creatures with ready-made space technology would not only have solved logical issues but also dramatic problems that wouldn’t necessarily conflict with the events of The Time of the Doctor. That would surely have worked out far more satisfyingly and left the Great Intelligence as more than half-season footnote just as the Impossible Girl proved to be to the War Doctor.  Intelligence has fallen just doesn’t carry much mustard.  There’s a rather disapppointing truth in the new avatars of the GI we see in Name of the Doctor; unravelling and empty.

But then, in this new, brave age of the companion, whoever credited the Great Intelligence with being intelligent.



Doctor Who: Dawn of the Impossible Girl (Part One)

Impossible Girl Great Intelligence Jokertoon

Impossible Girl 1

Today marks one year since the mystery of the Impossible Girl was unravelled like a multi-incarnation time stream in a giant overgrown TARDIS crypt… After the Doctor’s longest companion was whisked back in time, how did the riddle of the Doctor’s most mysterious companion unwind?

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

IT’S A YEAR SINCE TWO MOMENTOUS THINGS HAPPENED IN THE WHONIVERSE: The riddle of the Impossible Girl was solved and a new, yet long hidden, incarnation of the Doctor was born.

Irresistible riddles

The Doctor’s had mysterious companions before of course, but not like this.  Amy came with a riddle of her wedding, the Pandorica and went on to spawn the backwards riddle of Melody Pond/River Song.  River was the incarnation of Steven Moffat’s correct assertion that a show about time travel should be just that.  She was all about the journey, a backwards that provided some great moments but as an inverted stroll it doesn’t quite add up and is unfortunate to sit so roundly during the Eleventh Doctor’s tenure.  Rose ran out of mystery after one season, but that didn’t stop the Bad Wolf riddle being stretched and redeveloped all the way up to last year’s 50th anniversary special.  Rose created herself after all.  Further back, Turlough was spy on the TARDIS, but his Faustian pact was revealed from the start and the truth of his alien roots weren’t that compelling…

Companions Only Die Twice

Few companions have had the build-up of Clara warranted; three appearances to join the TARDIS.  We’d seen her die twice before… Or had we?  That’s what this arc was all about.  Whittling down all the Whos, Whys and Hows…

Her first appearance was a wonderful cameo in the Season Seven opener.  A bold start to a season that lived up to its claim that it would serve ups a blockbuster a week.  Unfortunately, while it was a far cry from the dull, washed out Season Five but never quite reached the heights of the first half of Season Six.  In part that was down to the ‘blockbuster’ intention that manifested itself not in boldness but derivation.  Slavish copies of actual blockbusters: The Thing, Jurassic Park, Batman packed out the first half as the Clara question set-up in Asylum of the Daleks was left to stewThat was partly because, as with theWar Doctor’s later introduction, it was a riddle on-screen as off.  Jenna Colman’s appearance hung on her recently announced casting, not the experiences of the two travelling companions to be.  Fans would have to wait until Christmas for a resolution.

Von-Trapped: The Snowmen 

“Run. Run, you clever boy, and remember…”

The Snowmen was a wonderful festival special that did everything the show should do at Christmas.  Huge guest stars, snow, magic, the return of an old, old monster and utterly gruesome deaths.  While it could only improve on the haplessly dull The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe that offended screens the Christmas before, it was weakened by choosing multiple influences rather than the more streamlined plot of A Christmas Carol and The Time of the Doctor.  Unfortunately, Clara was right in the middle of that confusion.  Moffat dug deep into The Sound of Music, the Ice Queen, Edward Scissorhands and Sherlock Holmes for inspiration; far too many influences to bolster a plot in the right way.  While the governess storyline would become a valid red-herring, it wasted the unrequited Von-Trapp love of Tom Ward’s character and rendered Clara’s pub wench role pointless.

In particular, The Snowmen should be applauded for being so horrific.  The scared and crying family at Christmas, Clara’s prolonged death, Simeon’s demise… It’s surely the Doctor’s most melancholy festive adventure. And it was an adventure wisely telling its own story, rather than solving Clara’s.  Just as well since she faced an uphill struggle bringing this Doctor round from his hermitage after Amy Pond’s considerable efforts to avoid it.  But the end of The Time of the Angels was forgotten…  Only the Doctor’s dress sense had improved.

Current Clara theory:  With the reveal that Clara – or at least one aspect of her – was born on 23rd November, the 50th anniversary was written all over her. She’s nothing less than the show itself!

Wireless:  The Bells of St John 

“The woman twice dead. And her final message…”

Oh, and now the Doctor is an actual hermit.  But not a monk.  After three sensational season openers, it was about time to return to the Davies method of ‘season build-up’.  For the most part, The Bells of St John trod a very safe road, more Partners in Crime than The Impossible Astronaut.  It also took safety in some classic Who tropes – the hidden danger in the every day, the contemporary setting, the evil at the top of the tower as well as some light satire and the chance to kick social media.

As Clara’s third introduction – having already used one great TARDIS line – it’s not surprising that the sails weren’t catching the same wind as previous Smith openers.  Those include The Eleventh Hour, the greatest ever companion and Doctor introduction and one that Moffat must have been mulling over for decades.  Bells often comes across as a soft rehash of Blink, with Spoonheads that may as well be Smilers or… Whispermen.  There are some nice links and further red herrings in Clara’s proper first story though.  The computer literacy of Asylum is played with and solved – could we be watching the creation of the girl we saw die on her first appearance?  As well as being a modern governess, she also has a book by one Amelia Williams…  That it’s the character from the old companion’s book that tries to kill the new one is nice, dark stuff.

The rest is a tonal hotchpotch.  The little darkness there is doesn’t mesh well with the comedy, particularly the creep-filled ending and Mahler’s misjudged question to UNIT.  But having learned from the Rory misfire, it’s refreshing that Clara won’t be dying every time we meet her.  That would have been very tiresome indeed.  While Doctor’s tics when putting her to bed recall the nadir of Wardrobe, it’s helps to show that Clara will make a great companion.  Let’s hope some smaller questions are tied up in the answers to her conundrum: Just who was the woman in the shop?

Current Clara theory:  With GI infused programming skills, Clara’s a giant trap of the great intelligence’s making. Remember: “The abattoir is not a contradiction”.

Space Opera: The Rings of Akhaten

“There’s always a way”

Neil Cross was the writing revelation of the Seventh Season as you might expect.  His first episode divided the critics, but there’s a haunting newness to this episode which makes me one of its staunch defenders.   It pushed Clara the companion to the fore while the Doctor also got his moment in the sun.  For all the Mos Eisley feel and generally effective stabs at humour, it’s nicely alien and quite unlike other recent Who stories.  The homage quotient is less than recent episodes, but still include Indiana Jones and religion-baiting and really the only thing that lets it down is some sorry-budget necessitated clumsy editing.

The Impossible Girl?  She floats in on a leaf of course.  It’s a stretched and whimsical metaphor, but it holds together. It helps highlight the darker side of the puzzle as well: While this ridiculous Doctor could be taken straight out of the Beano he is actually stalking his companion – new and quite sinister territory.  But with that kind of start, it also starts to show the strain.  “She’s not possible” exclaims the Doctor, quickly reminding us of the Series Six is she/isn’t she pregnant storyline. Perhaps more tellingly for Clara, while other companions had to compete with their predecessors she has the unenviable task of competing with herself.  If the basic question of why escorting Clara through time and space will help solve her riddle remains, Akhaten isn’t going to answer it.

The root of this episode is a semantic mistake and great mythical concepts.  “Consume the seven worlds” chat is wonderful stuff and as soon as the travellers arrive on that planet, the villain of the piece is in plain sight.  Amid the good old fashioned space opera, red herrings are alive and well, along with a sneaky reference to the Doctor’s granddaughter Susan, surely not a coincidence in a story about a Queen and a “grandfather”.

The separation of Clara and the Doctor is weak, but that’s not uncommon in five decades of Who.  In fact, it allow Clara some time to breathe; her empathy with the young Queen not only develops the companion but also triggers the plot itself.  Clara just gets more and more likeable, unless you’re the TARDIS.  The arrival of the bads may knock the tone off a bit, but that adds to its off-kilter appeal.

”You don’t walk away” is the clear message here; fate is the undercurrent from the leaf to the religious aspects.  Here the Doctor becomes slightly more like his predecessor, defiant but oddly blasé when a chorister is killed.  Perhaps when the Doctor exclaims ”We don’t walk away when we are holding something precious…”  he’s justifying his stalkerish pursuit of Clara.  Although he seems a little fallible amid the tonal shifts, one question really bugs: hasn’t the Doctor met an intelligent celestial body before?  Hasn’t he read Alan Moore’s brilliant Mogo doesn’t Socialize? Even with the life lessons and themes Cross builds in here, he would get more right with his second story.

Current Clara theory:  She is a mystery in plain sight, and a well known one at that.  She could be the TARDIS, or an aberration like Jack Harkness…  but no, surely not – she’s Susan, the Doctor’s granddaughter– why else would the Doctor have mentioned her!

Frozen Out:  Cold War 

“We’ll negotiate but from a position of strength”

The next episode was ready-made for developing Clara.  And oh dear, what hope rested on a strong, if slightly obvious return of the Who Martians?  I’m not a fan of the return of the Ice Warriors, partly because of derivative, desperate plot silliness and partly because they take their kit off.  Apart from that they wasted two Game of Thrones actors, unforgivably squandered Doctor Who Unbound David Warner and relied on a misjudged combination of CGI and poorly made rubber hands…

Still, there are moments of great direction – see the (again, wasted) David Warner in the porthole.  Just as well considering this plot is pure Thing – with added HADS-type and lost sonic screwdriver contrivance.

After the fate-obsessed Akhaten, Cold War signals the strongest indication that all bets are off when it comes to fixed time.  Ironically, that puts it in direct opposition with Waters of Mars. Surely such time-crunching has something to do with the Impossible Girl?  The Doctor’s more prominent than his companion in this simple tale, even though they are literally both in the same boat.  When Clara does offer herself as a sacrificial lamb, Jenna Colman makes the most of some great moments despite Skaldak’s escape being well signalled.  By the end she’s Clara’s role is superfluous as the Doctor appeals to Skaldak and all that remains is a lament for the missing Lego hands of these still cryptically cyber-enhanced Martians.  Not a classic for anyone.

Current Clara theory:  “Stay here, don’t argue!” “Okay”.  Clara is the perfect companion, formed and sent by the universe in readiness for the Doctor’s Day. 

Ghostbusters : Hide

“We’re all ghosts to you. We must be nothing”

Welcome back Mr Cross.  Hide is fantastic. On grounds of originality and confidence, content and direction, could it pip The Crimson Horror as episode of the series?  Hmm, wait and see.  With pop referencing relish, the travellers are thrust into a plot that puts the TARDIS crew in a haunted house with bizarro copy of themselves.  If anything that means romance is going to be the main comparison.  Hide contains some of the greatest moments of Modern Who, both hard science-fiction meets horror and comedy (“I’m not holding your hand!).  While the ending requires a suspension of logic, and certain plot points refuse to make any sense (the writing on the wall, how the other alien arrived…) Cross handles pace changes expertly – particularly the chat between Clara and Emma Grayling.

In the Moffat era, that skill is a must.  With some terrifying moments (what a shame it was broadcast in April), the holding hands sequence rates as one of Who’s funniest moments. Love is the main concern here, but there’s always that “sliver of ice in his heart”.  The empath works both ways of course, and the Doctor has the chance to ask about his companion.  So, Clara is a perfectly normal girl – it’s just coincidence their equivalents were made for each other all along. .?  We’ll see.

This isn’t the first time that Clara’s been made innocent of her riddle and allowed to be a companion in turmoil.  But it’s one of the most effective.  Special praise must go to the neat links built in, from the use of Ten’s orange space suit to the new pronunciation of Metabelis III.  Regarding the past, there’s another confirmation that the Whoniverse’s treatment of time has changed – could it have been after The Big Bang’s reset?  “Paradoxes resolve themselves by and large” says the Doctor at one point – a strange thing to say the more you think about it.  In any other episode, that wasn’t quite so good, that comment would have jaws on the floor.  Don’t event try to rationalise that with The Angels Take Manhattan just a few episodes earlier in the series.  Even worse, the Doctor later mentions fixed points in time which clashes horribly with with the previous episode.

If one dramatic balance comes a cropper it’s the level of fear the Doctor shows.  That’s why companions are there, so the Doctor can go on the hunt for a solution rather than be petrified.  Overall though, it’s astonishing what’s packed into Hide; brilliant sci-fi and an undeniable love story on many levels…  It’s just a shame that, in the year Jessica Raine played Verity Lambert in An Adventure in Space and Time, there couldn’t be a neat 50th anniversary link up here…

Current Clara theory:  Simple – She’s just another companion head over hills in love with the Time Lord.   

Did Clara find her purpose?  Did the Doctor chill out?  Well, if it’s good enough for a Who Series…  See how the series concluded in part two of  The Dawn of the Impossible Girl!

Doctor Who: The Ice Warriors and the End of an Ice Age

Return of the Ice Warriors and end of an era

Hmm, which ssssssuit...

On the day the Cybermen might just get the upgrade they deserve, a celebration of recovered Martians and look at the difficulties of reintroducing monsters.

IT’S BEEN A FEW WEEKS SINCE THE ICE WARRIORS ENDED THEIR LONG ABSENCE AND RETURNED TO THE DOCTOR WHO UNIVERSE IN ITS 50TH YEAR. I was stoked to see their return as a long-term fan, although oddly, never having seen them on screen.

Scales of history

The Ice Warriors hit a little bit above their weight in the Whoniverse, perhaps it’s their clamp like exo-gloves that just chip the chin.  Reptilian, cold blooded, hailing from Mars; theirs is a militaristic society based on honour and hierarchy – even though it’s long since been scattered throughout the stars by their home planet’s death.

My fascination with the Ice Warriors unfolded through classic Doctor Who TARGET novelisations, where their sibilance was even more pronounced and their appearance un-dulled by some hard-to-walk-in costumes.  So, having finally no choice but to see them on screen in Cold War I embarked on not so much a retrospective as an introduction. The complete Ice Warrior TV stories, after what felt like an Ice Age.

Thussss did I ready the sonic device (speakers attached to a TV) and dived a good few furlongs in.  First was the Ice Warrior’s second appearance in the Seeds of Death, the siege and invasion story that pitted them for the second time against the Second Doctor.  Then there was the Peladon saga, The Curse of Peladon and The Monster of Peladon, political and satirical tales of intrigue with the Third Doctor.  Their ‘triumphant ‘return in Cold War was a given and then – in anticipation of the freshly part-animated DVD release of their first story The Ice Warriors this Summer  – I just re-thumb through of the TARGET novelisation of their tale for good meassssure.

I’ll stop hissing now.

I was hooked on the green scaly ones since I first read The Monster of Peladon – that may even have been my first Doctor Who book – well, perhaps just beaten by The Carnival of Monsters.  It informed in me, although I didn’t appreciate it then, a fondness for the Third Doctor (aided by strategic broadcasts of The Daemons and Planet of the Daleks in the early 1990s of course) – but also a fascination with the ice Warriors that was only confirmed later by reading The Ice Warriors, and pawing over Adrian Rigelsford and Andrew Skilleter’s 1990 tome, Doctor Who: The Monsters. I was clawed in.

The Martians’ rather inexplicable hiatus helped stem any need to see them on ‘video’ so it took me until now to see them in cold blood.  While they’d popped up in the Doctor’s printed adventures, they hadn’t appeared on television in any meaningful way since 1974. 27th April 1974 in fact – 39 years last month.

I was in no rush: they were held vivid, green and suspended in my imagination.  But why such a fascination with the armoured aggressors?

Red-coloured spectacles

I was of course, a combination of things. It was the fact that they were reptiles, it was the hissing sibilance that worked well on the page. And then there was always the Target novelisation front covers – so definitive, fixed, static and importantly, drawn. The Ice Warrior stuck there on cover of their eponymous first tale, with its rather inhuman shape and that Lego hand sticking out of the page. I had been a massive Lego fiend since before I knew what opposable thumbs were, so that surely didn’t hurt.  Of course there’s also the rather jaw dropping front cover to Gary Russell’s Peladon sequel New Adventure, Legacy (1994) – perhaps one of the best.  There was also the idea of the exo-skeleton armour – their ear devices were the first thing the Doctor noticed about them – as well as the Ice giant mythological element and some heavy cultural reference points I’ll come on to later.

Importantly, there was also the fascinating class factor, though that surely crept in subconsciously. It’s ridiculous to consider any planet doesn’t have the diversity of Earth – although conceding that a multicultural alien race is almost impossible to convey on screen.  It’s an interesting part of Who that while the Doctor often finds himself in hierarchical struggles with authority that hinder him as much as his foes, many of the his most notorious nemeses have deliberately and zealously removed diversity from their species through genetics, augmentation or cloning.  The Ice Warriors however, have contended with mass environmental change while hanging on to their civilisation fairly intact.  While they pose yet another not entirely organic foe for the Doctor, hierarchy is constantly an effective way to show their civilisation and of course, create dramatic threat.

But the Ice Warriors seemed far more subtle than simply having a Cyber-leader or a Supreme Dalek. There were ranks among the Ice Warriors, with differing armour denoting status and then soon enough there were the less armoured Ice Lords.  Ice Warriors were generally awfully obedient and polite to their Lords. I found them quite the fascinating creation before I was sucked in by the horrific origins of the Cybermen.

The Big Thaw

There are two crucial parts of Ice Warriors being great.  Unique among the main Who monsters, they were singularly written by one writer: Bryan Hayles.  He took them on their own journey through four adventures.  As part of this journey, the Martians are also distinct in the Who pantheon – until Moffat’s rather odd handling of the Sontarans – as being portrayed as both aggressors and allies of the Doctor – a concession to time, tolerance and in-discriminatory aliens that predated Star Trek:The Next Generation by a good 15 years.

About that punching above their weight: In the scheme of things, the Ice Warriors are generally considered one of the Big Four of Who Foes – a little kindly considering they’ve only appeared a handful of times.  While they recurred twice with two Doctors, the Ice Warriors comeback in the new series took longer than expected and brought its fair share of challenges. They are not alone in that, many of these were the same challenges that the new Who crew faced when bringing other monsters back to the successful revival.

Carnival of Reunions

For the return of the Daleks, New Who wisely turned to the marvellous resource of Big Finish Audios. Show-runner Russell T Davies even drafted in Robert Shearman, well regarded writer of audio adventure Jubilee, which he reworked for the show.  It was a wise step to introduce just one Dalek – focussing as much on the Doctor in the wake of the Time War as the pepper pot’s array of powers.  The reintroduction of the Daleks was effective, especially in the context of their appearance at the Series’ end.

The Cybermen was a different kind of reboot.  Considering we had never seen the actual origin of the Cybermen on their home planet of Mondas, it was an extra step to watch the birth of the Cyber race on a  modern, if  parallel, Earth.  This gave us unfettered Earth Cybermen as opposed to the Mondas Cybermen of the original Who universe who were indicated to still be pottering around. Unfortunately, this had a rather unfortunate result. It’s presumably The Next Doctor when we see the real universe’s Mondas Cybermen – but these had somehow evolved from the Revenge Cybers seen in Dalek to match their parallel universe cousins.  For a race that generally evolved in each appearance, their static development has stuck out like handlebar ears.  Tonight may change that with a redesign and writer Neil Gaiman tasked with making the steel army scary again.  As anyone who’s read Gaiman’s prologue to the reissued TARGET novelisation Doctor Who and the Cybermen will know, this bodes well.

In Series four, the Sontarans resurfaced in a rather random two-parter that stole healthily from the classic Ice Warrior adventure The Seeds of Death. It set up the war mongers nicely though, putting their ethos and fighting at the frontline and making up for some of the shortfalls that technology and budget had let slip in the classic series; while it didn’t exactly establish height parity, it set a look appropriate for a clone race. As show runner, Steven Moffat would later diversify the Sontarran culture somewhat – but perhaps that monster’s reduction to comic relief can wait for another time.

So, it’s tricky and needs thought this reintroducing malarkey – perhaps a little more than when these monsters were created.  While the Cybermen emerged with an origin story in 1966, it took the Daleks over a decade.  So, perhaps it’s not surprising that our planet’s own Silurian’s rose above the Ice Warriors in the pecking order of returnees.  And the re-establishing of Homo Reptilia posed its own challenges which would have a marked effect on the Ice Warriors.

Both species are of course solar system originating reptilians and in some kind of Who mirror, they are neighbouring planet cousins similar to Humans and the Mondasians who would go on to become the Cybermen.  The Martian timeline is a little unclear though.  While they are not shown as existing in the present day until Cold War, they have been shown to be active in Earth’s vicinity thousands of years ago and in the far future.  They’ve then spread out in the cosmos and generally discovered a new way of life in the even further future.  The Silurians by comparison were building space arcs and badly positioned cryogenic cities millions of years ago.  With a generally lengthy evolutionary cycle it’s possible that the two know each other, and if so, I doubt they’re on the best of terms.  The prospect of their (inevitable) run-in is perhaps more tantalising than Daleks versus Cybermen.

Clearly the two species had different approaches to dealing with environmental changes: building snug armour versus millions of years of cryogenic suspension (hang on, they really are the reptile equivalent of Mondasians versus Humans in the Who universe!)

Back to Ice Picks

The Ice Warriors originally emerged into Doctor Who in a totally obvious reptilian way – or so it seemed. They were cold blooded creatures literally frozen in time – and long sleeps are ideas constantly reinforced by science-fiction and culture. Perhaps this meets every gene carrier’s fascination with immortality in a similar vein(sic) to vampirism – see the Amber encased mosquitoes that provided a time machine for dinosaurs in Jurassic Park.  In addition, the frozen, slumbering giants of Mars had many cultural connotations.  There are the Ice Giants of Norse legend, the warmongering son of the Roman God Mars – and also bring the snow-bound parenthesis of Frankenstein creeping into play.

Rigelsford and Skilleter’s The Monsters added enormously to the myth of the Ice Warriors, enhancing the Ice Warrior tales with various flourishes.  The front section, before eye-witness accounts of the Ice Warrior tales are reproduced, is set out neatly by a letter detailing explorer Frederick William Wells and his teams’ encounter with an Ice Warrior in 1896 inspired his cousin HG’s writing on Mars…

The Ice Warriors were instantly both monster and Alien, with a genealogy and history that made them ready made to be released from an icy tomb. The fact they are Martian is almost arbitrary; that the name ‘Ice Warrior’ has stuck from one glib scientist’s observation is an idiosyncrasy, but a powerful one. There’s an inherent and inescapable danger from the moment an Ice Warrior is discovered. While California Man may be an exception, millennia of Genies in bottles and Pandora’s box has shown that many things that are locked up should never be released. But where would science-fiction be without human arrogance?  Where would Doctor Who be?   The Silurians were similarly entombed,  albeit in a tomb of their own making.

Perhaps it’s the similarities that led to the fairly similar approach the Who Team took to the two species reintroductions in The Hungry Earth and Cold War respectively.   Personally, the Silurian’s re-entry into the cannon posed the most problems as it‘s the first time the new series has produced a remake of a classic series adventure.

Of course, originality can be a very subjective thing, especially in science fiction and especially in Doctor Who.  With some monsters there may be a fresh story, but constant re-use of familiar elements, for instance in most Dalek episodes. Then there’s occasional bonkers stark raving brilliant originality that knocks the wings off Weeping Angels .  Sadly there’s also the recycling of new found originality, often in quick succession – particularly under the current creative team.   The lowest point occurred in the latter half of a re-ordered Series 6 when the mid-run of stories was disappointingly repetitive.

In Series 5 however, the return of the Silurian’s was a straight up remake, retreading the same themes as the original show Doctor Who and the Silurians. All that was missing was the Brigadier blowing the whole bally lot up. Technically, there’s still many Silurian cities in slumber underground (and arcs in space) – and whole series of Doctor Who could be spent with the Time Lord visiting these thousands of sleeping cities under the crust.  The tale was fairly perfunctory other than the plot points it rehashed, and rather flat in the less than mind-blowing production values of series 5.  I wasn’t a fan of the complete remodelling of the Silurians.  While cousins of the originals they may be, this was a step too far – and the removed telekinetic  third eye would have livened things up no end.

That was one thing that was addressed a little more successfully with the returning Ice Warriors, although their return was still mixed. The method of the Warrior’s appearance is more a homage to the original story than a remake, but necessarily uses a lot of the same ideas again as the Warrior is released from its ice sleep near a tremendous power source.  This time however, we stepped back from Aliens to Alien as we observe just one Warrior in the confines of a submarine – similar to the original Dalek in the bunker.  Again, as does the Dalek, Skaldak drops his armour, but this time with more catastrophic results.

The armour redesign was brilliant and well promoted in pre-publicity.  Swift and deadly compared to their lumbering cousins (De Niro from Karloff), it looked the part while respecting the past, unlike the Silurians.  Skaldak was a Warrior as opposed to a Lord, though his reputation may have suggested otherwise, and some neat redesign incorporated Lords into the stylings of the armour, particularly above the chin from certain angles.    In this reboot, the Lords may not even exist of course – I’ve a feeling that we may find out soon.  It was the moving jaw of the Ice Warriors that had always been their most effective part.  Particularly in the black and white Troughton tales, they were tremendously effective.  But then Cold War’s attempts to expand the race came a bit unstuck.

As discussed in my review of the Pond’s swansong here, it’s only right that species and monsters should be explored in Doctor Who.  Perhaps with the Ice Warriors, this is more true than most.  They share common elements with the militaristic Sontarans and cybernetically enhanced Mondasians after all.  Interestingly, the Ice Warriors last appearance came in the same season that the potato heads first appeared.  While the Warriors had generally mellowed by that point, this time around it is the Sontarans who have been forcibly toned down while the Martians are introduced.  When Hayles originally hit upon the idea of the Martians wearing cybernetic armour, it was the design need to make the different from the Cybermen that resulted in the distinctive Reptilians we have today.

Therefore a simple and quick way to advance the species on their reappearance was to lose their armour.  All the surprise the Doctor registered couldn’t make up for the fact that this was implausible.  The Ice Warriors deserved a bit more than rubber hands during the Alien segments of the show.  But most crucially of all, they should have left the jaw alone.  Again, that jaw was the one hard and fast brilliant part of the original design.  So, when you see their face for the first time it’s completely different and, shudder, CGI… Something’s lost. A shame, a missed opportunity and frankly unnecessary.

That said, I’m not sure this is the last time we will see the Ice Warriors this year.  They are Who’s version of the Klingons, a martial but honour bound race.  While a force of absolute destruction, the ending rightly suggested that the Martians aren’t one-dimensionally evil – completely in line with their Who history.  When they pop up again, they may well not be villains, but in the efforts of diversity among the monsters, it might just be time for that scrap with the Silurians.

To another glorious return of the Martians.  Before the next Ice Age anyway.

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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