And so new-money Who’s greatest enemy returned to disrupt proceedings. The Curse of Graham Norton has struck again. Twice has he appeared. The third shall surely be a sign that the apocalypse is upon us.
Apart from viewers in BBC Scotland, of course. We were blissfully unaware of all the hoo-ha up here, as The Time of Angels (BBC1, Sat) played out the way television used to. Y’know, without jittery television execs panicking at the prospect of 2 million viewers switching off immediately after an episode ends, like they did last week, and plastering disruptive idents within the drama itself. Other stations have been like this for years. You should try watching shows on Sci-Fi (not SyFy. Urgh). DOGS everywhere and a little animated ident for a screening of Merlin over the final third of the action, usually. But those two million will disappear regardless of what you do, if they don’t fancy the next programme. I was one of them. They did it this week as well, only I suspect that most of them were headed for the BBC Complaints line.
But what about the actual episode? Was it any bloody good? Well…
Quite frankly, yes. This was more than good. This was superb. If the second half lives up to this, it’s in with a shout as Moffat’s best ever Doctor Who work. Everything about this worked. Everything. I’m struggling to find anything to criticise at all, to be honest.
Right from the opening moments, with a classically timey-wimey Moffat teaser, through to the aforementioned key-note speech at the end… this was damn near perfect.
Highlights? Where do I start? River flying the Tardis more skillfully than The Doctor does was wonderful, harking back to the sparks that flew between Tom and Mary at the start of The Ribos Operation back in ’78 (and how good was the casual throwaway of “You always leave the handbrake on”?). Additionally, River’s high-heels hooked casually onto the side of the Tardis console was a nice touch. She owns the place, obviously. Just not yet.
The slow reveal of just what was in those caverns (I think we’d all guessed, but the drip-feed of information throughout was really beautifully done – allowing us the joy of working it all out a few moments before the characters did).
Some intelligent guest cast casting left us with quite possibly the first DW story in a very long time not to have a single duff performance. Everyone, from Alex Kingston, Simon Dutton and Iain Glen downwards, was working to finesse and nuance that script and make sure the best possible result reached the screen. Obviously taking the lead from the best Doctor/Companion pairing we’ve had in years, and thank you Steven for presenting us with a companion who doesn’t throw a hissy fit everytime the lead so much as looks at another woman. Amy’s amused interest in just what the Doctor and River’s connection is was a joy, and one which managed to tease us viewers even more. Lovely.
Chills abounded. A Weeping Angel suddenly manifesting a power that must surely traumatise another generation of young children – when the monsters can actually come out of the telly at you, where’s the point in hiding behind the sofa? Because if it’s there, and you cover your eyes… pow. And I know I keep quacking on about it, but having Amy manage to work out exactly how to stop the oncoming doom when she was trapped alone in that trailer… that’s how you write a companion. Brave, courageous, bags of smarts. Lovely. Oh, and managing to answer the one accusation people threw at Blink as well – “why don’t you just close one eye then the other?”. Cheeky, Steven. Very cheeky.
Once again, Matt absolutely excelled. He’s flying in this role. He knows he’s got the job of a lifetime, and he’s going for it. He’s being handed great scripts, there’s genuine good-old-fashioned-chemistry between him and Karen. At the start of the season I’d hoped we might be going for the modern equivalent of Pertwee to Baker. Looks like I was right.
These Angels are… well, they appear at this point to be unstoppable. Ripping out a human’s nervous system in order to use their vocal cords to communicate is horrible enough. To then undermine the one thing that the Doctor’s done since the series comes back – promising innocents that he’ll keep them safe – well, the episode justified itself with that alone. Thankfully, Eleven’s made of stronger stuff, as we bounced into a cliffhanger ending that had me applauding. One thing that Who’s shown a shaky grasp of since it came back is how to do a decent cliffhanger. This one was textbook-perfect, and I’m sure that anyone who casually wandered in to this episode and wasn’t put off by Father Noel Furlong turning up before the end will be back. They won’t be able to help themselves.
We’re in a golden age of Doctor Who here – I have no idea what to expect from week to week, and I absolutely love that. This is a series that appears to have no house style whatsoever. It’s massively unpredictable this year, and I’m finding that exhilarating. It means there’s the odd bump in the road like we got last week, but here at long last is An Exciting Adventure In Time And Space. Just like it always was, when I was younger and much, much less cynical about the world.
“Do you trust me?” Oh, yes. Like River says, “Always”. That’s why we’re here, and why we keep watching. Because we trust our hero to tackle the bad guys on our behalf. He’s the one who keeps his promises, and tries to keep the universe safe. He’ll come through. I have faith.
I also have faith that Steven Moffat and his army of capable helpers will pay off our trust next week with an episode that more than matches this one in scale, scope and power. I believe. So should you. Just… keep looking at them. That’s all, keep looking at them. And you’ll be safe. Perhaps.