‘I tell you now, that woman is not dragging me into anything.’ The first Moffat episode to be produced, this dovetails with the RTD years perfectly, mapping across the most popular new monster, the Weeping Angels, and River Song to emphasise the continuity between showrunners.
Except, things are not as they were. The Weeping Angels are no longer ‘the only psychopaths in the universe to kill you nicely’, but vicious and cruel murderers, delighting in the fear and pain they inflict, and tormenting the Doctor with his failure. The horror is the there – especially as the emaciated Angels stalk the Doctor and friends through the Maze of the Dead in a disturbing slow-motion chase. But there’s more. Now, they can jump out of video screens, manipulate the sight of anyone who looks into their eyes, and generally demonstrate significantly more powers than the ‘scavengers’ the tenth Doctor and Sally Sparrow battled. None of this exactly contradicts Blink, and it’s hard to see the same approach working for an epic action thriller, but this is very much the Angels’ Dalek Invasion of Earth – a repurposing of the monsters with an eye to further appearances.
If the Angels are repurposed, River is reimagined completely. She’s still played by Alex Kingston, but the sassy but human archaeologist of the Library is now “The Woman”, Doctor Who’s own Irene Adler. Again, some of this is an inevitable function of making her relationship with the Doctor and her identity key mysteries of the next two series: how can she fly the TARDIS better than the Doctor, where did she get pictures of all his faces, what was she imprisoned for (and was it by the Church – which would make sense, given what we later learn about her relationship with the Silents)? Helpfully for the audience, Amy provides a running commentary on all this, teasing the Doctor about ‘her indoors’.
Perhaps in response, or probably because this is his first go at the role, Matt Smith plays the Doctor at his most subdued, channelling Troughton into a performance that’s watchful and evasive, side-stepping difficult questions. This suddenly erupts into sweet comic moments, like his impression of the TARDIS sound, or biting Amy’s hand to break the Angel’s spell. Only at the cliffhanger does he erupt into full-on hubris, with a speech tailor made for the trailers; the kind of speech Moffat loves.
Had this been broadcast in an RTD series it would inevitably have won best episode awards – and rightly so. It’s a tremendously confident statement of intent, full of wit, terror, silly comedy and soaring ideas like ‘What if we had ideas that could think for themselves?’. It’s Moffat’s best script since The Doctor Dances and sets a high-water mark for his conception of the series that must have been hellish to try to live up to.
Next Time: Flesh and Stone