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This is one of those stories that I have trouble talking about, mostly because I like it so much but I can’t articulate fully what it is I like about it. Or maybe I can, since that’s what I’m about to attempt in this review. This pair of episodes does a lot of things very well, to my view, at least, so I suppose I’ll try to talk about that.

Perhaps most significantly, this episode sees the return of River Song, last seen in the Library two-parter in Series 4. We learn a lot more about her character this time around, too. The cold open starts with her femme fatale-ing her way through a spaceship to leave a message for the Doctor (cleverly intercut with the Doctor and Amy’s discovery of said message), which is rather a far cry from the university archaeologist we first met. We also learn much later on that she’s a criminal, imprisoned for the murder of a good man.

Given the benefit of hindsight, it’s easy to see how River’s character fits together, but it’s still intriguing to think about how these revelations might have looked to the average viewer in 2010, seeing these episodes for the first time. They certainly add another layer of mystery to a character already cloaked in it, which may have been frustrating to some.

These episodes also see another return, this one of Moffat’s infamous Weeping Angels. This story was compared (I believe by Moffat himself) as the Aliens to “Blink”‘s Alien, which I think is apt in more ways than one. Their abilities are expanded and their numbers increased considerably, raising the stakes for our heroes and giving us a few moments of horror to boot.

Some of these things work better than others. The Angels messing with Amy’s head doesn’t quite follow through in the same way the whole “image of an Angel” thing does, but it adds a veneer of suspense to the whole story. Robbing Amy of her one protection in a forest full of Angels makes her shaky journey to the control deck all the more nailbiting.

Which brings us to probably the most controversial thing done with the Angels in this story: we see the Angels move. In “Blink”, an unspoken rule was that the audience’s gaze held the Angels at bay as well as any character’s would—thus why Sally Sparrow is not attacked when her back is turned on them early in that episode. This time, at a crucial, climactic moment, our gaze holds no power. I know this was a dealbreaker for a lot of people. I think this moment works on a slight thematic level—at the moment when Amy Pond is helpless, we who most want her to make it through are powerless as well, giving the moment a horrifying inevitability.

One of the elements I rather adore, however, is the reveal of the Angels near the end of “Time of Angels.” The answer is delivered to us some minutes earlier, when the Doctor starts talking about the two-headed Aplans. It’s something I rather love about the way Moffat writes stories—very often he’ll leave the answers we’re looking for hidden in plain sight, ready for any keenly thinking viewer to pick up on. It’s a sign of the esteem he has for the audience’s intelligence, something greatly appreciated.

Another thing I liked was this story’s willingness to crack open (if you’ll pardon the pun) the series’ lightly hinted overall plot. The crack we first saw in young Amelia’s bedroom has been following our protagonists the last couple episodes, and here it forms a major part of “Flesh and Stone”‘s plot. While its cause remains a mystery, we do learn what the crack is: the end of the universe, time itself running out and eating away at the fabric of reality and history. Most significantly, we discover when the crack-causing explosion takes place—the day of Amy’s wedding in the present day. The episode answers questions as well as raising them, and leaves open the possibility that these cracks will have a bearing on the stories to come.

On the whole, I think these are a pair of brilliant episodes. They move along at a great pace, and accomplish a lot with both character and story.

(3/100)

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I know, I know, you’re as surprised as me that I’m back and writing about Doctor Who. I sort of left things off in quite a place, didn’t I? Right in the middle of Series 5, without so much as a word of warning that I’d be away for well over a year. I suppose I’m a bit like the Doctor in that regard, aren’t I? Going away for, oh a week, and then not turning up until fourteenish months later. All of that aside, I am back, and hopefully for good.

The plan for the foreseeable future, at least as regards this particular output of mine, is to review one episode a week, picking up where we left off, with Time of Angels, and so on. It should last me through the year, so long as I keep on top of it. And I am hoping that I will be able to keep on top of it. There are just enough episodes left that I should be able to cover them in fifty two weeks.

If you’re looking for a recap of where we left off, here’s the general gist of things: The Eleventh Hour is a piece of total perfection that cannot be fully appreciated by mere human words; The Beast Below is by no means perfect, but still plenty good (even Steven Moffat’s worst episode is better by far than most writers’ best); and Victory of the Daleks serves a necessary purpose for the future of Doctor Who, and yet manages some good character stuff beneath the rather rote storyline. We’re all in agreement about that, yes? … Probably not, but that’s where we are right now, and so hopefully by the end of this week, you’ll be looking at a nice shiny review of Time of Angels.

And that’s all I have to say about that.

(1/100)

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To be perfectly honest, “Victory of the Daleks” is probably my least favorite episode of Series 5. Its purpose and function is transparent from the very first–from the appearance of the title onscreen. This episode brings back the Daleks from the total destruction rained down on them in “Journey’s End.” While I suppose it also serves a function in the grander scheme of things (Amy’s not remembering the events of “End” and how that relates to the Cracks), there isn’t much else that makes this episode exciting or memorable.

Well. Maybe that’s not completely true. This is the first time we get to see Matt Smith’s Doctor on a real rampage, full to the brim with righteous anger and then pushed to pained sorrow when he must choose, once again, between saving the Earth or defeating the Daleks. Smith puts in a marvelous performance from the moment the Daleks appear onscreen, and his rampage against them in Bracewell’s lab is terrifying to watch because it’s so raw and believable. Over and over, Smith has been more than proving his mettle in the role of the Doctor, and it’s always a delight to see him in action.

On the companion side of things, it’s interesting to see the other end of Amy Pond’s desire to run away from home, not only for the adventure type stuff but also because of the Doctor himself. Her “ever fancied someone you know you shouldn’t?” comment to Bracewell in the epsiode’s climax says a great deal about her possible feelings towards the Doctor and the idea that she might have run away from her wedding to be with him. This gets addressed more fully in the next story, so I’ll leave it lie for the moment, but there is another strangely touching moment from Amy that I want to talk about. It’s when she talks Bracewell out of killing himself, saying that she understands. It’s such a small moment, a tiny piece of dialogue, but I feel like it says so much about her character. To me it says that she has had experience with suicide, or at least with suicidal thoughts. It throws those psychiatrists she mentioned in an entirely new light. It gives her character a sudden depth, a glimmer of a life that might have been, for quite some time, very unhappy. It comes off like such a minor detail, but it still seems like such a big moment for her character, and I love it dearly.

And then there’s the other thing about Amy: she doesn’t remember the Daleks. Or, indeed, anything about the events of “Journey’s End.” I can only imagine what sorts of questions this raised when this episode first aired, since previous stories haven’t been so lightly tossed aside before. However, knowing as we do that this is an effect of the cracks in time seen in “The Eleventh Hour” and popping up all over the place, I think I will take time to comment. I like this detail. I like that Steven Moffat has chosen to more or less put Earth back on square one as far as alien invasions go. It means that there isn’t a laundry list of events to keep in the back of one’s mind when there are stories set in the present day. (“Turn Left” was a great example of just how much ridiculous crap has happened on present-day Earth.) It means that any new companions won’t have any experience with aliens and the like, which I think makes for a more interesting introduction in that we get to see how they handle it when weird crap does happen.

And on a much more personal note, it means I can pretend that episodes like “Journey’s End” and “The Next Doctor” and the like never happened. Or rather, as Moffat’s cunning in-story plot hole dictates, they happened, but no one remembers them. (If only I were that lucky…)

As for the Daleks: the one thing I can appreciate about this episode is that it brings them back. Rather than ending them once and for all (or mostly for all) like RTD did a grand total of five times, it brings them back. It has them /win/. And then they go away to just be Daleks, and to turn up in another story at their leisure. It recognizes, in a way that RTD seemed to keep missing, that if the Daleks are the Doctor’s greatest enemy, then they need to be around for that. Killing them off has a nice dramatic punch, but it does leave one in a bit of a pinch when you want to bring them back again.

In that regard, “Victory of the Daleks” succeeds marvelously, and I can appreciate it for that even though the plot is to my eyes a bit lacking and spare. The great performance from Matt Smith by and large pushes this episode up a bit in my eyes, but not enough that I’d be able to count it a favorite.

(183/260)

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“The Beast Below” plays rather like the usual companion’s first day out, with an added closer look at the Eleventh Doctor, who at this point we are still getting to know. While it’s definitely one of Steven Moffat’s weaker episodes, it is by no means deficient. It does so well with what it’s got that, as with so many other episodes, I can’t help but like it.

The story here stands out to me more than others; it involves no monsters or villains, just the misguided mistakes of human beings. Even Amy screws up, and the Doctor reacts in fiery fashion, threatening to take her home over it after he sorts everything in both the best and worst way he can. Indeed, some of the Doctor’s actions here echo what the Tenth Doctor might have done—taken matters into his own hands as a higher authority than mere human beings, doing something horrible to save the day, etc. But then the rug gets pulled out from under him when Amy—one of those mere human beings—figures everything out and shows us that the Doctor can be fallible after all. She sees a way out where he only saw disaster and death, and in so doing shows him that he can have more days where everybody lives.

While this may have the unintended effect of making Amy seem too “perfect,” I must hasten to point out the other, smaller things we see from her. She’s run away from her wedding. She’s scared of what that might mean for her future and also what getting “really, actually” married might mean for the rest of her life. She may be brave in the face of alien dangers, and more capable there as well, but she is far more frightened and vulnerable before the trappings of an ordinary life. While that has certainly been explored to some degree before (largely with Rose and Donna), I think the important thing here is that Amy still kind of wants that ordinary life. She perks up when the automated voter roll gets to her marital status, and she does seem to somewhat regret her spur-of-the-moment decision. It’s an interesting aspect of her character that has an important bearing on her development, and I like that it’s addressed early on.

All meta-y thoughts aside, this episode is still more or less average, though there is much to love about it, like Sophie Okendo’s Liz Ten, the most badass royal this side of Princess Leia. Speaking of which: ALL THE STAR WARS REFERENCES. Up to and including that lovely wipe before Amy and the Doctor’s big scene at the end there. Matt Smith puts in a performance that by all accounts makes it seem like the Doctor is still settling into his new body. Even if the comparisons between the Doctor and the Star Whale are a little on the nose, they’re still kind of beautiful, and damn if that scene doesn’t make me teary-eyed every time. “The Beast Below” is by no means exceptional, but it’s still a lovely episode, one that I never mind rewatching from time to time.

(179/260)

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I don’t know what to say about this episode.  It’s one of the best Doctor Who stories, ever.  It makes a clear and immediate break from the visual and narrative style that preceded it.  It’s an hour long but doesn’t feel it for even a second.  It has the uneasy task of introducing us to both a new Doctor and a new companion, and it more than rises to the occasion.  It’s perfect, and how the hell am I supposed to critique that?  It’s like, “The Eleventh Hour,” how do I love thee, let me count the ways.

…and why not. (more…)

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I was originally going to review each episode individually, but I don’t want to waste more time on this story than I already have, to be frank with you. I could write out a great big review like I did for the Series 4 finale, but I don’t care that much. This episode doesn’t anger me so much as that one did. This episode just makes me tired. It makes me so, so tired.

Tired of what, you ask? (more…)

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I rather like this episode. While it does at points remind me too much of “The Impossible Planet”, it does have enough unique elements to stand on its own. This episode also stands as an interesting turning point for the specials, though to be honest it’s hard to reconcile “Planet of the Dead” with it thematically. It works much better simply paired with “End of Time.”

I like the monster here. It’s interesting and frightening and the special effects [practical effects] done on the actors are magnificent. The mentions and connections back to the Ice Warriors are nice as well, I suppose. Also, it was nice to hear a fictional language that actually sounded like language instead of strung-together syllables (such as what we see with the Judoon).

The moral conundrums of this episode are of course what sit at its heart. The Doctor finds himself stumbled into a fixed point in time with the crew of Bowie Base One, the first humans stationed on Mars. The base is supposed to explode, and the death of its captain, Adelaide Brooke, is going to inspire her granddaughter to lead humanity’s way out into the stars. Yet the Doctor is drawn into events, and in the end he sort of snaps, and decides to save everyone who’s left anyway. And I have to say, the Doctor here, as Time Lord Victorious, is even more terrifying than the water creature. It’s a Doctor without morals or rules or bounds on anything, who acts on the belief that he is right, full stop.

I don’t know what else to say about this episode. It’s powerful, it’s well made, it looks damn good in high definition. Lindsay Duncan puts in an amazing performance as Brooke, and it’s fascinating and wonderful to see her go from saying she doesn’t want to dressing the Doctor down for doing that very thing. More anything, I suppose, this episode explores just why it is so dangerous for the Doctor to travel alone, because it’s always possible that he will go too far. That he will break his own rules and become that dangerous and frightening creature we see in the last fifteen or so minutes of this episode. Davies and his co-writer Phil Ford do a good job handling these themes in this episode, and as far as the specials are concerned, this is the best of them, hands down.

(171/260)

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