“The Time Of Angels / Flesh And Stone” is the first two-parter of Doctor Who’s fifth season, the first story with a big enough scope that it warrants being spread out over two episodes (depicting the ‘crash of the Byzantium’ that River Song mentioned as one of her escapades with the Doctor in “Silence In The Library“), and it is a belter. It’s basically the climax of Eleven and Amy’s early adventures in Series 5, much like “Daleks In Manhattan” was for Ten and Martha in Series 3. Steven Moffat brings back two of his most popular creations – the Weeping Angels and River Song – in the same story and gleefully decides to pit them against each other; the two-parter that follows does a lot of heavy duty work of advancing the main story arc for Series 5, while also setting up the foundations for what he has in mind for the Series 6 arc.
“The Time Angels” does a fantastic job of building and maintaining suspense over two episodes. It starts off as a fun outer space romp with River Song dropping in, recruiting the Doctor in one of her missions, but as soon as the Weeping Angels show up and spring their trap, it becomes fraught with tension that never lets up, as things get worse and worse and worse for our heroes at every turn to an unbearable level, until the threat is finally dealt with in the climax. Steven Moffat’s best stories are the ones that can juggle multiple storylines at once without dropping any of them, constantly rotating them out to give each character their time to shine, which also allows him to obscure an important Chekov’s gun (like say, the Angels carelessly draining the power to the Byzantium’s artificial gravity) right up until the moment when it becomes relevant, wrapping everything up in a satisfying way. And “The Time Of Angels” is definitely one of Moffat’s best stories.
On an otherwise ordinary day for the Eleventh Doctor, he and Amy Pond discover a message from River Song (a mysterious woman from his future who he last saw in “Silence In The Library”), drawing them to the 51st century to help her out with a case: hunting down a Weeping Angel. River is the Doctor’s intellectual equal who seems to know everything about him: his strengths, his weaknesses, his odd habits. Eleven is pretty annoyed by her presumptiveness and her boastful personality, since she loves to tease him and wind him up. But despite his grousing, he very clearly still feels a bit of attraction towards her, since she is very much his type of woman. She’s courageous, headstrong, free-spirited, a total genius, and she enjoys raising a good amount of hell wherever she goes. She’s quite a woman. River does a lot of flirting with the Doctor, but he also does a good amount of it back, and by the end of this adventure, he’s clearly started to gain some more respect for her, and dare I say it, grown a bit fond of her, looking forward to the next time he’ll see her again.
The Doctor is not exactly thrilled to be working with the military again in this story, since he’s still biased against soldiers, which leads him to be quite rude to Father Octavian at times, and as the stakes to start rise, he gets put under a lot of stress. Everyone’s depending on him to deal with the Angel they’re looking for somehow, which turns out to be a whole army of Angels. He’s still trying to figure out who River Song might be, and what sort of secrets she’s keeping from him. Amy grows ill because of the Angels messing with her mind, which quickly puts her on death’s door. The Angels drain all the power from the Byzantium, leaving our heroes with very few options to work with. A crack in time shows up in the middle of the crisis and starts consuming people, erasing them from history.
By a certain point, things get so bad that the Doctor’s quick-thinking and resourcefulness is pretty much the only thing keeping everyone alive, managing to keep them all one step ahead of the Angels. It’s a testament to the strength of the Doctor’s character that he manages to shoulder that burden and be the leader everyone needs him to be, though even he starts to crack under pressure as more and more people start dying on his watch. “The Time Of Angels” features a master-class of acting from Matt Smith, as he depicts the Doctor flying by the seat of his pants, holding this whole crisis together through sheer force of will for two episodes by exhausting every trick of survival he can think of (while also juggling a whole bunch of other concerns on his mind). Matt Smith’s high quality performance is especially impressive, since this two-parter was actually the first story of Series 5 to be filmed.
One moment where he’s particularly exceptional is when the Doctor’s careless brainstorming session basically gets Father Octavian killed by the Angels. The Doctor is crushed that he can’t do anything to save him, and feels remorseful that he sold him short for so long because of his prejudices; he’s basically tearing up by the time he finally brings himself to honor the man’s request and leave him to his fate. By the climax of this story, everyone the Doctor promised to help has either been killed by the Angels or the crack in time, leaving our heroes as the only survivors of their expedition. The Doctor, having finally lost complete control of the situation, is terrified that he might lose Amy too, letting Matt show off his full emotional range as the Doctor stubbornly tries to play his very last cards on the table. Even when our main trio of time travelers manage to escape with their lives, Eleven has clearly been spooked by their close shave with death, and he has a lot of new things to think about in regards to both Amy and her connection to the cracks in time.
By “The Time Of Angels”, Amy Pond (Karen Gillan) has grown accustomed to traveling in the TARDIS and is having a great voyage all across the universe. She’s pestering the Doctor about taking her to see an alien planet, when she has her first encounter with Dr. River Song, a woman who (unbeknownst to her) she has quite a connection to. Amy is intrigued by Eleven’s relationship with River, and his strange, flustered behavior around her. Now, Amy’s a smart lass, so it doesn’t take her long to guess that River must be the Doctor’s wife from the future, which only makes her want to find out more about both of them (totally approving of the way River can get under the Doctor’s skin). Amy and River’s camaraderie in this story is a lot of fun, as they trade comments on the side about the Doctor’s way of doing things, and rather sweet in hindsight, in light of the mother-daughter bond they turn out to have.
Over the last few episodes, Amy has adjusted pretty well to the Doctor’s bizarre, fantastical lifestyle; she’s even found ways to help out and contribute things from time to time. But since she isn’t a super genius like the Doctor and River, she’s completely out of her depth in this one. Amy gets ambushed by a Weeping Angel and is nearly killed very early on, which she manages to craftily escape, but at a cost, when it leaves a little piece of itself inside her mind – and from there, her ordeal only gets worse. There’s a rather quick but telling scene, down in the caverns, that says a lot about Amy’s moral character and why the Doctor took her with him as a companion. When Amy is convinced that her hand has turned to stone and that she’ll only slow her friends down, she’s willing to sacrifice herself and stay behind so everyone else can live, only changing her mind at the last minute when the Doctor convinces her that it’s all a mirage.
The Angels make Amy hallucinate things, they make her count down to her own demise for their amusement, they drain her of her strength. Eventually, she has to keep her eyes shut indefinitely to rob them of their power over her, which leaves her completely vulnerable and helpless in the dark while there are murderous monsters hunting everyone down – which is a terrifying thought. And if there’s one thing Amy Pond hates, it’s being helpless. The crack in time that scared her when she was a little girl comes back to haunt her, except this time, it’s deadly and larger than ever. The Doctor and the clerics leave her, one-by-one, until she’s all alone, completely blind in the dark, so very very far from home. Needless to say, Amy’s abandonment issues are flaring up pretty hard by the climax of “Flesh And Stone”, as all of her greatest fears seem to come true at once.
All of this culminates in a nail-biting scene where Amy has to walk past the Angels with her eyes shut to get to safety, and fails, leaving her completely at their mercy (and about to be killed) before River steps in to save her, which is shortly followed by her having to hang on for her life as the ship’s artificial gravity finally gives out. By the dénouement, Amy has been thoroughly rattled and mentally scarred by her ordeal, and she finally decides to tell the Doctor about how she’s been running away from her wedding day, out of her fear of commitment. The previous episodes have hinted that Amy feels some sort of attraction towards the Doctor, and now that she’s not thinking straight, she finally decides to act on it in a scene that is pretty creepy. Thankfully, he does not reciprocate her advances and instead takes her to go find Rory, taking it upon himself to sort out whatever issues there are in Amy and Rory’s relationship, so their friendship can be normal again.
Much like “Utopia” and “The Stolen Earth“, “The Time Of Angels” kicks off with a fantastic cold open that immediately gets you hooked and draws you into the story: namely River Song infiltrating a spaceship and leaving a message for the Doctor to find in the future, so he can come and give her a lift. Like Captain Jack in the RTD era, River is a recurring character who I always love to see more of, particularly because the show always seems to get so much more wild and chaotic whenever she’s around. She has a lot of traits in common with the Doctor, but she also her own brand of morality that can conflict pretty wildly with his, and she often has her own agenda that she keeps close to her chest. A large part of River’s likability is due to her actress Alex Kingston, who excels at making her a coy, vivacious and free-spirited character who’s portrayed as a cross between James Bond and Indiana Jones (with occasional moments of self-doubt and vulnerability). She also gives her a stern edge and a real commanding presence whenever things get serious, making it plain to see that this woman is not someone to be trifled with lightly.
As Series 6 will later reveal, River is Amy and Rory’s daughter from the future, all grown up, and “The Time Of Angels” is the first story to start dropping hints about that plot twist down the line. When Steven Moffat became Doctor Who’s showrunner, he knew he wanted his first companion to have some sort of connection to River, who he intended on bringing back as a recurring character, even if he wasn’t sure what kind of connection it would be yet, which is why he gave them both water-based names. If you compare River’s interactions with Donna in Series 4 or with Clara in Series 7, to her exchanges with Amy and Rory in Series 5, it’s clear that she’s a lot more familiar with them and protective of them, even while she’s still pretending not to know them (for timeline reasons).
River loves to have fun with the Doctor, taking the wind out of his ego every chance she gets, but she also has plenty of affection for him (enjoying every adventure they get to have together), and plenty of respect for him. River has total faith in his skills and trusts him with her life in a crisis – and coming from River, who trusts very few people, that means a lot. The Doctor and River are intellectual equals and as such, they work well together – even thinking on the same wavelength sometimes – but River tends to be a bit more practical, and is a lot more skeptical about what they can and can’t do, while the Doctor is more of a big ideas man and is always pushing the boundaries of what is and isn’t possible.
In “The Time Of Angels”, River decides to recruit the Doctor’s help with hunting down a Weeping Angel that hijacked a spaceship, figuring she could use his expertise, but she purposely holds out on some of the details. River is a woman with many secrets, and as it turns out, Father Octavian isn’t really her colleague but her parole officer. She’s working on this case to earn herself a pardon, since she’s currently in prison. When the Doctor presses the matter, River and Octavian both tell him she killed a ‘good man’ who is very clearly the Doctor, and there is very clearly more to this story than either of them are willing to say at the moment. It’s fascinating to see Moffat is already setting up the story arc for Series 6 that will get underway in “The Impossible Astronaut“, the direction he wants to take River’s character in now that he has all the time in the world to explore her backstory. The Doctor grows a bit closer to River over the course of this two-parter, and even though he knows she’ll probably bring plenty of trouble with her in her wake like she always does, he’s warmed up to the idea of seeing her again on another adventure, when the Pandorica opens.
Some significant side characters in this two-parter are Father Octavian and his clerics, soldiers in service of the Church, a religious organization with a massive amount of influence in the distant future (which is an interesting bit of world-building for the Doctor Who universe that will become important later in episodes like “A Good Man Goes To War” and “The Time Of The Doctor“). Having heard the legends about him, Father Octavian has a lot of respect for the Doctor that isn’t fully reciprocated. The Doctor’s distaste for the military turns up again in this story, causing him to be more aloof than usual to Octavian, though it’s thankfully handled with more subtlety than it was with Ten in Series 4. When Octavian is scolding one of his troops and the Doctor feels he’s being too hard on him, he decides to offer his own input, taking a dig at the bishop in the process. Later, the two men get into an argument when the bishop wants to double back for his men who have been killed: the Doctor accuses him of being foolish and irrational, while Octavian accuses him of being callous and selfish.
Octavian proves to be a good man and a good soldier: he looks out for his subordinates, he doesn’t treat them like they’re expendable, and he clearly wouldn’t ask them to do anything he wouldn’t do himself. He doesn’t trust River as far as he can throw her, and considering he, like the rest of the universe, thinks she killed the Doctor, the same person he’s currently working with, you can understand why. As a result, as her parole officer, he’s very strict with her. Compared to the other clerics, Octavian is given a poignant and heroic death scene that wraps up his conflict with the Doctor: the Doctor is heartbroken that he can’t do more for him and regrets misjudging him for so long because of his prejudices, but Octavian is at peace, accepting with his death with bravery and dignity because of his faith.
As the titular villains of this two-parter, “The Time Of Angels” reintroduces us to the Weeping Angels: ferocious, time-eating shapeshifters who made their debut back in Series 3. In their first episode, “Blink“, the Weeping Angels were an enigma: we barely knew anything about them, they were constantly moving around in the shadows, trying to be patient about achieving their goals, and it was only in the last act that they finally made a move against Sally Sparrow and went on the offensive. By “The Time Of Angels”, the audience is already well aware of the Angels’ M.O., so we get to see just how frightening and relentless they can be when they’re on the attack – we also explore the full extent of their powers.
They can apparently warp reality and manifest themselves through any picture that’s taken of them, or any image that depicts them, letting them come for someone wherever they are: which is demonstrated quite aptly through a scene where a Weeping Angel comes out a TV screen and tries to kill Amy. The implications of that sort of power are very disturbing, and as we soon find out, ‘any image’ really means any image: the Angel climbs inside Amy’s body through her eyes and tries to take over her mind. The Angels are cruel and sadistic predators, who love to play with their food to make the hunt more interesting for themselves, so the Angel in Amy’s mind makes her hallucinate things, and then it makes her count down to her own death for sick kicks. The Angels can steal the voices of their dead victims and use them to lure more people to their death, so the head Angel uses the voice of one of the soldiers it killed to keep communicating with the Doctor and mentally torture him throughout the night. At the end of the first episode, while they’re searching for the Angel from the Byzantium, our main heroes realize they’ve walked into a trap and that the hunters have just become the hunted.
There’s a whole nest of Angels, living underneath the planet, that have been trapped there for centuries, stagnating and losing their strength. The head Angel purposely crashed the Byzantium there, using the radiation from the ship to rescue his brethren, revive them, and reawaken an army. The greatest defense anyone has against the Weeping Angels is the ability to freeze them in place for a while, by keeping them in their line of sight. “Flesh And Stone” ramps up the tension by repeatedly robbing our heroes of that advantage – whether it’s because the Doctor has to turn off all the lights on the Byzantium to give them a chance to escape, or because Amy has to keep her eyes shut to improve her chances of survival – essentially rendering them helpless for extended periods of time, while seemingly nothing can stop the monsters that are hunting them or slow them down for long.
We finally see the Angels move onscreen during the climax, when they advance on a panicking Amy, and it looks so damn freaky and unnatural: they really are abominations straight out of someone’s nightmares. As always, the Angels are very cunning, ambitious and power-hungry. The head Angel chose the Byzantium to hijack because there’s a crack in time onboard it, overflowing with energy that they want to feast on, engorge themselves with, so they can conquer the cosmos. When they realize they’ve bitten off way more than they can chew, they flee in fear of it and wind up being hoisted by their own petards. The Angels drained all the power to the ship, including the power to the artificial gravity, which eventually causes them to fall back into the crack and get erased from time. The Doctor and his friends didn’t actually do anything to defeat them in the end. They essentially killed themselves from their own arrogance and hubris, much like they did in “Blink”, which is exactly what they deserve.
“The Time Of Angels” contains your usual bait-and-switch style of plotting from Steven Moffat: the cliffhanger presents an army of Weeping Angels as the greatest threat our heroes will have to face, but in the second episode, something even worse arrives. The crack in time in Amy’s wall has made several appearances in the last few episodes, turning up in unexpected places (like the Bad Wolf meme in Series 1), and here the Doctor and Amy finally notice it. We finally get some answers about what’s going on with the series arc, a lot sooner than you’d expect actually. Something I really like about the Eleventh Doctor’s era is how the line between standalone episodes and stories pertaining to the series’ arc become a lot more blurred. I wouldn’t want every period in the show to be structured like this, but I do enjoy how you never know what episode is going to wind up advancing the main storyline of the season (like “The Almost People” in Series 6).
The crack in time is bleeding out energy that’s toxic to the touch: it erases people from history by preventing them from ever being born, which has the side effect of making people forget they ever existed. This is demonstrated through a very disturbing scene where the clerics walk to their deaths, one-by-one, because they’re totally ignorant of the danger they’re in. A mindless yet carnivorous wound in time like this proves to be a much more dangerous threat than the Angels. The Doctor and his friends manage to escape from this one, but there are still plenty of others scattered across the universe, raising the stakes for the rest of the season until “The Big Bang“. From the Doctor’s speculation, the cracks originate from an explosion in time that shatters reality, leaving scars all throughout history, and the explosion comes from Amy’s time – specifically her wedding day. This development gives the Doctor a deadline to solve the mystery of the cracks, and a reason to want to avoid that date just as much as Amy does.
Adam Smith, who previously helmed “The Eleventh Hour“, steps up to direct “The Time Of Angels”, and he easily brings the same quality of work to this two-parter, doing everything in his power to immerse the viewers in the world of this story, making it feel vast and grand on a television show’s budget. The scenes outside the Aplan temple were filmed on Southdown Beach in Wales, the same location where Doctor Who previously filmed the Bad Wolf Bay scenes in “Doomsday“, while the scenes inside the Byzantium’s ‘oxygen factory’ were filmed inside the Forest Of Dean in Gloucestershire. You can tell a lot of the season’s budget was saved up for this two-parter, because the CGI visuals from the Mill are pretty fantastic throughout it: whether it’s the shots of the Byzantium soaring through space, the flaming ruins of the crashed ship on the beach, the gravity globe lighting up the underground caverns that the Doctor and his friends have to search through, the whole group standing upside down on the underbelly of the ship when they make their escape from the Angels, or the Angels falling by the dozens into the blinding light of the crack in the climax.
When it comes to his score for the two-parter, Murray Gold gives River Song her first personal theme, “River’s Path“, a suave, exotic and strident piece of music that’s used extensively in the teaser. The main leitmotif for the villains, “The Time Of Angels“, is an electronic track filled with harsh percussion and plenty of sharp strings that leap out at you in unexpected jump scares (he also incorporates the main theme from “Midnight”, which feels like a fitting choice for the Angels). Murray expands on many of the main themes of Series 5 by writing new variations on “Little Amy“, “Can I Come With You” and “Amy In The TARDIS“, to accompany her plight in this episode, as well as penning some cool new arrangements of Eleven’s theme, “I Am The Doctor“, for the bigger moments of the story. “The Mad Man With A Box“, the Eleventh Doctor’s love song, makes another appropriate appearance as well, during his farewell to River.
Out of the trilogy of Weeping Angels stories that Steven Moffat wrote for the show, “The Time Of Angels / Flesh And Stone” is pretty comfortably the one I enjoy the most, and one of the best stories Series 5 has to offer (that also sets the stage for a major shift in the status quo as approach the middle portion of the season).
* “Hallucinogenic lipstick, hallucinogenic lipstick. She’s here“.
* Another cool bit of foreshadowing for the Series 6 arc: the Doctor offhandedly mentions the Headless Monks to Amy as they’re touring a museum in the future, who we’ll be meeting in person in “A Good Man Goes To War”.
* “Sorry, Alistair. I needed to see what was in your vault. Do you all know what’s down there? Any of you? Because I’ll tell you something. This ship won’t reach its destination. Like I said on the dance floor, you might want to find something to hang on to”.
* “But, it didn’t make the noise” “What noise?” You know the whoosh, whoosh” “It’s not supposed to make that noise, you leave the breaks on”.
* “How come you can fly the TARDIS?” “Oh, I had lessons from the very best. It’s a shame you were busy that day” Damn, girl.
* “I’m nobody’s taxi service. I’m not going to be there to catch you every time you feel like jumping out of a space ship!” “And you are so wrong”.
* “There’s one survivor. There’s a thing, in the belly of that ship, that can’t ever die. See, now he’s listening”.
* I haven’t made an appreciative comment about handsome men in a while now, and I’d just like to say that Father Octavian looks very good in uniform.
* “It’s not a legend, it’s the quantum lock. In the sight of any living creature the Angels literally cease to exist. They’re just stone. The ultimate defense mechanism” “What, being a stone?” “Being a stone until you turn your back”.
* “Woo, you lot, you’re everywhere! You’re like rabbits! I’ll never done saving you”.
* “Now, this shouldn’t hurt a bit” “OW!” “There, see, I lied”.
* “What if we had ideas that could think for themselves? What if one day our dreams no longer needed us? When these things occur and are held to be true, the time will be upon us. The time of Angels”.
* “Of course, then they started having laws against self-marrying. I mean, what was that about? But that’s the Church for you. Er, no offense, Bishop” “Quite a lot taken, if that’s all right, Doctor”.
* “Bob, keep running. But tell me, how did you escape?” “I didn’t escape, sir. The Angel killed me, too” Dear lord.
* “Yeah, called you an idiot. Sorry, but there’s no way we could have rescued your men”.
“I know that, sir. And when you’ve flown away in your little blue box, I’ll explain that to their families” Oh snap.
* “I’m sorry, sir. The Angels were very keen for you to know that” “Well then, the Angels have made their second mistake because I’m not going to let that pass. I’m sorry you’re dead, Bob, but I swear to whatever is left of you, they will be sorrier”.
* “Sorry, can I ask again? You mentioned a mistake we made” “Oh, big mistake. Huge. Didn’t anyone every tell you there’s one thing you never put in a trap? If you’re smart, if you value your continued existence, if you have any plans about seeing tomorrow, there is one thing you never, ever put in a trap. Me“.
* “So, we’ve basically run up the inside of a chimney, yeah? So what if the gravity fails?” “I’ve thought about that” “And?” “We’ll all plunge to our deaths. There, see, I thought about it”.
* “Dr. Song, I’ve lost good clerics today. You trust this man?” “I absolutely trust him” “He’s not some kind of madman, then?” “I absolutely trust him”.
* “A forest in a bottle on a spaceship in a maze. Have I impressed you yet, Amy Pond?”
* “Okay, Bob, enough chat. Here’s what I want to know. What have you done to Amy?” “There’s something in her eye” “What’s in her eye?” “We are“.
* “Get a life, Bob. There’s power on this ship, but nowhere near that much” “With respect, sir, there’s more power on this ship than you yet understand“.
* “What’s wrong with me?” “Nothing, you’re fine” “Everything, you’re dying” “Doctor!” “Yes, you’re right. If we lie to her, she’ll get all better!”
* “The image of an Angel is an Angel” “A living mental image in a living human mind. But we stare at them to stop them getting closer. We don’t even blink, and that is exactly what they want. Because as long as our eyes are open, they can climb inside. There’s an Angel in her mind!” Hot damn, Moffat.
* “Doctor? Please, can’t I come with you?” “You’d slow us down, Ms. Pond” “I don’t want to sound selfish, but you’d really speed me up”.
* There’s a rather odd scene where the Doctor encourages Amy to remember something he told her as a girl. It doesn’t seem to add anything to the plot of this episode, but it’ll pay off much later down the line.
* Oof, River’s face when Father Octavian betrays her secrets to the Doctor. You rarely ever see River get that pissed off.
* “I’m sorry, Amy. I should never have left you there” Well, yeah. Unless you’re Mystery Inc from “Scooby-Doo”, splitting up is the quickest way to die in a horror movie situation.
* “If the time energy catches up with you, you’ll never have been born. It will erase every moment of your existence! You will never have lived at all!” Oh, fuck.
* “Flesh And Stone” contains another visual nod to an iconic fairy tale: Amy Pond becomes Little Red Riding Hood, having to walk blind and alone through a forest of hungry monsters during the climax.
* “Thing is, Bob, the Angels are draining all the power from this ship. Every last bit of it. And you know what? I think they’ve forgotten where they’re standing. I think they’ve forgotten the gravity of the situation. Or to put it another way, Angels. Night, night”.
* Blink and you’ll miss it, but the Doctor gives the Angels a little smile as they’re falling into the crack. Eleven has quite a vindictive streak when it comes to seeing his enemies get their just deserts, which will be expanded on in Series 6 and 7.
* “Ha, the Pandorica. That’s a fairy tale” “Oh, Doctor. Aren’t we all?”.
* “Can I trust you, River Song?” “If you like, but where’s the fun in that?”.
* “Amy Pond. Mad, impossible, Amy Pond. I don’t know why, I have no idea, but quite possibly the single most important thing in the history of the universe is that I get you sorted out right now. Come on!”