Around late 2011, Steven Moffat and Karen Gillan started to have some serious discussions about her character’s upcoming departure from Doctor Who in the show’s seventh season, and how she wanted it to be handled. Karen wanted Amy Pond to go out on a high, when she was in the prime of her life, and once she was gone, she wanted her departure to be final – something Steven Moffat agreed with. Steven Moffat has gone on record that he believes every good love story should have a tragic ending, to give the time that the two lovers shared together a fair amount of weight, which explains a lot about why his companion departures are always so depressing, why he chose to handle the Doctor’s relationship with River Song the way he did in “Silence In The Library“, and why even a brief fling that the Doctor had with someone he just met in “The Girl In The Fireplace” had a super bleak ending.
After a lot of thought, Mr. Moffat decided that Amy Pond and Rory Williams would have one final confrontation with the Weeping Angels, some of his most famous monsters, where the Doctor’s two best friends would eventually fall. “The Angels Take Manhattan” is pretty comfortably one of the darkest episodes in this season (alongside “Asylum Of The Daleks“, “Cold War“, “Journey To The Centre Of The TARDIS” and “The Name Of The Doctor“), and one of the Eleventh Doctor’s darkest episodes in general, with some truly nightmarish concepts lying at the heart of it. It’s set in beautiful, scenic New York City, because the Big Apple is the perfect place for a romantic, noir mystery and some good old-fashioned gothic horror: giving us a heartbreaking farewell to the Ponds, whose story we’ve been following for the last two and a half seasons.
Steven Moffat’s script for “The Angels Take Manhattan” is pretty tightly-written and efficient: he doesn’t waste any time setting the stage for the story to come with some early comedic scenes of Eleven and the Ponds riffing, their last normal scenes together that inform the audience quite a bit about where they’re at now and where they’re heading. In particular, Moffat stresses the fact that the Doctor loves a good story as much as the next person, but he tends to skip the endings more often than not, because he doesn’t like endings very much. Moffat has always given the Eleventh Doctor (Matt Smith) an immature streak, and with “The Angels Take Manhattan” he introduces a major personality flaw to his interpretation of the Doctor’s character (that will also carry over to the Twelfth Doctor’s era, as well): he handles loss very poorly, which is why he always tries his best to avoid experiencing it.
When the Weeping Angels kidnap Rory, the Doctor quickly helps Amy try to rescue him, with the aid of a book from the future that has their destinies written in it. But to the Doctor’s horror, he also discovers that he’ll be losing Amy and Rory soon – when they die – and he does not take it well. While the Ponds try everything to beat the Grim Reaper and explore their options as far as they can, the Doctor steadily emotionally shuts down over the course of this episode – partially because he knows in his gut from time lord instinct that the future can’t be changed, despite Amy and Rory insisting otherwise, and partially because he cannot deal with what’s happening. The horrible outcome that he always wanted to avoid for his beloved Ponds (since the end of Series 6) is happening now and he’s not ready for it, but it’s coming, full steam ahead, whether he likes it or not.
Steven Moffat gets especially cruel to the Doctor during the last act: his worst fears come to life when he watches Amy and Rory plunge to their deaths off the side of a building until they hit the street below. Then, the reset button is pressed and for a few precious moments, the Doctor thinks he’s been given a rare, second chance to correct that horrible failure. But the Ponds’ number is well and truly up. Before he knows it, the Angels strike again and it’s all over in a matter of minutes. Amy and Rory are sent back to the past, where they live out the rest of their lives and die – and the Doctor is locked out of their timeline, preventing him from ever seeing them alive again. The Doctor can’t meddle any further with this outcome – the Angels have already done so much damage to the space-time continuum around New York that it’s hanging by a thread, and any more disruptions to it would destroy the city.
As much as he misses Amy and Rory, the Doctor isn’t selfish enough to put his own desires over thousands of people’s lives, or the safety of the universe, so he does what he was always going to have to do eventually and lets the Ponds go. It’s heartbreaking to watch, and in hindsight, it provides a pretty stark contrast to the next time tragedy strikes in the Series 9 finale, “Hell Bent” – where we see what happens when the Doctor doesn’t let go, when he is selfish enough to risk time and space because of his own heartbreak, and it’s not a pretty sight. As was the case for the Tenth Doctor when he lost Rose Tyler and Donna Noble, the Eleventh Doctor is never fully the same after “The Angels Take Manhattan”. He takes the loss of his two best friends extremely hard, and he experiences a personality shift for the rest of his tenure: while he’s still a quirky, funnyman after this, he also becomes a lot more outwardly frosty and jaded on average.
“The Angels Take Manhattan” serves as Amy Pond (Karen Gillan) and Rory Williams’ (Arthur Darvill) swansong episode, pitting them against Steven Moffat’s breakout monsters, who Amy confronted before in “The Time Of Angels“, one of her most traumatic early adventures with the Doctor. In “The Angels Take Manhattan”, the Doctor and Amy try to save Rory from the Weeping Angels by using a book River Song will write in the near-future, depicting their fates. Events in the novel are happening concurrently with events in real life, so the Doctor is afraid to read too far ahead into it, and for good reason. He knows full well that having foreknowledge of your own personal future is the best way to set that future in stone, especially since the Weeping Angels have already been weakening space and time around Manhattan – something they take full advantage of to trap our heroes.
For Amy and Rory’s final episode, Moffat decides to revisit a significant theme that has gone on to define a large chunk of their tenure as companions – the question of whether or not they’re slaves to time. How much free will do they truly possess? How much control do they actually have over their own destinies in the face of insurmountable odds? In particular, one grim concept in this episode stealthily foreshadows the main premise for the season finale, “The Name Of The Doctor”: if there’s one place in the universe that a time traveler should never ever find themselves, unless they want to seal their doom, it’s their own grave. Amy and Rory don’t have a lot of agency in this episode as they’re led around by fate and the Weeping Angels, being shuffled from location to location, until the very end, when they decide to make a stand.
Amy and Rory decide to seize control of their fate and make a suicide pact, as one last desperate attempt to kill the Angels that are hunting them. Even if it doesn’t work, Rory figures that dying on his own terms would be a better way to go than what the Angels have in store for him, and Amy insists on coming with him. Ever since “Amy’s Choice“, it’s been very clear that neither one of the Ponds would want to live in a world where the other one didn’t exist, so as morbid as it is, it feels like a decision like this has always been coming for them. And when it finally happens, it feels very emotionally cathartic, watching them face the end together. If this had actually been their final scene in the series, I would have been satisfied with it.
Instead, Moffat includes a rather cruel rug pull moment, like the one in “The End Of Time“, where he briefly gives the audience hope that everything will be fine and that the Ponds have managed to cheat fate, before he immediately rips that hope away. Rory is zapped back to the past by a rogue Angel, where he lives out the rest of his life and dies – which means that everything that happened in this episode, all our heroes’ attempts to save him, it was all for nothing. There’s nothing else that can be done for him, so Amy decides to let the Angel take her too, so she can spend the rest of her days with Rory. The Doctor begs her not to, but she’s already made her choice – she’s simply sticking to it. Amy says her final goodbyes to her Raggedy Doctor, she lets him go, and then, in a flash, she’s gone. This chapter in Amy’s life and the Doctor’s life that started in “The Eleventh Hour” is now over for good, and Amy, for the most part, doesn’t have any regrets. She lived her life to the fullest, she owned the stage, and she achieved so much more than she ever thought was possible when she was a girl.
For the last couple of seasons, it’s been pretty apparent that River Song (Alex Kingston) gets up to some really weird stuff offscreen: she has her own adventures in her free time that can get pretty shady, and in “The Angels Take Manhattan”, we’re given a rare glimpse of one of her mishaps when her paths cross with the Doctor and the Ponds once again. For quite some time now, there have been a lot of weird disappearances happening in New York City during the 1930’s, due to the Weeping Angels’ activity – and eventually, they become so common that they catch the attention of some local gangsters, and Professor River Song. River decides to look into it because she’s running her own time-traveling detective agency now, solving temporal mysteries and digging up the past – a career choice that fits an archeologist from the future very well.
Since this is her parents’ last episode in the series, it’s only fitting that Melody Pond should be present as well, to see them both off. In addition to her bond with Amy and Rory, “The Angels Take Manhattan” also touches upon River’s relationship with the Doctor in the wake of Series 6, where they officially became a couple, and how it can get pretty dysfunctional. Whenever the Doctor and River meet up, both of them want to be at their best to try to impress each other. At one point, the Doctor (wanting to believe they can find a way to defy fate, so the Ponds can be saved) demands that River find a way to escape a Weeping Angel’s clutches without getting injured, so she lies to him to give him hope and improve his morale. She lets him believe she found a way to slip off unscathed because she’s River Song and she’s just that good of an escape artist, when she really got her wrist broken for her efforts.
The Doctor heals her wrist with regeneration energy, to make up for his earlier selfishness, and that only upsets her more, because River is a proud woman who hates showing weakness. River is painfully aware that her life is finite, just like all of the Doctor’s friends, while he seems to stretch on forever as an immortal being, and that can’t help but mess with her head a little. They’re equally matched in so many ways, but in that one area, they’re never going to stand on the same footing, and she hates it. That’s not even touching on her doubts about whether or not the Doctor is even capable of loving people the same way humans do and fully reciprocating her feelings for him. River likes to keep self-doubting thoughts like that to herself, bottled up inside her head, and it’s really not healthy for her, which we’ll see later in “The Husbands Of River Song”.
The ending of this episode is devastating for her: the Doctor doesn’t just lose his two best friends, River loses her parents as well, who have always been a part of her life in some form or another. Now her life is that extra bit lonelier, and their little family is split up for good. The Doctor and River are both on their own now, and neither one of them are going to be okay any time soon. Despite her own heartbreak, River still encourages Amy to go through with her last minute decision and be with Rory. She fully understands her mother’s desire, in a way that the Doctor never could: partially because she’s a human as well as a time lady, and partially because River knows full well that if she was in Amy’s shoes, she would do exactly the same thing for the Doctor. Amy and Rory would move any mountain that they needed to for the people that they love, and after three seasons, it’s pretty safe to say that River inherited that personality trait from them.
For “The Angels Take Manhattan”, the Weeping Angels take center stage for their third and final spotlight story that Steven Moffat writes for them. Compared to how they were portrayed in “The Time Of Angels”, “The Angels Take Manhattan” has a lot more in common with their debut episode, “Blink” (except it features the show’s main cast instead of a bunch of one-off characters). Instead of giving them a bunch of new powers, “The Angels Take Manhattan” expands on their original skill set and their original modus operandi of sending innocent people back in time, uprooting their lives forever, so they can feed on their time energy. Back in “Blink”, the Tenth Doctor described them as being the only psychopaths in the universe who kill you nicely, but make no mistake, they are not merciful creatures by nature. They could not care less what becomes of their prey after they’re done feasting on them, which is made very apparent in this episode.
The Weeping Angels have always been portrayed as ambitious, power-hungry sadists. Despite being apex predators in the Doctor Who universe, who can barely be challenged by any living creature standing against them, one thing that’s always remained consistent about the Angels in all three of their major appearances is that they’re never shown to be satisfied with what they have already, and they’re always working on a way to gain more power to fuel their greed. In this episode, the Angels have made New York City their territory, in the past and the present, because there are thousands upon thousands of people to feast on living there, and they’ve grown particularly sadistic about catching and keeping their new prey. The Angels have set up shop in an abandoned hotel called Winter Quay, where they ensnare ignorant humans and then send them back in time.
Their victims are kept prisoner in the building and forced to live in total solitude as a food source for the Angels, completely deprived of human contact for decades, until they die in front of their past selves at their end of their timelines – creating a stable loop that they can never escape from. We see the Angels’ trap in action early on, when they spring it on an unsuspecting private eye, and Moffat puts the viewers through a considerable amount of growing dread as Rory also falls victim to it. The Angels have created their very own abattoir, with an endless supply of cattle that will never run out. Only a small number of villains in Doctor Who would think to exploit and weaponize the unforgiving, inescapable nature of time like this, in such a malicious way, and because of the Angels’ disrespect for the laws of nature, the space-time continuum around New York City is an absolute mess by the time the Doctor and his friends discover what they’ve done. It’s incredibly volatile and unstable, and the disturbing product of the Angels’ greed and gluttony.
Our heroes do manage to free the population of New York from the clutches of the Angels, but at a cost. After “Blink” and “The Time Of Angels” both ended with the Weeping Angels being thoroughly beaten, Moffat manages to surprise the audience with the third act of their trilogy, where they get to have the last laugh – even if the last laugh in question is a tiny consolation prize compared to what they actually wanted. At the end of the day, one surviving Angel gets to take its revenge by zapping Amy and Rory back into the past and emotionally destroying the Doctor, in a way that so few of his enemies ever manage to. But considering that we never actually see what the Doctor and River did with that Angel afterwards onscreen, there’s a very good chance it didn’t get to enjoy its victory for long.
“The Angels Take Manhattan” is directed by Nick Hurran, who gives his vision for this episode the same level of attention and care that he devoted to “Asylum Of The Daleks” earlier this season: crafting a spooky, spine-tingling atmosphere for the Angels as they stalk their prey around New York. Like “The Impossible Astronaut” last season, a lot of location shooting was done across the pond for this episode to capture some authentic North American scenery, which drew in some pretty large crowds, since the show was at the height of its popularity in America during the time. Several scenes were filmed in Central Park, as well as the Brooklyn Bridge by East River, and the Tudor City apartment complex in Manhattan, while the final graveyard scene was filmed in a cemetery back in Llanelli, Wales. Steven Moffat wanted to take full advantage of all of New York’s unique, historical architecture to amplify the sinister, noir mood of this episode, and introduce several new forms that Weeping Angels hiding in plain sight would take – including baby cherub Angels, who menace poor Rory on more than one occasion for their own enjoyment.
Murray Gold’s score is appropriately dark, mystifying and seductive for a 1930’s period piece, re-establishing several key themes from the Eleventh Doctor’s era with a smooth, jazzy swagger in pieces like “New York, New York“, “Melody Malone“, “My Husband’s Home“, while also being eerie and chilling at times in tracks like “I Am You“, “Little Angels“, “Almost The End“, and occasionally mournful in “Hide The Damage“. “Together Or Not At All: The Song Of Amy And Rory” and “Goodbye Pond” give us Murray Gold’s two final, somber variations on Amelia Pond’s main leitmotifs, “Little Amy” and “Amy’s Theme“, and both of them cut deep – while “A Lonely Decision” is brought back one last time as well, to bookend Amy’s tenure as a companion from where it began in Series 5.
Now that their character arcs are complete, I can safely say that Amy and Rory were a fantastic pair of companions, and I’m really glad they stuck around on the show for as long as they did. Matt Smith, Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill had some great chemistry together, they shared some amazing story arcs, and it was very rewarding to see the Ponds mature as they grew older. I’m going to miss them both going forward, but I’m glad they got to go out on a high note.
* “New York: the city of a million stories. Half of them are true, the other half just haven’t happened yet“.
* I just want to point out that there has been a lot of narration in Series 7 so far. Using narration as a framing device is a pretty common storytelling choice in general, but it really stands out here, because the only episode in Series 7A that hasn’t done so is “Dinosaurs On A Spaceship“.
* Storytelling is a pretty common motif in the Steven Moffat era of Doctor Who, to the point where it sometimes feels like the main characters are leaning on the fourth wall. In “The Big Bang“, the Doctor came to the poetic conclusion that when we’re all done living out our lives, leaving our marks on the world, everyone becomes a legend after death. Whether they’re entirely true or not, stories are how memories endure.
* “Doctor, you’re doing it again” “I’m reading!” “Out loud. Please could you not?”
* “Time can be rewritten-” “Not once you’ve read it. Once we know what’s coming, it’s written in stone”.
* “Shock. He’ll be fine” “Not if I can get loose”.
* “You just changed the future” “It’s called marriage, honey”.
* “Okay, why did you lie?” “Never let him see the damage. And never, ever let him see you age. He doesn’t like endings”.
* I really appreciate the creepy, haunted hotel imagery inside Winter Quay. It immediately evokes memories of “The God Complex“, Amy and Rory’s last potential exit, except this time the status quo change that it brings is permanent.
* “Will someone please tell me what is going on?” “I’m sorry, Rory, but you just died”.
* “The Angels take Manhattan because they can, because they’ve never had a food source like this one. The city that never sleeps”.
* “But to create a paradox like that takes almost unimaginable power. What have we got, eh? Tell me. Come on, what?” “I won’t let them take him. That’s what we’ve got”.
* The Statue of Liberty being brought to life by the Weeping Angels is by far the strangest inclusion in this episode. It seems to be here because Steven Moffat thought it would make for a cool visual, but it looks way more goofy than frightening and it adds absolutely nothing to the plot. During the climax, Amy and Rory both take their eyes off it for about a minute, so they can gaze lovingly in each other’s eyes, and it does 100% nothing to stop them from creating a paradox that will kill it and it all of its Angel brethren.
* Whenever people talk about how surprisingly dark Doctor Who can get for a family series, no one ever brings up just how often characters decide to commit suicide in this show – whether they’re doing it to fix a broken timeline, save their friends, redeem themselves with a bit of self-sacrifice, or go out in a blaze of glory with the people they love.
* “Together or not at all!” “What the hell are you two doing?!” “Changing the future. It’s called marriage!”
* “Come along, Pond, please!” “Raggedy man, goodbye!“
* “Oh, and do one more thing for me. There’s a little girl waiting in a garden. She’s going to wait a long while, so she’s going to need a lot of hope. Go to her. Tell her a story. Tell her that if she’s patient, the days are coming that she’ll never forget. Tell her she’ll go to sea and fight pirates. She’ll fall in love with a man who’ll wait two thousand years to keep her safe. Tell her she’ll give hope to the greatest painter who ever lived and save a whale in outer space. Tell her this is the story of Amelia Pond. And this how it ends“.
* Unless I’m mistaken, the title of this episode is a very strangely-timed reference to “The Muppets Take Manhattan”, considering the tone of this episode is about as far away from the tone of a Muppets movie as you can get.