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Doctor Who: Flux, Chapter Four: Village of the Angels

"The Angel has the TARDIS."

My list of significant complaints about this episode:

1: Swarm did not at any point make an appearance.

End of list.

'Flux' continues to hit all the right buttons for me, this week focusing on exactly how the Weeping Angels fit into the whole picture.

I confess, I would have bet hard money that there weren't any more worthwhile stories to tell about the Weeping Angels. But then, I was forgetting one throwaway line from ages ago that I hadn't thought about in ages, and from which Chibnall and staff have somehow developed a very good story indeed.

The line in question? It was a small thing. It felt at the time like Russell T. Davies just giving a little shout out to his buddy. Now it turns out that it might have had much larger ramifications than expected.

Specifically, at the end of 'End of Time: Part Two', The crazed Timothy Dalton version of Rassilon claims to have made the mysterious woman in white and one other Time Lord bow their heads in shame 'like the Weeping Angels of old.' As I said a moment ago, at the time it read like it was just meant to be a nod from one writer to another. Merely a 'Hey, those new monsters you created? They were pretty cool.'

But now we're being forced to consider some deeper implications to that line. We've known without thinking about the implications since that time that the Time Lords have some sort of ancient connection to the 'Weeping Angels of old.' In fact, they have the power to force members of their own race into adopting the pose of the Weeping Angels. Of becoming Weeping Angels? Surely not...

And at this point let's mention that one of the Time Lords being punished at the time was a mysterious woman in white who had been appearing to Wilf. Not unlike the mysterious woman in white we saw appear to the Doctor last episode. And what was Rassilon's plan again? Oh yes, the destruction of causality and therefore of time.

It's hard not to see parallels developing between what was implied back in 2009 and what we're seeing play out now. Is it possibly a coincidence? Is this maybe a case of Chibnall's source material being a little too apparent? It's certainly within the realm of possibility. But let's not forget that the Doctor was turned into a Weeping Angel in the closing moments of the episode, immediately after the reveal that this group of Angels was an 'Extraction Squad,' and was working directly for the Division, the ancient Time Lord version of the CIA, or Section 31, or the Obsidian Order, or whatever secret, shadowy, quasi-governmental agency to which you want to compare them.

Now, obviously the reveal that The Division was in the habit of employing Weeping Angels as agents is huge, but it's not surprising. We've already seen in this story that they had no problem condemning the Ravagers for their use of Passenger-Forms, as they are forbidden in our dimension, while simultaneously also using Passenger-Forms themselves, so 'moral high ground' is clearly not high on their priorities list.

So, what we have here is something I never expected to encounter again; a story with a strong new take on the Weeping Angels that didn't rely on having to make up brand new facets of their powers, but also didn't feel like it was just a re-tread of 'Blink.'

And that's the problem with the Angels' return appearances in a nutshell, isn't it? They're a nearly perfect one-story monster with a really clever gimmick. But really clever gimmicks only work one time, and so if you want to bring them back you have to add to, or change it. Which for the Angels was just fundamentally never going to work. Because here's the deal; the Angels work because of the visuals. The flickering light, the constant shock-cut to an Angel in a different position, the inevitability of the fact that you can't run away until you stop looking at them, and if you stop looking at them, they win.

They're a monster that, once you establish the basic premise, work entirely thanks to the visuals, not the ideas. And the visuals are only new and exciting once. That's what we might call the Angel Catch-22.

So, because they were cool and popular, attempts were made to bring them back, but the solution to the Angel Catch-22 has so far always been to add more to the ideas and concept. So, to justify bringing them back we got 'Now they don't just send you back in time, they might just kill you.' And 'They're kind of cruel and enjoy watching you suffer.' And 'They can take control of and use other characters' voice boxes if there's some exposition they want to get across.' And 'They can manifest themselves from pictures of themselves.' And 'They can live in your mind.' Absolutely none of which affect the one thing that makes them work on television, which is, again, all about the visuals, not the ideas.

Which is why it's so impressive that this episode absolutely lives and dies on its seemingly unending string of stunningly gorgeous visuals.

Even one of the establishing shots of an old-fashioned red phone box leaning against a wall in a long shot of the house is breathtaking. The image of the Angel leaping from the drawing while on fire is amazing. The jump cut shot to the Angel leaping from the TV screen is stunning. The imagery of all of the Angel hands reaching out from the walls of the tunnel is a Mummenschanz nightmare that I could not look away from, even without the threat of them becoming un-quantum locked. They found ways to add to the visuals of the Angels, as opposed to adding to their concept, and they finally felt fresh again.

I really could go on for days about all the striking imagery in this episode. That double sided beach that the Doctor and Claire were standing on, the Angel parts fused together into what appears to be the spacecraft they arrived in, even the tri-split screen in the beginning cliffhanger resolution felt fresh and exciting. Oh, and if there is not already a Snap-Chat filter of the Weeping Angel stone wings appearing on you like they did for Claire, somebody needs to get on that immediately.

If anyone ever says to you that no amount of good visuals can save a story, immediately show them this episode.

Not that the story itself is particularly bad. It's just a little sparse once you stop admiring all the cool visuals and look at what really happened. The Doctor's friends got zapped back in time, the Doctor remained in the present day with the guest characters, and both groups gradually moved toward their reconciliation at the big stone not-tomb for the final revelations. It never feels inconsequential, but if you look at it objectively, there's not a ton of plot.

Which brings up another point in favor of both the episode's plotting and the usage of the Angels. In this one, the Angels win. Non-stop. Every single confrontation with an Angel finishes with the person confronting them losing. Usually pretty quickly. That goes a long way toward making them feel like a threat, just in the way that having a rogue Angel appeal to the Doctor for help fighting against their own people makes them feel a lot more 'real' as a race, rather than the identical monolith they've been up to this point.

If I had a complaint, it would be that it was jarring to jump right into a story in which time seemed to be functioning normally. The previous episode had gone out of its way to establish that time had been mangled up, but now it appeared to still be just fine, not counting the Angels zapping people back in time. How was that possible?

The answer we eventually get is that the Angels have extracted this village at two specific points in its timestream to preserve them, and indeed the mangling of time was happily taking place along its edges, slowly nibbling away the remaining safe spaces. That's pretty cool, as answers go, but it would have helped things flow a little more smoothly if one of the companions had at least raised the question earlier on so that we knew it wasn't an error and could let it simmer as one of the mysteries as to what was happening.

Meanwhile, Bel has arrived at the planet of Puzano, which is basically Space-Venice. It's one of the last partial hunks of planet left out there, so any remaining survivors are headed that way. And because any remaining survivors are heading that way, she's hoping Vinder will as well. There's more than a dash of 'Utopia' in this plotline, but I liked the believable way that Bel's friendly local turned on her for preventing him from joining in the Passenger field, and then later in the mid-credits sequence acknowledged to Vinder that he now understood that she had probably saved his life.

The main virtue of this plotline is that it keeps us aware that the entire universe, plus most of time, have had the comprehensive crap kicked out of them, which counterbalances the strange awareness that everything is still functioning a little too normally in the village.

Nicely done all around.

Look, I can't possibly explain Mummenschanz

Bits and Pieces:

-- As mentioned a moment ago, there's an unprecedented mid-credits sequence when time itself seems to glitch halfway through and throw us back into the storyline in which Vinder gets to Space-Venice just in time to have missed Bel. That, plus the fact that they're playing the original Hartnell-era closing credits music at the time, really contributes nicely to the sense of something being seriously wrong with time.

-- One last fantastic image I hadn't mentioned: the polygraph lines going crazy and drawing a picture of a Weeping Angel was just such a cool visual. Pointless to the storyline and entirely meaningless in terms of what a polygraph conveys, but it just looked so neat.

-- I was disappointed to learn that the Claire we met in 'Halloween Apocalypse' was not the Claire who'd already lived through the entire story circling back, and was instead experiencing the adventure in the same chronological sequence as the Doctor and friends. Turned out her knowledge of them was just because of being psychic. That was a bit of a let down. But the idea that a psychic vision of an Angel in her mind counted under the 'images can become an Angel' rule was a pretty neat plot development, so I'll let it pass.

-- I was dreading this episode, partially because of the reasons mentioned above regarding why I don't think repeat appearances of the Angels are particularly good, but also because of the strong visual similarities to 'Hide' in the trailers. I don't care much for 'Hide.'

-- Mrs. Hayward turning out to be an older version of Peggy didn't really work and wasn't necessary to the plot. I see where they were going with it, but it just didn't need to be there for anything other than allowing her to shout 'It's happening again!' early on. For one thing, how does Peggy live on and grow up in the village if she and it have been quantum extracted from time? It feels like Chibnall trying to pull a Moffat-moment. It doesn't hurt anything, and it provides a couple of nice atmospheric opportunities early on, but it could have been removed with no difficulty.

-- We never really did learn what exactly Professor Jericho was experimenting on Claire for, did we?

-- The rogue Angel was being pursued because it had too much information about The Division, including all of the Doctor's missing memories. Makes sense that that would draw her in.

-- The Angels threw a rock into the Professor's house to lure him outside. Did we just finally explain the plot weirdness from the beginning of 'Blink?'

-- Why do the Ravagers want all of these people in Passenger-Forms? What do they need them for? Now Bel knows that Passenger-Forms are involved and has left that information on a message to Vinder, who just so happens to have recently seen Passenger-Forms, so probably has a good idea where to head.

-- Watching an Angel on CC TV is enough to 'count' for keeping them quantum locked. That's new information, isn't it?

-- There's something disturbingly 'sociopath-y' about the way Peggy watches the Angels kill her Great Uncle and only says 'He was never nice to me.'

-- Speaking of, the whole point that no one survives being time zapped twice totally contradicts the entire premise of 'The Angels Take Manhattan.' I don't care at all that it does, but I felt obligated to mention it.


Quotes:

The Doctor: "It does have an element of risk."
Dan: "How big an element?"
The Doctor: "Well, pretty big. The only element, really."

Dan: "Maybe she’s not missing. Maybe she just ran to get away from him."

Namaca Ost Parvess Po: "I'm Namaca Ost Parvess Po."
Bel: "Bel."
NOPP: "Nice. Shorter. Better."

Gerald: "What do you think gives you the right to speak to me like that, Jean."
Jean: "Forty-seven years of pain, Gerald."

Professor: "Sorry. Threw a cup at you."

Professor: "Mrs. Hayward. You appear to be... at night..."

Claire: "You are recalled. To Division."


The plot on this one is a bit slight. The exact state of how badly the universe is damaged is often unclear. And they manage to shoehorn the phrase 'Reverse the polarity of the neutron flow' in yet again, sweet glittery Jesus, can we just take a break with that for a decade or two?

But it's just all so cool to look at that I can't find it in myself to be particularly bothered by any of that. Great cliffhanger. Great reveals. Bring on the penultimate episode. 'Flux' has, thus far, been a near-complete success.

Eleven and a half out of thirteen Doctors.

Mikey Heinrich is, among other things, a freelance writer, retired firefighter, and roughly 78% water. You can find more of his work at the 42nd Vizsla. If you'd like to see his raw notes for this and other reviews, you can find them at What Was Mikey Thinking.

2 comments:

  1. I agree with so many of your points. I was racking my brain trying to think if Weeping Angels had ever sent anyone back twice, but yeah, The Angels Take Manhattan. How many times does Rory get sent somewhere? Back in time, to a different location, then back in time to grow old (which is erased by them jumping), and then back in time again at the cemetery. (Also why does Chibnall seem so bent on destroying canon related to the Ponds?)

    I was disappointed too that Claire had only seen the Doctor psychically and not in her personal past. About the CCTV - it does seem to work when we're watching them, not the characters, so I guess same principle. I also thought it was going to have a similar tone to Hide - 60s experiments on a willing psychic/empath.

    Vinder knew what a Tardis was. Bel knew what a Passenger was. I'm really hoping they have some cool connection to explain this.

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  2. I also enjoyed this episode more than I expected, I love the weeping angels but the stories are hit and miss for me.
    The little girl said 'no one survives it twice', but she only knows what these angels told her. Are these angels a little different because they are a part of the division?
    In the part where the angel destroyed the great aunt and great uncle, there was a moment that the angel wasn't being looked at (I think) - the great aunt and uncle had blocked the vision from the doctor's perspective (based on what she said), and then they were trying to yank the coat they glanced back at the same time. I would have to watch again to see for sure.
    I'm convinced there's a motive of Swarm or whoever? that Vinder was brought to the temple w the others and not a different one of the millions of other peoples that the flux hit

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