So, Flesh and Stone. I think we're holding steady in the region of 8 out of 10. The episode trundles on at much the same pace as its predecessor, it holds together well (paradoxical bits notwithstanding), it has many exemplary scenes. Although the “gravity failure” resolution was signposted, it has in its favour the facts that it's simple, elegant, makes sense and – rarely enough in New Who – rests on a bit of science fictional trickery that hasn't been pulled out of a hat and veiled in babble.
More good work from the cast. Those clerics never did get much by way of character development, mind you, apart from the revelation that they're foolish enough to split up and wander off into the forest despite all warnings to the contrary. The scene where they go one by one to investigate the time crack and vanish from existence has a very dreamlike feel to it, like much else this series, which I like. The “tree-borg” idea is a lot of fun, and the forest inside the spaceship is a solid gold off-the-wall DW concept.
Yes, I can now see problems with the army of Weeping Angels, now that they're chasing through a series of brightly lit sets instead of dark caverns, and can thus unquestionably see each other. Also, while actually seeing the Angels move in that one scene is pretty cool, maintaining the conceit that our own viewerly observation could freeze the Angels was, for my money, cooler, and it's a shame to have broken that. The big turnaround I see here is the suggestion that the Angels aren't “quantum locked” by direct observation any longer, but merely freeze instinctively if they think you're looking. The flipside of that being that presumably they'd move around under observation if they didn't think they were being observed, which doesn't chime with what we were told in Blink and shown then and last week. So I think Steven Moffat has slightly outfudged himself here for the sake of easing this story along, although not in a way that affects my enjoyment of it.
Moving on to the paradoxical bits. Now, to some extent we have to just shrug and accept this as is, because that's the way of time-travel paradox stories; but at the end of the story the clerics (and presumably the bishop, once the gravity went) have never existed to make the expedition, the Angels have never existed to justify the expedition, and River Song is on a strange planet without a good excuse for how or why she isn't still locked up in jail, or how the spaceship behind her crashed with all on board dead. Obviously the effects of the erased characters' actions aren't completely removed from history, and by her own account River still remembers it all because she's travelled in time (with the Doctor, or as a Time Agent?). But unless her prison warder and anyone else she reports to are also time travellers and thus likely to remember the ex-characters, I don't see how she's going to convince them that she's “done enough to earn a pardon this time”.
I'm pleased that the time crack plays such a large part in this story. It's nice to see the series arc integrating with the episode storyline at this relatively early point in the series – both because it spares us from having mere tacked-on time crack cameos week after week until a big final episode reveal, and because it comes hard on the heels of two weeks of precisely that. It gives me hope that this series arc will develop, even flourish, in tandem with the weekly stories, to the benefit of both. We shall see.
I am slightly curious, though, as to how the big voidy crack that can only be closed by pushing temporally significant things into it ties in with the big gateway crack in The Eleventh Hour that could be closed simply by “opening it all the way”, and which didn't erase things from history. Hopefully that'll be addressed in due course too.
Five episodes into the series, a number of recurring themes have emerged, and just for a laugh I'll list out here what I've noticed and can remember. We'll see how many of them prove to be significant.
- Fairy Tale -
Amelia Pond's name in The Eleventh Hour is twice described as “something in a fairy tale”; the nursery rhymes in The Beast Below, and the episode overall, have the feel of a fairy tale about them; this week we're told the Pandorica is “a fairy tale”, to which River's intriguing response is “Aren't we all?” This is obviously leading somewhere (not to mention that Moffat's been pushing the “fairy tale” angle mercilessly in interviews for months now) – but where?
- Your Television Is Watching You! -
First we have the Atraxi on every TV in the world in The Eleventh Hour, actual giant eyeballs looking out from inside the box; then, in addition to the Orwellian stuff, we have the voting video in The Beast Below, which includes a “Starship UK” logo transparently based on ye olde BBC logo; the Dalek Supreme on the TARDIS screen in Victory of the Daleks is a borderline case, as is River's black box message to the Doctor, although we could include both as examples; most recently and most blatantly, we have a recording of a Weeping Angel emerging from a TV screen. I suspect this probably isn't going to play a part in the finale – it's something that Moffat just seems to be obsessed with (qv the DVD “easter egg” in Blink, or Mr Hyde's message to his “daddy” in Moffat's Jekyll series) – but then again...
- Memory -
The wilful act of Forgetting in The Beast Below was the prime example of this until now; we've also had Amy not remembering the existence of an entire room in her house and not remembering the Daleks; now we have the crack in time and space removing characters from memory, and the Doctor insisting that Amy “remember what I told you when you were seven” (which was what, exactly? something for the finale?). This is already visibly tied in with the series arc, so it's a definite biggie.
- Eyes -
Slightly tenuous, but we've had all that business with eyes in this two-parter (“the eyes are not the windows of the soul, but the doors”, the importance of not looking the Weeping Angels in the eye, the Angel lodging in Amy's mind's eye but appearing (to us, at least) in her physical eye and shedding dust through her eyes) to add to the Atraxi, the elements of surveillance in The Beast Below, and the now obligatory Dalek point of view shots that show us the inside of the Dalek's eye.
Oh yes, I had a theory to share about that final scene. Within the story, it explained itself and, in context, neither Jo nor I thought there was anything particularly wrong with it. Might surprise some younger viewers, but hey. Outside the story, I'm wondering if perhaps this was Moffat's way of trying to discourage “shippers” (fans who are obsessed, and I mean obsessed, with the idea of a sexual relationship between the Doctor and his companion) through a kind of shock therapy. He has a track record of trying to separate the Doctor and the companion romantically (Comic Relief sketches notwithstanding):
- in the Empty Child two-parter, he introduced Captain Jack, who (briefly) swept Rose off her feet, while the Doctor suddenly became more awkward
- in The Girl in the Fireplace, running completely and very noticeably counter to RTD's romantic story arc between the Tenth Doctor and Rose, he had the Doctor getting involved with Mme de Pompadour and Rose chumming up with her notional boyfriend Mickey
- in the Silence in the Library two-parter, he introduced a character who's been presented to us as “the Doctor's wife”, which surely must be the ultimate “hands-off” to all companions from here on in