And that’s where we were left with last week’s episode of Doctor Who as the Doctor, Amy, River Song, and Father Octavian and his clerics were surrounded by the advancing Weeping Angels. The cliffhanger was deadly and our characters were down so low that they had only one way left to go… Up.
And tonight’s new episode, “Flesh And Stone,” picks up immediately after that cliffhanger, resolving it in classic Steven Moffat fashion (another truly amazing example would probably be the resolution to “The Doctor Dances” following “The Empty Child”), delighting us while also playing with our expectations. Moffat is best when he puts us in a situation that’s fantastical and science fictional and fun and based in reality. He lets us use human logic to figure out and work ourselves into the dark, and then he twists it on us, just a little, just like he did hear. Those giant floating lights are called “gravity globes?” That giant spaceship that crashed into the maze of the dead above is still on, still running artificial gravity? That’s an easy leap of faith, story logic wise. And literally.
Last weeks’ episode was a brilliant first hour of a tense, scary movie with evil supernatural-type creatures in a dark, terrifying setting and characters slowly surrounded and picked off one by one. We focused on the mystery of River Song, the woman from the Doctor’s future who knows way too much about him, and while that was happening, we learned that something bad was happening to Amy Pond, a nasty side effect of having looked too long into the eyes of one of the Angels…
This week the tables turn a little, the story really focusing back on the Weeping Angels, now a cohesive army of nasty creatures, and the Doctor’s group whittled down even more, more outgunned, more outnumbered. And Amy’s situation is far worse, and I have to tell you, the verbal countdown she was unconsciously uttering was terrifying to me, a slow, gripping unsettling thing. It’s massively effective to have characters in a siege setting, struggling to move from room to room, and all the while the humanity of one of their own is eroding away from within…
While last week we had a brief, tantalizing hint towards River Song’s dark secret and connection to the Doctor, and the Doctor’s cowtowing to her as if she was a nagging wife in places, I love how the tables are turned slightly this week. The Doctor is more assertive, putting his concerns for Amy at the forefront, especially as that mysterious crack in space and time, the one from her bedroom as a child, returns and begins erasing people from having ever existed. River still proves herself as being useful, but it’s the Doctor who shines here, finally showing that her admiration for him is not misplaced. But the mysteries continue as to just what and who River Song is: The Doctor’s future wife/lover/companion? Amy Pond in the future? The Doctor’s mother?
“You’re a time traveler now Amy. It changes the way you see the universe.” Exactly. Whatever the endgame for the season is, it really amps up here. The crack returns and we get another mention of Pandorica – the stuff of fairy tales? – opening at some point, and when it does, River Song will be there. Whatever it is, it involves an explosion that causes things to shatter and never exist, like the Cyber King in Victorian London in Tennant/Tenth Doctor’s last Christmas special. And that’s why Amy Pond can’t remember the Daleks, apparently, or why she never saw any ducks in the duck pond.
One of the things I’ve noticed that I always say in these write ups about Doctor Who episodes is some variation of “I don’t have too much to say about this now,” which is bullshit, but you have to understand, as I sit here typing this, I just finished watching this like ten minutes ago. When August and I used to talk about Mad Men episodes, it was always the day after, having having slept on it and having had a good hard think upon it. The same with talking about new episodes of Lost. With these episodes of Doctor Who, I want to talk about them now. Right now. And I can tell you that right now I’ve walked out of “Flesh And Stone” feeling like it was a great episode, a fantastic one, one of those things you’d call “a new classic.” The proper way to achieve that current sought after treasure in televisionary feats: a “game changer.” The episode was brilliant and terrifying in place, it was fun and shocking and heavily thought provoking. Is the status quo all thrown out of whack? No, but things are now advanced with a new, more immediate purpose.
Definitely one of the finest things I’ve seen this year, one of the most exciting and most enticing. This episode was wonderfully written (not all that shocking, of course) and brilliantly acted by all involved.
Alex Kingston brought the same fun and devious charm that she always brings to River Song, but also a bit of regret for something that’s already happened/or yet to. Iain Glenn’s Father Octavian was played with grace and strength, a man of honor and character, and his death scene was a treat for him and Matt Smith. There was dread hanging over them, but there was elegance in the way death was faced.
And, for me, the scene in the meadow, the Doctor’s goodbye to Amy, as her eyes are squeezed shut, leaving her helpless and blind in the face of the danger that surrounds her and builds within her was perfect. The real standout of the episode. And here’s an interesting theory about that scene. These actors have not only brought these roles to life and earned all the accolades that have come with them, but they did this episodes ago and have just cemented that fact here. And I’m about to start talking about Amy Pond/Karen Gillan here in a moment, but let me just throw Matt Smith a little bit of praise here first: He has effectively fully inhabited this role, with no doubts otherwise, and he’s done it a lot quicker than his beloved predecessor.
And then there’s the ending that everyone will be talking about, arguing about, dreaming of. The Doctor learns of Amy’s impending nuptials, the “tomorrow morning long ago” that she’s been running away from and Amy reacts as anyone would in a situation where they faced their own mortality and just barely survived: She just wants to get laid. It’s a bedroom scene of pure flesh and stone, the difference between oblivious and heavily interested, hot and cold. What I like about Amy Pond, or, well, one of the many, many things I like about Amy Pond is that she has everything the previous lovely companions had – the charm, the looks, the brains, the reckless fun loving sense of danger and the ability to fall into it all far too easily – but she keeps a heavy amount of skepticism about her. She’s got a brilliant streak of independence to her. And while the other companions were all excellent characters, Amy is very clearly also a woman in all ways. She is secure in her sexuality. She delights in it. She has no problem trusting or being in awe at times, but she also lusts. And she asserts her lust in ways that I don’t believe any companion on this show ever has.
And Karen Gillan embodies all of this easily. For the kids in the audience, she will be their first crush. For the rest of us, if she’s not our newest crush, then she’s who we want to be in life. I’ve not been fortunate enough to see her in anything else yet, but she’s made the character of Amy Pond explode to life for me. She is a firecracker in a gasoline covered world, a woman of raw power and danger and sex. She is the face that launched a thousand fan fictions. Super powered in how human and amazing she is. Put her on the forefront of whatever the hell this burgeoning gingerpocalypse/global ginger jihad is and there will be no more gingerpocalypse/global ginger jihad. There’ll just be something much more exciting.
And how funny it is as she advances on the Doctor that his first concern is what happens if a relationship were to develop between them, prompting her to reply with, “You are sweet, Doctor, but I wasn’t suggesting anything so long term.” For a brief few moments, this children’s show really paid off for the adults, leaving them curious and wondering.