TARDIS File 05-05: Flesh and Stone

TARDIS File 05-05: Flesh and Stone

The Big Idea: From stone to ship to forest, the Angels are chasing the Doctor and his friends. They’ve already gotten inside Amy’s head, and the Doctor has no idea how he’s going to stop them. But what if they’re not the most dangerous thing on the ship?

What’s So Great…

  • The resolution to the cliffhanger. As it was last week, this week it’s all about keeping your head in intense situations; for example, remembering that an anti-gravity light globe doesn’t just have light, but anti-gravity.
  • Amy’s countdown, which starts off subtly and becomes utterly terrifying as it goes on—and the Doctor’s furious reaction when he learns the reason for it. The Angels no longer “kill you nicely.”
  • The forest in the ship, a beautiful fairy-tale environment with a solid sci-fi rationale behind its inclusion.
  • Father Octavian’s dignified last words. The Doctor feels rightfully ashamed that he didn’t give this man the respect he more than deserved.
  • Right at the start, Amy points out that they could all fall to their deaths if the ship’s artificial gravity cuts out, but the Angels and the crack in the flight deck pose such immediate dangers that everybody forgets that particular looming threat… until it turns out to be the resolution to the entire situation, in plain view all along.

Some Quick Bits of Trivia: According to the Daily Mail and the pressure group Mediawatch-uk, the BBC received “dozens” of complaints about Amy’s attempt to jump the Doctor’s, er, flesh and stone at the end of this episode. According to a BBC spokesperson, the total number of complaints received about the matter was 43… compared to over 5,000 complaints about the previous week’s “Nortongate” incident.

Things to Geek Out About:

  • The Doctor refers to himself as a “complex space-time event,” which is also how he was described in Steven Moffat’s short story Continuity Errors in Decalog 3: Consequences.
  • The effect of gravity reorientation on an extremely long spaceship corridor also appeared in the spin-off short story Heritage in Decalog 4: Re-Generations.
  • The mysterious lack of consequences for the events of The Next Doctor turns out to have been foreshadowing after all, along with the absence of ducks in The Eleventh Hour. Hooray!

Did You Notice…

  • The crack reappears. It’s subtle, but keep your eyes open for it.
  • Okay, okay… We learned quite a lot about the cracks in this episode. This particular crack was leaking time energy, which the Doctor described as “the fire at the end of the Universe.” It’s unclear whether he means that the Universe is about to end now or if the other side of this particular crack is billions of years in the future, or both. In any case, the time energy appears to erase things from existence, although time-travellers retain memories of the things that now never were. These non-events presumably include the CyberKing’s rampage across London in 1851, the Dalek invasion of 2008, and Leadenworth’s ducks. The cracks were and/or will be caused by an explosion powerful enough to shatter every moment in existence, and that explosion will have been going to have occurred on 26 June 2010, the date of Amy’s wedding (and, probably not coincidentally, the date that the final episode of this season is likely to air in the UK).
  • The Angels refer to the Doctor as “the Doctor in the TARDIS” when mocking his failure to notice the cracks, an oddly specific phrase that was also used by Prisoner Zero in The Eleventh Hour. Coincidence?
  • River Song has been imprisoned for killing “a good man… the best I’ve ever known.” We’re presumably meant to think this was the Doctor, but isn’t that a bit too obvious? We may find out more the next time we see her; according to River, that will be when the Pandorica opens, an event that Prisoner Zero implied was related to the cracks in the Universe. On the other hand, if the Pandorica is related to the cracks and River has already encountered the Pandorica, then why didn’t River seem to know what the crack in the wall of the Byzantium was? Could that be related to the fact that the time energy is erasing events from existence?
  • The Doctor abandons Amy in the forest almost cruelly, completely oblivious to just how terrified she is; but then he returns briefly to take her hands and give her the comfort she needs. Or does he? Because the Doctor who abandoned Amy had lost his jacket to the Angels, and remained without it until the end of the episode—but the Doctor who took Amy’s hands was wearing his jacket. What did he tell her when she was seven that she’s supposed to remember? Does it have anything to do with that odd little clip from the end of The Eleventh Hour that implies her seven-year-old self really did hear the TARDIS returning the morning after fish custard?

Not to Complain, But… The decision to show the Angels moving undermines one of the most unnerving implications of Blink: the fact that they froze into statues even when nobody appeared to be looking at them… except for us, the television audience. If they’re affected by our gaze, doesn’t that mean that we’re interacting with them, and that they might be able to interact with us? Given that the Angels are now capable of climbing out of a television screen and one’s own imagination, making them exempt from the audience’s gaze seems like a missed opportunity for keeping that audience awake all night, every night, forever. Also, when the Doctor was surrounded on all sides by Weeping Angels on the secondary flight deck, shouldn’t the Angels have seen each other and thus locked each other in place?

All Things Considered… In short: everything that was true last time, with cherry sprinkles. Again, the Clerics are largely interchangeable redshirts; Crispin and Phillip are characterised entirely by one of them being named Phillip and the other Crispin. Again, Father Octavian shows great dignity in the face of the Doctor’s disrespect. Again, the plot twists are very well executed, and the solutions to the various life-threatening predicaments are well thought out by both the writer and the characters.

But this isn’t just more of the same; it’s the last half of a two-part story, and just as the threat steadily increased throughout the first episode, this episode picks up with the danger levels already at breaking point and keeps pushing. The set pieces are more intense, from the opening sequence in which the Doctor and his friends are trapped in a very short corridor with four Angels and know they have to turn out the lights, through to Amy’s nerve-wracking blind-man’s-bluff walk through the forest of statues. The idea that an Angel can come to life in the mind’s eye is chilling, and Amy’s countdown deserves to be mentioned more than once. And despite the weak portrayal of the extras, Father Octavian has the most dignified and moving death in the season so far.

Even better, the story swerves off in an entirely unexpected direction when the crack appears in the wall of the secondary flight deck. Suddenly, these events turn out to have much wider significance to the Universe at large—and when the Doctor realises that even the Angels are running scared of the crack, the danger level moves beyond yellow and red into colours that they haven’t invented names for yet.

Flesh and Stone‘s deepest flaw isn’t really a problem with this episode, but with this season. On several occasions, we don’t see characters speaking their lines, but instead hear the lines dubbed over a shot of whatever it is they’re looking at; for example, in the forest when the clerics are looking at the crack. This has happened before; for example, in The Beast Below, we should have seen the Doctor’s expression when he told Amy that her choice could have killed everyone on the ship, but instead the camera was looking out of the window. If the use of voice-overs is a deliberate choice by the new producers, it’s an odd one that distances the viewer from the characters by refusing to show them as they react; the story loses its immediacy, and one gets the impression that the show’s editors are scrambling to work with extra dubbing and insufficient footage.

Good thing that we’re all Doctor Who fans, then, and more than capable of seeing beyond quirks of production quality to the meat and bones of the storytelling. The tension starts high and increases throughout the story, the premises are clever and the solutions well considered, we get lots of hints about the bigger picture, and the dialogue is so consistently funny that I chose the line of the week by throwing a dart at the transcript. Best of all, we’re starting to see character development for the Eleventh Doctor; not just in the mysterious jacket scene alluded to above, but in the final scene, which seems to imply the realisation that he may have destroyed the entire Universe by screwing up a perfectly ordinary girl’s wedding day. At least, that’s how I choose to interpret it at the moment, and given the precision of Moffat’s plotting, I have absolutely no doubt that by the end of the season, all of my questions will be answered.

Line of the Week: “If anything happens to her, I’ll hold every single one of you personally responsible, twice.”

TARDIS File prepared by Cameron Dixon

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