“I hate endings.”
Yes Doctor, sometimes I do too.
Since the beginning of Steven Moffat’s time as show runner, many a complaint has been made about his storytelling techniques, his ego, and his way of destroying characters—my poor, poor River Song—all of which is completely justifiable. However, the other main thing that has gotten picked apart is the overabundance of Ponds. They’ve been around longer than most companions, at least in recent years, and their storylines often get dragged out in absurd and convoluted ways. Yet, in at least this viewer’s mind, that has never detracted from the fact that they’re interesting characters and that the dynamic between them and the Doctor is part of the most compelling part of the series. From an objective standpoint, yes, it was their time to leave. From a fan, I was never counting down the minutes for their departure and I spent most of this episode dreading their inevitable goodbye. This is a large part of this episode’s one misstep.
Theoretically, focusing on the emotional aspect of the episode was very smart. The fans of the show would be fully invested for the entirety of the hour, clinging on to every word that Rory and Amy said, knowing that they weren’t around for much longer in the Who world. Where this style fails however, is that it distracted from the actual storyline, which was admittedly kind of weak. Rather, the focus was again on the Ponds, every moment onscreen possibly their last; the audience would spend the hour, tense, just waiting for their last shot.
The episode opens with a voiceover reading of a book, set in late 1930’s New York City, where a man in a film noir setting is running away from the Weeping Angels. The scene cuts and now we’re in a romanticized New York, with long shots of the bustling crowd of the city, Times Square, what have you. Our favorite trio is sitting by a park, the Doctor reading that particular novel aloud, to the annoyance of Amy. He looks at her and notices that something is different about her. It’s the lines around her eyes, because she’s a human and she is aging. This is a big part of the episode, age and its effect on the Doctor, because all it does is hint towards a foreseeable end, which we learned at the beginning, the Doctor doesn’t like.
Rory gets sent on a run to get coffee and while Amy and the Doctor continue to read the book and all of a sudden, Rory is in the book. Why? Read the title of the episode, there’s a pretty large hint sitting there.
Rory, still dutifully holding onto the coffee, has been transported back in time to 1938 where the crime novel is taking place and the culprit, the writer of the novel Melody Malone, is none other than the beautiful River Song played by the talented Alex Kingston. They’re taken away by two men, threatened with guns at their back.
Amy and Doctor are on the TARDIS desperately trying to find their way back in time, but as River says in the book, 1938 has too much energy to easily get access. Why? Steven Moffat never explains, we just go with. He tries and gets bounced off and they end up in a graveyard, a very particular graveyard. Amy begins to read the book to search for clues on how to find them but the Doctor tells her to stop, no reading ahead. If she reads ahead everything that she takes in will be solidified as fact. They can change what they don’t know, what they don’t believe to have happened. They can’t, so they believe, change what’s already happened.
Rory and River have been brought to a collector’s house and Rory is shoved into a basement, in the dark, with nothing but a pack of matches. He’s left there alone and all of a sudden, there’s a pattering of footsteps running around, followed by mischievous laughter. Baby, cherub, angels, laughter. One after the other matches gets lit and one after the other the flame goes out. Director Nick Hurran does a good job at building the tension in this scene. Mostly silent with only the angels being heard, he makes sure to only allow viewers a blink of a glimpse at the angels so they’re the hint of a threat. They’re in the corner of our eye, in Rory’s eye, they’re never a fully realized fear in this scene and it’s highly effective. If we could see the weeping angel, face to face, we the audience, Rory as a character, would know what’s going on, who is being dealt with. Keeping them hidden in shadow keeps the threat of the unknown alive.
With the Doctor, he and Amy have finally managed to travel into the mansion in which River and Rory are and instantly search for their respective other halves. The Doctor finds River with an Angel, a vice grip around her wrist. He believes he will have to break her wrist to set her free because Amy read it in the book. Amy, failing in her search of Rory, runs in with an idea to find him. Sure, they can’t read ahead, but they can read the chapter titles. She does so and realizes that he is in the basement and runs off but soon after the Doctor sees something that causes him to freeze, to momentarily panic. He reads the last chapter title which says “Amelia’s Farewell.” He yells at River to break her own wrist, to find her own way out, to change the future. His desperation overruling his thought because his Amy, his little old Amelia Pond cannot be fated to such an end.
He follows after Amy and drags her out, believing Rory to have been zapped back by the angels once again. They run upstairs to where River is, out of the grip of the angel. The Doctor is overjoyed that she has done it unharmed and more so when she tells him that Rory is still in around, just not in the building. She suggests stealing a car to go find him and the Doctor being excited grabs her hand to run along and get to it, all before River cries out in pain, because she had to break her wrist, after all.
The Doctor sits beside River asking why she lied. She says it’s hard being in love with an ageless man who insists on the face of a twelve year old. It’s a beautiful scene between the pair, Kingston and Matt Smith share great chemistry making their relationship completely believable. The scene is written with care; showcasing River’s hardships with the life she’s been dealt. As he begins to care for her wrist with some sort of Time Lord magic she gets upset and runs out, with Amy, her mother (yeah I know, we all tried to erase that storyline from our memories), running after her.
They then rush to the building where Rory awaits and they find him on one of the many floors. Amy and Rory embrace until Amy notices something. It’s an old man lying in a bed and he’s calling for her. She walks over, she’s never been one for forethought which is one the many reasons to love her, and grabs the old man’s hand to try and comfort him. She realizes, with some understandable shock, that this is Rory, as an eighty-something year-old man, and he called her over with his dying breath.
Here is where things begin to muddle in terms of storytelling and where the emotion momentarily overruled the flaws. How exactly, did Rory end up in this room as an old man? Why, exactly were the weeping angels after him in the first place? Both issues are brought up and touched upon for a brief moment, but they’re not explored and all it leaves is questions and a telling plot device. There was no real purpose to the angels at all, other than a way to justify the Ponds’ end. It’s an understandable approach to a storyline, Steven Moffat wanted to show off his talents as a writer, as one who could pen an episode and leave his viewers with a lump in their throats. And he did, but at the expense of proper storytelling. Ideally, he would have created a happy marriage between emotional complexity and even plot lines. Instead, he got the impact without the reasoning.
No matter, it’s the last fifteen minutes of the episode, the minutes I, and many I would wager, were dreading. And they were performed perfectly, the actors delivering some of their best performances to date on the show. Amy and Rory decide for themselves, for they’re experienced time travelers now, that they can and will cause a paradox. More importantly, Amy won’t let the angels take her husband. They run in different directions, both married couples and the Ponds end up on the roof where the Statue of Liberty has marched straight up to herself.
Rory, brave, centurion Rory, decided to pull out an act of heroism. He stands on top of the roof and prepares to jump because, as he points out, that would be two versions of himself dying in the same place, on the same day, which has to equal a paradox. And, since a paradox would get rid of the version of the city they’re in, maybe he won’t actually die. Maybe he’ll come back alive. Amy asks him how he can be so sure that he will come back, and he delivers one of the best and funniest lines of the episode “When do I not?” Touché Mr. Pond, touché. Amy, not counting on her husband’s rationale, begs him not to as he urges her to give him a push because he needs all the help he can get. She asks him if he could do the same to her, if their roles were reversed. He says that he would do whatever it takes to keep her safe.
So Amy gets up on the ledge with him, because no matter where he goes, and she follows. It seems unnecessary to mention just how great Arthur Darvill and Karen Gillan are in this scene. Throughout their run we’ve seen the two improve as actors, with Darvill getting more to do and Gillan developing a more natural form of acting. Both have become in sync with the other, in tune with their body language, they read as a real couple and as they stand looking over the streets below, a viewer couldn’t want it any other way. A viewer wants the pair together because that’s how it works. Both actors allow a frightened yet determined vulnerability to seep into their words.
The Doctor and River climb up on the roof and see them right as they jump, the Doctor desperately screaming after them to no avail. The scene is beautiful, the Ponds floating downwards, the music filling the scene, as River realizes the paradox has worked, and they’re all transported back to the cemetery. The Doctor rushes to the Ponds and pulls them into a hug and tells them to never do that again. It’s too light hearted of a scene to be real. Rory, about to go into the TARDIS, sees a grave with his name on it and stops. Amy waits for him and suddenly, an angel appears and poof, Rory is gone, sent back in time. Amy begs the Doctor to go back but he says he can’t. It will tear New York apart. So she settles it, she’ll go back too; there’s room on the grave for one more name. He begs her not to, to follow him once more into more adventures. He says she’ll never see him again, which we can read as he’ll never see her, since the place she’s going will be impenetrable by time travel. But it’s settled and poof, Amelia Pond is gone too.
The Doctor falls to the ground, heartbroken and River ushers the lonely, raggedy man back into his box. Matt Smith performs as a shell of a man with subtle grace; we only need to look in his eyes to understand the devastation. She mentions an afterwards in the book and he remembers the last page he had torn out and runs through New York City to find it and when he does, he sees the note Amy had left for him. She talks of how she and Rory are happy, how they love him and how they never want him to be alone. And she tells him to find the little girl with a suitcase, waiting under some stars for her adventurer to come and whisk her away to a happier life. She’s waiting, and Amy wants him to tell her a tale of a brave girl who saw pirates and space whales and whose story has now been told.
A bittersweet end to quite the duo. There are some questions left, like how the angel ended up in the graveyard, but for now the feeling of an end is still here. The feeling that only a goodbye could bring. Maybe it was good that the Doctor never had to see them grow old, maybe, most likely, he’ll carry this guilt around with him for his lives to come. But most of most of all he’ll remember the little girl that waited for him, the boy that waited so long for her and the magical sights the three of them saw and the beautiful bond and love they all shared.