Back to The Eleventh Hour: “Somebody’s going to have to start rescuing somebody.” – The Time of Angels/Flesh and Stone

Here’s a hot take for you: Angels/Stone is a better Weeping Angels story than Blink. Mind you, the latter is still superb and easily one of Moffat’s best stories, and of course without it we’d never have the Angels anyway, but as a story that shows off exactly what these creatures can do and why they’re so pants-wettingly terrifying, there’s nothing better.

Why? Well, recall how Blink ends. The last shot of the Angels is as the TARDIS is taking Sally and Larry to safety, as the box disappears the Angels are seen looking at each other… but crucially, we the audience are looking at them too.

Angels/Stone not only calls back to this moment (by having Amy watch the clip of a single Angel on the TV) but inverts it. What was once our protection becomes a weapon the Angels can use against us: “That which holds the image of an Angel becomes itself an Angel.” Thus, the image Amy is looking at becomes the genuine article, but that also means the Angels we see on TV, including the ones from Blink, are just as capable of becoming real. Them being fictional does not save us.

But then Moffat twists the knife even further by making the image of the angel imprinted on Amy’s retina an Angel too, making the only defense anyone has against the Angels into a vulnerability that they can exploit, which culminates in that deliciously spooky sequence where we see the Angels move. Even just having the idea in our heads means they can become real, and that puts a whole new spin on people who decide to cosplay as them at conventions.

It gets even more freaky when you consider the Angels’ appearances in spin-off media. Whether in prose, comic, or audio form, this story’s central concept (that the Angels are living ideas) adds another dark twist to any appearance they make, because the stories themselves hold the images of Angels even when they can’t be seen. Just by telling the story, they are released into our world.

Angels aside, this is a gripping watch even when you know how it all ends. Karen Gillan and Alex Kingston fall so easily into their roles it’s like they’ve been around for years, instead of being originally one-off guest actors in two separate stories in just the last season. (The Fires of Pompeii for Gillan, and Silence/Forest for Kingston.) Their strengths, coupled with the narrative weight of the Angels, keeps the focus off Matt Smith, whose performance (while very good, I especially like his TARDIS impression at the beginning) is patchier here, since this story was the first one to be filmed, and he hadn’t quite worked out how to nail the rapid switches in emotion that the role requires yet.

Watching this story knowing how River’s arc goes is fascinating too. We now know, for example, that this episode takes place sometime after the events of Series 6 for River, since references are made to her killing a man, and the arc of that season is all about her killing the Doctor at Lake Silencio. This means that, when she’s around Amy, she has to act like they aren’t related and that she’s meeting Amy for the first time, even though they’ve already met from her personal perspective. Time travel’s a bitch like that.

Another facet of the story I’m interested in is the group of militarized church soldiers led by Father Octavian. That particular portion of the Eleventh Doctor’s story arc recurs again in Series 6 with the introduction of the Silents, and then again in his final story The Time of the Doctor, in which it is revealed that the church that Octavian and his men were a part of was dedicated to ensuring the Doctor would not answer the question hidden in plain sight, and release the Time Lords.

My good friend Frezno has written a wonderful piece on the whole Silence thing, and I mention it mainly because in light of what we learn about Octavian’s church in Time, it puts his particular role My good friend Frezno has written a wonderful piece on the Silence, and I mention it mainly because in light of what we learn about Octavian’s church in Time, it puts his particular role in this story in a new context. The basic gist of the essay is that Madame Kovarian, the main antagonist of Series 6, formed her splinter group of the church Octavian is part of in order to be more proactive with regard to keeping the Doctor quiet, and came up with two plans: the first, of course, is blowing up the TARDIS, and the second is turning River Song into the Doctor’s killer, but both plans go horribly wrong because Madame K is astonishingly bad at considering the consequences of her actions.

Octavian’s group, obviously, is not part of the chapter that tries to assassinate the Doctor at the end of this season and the start of the next. He is instead part of the Papal Mainframe bunch, led by Tasha Lem. Octavian isn’t exactly the Doctor’s biggest fan, but he can at least be trusted to put his own opinions aside long enough to complete his assigned mission. He couldn’t be more different from next season’s Colonel Manton if he tried.

Key to this is River Song, one of the Doctor’s wives and their murderer. As we know from Series 6, she was stolen from Amy and Rory as a newborn and then raised to kill the Doctor. She succeeds (kind of) and is placed in prison for the crime. Her presence in the story here is to allow her to earn her pardon and walk free, so she can eventually go to the Singing Towers of Darillium with the Twelfth Doctor and then meet up with the Tenth at the Library. 

How much Octavian knows about the Kovarian sect is not known, but it is clear he doesn’t trust River, perhaps because he at least understands she is an enemy agent. Nonetheless, viewed in this light, this story becomes an interesting epilogue and prologue to the events of Series 6, depending on which order you’re watching things happen.

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