Last week, fans of Doctor Who got to see the long-hinted at farewell to Amy and Rory, the current Doctor’s only real long-standing companions. The mid-season finale, “The Angels Take Manhattan” was a greatest hits of the current era with Amy, Rory and the Doctor once again teaming up with River Song to fight the Weeping Angels, this time in 1930s New York. SPOILERS AHEAD – I’l let you know when I’m done with them.
The departure of Amy and Rory has been a known quantity for a while now, however the exact circumstances of that departure were carefully guarded prior to the episode airing. What we saw was a plot by the Angels to abduct people and send them back in time, as per their traditional motivation, and then house all of these time-tossed unfortunates in an apartment building in Battery Park. Once Rory is attacked by the Angels, the rest of the team goes back to find him, inadvertently messing up the timestream every which way such that the Doctor can purportedly no longer go back to that place and time ever again without undoing all of the universe. There were a number of twists and turns to the plot, and a fair amount of dramatics, but the end result is that Amy and Rory are permanently sent back to the 1930s to live out the rest of their days there, forever away from the Doctor, but at least with each other.
As an emotional note, the farewell to these characters is earned and bittersweet. Amy tearfully saying goodbye to the Doctor by referring to him as her “raggedy man” was a nice throwback and you got an appreciation for how much the Doctor hates goodbyes. The episode also hit on an even more interesting theme – that the Doctor is so emotionally unable to deal with endings that the people around him have to go to great lengths to hide it when they fail him or even to show that they’re getting older. Given what little we know about the Doctor’s background in possibly destroying his entire race, this gives some compelling emotions for Matt Smith and other future Doctors to play with.
As a plot device, however, the story fails on a number of points. For starters, we’re assured that the TARDIS simply cannot go back to the point where Amy and Rory are sent and that to go there at all would unmake the universe. Ergo, Amy and Rory are forever in the past. The problem, however, is physics. The writers of this episode seem to forget that humans are, each of us, time machines, albeit ones that only travel in once direction. Why the Doctor couldn’t just wait until, say, 1940 and then go back up his two best friends remains a mystery. I can’t believe that the show is forever swearing off World War II stories after all.
Okay, spoiler-phobes. You can come back now.
So with a fond (Pond?) farewell, we see off Amy and Rory and anticipate the arrival of the newest companion played by Jenna-Louise Coleman. Which leads to the inevitable question of just what is going on this season in Doctor Who?
The shape of things to come
Show runner Steven Moffat has somewhat remarkably said that, unlike the past two years, this season will carry no long-form story-arc and instead will treat each episode like a big blockbuster movie. Simply put, I think he’s lying through his Scottish teeth at us. While we haven’t seen anything as explicit as a widening crack in reality or the appearance and disappearance of The Silence yet, there has been one major feature that has bound together each episode: has anyone else noticed that the Doctor is slowly disappearing?
Just follow me on this one: Each episode has had either a major or minor moment focused on the notion that the Doctor, who just two seasons ago had gotten so notorious that he managed to stand on a rock and talk an entire invading space fleet of bad guys into not obliterating him with a ray gun of some kind, is routinely running into people who don’t know him and can’t identify him. Starting in the first episode, “Asylum of the Daleks”, the Doctor is effectively erased from the memory banks of every Dalek everywhere. In “Dinosaurs on a Spaceship”, the collector’s computer-of-instant-knowing-things has no record of the Doctor. Last week, we learn that River Song has long ago been freed from prison because it seems the man she murdered, the Doctor, actually never existed. It’s implied this is some kind of computer error, but I think it’s more than that. I think The Silence is slowly erasing the Doctor from all history.
We know from last season’s finale that there is a terrible question in the universe, something that references “the fall of the eleventh” and that a question that could unmake reality (or something) will be asked and that question just might be, “Doctor who?” We know The Silence is dedicated to eliminating the Doctor as a threat to creation, and so it stands to reason they might be behind all this.
If it’s the case, then, that there is in fact a long-form arc to this season about the Doctor’s identify, conveniently timed to dovetail into next year’s 50th anniversary of the show, it makes sense to also wonder how the new companion will factor in. We’ve already seen Jenna-Louise Coleman in a somewhat puzzling role in the first episode this year as a woman who (again, SPOILERS) was turned into a Dalek and didn’t even realize it. Might she have something to do with all this erase-y nonsense as well?