Chris Chibnall is back with his second story in three weeks, and it’s another good one. Chibnall has proved that he has a good feel for the characters and the history of the series – it’s easy to see why Steven Moffat keeps going back to him. This last run of episodes has been one of the better since the reboot, feeling both new and different yet somehow more spiritually in-line with the classic series than most of the post-reboot seasons have been.
It’s been known for the better part of a year that Amy and Rory will be leaving after next week’s “Angels Take Manhattan”, and I’m going to miss them. Being a longtime fan of Doctor Who is somewhat akin to being the Doctor himself where the companions are concerned, because like he, we always know we’ll have to say goodbye to them sooner or later. Of course in some cases that’s hardly a sad moment as far as I’m concerned, but it will be here. Amy and Rory have an excellent chemistry with the Doctor, not infected with any of the pointless baggage that Russell Davies loved to pile on in an attempt to “humanize” the Doctor. Here’s a thing: the Doctor isn’t human. He’s an alien – and his alien nature is never far away from the surface in his relationship with the Pond-Williamses. But perhaps as much as with any companion since Sarah Jane, there’s a sense of mutual understanding here, a comfortable familiarity that’s tinged with irritation at times (much like a familial relationship).
I’m also really enjoying the addition of Brian to the cast. He’s an interesting character, sharper than he likes to let on, and I love the way he becomes a sort of space-time geek after his encounter with the Doctor. While Rory and Amy are a bit jaded by now, this is all new to Brian and he’s a sort of Time Lord otaku. The notion of companions trying to balance domestic lives with occasional visits from the Doctor isn’t one that’s been explored much in the 33 seasons of the series – it’s generally been more of an all or nothing deal. Amy and (especially) Rory seem ready to opt out, and Brian seems to ask the most penetrating question of all to the Doctor – “What happened to all the others?” It’s a painful question for him to answer, of course, and one that’s preoccupied the series for much of the past few seasons – the “flare and fade” which tortures the Doctor’s weary soul. But Brian gets it right in the end, I think – “Who else has that chance?” What the Doctor offers his companions is a gift no human has ever been given, and if they go into it with their eyes open (as I certainly think Amy and Rory are, by now) how can they turn their backs on it in favor of working longer hours and being a bridesmaid?
In addition to exploring all this, there’s a halfway decent plot here too. A bunch of little black cubes have landed all over Earth, and Amy’s voice-over narration gives us a clue that not all is well – she calls it a “slow invasion”. This also gives us an opportunity to check in with UNIT, now under the command of Kate Stewart (Jemma Redgrave, continuing the run of great actors in guest-starring roles this season). She’s dropped the “Lethbridge” to avoid getting ahead on her name, but there’s no doubt who her father is – and Kate seems intent on taking UNIT forward as a science-first organization. She’s a bit of a cliché and probably the weakest part of the episode, but Kate’s not a bad character on the whole. Another great British actor, Stephen Berkoff, also guests as one of the Shakri, the race of aliens who haunted the dreams of little Gallifreyans, and now seem intent on wiping humanity out before the plague can spread to the rest of the universe.
The first “season” of the split 33rd campaign comes to an end after next week’s episode, and it figures to be a watershed moment for Stephen Moffat’s incarnation of “Who”. Moff, unsurprisingly, is penning this one himself, and the good news is that the Weeping Angels – arguably his most indelible creation – are back. The bad news from my perspective is that River Song is too – I don’t much care for the places she takes the series, and I’d argue she’s probably Moffat’s most unfortunate contribution to the mythos. But the focus is going to be on Amy and Rory and their exit from the series, which I’m certain will leave the Doctor changed in some significant ways. For me, I like the fact that this season hasn’t been quite so drenched in depression and despair as the series has been lately – and I truly hope that the two of them get to go off to the quiet life they’ve been talking about. But the tea leaves based on this week’s episode aren’t good, and the tendency in recent years is for the series to go for the tragic in moments like these. We’ll see.