Doctor Who The Time Of Angels review – gazing into the uncanny evil eye

The Doctor leads the way in The Time Of Angels

The Doctor leads the way in The Time Of Angels

I DON’T know how well behaved or otherwise the children were that Steven Moffat used to teach, but I’m assuming they must have been absolute bastards.

How else can you explain his relentless dedication to finding ever more inventive and diabolical ways to leave the nation’s youth not just hiding behind the sofa, but trembling in pants-wetting terror inside a castle made out of sofas, with a special sofa room extension built on, just in case.

How do I know? Because I was in there with them, piling more sofas against the sofa door!

But I always left just a crack to see out of, as like everyone else who watched The Time Of Angels and even Amy herself in the episode’s defining scene, I couldn’t tear my eyes away from what was happening on the screen.

What I was watching was a fantastic mix of action, humour, horror and … erm … unfortunate cartoon characters, as Steven Moffat provided further proof – if it were needed – of his incredible talent as a teller of stories.

Even as the episode was only just beginning, the re-introduction of River Song, the surprising (blink and you’ll miss it?) cameo appearance of Mike Skinner from The Streets, the leap forward to the Doctor 12,000 years into the future and the thrilling integration of those disparate strands in River’s amazing space rescue was breathtaking television.

For the first time this series, that quality didn’t let up with every element  – from Adam Smith’s wonderful direction, to the tremendous acting and cast to the fantastically creepy locations and CGI work – delivering absolutely.

Moffat clearly  luxuriated in the extra time and space the two-episode structure gave him to indulge in some wonderful dialogue (especially the is River Song your wife conversation) and to continue Who’s journey into what Sigmund Freud defined as the uncanny.

The uncanny is moments or objects or states of mind which can be obvious and familiar and yet unfamiliar or hidden at the same time, creating a strange  and unsettling mixture of attraction and repulsion.

Of course it is a concept Who itself is more than familiar with, as whole generations grew up watching it from between their fingers, too scared to look and too mesmerised to turn away.

As I mentioned in reviews of previous episodes, Moffat has developed that concept in this series by using familiar fairytale themes and also taking elements of Doctor Who we have come to accept as absolutes and then subverting them.

For instance since the show’s return in 2005, the companion has been our representative on screen – brave, intelligent and vital, and we have loved all of them for that.

Yet as brave, charismatic and attractive as Amy Pond is, there remains an element of uncertainty surrounding who she is and what she wants from the Doctor, which taints our impression of her.

In The Time Of Angels, Moffat again introduces the uncanny into the show when Amy watches, almost hypnotised, as the Weeping Angel on the control room monitor screen bleeds through into reality.

Anything that holds the image of an angel becomes the angel, the Doctor warns Amy (and how many children ripped Weeping Angels posters from their walls because of that I wonder?)

We know that the best defence is to keep looking – don’t blink – so Amy has no choice but to stare at something which horrifies her, again an unsettling blend of attraction/repulsion.

But that fact is undermined when staring at the angel (holding its image in our eyes) allows it to access the door to her soul, as the Doctor describes it. From that point on, Amy makes reference to having something in her eye as the Angel’s sinister influence takes hold.

I don’t think that is a coincidence as in his work on the Uncanny, Freud makes reference to a story called The Sandman written by a German author called ETA Hoffman in 1816 (the Doctor probably hung out with him).

This story also takes the familiar – in this case the folklore figure of the Sandman who helps children go to sleep by sprinkling sand in their eyes – and transforms it into something nightmarish as the creature steals children’s eyes to feed to its young.

The parallels here are clear – the Angel killing to feed its race, soldiers who become disembodied voices (losing their sight when the Angel kills them), even to Amy rubbing sand and grit from her eye a few minutes after escaping from the control room.

Given how often images of eyes and the idea of having to examine reality closely to discover hidden meaning have already been utilised in Who this series, Moffat’s journey into the uncanny will continue for some time yet, starting next week.

The trailer (which included scenes of Amy with the Weeping Angel’s image seared across her eye, and being blinded by that) looks great but it will have to go some to match this, which was another Moffat classic and another almost certain Hugo Nomination.

After a shaky episode last week, Who has kicked back into overdrive and I can’t wait to see what will happen next. From behind the couch of course.

A final word about the animated Graham Norton which the BBC put on screen at the episode’s climax with a mix of ineptitude, bad timing and stupidity.

In an episode featuring a monster you’re supposed to look at but when you do it really fucks you up, you could make a case mini-Norton fitted right in, but don’t do it again Auntie.

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