Warning: Contains Spoilers!
Oh Doctor Who: Flux, you frustrate me so! You give me the promising War of the Sontarans, but follow it up with the impenetrable Once, Upon Time. So, here I am thinking that the series has taken a downturn and along comes Village of the Angels, which is quite possibly the best episode that the series has delivered in at least four years! What are you doing to me, guy? You’re twisting my melon! When you’re bad and stay bad, I know where I am. When you’re good and stay good, I’m delighted! But so far, this series is all over the shop. It’s not without precedent, of course; Series 12’s Fugitive of the Judoon was terrific, but led the charge into the mediocrity of The Timeless Children. Hopefully, this series won’t sink to those depths though. Hopefully, it will all be as good as Village of the Angels, because it really is rather splendid.
As we left the Doctor and Co, the TARDIS had been infiltrated by a Weeping Angel, who was lunging theatrically over the controls and piloting the vessel to who knows where. Meanwhile, in the quiet English village of Medderton in 1967, the villagers are organising search for 10-year old Peggy, who has gone missing. The locals aren’t the only ones wandering around the village on this cold, dark night, however – there are Weeping Angels around. They blend in nicely with the foggy churchyard settings and this might actually be their most apt appearance in the series since they first popped up over a decade ago in Blink. The Angel who had taken over the TARDIS brings it to the village and the Doctor, Yaz and Dan immediately realise what is going on and why they have been brought here, so they’re the only ones to heed the warnings of elderly villager Mrs Hayward.
Meanwhile, elsewhere in the village, parapsychologist Professor Jericho (Kevin McNally, last seen wearing a truly hideous tinfoil sweatshirt in The Twin Dilemma) is performing experiments to test the experiments of Claire Brown – the mysterious woman who turned up in The Halloween Apocalypse and recognised the Doctor. She doesn’t recognise here now though, so that must’ve been at some time in the future. The TARDIS crew split up and Yaz and Dan join the search for Peggy while the Doctor gravitates towards the Professor’s house. Pretty soon, Yaz and Dan are attacked by an Angel and transported back to the same village in 1901, where they find the place deserted apart from Jenny and eventually discover that the forboding Mrs Hayward is an aged version of the little girl who has stayed in the village for 66 years.
The Doctor realises that the Angels are after Claire, because she has a rogue Angel hiding within her. There’s a fantastic siege in Professor Jericho’s place, where the Angels try to break in via the TV set and drawings of themselves. The whole sequence in which the Doctor scrumples up a sketch of an Angel and throws it in the fire, only succeeding in creating a disturbing human torch Angel is breath-taking and some of the best work that the series has done in a long, long time. Claire and Professor Jericho attempt to flee via some tunnels in the cellar, whilst the Doctor attempts to hold their pursuers off, but this is not entirely successful and Jericho is also transported to 1901. Also in 1901 are Jenny’s irredeemably unpleasant foster parents, who meet a sticky end in the best tradition of ‘wicked guardians’ in children’s literature.
Meanwhile, back in the story arc, Bel has travelled to a ruined Planet in search of Vinder, only to find that she’s missed him. The planet is a haven for refugees from the Flux, who believe that it holds the secret of escape from the ruined universe. A man called Namaca encourages Bel to join a crowd awaiting the arrival of their saviour – who turns out to be Azure! She encourages the refugees to be absorbed by a Passenger, but Bel knows from past experience that this is an imprisonment and not an escape. The whole scene has unfortunate visual similarities to the ‘Sermon on the Mount’ sequence from Monty Python’s The Life of Brian and I can’t have been the only person who was half- expecting someone to turn around and shout, “Shut up, Big Nose!” at Bel as she encourages the crowd to flee.
Back in 1967, the Doctor realises that the Weeping Angels are pursuing the rogue Angel because she was employed by the mysterious ‘Division’ and they want to hold her to account. Wait a minute… wasn’t the Fugitive Doctor also a member of the Division? As the Doctor and Claire in 1967 communicate with Yaz, Dan and Professor Jericho in 1901 via a time rift of some kind (see next paragraph for more on that), the Angels appear en masse and demand justice. They’re the People’s Front of Angels, not the Angelic People’s Front… SPLITTERS! The rogue Angel strikes a deal with them that they’ll let her go in return for handing over the Doctor and they agree. In another fantastic cliff-hanger, the Doctor slowly sprouts a pair of wings, turns to stone and becomes a Weeping Angel! How does that work exactly? Well, I’m not sure; the rules surrounding the Weeping Angels seem to be pretty fluid, but it’s bound to be explained in a later episode… isn’t it?
I have issues with the rift between 1901 and 1967. Yaz and Dan are walking across open pasture and suddenly Yaz cries, “Look at that!” and ahead of them is the rift. And it’s bloody massive! Filling the entire frame! It seems to be stretching up to the sky. Surely they would have seen from miles away, absolutely dominating the skyline? The same goes for when they reach the Village boundaries and find it them crumbling away into empty space. Surely that would also have been clearly visible long before they were right on top of it. This is a classic example of a conundrum you often get in Hollywood movies; the idea that because the camera cannot see something, neither can the characters. You get it an awful lot in horror films and it’s always disappointing, but Doctor Who has always wisely avoided it until now.
But, minor quibbles aside, Village of the Angels was a hell of an episode, In fact, I’d go as far as to say that this is the best Thirteenth Doctor episode so far, easily pipping Fugitive of the Judoon to the post. Is it something about episodes with ‘of the’ in the title or something – Fugitive of the Judoon, War of the Sontarans, Village of the Angels? Of course, I don’t want to draw too many comparisons with Fugitive of the Judoon because that was an episode that lulled us into the impression that Series 12 was going to be a corker and it wasn’t. Even with the stumble around Once, Upon Time, Series 13 (or should we call it Flux?) is already head and shoulders above its two immediate predecessors. Here’s hoping it can keep that up.
Village of the Angels has a small but strong cast. We didn’t get to see much of Claire Brown in The Halloween Apocalypse, but here Annabel Scholey puts in a tremendous performance, leading some to assume she was another new companion (unlikely, as I don’t think any elements from this series will be carried over into RTD’s soft reboot) or even the Doctor (see previous brackets). Kevin McNally has also been fingered as a potential next Doctor, but that’s also unlikely for a number of reasons, not least that Kevin McNally is 65 years old – a good decade older than either Hartnell or Capaldi – and I think they’ll be looking for a more physical actor in the role. It’s a shame that we’ve reached a position where every interesting or studious character is regarded as a possible past or future Doctor (I blame you, Timeless Children) as it detracts from the development of secondary characters, As it turns out, Professor Jericho is a great character and I’d love to see him return… just not as the Doctor.
I don’t often comment on directors in these reviews, as Doctor Who has had very much a house style since the series returned in 2005, which doesn’t often allow individual directs to stand out, but hats off to Jamie Magnus Stone for some of his directorial choices in this episode. I loved all the stuff in the TARDIS at the beginning, with the Doctor looking in and out of hatches in interesting fast cuts; it made me nostalgic for Matt Smith, leaping around the console room (Eleven’s first console room is still my favourite of the new series designs) like a dancing flea. The exteriors in the village are all tremendously atmospheric, with the fog and the lighting giving them an almost Hammer Horror feel. I know that Jamie Magnus Stone also directed The Halloween Apocalypse and War of the Sontarans, both of which also looked very nice, but this one particularly stands out.
The script was by Chris Chibnall and Maxine Alderton, who wrote The Haunting of Villa Diodata, one of the standout episodes of series 12. I don’t want to be one of those people who says that this episode is better because it’s not just written by Christ Chinball, but there’s a definite edge that comes from having another writer on the project. Even the most talented of writers can grow weary if they try to take everything on themselves and we’ve seen that in recent years from both of Chibnall’s predecessors. My fervent hope is that this episode is an indicator of what is to come in the remainder of the Thirteenth Doctor’s time. I unfortunately suspect not, because I think there will be further revelations and ‘epoch-making’ events – but one can still hope that we continue to get writing, direction and production of this quality.
Next up is Survivors of the Flux, in which the Doctor’s Mum (Terry Jones) declares, “She’s not a Time Lord – she’s a very naughty girl!”