Going back to one of the most revered things in a franchise is always tough for a creator. You can just repeat the greatest hits of it, but you'll end up with something crowd-pleasing but whose sheen fades as soon as the newness wears off, and people have the option between choosing between it and the original. The other option is to push things in a new unfamiliar direction, which can be initially off-putting but which has a lot more staying power if it’s done well.
It's the sort of statement that can get tomatoes thrown at you, but a pretty good example in my eyes is the difference between the Star Wars films "The Force Awakens" and "The Last Jedi". The Force Awakens plays within the boundaries of existing expectations, and in doing so creates a very fun and well executed film that's a blast to watch. But then you have the Last Jedi, which does new things and challenges your expectations, creating whole new things for your imagination.
"Village of the Angels" is interesting, in that it tries to have its cake and eat it to. It’s an episode built up out of familiar elements, and allowing them to play out, but then butting in with brand new things that crack the shell of your expectations. But it’s also not a standalone story, and so it’s difficult to judge some of its elements till we see how they play out in the next two episodes (if they do at all).
The Weeping Angels are one of the most iconic and beloved monsters in Doctor Who, despite only appearing as the main antagonists in a handful of episodes, and this story very quickly gets us up to speed on all their elements: time-shifting, moving when unobserved, the image of an angel becomes an angel, a person becoming an angel and having sand in their eyes. At first, it seems like its just going through the motions, until after setting those elements up, it plays with them. And those parts? Well…
Where this episode really shines, is its understanding of what visual elements Doctor Who can actually pull off well--aside from some dodgy CGI at the end, but even that was unique and interesting enough for me to suspend my disbelief even while it resembled a video game cutscene. There are some truly fantastic visuals here that stick in your memory: the Doctor crumpling the drawing of the Angel up, and the angel itself crumbling with it. The Doctor throwing that paper in the fire, and the flaming angel that appeared afterwards. The night/day divided screen of the past and future of the Village. And of course, the final and likely instantly iconic image of the Doctor turning into a Weeping Angel.
There's enough here to keep you coming back just to see the things you remember fondly, and I expect this is going to be a well-regarded episode by the general public for just this reason--its super entertaining. This is one of those episodes where even though I'm going to whine about the issues I have with it in a minute, I'd be lying if I said wasn't a bunch of fun. The things that work about it work well enough that I'm sure lots of folks will have a very good time with it, and I'm very happy for them.
But does the episode as a whole work? Well, no. While other episodes have played very carefully with the Covid filming restrictions, this this definitely the episode where the inventive solutions to the problems end up hurting the episode instead of rescuing. Largely, this is due to the vast difference in how the tension is being built up between the two halves of the split main cast. It’s become a signature of this series to split the cast up into two parties so that filming the episodes under covid restrictions would be less ungainly. Only here, one half of the cast is having the tension ratcheted up as they try to fend off Weeping Angels in a spooky house, and the other half of the cast is engaged in a slowly unraveling mystery about a missing child. Both these plots are fine on their own but cutting back and forth between them ends up stopping the buildup of tension in each story to a halt during the switch overs, because they're not having story beats of equivalent tension next to each other. This is a nuts-and-bolts criticism, the sort that most viewers probably just vaguely feel in the back of their head, but it’s there, nonetheless.
But the biggest issue with the episode is everything after the reveal of why the Rogue Angel has infested Claire's mind. And... alright, we can't avoid it anymore.
Let's talk about the Division.
The Division is of course the secret service style group on Galifrey that erased the Doctor's memories of being a secret chosen one from another Universe and has been a very important part of this whole series. We've slowly been learning about them, and the big reveal this episode is that the Rogue Angel is something of a Space/Time Wikileaks Whistleblower, holding all of the information the Division kept from the Doctor, and it will give that info to the Doctor if she saves it. Of course, the Angel is duplicitous, and turns the Doctor in to save its own skin (stone?). But it’s an odd sort of turn, and it doesn't work the way it did before.
Last week, the Doctor was the focus of the parts of the episode that lead up to the Division plot reveals, and they worked. The episode built up to them, and paid those things off.
But the set up and pay off here is odd, in a lot of ways. Claire is the min focus of the segments with the Doctor, only for us to learn very late in the game that actually the focus is the Doctor in a way that doesn’t tie into anything we learned or followed about the Angels—it’s a follow up from things from previous episodes, and it feels like an emotional leap. Maybe if you marathon Flux later it will all flow together better and this will feel more natural, but week to week it not only feels unearned, but Claire’s plot goes rather unfulfilled as well. Will Claire get her moment next week? We can only hope.
The other weird thing is the plot with the little girl—I was talking to Will Shaw (who writes incredible coverage of this Doctor Who Series you should read) after the episode, and after I mentioned I wondered what the payoff to her story set up would be, did he point out that the payoff was that she was the old lady they met earlier in the episode was actually her. Was it just that I am too jaded to these sorts of twists and figured that out very early on? Or was it just the weird way that the pacing was thrown off by the divided cast segments that meant that it didn’t feel like a climax to a storyline as things didn’t build up to it specifically? I’m not sure, but it didn’t quite fly.
But does that matter? Its visually pleasing, the Angels were creepy, the Doctor was funny. Is the script a structural mess? Absolutely. Will anyone care? Probably not. Its an odd case where the episode could be better with stronger emotional payoffs and more impactful scares with just a little tweaking, but there’s enough that works that complaining feels pointless.
It could be better, but you had a good time. Whatever sort of bar that is, I’m fine with it.
See you next week!
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Poet, Playwright, Game Designer, Writer, Freelancer for hire.