Doctor Who Feeds a New Mystery by Plundering One From Its Past

Doctor Who Feeds a New Mystery by Plundering One From Its Past
Nothing says a bad time like a hot sonic screwdriver. (Image: BBC)

The Weeping Angels are one of modern Doctor Who’s strangest paradoxes. Their smash-hit debut in “Blink” instantly created a iconic presence few other creatures of the revived era of the show could immediately command. And yet, they’re dangerous to use: the Angels are beloved, so people want more, but the more you see them, the more what made them iconic gets blunted. This week Doctor Who might have finally pushed that risk a little too far.

“Village of the Angels” for the most part opens with what feels something in the vein of “War of the Sontarans” early on in Flux — a few scant here and there nods to the zillions of lingering narrative threads permeating the entire miniseries, but otherwise a standalone episode revolving around a classic monster. It’s here that “Village” actually works best, giving us Doctor Who’s most favourite of narrative set ups, the base under siege, but making that base… a quaint, darkly lit British village in the late 1960s. A lone scientist, a vicar, and some pensioners: not a soldier in sight, no people who might even have a vague idea of the horror on their doorstep, just atmosphere and drama, mystery, and threat.

Image: BBC Image: BBC

That’s the perfect environment to throw the Weeping Angels into, and they work here rather wonderfully. There’s some truly great moments of despair, even as we as an audience know full well just how badly things are about to get for the Doctor, Yaz, Graham, and their fleeting new friends (mostly Professor Jericho, played by Kevin McNally, and Annabel Scholey’s Claire, the mystery woman who showed up to yell “Hello! I’m setting up this episode you’re now seeing four weeks later” in the messy season premiere). Lone angels in disguise as headstones in church graveyards, shadow and fog obscuring armies of them trying to hunt down the Doctor as she desperately tries to figure out going on. “Village” even, here, gets to leverage its status as a connected miniseries to play with our expectations and deliver a proper surprise to the audience when both Yaz and Dan get zapped into 1901 not even 10 minutes into the episode — our untouchable heroes, now very much touched and forced to deal with the ramifications of the Angel’s original, chillingly slow “death.” This is Doctor Who as a creature feature in the horror sense in a way we’ve rarely seen in Chibnall’s era — perhaps outside of “Haunting of Villa Diodati” last season, and it’s fitting then that this episode is the sole of Flux to have a co-writing credit, with that episode’s writer, Maxine Alderton — and it really works, just letting the Angels be the mysterious, scary unyielding tide they were when we first met them.

… If you’re sensing a but coming, well, here it is. There comes a point in “Village of the Angels” that its status as a one-off creature feature has to come smashing into the dramatic inevitably of not its titular monsters, but its nature as part of this ongoing Flux story, and it’s a showdown that arguably not even the Angels get out of unscathed. For the most part, the key central mystery of “Village” is what the Angels want with Claire, who’s seen visions of them in her dreams, was targeted by them in the present, and now finds herself the target of their ire, much to the Doctor’s confusion, plagued by visions of their image, and herself as becoming part of their quantum-tinged brood. The way “Village” answers this mystery blows the questions about Flux’s wider story wide open, blows the story of the Doctor’s own past open even more than it was already, and sets the stage for a staggeringly long list of things to get addressed in just two episodes of Doctor Who. But in doing so, it takes one of the core, scary conceits of the Angels — that we don’t know what their overarching purpose is, that they just feed off time as creatures starved of its potentiality — and practically completely obliterates it, rendering them significantly less meaty than they were before.

Image: BBC Image: BBC

It’s eventually revealed that the reason that Claire is targeted by the Angels is there is one manifested inside her psyche — making it so that previous “any image of an Angel becomes an Angel” rule applies to even thinking about one in your mind’s eye — not maliciously, but to hide from its fellow Angels. This is because these Angels, and their rogue operative, are all actually secretly members of Division, the unknown organisation that has ties to both the Fugitive Doctor’s past work with them and… basically everything happening in Flux. Remember when “Crack in time!” used to be the go-to excuse for anything happening in Matt Smith’s first season as the Doctor? For Flux, it’s “Division!” flung into as many sentences as possible, in the desperate hope that our complete lack of knowledge of what the Division even is will paper over the cracks left in any ongoing plot. The ex-Division Angel in Claire wants the Doctor’s help in exchange for memories that will explain both her past and what the Division is actually about, and their former allies are very keen to stop that by… suddenly being able to do a bunch of new things that feel less like natural evolutions of the way the Angels function and more like necessities for the plot of Flux to reach a particular endpoint.

Even aside from Angels trying to manifest inside organic beings — an interesting idea with the groundwork in stories like “Time of the Angels” and “Flesh and Stone” — things just rapidly accelerate for the Angels’ tool kit once “Village” plays its Division trump card in a baffling way. Angels can suddenly talk now, using people’s voices as psychic imprints. They can cut off villages from space and time (we’re told it’s quantum extraction, but we’re never shown how or why it’s done, people just say “quantum extraction” and nod sagely like it means something), they can send victims back to a single specific place and time at will, they can kill by “double-touching” victims, they can push limbs through cave walls, they can make an entire cairn system out of Angels, just because. Suddenly, by being elevated as important to this wider Doctor Who mystery, the Angels become less of a specific threat an episode has to be devised around, and something broken and reshaped to fit the needs of this specific episode and the Flux narrative. And the minute the Angels feel like they can just do anything as long as the plot needs it, the minute they lose one of their greatest assets since we first met them: the mystery of how and why they work so well in the first place.

Those limitations been chipped away bit by bit with every appearance since “Blink,” but that’s just an inevitability. There’s only so many ways to re-tell the concepts of that initial appearance, so the Angels do need to grow and expand in their toolkit. But now that mystery feels all but gone, but not because we really learned more about them as creatures — it’s simply been replaced with the Angels being a part of this still-unanswered mystery of whatever the hell the Division is, and its relationship to Azure, Swarm, and the Flux.

Image: BBC Image: BBC

And so, instead of concluding a story in the moment, “Village of the Angels” instead asks us to wait a little more for its payoff: the Doctor is cut off from her friends, betrayed by the Angels and turned over to the Division, and finds herself transformed into an Angelic, prisoned statue form herself. It’s a big cliffhanger to be sure, and one that raises the stakes for whatever answers are to come as Flux gets into its final hours. But whether those answers are worth the sacrifice of so much of what made the Angels such a compelling Doctor Who creature all those years ago remains to be seen.

Assorted Musings

  • As bizarre as the cliffhanger was, the shot of the Doctor being turned “into” an Angel for capture was actually pretty well done, and a creepy look. If there were still Doctor Who action figures being made on a regular basis, Angel Doctor would be a great one!
  • The hyper-specificity of the Angels zapping villagers back to the same village but 66 years prior creates the strange temporal loop of the young missing girl Peggy meeting her aged self, Mrs. Hayward, but… how didn’t that create a timey-wimey nightmare? Maybe if we shout “quantum extraction!” enough we’ll be fine.
  • The other Flux thread we get to see throughout this episode is a bit more of Bel and Vinder’s attempts to connect up with each other — and how that intersects with Azure’s plans, tempting survivors of the Flux into “safety” via being absorbed into one of the masked Passenger beings. Why these forms? Why gather them if, as with the case so far, all we’ve seen is people in these forms being used as mass-extinction bargaining chips? Given next week’s title, perhaps we’ll find out sooner rather than later.

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