Monday 22 November 2021

WHO REVIEW: FLUX Chapter Four - Village of the Angels

Doctor Who: Flux is improving week on week, with the twisty and interesting “Once, Upon Time” followed by a gripping episode that combines the best of time-hopping weirdness with good, old-fashioned spookiness. The Weeping Angels are, of course, one of the most popular and inventive monsters ever featured in Doctor Who, and there's still little enough of them that their inclusion here is exciting in the way that the return of the Daleks and Cybermen aren't. Even the Sontarans, while it was a treat to have them feature properly for the first time in ages, aren't as clever or unique a concept as the Angels. Interviews with the cast suggest a palpable excitement in having them appear. There hasn't been a full-on Angels episode since “The Angels Take Manhattan” in 2012, and since then their more minor appearances in “The Time of the Doctor” and Class have been throwaway. Big Finish have been using them plenty, of course, because Big Finish don't get the rights to the concept and not do it to death, and there's been a positive response to the mobile game The Lonely Assassins. Still, “Village of the Angels” feels special, not only because the Weeping Angels are such a brilliant monster but also because the episode is straightforwardly high quality in a way we haven't really seen lately.

Given that the Angels are the quintessential Moffat era monster, it's unsurprising that the episode has a very Moffat-y feel, more so even than last week's, with an almost storybook vibe to the creepy village with its old-fashioned inhabitants. After from the exemplary “Blink,” though, the Angels never quite worked as well even with Moffat writing, their simple but ingenious central concept being added to until it became diluted and overcomplicated. Here, though, everything builds more naturally. It's assumed that, if you're watching this, you've probably at least seen “Blink” on iPlayer and probably know the basics from the previous years, with a few reminders that you mustn't blink and that “the image of an Angel becomes an Angel” dropped in for good measure. Now that the excessive abilities introduced in “The Time of Angels” are fully established it's easier to just get one with it and have them come for the Doctor as a truly relentless threat.

Without wanting to be too harsh, this episode feels like a first draft than a lot of this era's stories. Maxine Alderton's clearly a real talent and while we don't know how much of this is hers and how much is Chibnall's they clearly make for a good team. I loved “Once, Upon Time” but there were still persistent issues such as the clumsy exposition and the sometimes weak characterisation of the Doctor. These are cleaned up here, with Dan's role as exposition engine lampshaded and the Doctor being a proactive force while also allowing her to be terrified and wrong-footed by the Angel's attack. Last week I felt that Whittaker was better when playing the Fugitive Doctor than her normal incarnation, as it was simply stronger material, but here she gets to be a verison of her Doctor that really works.

Yaz gets to actually be a police officer, bringing skills and an approach that other characters simply wouldn't try, in her attempt to track down the missing girl Peggy. It's a bit obvious that, when a mysterious old lady starts wandering around muttering about these things happening again, they're going to be revealed as the same person after a time jump, but it's still effectively told and played. The guest cast are uniformly good, but plaudits especially to Annabel Scholey as Claire. I'm still not going to be surprised if she's revealed to be an iteration of Clara, but right now she's plenty interesting enough as a forthright and capable woman who happens to be a powerful psychic and is stuck living more than fifty years in her own past. There's enough promise in that for a whole series in itself. Kevin McNally is almost as good as Professor Jericho, a delightfully old-fashioned sort of character who absolutely fits with the haunted village vibe.

There are still logical flaws in the Angels concept, such as no one taking the obvious route of at least trying to take turns blinking. The visual of people being crumbled to dust if they contact an Angel a second time is chilling, although I suspect it contradicts what we've seen in previous stories (I'll have to go back and rewatch to be certain). I love the concept of a premonition of an Angel constituting an image, thereby rooting itself in Claire's mind, although by this logic anyone who's ever seen an Angel woould have one living in their head as a memory. It's easy enough to voerlook this though when there are so many striking concepts so well put across, including the uplifted village plucked out of space and the idea of a rogue Angel. The Doctor actually comes off rather badly, refusing to listen to such “a creature,” but the Doctor's more interesting when they're morally dubious and a bit of an arsehole.

The Division is becoming a far more interesting idea than it first appeared, where it was basically the Time Lords' CIA under a different name. Now it seems to be a much bigger, multi-species concern that employs a whole phalanx of Weeping Angels to maintain time. The Doctor's (apparently) accidental crossing of her own time stream in “Fugitive of the Judoon” seems to have linked her present to her past working for them, even before she went actively looking for information on them. It's always a bit tricky to apply logic to a time travel narrative like this, since past and future mean nothing to someone travelling across the whole of history on a whim, but there's generally been a impression that time active beings usually meet each other in the the correct relative order. Obviously this isn't always the case, but here it looks like the Doctor's interacting with her forgotten past has upset the chronology rather badly. The Judoon came for her and now the Division have come for her, and who knows, maybe even the Flux is a result of this.

We end with one of the best cliffhangers in recent memory, and whether it makes sense or not it's a fantastic image (as well as hinting towards the idea from The End of Time that Angels began as cursed Time Lords). We even get a mid-credits scene, MCU-style, following up on Bel's subplot. Thaddea Graham remains one of the best things in this series and is more than capable of maintaining her own storyline, but I am looking forward to Vinder catching up with her and their reconnecting with the main narrative.

Next week looks to be throwing even more elements in but hopefuully will begin to tie this all together. We've only two weeks left for this serial to be, if not resolved, at least satisfactorily climaxed.

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