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Never Let the Doctor See the Damage

First of all, let me say that nothing I write here is an attempt to persuade anyone to either like or dislike "The Angels Take Manhattan." Taste is by its definition subjective, and I would no sooner want to persuade you that yours is wrong than I would want you to tell me that mine is. Rather, what I hope to do is to look at two elements of the story that seem to be troubling some viewers who aren't sure what to make of them: the nature of the time paradox and the tone and circumstances of the Ponds' departure. The first will mainly entail a close examination of the structure of the story; the second is more of a thematic interpretation.

Now, for a disclaimer. Almost all time-loop/paradox style plots (and this surely is one) are problematic in that they, by necessity, leave loose ends. While I think this story has most things wrapped up fairly neatly, I'm sure there is a strand left undone somewhere, so please forgive me if I miss something blindingly obvious.

Now, let's start at the beginning: the newspaper. Yes, the one Amy's reading. It's a fake newspaper, obviously, but it's real within the confines of the fiction. So did you notice the headline? "Detroit Lions Win Super Bowl," it reads. I know (because I'm American and it's in my blood--plus, Wikipedia) that the Detroit Lions have never won the Super Bowl. So, either it's a newspaper from the future (essentially laughable on its face, because, well, it's a newspaper), or, it's not from this reality. I postulate that the New York we see Amy, Rory, and the Doctor in at the beginning in 2012 is a New York where the Angels were never defeated via the time paradox because, well, it hasn't happened yet. (That would also explain the fact that there are, apparently, still quite a few Angels, and not just the survivor in the graveyard.) Of course, the Angels will be defeated, which means the New York the Doctor, Amy, and Rory are in at the beginning in 2012 is not the same New York they land in at the end in 2012. Parallel timelines and all that.

Which brings us to the character who is central to both the time-loop element of the plot and the thematic core of the story: River Song. We first see River in 1938 meeting Rory, who's been sent there by the Angels (we assume). Of course, an obvious question is why River is in 1938 investigating the Angels and just happens to run into Rory right when they're about to be taken to meet Grayle. I'd wager it's narrative convenience, but it does raise interesting questions about whether or not the River we see in 1938 has already written (or read) the book or not. Given how many times we've seen River lie and dissemble over the course of the past several seasons, I would not at all be surprised if the River posing as Melody Malone has, if not written the book, perhaps already read it.

Digression on the Angels: Clearly, River knows a great deal about the fact that the Angels have essentially completely over-run Manhattan. Many fans scoffed at the idea of the Statue of Liberty being a Weeping Angel--but we still know so little about the Weeping Angels, I'm more than willing to believe that they have the ability to turn other statues into versions of themselves. And remember, this New York never happened. Just like the Cyberking over Victorian London; it's not mentioned in the history books because it never happened. By creating the paradox which poisoned the well, Rory destroyed the entire timeline where the Angels have taken Manhattan. Also, remember the faces of the people who live around Winter Quay we see in the pre-credits sequence--they clearly know about the Angels, and are terrified of them; but they're probably the only ones. It was stated in "The Time of Angels" that the Angels can use (or have?) a low-level perception filter around them; I'd imagine that's how they're running New York with so few people noticing statues moving all over the place. The neighbors are so close to the center of the Angels' power, it seems the perception filter isn't working on them anymore. The idea of any statue possibly being an Angel but, just as with the Vashta Nerada, not every statue necessarily being one, also makes good on the final moments of "Blink" that show dozens of statues, none of whom look like the Weeping Angels we generally know. Digression over.

Back to the time loop. The book is essentially an extended passage from River's diary. The reason the Doctor never reads the diary is because it fixes his future--it turns the possibility (the if) into a fact. Think Schroedinger's Cat. Once the future is observed, it's no longer a potentiality, but instead an actuality. You can quibble with the people dying in bed (how do they get food, etc.), but the thematic nature of the time loop is solid. Once you know what happens in the future, it must always happen that way and has always happened that way. You can change your own future, but you can't change your own past, and once you know the future, it is, in a sense, the past.

Unless you create a paradox. Rory does this by killing himself, along with Amy, whose future is not, apparently, ever explained--interesting that, especially as the last chapter in River's book is about Amelia's final farewell. And since Rory's death does create the paradox, the New York they were in never existed, and so they were never there to begin with, and so they never died. As for the Doctor's comment about needing a tremendous amount of power to create a paradox, he was, as Amy says, "sticking to the science." The power to create the paradox comes from love, from human emotions. Any of the other residents of the Winter Quay could have broken the paradox if they had the courage, but none of them knew enough of what was going on in order to stay alive long enough to get a chance to do so.

In essence, the time loop in the story is just like the one in "Blink," where because things are written a certain way, people do certain things to fulfill their functions, except instead of Sally Sparrow writing it all down and giving it to the Doctor before it happens to him, it's River Song writing it all down and giving it to him. The plots are essentially identical, except in "Blink" there's no paradox to destroy the time loop. Also Sally Sparrow is a, we can assume, completely impartial recorder of the events. Is River?

Which is a nice transition to the thematic interpretation portion of this (suddenly very lengthy--sorry!) post. The book is written by River. She's literally the author, directly or indirectly, of all the events that occur on-screen. And if there's one thing we know about River, it's that she lies. A lot. She knows how timelines work better than almost anybody--even the Doctor--and she knows what she needs to do to make sure they go the way they are "supposed" to go, even if that means pretending not to know things she knows or sacrificing her own life to make sure her time with the Doctor isn't erased. It's River who is in 1938 and gets Rory taken to the gangster's house where he's kidnapped by the cherubs. They don't care about him--it's Melody Malone they want, after all. It's River who encourages Amy to try to join Rory at the end. And it's River who tells the Doctor that she'll ask Amy to write a post-script to the book.

But does she really? The theme of the early part of the episode is the fact that Amy and Rory are aging. The Doctor doesn't like that. A lot of time is spent on the notion that you never let the Doctor see you age and you never let him see the damage of being around him. This, apparently, gets dropped for a run-around and the Ponds' departure. But I don't think it does. In "Blink," any time someone got zapped back in time by the Angels, we saw them arrive. That is noticeably absent here. Why not a shot of Amy appearing at Rory's side mere moments after he arrived in God knows what year where they hug and Amy smiles? Sure, the Doctor couldn't see it--but the audience could. We could have that closure. Instead, we only know what the Doctor knows, and the Doctor only knows what River tells him. He wouldn't have even thought of the last page if River hadn't suggested it to him.

I don't know if Amy and Rory found each other again. I don't know if Amy wrote the post-script. I'm inclined, however, to think that she didn't--or, at the very least, that she lied in it. Partly this is because the post-script almost exactly echoes the speech River had just given the Doctor. Are these really Amy's thoughts, or are they River's? How much of the post-script is true, I can't be sure. But I don't think it's just for the viewers' sake that the final moments return to that mysterious shot from "The Eleventh Hour." Amy (or River) sends the Doctor back to young Amelia Pond. In the Doctor's mind, she was always the real companion, after all, wasn't she? Not Amy--Amelia. Amelia, before all that damage the Doctor caused that he could never undo.

Never let the Doctor see the damage. Even if you have to lie to do so.


  1. Blimey! My head hurts!

    That was a really interesting post Erik, I'm going to have to watch the episode again after all the ideas you've put forward.

    Very well observed sir.


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