Warning: This review post contains spoilers. If you have not yet seen Village of the Angels, please leave now and return once you’ve watched it.
Devon, November 1967. A little girl has gone missing. Professor Eustacius Jericho is conducting psychic experiments. And in the village graveyard, there is one gravestone too many. Why is Medderton known as “The Cursed Village”? And what do the Weeping Angels want?
Maxine Alderton’s return after highlight of Series 12 The Haunting of Villa Diodati certainly does not disappoint and manages to recapture more of the energy of the first two chapters of Flux, after last week’s slightly weaker, but no less intriguing entry. In the aftermath of watching it, I think that this might be the strongest entry in the series so far, using the returning Weeping Angels well to the extent that it is only afterwards that I realised that we didn’t see Swarm, Joseph Williamson or Azwok at all in this episode. I keep expecting this storyline to hit a massive bump, but so far, I’m really enjoying it.
I probably say this at the beginning of every co-written story on the blog, but it is difficult to allocate out praise and criticism where there are two writers. It would be all too easy to say that Alderton wrote the main Weeping Angel storyline and Chibnall contributed the parts tying into the overarching narrative around the Division (or is it just “Division” now?). This is a really nicely paced episode, which I thought was going down a route more similar to War of the Sontarans than Once, Upon Time or The Halloween Apocalypse, only paying lip service to the main narrative, until we get a mention of Division and the fact that the Rogue Angel claims to have access to all of the Doctor’s missing memories, although this may simply be a ruse to keep the Doctor onside. Quite a lot happens here, and it does feel like pieces are being slotted into place ahead of the final two episodes of this series, and I just really hope that the show can stick the landing as this is probably the most intrigued and engaged with this era of the show that I’ve ever been. As I said to my wife immediately after the broadcast, “I have not got a clue where this storyline is going, and I’m loving it.” I love the idea of a quiet Devon village being quantum-extracted into space, with the villagers all vanishing, not only in 1967 but in 1901 too. It’s such a brilliant idea and almost surprising that it has not been done before. The cliffhanger is also superb, if slightly let down by the mid-credit scene where we get the Vinder and Bel storyline advanced minutely, which slightly punctures that “What? What? What?” moment, but this series has had some of the best cliffhangers thus far. Even the theme tune seems confused…
There are some great directorial moments here for Jamie Magnus Stone. I love the cinematography in the cold open, establishing the village setting as coming straight out of the creepiest thriller or horror film, and the limitations of the Weeping Angels – ie: to make them effective, you need to turn out the light – doesn’t seem to impinge on this episode’s overall effect. At no point was I in any doubt about what was going on, except when the story wanted me to be. The shots of the Weeping Angel operating the controls of the Doctor’s TARDIS are perhaps the best testament to this, using the flashes to create a really tense atmosphere. Additionally, the scenes in Claire’s mind with the Doctor communicating with the Rogue Angel is some of the best cinematography in the series to date, There are some weak moments of CGI though, especially in Azure’s brief cameo to the group of survivors, including Namaca and Bel, but this feels like such a minor quibble, but is probably the scene that has been most negatively impacted by COVID related restrictions.
The guest cast are strong here too. Kevin McNally gets the most to do as Professor Jericho, a man devoted to science at the detriment to the rest of his life, and I think that McNally brings the character a real sense of authority and gravitas. Jericho is a man of honour, ultimately allowing Claire to escape and he is relatively determined to get back to help the Doctor once the Angel has touched him and he joins the companions and Peggy. Equally, the missing girl is wonderfully played, both as a child and as the understandably traumatised Peggy, trying to warn everyone in 1967 of the danger that they are in, which is possibly one of the saddest elements of the episode that nobody took her seriously. We also finally get answers as to who Claire is and how she knew so much about the Doctor and the Weeping Angel, and I assume that we will see more of her in the remaining two installments of Flux. Blake Harrison also makes the most of a small role as Namaca opposite Bel, managing to make you root for him in relatively limited screentime, as a desperate survivor of the Flux. Jacob Anderson and Thaddea Graham are good as bringing some heart to this series, with their romance and their unborn child potentially giving us a sense of hope in this seemingly doomed universe. Bel is again the hero, saving Namaca from being absorbed by Passenger, something which he is ultimately grateful for despite his initial disappointment. Vinder has little to do, but the mid-credits sting does progress their story without it impacting too much on this episode.
I really like what this story does with the Weeping Angels. Not content to just have them repeat their main party tricks that have been established in their previous adventures, the writers here have cleverly expanded on their powers to make them all the more frightening. Of course, they do zap a lot of people back to 1901, including Dan and Yaz, but we finally get answers to what happens if they touch you twice – it doesn’t end well for Peggy’s two guardians, Gerald and Jean. We equally get the stone coming from Claire’s eye and her body slowly turning into stone, like Amy’s did in The Time of Angels and the whole idea of whatever holds the image of an angel becomes an angel is used to good effect here. The addition of the Angels’ ability to secrete themselves in human minds, as the Rogue Angel has hidden itself in Claire’s mind, as well as being able to dig into Jericho’s deepest insecurities, and one of the most effective moments is the scene in the mirror where Claire sees herself with the Angel wings. We also get justification as to how dangerous images of Angels can be, with Claire’s hand-drawn picture managing not only to reform after being torn up, going on to survive the drawing being set on fire as well. Ultimately, though, their greatest strength is that they are patient. They know that they will get an opportunity to achieve their goal, whether that is breaking into the basement under siege, in the tunnel as their hands reach out for those hoping to escape, or eventually capturing the Doctor, their end goal after all of this time.
Jodie Whittaker continues to go from strength to strength here and shines yet again here. I really enjoyed her defence of how she enters Jericho’s basement, which felt very Doctor-y, as well as her brief digression about how high scoring his name would be in Scrabble if proper nouns were allowed. In the final scenes, the audience is ahead of the Doctor, as she believes that the Weeping Angels are still after the Rogue Angel, whilst the audience has probably sussed something is going wrong, but Whittaker sells this moment really well, as her companions watch on powerlessly from 1901. One of the advantages of this TARDIS team, despite Yaz claiming that it has a flat structure, is that it is very heavily weighted towards her now. She is the experienced companion in the partnership, rather than being equal to Graham and Ryan, so she is able to take the lead, drawing on her police training and experience of missing people investigations at the beginning. Dan is still a good companion and gets a lot of the best lines here, even if Bishop gets very little to do.
Verdict: This is definitely up there with the best Weeping Angels episodes, and leaves me wanting more – especially after that Next Time trailer! 10/10
Cast: Jodie Whittaker (The Doctor), Mandip Gill (Yasmin Khan), John Bishop (Dan Lewis), Annabel Scholey (Claire Brown), Kevin McNally (Professor Jericho), Penelope Ann McGhie (Mrs Hayward), Alex Frost (Reverend Shaw), Vincent Brimble (Gerald), Jemma Churchill (Jean), Poppy Polivnick (Peggy), Rochenda Sandall (Azure), Barbara Fadden, Isla Moody and Lowri Brown (Weeping Angels) & Jonny Mathers (Passenger).
Writer: Chris Chibnall and Maxine Alderton
Director: Jamie Magnus Stone
Behind the Scenes
- The first episode to feature the Weeping Angels in the title since The Angels Take Manhattan, and the first to feature them as a major antagonist in a television story not written by their creator Steven Moffat. They have, of course, appeared in Big Finish audio plays in the intervening years.
- The second story to have a mid-credit scene after Death in Heaven.
- Like The Halloween Apocalypse, the story is set on 21st November, the same day it was broadcast, although this story is set in 1967.
- The only episode of Doctor Who: Flux not to feature Karvanista, Swarm or Joseph Williamson.
- The only episode in the Flux arc to be co-written by anyone other than Chris Chibnall.
- Kevin McNally previously played Hugo Lang in the Sixth Doctor serial The Twin Dilemma. He has also played numerous roles for Big Finish, most notably playing Merrick Kingdom in Dalek Universe, as well as playing Henry in Spider’s Shadow and Vakrass in The End of the Beginning.
- Vincent Brimble previously appeared in Warriors of the Deep.
- Blake Harrison had previously appeared as Daniel Hopkins, UNIT medical officer in the Big Finish stories The Helliax Rift, Hour of the Cybermen and Warlock’s Cross.
- Jemma Churchill appeared in The Five(ish) Doctors Reboot as herself, as well as appearing in Creatures of Beauty, Breaking Bubbles and Signs and Wonders.
Well, it can’t really be any moment other than the cliffhanger, seeing the Doctor being imprisoned as a Weeping Angel. It could only put me in mind of this quote from The End of Time:
The vote is taken. Only two stand against – and will stand as monument to their shame like the Weeping Angels of old.Rassilon
How did you get in here?
Your door was open.
It most certainly was not!
Well, it was once I opened it, but let’s not get bogged down in the order of things.Professor Eustacius Jericho and the Thirteenth Doctor
Previous Thirteenth Doctor Review: Once, Upon Time