Doctor Who: The Angels Return, Disturbing Idyllic Serenity
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Of all the episodes of Flux, this was the one that I’ve been looking forward to since the moment I heard about it.
I mean, how could I not be? A chance to revisit the Weeping Angels (who are, though it pains me to give Steven Moffat credit for anything, genuinely great villains, probably the best original creations of the new Who era), and to have all of it framed in the style of a sort of John Wyndham-esque gothicky small town invasion? This is so my cup of tea that it’s not even funny. Horror in Who is always one of my favourite things that the show can pull off, and I adored the idea of using the Angels in that classic horror fashion that they were originally created for (and worked so well inhabiting, before Moffat had to go and ruin them by showing them moving, bitch, moan, whine, etc).
So what I’m saying is that my expectations were high for this episode – if not for the actual content, then for my level of buck-toothed, horror-nerded enjoyment of it. But here, after watching Village of the Angels, I can firmly say that I bloody love the actual episode, too.
The Angels fit beautifully as one-shot villains in the Flux arc, because they, more than pretty much any other villain, are built around the concept of Buggering About with Time. Honestly, if the episode had only drawn that comparison, I would have been just fine with it, especially with the Angels used in such a truly horrible way; figures looming in the distance, hoardes closing in from afar, hammering on doors, ringing on doorbells. The design and function of them still works just so astonishingly well; I’ve been watching them as villains for over a decade now, and I still get the oogie-boogies when they’re used as well as this. And that’s enough on its own.
But then, you’ve got the wider season arc flowing through this too, and that just lifts this episode into the downright brilliant. The Angel who summoned the Doctor to this small village in 1967 did so using a human, the only bait the Doctor could never turn down, to bargain for its freedom after involvement with and knowledge of the mysterious Division, which the Doctor, too, seems to have been involved in. The village acts as a sort of bear trap to snap shut around the Doctor and her companions, forcing Yas and Dan back in time to 1901 to a version of the village that’s wafting through space, and I love that idea – small towns as a living being, a functioning object, is one of my favourite versions of the “New York is the fifth character in Sex and the City” kind of approach to storytelling.
And the village itself has at least a couple of residents I really enjoy – Professor Jericho (Kevin McNally), giving me big Quatermass and the Pit energy, is a great example of how you can really flesh out a character and their motivations with a good performance and some well-placed expeditionary dialogue, even with just a few minutes of screentime. Director Jamie Magnus Stone gave it to me this episode with the gothic imagery of the village, the stone arms clawing out of walls, the spectral figure on the horizon, the extra statue in the graveyard, making the most of the look and the reputation to really bring back some bite to everyone’s worst nightmare.
And the idea of the Angels as more than just their usual malevolent timey-wimey selves is a great idea, especially in pursuit of the Doctor, and it gives them a lot more direction as villains than usual. This whole plot builds to that reveal, the Doctor transformed into an Angel, a genuinely horrible and striking image that manages to overcome dodgy CGI through the sheer significance of what it means. It’s a truly impressive moment, one of the more striking frames of Chibnall’s era, and it feels earned after the high-stakes, high-threat of the episode that came before it.
And that’s not even mentioning the pretty solid (though rightly backburnered) continuation of Bel and Vinder’s plot, giving more opportunity to get a look at the post-Flux universe and everything that means – the sense of scale, of vastness and the sheer enormity of the destruction, is one of the most visually impressive things I’ve ever seen in Who, and I loved that, too.
Village of the Angels is a triumph for the Flux season – clever, urgent, scary, and a great return to form for some of the most frightening and iconic villains of the New Who era. As we come into the last couple of episodes of this season, I can’t wait to see where we’re going next, and just how this is all going to come together.
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(header image via Radio Times)