Written by: Steven Moffat
Directed by: Hettie MacDonald
Very soon there will probably be hordes of British children poised to develop cornea damage as they walk home from school straining to keep their eyes open. If, like us, you always hated morbid Victorian churchyard statues, you've now been given an extra reason - this is easily the most terrifying New Who episode.
Steven Moffat has a knack for conjuring iconically fearful situations. 2005’s gas-mask wearing child asking “Are you my mummy?” in that hollow voice, while the bombs fell, felt like an evil stir-fry of dark childhood nightmares. And now he’s managed to chill us once again with stone angels who move when you’re not looking. That befanged figure moving through the flickering darkness of a cellar towards the camera, arms outstretched, surely gave a shiver of pure dread to everybody, let alone the kids. We love the idea of a quantum-locked villain that can’t move while being observed - it’s a superb creation, on the borderline between genius and "Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal" lunacy.
Some facts for the recently traumatised: the premise of a girl called Sally Sparrow communicating with the Doctor across time is drawn from an earlier short story Moffat wrote, called "What I did on my Christmas Holidays by Sally Sparrow", although this did not feature the weeping angels. Check it out in the 2006 Doctor Who annual. So that's a couple of episodes this series based on adaptations of a writer's older stories (compare Paul Cornell's "Human Nature") and it's a tradition that ought to continue, if these recent episodes are anything to go by - all classics. Also worth knowing, for those puzzled by the fact that the Doctor was curiously absent, is that this episode was deliberately Tennant-lite to enable him to film another episode at the same time.
However, unlike last year's "Love & Monsters", another high-concept story where the Doctor is peripheral to the main action for practical reasons, the Time Lord remains a stronger presence throughout, even when he's not on screen. The concept of the Doctor and others leaving messages across time is very cute (there are shades of Back To The Future when Sally receives a letter delivered to a certain place on a certain day). The fact that the Doctor knows what to say to Sally, because she wrote it down and gave it to him, surely qualifies as one of those causal loop paradoxes that time travel enthusiasts are always banging on about. Ah well, forget it, it's Who, where timey-wimey is a great big wobbly ball. As an aside, if there's any justice in the world, there will be an Easter egg of the Doctor's dialogue on the next BBC DVD of this series. Are you listening, 2Entertain?
Oh, and if we're talking about justice, then we want to see Detective Inspector Shipton get his own Life On Mars-style spin-off show set in 1969. Cool and likable, his personality dominates the scenes he's in. We're not really struck on the droopy Nightingale brother, but Shipton (Michael Obiora) and Sparrow (the gorgeous Carey Mulligan) immediately leap out as memorable characters, charmingly acted with witty, yet natural, dialogue.
The episode feels outside the current run of Who stories, and is devoid of this series' leitmotifs. No Saxon, no romantic asides for Martha, no "Mr Smith". The Doctor does slyly say, "I’m rubbish at weddings – especially my own" but apart from that reference to himself, his character (and that of Martha) shows no development at all. It's almost possible to imagine any of the ten Doctors contributing to this adventure. This timelessness will no doubt work in its favour, as it goes down as one of the finest, scariest, cleverest Who episodes ever.
All we need now are t-shirts that say: “The angels have the phone box.”
“Sparrow and Nightingale – it so works!”
“It’s a bit ITV.”