Why the Weeping Angels are rubbish

Let’s get this out of the way. ‘Blink’ is my favourite episode of New Who. Moffat achieves more in the forty-odd minutes of that than he’s achieved in two bloated, choppy series as head writer. There have been some wonderful Eleventh Doctor moments, and Matt Smith has been terrific, but – as we feared – the quality of Moffat’s writing has suffered. The time was that everything he did was wondrous. These days, for every ‘Eleventh Hour’ there’s a ‘Beast Below’, and for every ‘Girl in the Fireplace’ there’s a ‘Wedding of River Song’. It’s unclear whether this has happened because Moffat simply no longer has the time to tighten and refine his scripts as before. That would be a normal explanation. What’s more likely, however, is that the habits and conceits that were effective over single episodes simply do not translate well to the season-length arcs for which he is now responsible.

Like Davies before him, Moffat has his recurring themes. The use of technology for emotional impact (across video screens, telephones or voice communicators) is one. The ontological paradox is another. ‘Blink’ was full of them, but a common trend these days is to stretch them over the course of a series or even beyond. (Series five eventually revealed that the cracks were caused by an exploding TARDIS, but even at the end of ‘The Big Bang’ we still had no idea about what ‘Silence will fall’ meant; there are days even now when I’m not entirely sure.)

At this point, you’re either nodding your head in recognition because you agree with me, or (more likely) shaking it in dissent wondering “Where the hell is he coming from, saying our beloved Weeping Angels are rubbish? I’d rather have them than a Dalek any day”. And in a way, you’d be right. Because in ‘Blink’, the Angels are terrific. They’re simultaneously familiar and unfamiliar, relatively original and (in that first appearance) utterly terrifying. ‘Blink’ is the cheap episode and it shows, but credit where credit’s due: Moffat takes a shoestring budget and, much like the original production teams in Classic Who, uses his imagination to work wonders.

But less is more. And the truth of it is the Angels should have been a one-time appearance, like the Minotaur in ‘The God Complex’, the scarecrows in ‘The Family of Blood’ and the Absorbaloff in ‘Love and Monsters’ (albeit for quite different reasons). They’re unique to the story in that they’re exactly the sort of thing you’d expect to find in an old gothic mansion (all right, a big house) and that makes them all the more effective. If we’d left them there, never to be seen again, I’d have been happy. But Moffat has his favourites, and the Angels have now become the kid in class who’s popular with the sports teacher and is picked to captain all the teams, even those for sports he doesn’t play. And the more you analyse and explore them, the more the inconsistencies and problems come to light. Let me explain.

Blink

What’s The Time, Mr Bad Wolf?

Let’s begin with the central premise. In ‘Blink’, the Doctor describes the Angels as being quantum locked. In other words, they can only move if you’re not looking at them.

I’m not a physicist. I’m an English graduate. And, like me, the Doctor was renowned for being a rubbish student, so perhaps he’s simply out of his depth here. But my very limited understanding on quantum theory suggests that the word ‘observe’ does not mean ‘look’. Wikipedia defines it as “a measurable operator, or gauge, where the property of the system state can be determined by some sequence of physical operations. For example, these operations might involve submitting the system to various electromagnetic fields and eventually reading a value off some gauge”.

In other words, you don’t have to actually be looking at the Angel to freeze it. Touching it is enough. So a blind person in the presence of an Angel can ‘observe’ the Angel by touching it. And once observed, its presence is noted. You’re still aware of it even when you’re not looking at it. (Moffat would solve this problem with the Silence, who are also a bit silly.) Or presumably you could just train a video camera on the Angel or set up a thermal imaging unit or carry something to measure radiation, and you’d be observing the damn thing, and it would be stopped in its tracks forever. I know that not everyone owns portable Geiger counters, but you’d think River Song’s crew would have thought of packing them when they set off for the Byzantine.

Let’s assume – for the sake of the argument – that the ‘quantum locked’ thing is simply inaccurate and that what Moffat really means is “you just have to be looking at it”. I could just about buy this as a theory, except for one crucial element: if, as the Doctor says, the Angels have to be observed by living things in order to freeze into rock, does this mean sentient living things, or will anything with a pulse do? For example:

EXT. MEADOW. DAY

A beautiful sunlit meadow; two Angels are spreading out a picnic blanket. They do not look at each other.

FIRST ANGEL
There’s sand all over this rug. Did you remember to wash it after we went to Swanage?

SECOND ANGEL
I thought you’d done it.

FIRST ANGEL
You wash, I do the ironing, remember? Pass me the wet wipes, I need to give it a scrub. Oh, bugger.

SECOND ANGEL
What?

FIRST ANGEL
Ladybird.

SECOND ANGEL
Where?

FIRST ANGEL
That leaf. Just there. No, COME AROUND ME, DON’T LOOK OVER MY SHOULDER.

SECOND ANGEL
I don’t think it’s seen us yet.

FIRST ANGEL
Of course it hasn’t seen us, you twit. Would we be having this conversation if it had?

SECOND ANGEL
It still has its back to us. Hold on, it’s flying away.

FIRST ANGEL
I told you we should have gone to that abandoned shopping centre. That thing’s airtight.

SECOND ANGEL
We’d still have to watch out for spiders. And you remember the time we found that bee’s nest. We were there for over a month.

There is a sound of buzzing.

FIRST ANGEL
Speaking of winged insects –

A wasp flies past, freezing both Angels into rock. It passes and they unfreeze.

FIRST ANGEL
Well, let’s hope that’s the last we see –

It flies back the other way, lingers round the picnic basket for a second, then vanishes.

SECOND ANGEL
I bloody hate summer.

octavian-angel

The only psychopaths in the universe to kill you nicely

“Look, Steven. I know you want to bring back the Angels, and we don’t have a problem with that, except for one thing.”
“What’s the matter, Piers?”
“They’re not particularly evil, are they?”
“How do you mean?”
“Well, they’re scary. I mean, truly scary. The way they jump out of the dark is great. But – well, they don’t really do much, do they? They sort of zap you into the past and live off your energy. Which by the way makes no sense, but let’s not go there just now.”
“Zapping you into the past is pretty evil, you know. Think about it. You have to start over from scratch. You won’t have any friends. The money you’re carrying is going to be worthless. Your family will never see you again. Plus it gave me a chance to write those heart-rending ontological scenes. Don’t you remember I-have-until-the-rain-stops?”
“Yes, I still cry at that. But it’s a one-story gimmick. Can’t you do something else?”
“I could have them try and nick the TARDIS again.”
“Been there, done that. Besides, that scene was silly. Why the hell did they think shaking it was going to open the doors? It’s not a toy fire engine.”
“I wasn’t really thinking straight; I just thought it looked cool.”
“Anyway, Steven. If we’re going to invest in a two-parter can’t you have them be a little bit more vicious?”
“Hmm. I could have them snap your neck when they get close enough.”
“…”
“Too much?”
“No, it’s good, let’s run with it.”
“Do you think we should worry about the continuity?”
“Oh, why start now?”

The main thing, of course, is that people who get zapped into the past always seem to end up in nice places where they manage to survive and thrive – compare this with (for example) Henry from The Time Traveler’s Wife, who always seems to end up naked and cold in the middle of locked museums, back alleys, or shooting ranges. Closer to home, poor Jamie McCrimmon has his memory wiped by the Time Lords in the closing chapters of ‘The War Games’, and is unceremoniously dumped in the middle of a highland battlefield with an angry redcoat swiftly bearing down on him. But in ‘Blink’, the characters all find themselves happy and contented and fulfilled, which leads me to question whether the Angels are really as nasty as they seem. You could almost picture two Angels taking high tea (with their backs to each other), perhaps in Wester Drumlins in its finer days, chatting:

“Now, Algernon, where are this week’s drop-off points?”
“Let me see. Royal Leamington Spa, 1937. The shores of Antigua. Oh, and Disneyland.”
“Splendiferous. You know, it really is a thankless task being an energy-sucking parasite, isn’t it? We spend all our time ensuring our victims are relocated to comfortable places, and we don’t get the tiniest bit of gratitude.”
“Way of the world, my dear. Anyway, I’m off to bed. See you in twenty-five years?”
“No, you won’t.”

carpark-tardis-angels

Against all odds, the Angels have the phone box

“That’s why they cover their eyes. They’re not weeping. They can’t risk looking at each other. Their greatest asset is their greatest curse. They can never be seen. The loneliest creatures in the universe.”

Fine. It was enough to defeat them at the end of ‘Blink’. But seriously, how did they get anything done? Picture, for example, two Angels playing tennis. Go on. Picture it. Now add an umpire. It’d be the slowest game in history. Even Stephen Hawking could have beaten them. How did the Angels manage to carry the TARDIS out of the police station garage without looking at each other? How would two Angels move a sofa? How does Angel chess work? Can Angels talk on Skype? How do they travel? I’m guessing they don’t drive, or if they do they don’t use car pools, because whoever’s in the back seat would freeze the driver into rock, which would result in chaos on the roads. I should imagine they’re okay at punting, but for the most part they presumably walk, largely at night, favouring wide open spaces where they can stroll along side by side.

“If they have quite narrow tunnel-ish vision,” says Gareth, “with not much peripheral vision, then they could walk in side-by-side chain, each going forwards until one of the ones behind sees them, then freezing until the others catch up. Or they could go forward in small groups, circling around, with each taking turns to be the one at the back who can actually move – a bit like cyclists taking it in turns to be the one at the front of the pack.”

And you thought the Silence Olympics was silly. The Doctor posits that the Angels have survived as long as the universe has by evolving “the perfect defence mechanism”. I’d suggest that they’ve survived this long because even a family meal takes over a century.

Doctor-Who-Time-of-Angels-Next-Time-17

“That which holds the image of an angel becomes itself an angel”

Oh, don’t get me started on this. I don’t deny it was a good scene. It’s creepy and effective – MY GOD, THEY’RE COMING OUT OF THE TV! – until you actually think about it. That would mean, for example, that you could never draw them, because the result would be death. It would be like drawing Mohammed. Time Lord academy art classes would result in carnage. On the other hand, it does explain how they procreate; they just set up a video camera and then leave it running while another Angel walks into shot. It’s certainly more clinical than Gareth’s proposed method, which involved both Angels wearing blindfolds, “with maybe a kinky Angel taking its blindfold off every now and then to taunt its partner”. This, presumably, is the ultimate BDSM, and the Weeping Angels’ favourite book is Fifty Shades of Grey Stone.

The point behind all of this is that the Angels in ‘Blink’ are built on a very shaky house of cards. And the moment you start to put turrets on top, which is what ‘Flesh and Stone’ tried to do, you get cards all over the place. For example, the ending of ‘Flesh and Stone’ – in which a blind Amy is told to advance through a horde of Angels who don’t know she’s blind – doesn’t work because the Angels figure out halfway through the walk that she can’t see them. But they don’t freeze voluntarily, keeping as still as they can like in a particularly nasty game of musical statues; they freeze because someone’s looking at them and they can’t unfreeze until that person is looking away. Concordantly, if Amy was blind they would never have been frozen in the first place, and she wouldn’t have been able to even start the walk. That’s unless, of course, the other-Doctor was there, wandering around before not quite coming into shot, but it’s a stretch (and likely the sort of thing that only gets inserted after the fact, when the fans start complaining).

You see what I mean, anyway. The whole mythology as it was built across the series five episodes made no real sense and just diluted the Angels to the point where they almost became parodies of themselves – a legacy that’s set to continue at Christmas in a series mini-finale that will ensure, as we have been assured by the chief writer, that “not everyone gets out alive”. And if I am weeping, it’s because I can’t bear to look, but for quite different reasons to those of the lonely assassins. The bottom line is that the Angels were one-story villains, and that’s how they should have stayed: frozen, locked in time, staring at each other, never to move again. Giving them voices was just about excusable, giving them a backstory was tenuous, and giving them visible movement was a disaster. And before we can say “Dancing Graham Norton” –

Sometimes you just need to know when to stop.

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Categories: New Who | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

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9 thoughts on “Why the Weeping Angels are rubbish

  1. I agree on all points. Really, Wester Drumlins should have been where it stopped – the Angels just became ridiculous after that.

    Besides, how can you ever take them seriously again when you’ve seen them dancing the Macarena?

    • reverend61

      Glad you agree. I’d not seen them dancing the Macarena, but it’s another nail in the coffin!

      • It’s like you said: there have been some stunning episodes (The Girl Who Waited, The Doctor’s Wife, Closing Time for instance) and Matt is fabulous – but Moffat has become too big for his boots and has decided that he can get away with writing unmitigated rubbish because people will watch it anyway. and yes, we watch it anyway, but poor Matt really doesn’t get a good rep because of so many rubbish episodes! His doctor is so like Troughton’s as to be amazing, but he rarely gets the chance to truly shine.

  2. Some great points. They are creepily effective but don’t make much sense at all.

    • reverend61

      Indeed! They *are* creepy, I’ve never denied that, but the more he uses them the less sense they make and less inclined I’m likely to feel towards their effectiveness as a villain…

  3. Meryah

    I find they work quite well. The Doctor isn’t always accurate according to our physics – maybe ‘quantum-locked’ is correct on Gallifrey. Also, a really really good reason why they’re so creepy is ‘The Fourth Wall Will Not Protect You’ – look it up on TV Tropes. They can’t move, because you (the viewer) is seeing them. Even when they moved, it’s ‘cos the shutter closes in a video camera twenty-four times a second. That’s why they’re so slow.

    • reverend61

      Good point – I’ll allow for the fourth wall deconstruction! I still think they’re one of those villains that are passed off as being clever when really, nothing about them makes sense!

  4. I agree with you on most of the points. The biggest argument I have is about the “That which holds the image of an angel becomes itself an angel” part. I disagree with you on this point, because it says “image of an angel”, not appearance or likeness, that while often synonymous, they do not mean the exact same thing. I believe image could mean an actually photo or recording of an actual angel, where as appearance or likeness would include crude reproductions, such as sketches and “Time Lord academy art class”. The only argument I see against this is that the person who wrote the book about them didn’t add any sketches of them.

    This next thing is more something to point out, rather then an argument. At one point, Angel Bob said that they stole Bobs voice because they can’t talk normally, and at another point he says the angels are laughing. This leads me to believe they have some form of communication that humans are un-aware, such as telepathy or some sort of hive mind. These would also allow them to move around with only one of them being able to see (it would need to be the one in front).

    Also, I don’t know where you got the “observed” idea from, I just re-watched “Blink”, and he never says that, he always says “they can’t move while you’re looking at them”. Notice he says “look” not “observe”, meaning non visual monitoring equipment would have no effect on them, and if a person observed them via touch, then they wouldn’t freeze, they would feed. A camera however can look at them, meaning any visual monitoring devices would work, however they would also create more angels, because either it would store it as an image, or it would send it to a screen, which would display it as angel.

    • reverend61

      Thank you for such a detailed, thoughtful response! We’ll take them one by one.

      I take your point about the image thing, and that a physical reproduction of an actual Angel – however grainy – could be the only thing that works. To be honest I was being slightly flippant. But even if that’s the case, why bother to drop it into the script? The Doctor’s quick to point out that “there are no pictures”. “Oh, look,” says Moffat. “We’ve found something else to make them scary. They emerge from CCTV footage.” It’s clearly designed to spook the kids who are watching at home, the way that little epilogue was in ‘Blink’. But as I said, it’s a slightly shaky house of cards.

      Good work on the hive mind / shared consciousness thing. I really only put that in because I’m amused by the idea of two Angels trying to move a sofa.

      As for your observed / looked at point, I’ve just gone back to that scene in Blink and the actual dialogue is “They are quantum-locked. They don’t exist when they’re being observed. The moment they are seen by any other living creature, they freeze into rock.” This is the first proper explanation we get of the Angels, and it’s the one that everyone refers to.

      The problem with this is that it instantly ties up the Angels with the theory of quantum mechanics. Quantum locking is an actual scientific term – one that appears to bear no relation to what we’re discussing, so I won’t bother with a fudged explanation. But my original point still stands: in the first instance, by a standard definition of quantum theory you wouldn’t have to actually be ‘looking’ at the Angel in order to be observing it, whether the video camera theory works or not. This renders the end of ‘Flesh and Stone’ utterly implausible, because Amy is still ‘observing’ the Angels even if she can’t see them.

      I’m prepared, therefore, to accept that it’s just bad terminology on Moffat’s part (or, more likely, that he just didn’t care). If I were being picky I’d question why he tied it up with quantum mechanics in this way if the science doesn’t work, but you’re not supposed to take these things too seriously, so we can let that go. I still think having a monster that can’t move unless no one is looking at it is rendered implausible by the wildlife argument I brought up – and as for that ridiculous scene with the Statue of Liberty….

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