Warning: spoilers throughout.
“Flesh and Stone” plows us through the obligatory cliffhanger resolution in relatively short time, throwing a few other nailbiter moments along the way – because it’s definitely not about to show its hand this early. It wants us to think it’s still all about escaping the baddies, even after it first reveals the mysterious crack in time and space. But make no mistake, even this early in the episode, it’s all about that crack.
What’s clever – downright brilliant – about Steven Moffat’s teleplay is how easily it allows the Doctor to become distracted. To Amy, to River, to the Marine Priests (or Priest Marines, whichever), and to us, the angels are still a most dangerous threat, ready to kill everyone before heading out to conquer the universe. But to the Doctor, that’s minor league chump stuff. This crack that’s un-writing time itself, well, now we’re talking important. Matt Smith plays the character as instantly distracted – and rather perturbed at the fact that nobody around him seems to be able to prioritize the way he can.
That’s one of the more fascinating concepts about the “Who” franchise. Here is a lead character who’s noble enough to be a worthy hero but is otherwise completely over our heads. He’s a genius of superhero proportions with an ego to match, and every now and then, the writers and the producers decide it’s OK to make him all too unlikable. Especially Smith’s Eleventh Doctor, who’s quickly annoyed by having to slow down and dumb down just so these pesky humans can keep up. This new Doctor whines, screams, pounds his fists, throws a tantrum. He’s lived too long; he thinks he deserves to have an adventure without having to deal with companions and hangers-on who just don’t get it. Good thing he’s also a sweetheart.
So yes. Once the crack arrives – and then starts eating up characters, erasing them from existence (what’s a worse fate, death by angel or erasure by crack in time?) – he’s determined to plow through all this dealing-with-angels nonsense as quickly as possible. A little running around here, some fast talk there, and poof, off they go into the crack of time, never to have been.
Ah, but us mere mortals, we still get treated to one hell of a ride, with a forest in a spaceship, a beastie in Amy’s eye, revelations about River’s past/the Doctor’s future, the chilly sound of an angel’s verbal threats, and the brilliantly heartbreaking demise of Father Octavian (Iain Glen). Combined with the previous episode, this is epic stuff, an airtight thriller that doesn’t let up, even after the hero has set his sights on bigger problems.
It doesn’t seem like we’re finished with River Song, who promises to return in a fairy tale (but when? This year? Next?). Both she and the Doctor have resigned themselves to the time travelers’ fate of meeting out of order, best summed up by this lovely exchange late in the episode:
The Doctor: “I look forward to it.”
River: “I remember it well.”
Revelations hint at a terrible fate for the Doctor in River’s past, but then, as the Doctor is quick to remind us, the past and future can be rewritten, can’t it?
(Can’t it? Smith’s frown suggests maybe not this time. Like David Tennant’s empathetic Doctor before him, Smith displays an excellent sense of emotion and sorrow, saying so much by saying so little. The flash of anguish he displays while talking with River is devastating.)
Is that what’s happened with Amy, who doesn’t remember the Dalek invasion, or the Cybermen, or the spaceship crashing into Big Ben? Fans were expecting this question to remain teased at and unanswered until the season finale, but Moffat throws us a curveball and decides to deal with it right now – or, at least, in the next episode. That’s a brave move, and, assuming nothing gets bungled in the coming weeks, a smart one, one that will allow the season to have greater cohesion. If the rest of the season does turn into the Doctor’s quest to solve the Riddle of Amy Pond, it’ll be a most fascinating story arc – and arguably the most in-depth examination of a companion’s character since Sylvester McCoy’s final year and its multiple Ace-centric serials.
OK, now for the big question: what’s up with that attempted snogging? Could it be as simple as it seems, a horned-out companion with the hots for the Time Lord, making her move? Possibly, but something about that final scene seemed… off. Amy didn’t seem herself. Was this because the scene was so unexpected, or because something else is amiss? Hmm. Hmm, indeed.
(Oh, and: Amy’s marrying “the other one.” Maybe. Good for her.)