What better start to a new year than a little Doctor Who?
In the spirit of sharing my work, I’m starting a series of posts that analyze works I love. Stories that inspired me to write, or that I think do a particularly good job of telling a captivating story. Hopefully, it will provide additional insight into how stories work. To start, I chose Doctor Who. In particular, one of my favorite episodes: The Angels Take Manhattan.
To understand this, you have to understand a few things about The Doctor Who Universe. The first is that each portrayal of The Doctor depends on the actor currently playing them. Each has at least one season living adventures in all of time and space traveling with different companions. The second is that it’s my favorite show ever. Other than that, go watch it. You won’t be disappointed.
1. What is the Global Genre?
Doctor Who is a long form, arch-plot, science fiction, drama with many content genres depending on the episode, though many turn on life and death.
This episode hits every element required for an external content action genre. The core emotion is excitement. The global value shifts on life and death with the spectrum moving from life to unconsciousness to death and, finally, to damnation. Lastly, it starts with a life-threatening event and ends with disaster.
2. What are the Conventions and Obligatory Scenes?
The inciting incident is an attack by the villain when the angels send Rory back in time. The Doctor and Amy immediately rush into action, forgetting whatever else they were doing. Initially, the hero fails: The Doctor tries to get to 1938, but bounces right back off of it. The Angels object of desire (MacGuffin) is to keep sending people back in time to keep feeding off their time energy. When The Doctor realizes what they are up against with the angels, he reaches an All is Lost Moment. Rory and Amy experience the Hero at the Mercy of the Villain when there is nowhere they can run and the statue of liberty is at the roof of the building waiting for them. And, the sacrifice of life is rewarded when everyone wakes back up in the graveyard as if they’d just arrived.
Amy, The Doctor, and River all play the hero at certain points. Rory is the victim, and the angels are the villain. Obviously, the heroes want to stop the villain and save the victim so that Amy and Rory can be together. The angels are more powerful than the hero. I mean, hello, they turn into statues when you’re looking at them, but as soon as you turn away or blink, they zap you back in time. That said, The Doctor still gives a Speech in Praise of the Villain when he talks about what they’re up against if they try to run.
3. What it the POV/Narrative Device?
There is no narrator to describe the POV. However, the show follows the adventures of The Doctor and his companions. In this case, those companions are Amy and Rory, a married couple who have dealt with the trials of making a marriage work while traveling through time and space.
As a whole, the series uses time travel to add conflict to the events. In Matt Smith’s portrayal of the character, humor plays a major role. His version of The Doctor loves and needs humanity, but doesn’t quite understand everything about them. He’s especially confused by commitment and love. Repetition that The Doctor hates endings foreshadows Amy and Rory’s time with him coming to a close.
This episode in particular is set up like an old-time crime drama and a huge element is the book by Melody Malone that The Doctor reads. It makes appearances throughout the episode and helps illuminate the dramatic irony that is significant. Dramatic Irony, remember, is when the audience knows more than the characters do. That we know the banging sound is The Statue of Liberty gives us a sense of dread and failure the characters don’t know to have. Additionally, we know Rory’s fate before anyone else.
The last narrative device worth mentioning are the paradoxes and rules of the Universe. If it were possible for Amy and The Doctor to go and get Rory in the Tardis once he’s sent back in time, her decision to follow him rather than stay with The Doctor wouldn’t have any weight. They make the stakes clear and provide a swift punch to your gut when the inevitable goodbye eventually comes.
4. What are the Objects of Desire?
Amy needs Rory who, in turn, needs her as well. They both want to keep traveling with The Doctor and having adventures in all of time and space. The proof of love scene for Rory is when he offers to kill himself to create a paradox and let them end up together. For Amy, it’s when she can’t watch Rory die, and instead climbs up on the ledge to die with him in hopes that the paradox will bring them both back together.
The Doctor wants to continue to travel with his friends and doesn’t want to admit that they are human and will eventually age. He wants to make River happy, but doesn’t quite understand how.
River, of course, wants The Doctor. Though, her contradiction is that she’s also the most independent character on the show and knows that she can’t have him.
Together, they all want to survive the angels (even if it means risking New York in the process).
5. What is the Controlling Idea/Theme?
Love is preserved when a wife commits to her husband by choosing death over the promise of adventure in all of time and space.
Overall life survives when two heroes sacrifice themselves in the name of love.
6. What is the Beginning Hook, Middle Build, and Ending Payoff?
The Doctor and Amy have to figure out why Rory turned up in a book and how to save him from whatever danger he is in, while not destroying New York in the process.
Once they are in the correct time and place, The Doctor, Amy, and River have to, once again, figure out where Rory is and save him from the angels.
Amy and Rory are on the run from the angels for the rest of time so that he doesn’t get sent back in time to never see each other again, until they realize there is no where to run and they have to decide how they can stay together despite the obstacles in their way.