Where “The Time of Angels” was a thriller of an episode, “Flesh and Stone” plays out far more like a horror movie. Our heroes are pursued by a relentless group of killers that they are nearly powerless against. The Angels also have a grip on Amy Pond, one that nearly kills her halfway through the episode. But more than anything, this episode is about revelations–about River in part, but largely about the plot arc most viewers at the time believed wouldn’t come up again until the finale.
The relentless pursuit of hundreds of Weeping Angels drives the Doctor and Amy and the others through the downed starship they escaped to at the end of the last episode. There are some genuinely frightening moments here, especially when the Doctor must turn the lights out to open a door. The Angels creep forward to the strobe of constant gunfire, gaining on our heroes by inches. When everyone makes it to the ship’s secondary flight deck, we’re granted only a slight reprieve.
Amy’s encounter with the Angel left her vulnerable to them–as we find out, there’s a living image of an Angel in her mind, coming to kill her, and making her count down to her death because it’s fun to it. The tension and horror of her situation is scary enough on its own, but not so frightening as what we find out just beforehand.
The crack that was in young Amelia’s wall has appeared in the last couple stories at the end, but it makes a major reappearance here. Rather than following Russell T. Davies’ model of arc words that only become fully relevant in the finale, Steven Moffat brings his arc to the fore very early on. Here the Doctor encounters the cracks, and discovers what they are and what they’re doing: the cracks are time running out, erasing everything that gets near them. We don’t know where they come from, or why they’re following Amy and the Doctor, but the dire situation is made clear nonetheless.
One thing Moffat does here is quietly explain away some of the very public events that happened in a lot of RTD’s finales and specials. The Cyberking from “The Next Doctor” is a victim of the cracks, as is (apparently) the Dalek invasions seen in the Series 2 and Series 4 finales (since we learned in “Victory of the Daleks” that Amy had no idea what a Dalek was). It’s just a largely throwaway line, but with it, Moffat quietly sets things back to zero for his run of the show. The public invasions are “gone”–they still happened, of course, but they don’t have an influence on the future companions’ stories. (Remember how Martha was quick to realize that aliens were involved in “Smith and Jones”, because of what she’d experienced as a result of the Series 2 finale?)
Another revelation we receive here is one about River: we find out that she is in prison for killing a man. This adds a layer of darkness to her character that hasn’t been present before, and furthermore raises the question of whether she can be fully trusted, if she’s a murderer. It exposes an interesting new facet of her character–that she killed the “best man [she’s] every known” and seems to even regret it. Though this won’t be fully explored until the next series, it’s still highly intriguing.
To be honest, there is only one thing about this episode that bothers me, and it’s at the very end, when Amy tries to seduce the Doctor and ends up planting a kiss on him. It’s always made me uncomfortable because of the lack of consent in the whole matter, and I’m kind of glad that Steven Moffat came out and said that he regrets writing it. It’s not really the kind of thing we need in Doctor Who, and having Moffat disavow it makes me feel comfortable being discomfited by it.
All in all, “Flesh and Stone” is one heck of an episode. It finishes its story in a satisfying manner while breaking open the main arc of the series in a way that still leaves us asking questions. This episode and its predecessor are a story I return to often, because it’s such a pleasure to watch a well-constructed tale unfold.