Doctor Who: Flux Gets Divinely Gothic In The Season-Best Village Of The Angels

The great tragedy of the most beloved episode of "Doctor Who" is that it introduced a monster so good, so primally terrifying and so fiendishly efficient, that any following appearances could only be diminishing returns for them. I'm talking, of course, about "Blink" and the Weeping Angels. The Weeping Angels are easily the most famous monsters to come out of Nu Who, but their conceit — that they can only move when they're not seen — and their incredible abstract powers — that they zap people back in time and feast on the potential energy of their unlived lives — made it hard to adapt them to any scenario beyond a time-bending urban horror story like "Blink." Their creator, Steven Moffat, would bring them back a couple more times to varying degrees of success (I honestly think "Angels in Manhattan is a decent effort and "The Time of Angels/Flesh and Stone" is a spectacular barn-burner of a two-parter), but not even he could recreate that specific Lovecraftian horror that they evoke. But with "Village of the Angels," Chris Chibnall and Maxine Alderton could.

While the two share the co-writing credits for this fourth chapter of "Doctor Who: Flux," I'm going to give most of the credit for the eerie atmosphere and creeping horror of this 1960s-set episode to Alderton, who is now two-for-two after her fantastic and equally creepy season 12 episode "The Haunting of Villa Diodati." The Chibnall stuff, which I'm assuming is mostly arc-related plot stuff like the ongoing Division mystery and the out-of-place Bel-Vinder storyline, felt tacked on and weak compared to what amounted to a chilling Gothic horror episode of "Doctor Who" — and the best episode of the "Flux" miniseries yet.

Have You Counted the Stones?

There's nothing better than a fog-covered British village, a missing child, and archaic psychic experiments in a professor's dilapidated basement to convey immediately what kind of episode this will be: we're going Gothic, baby. Though British viewers' minds may go more immediately to "Stone Tape" folk horror — the 19th century supernatural-meets-sci-fi kind of horror popularized in 1970s works like, well, "The Stone Tape" — I'm going to refer to things us dumb Americans have been raised on. And a Gothic horror story is so well-suited to the Weeping Angels that it's amazing this hasn't been done before. Their appearances as ancient stone statues and their unnerving powers all lend to a Gothic episode, and "Village of the Angels" makes the most of it.

This creepy atmosphere is played up in the cold open, which sees Claire Brown (Annabel Scholey) undergoing a psychic experiment conducted by Professor Jericho ("Pirates of the Caribbean" mainstay Kevin McNally, easily one of the best supporting characters of the Chibnall era). He asks her rudimentary questions — her name, her age — but she flubs her birth date, saying 1985 before correcting herself to 1935. Yes, this is the mysterious woman from the first episode who seems to have been zapped back to 1967, but has settled in since being attacked by the Weeping Angels. But that will soon change tonight: Claire suddenly has a seizure of some kind and another, deeper voice comes out of her mouth, warning, "The end begins now and there will be no escape..." She comes to and gasps, "The Angel has the TARDIS."

Which we already knew, but it doesn't make the Doctor, Yaz, and Dan's predicament any less bad. The three of them try to keep an eye on the Weeping Angel that has hijacked the TARDIS (Dan remarking hilariously, "I've got really dry eyes) as the Doctor finagles something underneath the TARDIS console, kicking out the Angel and landing them somewhere and sometime they don't know. It may all be a trap by the Weeping Angel for all they know ... but that doesn't mean the Doctor still won't cheerfully lead the group out to discover their destination. They find out they're in 1967, which means police boxes are common on every street corner, explaining the elderly couple attempting to use the TARDIS' phone to make a call. They're looking for a missing girl, their great-niece Peggy. The Doctor is intrigued, but her sonic screwdriver has started acting up and she follows its trail, leaving Yaz and Dan to investigate the case of Peggy. Meanwhile, a middle-aged woman is wandering the church graveyard, much to the annoyance of the reverend, who berates her for spreading superstitions. Cryptically, she only asks him to "count the stones."

The Cursed Village

I like the way Alderton writes the Doctor, immediately inquisitive and taking charge of Professor Jericho's operation, much to his confusion and displeasure. But I especially like the way that Jamie Magnus Stone steps up his direction of this episode. After a few solid outings this season with "The Halloween Apocalypse" and "War of the Sontarans," "Village of the Angels" is pure atmospheric horror, full of haunted Victorian houses that have twisting hidden passages, and village graveyards that seem to be constantly covered in fog. And where some of the Weeping Angel sequences in the premiere episode felt too basic, paired with Alderton's writing, Stone brings back the pseudo-jump scares that made the Weeping Angels so effective the first time around.

The Doctor interrupts Professor Jericho's experiment, which she assumes is the cause of her sonic's fritzing, but realizes that Claire is the source of the temporal anomaly her device is detecting. She recognizes Claire from their earlier encounter, but is skeptical to learn that Claire had experienced visions of the Doctor, the TARDIS, and this very village before she was attacked by an Angel and sent back to 1965. But before Claire had been attacked, she had been able to look up that village online, learning that it had been labeled "cursed" after every resident in it disappeared one night in 1967 — this very night. But this isn't the first time it's happened to this village either, once earlier in 1901, all the residents vanished.

And things do seem to be building up to this mysterious vanishing: the missing girl, the reverend counting the gravestones in the churchyard only to encounter a Weeping Angel and disappear himself, and Yaz and Dan getting attacked themselves by what they at first assume is a distant scarecrow, but is actually an Angel (in a thrilling sequence that ramps up nicely to a good old jump scare). Stranger things keep happening throughout the night, as Claire starts to suspect that she's slowly turning into a Weeping Angel herself — she sees stone wings on her back in the bathroom mirror, she rubs her eye to find stone dust come out, and her hands are becoming stiff and stone-like. But she hides these concerning developments from the Doctor, who has gotten a bit preoccupied with the legion of Weeping Angels that have surrounded Professor Jericho's house and are trying to get inside.

That Which Becomes an Angel

The episode has now morphed into a zombie invasion story — with the classic suspense twist of one person on the verge of turning into a zombie themselves. The Doctor barks orders at a cynical Professor Jericho, who quickly acquiesces when he sees the sheer physical power of the Angels, who break down the doors and windows of his house. The three of them barricade themselves in the basement with a television set, which the Doctor reworks into a camera, so that they can keep an eye on the invading Angels and stop them from moving further. But they must be careful: the image of an Angel becomes an Angel, the Doctor warns, as the drawing of the Weeping Angel that she had ripped up earlier starts to put itself together. There's a fun sequence where the Doctor crumples up the paper and the Angel itself crumples up, then becomes a terrifying fiery menace when the Doctor attempts to throw it into a firepit. But this is where our zombie reveals itself: Claire confesses to the Doctor that she is turning into an Angel — the premonition she had of a Weeping Angel had allowed it to bury itself in her mind and slowly possess her. It's a wonderfully chilling concept, one that taps into the sheer Lovecraftian horror that the Weeping Angels possessed when they were first introduced as pure, cosmic forces of nature that were older than the universe itself.

To stop the transformation, the Doctor asks permission to enter Claire's mind — something that greatly excites the consummate scientist Professor Jericho, who eagerly asks to take readings of the experience, plopping headgear on each of their heads in a goofy image that happily cuts through the tension of the moment in that classic "Doctor Who" way. The surreal scenes that take place in Claire's mind, which takes the form of a stormy beach with the Weeping Angel standing behind Claire and speaking through her, are beautifully directed — haunting, otherworldly and, dare I say, Bergman-esque. The Doctor demands the Angel let Claire go, but it refuses and, to her surprise, asks for her help. It's a fugitive Weeping Angel, on the run from the Division, of which that army of Angels chasing her are a part of. They want her for her information — information on the history of the Division ... including the Doctor.

Out of Time

Meanwhile, Dan and Yaz have found themselves zapped to the same village, but it is completely ramshackle and abandoned. They're stuck in the early 20th century, in 1901 when the first vanishing happened, but at least they have found the missing girl, Peggy. Peggy is strangely calm for having been sent back 60 years earlier in time to an abandoned village, but she cryptically says, "They promised they'd leave me alone now..." speaking of the Weeping Angels, who appear to have shown some mercy on the young girl. But it's not much of a mercy, as Peggy shows Dan and Yaz that they're trapped in this village — at the end of the town path, the ground suddenly drops like a cliff and ahead of them is nothing but outer space. Sixty years earlier, Peggy's callous great-uncle and naïve great-aunt stumble on this same edge and are zapped back to 1901 as well, but make the unfortunate mistake of getting attacked by another Angel and getting disintegrated to dust. Dan, Yaz, and Peggy try to escape the Angels' clutches, and discover a strange cosmic barrier, on the other side of which lays Mrs. Hayward in front of the village's storied "burial site" from 1967. Except it's not a burial site, Mrs. Hayward reveals. It's how the Weeping Angels arrived. And soon something will happen here, Mrs. Hayward remembers, revealing that she is, in fact, an older Peggy who never found her way back from 1901.

While the Doctor and Claire are having their mind stand-off, Professor Jericho has been left to stand watch at the invading Angels on the TV screen. But it flickers, and suddenly they've all disappeared except one — one that starts speaking to Professor Jericho in his own voice. Jericho dismisses the Angel in a hilariously British way and manages to stop the Angel as it is halfway through emerging from the screen (in a fantastically creepy image that is very "The Ring") while waking the Doctor up from her psychic adventure by throwing a teacup at her. (Did I mention Jericho is my favorite?) The Angels are descending into the basement and they're trapped — but, "Do you not read your own floor plans?" the Doctor asks. Turns out a previous owner had built a secret tunnel for his lovers through the basement, which is their escape. The tunnel offers the episode another dip into avant-garde imagery, with wings and Angel's arms reaching out of the stone wall (now we're doing Polanski's "Repulsion"), the lights flickering enough to allow them to slowly emerge and surround the Doctor and co.

But thanks to some teamwork, Claire manages to escape, while Professor Jericho sadly gets zapped back to 1901, conveniently right next to Dan, Yaz, and Peggy. The Doctor appears surrounded, but for some reason, the Angels let her go. She emerges from the tunnel out in front of the stone burial site, and finds the entire place taken over by Angels. "They're enjoying watching you work it out," Claire says, the rebel Angel speaking through her. And work it out she does: the Angels have complete a "quantum extraction" of the village, taking it out of time to trap someone. Not the fugitive Weeping Angel, but her. "You're being recalled to division," Claire declares, and the Doctor is horrified to see wings on her back and her arms turning to stone. She has been transformed into a Weeping Angel. It's easily the best cliffhanger of the season, in the best episode of the season. It's hard to see "Flux" topping this.

Tidbits in Space and Time

  • Fun Doctor line of the episode: "Never have I been more grateful for another man's deceit."
  • The Weeping Angels got a bit of a redesign this episode, and I don't love it. The faces looks slightly cheaper?
  • There might be some debate over whether adding more lore to the Weeping Angels in the form of the Division might diminish their mystique, but I think it mostly succeeds in making the Division more fearful than before.
  • When the Angels try to scare Professor Jericho by using his own voice against him, and he only replies, "it is impressive but most impolite without permission," that's when I decided I loved him.
  • The Bel storyline really does not fit in this episode, to the point that I'm only mentioning it in these Tidbits (though I do still find Thaddeus Graham endlessly charming). It's all plot but nothing that leads anywhere — we know that Vinder is still looking for Bel, as she is for him, and now we know that Azure is shepherding the last survivors of the Flux into their Passenger prisons. That one shot they keep reusing of the half-demolished red planet of Puzano (hey, it's probably expensive) is gorgeous, though.
  • Dan is kind of on autopilot as comic relief this episode, saved by the natural charisma of John Bishop. Still, despite the minimal focus the companions got this episode, Dan continues to be one of the most fun parts of this season.
  • Kate Stewart is back next episode!! KATE STEWART!