* SPOILERS ALERT *
The departure of a major character from a show, whether universally loved, ambivalently tolerated or loathed with a passion is never easy.
However you handle it, you run the risk of upsetting fans, ripping the heart out of the show, and upsetting the delicate equilibrium that you may have taken seasons to establish between the various characters.
But in “The Angels Take Manhattan”, the latest Dr Who episode to feature the quietly malevolent Weeping Angels, Steven Moffat has succeeded brilliantly in farewelling the Doctor’s long time companions, Amy Pond and Rory Williams.
While not everyone loved them – I fell into the ambivalent camp vacillating between loving them in some episodes and hating them in others – there is no denying that Moffat and his team crafted an enormously strong and intricate bond between the time travelling husband and wife duo and the Doctor that added immensely to the richness of the series as a whole.
And their departure will leave a hole that the creative masterminds behind Dr Who’s modern incarnation will have to work hard to fill.
Having said that, the core of the show, as ever, is the Doctor himself and no doubt the addition of a new companion in the form of feisty Jenna-Louise Coleman will help to heal the wounds caused by Am and Rory’s departure.
And what a beautifully handled departure it was.
While the episode itself, breathtaking in scope though it was with the Doctor’s discovery of a Weeping Angels “feed lot” in a building in 1938-era New York where they trapped people thrown back in time and fed off their temporal energy, suffered from Moffat’s “Big Bold Imaginative Ideas, Flawed Execution” dynamic, the farewell to Rory and Amy was taut, tight and as emotionally resonant as you could hope for.
The beauty of it was that you weren’t quite sure what would happen to the now-happy couple, who at the start of series 7 were in the midst of a messy divorce until an unexpected reconciliation in the middle of a Dalek insane asylum – full points to Moffat for an imaginative take on couples’ therapy which likely won’t catch on with the general populace – but had moved on to domestic bliss and were actively considering leaving the Doctor to have a normal life.
Any ideas of putting vacuuming and bill paying ahead of saving the galaxy were put aside at the end of episode four, the jaunty, almost comical “The Power of Three”, when Rory’s dad of all people encouraged them to go forth and live an amazing life with the Doctor since anyone could do humdrum reality and they had a choice not to.
And for most of this episode which hinged on the imaginative idea that Rory and Amy’s daughter, and the Doctor’s “wife” River Song (Alex Kingston) had written a noir thriller centred on a female American “gumshoe” (detective) Melody Malone, you thought there decision was a good one.
Here they were, with the Doctor in an idyllic setting in Central Park enjoying the sunshine, unaware that the book the Doctor was reading aloud, to Amy’s annoyance, was a prophetic re-telling of future events (wrap your head around that time paradox for a minute).
Events from their future.
The Doctor rips out the final page since, as he admits freely to Amy, he “hates endings”, a facet of the Doctor’s makeup that River Song confirms later on when she warns Amy, rather prophetically, to “never get old” as the Doctor hates saying goodbye (the implication being he will let you go rather than watch death take you from him), and thinks that is that.
Until, of course, Rory, who has gone to get coffee, disappears and finds himself in 1938 to be greeted by his daughter, a mysterious mobster called Grayle, and his own place in the Weeping Angels brownstone chamber of horrors, and the Doctor and Amy set off in pursuit using the book as a guide of sorts.
The Doctor keeps cautioning Amy not to read ahead but they cheat a little by reading the chapter headings and one ominously reads “Amelia’s Final Farewell”, a disclosure the Doctor doesn’t share with Amy or River Song.
Eventually tracking Rory down to the Weeping Angels nightmarish “feed lot”, their attempts to free him from the hotel room in which he is trapped by encroaching angels are thwarted when it dawns on them all that the old man in the next room is an old and dying Rory.
Horrified, Rory, who reasonably expects the Doctor to have a solution to every dire situation asks what they need to do to fix it but the Doctor stumped admitting he doesn’t think they can escape this one.
And it’s at this point that the beauty of Rory and Amy’s love story comes to the fore.
We always knew there was a powerful bond between them, which became stronger still once Amy realised that the “Raggedy Man, as she affectionately calls the Doctor would never be the one to offer her true love and sanctuary in life, but it became heart-rendingly clear when Rory declared he would simply run from the Angels and Amy, without a moment’s hesitation stepped to his side and vowed they would never take her husband.
It was a beautiful, touching moment and as powerful a declaration of love and commitment in some time.
But that was just the start of their last emotionally-powerful journey together.
Trapped, after their escape from the hotel room, on the building’s room, being threatened by a Weeping Angels-esque Statue of Liberty, Rory and Amy make the decision to jump reasoning their death will be the catalyst in creating a time paradox which River Song and the Doctor agree is likely the only way to erase the Weeping Angels nightmarish hellhole from existence.
As a recently arrived River Song and Doctor look on in horror, Amy and Rory jump … and the screen goes to white before showing the couple, very much alive in the middle of a graveyard in modern day New Yorkm a visibly relieved Doctor and River Song running up to greet them.
It looks like another close escape from another villains’ nefarious plans until Rory, about to walk back to the T.A.R.D.I.S. with the others notices a gravestone with his name on it.
Barely having time to remark that someone else with his name is buried in the cemetery, Rory winks from existence and a traumatised Amy notices a lone weeping angel standing near the headstone, a survivor of the paradox who has reached out and reclaimed Rory to his original place in the time line.
Or at least the place they had imprisoned him in.
And despite the Doctor’s desperate entreaties to Amy not to do what he instinctively knows she has no choice but to do (while a visibly upset but far more practical River Song hangs back), Amy, with fond farewells to her “Raggedy Man” reaches out to touch the Angel and joins Rory in his hotel room prison, and also on the headstone, making the ultimate sacrifice for the man she loved above all others.
It was desperately sad with the sort of finality that only death can bring, but also inspiring at the same time that Amy’s love for Rory was so powerful that it eclipsed all reason in the way only great enduring loves can do.
Seizing on a remark by River Song that she had asked Amy to write the Afterword to the book, the Doctor races back to their picnic basket in Central Park, finds the last page he had ripped out and reads a final touching goodbye by the little girl who waited for him, who confirms that she and Rory lived a loving long life together, affirming her love for the man who caught her heart in the way the emotionally damaged Doctor could never do, and pleading with the Doctor to not leave her sitting alone in the dark in the garden as a little girl.
It’s a beautiful, poignant, and touching nod to the way the Doctor and Amy came together and a heartbreaking farewell that perfectly captured the way Rory and Amy’s love transcended everything else, even travels with the Doctor to the ends of time.