‘Cerebral Stowaways’ – Doctor Who Flux Chapter Four: Village of the Angels

Serialised Harmony

This is actually a pretty darn decent episode. Perhaps the most consistent, structured, solid and entertaining instalment to the Flux serialisation to date. There’s a lot to praise Village of the Angels for, but one of the things it does exceptionally well relates to its structure and place within a serialised story. This in an episode that stands on its own two feet while simultaneously feeding into the wider narrative encompassing it.

It’s perhaps best to compare this episode to Flux’s second chapter, War of the Sontarans, albeit from a stronger standpoint. Much like that episode, this one opts to tell an isolated tale as opposed to fixating on the more arc heavy elements concerning the primary plot. The main difference here, however, relates to its relationship with said arc. War of the Sontarans felt disjointed and out-of-place within the wider scope of series 13, largely because it trailed off into its own thing, forcing it to awkwardly veer back on track during its final scene. Village of the Angels, on the other hand, manages to avoid this issue by having the plot gradually build toward a arc-heavy climax.

In many ways, Village of the Angels is the reverse of War of the Sontarans in terms of how it handles this. While chapter two started Flux-oriented before becoming it’s own thing, chapter four starts off seemingly unrelated to anything that’s come before it, only for it’s climactic revelation to be all about the Division and the Doctor’s concealed past memories. The story drip feeds this revelation as each scene progresses, slowly moving us toward a final that leads us directly into the next story. The subtle transition from an Angel-focused episode to a Flux-featured final allows the story to feel both self-contained and organically part of the wider world Chibnall is trying to assemble for his final series.

All of this makes for a perfect example of how to tackle individual episodes within a serialised story. It can be watched in isolation without any foreknowledge of what came before or after it, yet it also helps to move the wider narrative forward in time for the next episode.

Moffat’s Toy Box

Village of the Angels has taken the Weeping Angels back to their roots. This is a gritty horror in which the quantum locked beasties charge their way through quaint, countryside settings to whisk their victims back into the past. There’s a terror to the force in which they smash through doors, plough through windows and creep up on their prey. Their status as the most dangerous creature in the universe is driven home here, with writers Chris Chibnall and Maxine Alderton emphasizing the brutal and unstoppable nature  these enemies posses.

It’s perhaps also worth mentioning, however, that this isn’t simply your standard, back-to-basics approach to the Angels. We’re not watching a 2021 remake of Blink, but a story that makes liberal use of numerous concepts that have been bolted onto these creatures over the past 14-years since their inception. Angels creeping into human minds, possessing victims by climbing out from the depths of a conceptual motion burrowed within their psyche and transitioning through space via imagery/technology all come into play here. What is perhaps most impressive about Chibnall and Alderton’s use of these ideas is their willingness to flesh them out and use them as tools to propel the story forward.

Village of Angels introduces a collective of pre-established concepts, then uses them to tell a story. The various techniques of climbing through CCTV screens and images drawn by unsuspecting souls are methods applied by the episode’s foes as ways to break through their victims lines of defence. Similarly, having the Angels possess characters like Claire are done to set up the episode’s primary turning point; that one of the creatures has fled from their species in a bid to outrun them. All of these tricks serve beyond the usual gimmick of trying to be creepy for creep’s sake. They are planted to add tension, force our heroes to flee places they’ve established as a means of protection, and implement the big reveal that one of the Doctor’s foes once worked for the same agency she did during an era of her life she no longer recalls.

Chibnall and Alderton are using the toybox of tricks left behind by Moffat to weave a tale that twists and turns at every opportunity. If you’re going to bring back old foes, this is the perfect way to utilise them in a way that makes their return feel relevant and justifiable.

All Bel that Ends Bel

As was the case with War of the Sontarans, Village of the Angels utilises it’s B-plot to move the main arc forward in the backdrop. This time around, we follow Bel as she befriends otherworld resident Namaca (Blake Harrison), who she tries to dissuade from jumping aboard the mysterious alien Passenger.

I criticised War of the Sontarans for not doing enough to interlink this narrative with the primary plot. It felt out of place in a story that seemed determined to branch away from the serialised arc of the series. Although I still feel some of these criticisms can be ported over and discussed in relation to Village of the Angels, I do think it feels a lot less out of place here. Perhaps this is because the story doesn’t literally yank several core-characters from the A-plot then have them faff around for 60-minutes before having it show up on our doorstep in time for the big cliffhanger. Bel had been established as a backdrop character the previous week, meaning it felt slightly less jarring to have the story occasionally jump to her every ten or so minutes to punctuate the main story.

Bel’s inclusion still feels a tad out-of-sync with the wider story, plus her inclusion still comes across as somewhat leftfield due to her late arrival in the Flux timeline. Furthermore, there’s no getting around the problem that the scenes between Bel and Namaca are fairly dull. Nevertheless, her presence in the episode is far less intrusive and feels more organic due to it having been established earlier on in the series. It isn’t perfect, yet it serves it purpose and does t detract anything from the episode.

Final Verdict

Village of the Angels is a really solid Doctor Who story. The Angels are terrifying, the plot is elevated through effective use of applying pre-established concepts, elements of horror are used to great effect and the story’s climax feeds organically into the wider arc Chibnall has been carving out for series 13’s run of episodes. It’s a strong and entertaining slice of television that works really well.

Occasionally, bringing an old foe back can lure writers into a false sense of security, making them assume the return alone will elevate their scripts without having to put in the legwork. This sometimes (but not always) leads to half-baked scripts in which the story fails to function effectively. Village of the Angels is the complete opposite in this respect. It takes a former villain and uses the concepts, imagery and thrills established during their inception to weave a fast and frightening story that never fails to thrill. While it may not ever be considered to be an outright classic, this is top notch stuff.

Afterthoughts

  •  This week, we get a secret ending! This isn’t the first time we’ve had this sort of thing in Doctor Who. Series 8 had a tendency to jump to hidden scenes perched between its closing credits. Still, it’s nice to see them return. I’m surprised the show hasn’t already utilised this formula on a full-time basis. Seeing as shows like this flourish when it comes to dropping hints for impending series finals, dropping enigmatic sequences between or after the end credits is a great way to generate excitement without overshadowing the main episodes.
  • I’ll confess, while the late introduction to Bel frustrated me last week, I do think her presence in Flux is a decent way to punctuate the main action of each episode. She serves as a good way to establish the current state of a post-Flux universe. I still think she was implemented way too late into the game and I do wish her scenes were a little more entertaining than they currently are. Still, there is a logic to her presence, which I think is becoming more clear to me in hindsight.
  • The revelation that Peggy (Poppy Polivnick) and Mrs. Hayward (Penelope McGhie) are the same person trapped in a paradoxical loop is quite a twisted scene. One that becomes more horrifying the longer you think about it. Imagine getting whisked into the past, only for you to then watch your young, unsuspecting self head toward their unsuspecting fate at the hands of the Angels.
  • I like the logic behind why Claire (Annabel Scholey) sort of remembers the Doctor without fully knowing why. The realisation she has an Angel stowaway in her mind was an answer I didn’t see coming. Also, I love how it leaned into this idea that the Angels operating as a cerebral terror beyond the quantum locked capabilities established in Blink.
  • Dan takes a bit of a backseat again this week. In fact, both he and Yaz have been relegated to playing detective together while the Doctor gets busy with the main bulk of the plot. I’m hoping we get a more Dan-centric story before John Bishop’s time as a companion comes to a close. He’s still by far my favourite thing about the current series.
  • The final moments in which the Doctor is transformed into a Weeping Angel before the closing credits kick in is a neat cliffhanger. Whether or not the solution to how she gets out of this conundrum is any good, this is a classic example of how to do a textbook cliffhanger that keeps viewers on their toes for seven days. An excellent way to wrap up an impressive episode.

Published by Amber Poppitt

I'm a writer from the UK with dreams of someday becoming a professional screenwriter. I also happen to be a huge film/TV/novel enthusiast with an undying obsession toward Doctor Who.

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