Thinking About Angels

I’m thinking about other stories again … not a movie this time. I’m thinking instead of a television show: Doctor Who. I will happily admit that I am an avid fan of Doctor Who. I have on my desk right now a tiny Dalek model laying siege to a Yahtzee tumbler that is designed to be the Tardis.

Anway, I was thinking about the Episode Don’t Blink. Oh, and um,

I love this episode. The gentlest psychopaths. The Angels kill you with a touch. Only, you don’t just die then and there all screaming and agony (this is a sticking point for me, by the way, with the Byzantium episode, but that’s another story …). They send you into the past, where you live out your life. They feed on the potential energy of what you might have been in this time.

What is really great about this episode? Sally Sparrow’s pain.

All throughout Doctor Who, we are told about, and get to see, the Doctor’s pain at having to either lose a companion or leave them behind. I still cry on the shore of Bad Wolf Bay. Still, this is the Doctor, a time traveler. We expect that someone who is virtually immortal is going to experience this kind of pain. Do I have to hot-link Who Wants to Live Forever

I didn’t think so.

I will posit this: The Immortal Dilemma. Immortality in Fiction is merely a way to explore the loss experienced by those left behind when someone dies. An immortal, whether the Highlander, the Doctor, or a compassionate Vampire, must continue to exist far past when those who touched him/her have passed on. Anyone who has ever lost a loved one knows this pain – worse when the loss is someone young, a friend or sibling in childhood or a son, daughter, niece, or nephew. The risk of using a paranormal aspect to represent something, however, is that the supernatural aspect may become so idolized and so romanticized that the impact of the metaphor is lost. I think, in part because we have been treated to a number of immortal protagonists, that this is the case with the Immortal as Left Behind metaphor. We are no longer internalizing what we are seeing as a “yes, this is what it’s like when they leave you behind” but instead are saying “yeah, it really would be tough to watch everyone you love die”. Those statements are metaphorically similar, but separated by an ocean of internalization vs. externalization.

Blink is more than a cool episode with a cool antagonist. It is a fresh new way to explore the metaphor. It explores it in a way, however, that the Immortal dilemma often cannot. Consider the Doctor. When a Companion leaves, we can make all sorts of assumptions about what that life will be, but most often we’re thinking of a life we don’t want: a life without the Doctor. Even when Rose gets her Doctor, albeit a complete clone, we are still left with a sense of loss. Sure, she has the man she loves, but the travel through time and space is lost. Some we know are in better places. I loved knowing that Martha and Mickey got together (I didn’t watch Torchwood … hush!). That is not always the case, however. Sometimes the Companions die. Sometimes, they are like poor Donna, left with no memory of all the great things she saw and the greatness she became.

For many people, the loss of a loved one is complicated. We no longer have them with us, but we believe they are somewhere else. It may be a belief in reincarnation. It may be a belief in Heaven. Most people believe something else follows death, something that is often greater – or at least filled with great new opportunities. Our grief is compounded with guilt because we know we should be happy for that, but we are so “selfish” in feeling only our loss. “If we really loved them, we would rejoice.” I put that in quotes because if you’ve lost someone you know … it’s so complicated.

With the Angels, we get to explore that complexity in a way that an Immortal Dilemma cannot. When the Angels kill someone, they send them back in time. Through Sally’s eyes, we learn the lives those people live are usually very good ones (I’ll get to Angels in Manhattan later). The friends she loses live full lives, complete with love, families, and careers. We are sad for the loss, but amazed at the wonder that follows it.

We are seeing the after-life, whether we want to call it reincarnation, Heaven, or whatever.

Now, I did mention Angels in Manhattan because in that episode, the gentle death is not so gentle. In the episode, River tells Amy not to let the Doctor see the damage. Then the end comes, with the Doctor losing Amy and Rory and Amy’s very touching epilogue. Fans speculate that it is a lie, that we can never actually know that Amy and Rory are truly together and happy.

I say that we can. Yes, the Doctor lies and so does River. River is not lying here. My theory is that River tells Amy not to let the Doctor see the damage because she has already met the Amy that has gone back, and has seen her aged. River assumes (or is led to believe because Spoilers) that Amy is still travelling with the Doctor but since Amy is not actually doing so she doesn’t talk about him. River would interpret this as strife, hence the warning. When Amy asks if the Angel will send her to Rory, River says yes. Listen again when she does it. It is excited and surprised, because River realizes in that moment who the Amy she met was. She was the Amy who went back to find Rory.

We don’t know the story, of course. We never will. But, I believe that one way or the other, some how, Amy found her husband. Honestly, I could imagine a mini-series where Amy hunts down Time Agents and Angels, forcing them to move her back and forth through time until she finds him. Amy risked all of Great Britain to save a whale. Time Agents and Angels are nothing.

I theorize to highlight something. So many fans, including yours truly, still cry over Angels in Manhattan. Even the Permanent Editor is touched by it, though he doesn’t like how the Angels behave in the last scene. Too many liberties, in his opinion. We are experiencing our loss, but given the metaphor of the Angels, we are forgetting that our loss is something else for those who are gone: new chances, new existence, new life.

I think that is what makes the Angels truly frightening. It is not that they move when you can’t see them. It is not that they are fast – faster than you can imagine. It is that they are the life and death that everyone experiences at some point, wrapped up in a pretty stone statue.

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