This post contains spoilers for the latest episode of Doctor Who.
On Saturday, we said goodbye to the Ponds, the longest running companions in New Who. Despite the problems in their story arc, I was sad to see them go.
Unfortunately, like their characterizations in general, the Ponds' departure was shallow, nonsensical and full of so many holes that they could easily have jumped through one and returned to travel on the TARDIS forevermore. "Unsatisfying" doesn't really cut it.
Let's look at the good first, because there was good stuff (at least in idea, if not in execution). The idea of hurtling towards a terrible future that you cannot change is always a good one, even if it has been done better before, including by this show itself. The idea of written spoilers has been a theme on the show ever since River's diary appeared on the scene, and I loved the moment where the Doctor tore out the last page of the book, because he "hates endings," and but then must hunt for it in the future, because endings are inevitable, and the final page is necessary to bring closure.
And jokes about Rory's frequent, temporary deaths are always well received.
Unfortunately, under the slightest scrutiny, the entire thing fell apart. The Weeping Angels have gone from an incredibly creepy one-off villain into creatures that, like the Daleks before them, have lost any ability to inspire fear. They are only terrifying if they obey the rules that make them feel real... and these angels never do. They attack you in an instant if you blink, but Rory and Amy can look away from them for a good minute to debate how to defeat them without any dire consequences. They zap you back in time if they touch you... unless you're River Song, in which case they just grab hold of your wrist and don't let go. They always cover their eyes to protect themselves from being quantum locked, except when they don't. They turn to stone when observed, but can cross a huge, vibrant city full of people with no problems. They only send people back in time when they are weak, otherwise they just kill them (a la Season 5), but when they're superpowerful in New York, they stick to the back-in-time plan. And it's lucky that there are no pictures of New York City landmarks, since an image of an angel is an angel and all.
But for the sake of peace of mind, let's ignore all the problems with the angels. The angels don't entirely make sense in Blink either, but it's easy to ignore that fact, because the episode is otherwise so well done and so satisfying to watch. But The Angels Take Manhattan missed the mark in so many other ways. Unsurprisingly, River Song has little continuity. She is happy to leave her father in the basement with the angels, and doesn't even blink when he is dragged away, yet this is supposedly later!River, who visits her parents and has a connection with them. She is distraught when she says goodbye to Amy, but then is perfectly fine two seconds later. She is no longer in jail because... well, because reasons... but cannot travel with the Doctor. Why not? Because of REASONS, dammit!!
Yet the biggest problem, the thing that really make the episode rankle, was the fact that the Ponds didn't need to leave at all. Unlike Rose's alternate dimension, Martha's decision to leave or Donna's loss of memory, there was no reason, beyond the hand-waving needs of the plot, for them to depart at all. And no matter how many tears it tried to evoke, that simple fact made the episode's ending feel empty. Firstly, this era of Doctor Who loves paradoxes. It loves changing the future. It happens all the time. It even happens at the end of this episode, when the Doctor goes back to see young Amelia, basically changing the entire basis of Amy's character. But apparently, for that forty minute period, the old rules of time travel applied. Except... why do they? The Doctor is supposed to be a bit of a genius, isn't he? All they've seen is a gravestone. Couldn't they commission a fake gravestone and plant it in the cemetery? Not to mention the fact that he has a time machine. He could go collect them from whenever they ended up (after all, they have phones that can contact the Doctor, don't they?), they could travel for ages, and he could drop them off in the late 80s or 90s before they retire. Heck, he could drop them off in their own time and refuse to travel with them ever again and still pick them up and drop them off just before their deaths. And even if they can't travel in the TARDIS ever again because of reasons, that doesn't stop him from going back and visiting them during the 50 years that still have to live.
The only possible explanation is that the Doctor doesn't like to see his companions age -- he'd rather see them young and then see their gravestones than witness their gradually approaching mortality -- and so he would rather say goodbye forever now. And that makes him kind of a jerk.
Worst of all, to me, is that the episode provided no real closure. We didn't get to find out when the Ponds ended up, or what their life was like. How did they cope with suddenly going back in time? Did they end up in the 30s, where Amy lacks any kind of rights and where they have to live through WWII? Are they in the 60s (still bad for Amy, but a bit better)? Do they meet up with the young Melody Pond and raise her? What actually happens to them?
I can only hope that this was left an open-ended mess on purpose, so that they can magically return during the 50th anniversary specials next year. But I doubt that is the case. In the end, Moffat's Who is all about the Doctor and the Doctor alone. Once the companions have vanished from his view, they vanish from our view as well, and the details of their lives become completely irrelevant.