“The Angels Take Manhattan”. It has a touching, sapping, tearjerker ending, where Amy and Rory end up trapped in 1938 New York, and the quantity of time loops in the area thanks to the Weeping Angels is so severe the Doctor doesn’t dare bring the TARDIS back again. And there’s a really lovely epilogue:
But there’s something wrong. The Doctor absolutely could’ve rescued them if he’d tried, without messing up the foreknowledge bit (their names on the tombstone). Stephen Moffat recently went on record explaining why the Doctor couldn’t take the TARDIS back to, for instance, 1938 in New Jersey and then hire a cab to go rescue Amy and Rory, and then buy a fake tombstone to close the loop. Unfortunately, I find his explanation unsatisfying . . . because I already had a better idea that flowed straight out of Moffat’s own writing and made perfect sense. No special pleading, no timey-wimey, just the Doctor’s own character.
The Doctor doesn’t go rescue them because he can’t bring himself to.
He almost never goes back to visit companions again. When he accidentally encountered Sarah Jane in “School Reunion”, he deliberately pretended not to recognize her, only confessing when she found the TARDIS and worked it out for herself. Even Tegan only got back into the TARDIS in “Arc of Infinity” because of Omega kidnapping her brother; the Doctor never returned for her intentionally. With Amy and Rory, the Doctor had gotten into the habit of letting them live their lives for a while and then coming back into their lives again, much as he once did with UNIT, but in “The Angels Take Manhattan”, the Doctor notices something that disturbs him: Amy is getting older. She’s started wearing reading glasses, and she’s beginning to get wrinkles. When the Doctor realizes this near the beginning of the episode, he is visibly disturbed by the revelation, but does his best to pretend it didn’t happen. Later, Amy and River are talking, and River cautions her to never let the Doctor see her hurt, and never let him see her age.
And that’s it. The Doctor hates goodbyes (that has literally been his farewell on occasion, “I hate goodbyes”) and he hates any reminder of his companion’s mortality and general frailty. He’s spent all his lives acting as if time is an optional feature; he clearly doesn’t like seeing evidence that it’s not optional at all, and one’s personal time will always catch up. He wants to be Peter Pan, and his companions to be the Lost Boys, but of course they aren’t. They all age, and eventually even the Doctor does too.
So of course the Doctor didn’t go back to save them. It would have meant confronting their mortality yet again. Does this make the Doctor a bit of a cad? Maybe. He’s not really the good man we all want him to be.
“Good men have so many rules.”
“Good men don’t need any rules. Now’s not the time to learn why I have so many.”
The Doctor is what monsters have nightmares about. He’s the mad man with a box. And he is a hero. But that doesn’t mean he’s a good man, or perfect. He’s not Superman, with straightforward morality. He’s a very complicated man, with a tremendous amount of guilt. He has spent nearly his whole life running from his responsibilities as fast as possible — and when he did stop to address his responsibilities as a Time Lord, the results were . . . profound. As we saw in “The Night of the Doctor” and “The Day of the Doctor”, his delay cost a lot of lives, and his final action cost even more. There are some things he just can’t cope with, and saying goodbye is one of them. He’s just making excuses when he says he can’t go back and save them. He absolutely could. But he won’t. And he spends god knows how long living on top of a cloud trying to get over the guilt of that.
So that’s my theory of why the Doctor didn’t save Amy and Rory, even though he was clearly heartbroken by their departure. By the time he’d calmed down, I’m sure he realized it was possible to save them, but now had a reason to not save them. A way out of watching them age before his eyes. Selfish? Yes. But when you look back at his history, and especially the bits highlighted in this episode, very much in character.
So what do you think? What’s your personal interpretation of “The Angels Take Manhattan”?