It has long been my personal thesis that at its true heart, Doctor Who is not a science fiction show, it’s a horror show designed for family viewing. Yes, there are scientific things that happen, and yes they’re fictional, but the most effective, most cherished episodes are the ones where astonishingly creepy things happen too, usually somewhere a little bit dark and dingy, and more often than not, involving something that looks incredibly unpleasant. That’s why all the monsters are monsters, in fact.
And most monstrous of all, according to recent polls, are the Weeping Angels, the scariest creatures since the show began, as this adorable clip from Comic Con serves to underline:
The thing with the Angels is they’re very very scary, but not just because of the level of threat they pose to the Doctor or anyone foolish enough to get in their way, or because of how they look (almost all of the Whovian aliens are menacing and grotesque to some extent), the really terrifying terror comes from a combination of very simple factors that I shall attempt to ennumerate below:
Factor 1: Everyone, at some point, has looked at a statue, with it’s glassy, unpupilled eyes, and felt a little chilled by the experience. The older the statue, or the more solemn the face, the more the stomach lurches. It’s as if they mournfully carry the weight of countless passing years on their shoulders, and they are trapped. The Weeping Angels are an ancient race, they actually DO carry that weight, and they’re modelled on the kind of statues you see in graveyards, so they’re doubly creepy. The only thing creepier would be gargoyles or cherubs, and of course, there’s no reason why they can’t be Angels too.
Factor 2: According to the Doctor in Blink, the Weeping Angels evolved in such a way that they are “quantum-locked” within their own stone forms, only being able to move if they are not observed. They evolved like that. It wasn’t a conscious choice, simply a matter of biological expediency. All they’ve got is their hunger, their instinct and their curse, and if they don’t feed, they corrode, just like actual statues do. Again, you can feel the vertiginous depth of eternity under your feet even considering such a fate. It’s not for nothing the Doctor calls them the loneliest creatures in the universe.
The fact that they look sad is just a coincidence, however. Put an unblinking Angel in front of an unblinking Angel and they’re frozen forever, or until something is placed between them, so they have to put their hands in front of their eyes to protect themselves. Which looks mournful. Actually, thinking about it, it IS mournful.
Factor 3: When you’re looking at them, they’re unable to move, but they are still there. This means you’re facing a foe which is single-minded AND unstoppable and whose hunting technique depends on your human body doing what it needs to do, at the expense of keeping you alive. It wouldn’t matter if they looked like the Adipose, all of the fear is based in your inability to stop yourself from doing certain things. You make it possible for them to get you.
By which I mean: Don’t blink? Don’t blink? What, ever? And don’t sleep? But I have to! And you say they move swiftly when I blink and I can’t turn my back to run away? But what chance does that give me? And now they’ve suddenly got fangs? Help!
Factor 4: Even the way the Angels feed is unsettling. They send their victims back to a point in time before they were born, and harvest the potential energy created by their sudden eradication from their own lives. What a lonely fate that must be, being out of time in your own, recogniseable world, before anyone knows who you are. It’s like you have become tainted by the burden of the Angels themselves (and if that’s not an Evenescence song title, it should be).
Factor 5: They have the ability to communicate using speech, but only if they capture someone, kill them, and invade their brain. That’s right, they use people as meat cellphones!
Factor 6: Don’t assume you’re safe watching an Angel through a video camera either. Blink while watching, turn your back, and you’re in trouble, because, as Amy Pond found out in The Time of Angels, “that which holds the image of an Angel becomes itself an Angel.” Which must logically include your TV set at home. Sweet dreams!
Factor 7: They can invade your eyes. They can INVADE, your EYES.
AND, on top of ALL of this, they STILL look really creepy, even when they’re not snarling.
The horror. The horror (but for a family audience).