Friday, July 02, 2010

Doctor Who - The Big Bang

*Warning: This recap contains spoilers*

At the end of The Pandorica Opens, we were left with a series of cliff-hangers that, had they been parcelled out as the endings of several episodes of Doctor Who, would have provided fans with plenty to ponder and salivate over. Instead, we got one jaw-dropping turn of events piled on top of another; The Doctor was imprisoned in the Pandorica, Rory came back as an Auton then killed Amy, and the universe winked out of existence as River Song was trapped in the exploding TARDIS. As ever, Steven Moffat and his team set themselves a tough challenge and, to my utter delight, they bested it.

After a reprise of the opening scene of "The Eleventh Hour", in which we see young Amelia Pond praying to Santa to send someone to fix the crack her wall, we learn that things are not right. Firstly, The Doctor doesn't crash land in her back garden and set in motion all the adventures they would have. (As well as the psychological damage that Amy seems to have from waiting for her imaginary friend for so long.) Then, when Amelia shows a picture of the night sky to her mother and (assumingly) a psychiatrist, we learn that there are no longer any stars in the sky. It turns out that the Earth is the last light in the universe to go out, and civilization has continued much as before, except humanity lives in an empty void with just the moon and a suspiciously bright sun for company.

I can't help but wonder how different the world would be if there were no stars in the sky. I imagine that it would a drab place largely devoid of wonder, but you can't expect Doctor Who to dwell too much of these things, regardless of how fascinating they may be. It's not really part of their remit as a family show.

Anyway, Amelia gets a letter telling her to go to the British Museum to see...The Pandorica! After hiding out until after everyone has gone, Amelia touches the Pandorica and opens it, to reveal...Amy, alive and well! This, as Amy tells her younger self, is where things get complicated.

It's indicative of how busy and action-packed this finale was that all I have written so far takes up only the first six or seven minutes. If I were to continue to break it down point by point, this would be a very long post indeed.

So, here are the salient points; The Doctor uses a cheap and cheery time travel device to keep leaping back and forth between events, creating a paradox that allows him to tell Rory to let him out of The Pandorica and place Amy inside, where she will remain in stasis until someone with her DNA opens it and revives her, which The Doctor achieves by jumping around a bit more and getting Amelia to go to the museum. Steven Moffat's best episodes have used similarly fractured and clever time travel structures in the past (see: "The Girl in the Fireplace" and "Blink") and I really enjoyed seeing how the different pieces of the puzzle fit together, both in silly ways, such as the explanation for why The Doctor is wearing a fez when he first sees Rory ("I wear a fez now. Fezs are cool."), and more serious moments, such as when The Doctor meets a future version of himself, clearly gravely injured, who tells him that her has twelve minutes before he 'dies'.

In amongst all the high-flying adventure, though, the episode found time for some quieter, more reflective moments, many of which centre on Rory, played brilliantly by Arthur Darvill, who has really grown into the role over the course of the series and has been particularly impressive in this run of episodes. As we learned last week, the Rory that The Doctor, Amy and River encountered at Stonehenge was an Auton version created from Amy's memories who was initially unaware of his artificial nature. In a wonderful scene last week, he became aware only when his programming forced him to shoot Amy, despite his essential, wonderful Rory-ness telling him not to.

This week finds him reeling from his act of murder, only to be offered a chance at redemption when The Doctor explains how The Pandorica can save Amy, but only after he tests Rory by acting as if Amy's death is insignificant. Now, I love Matt Smith's Doctor, and I knew that he couldn't really believe that Amy's death didn't matter, but I still felt a cathartic kick when Rory punched The Doctor in defense of his love, futile though it may be. If that wasn't enough, the episode really hammers home just how devoted to Amy Rory is by having her watch a short video at the museum about a legendary centurion who is believed to protect The Pandorica. It's a beautiful, subtle moment that says so much about Rory and crystallised in my mind how much the character has grown.

The other great, quiet moment came towards the end of the episode, in which The Doctor accepted that, in order to save the universe, he would have to sacrifice himself by flying the Pandorica into the ball of fire that The TARDIS had become, essentially rewriting all of history. As he begins to involuntarily travel back through his own life, The Doctor realises that Amy can hear his voice (which pays off that scene in "Flesh and Stone" in which The Doctor appears and speaks to Amy wearing a jacket, despite having lost his earlier in the episode). He finds Amelia asleep outside her house, and puts her to bed, talking quietly to her as she sleeps about his life and what a great adventure he has had. It's probably Matt Smith's best scene in a series that has been full of great scenes for him. It's full of quiet intensity and the weariness in his voice speaks of centuries of existence filled with wonders and horrors both told and untold. Anyone who has doubts that Matt Smith is The Doctor need only watch that scene to see just what a fine job he has done this series, and will hopefully do so for years to come.

Because, of course, The Doctor comes back. Even being erased from existence can't keep a good Time Lord down. On Amy's wedding day, so long delayed, she starts to feel like something is missing, but she can't figure out just what it is. (This led to possibly my favourite Amy line of the episode when, on the phone to Rory, she says, "Are you just agreeing with me because you're afraid of me?"/"Yes"/"Love you.") At the reception, she suddenly remembers The Doctor when Rory alludes to the famous wedding saying "Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue", all of which were phrases The Doctor had worked into his speech to her as a child. The Doctor returns in time for the wedding, and for some hilariously terrible dancing, then heads off in the TARDIS for new adventures with Amy and Rory in tow, talking about how whatever created the cracks is still out there.

This was, hands down, the most satisfying series finale that New Who has ever put out, and it was a great end to a series that was the most consistently entertaining series the show has yet seen. All the previous ones have tended to have brilliant set-ups followed by disappointing climaxes (with the possible exception of the series 1 two-parter "Bad Wolf"/"The Parting of the Ways", which provided a thrilling goodbye to Christopher Eccleston's Doctor) but this one had everything. It managed to resolve its hanging plot threads without leaving the audience feeling like they had been cheated, it worked as thrilling climax in and of itself, and it left the show with somewhere to go next year, both with the promise of further battles against the silence and River Song's promise that we will learn who she really is "soon". It even gave the characters a period of grace at the end of the episode so that they could relax and say their goodbyes, even if they were saying goodbye to their old lives, and not each other.

I've very excited about where the show goes from here. I was worried that we would have to proceed without the brilliant Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill, or that the show would try to adopt a dynamic which would see the two separated all the time, with Amy off gallivanting with The Doctor and Rory left at home, only occasionally showing up. Now, though, we get a trio of fun, vibrant and exciting characters going out into the universe having adventures.

Furthermore, the revelation that whatever created the cracks wasn't destroyed when they disappeared suggests that Steven Moffat has a far greater vision in mind for the show than previous showrunners, and considering how well he and his team handled the integration of serialised storytelling into this series this can only be a good thing for the show going forward.

Yep, I'm excited. Now let's see if Moffat can break another Doctor Who curse and deliver a genuinely good Christmas special. Which I will dutifully (over)write about.

Rating (as a single episode): 9/10
Rating (as a two-parter): 9/10
Series rating: 8/10