Friday, 2 July 2010

"The Pandorica Opens"/"The Big Bang"

Ever since Steven Moffat was announced as showrunner, speculation was rife as to how he would continue to tell this story of a madman with a box. One subject that would crop up in discussion, is what a Moffat finale would be like- a trip into disquieting horror, a fiendishly clever puzzle-box of a plot, a spectacular showdown. What we got was better, even than this- a story that emphasises why the new teams in front of and behind the cameras are well up to the task, proving that they can forge their own style whilst still making the same programme that we know and love.

Moffat immediately grabs our attention with a dazzling opening that brings back many of the guest stars of the season making it probably the most star-studded eight minutes in British television history. From throughout human history the warning comes: the Pandorica is opening, the TARDIS will explode. The Pandorica is located underneath Stonehenge, which is being guarded by a Roman legion, with one very familiar centurion. When we find out that the Pandorica holds the most feared being in all the cosmos, it was obvious who the only candidate would be, even before the Doctor describes it, ‘soaked in the blood of a billion galaxies... One day it would just drop out of the sky and tear down your world.’ The Pandorica is a prison, but it hasn’t taken delivery of the prisoner yet- the Daleks, the Cybermen, the Nestene, the Sontarans and all the others have come to the same conclusion- the Doctor will destroy the Universe and the only way to stop him is to imprison him for all eternity. the Roman soldiers, including Rory, are Nestene duplicates and as Rory and Amy tearfully reunite, his Auton body kills her. The Pandorica opens, the Pandorica closes. However, the TARDIS has already gone critical and as Rory cradles the body of his beloved, the stars explode as the Earth swims alone in emptiness. The plot for "The Big Bang" seems obvious- resurrect Amy and rescue the Doctor, which is indeed what we get- in the first ten minutes for, as we have come to expect, Moffat makes the second part start slightly askew. We are presented with a reality where the universe consists of the Earth and little else, where penguins lived on the Nile and the orb in the sky is the TARDIS exploding. The Doctor breaks all the rules in this diminished reality to save his friends and take the Pandorica into the TARDIS so that he can restart the Universe.

These are some of the things that happen in the story. It is not, however, what it is about. It is a story about the memories that form our personal pasts. It is about how events do not make history on their own, but rely on how those events are recorded and told. It is about an imaginary friend being as important as a real person. It is a story about stories. The stories that the episodes tell are what bind the narrative together- the Myth of the Pandorica, the Legend of the Centurion, the Rageddy Doctor. Moffat’s writing is sublime with wonderful dialogue- ‘We’re all stories in the end. Just make it a good one, eh?’ and even a cheeky steal from Robin of Sherwood. There are still good jokes, such as the Doctor’s brief fez-wearing phase, but the drama is there in a tale of friendship, love and self-sacrifice. The plot is complex, but fortified with emotion. Many people criticised RTD’s ways of ending his stories (wrongly, in my opinion) and I would like to think that this is the reason why the resolution of the story is via the biggest reset button the programme has ever done. However, as anyone who really understands fiction knows, there are no inherently bad plot devices, just bad uses of them, and Moffat shows that the reset button can make for great drama, if the story is good enough. The stories are all channelled by Amelia Pond to save reality as we know it, and it is a simple cliché which saves the universe- ‘something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue.’ In a joyous moment, Amy’s imaginary friend arrives at her wedding. It was probably inevitable- a cosmos without The Doctor scarcely bears thinking about- but the sheer wonder of the moment is overpowering. Moffat wanted to make Doctor Who as a dark fairy tale- he succeeds admirably.

Calling the shots immaculately is Toby Haynes who gives the story a suitably epic feel. There are almost too many memorable scenes to list, but special mention must be given to possibly the greatest scene involving a Cyberman, that channels Indiana Jones, The Thing and Evil Dead 2 to great effect. There are also the spectacular scenes of the spaceships over Stonehenge, the Dalek begging River for mercy, the beautiful unlocking of the Pandorica. The quieter moments are also expertly handled with the help of a fantastic cast. We have startling performances from Arthur Darvill (who makes a triumphant and very welcome return) and (as expected) Alex Kingston, as well as the return of the adorable Caitlin Blackwood, but it is the regulars who stand out most. Karen Gillan is front and centre for many scenes and she attacks them with relish. As for our leading man- wow. Whether running around with a fez and a mop or bellowing at several fleets of spacecraft, Matt commands our attention throughout. The quiet scenes show him at his best, investing them with great power- when he says to Amy that she will not need her imaginary friend when she had her family, I very nearly cried (but obviously, I didn’t. I am a man, after all). This is one of the greatest performances in the role to date and I hope that all the naysayers are silenced.

The Moffat era has started in fine form with an excellent season. Unexpectedly, although the cracks have closed, the mystery of the Silence- and who is responsible for taking over the TARDIS- are questions still unanswered, not to mention the truth about River. The next series can’t come fast enough.

NEXT: "A Christmas Carol"