Auntie Caron wants Daddy Richard to explain this week's Dr Woo. Well, good luck with that! I think he's more likely to make your fluffy head spin even more!
Is any of this real?
At the end of "The Pandorica Opens", we pull out from a close-up on the end of Rory's universe, Amy dead in his arms at his hands, to the Earth from space as all around every star and every planet explodes instantly into nothing and we are left alone in darkness, the end of the Doctor's universe. Even the incidental music fades as silence falls.
The problem with cliffhangers like this is not, as Charlotte thinks, the lack of a decent ending.
Amy is dead. Rory is an Auton. River Song and the TARDIS are blown to smithereens. The Doctor is locked inside an inescapable puzzle-box. And the universe has been so utterly destroyed that it never existed.
If that's not enough of an ending for you then nothing ever will be.
If anything, it's the Reichenbach Falls without having to wait ten years for the Empty House.
What would be fairer to say is that we know that this ending is a cheat. Unlike "The Final Problem", there is no pretence that this is the "last" of Doctor Who. We know that there will be an episode next Saturday, and then a Christmas special, and then another series next year. So, unless we're very, very young, intellectually we know that all this will be undone.
And there are at least five easy ways that Moffat could bring back the Universe (and, indeed, the very title of "The Big Bang" suggests the start of the Universe not the end):
1. The Rusty Reset: either a case of "time can be unwritten" or "whatever can be remembered can come back", the Doctor uses timey-wimey powers and/or the time energy of the cracks to make the explosion unhappen or to recreate the Universe.
2. The Douglas Adams approach: "if ever the Universe is completely understood it will instantly be destroyed and replaced by something infinitely more complicated (this may have already happened)" – the destruction of the "Doctor Who" Universe triggers the creation of a whole new Universe.
3. Lawrence Miles in a bottle: similar to the above, the Universe is destroyed only to be revealed as a "universe in a bottle" nested inside a "larger" Universe; the Earth remains in the new Universe.
4. Neil Gaiman by any other name: suggested by the Dream Lord from Simon Nye's episode – one of the three episodes not (yet) tied to the others by a returning non-regular character or monster this week – the events of "The Pandorica Opens" are taking place either inside Amy's head, or in some kind of TARDIS projection. Either or both could explain some of the "does it ever worry you that your life doesn't make any sense" facts about Amy. Alex wonders if Amy's Roman infatuation is retrospectively significant to the Romanesque names of the "Byzantium" and Father Octavian in "The Time of Angels"/"Flesh and Stone". But I have to say that "the crash of the 'Byzantium'" was name checked two years earlier in "Silence in the Library", so it has to be a coincidence, or a foreshadowing of Russell's New Roman Empire.
5. The Seventh Doctor Gambit: (possibly using one or more of the above) it's all a great big trap-within-a-trap – the Doctor has set all of his enemies up and they're going to discover to their chagrin that they are the ones on the inside of the Pandorica.
Proper resolution is impossible anyway for any ongoing series, as the Doctor's travels can no more come to an end than Sherlock Holmes could declare all crime in London finally solved. Doctor Who will always have unresolved plot points, larger or smaller, that carry over from one story to the next.
And the "cliffhanger" has an honourable tradition in storytelling, stretching from all the way back to Scheherazade in the "Thousand and One Nights" to Jackanory – that tantalising signoff, "until tomorrow… goodbye", being as integral to my recollection of childhood as Wombles and Paddington.
Nor is the problem that the story lacks the required "beginning, middle and end" structure: in fact, what Steve Moffat has written here is, far more than usual for most Doctor Who multi-part stories, quite self-contained: we are presented with connected but disparate events which draw the Doctor into the story; we see him work out where he is, discover the Pandorica box and try to deduce what is going on; and we are shown the answers in the reveal that it is a trap by his enemies and they win and shut him in the box. Unfortunately for them they've made a literally cataclysmic error of judgement. Essentially, "The Pandorica Opens" is a miniature movie – Moffat's own private "The (Dalek) Empire Strikes Back" – with a sequel, not a conclusion, due out next week.
No, the problem isn't that this is half a story. The problem is how do you follow that? Not next week. Next week there will be a resolution, one of the above or not, that is either satisfying or unsatisfying. But how do you follow it next year? How do you go on doing stories week in week out when the audience know that even the absolute destruction of everything can be got out of if you're clever enough?
Previously on Doctor Who (to coin a phrase), the Universe has been threatened with destruction on nine occasions: "The Time Monster"; "The Three Doctors"; "The Key to Time" season; "Logopolis"; "Terminus"; "The Trial of a Time Lord: The Mysterious Planet"; "Doomsday"; "Journey's End"; and "The End of Time".
(I've ruled out "Pyramids of Mars" and "Image of the Fendahl" because although Sutekh and the Fendahl might threaten all life in the Universe they wouldn't destroy the structure itself. The Doctor's temporal embolism panic in "The Two Doctors" doesn't count because he's speculating wildly on incomplete – and indeed falsified –evidence.)
In the best of these, the events are transformative for the entire series and the stakes just have to be that high. In "The Three Doctors" it takes a threat of the scale of Omega to put the Time Lords in the Doctor's debt that they might release him from his exile. In "Logopolis" nothing short of the end of the universe could stop the fourth Doctor, so the threat has to be that terrible and unstoppable. Whole planets, including Logopolis and Traken, actually die, and the best the Doctor can do is merely to delay the inevitable forces of physics, even paying the price of a life for doing so.
In the worst of these – "Terminus", "Mysterious Planet" – the threat is bathetic, an overblown statement that only underlines that we probably don't care about an explosion large enough to wipe out the characters to whom we've been introduced by the story. It's the same as last week's overblown "the explosion will blow up the Solar System (insert number of exclamation marks to your taste here)" threat only on an even more ludicrous scale.
Saving the universe shouldn't – can't! – be all in a day's work, not even for the Doctor. There has to be cost to these things.
(The interesting exceptions are "The Time Monster" and "The Key to Time", where the conclusion is an almost zen-like "doing the right kind of nothing". After investing a season of viewing time in "The Key to Time" this is slightly unsatisfying; but under Barry Letts, it almost works – it's certainly a lot more satisfying than other parts of "The Time Monster"(!))
For all that Russell Davies might horribly muff up bits of them – dancing Daleks, anyone? – he at least matches the epic scale of the story to the operatic scale of the emotional payoff. "Doomsday" costs him Rose; "Journey's End" costs him Donna (and Rose again, but never mind that); "The End of Time" costs him
his dignityhis tenth life.
Moffat has, so far, improved on Russell in as much as the spectacular imagery does match the epic scale of the story. The Doctor is the Lord of Time; only a story spanning all of time and space could be big enough to catch him. In "About Time, volume two" Lawrence Miles and Tat Wood ask: "how do you set a trap for this man?", and it's interesting that this is the first time that the Daleks have set a trap for the Doctor since "The Evil of the Daleks".
(Actually, that's doubly interesting because "The Pandorica Opens" follows on from "Victory of the Daleks"; and "The Evil of the Daleks" follows on from "The Power of the Daleks" which so inspired the Moffat-era Daleks first appearance. If we're playing "quote the Dalek story", next up I nominate "The Daleks' Master Plan" where they form an alliance with a dozen other alien races and then exterminate the lot of them. The sneaky bastards.)
It's the convolutions needed for four-dimensional thinking in order to set up how this time trap works that sign Moffat's signature genius across the season: the way that, if it's true, some of the apparent discrepancies in earlier episodes may turn out to be timey-wimey rather than continuity-cockupy; the way that guest stars from earlier episodes unexpectedly reprise their cameos to give you an alternative through-line to their histories.
Mind you, if Liz Ten – yes, it's the same Liz, the end credits say so, and also River refers to her meeting with the Doctor (saying it was "here" so the Royal Collection must be aboard the star whale or at least wherever Starship UK landed) – is still Queen in 5145, that makes her reign over two thousand years long, longer than all her predecessors' put together.
(Or was that a continuity error in "The Beast Below" and those solar flares should have been set in the forty-ninth going on fifty-third centuries as everyone thought they were and not the twenty-ninth going on thirty-third? Would have had to have had a three thousand-year-old Amy, though.)
Oh, and the very naughty cameo that wasn't: "Fry" particles at Stonehenge? Next you'll be saying the Minister of Chance has popped by, or possibly King Arthur.
An example of how Steve does this better than Russell, though: why didn't the Doctor come across this "lost" Van Gogh until the "right" point in his timeline?
Well, the answer is obvious: it didn't exist before he met Van Gogh.
Yes, it's the same sort of four-dimensional jigsaw reply that people hypothesised as an answer to "why didn't Torchwood just arrest the third Doctor" – unfortunately Russell outsmarted himself on that one by having Torchwood appear in both "Bad Wolf" and "The Christmas Invasion" before the Doctor went back in time and caused Torchwood to happen ("Tooth and Claw" – or "Torch and Wood" I suppose).
But remember, in "Vincent and the Doctor" the Doctor demonstrably changes history by his visit – in the original version, "The Church at Augers" has the face of a Krafayis in the window; in the new version, "Sunflowers" has "for Amy" written on the side of it. In the first version of history, Vincent never saw the TARDIS, with his unique vision, and so never painted it as "The Pandorica Opens".
And you can make a similar, though more tenuous, case for the visit to the diamond cliff to read
God's last message to creation © Douglas AdamsRiver's message to the Doctor. The Doctor himself says: "I don't know why I've never thought of this before". The answer, dear Doctor, is that until River went back in time and put it there, the message didn't exist for you to go and translate. Essentially, the idea of this has-to-be-solved mystery has only existed in his head for the few hours or minutes since River wrote it up there!
On the other hand, remember that it is Professor Bracewell who brings the painting to Churchill's attention and a nasty, nasty thought occurs: maybe he never did fully escape from Dalek control. After all, it's the co-ordinates on the TARDIS door in the painting – quoted by River in her gigantic graffiti (theta sigma, indeed) – that draw the Doctor to the Daleks' trap. Meaning that possibly Vincent's vision was forced into the poor man's head by the evil pepperpots. Or, more prosaically, Bracewell under Dalek control may have just altered the painting. (After all, it would make more sense if the date on the door had been the date of the TARDIS destruction, i.e. 25th June 2010, rather than 102 A.D.)
The reversal of the fairy-tale trope is a rather lovely touch: we are expecting – indeed, River cues us up to expect – that the Doctor is the "good wizard" who trapped the "evil goblin" inside the Pandorica. But far from Gandalf the Doctor, it turns out that this wizard is Dalek the White. And the fairy tale in question turns out to be Merlin and Nimue in the crystal cave.
Watched for the first time, "The Pandorica Opens" is an exercise in escalating tension and feverish speculation: even if you've probably already guessed that the obvious person to be in the box is the Doctor himself, it still winds up the tension to the moment of opening when, with all three main character plots coming together at once, the answer becomes blindingly obvious.
Watched a second time, it becomes a grand tragedy, as the Doctor does the Doctor-ish thing at each stage and each Doctor-ish thing that he does leads him one step closer to that box. Of course he works out it'll be under Stonehenge; of course he finds his way into the Underhenge; of course he persuades the "Romans" to help defend the site; of course he threatens the Alliance's starships into backing off, only buying himself the time for the trap to spring.
"Why don't I know about what's inside the Pandorica already?" the Doctor asks himself over and over.
Even such bottom feeders as Prisoner Zero have mocked him for not knowing (though Prisoner Zero probably learned it from the Atraxi, who we see are in on the deal). And the Weeping Angels laughed at him for not knowing. At least until they fell out of the universe.
Well, the simple answer is that it's because it's your future that is in there, Doctor. But also – unless you're Mitchell and Webb's self-aware Nazis again – you never see yourself as the baddy.
My ten-year-old nephew wanted to know if it was true that the Doctor was the "worst thing in the universe", which is remarkably sophisticated analysis from the target audience.
And I had to say that to the Daleks and the Cybermen and the Zygons and the rest, yes, the Doctor is that goblin, that trickster, that warrior, who drops out of the sky and pulls down their world. From a certain point of view. As Obi Wan Kenobi might say to get himself out of a tight spot.
This reversal of expectations is what "The Pandorica Opens" is all about: Moffat comments on, and then reverses his own trope of the Doctor facing down enemies by bigging up his own backstory (and it's also a reference to that famous quote of Paul Cornell's that Moffat keeps nicking: "I'm what monsters have nightmares about"). When he faces down the collected starships that he thinks have come to take the Pandorica, the music goes all triumphant as they back off, like he's won. But secretly they're all covering their mouths as they say to themselves "tee hee, he thinks he's got the better of us".
In the same vein, Rory returns from the dead (just an aside here to say I'm with Amy on this one: Arthur Darvill looks really good dressed as a Roman. Ahem) he returns but he's the one who has to deal with the grief because Amy's forgotten him. That's really harsh.
It was a really good way to bring Rory back: a return so obvious that even the Doctor overlooks it for a comedy moment; a miracle with a monstrous twist. You get the feeling that the eleventh Doctor is looking for miracles now, and that that gives him a blind spot to all the coincidences. Yes, I agree that it doesn't exactly make sense for Rory to remember everything up to the point of his death if he's based on a psychic snapshot of Amy's memories from the last time she was in her house (especially given the whole "erased from time" business, and the fact that the episode itself plays up how he's not in Amy's memories!) or maybe there'll be another explanation next week.
Of course, the first clue that he was not as he appeared was that he managed to kill a Cyberman using a sword.
…Yes, all this and a five-minute interlude to make the Cybermen actually frightening again, for the first time since, oh I don't know… "Earthshock", probably. Hmm, that killed a companion too.
And the Cyberhead scuttling around on its cables, and ejecting the shrivelled skull of its former occupant, were just brilliant. An even more grotesque form of Russell's Toclafane from "Last of the Time Lords". And, of course, a bit of Moffat recycling Moffat, too: the robot-form that wants the Doctor's human lady friend for her brain. But not in a good way. (See also "The Girl in the Fireplace", like you hadn't worked it out already.)
Incidentally, there's clearly a (no pun intended) deleted scene where the Doctor, River and Amy find the Cyberman's head – we only see the head as a relic discarded by the stone over the stairs to the Underhenge, but the Doctor refers to the Cyberarm as "probably belonging to that head we found up top". Oh, and while the whole scene from entry to the web-shrouded tomb to mummified heads spitting poisoned arrows is obviously Indiana Jones, the three-winged paralysing dart – like the ones Jango Fett uses – is another Star Wars nod, as well…
But of course as a human mind trapped in an indestructible artificial body against his will and not necessarily under his own control, Rory is very much another form of Cyberman himself.
It would be most impressive – though I fear highly unlikely – if the Doctor left at the end of "The Big Bang" not with a predictably-resurrected Amy but with a grief-stricken Auton Rory as his companion.
Tragically, I suspect Rory is for the heroic sacrifice to avoid all those Auton-y pitfalls any time the TARDIS lands in a Nestene time zone, but he does remain odds-on to feature as the one who gets the Doctor out of that box.
Yes, how to get the Doctor out of the box: the obvious answer is then one he gave himself in the course of the episode: it's much easier to break into a prison – yet another interesting sidebar: have you noticed how many prisons there have been this season? Literal prisons like the Atraxi Gaol in "The Eleventh Hour" and River's Stormcage; or more metaphorical ones such as the poor star whale in "The Beast Below" (brain accessible via the dungeon of the Tower of London) and then the Doctor, Rory and Amy trapped in dreams in "Amy's Choice". And now the Doctor incarcerated in the Pandorica. If it is all in Amy's head, that's one big Freudian complex about being sent to her room, she's got there!
As for the Doctor getting himself out of the box: well, without going too Captain Jack on us, he ought to have one thousand nine hundred and seven years (give or take a few months) to Houdini it before he catches up with the just-about-to-explode TARDIS in Amy's garden. If it still is in Amy's garden.
As to how: I noticed that River's hand-held gizmo recorded the entire unlocking sequence for the Pandorica. Now she clearly takes that with her to Amy's house and time, as we see her scanning with it, but the Doctor appears to have a similar gizmo through which he talks to her, like a telephone. Could this be the first escape by text messaging?
Of course that would be predicated on River not being roasted in the TARDIS.
There's certainly more to River's story to tell. People – yes, me included – had guessed that the events of the Pandorica would take place before her imprisonment in the Stormcage facility and would probably climax with her committing the murder that got her sentenced there.
Even if I don't buy it – and it's looking even less plausible now – I did like the theory repeated on the Eleventh Hour podcast that although it might be tragic for River and Pond to be the same person, if Amy is a younger Dr Song (notwithstanding being shot dead) then it would fulfil Moffat's promise on Confidential to tell us the whole of River's story, as we would have the beginning in "The Eleventh Hour" to match the end in "Forest of the Dead".
Clearly though, beginning with her already in prison (or at least "in the basement of the Millennium Stadium again") said that we've not got to that key part of the story yet.
And so River has to survive this. Yes, I realise that "in universe" time can be rewritten and unwritten, that older River's presence in "The Time of Angels"/"Flesh and Stone" (a story that itself deals with some of its protagonists being removed from history) cannot be taken as a guarantee of her survival (as demonstrated by the contradicting opening and closing scenes of "The Hungry Earth" and "Cold Blood"). But if Moffat is going to tell us the whole of River's story as promised, then he isn't going to do that by erasing her from time and saying "sorry, those other adventures now didn't happen".
Besides, as Alex says, he clearly loves her too much. I mean really: taking the Captain Jack's signature device, the Vortex Manipulator, from the "beautiful recurring character" of the Russell era and giving it to his own "beautiful recurring character" is just rude!
(Alex wonders if this is where the Face of Boe parts company with the Hand of Boe!)
I certainly think that the Doctor should rescue River in preference to the other way around, but it's not beyond Moffat to have each rescue the other (with or without paradoxical means).
Or the clue could be in the mythology, in the fairy tale. In the legend of Pandora's box, the box contained all the evils of the world. And hope. Obviously that's a two-edged sword: hope it what gives people strength to fight those evils, but equally if there were no hope then there would be no bitterness or despair. But the monsters do not understand hope.
Ah, yes. The Monsters. It's a bit of an odd alliance, this, isn't it? Daleks, Sontarans, Cybermen, yes fair enough (notwithstanding my usual complaint that the Cybermen aren't really important outside of Earth's Solar System), but the Sycorax are distinctly B-List aren't they? And who let the Weevils in?
More importantly, what are the Silurians doing here? Or the name-checked Draconians, for that matter? They're not really enemies in the way that the Daleks or the Cybermen are; or if they are, then it's no more so than humans, who are notably not present.
UPDATE: In the comments, Mr David makes an EXCELLENT argument that the Silurians and Draconians aren't out to get the Doctor but are there because of the cracks in time and they are against that sort of thing.
And why aren't the Ice Warriors in on the deal? On past form, there's only a 25% chance of them being non-hostile, and they're at least as big players on the galactic stage as the Cybermen (who, as I keep saying, even if they are Doctor Who's number two monster, are really pathetically parochial monsters in universal terms – unless Nick Briggs has been re-writing their history again… oh I give up.)
Most of all why aren't the Rutans involved? The Daleks are, at least post-Time War, established as the single most powerful threat in the Doctor Who universe (subject to resolving its current existential crisis), but the Sontarans and the Rutans are engaged in a war that spans galaxies and may well involve time travel as well (the Sontarans posses some kind of time technology in "The Time Warrior" so logically the Rutans must as well, or they'd be wiped out in their own pre-history). The Sontarans would certainly not break off their war unless the Rutan Host agreed to the ceasefire too, if nothing else for fear of being massively shot in the back.
The absence of the Dominators (self-styled masters of ten galaxies – check out the DVD in a fortnight) and the Krotons is also puzzling, if for no other reason than that with them in the line up the new Skittles Daleks would look slightly less embarrassing.
I'm afraid that the answer – necessitated, unfortunately, more by the available costumes than by proper consideration of plot – is that "we haven't done a Rutan story or a proper Ice Warrior story yet".
(To which the answer to the answer is, I'm sorry to say, "why didn't you do one of those instead of that pointless Chibnall two-parter, then?")
Oh, and Charlotte also asked: why didn't the monsters just shoot the bugger! That's an easy one, actually: if you kill him, he'll regenerate and come back as something that could have survived whatever it was that killed him. I think even the Daleks might figure that turning the Doctor completely monster-proof might put a kink in their no-doubt-colourful plans.
The big monster mash-up is the sort of thing that ought to be absurd, the sort of thing that hasn't been done since, well, that Dalek story in the sixties that I mentioned. The one where Terry Nation dropped off half-a-dozen pages of notes and left Dennis Spooner to wing it. It should be the worst kind of exercise in crowd-pleasing theatrics, even more than Russell's Daleks versus Cybermen grudge match (or rather: Cyber ass-whupping).
And yet the story works almost in spite of the rubber-mask Usual Suspects moments at the end. It's a story that relies on Moffat's vision of the Doctor as legendary. So of course it has to be "Murder on the Orient Express": everyone did it!
And yet again, the continuity adds to the air of unreality about the whole business. As though it's all one careful exercise in quotations.
Alex tells me how he was thinking of the novel of "Terror of the Autons". Which he's willing to bet the Grand Moff and his predecessor must have read. When challenged about getting into UNIT HQ, the Master tells the Doctor not, as he does on screen, "Don't bother with trivialities" but that "A number of UNIT sentries firmly believe that they have just admitted the Prime Minister!" which may have given Russell ideas. But there are two more points that make Alex think of the Mister Moffster. In the book, it's stated that were the Master ever to be caught by the Time Lords he would face their severest punishment: "the Master's life-stream would be thrown into reverse. Not only would he no longer exist, he would never have existed." That's the first time anyone ever talks about that. And then there's the Auton in the safe, too: it doesn't just have the door slammed on it, as happens in the TV version, but its arm is caught in the door and cut off, with that severed arm thrashing like a snake, "spitting out energy bolts"…
And it wouldn't be one of my reviews of Steven Moffat's work without pointing out this week's quotation from the works of Lawrence Miles, but I'll leave it to poster "Affirmation" on Gallifrey Arse [link may need registration] to tease out this summary of "Alien Bodies":
"Underneath an ancient Earth monument is a relic - in reality the Doctor - coveted by every race in the universe. As the Doctor races to understand what it is, mighty battlefleets approach. Someone from the Doctor's future is hanging around, but we never get to learn exactly what they know because of spoilers. We do know that the Doctor is a survivor from an epic Time War, though.
Meanwhile, everything we think we know about the feisty young companion (who has the hots for our hero) is turned on its head as we find out that she's been part of the set up."
For myself, I spotted at least two "Eccleston Moments", direct echoes of the ninth Doctor era: disabling an animated arm with the sonic; and "I am TALKING" while addressing (albeit unknowingly this time) the Nestene Consciousness.
And then there was Rory delivering the Tennant Moment: "I don't want to go!"
Is this all just fanboy homage? Moffat unable to resist the urge to add cleverness on top of cleverness, quoting just for the sake of fun? Or is there something more to it even than that?
It's just a thought, but the last time that the TARDIS exploded… okay, the last time on screen that she exploded… the Doctor arrived in the "Land of Fiction", a world where metatextual was a way of life… as I say: it's just a thought.
I don't think I've really answered any of the questions, certainly not any of the ones that matter. So I'll leave them with you until next time…
Why did the TARDIS explode?
(There seems no particular reason why it starts playing up in the first place. Why whisk River away to Amy's house? And why start to go bonkers at that point? Will we see events replay from a different point of view – that would be in keeping with the themes this episode has been developing – so that we understand what happened to the TARDIS?)
Who visited Amy's house, leaving those curiously patterned burns marks on the grass and tearing the door off its hinges?
(The burn marks might be a reference to the Daleks' landing in the playground in "Remembrance of the Daleks" but the door seems more… bipedal.)
Whose is the voice that wheezes "silence will fall"?
(Speculation says that it's Davros – because it does sound a bit like Davros… though of course the Beast sounded exactly like Sutekh so "sounds like" is no guarantee of anything. Speculation is no doubt fuelled by the way that the exploding TARDIS does appear to do the business that he wanted to do with his reality bomb. Besides, speculation always says it's Davros. Even when it is!)
Why does Amy's life not make any sense?
(How can she live in that big house with all those empty rooms? What happened to her aunt or her parents? Why didn't she remember the Daleks?)
And what is a duck pond if there aren't any ducks?
(Amy's duck pond. Without ducks. Amy. Pond.)
I thought "The Pandorica Opens" was awesome. But then my niece, who is seven, told me that the one with the invisible spaceship on the roof was much better. So maybe I'm just an old fanboy after all.
Next Time… Mostly harmless.