Thoughts on: The Pandorica Opens / The Big Bang

There’s a reason Pandorica is my favourite finale. I was vividly reminded of this upon this rewatch. Apart from being astoundingly well-written and well-made, it’s also profoundly different from anything that’s come before. In Pandorica, Steven Moffat emphatically distinguishes his style and vision for Doctor Who from Russell T Davies’. This is Steven Moffat with the stabilisers off, and it’s amazing. It revels in the timey-wimey in a way no previous story has dared to do, culminating the intriguing cracks in time arc in epic style. While Russell T Davies went “bigger and better” with every successive finale, finally raising the stakes to absolute maximum with the destruction of all reality in The Stolen Earth/Journey’s End, Steven Moffat has ingeniously gone one up in a way only Steven Moffat could convincingly do by capitalising on his penchant for timey-wimey: the universe is not only going to be destroyed; it will never have existed at all. Cue fans writhing with glee.

I think the genius of this story is that it starts out as fairly standard Doctor Who fare, but then, at the end of the first half, all of the sudden becomes something entirely different. This finale at first pretends to be a story about a big scary monster escaping from the strongest prison in the universe. That idea is captivating enough in its own right, and has us fans salivating over the mystery of what could possibly be inside it, as helpfully articulated for us onscreen by the Doctor: “Think of the fear that went into making this box. What could inspire that level of fear? Hello, you. Have we met?” Doubtless fans’ imaginations were going haywire as all this was happening, trying to predict what would emerge from that box. The episode even gave us an awesome, blood-pounding speech—which was so good that it’s routinely recited by past Doctors at conventions—leading us in the direction of this clever red herring. That the Doctor’s chest-beating actually worked should have been our first red light that not all was as it seemed.

Meanwhile, we also had the shock reappearance of Rory as a Roman to grapple with. This, also, should have indicated that there was some bigger plot at work here; the mystery of Rory’s reappearance was irresistibly intriguing. There were a hilarious few moments when the Doctor first encountered Rory again and belatedly realised his non-existent friend had somehow returned from temporal limbo, Matt and Arthur both adeptly milking those moments for brilliant comical effect. Roman Rory’s less than validating reunion with his fiancée was a delicate, well-written character sequence amidst the imposing mystery of the Pandorica and everything else, with the moment Amy finally remembered Rory gratifying but bittersweet, given that Rory was writhing in agony trying to hold onto his humanity.

In an absolute coup of plotting, everything gets turned on its head as the Pandorica situation is revealed to be a sham, created as a bait for the Doctor. And the Pandorica itself—to hold the Doctor. After that fast-paced beginning to this episode, the slowing down of pace as what we thought we knew from the previous forty minutes began to unravel before our eyes made for absorbing viewing, thickening the suspense wonderfully. Up until then this plot had been fairly standard fare for Doctor Who, but that twist can only be described as a masterstroke. I think the “carnival of monsters” was a bit indulgent on the part of Moffat, but at least it effectively conveyed a sense of the scale and magnitude of the greater threat to the universe: if all the Doctor’s enemies have allied for a single purpose, this must be serious business indeed. The Doctor’s pleading as his enemies prepare to lock him inside the Pandorica was an amazing moment, and we’re left on an absolutely agonising cliffhanger, with the universe imploding, the Doctor locked inside the Pandorica, the TARDIS exploding with River inside it, and Amy seemingly dead.

Of course, within the first ten minutes of the second episode the cliffhanger is resolved, with the Doctor miraculously freeing himself through an absurd time paradox, and saving Amy by making her wait 2000 years in the Pandorica. The story has morphed into something completely different, though. The ante has been distinctly upped: this is no longer a story about a monster escaping from a cage, but about all of time and space imploding upon itself because the TARDIS is exploding, rapidly deleting swaths of history from temporal existence. Wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey. Epic. Nevertheless, in the throes of this, there’s another touching character sequence as Rory pledges himself to guard Amy in her box for two thousand years. That’s what I love about this finale, as much as I adore the amazing plot: it’s punctured by quiet, touching character moments and sequences like these. The end of the universe means not just the destruction of planets, stars and species, it’s also, as Moffat reminds us in these wonderful moments, the erasure of human lives and all that entails: love, relationships, a trillion billion unique, special lives. Moffat reminds us that, yes, Rory’s girlfriend is as important as the whole universe, because to save the universe is to save exactly that: Rory’s and Amy’s love and the love of a trillion others.

The conundrum is actually resolved pretty straightforwardly. No show-stopping twist, no companion gaining godlike powers, no questionable deus ex machina; just the Doctor applying his wits to the problem and divining a way to fix it. He’ll pilot the Pandorica into the exploding TARDIS and create a restoration field encompassing everything to “reboot” the rapidly decaying universe. And that’s fine. There’s no need for a jaw-dropping resolution that the showrunner promises we’ll never see coming; providing it’s convincing and suitably dramatically satisfying (the only thing worse than a stupid deus ex machina is an anticlimax), the Doctor applying his own wits and powers to cobble together a makeshift fix to save the universe works just as well as Rose consuming the time vortex and dissolving a legion of Daleks, or a biological metacrisis that turns Donna into the cleverest being in the universe. One thing I’ll say for the resolution was that it was at least really ingenious and really well conceived. “The Doctor reboots the universe” is just an awesome idea.

That the Doctor would be trapped on the other side of the cracks, to sacrifice his very existence to save the universe, was an excellent narrative ploy. The final fifteen minutes of the story were totally unnecessary from a narrative point of view. The episode could simply have shown the Doctor remaining safe on the right side of the cracks, and it would hardly have mattered from a plotting point of view. But aren’t we profoundly grateful for those last fifteen minutes? The Doctor retracing his steps through Amy’s life, delivering his moving, pathetic farewell to little Amelia in her bedroom, and Amy’s restoring the Doctor to the universe through her memories of him. That scene always gives me goosebumps. It’s powerful and exhilarating, Amy conjuring the TARDIS into existence as though through an enchantment. In my opinion, it’s one of the most memorable scenes in the history of this show, a thrilling coda to what had already been a fantastic series finale. When you realise the Doctor actually engineered his own salvation through Amy, it makes it all the more impressive.

I want to give the final word to Matt Smith, who delivered what I’m confident in describing as an absolutely magisterial performance in this finale. His acting was unquestionably peerless throughout. If any were in doubt of Matt’s suitability for the role, surely all uncertainties would have been swept away by Matt’s performance here. Surely no one could deny that Matt is excellent in the role after this. Matt has thoroughly entrenched himself in the role, and has delivered one of the classic performances as the Doctor. There was more than one moment that really showcased Matt’s talents. His “farewell” to Amy as he prepared to fly the Pandorica into the exploding TARDIS was one, an emotive scene which Matt performed with sympathy and sad resignation. And the scene in little Amelia’s bedroom, in which he convincingly radiated age and weariness. It’s naturally difficult for Matt Smith, with his youthful looks, to come across as the old man that the Doctor is, but here he did it masterfully. His speech, that of a tired old man saying farewell to his friend, was so moving as to bring a tear to one’s eye. It was really powerful. Well done, Matt.

I’ve already written eight paragraphs on why this finale is amazing, so I won’t repeat myself, other than to affirm that, for the aforementioned reasons, it’s my favourite finale of all. It’s easily Moffat’s best finale, and he hasn’t matched himself since (I write this in eager anticipation for what Series 9 brings us, however). This finale was only part of a much greater narrative, though: Moffat cleverly leaves some itching questions hanging: namely, who blew up the TARDIS? And what on earth is the Silence? We know now that this was all part of Moffat’s grand era-long plan ultimately culminating in The Time of the Doctor (and the ramifications of the events of that story are still being explored). Looking back on it now, from the vantage point of what it’s all leading up to, I’m in awe of how meticulous and far-sighted his planning and narrative mapping was. For the benefit of those who haven’t watched that far ahead, I won’t reveal spoilers, but I’ll just say that Moffat has a an epic, exciting long-term vision for Doctor Who that’s only now becoming clear. This wonderful finale is just a pit stop along the way.

Rating: 10/10.

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