5.12 & 5.13 – “The Pandorica Opens”/”The Big Bang”
Summoned by River Song (who was alerted by coordinates left in a deranged painting by Van Gogh, which was picked up by Winston Churchill and ended up in the possession of Liz 10 on board the Starship UK), The Doctor and Amy go to Stonehenge in Roman Britain to find the Pandorica. But what is the Pandorica, why is it opening and what does it contain?
It’s one hell of a cliffhanger; the TARDIS is exploding, taking River Song and the Universe with it, Rory is now an Auton who has just shot dead his beloved Amy (uh, what? Shhh, stop thinking about this too much!) and the Daleks, Cybermen, Sontarans, Judoon and a host of other alien nemesis’ have locked The Doctor inside an inescapable box. There’s no “Next Week” trailer, just the Universe going pfft…
It’s also one hell of an opening; we meet young Amy again, fantasising about her Raggedy Man in a world without stars and then finding the Pandorica, opening it only to find the adult Amy inside. “Okay kid, this is where it gets complicated.” Roll opening credits…
In the same way that “The Tenth Planet” was a practice run for the Troughton era, and “The Invasion” was the template for Pertwee’s run, I’d argue that “The Pandorica Opens”/”The Big Bang” is a taste of what’s to come in Series 6. In just two episodes we get almost the entire structure of Series 6 summed up perfectly. Everything leads to the end of part one – there is no real story, just a thing that sucks The Doctor, River and Amy into situations that explode into a bunch of thrilling cliffhangers. Luckily, here it only takes 45 minutes or so as opposed to 7 episodes.
The wrap-up at the start of “The Big Bang” is fast and furious and pretty much puts everything right (apart from the Universe fizzling out), leaving our chums to sort out the rats and mice as the series comes to a close. This is not to say these are bad episodes. There are lots of cool scenes. We have seen River Song escape before – a cheeky touch of hypnotic lipstick, messages dropped through time, and a “Hello sweetie” carved into the oldest wall in the Universe. And it’s all worth doing it again to see River, dressed as Cleopatra and welcoming The Doctor and Amy to her tent. Alex Kingston pulls it off with all of the classy style and bold as brass attitude that River is all about.
For the section of the story where Rory’s resurrection as a Roman Centurion is left unexplained, it proves to be a great, mysterious part of the story. Arthur Darvill, once again, gives us Rory the comedy guy and Rory the real human being. Being menaced by the various bits of a Cyberman shows us what Rory’s made of too. Is it just me that sees the Cyberman head scuttling away on a bunch of wires as a wee nod to John Carpenter’s The Thing? Everything is thundering along towards the big cliffhanger, where it stumbles a little as all the monsters turn up. Tennant’s “Doctor as dark superhero that everyone is scared of” always grated with me – and it grates even more when Smith does it. And all of the villains teaming up to trap The Doctor? Simply because it appears that it’s his fault that the Universe has a big crack in it? It’s an act of strangely selfless altruism which is also grossly misguided. If the Daleks really could trap The Doctor like this, wouldn’t they just exterminate him?
Luckily we breeze past such daftness without worrying too much (we are Doctor Who fans, after all) and get Rory the Auton failing to be overcome by love and shooting Amy. Surely the one and only time that happens in Smith’s run of stories?
“The Big Bang” is filled with similarly excellent moments. The “Okay kid,” moment is an absolute cracker. Along with The Doctor’s sudden appearance, with fez and mop, to a heartbroken Rory. The timey-wimey jumping around is great fun. Rory, the immortal Auton as the “Last Centurion” is a nice touch (in case we were in any doubt about him loving Amy) – in this instance we do “respect the plastic.” River shoots a Dalek (possibly the only time we a big fat new paradigm Dalek in actual action), who begs for mercy. Hmmm. Smith’s nearly dead Doctor, as he explains everything to Amy, is far more like the Eleventh Doctor, almost laying it on thick with the melodrama but just about holding it all back. Gillan is so much more than just a companion here. She and Smith are one of the best teams to ever occupy the TARDIS, at least, at this point they were.
To be honest, this is where the episode finishes. It’s a cracking scene, Amy and The Doctor’s tearful farewell, the swelling music, the Pandorica plunging into the fires of the TARDIS. Boom – awesome stuff. 15 minutes of recapping is hardly necessary. I’ll admit, I barely understood what the hell has been going on, but quick revisits of the previous episodes just seems to be showing off.
And finally, the power of love wins out – Amy does remember, even when something has been completely wiped out of history/ time and space. This would annoy me but then, whose heart doesn’t skip a beat when she shouts out “something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue” and the greatest time machine of them all comes wheezing and groaning into the wedding?
This is, without a doubt, a flawed story – flawed by the same problems of timey-wimey resetting, all sorted out by the power of love stuff that will come to pass in Series 6. However, there is also so much to love here. Thrilling, exciting, stirring moments all pulled together by the four series regulars with all of the wonderful chemistry we’ve seen time and time again. Oh bugger it, there’s no villain, there’s no real story, it’s just a load of dashing about to provide an excuse for an awesome cliffhanger and a brilliant beginning. I should get very angry about it but I still have to give it a Big, Banging 8/10.
Written and edited by Richard Barnes