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Doctor Who complete reviews: The Pandorica Opens

REVIEWS - DOCTOR WHO

It's time for the Moff's first season finale for Doctor Who - and he throws everything at it but the kitchen sink...

The Pandorica Opens / The Big Bang (Doctor Who)

For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.

A wise old person once said this – Romana, I think. But even if the Time Lady is attributing the genius of Isaac Newton to punting, never a truer word was spoken when it comes to looking at The Pandorica Opens/The Big Bang – or Pandorica Bang as I'll call it, to give me one less headache.

The Pandorica Opens / The Big Bang (Doctor Who) - Matt Smith trappedPandorica Bang is brimming with opposites in a number of ways. From the first episode, you may think that we're building up to an RTD-style kitchen sink finale with a huge army of past enemies and monsters – the second part revels in turning this assumption on its head with a considerably different tack. On that note, it's a classic case of writer Steven Moffat changing gears halfway through the story to steer it in a different direction. We also have the opposite assumptions dotted throughout the story – The Pandorica doesn't contain any scary monsters! Rory's not dead! Rory's not human! Amy's not dead! The Doctor's not dead!

But from a personal point of view, the biggest opposite reaction is what I think of the story. The Pandorica Bang was one of those stories that I couldn't quite make my mind up about. The first time I was disappointed with the result. The second time I actually liked it, despite my reservations – you can see this cringe-inducing gushing somewhere else on Shadowlocked. And so a couple of months later I saw a repeat of it on BBC Three, and actually wondered what the fuss was all about. Having sat through both episodes again, I'm still less than impressed, almost to the point where I'm tempted to place The Pandorica Bang in that hallowed Hall Of Fame which contains Time And The Rani , The Underwater Menace and The Space Pirates.

"I'm disappointed by the fact that there's no real Big Bad to face off in the final part, apart from a pointless token Dalek"

The Pandorica Opens / The Big Bang (Doctor Who)So what's so wrong with The Pandorica Bang? Well, how long is a piece of string? As the season finale, a lot's expected of it. A good season finale needs to not only tie up all the loose ends of the season, answer outstanding questions and mysteries, but it also needs to tell a good, exciting, coherent story as well. It's a big task, but sadly, The Pandorica Bang fails to deliver on just about every count. The most notable thing about The Pandorica Bang is that it deliberately goes against the big chest-thumping, gung-ho bravado of the Russell T Davies season finales. Take the concept of the great big Alien Alliance of practically every Who monster under the sun – or the Bad Aid ensemble, if you like. Daleks! Cybermen! Sontarans! Autons! Many more! All brought together to presumably record a special charity dirge called 'Doctor In A Stress', which would presumably be a better seller than the staggeringly useless remake of 'We Are The World' that same year by Bowlcut Bieber and a clutch of has-beens and current nobodies. Now presumably Rusty would have made the most of this in the concluding episode, but this isn't the Moffat Way. Instead, a fast-paced, dramatic face-off against Bad Aid is thrown into the dustbin in favour of a tedious, timey-wimey runaround in a poxy museum. Whoop-dee-doo.

OK, so this may come as a refreshing surprise to those who had tired of the blockbuster season finale follies of yore – but I don't know, I'm disappointed by the fact that there's no real Big Bad to face off in the final part, apart from a pointless token Dalek. Now this is probably because at heart, I'm still a great big kid who wants lots of thrills 'n' spills 'n' no headache-inducing plots that are too obsessed with messing about with time. And I know that talking about ratings should be the last resort for any self-respecting reviewer, but compare 6.12 million for The Big Bang with previous achievements of more than 8 million for Doomsday and Last Of The Time Lords or more than 10 million for Journey's End. Not exactly a finale to be discussed by the kids in the playground on Monday morning.

Because there's this feeling that Pandorica Bang is less an exciting adventure romp, and more Steven Moffat having too good a time. Don't get me wrong, there have been some great Moffat stories in the past such as The Empty Child Blink and Silence In The Library , some of the finest Who you could wish for. But lately there's been this sense that Moffat's just fallen back on smug coasting with some of his stories, and Pandorica Bang is one of the worst offenders. While there are one or two neat twists peppered throughout the story, more often than not, it's just 90-odd minutes of Moffat at his self-indulgent worst. And one of the biggest complaints I have about Pandorica Bang is the fact that it's so self-satisfied and pleased with itself – even more so than pompous Downton Abbey scribe Julian Fellowes marching up and down a 30-mile long Hall Of Mirrors for two days non-stop.

"While Alex Kingston still copes gamely with her rotten dialogue, it feels like, at times, that Doctor Who is slowly morphing into The River Song Show"

The Pandorica Opens / The Big Bang (Doctor Who) - Alex Kingston as River SongPut it this way, only about five minutes into the story, we're treated to a scene with two of my least favourite Moffat creations – yes, not only is Cockney Cretin Liz 10 back for a microsecond (and still thinking that “Oym the blaaahhhdy Quinn” is still actually funny or cool or whatever), but so is River Song – yet again. And just like Liz 10, she's still endlessly parading her non-stop catchphrases which have now gone from being irritating to stick-a-spoon-in-your-head painful. Yup, she's still gliding about with that smirking sneer of “Spooooiiillllaaaahhhs”, but she's somehow gone one better (or worse, depending on your point of view) by carving the words Hello Sweetie into a cliff. As you do. And again, while Alex Kingston still copes gamely with her rotten dialogue, it feels like, at times, that Doctor Who is slowly morphing into The River Song Show.

But this feeling of Moffat Self-Indulgence really starts to come through in the second part, as any semblance of drama and excitement gives way to faffing about with time and a non-stop spiel of meaningless gibberish. OK, the Timey Wimey bit first – in a way, it's actually quite clever, all the time travel stuff, and even though it's a bit excessive and long-winded, The Doctor's plan to escape from his Pandorica imprisonment and to save Amy from death is actually quite clever. But it just seems like there's too much running around, too much breathless exposition and too many glib wisecracks. It's like watching a speeded-up DVD of Magnus Pyke's Greatest Lectures while being slowly bashed on the bonce relentlessly by a novelty cricket bat in the shape of Steven Moffat's sneering head.

Mind you, all of this fast-paced nattering at 10 million to the dozen is possibly a smokescreen for the fact that not a lot of it makes any actual sense. Welcome then to Moffat's Bafflegab Bullshit, a follow-up to the Steven Stalls book, which comprises a dictionary of every meaningless bit of incoherent gibberish present in Pandorica Bangs. You too can muse on the poetic meaning of “Eye of the storm, that's all. We're just the last light to go out...” Chew over the abstract wisdom of “These are just like after-images, echoes, fossils in time, the footprints of the never-were...” Or ponder the paradox of the fact that “You're an anomaly! We're all just hanging on at the eye of the storm!” Break all of these examples down (and there's loads more to be had in this fiasco) and you're left with meaningless mulch – they're like random, abstract arty-farty images thrown together like the front covers of one those old 1970s hippy prog albums. They may sound deeply poetic, but when they don't actually make much sense, that's a serious issue.

"Steven Moffat's just using the mysterious Pandorica as a handy get-out clause to solve whatever problem he's cooked up before"

The Pandorica Opens / The Big Bang (Doctor Who) - Amy Pond trappedBut talking of not making much sense, Pandorica Bang is bursting at the seams with illogical goofs and convenient changes of heart. Take the Pandorica itself, for example. We're told at first that it's a prison (which apparently is both the “perfect prison” and “easy to open” - make up your mind, for crying out loud). But hey, hold on – not only is it a prison, it can bring dead people back to life! It's also a stasis field, and a handy ship to pilot into the eye of the storm! Presumably it can also shine your shoes, do your washing and peel your apples – all at the same time. Or in other words, Moffat's just using the mysterious Pandorica as a handy get-out clause to solve whatever problem he's cooked up before. The whole idea of an intergalactic 'Who's Who' of Who Boos coming together just to lock The Doctor up for all eternity seems ridiculous too. If he's such a great big threat (“We will save the universe from you!” bellows the Sontaran), well why not just kill him until his remaining two regenerations are spent? And it seems a bit rich that the combined might of angry aliens thinks that The Doctor's a threat, given their previous dastardly schemes.

Oh, and you'd never guess – Idiot Boy Rory's back from the dead. Now strutting about in the togs of a Roman, he's now apparently an Auton – a handy caveat to bring him back to life. Quite why or how or when Rory becomes an Auton is a good question, and perhaps inevitably is one that is never satisfactorily answered. So there goes the great ending of Cold Blood then, and what might have been a fitting end to Rory's brief time aboard the TARDIS. Hey, they should have done this sort of thing in the Hartnell era – they could have had Dodo rip off her face to reveal that she was really Sara Kingdom in disguise! Or maybe Adric could have turned out to be the Ergon in Arc Of Infinity (well, they both had the same walk).

Get my drift? Rory's resurrection not only makes little sense, it's yet another groan-inducing example of how modern Who production teams don't have the guts to kill off a regular companion. They even do the same thing with Amy in this story – she's shot by Auton Rory at the end of the first part. It's actually quite a sweet but brutal scene with a neat bit of role reversal in that Rory must remember his past rather than Amy. But inevitably this means nothing by the next part, since Amy's healed by the Pandorica. Again, a total cop-out. Maybe I should just get used to the fact that it's easier to kill Road Runner than a Doctor Who regular these days.

"The idea that Amy “remembers” The Doctor back to life is complete rubbish, pure and simple. I know that we're in Moffat's fairytale vision for Doctor Who, but this is just ripping the piss"

The Pandorica Opens / The Big Bang (Doctor Who) - Amy PondMind you, at least Rory comes off a bit better in this story than he has done in past adventures so far this season. The idea that he chooses to guard Amy over the years and centuries rightly makes him a bit of a hero, and Arthur Darvill turns in a good performance throughout the story, whether he's goofing around with a disbelieving Doctor or reacting with horror at the 'death' of Amy at the close of the first part. Such a shame then that Moffat still has to make Amy so unlikeable – she's back to SHOUTING!! the place down as per usual, bellowing at Rory to “Shut up then!”, even though the poor scamp's been guarding her for god knows how long. And then after the two have got married at the end, she just barges into the TARDIS yelling at The Doctor: “Oi! Where are you off to? We haven't even had a snog in the shrubbery yet!” - er - while her new husband's right behind her. She then says to Rory “Shut up! It's my wedding!” like a three-year-old demanding to win all the games at her birthday party.

One of the regular problems with this season has been the character of Amy, which has gone up and down more times than an elevator. Like I've said before, not the fault of Karen Gillan (who's turned in some pretty decent performances), more the fault of the production team who just couldn't seem to make up their minds as to where they wanted to steer Amy. Fortunately, they'd achieve a more consistent (and far more agreeable) persona next time around.

But hey, at least Amy gets to live still. As does Rory. As does The Doctor. Even though you think he may have bitten the dust after flying the Pandorica into the exploding TARDIS and sealing the Cracks. But no, because apparently, if you die, or are on the verge of dying, all you need to do is to urge someone that you know to “Remember”. Which while the odd bit in Flesh And Stone now makes sense, seems even more of a cop-out than the end of Last Of The Time Lords. Seriously, the idea that Amy “remembers” The Doctor back to life is complete rubbish, pure and simple. I know that we're in Moffat's fairytale vision for Doctor Who, but this is just ripping the piss. Just imagine a kid at home watching the show, only to discover that his pet goldfish has croaked it – when he finds out that remembering his beloved fish doesn't work, there'll be tears and tantrums before bedtime, you mark my words. So not only do we have another reboot get-out clause (“Big Bang Two”), but this whole concept of The Doctor miraculously appearing at Amy's wedding without so much as a scratch takes dramatic licence to the limit. Not even the old “Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue” gag can compensate for such a lousy denouement. On top of all that, none of the wedding guests at Amy's and Rory's wedding seem too fazed by the fact that a police box materialises out of thin air either. More great extra acting here.

"Even with a sub-par season finale, Smith still captivates the audience with his knack for making the most out of his dialogue"

The Pandorica Opens / The Big Bang (Doctor Who) - Matt SmithOh come on John, don't be such a killjoy. You're meant to get swept up in the emotional reunion. Well, true, Matt Smith's speech to sleeping young Amy is beautifully delivered (“The times we had, eh? Woulda had – never had. In your dreams, they'll still be there...”), but then this is Matt Smith we're talking about – he could present something like The One Show and keep his credibility intact. Even with a sub-par season finale, Smith still captivates the audience with his knack for making the most out of his dialogue, whether jokey (“Oh you can do loads in 12 minutes. Suck a mint. Buy a sledge. Have a fast bath.”) or serious (“Amy Pond... crying over me, eh?”). And his ridiculously goofy dancing to Queen's Crazy Little Thing Called Love is yet another Doctor Who comedy highlight.

Other good points. Hmmmm. OK, well, director Toby Haynes adds a filmic, dramatic swoop to proceedings, especially the frantic, multi-faceted climax of the first part (complete with one or two slow-mo shots). There's one great bit of real horror with the decaying skull in the Cyberman head – shame there couldn't have been more of this sort of thing this season. And there are still fortunately quite a few great Moffat lines to be had (“I just don't want her growing up and joining one of those star cults. I don't trust that Richard Dawkins...” or “She is dead but it's not the end of the world – well, it is the end of the world...”).

But these scattered gems can't quite compensate for the overall disappointment of this season finale. Too much nonsensical bafflegab, too much clever-clever smugness and too many jaw-dropping get-out clauses combine to make this an unpalatable mix – and just as annoyingly, there are still one or too loose ends that aren't adequately explained, such as the mystery over “Silence will fall”. Still, what do I know? The story managed to win the HUGO award for Best Dramatic Presentation in 2011, so someone out there obviously can see the attraction. But for my money, it's a frustrating end to what's actually been quite a frustrating season. Some great stories (Vincent And The Doctor , the Weeping Angels two-parter, The Eleventh Hour ) and some underrated mini-gems (Amy's Choice , The Lodger ) have clashed with half-baked scripts, lack of drama/tension/scares and poorly thought out resolutions. Moffat's fairytale vision for Doctor Who may have its admirers, but so far that vision suggests to me that he might want to pay a visit to Specsavers...

 

John Bensalhia limbered up for this mammoth task with a full four-series review of Blake's 7, and writes professionally and recreationally all over the web. Check out his portfolio of work here.

Check out John's previous Doctor Who review, The Lodger

Read more Doctor Who articles at Shadowlocked


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