The Pandorica Opens: Review (with Spoilers)   1 comment

As my next door neighbour’s eldest, Kylie, might say: Oh my God, I mean that was like soooooo oh my God”. Wise words and I doubt I could better them.

If any of us ever doubted that Steven Moffat could match Russell T Davies when it came to finales, I think we can safely say that, with The Pandorica Opens, Moffat has done it with room to spare and seriously upped the ante into the bargain.

For me, after the triumphs of Bad Wolf/Parting of the Ways and Army of Ghosts/Doomsday, RTD completely lost his way when it came to finales. First we had the lunatic tosh of Doctor Dobby floating on his sneakers of air thanks to everyone on Earth having a collective hug, to a backdrop of John Simm trying to out-Tennant David Tennant for manic energy. And all leading up to that plot twist to end all plot twists – a big shiny red reset button. The following year it got worse with all thought of credibility chucked out of the window in pursuit of RTD’s idée fixe of how wonderful it would be if every companion of the last 4 years (and their families) could be shoehorned into the finale. Never mind that so many characters meant that none of them could ever play a big enough role to make their cameos worthwhile for the audience. Never mind that trying nevertheless to give them all a purpose left no room for a coherent plot. The world record of how many people can we fit into a police box had become the whole point of the exercise.

The End of Time finale to the 2009 Specials season seemed to have a bit more point and direction to it, if only because we knew that it was building towards David Tennant’s departure. But we still got the silly everyone-becomes-John-Simm moment. Again you could see RTD having this idea of what a lark that’d be and pursuing it entirely for its own sake, not bothering to fit it into any story. Of course, it played a dual role of also providing the radiation booth moment for the four knocks. Never mind the lack of any credible reason for building a machine that way, feel the character moment. Though, to be fair, they were pressed for time. You can either take time to flesh out a credible plot or you can have Wilf’s gang of pensioners. You can’t have both and, given the choice, which of us wouldn’t gladly sacrifice coherence and credibility for the chance to see Doctor Who Darby and Joan style?

Anyway, RTD got away with a great deal post-Doomsday, partly because he was still providing some genuinely wonderful moments but mostly, I think, because people had fallen for the line that you had to choose between the perfect plotting of Moffat or the character-centred depth of feeling of RTD. That the two were mutually exclusive. Which ignores stuff from RTD like Bad Wolf/Parting of the Ways which has moments of emotional beauty in a solid story. Apologies for those who couldn’t get their minds past Rose as Time Goddess. Yes, it was a bit of a deus ex machina but the resolution wasn’t actually brought about by Jackie being owed a favour by a truck driver, or by Rose becoming omnipotent. It was brought about by the Doctor changing Rose and turning her into someone prepared to make a difference.

It also ignores a story like The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances which displayed all of Moffat’s ability to perplex us before tying up all the loose ends but also contained some of the most wonderful moments of emotional fulfilment that we’ve had since 2005.

So, as the new era of Series Five dawned (I refuse to call it Series One), we were frequently being asked whether Moffat could match up to RTD’s reputation for spectacular season finales. You’ll have guessed by now that I don’t think that RTD left the bar that high. Did we get the real McCoy with The Pandorica Opens? Ask Churchill.

We got it straight between the eyes from the start of the pre-credits teaser. All those little cameos with Vincent, Winnie and Liz Ten which were clearly shot as part of their respective episodes but which had been kept secret even from the proctological eye of Doctor Who Confidential – the eye which sees all and tells so little. It was clear from the outset that this finale was going to be tying up a lot of loose ends and feeding off lots of hints from the course of Series Five. A true story arc perhaps in a way that we hadn’t seen since Series One. More than just name-dropping Torchwood or saying as an aside: by the way did I mention that my planet’s been nicked?

Then off to the bowels of the Millenium Stadium…er Van Statten’s base…er the Stormcage facility for the hallucinogen prison break of River Song (Mountain High). I loved the brief scene in The Maldovarium – whatever the hell that is, and I don’t care as I love those throwaway names and places which are never explained yet which add so much depth and texture to the DW universe, and which, in The Wilderness Years, would have been picked bare by some fanfic novelist and turned into some ancient Time Lord pal of Rassilon’s. The exterior shot seemed very Firefly to me and there were Firefly echoes too inside in the oriental clothing. How rewarding to see that, even in times of stretched budgets, this scene which could have been played out in a dark corner somewhere was made to feel richly decorated. Even if it was only a costume here and a curtain there, a little can go a long way in giving an impression of money lavished on a set.

My only qualm so far was the seeming proliferation of time travel in the DW universe. What was once a thing of wondrous rarity known only to the Time Lords and the Daleks can now be bought for a few coins above any interstellar knocking shop. Witness the ridiculously casual way in which being trapped at the end of the universe at the end of Utopia was resolved off-screen by the start of the next episode by poking Jack’s wrist with the sonic screwdriver.

The message at the beginning of the universe wasn’t too bad though a little corny but I do wonder how come River knows a language that no-one else in the universe knows. Finally the Doctor and Amy arrive on Salisbury Plain. Right from the start we’re getting those little moments from Matt Smith which I could watch all day and which cover up any number of plot of scripting weaknesses (not that these can be found in TPO). Just the way he says “Hi” to “Hail Caesar” and “Rise…Roman person” are beautiful little moments of nuance which are so different to what we might expect from David Tennant in that situation (perhaps a self-aware bit of look how insouciant I am at this curious encounter).

Even in a silly scene like River pretending to be Cleopatra, you can see Moffat’s attention to detail. Yes, it’s very unlikely that a whole legion would be fooled by hallucinogenic lipstick into forgetting that Cleopatra is (a) in Egypt and (b) dead. I suspect that RTD would take the view that River as Cleopatra is such a hooray moment that it’s justified in and of itself. He might toss a bone to the dog of plotting by introducing the idea of hallucinogenic lipstick then and there as a throwaway line. But Moffat has done the ground work, not only in that we know from Time of Angels that River uses that lipstick, but we’ve even had it explained in a little scene a few minutes ago in the prison break. So that the surprise of the whole “hail Caesar” thing is instantly explained when the soldier stands up and we see the lipstick smeared on his mouth. Is that really too much to ask?

It’s not like Moffat took five valuable minutes out of the show to build foundations for his plot. That’s all it takes and instead of fretting for a week about the unlikeliness of the Cleopatra scam working, we can smile at the very DW daft-but-logical nature of it and move on. That’s what Moffat does, a word here and an idea there which you barely notice and hey presto – you get a solid plot with enough time left over for Wilf’s gang of randy pensioners if you really want it.

I thought the horse riding could have done without the obligatory close-ups of each rider bouncing up and down which, far from making it seem more real, actually emphasised the fact that they were probably sitting on bike saddles. The long shots of the stunt riders were good enough for me but anyway it was a great way of adding an epic feel to the whole affair. It conveyed scale.

One thing we learned as the entrance to the Underhenge was opened was that Matt Smith does not suit pale greenish lighting on his face from a low angle. It happened briefly later on too and it aged him by about 20 years. But the whole Underhenge set, from the wooden gates to the stone steps against the walls and the Pandorica itself, was wonderfully atmospheric and a sign of the design team back on top form after the crimes against humanity that were the new Tellytubby Daleks and the new cramped TARDIS interior.

“A nameless terrible thing soaked in the blood of a billion galaxies – the most feared being in all the cosmos – one day it would just drop out of the sky and tear down your world.”

Well, yes, it’s bleeding obvious in retrospect, isn’t it? But I doubt many people twigged who was being referred to because we’re thinking that it’s our world that this nameless being would tear down. Whereas, of course, the worlds he tears down are the worlds of those who started the legend in the first place. The assorted baddies of the alliance. Again Moffat is almost dancing naked in front of you with “clue” painted in lipstick on his chest and we still can’t shake off his spell. Very nice delivery of the line by Matt too, half murmuring it to himself. Sorry to keep banging on about Tennant but I can’t help but think that he’d have delivered that line with his feet spread wide apart, hands plunged in his pockets and his jaw stuck out dramatically.

“Deadlocks, Time Stops, Matalans.”

To borrow from the much maligned (by me) Tennant: What? What? WHAT? Blatant advertising by the BBC? Surely not. I can’t think that the chairman of Tesco or Netto is going to be very pleased with that free publicity for a rival. Unless he said Matter Lines, I suppose.

Once the Doctor has realised that all the baddies of the universe will be converging on Stonehenge, unfortunately, we go a little lazy. Much as it pleases the hearts of fanboys and fangirls everywhere to hear those old races namechecked – Draconians, Drahvins, etc – couldn’t we have had a few new and mysterious ones added in? RTD was always good at doing this with his Nightmare Child, the Could-Have-Been King and his army of Meanwhiles. Stuff like that costs nothing yet adds so much richness to the tapestry of the DW universe. Mind you, it gets worse when the hordes finally materialise.

“Your house. It was too big. There were too many empty rooms. Does it ever bother you, Amy, that your life doesn’t make any sense?”

Here we come to what people seem to agree is the crux of the whole series. What is Amy’s true identity and what is the reality of that big house where she lives alone in Leadworth? Is it really possible that the whole house is some form of TARDIS, or just the mysterious third floor or attic? Her back door does look very like the upstairs door in The Lodger and her top flight of stairs do resemble the stairs in The Lodger too. Would the presence of some form of TARDIS in her house explain the Doctor’s TARDIS going haywire? That’s what happened in The Lodger. Was it the cause of the Doctor returning 12 years late in The Eleventh Hour. What was that TARDIS materialisation noise heard by little Amelia sitting on her suitcase? Was it really just a dream of Amy’s? Has the whole series just been a dream by Amy? Would Moffat ever stoop to the level of Dallas?

While we’re pondering on Pond, at last the Cybermen become scary once more. Stomping loudly in unison while chanting catchphrases like DELETE may be scary for some but give me a bit of good old body horror any day and I’ll soil myself with the best of them. The skull in the helmet was unnerving as was the refusal of all the cyber body parts to lie down and die. One half-dismembered Cyberman became far more frightening than an army of millions of them in Doomsday. And they’ve recovered some of the invincibility they lost when we found out that they could easily be blown away by Daleks or bazooka-wielding Geordies. Quite how a Cyberman without a brain operates is neither here nor there but does it give support to the idea that this is all a dream of Amy’s. The Cyberman did, after all, behave as one might in a nightmare rather than as we’ve seen them behave previously.

Not to worry because along comes Roman Rory to save the day. And Arthur Darvill has never been better. Perhaps because he’s for once of figure of authority here and somewhat separated from the Amy/Doctor nexus where he’s always defined by his relationship with them. Perhaps because he does look mighty fine in that armour. Maybe it’s the pale, unshaven, slightly gaunt look which makes him appear more of a man than a geeky teen. Possibly it’s just his bronze man-boobs. Such a pity that previously this series he’s been reduced to a knockabout figure.

I wasn’t as impressed by the Doctor big speech to the alien fleet as some seem to have been. I just don’t think it comes off because Matt’s strength is in the quiet nuance of his acting, not in Tennantesque bellowing. As he was doing it into a communicator anyway, it would have come across better if he hadn’t shouted the lines at all. But there we are, we all live in a post Ark in Space world these days. Every Doctor is obliged to have a big “impressive” speech at some time. I suppose we should just be grateful that the latest one wasn’t about how wonderful and indomitable homo sapiens is (gizza hug).

River Song (Mountain High) ends up at Amy’s house – again hinting that the answers to everything will not only be found there but also in The Eleventh Hour itself. While, back at Stonehenge, we’re getting a tour de force from Rory, struggling against the Auton within whilst, under his feet, the twist is finally revealed. The Pandorica is a prison for the Doctor. Lovely lovely lovely. Didn’t see it coming for a second. What a pity that the alliance of aliens who turned up for his imprisonment couldn’t have been more imaginatively varied. As it was, they just seem to have raided the costume store for any alien costume they could find. The Weevils, for the love of god!!! The Silurians!

Worst of all, the Dalektubbies. I’m trying to remember what we were told that the various colours signify. Wasn’t it that the White Dalek is Tinky Winky, the Yellow Dalek is Dipsy and the Red Dalek is Po? Something like that. The pick of the bunch are the Sontarans for whom I’ve taken quite a shine despite their whole build and costume having been handed over to the Judoon for some reason. The Sontarans actually hold a conversation with you (if you’re not holding a gun), they don’t just squawk catchphrases.

All in all a wonderful episode. One of my favourites ever and dripping in the classic Moffat style. And, as Rory cradles the dying Amy in his arms, he didn’t have to ditch emotion and character to do it. If this had been RTD, I would have been dreading a big let down and an even bigger reset button next week but I trust the Moff with all my heart to do something extraordinary.

Posted June 24, 2010 by docwhom in Doctor Who, Series Five 2010

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One response to “The Pandorica Opens: Review (with Spoilers)

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  1. I found ‘Pandorica Opens’ very enjoyable, but I don’t think I was so impressed.

    The story was just too reliant on clever visuals and the pace was horrendously fast. There has been a serious lack of decent script writing in season 5.

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