Archive for the ‘Series Five 2010’ Category
1. THE UNEXPECTEDLY COLD BATH CHOIR
I doubt that I’ll be able to come up with ten bad things about the fabulous Series 5 but I’ll have a go.
I’ve never been one of those who are put off by Murray Gold’s music. It’s rarely been too loud for me as has been a constant complaint of some since the revival in 2005. However, my one misgiving regarding the new show’s music dates from when Murray Gold got hold of a choir. Like David Tennant’s performance as the Doctor, Murray Gold’s use of a choir is very John Lewis – Never Knowingly Underplayed.
Doctor Who survives its budget cuts by the fact that the show has always been about ideas rather than shiny bombast. If we’re going to have the thousand voice choir shrieking hysterically at the top of its lungs, we really need to have a bigger budget show. Otherwise it just comes across as empty bragging.
And nowhere is this as annoying as when the choir does its impersonation of one thousand people simultaneously lowering themselves into one thousand bathtubs and discovering that the water is much colder than they’d bargained for.
HOH HOH HOH
HOH HOH HOH HOH HOH
HOH HOH HOH
HOH HOH HOH HOH HOH
Please, Murray, a bit more subtlety. Try to lean towards Chancellor Flavia going all ethereal in future instead of trying to be Star Wars.
3. YOU AND YOUR LITTLE BLUE BOX
I feel slightly guilty at confessing that two of the best punch-the-air moments for me in recent seasons have been the Doctor finding himself on the receiving end of a bitchy put-down by a gun-toting soldier.
I know that we’re supposed to be 100% behind the Doctor’s aversion to guns but there have been several occasions in New Who where this supposed pacifism has verged on moral cowardice. The Doctor telling a bunch of horribly-beweaponed invading aliens that he refuses to fire back even if he loses his life as a result is an admirable example of the Doctor standing up for his principles. Unfortunately, it usually ends up being the Doctor telling the bunch of horribly-beweaponed aliens that he refuses to fire back, no matter how many other people lose their lives as a result.
The first time this happens in New Who, I’m all in favour of it. The Ninth Doctor’s line “Coward, any day” in Parting of the Ways is one of the best bits of Series One. Indeed, it could be seen as the climax of the Doctor’s emotional journey in Series One out of the trauma resulting from having taken the “killer” decision once already at the end of the Time War. Admittedly, it’s not a choice between saving humanity or allowing it to be wiped out, but a choice between wiping out humanity or allowing them to be turned into Daleks which isn’t quite so clear cut a choice. But, even if he is allowing his personal doubts to prevent him making the best decision here, who cares? The moment itself is so great that who cares if it doesn’t stand up to deep scrutiny. That moment is redolent of so much of the emotion of that season and so much of a stand against the “look what huge guns we have” solutions of Battlenoir Galactica and its ilk that the act of “cowardice” itself becomes a punch-the-air moment.
Things start to go downhill in David Tennant’s era. Let’s leave aside all the posturing nonsense in The Doctor’s Daughter where the Time Lord who habitually strews death left, right and centre as he strolls through the cosmos has the nerve to describe himself as “a man who never would” on the basis that, while he may well wipe out your civilisation by taking out your sun, at least he never carries a revolver.
In The Sontaran Stratagem, I was pretty appalled by the Tenth Doctor’s hysterical snarling at UNIT’s inoffensive (almost limp-wristedly so) Colonel Mace within five minutes of meeting him to “gerraway from me, you dirty gun-carrying gun-carrier, you” (I may be paraphrasing his exact words). At least when the Third Doctor made anti-militaristic points (usually while UNIT troops were being slaughtered to protect him), he restricted himself to being amusedly patronising: “Well, Brigadier, are you ready to play at soldiers again?” In the pre-1989 days, there seemed to be a recognition that non-violence may be the Doctor’s preference but that, as he ended most stories by killing the baddies, it would be silly to push it further than that.
When did the Doctor’s distaste for violence get reduced to the level of student agitprop? It probably dates from the end of The Christmas Invasion where RTD’s attempt at a Belgrano analogy had all the subtlety and historical understanding of a Sun editorial. Despite having worn a gun all his career, poor Colonel Mace, like most soldiers, may never have shot or killed anybody in his life. And he’s being treated like dirt by Doctor Ten-Genocides-A-Year.
Maybe this is what’s truly questionable about the modern Doctor’s attitude to violence. In what we’ve been shown of the Doctor’s moral code since 2005, it’s not that killing aliens is banned, it’s just that only the Doctor is allowed to do it. So, when a fleet of alien battleships appears in the sky, humanity must lay down its arms, bend over and spread its bumcheeks in trusting welcome on the off-chance that this latest visitor might be the first alien race in forty-odd years to be visiting Earth purely for tourism. If this ends in the deaths of lots of those humans, then the Doctor may deign to step in. Apart from the godlike arrogance of this, it presents a plotting problem as it draws unwelcome attention to the remarkable coincidence of the Doctor always being there to save the Earth from alien invasion, a glaring plot device which is much better glossed over lightly. A gag about milk makes a great perception filter.
Luckily, the good colonel gets to fight back with a rousing lock-n-load speech in The Poison Sky about humanity not surrendering to any passing alien with a grudge. Is this meant to be in part a dig at the Doctor who is, after all, the alien with an inexplicable grudge against UNIT?
This curious moral arrogance on the Doctor’s part rears its head again in the Human Nature/Family of Blood two-parter. The whole plot rests on the Doctor’s motives for hiding from the Family. It can’t be fear as the story ends with the Doctor doing his “Look at me, I’m a vengeful god in trainers” thing while imprisoning the Family for eternity. What a pity that he couldn’t have imprisoned them somewhere nice at the start until they were no longer a danger. His decision to hide can only be that he didn’t want to kill them. And look how many people have to die as a result.
Then we come to the Time of Angels/Flesh and Stone two-parter. I’d expected that Matt Smith’s Doctor would be less arrogant than his predecessor. Interestingly, many have commented how quickly Matt Smith slipped into the role, given that this was the first story he shot. Maybe the writing team didn’t slip quite as quickly into things because his initial series of catty digs at the Church in the hearing of a group of men who are braving danger in a good cause just as much as he is seems both uncalled for and very un-Eleventh Doctorish. Unless it was intentionally a hangover from the Tenth Doctor’s character. Or, even worse, maybe all the anti-Church digs were scripted for no other reason than to allow the put-down. If so, that’s not my favourite sort of writing, creating situations purely to allow a good line of dialogue.
The Doctor may have a problem with the institution of the 51st century Church but Father Octavian and his merry men are clearly goodies here. What exactly has Octavian done to deserve being called an idiot in front of his men by someone too busy making cracks about Virginia Woolf’s bowling team to notice the blindingly obvious issue of the one-headed statues?
The brilliant Octavian fares much better than Colonel Mace at the hands of the scriptwriters and gets to deliver a really crushing and well-deserved put-down: “And when you’ve flown away in your little blue box, I’ll explain that to their families.” A hit. A very palpable hit.
Seriously, how many people have to die to facilitate the post-2005 Doctor’s need to posture as “the man who never would”? A pose somewhat at odds with his actual kill total over the years. How many alien invasions does the Earth have to endure before the Doctor accepts that maybe, just maybe, we might have the right to shoot back at aliens shooting as us? I have no problem at all with the Doctor refusing to have anything to do with guns – it’s always been one of the best aspects of the show – I do have a problem with the superior lectures to lesser breeds without a sonic screwdriver to save their day.
I should perhaps close by pointing out that I’ve never actually punched-the-air at anything in my life. My usual reaction to a deeply satisfying emotional moment is to raise one eyebrow a quarter-inch and take a restorative sip of the Vital Oolong. But then I am British.
2. ALPHA ET OMEGA
I hadn’t noticed this little logo before. Or, if I did, it’s significance didn’t occur to me. It’s on the inside of the drop-ship airlock door when Amy’s trapped inside with the TV angel. And it’s also on the sleeves of the clerics’ uniforms.
My delight at discovering this may be short-lived if I find that I’d have learned it in April if I’d paid closer attention to the relevant Doctor Who Confidential. But I reckon that the logo has to be the badge or emblem of Father Octavian’s militaristic 51st century Church. Alpha and Omega. It’s the Greek letter Omega with an Alpha inside it.
What I love most about this is that someone on the design team must have gone to the trouble of dreaming that up but it doesn’t even get a mention. It’s just left there for the viewer to pick up or not as they please.
When we hear River’s throwaway line about six billion people living on the planet, we don’t really feel it. Their existence is little more than a plot point, no attempt is made to weave any sense of reality into it and I don’t think that at any stage we are concerned for their safety from the Angels. However, in the case of the militaristic-cum-spiritual organisation which the Church has evolved into over thirty centuries, which actually requires more suspension of disbelief than merely accepting that a lot of humans live on the planet, this is made more real and tangible by little touches like the Alpha/Omega emblem. This laying down of layers of history and cultural background and then not trumpeting it but leaving it for us to absorb, if only subconsciously, helps make the Church much more real and powerful in our imagination despite our only ever encountering a handful of its clerics.
Ah, Doctor Who. Britain’s gift to humanity which just keeps on giving.
1. FOLLOW THAT SHIP:
The opening few minutes of Time of Angels has to be the best pre-credits sequence of either New or Classic DW (a safe bet as Classic didn’t have pre-credit sequences). Its only serious rival for the title is the “Go to your room” cliffhanger resolution which opened The Doctor Dances. It seemed redolent of the spirit of the more over-the-top pre-credit sequences from the Roger Moore Bond films in the 70s which were mostly irrelevant to the plot but existed purely for the bonkers/wow factor. This reached its height in the opening of The Spy Who Loved Me which ended with 007 skiing off a cliff into a huge crevasse, only for an enormous Union Jack parachute to burst out of his rucksack and save the day.
This sequence sums up everything about how DW can score over the limitless budgets of Star Wars in the movies or Battlenoir Galactica on the TV – in its cheeky style. Star Wars might open with a display of scale by giving us hundreds of ships in a space battle which DW could never afford to realise to the same degree. Battlenoir’s multiple series length might allow them to invest in a big impressive spaceship set which wouldn’t be practical for a set which DW might only use for a single episode. Faced with this grand scale, it would be easy for DW to feel that it had to run to the opposite extreme and be the cheap little brother dealing with the small scale. But a simple concept like the hallucinogenic lipstick allows DW to do huge scale on a spaceship for nothing more than the cost of driving a crane to the nearest country park.
A long shot of Alex Kingston slinking along the grey, toilet roll tube corridors of the Byzantium is no Katee Sackhoff walking the wide corridors of the Galactica with a kick-your-ass machine gun, but the camera focuses instead on little details to intrigue us. A close-up of a pair of glossy red heels, of an evening bag sized silver gun being turned into a blowtorch, of the corner of River’s eye behind her customised Raybans (a must for any self-respecting 51st century welder). The elevation of concept over scale is reinforced by the intercutting of River’s actions with the Doctor discovering the results 12,000 years later in the museum.
All along the writer is sharing a sly wink with us at the crazy unlikeliness (yet perfect logic) of River’s escape plan. So crazy that we happily drop all critical disbelief and revel in the sheer bonkers escapism which is a closed book to George Lucas’ pseudo-mystical yearnings or Battlenoir’s need to be taken seriously as political allegory.
A villain in a tuxedo telling River in an evening dress that he’s going to have her shot, all the time politely addressing her as Doctor Song. How Bondlike is that? No, Mr Bond, I expect you to die. At which point River is blown out of the airlock, resplendent in heels and handbag and we get a nod to the scale bit of the wow factor with a couple of seconds of the side of the Byzantium receding away from her. Then the TARDIS comes to the rescue bang on time, she collapses through the doors into the Doctor’s arms and, without a word of explanation, as we get another brief money- shot through the open TARDIS doors of the Byzantium flying away into space, she commands: “Follow that ship” and we’re straight into the theme music.
I mean, please. What is not to love? There’s a bit on the DVD commentary of Rose where Russell T Davies talks about the importance of a scene looking as beautiful as possible (in the sense of lighting, colours, etc) in order to capture the attention of the casual viewer flicking bored through the TV channels. Some might cringe at the idea of someone entirely new to DW coming across the multiple vehicle pile-up which is the transformation of six billion people into the Master in The End of Time, imagining the potential new fans lost forever to DW as they change channels in their thousands. But, now and then, the opposite happens and DW gives us a piece of TV which does the joyously bonkers with unrivalled style, grabbing the casual viewers by the heart and dragging them along on the ride for the rest of their life.
Beyond his urgent need for a haircut, I had no real problems when Matt Smith was announced as David Tennant’s successor. My guiding principle in life has always been to judge a man by his actions and not by his resemblance to an Emo wannabe. David Tennant never really yanked my chain during his four years as the Doctor. No doubting his acting ability. I just felt that such a fine actor had essentially been playing pantomime for four years. So it was depressing to see Matt Smith play his regeneration scene as a parody of Tennant’s own regeneration. Super fast, almost gabbling delivery of lines and, where Series One ended on “Barcelona!”, the Specials season ended on “Geronimo!”. Plus ca change, plus c’est le meme thingummy.
My expectations sank even lower when we got our first sight of the Eleventh Doctor’s new costume. A bow tie and a geography teacher’s jacket smacked of an attempt to do a Patrick Troughton or to make a joke of Matt’s geeky appearance. So, when I sat down to watch the start of Series Five, I had every finger crossed and other things besides. Was I going to have to spend another four years watching DW just because I was a fan and it was entertaining fare or would the show once more reach down my pants and grab me by the heart?
More fool me (more fool I?) for doubting Steven Moffat. From the first few seconds, he’d captured me. Yes, the careering flight over London with the Doctor clinging to the TARDIS door sill was completely over the top but it was OTT in the best of ways – giving us a laugh and a thrill rather than trying to awe us with CGI for the sake of it. The new title sequence failed to move me but I’ve considered all versions which postdate the diamond tunnel effect of the first half of Tom Baker’s reign as being bastard interlopers.
Things got even better when the credits faded onto young Caitlin Blackwood. If there’s one thing that New Who casting people have been unfailingly good at, it’s been casting kids for the show. And the relationship between the Doctor and a child is at the heart of what Doctor Who means to those who grew up with the show. Young Amelia padding out into the garden in her nightie and wellies to find the TARDIS – isn’t that what any of us would have dreamed of? No? Heartless beasts!
When it came, what a debut by Matt Smith! We seem to have done away with the tedious habit of the Doctor lying unconscious for hours in a post-regenerative coma and the show is all the better for it. Matt is instantly successful in doing unforced and unself-conscious eccentricity. I love his way of delivering the script with stresses and inflections at unexpected points in the line. In a way, his speech patterns convey the alien eccentricity we expect of the Doctor without any recourse to “look how wacky I am” moments. Caitlin reacts to the Doctor wonderfully. It would have been easy for her to play Amelia as scared at this stranger landing in her garden at night or to have gone the other way and found his eccentricities funny. But she gives Amelia just the right feeling of curiosity triumphing over any instinctive (don’t talk to strangers) wariness. Weird as the Doctor is, he’s completely unthreatening to a child. It’s only monsters who have nightmares about the Doctor.
“You’re Scottish. Fry something.”
The tasting of the various foods is very funny without ever becoming silly or tedious because it’s entirely about the relationship developing between Amelia and the Doctor rather than about the physical comedy itself. So that, when they’re happily sitting down together to ice cream and fish custard, she’s already completely accepted him as a friend. Which is the point at which the Doctor remarks: “Must be a hell of a scary crack in your wall.” Has it taken this long for the Doctor to settle down enough to be up to tackling what’s scaring his new friend? Or has he partly been letting the food palaver go on this long in order to win her confidence?
“Looks like you’ve had some real cowboys in here. Not real cowboys, though that can happen.”
I have to confess that the whole Prisoner Zero and the crack thing didn’t fascinate me but I was too caught up in Matt’s physical and verbal performance to really notice that. Not to mention great throwaway lines like the cowboys one and: “You know when grown-ups tell you everything’s going to be fine and you think they’re probably lying to make you feel better?” – “Yes.” – “Everything’s going to be fine.”
I really like this mixture of that exchange where the Doctor isn’t treating her like a child in the face of danger and his immediately reaching out to hold her hand anyway. As if it’s as much for Amelia to provide him with reassurance as vice versa. I much prefer this to the increasingly carefree and overweeningly confident character the Doctor was gradually developing under Russell T Davies. I think that one of the vital ingredients in DW is for the Doctor to have an element of vulnerability. Children have an instinctive need to feel protective towards the Doctor. They’re more scared that the Daleks will hurt the Doctor and his friends than that they’ll destroy the Earth or conquer the universe. This is in part why I believe that efforts to portray him as a superhero or a godlike figure miss the point. If the Doctor can arrogantly scare off a fleet of monsters by declaring: “Look, it’s me. The oncoming storm” or open the TARDIS doors with a snap of his fingers instead of fumbling for his key as the monsters bear down on him, then we remove him from much of the danger. We want to worry about him. It’s become something of a cliché of Tom Baker’s that young children would sidle up to him and whisper solutions for escaping from the Daleks but for a child it’s part of their role to worry for him.
The Doctor hears the cloister bell from the garden and tears off downstairs to stop the TARDIS engines going postal. Incidentally, it’s a nice balancing act that we never heard it named. Just hearing that familiar chiming is enough on its own to send fanboys and fangirls shivering with delight whereas the sound alone makes it clear enough without any explanation to a DW newbie that’s it’s some form of alarm. There’s no need for the Doctor to say “oh no, it’s the cloister bell” and start the newbies puzzling over whether there’s a monastery in the village that they’ve somehow missed. Something similar happened with the Macra in Gridlock. It was a nice nod to the fans who could feel very pleased at knowing what the reference meant (but who probably wouldn’t have been interested in a full-blown Macra episode) while not being important enough to confuse newbies or irregulars. RTD needed a random monster in the motorway tunnels, why not namecheck the Macra? Strangely, for a man who had insisted on not pandering to the fans’ desire for backstory, RTD then went and brought back Davros. Bring back the Daleks and the Cybermen, yes. Threatening “robots” going around killing people willy nilly – what’s not to understand? But bringing back someone whose whole threat lies in his significance to backstory (and without any explanation as to who he is) – that was pure fanwank.
The return to the TARDIS brought another beautiful moment between the Doctor and Amelia. He actually ignores the imminently exploding engines to go back and reassure her that he has no intention of deserting her. Watch their faces immediately before he jumps into the TARDIS with a “Geronimo!”. Amelia smiles properly at the Doctor for the first time and he, looking back at her, gives her a wonderful half smile, half nervous glance. I’m already never tiring of the unexpected subtleties and nuance that Matt Smith is bringing to the role.
Off goes Amelia to pack her suitcase for an adventure with the Doctor. As she crosses the landing from room to room, we see that the hidden door which was shut when she returned upstairs is suddenly open. I don’t know about any children watching but I’m man enough to admit that, when I saw that, I nearly soiled myself. Ideas and potentials can be far more terrifying than any expensively CGI-generated monster.
What is the figure which passes in front of the shot as we look out of the window to the garden?
Cue some plot scenes in the hospital which didn’t particularly interest me beyond the curiously high number of coma patients in such a small local hospital.
The Doctor returns, gets whacked with a cricket bat and wakes to find himself handcuffed to a radiator by a kissagram. A few things happened here which I didn’t quite understand. I can understand (just) Amy whacking the man she’s dreamt of returning for her. I can understand (just) her pretending to be a real policewoman. But why does she say that Amelia Pond hasn’t lived in the house for some time – six months in fact? For a fib, it’s an unusually specific one. Six months?
Again we get scared by ideas rather than monsters. The idea that there’s a door in your house that you haven’t noticed for 12 years. When we finally see Prisoner Zero, he’s OK for a CGI monster but nothing to write home about. This might have been better (and more cheaply) realised had we only ever seen Prisoner Zero in his human disguises.
Karen Gillan and Caitlin Blackwood sharing as they do (a) red hair, (b) a Scots accent, (c) the same home and (d) two X chromosomes, the “Why did you say 5 minutes?” line isn’t such a revelation. But again the question of why she said six months is raised with no explanation.
I liked how all the residents of Leadworth had a totally blasé attitude to this scatty girl and her Raggedy Doctor obsession. By the way, I could gladly have Matt keep his raggedy outfit permanently as it looks better than the proposed geography teacher costume. The lovely Annette Crosbie is endearingly scatty and unfazed by Amy’s eccentricities.
Though clever as a one-off, the rewind function of the Doctor’s memory could quickly become annoying if it becomes a regular feature. I seem to be one of a very small number of fans who enjoys Arthur Darvill’s Rory. He combines the vague scattiness of the other Leadworthians with an obvious nervous adoration of Amy. I also think he disproves the idea that Moffat lacks RTD’s ability to sum up someone’s whole character in a few lines. “You made me dress up as him” tells us everything we need to know about their relationship since their childhood: Amy being a bit high maintenance and Rory giving in to her eccentrity because of his crush on her. Even better is this exchange between the three of them – DOCTOR: “Your friend? Not him, the good looking one.” RORY: “Thanks.” AMY: “Jeff.” RORY: “Ohhhhhh, THANKS!”. You need to hear the intonation rather than read the lines but you learn so much about Rory. A little insecure about his hold on Amy. A little exasperated by her.
Not that Jeff appears to be getting any lovin from Amy to judge by his internet browsing. Matt’s reaction to seeing it on his laptop was very ideosyncratic to this new Doctor. Christopher Eccleston might have said: “Jeff! Get a girlfriend!” in an impatient and exasperated tone of voice. David Tennant might have said it a slightly patronising, dismissive tone. Matt Smith’s tone of voice is almost one of shock and embarrassment. Another glimpse perhaps at a very different portrayal of the Doctor coming our way.
Then we have a lot of running around and driving of fire engines until Prisoner Zero is defeated. But not before Prisoner Zero lays out what sounds suspiciously like the makings of a story arc: “The Doctor in the TARDIS doesn’t know. The universe is cracked. The Pandorica will open. Silence will fall.”
This is followed by a nice little homage to the Third Doctor pinching patient’s clothes from a hospital, climaxing with an homage to all ten previous Doctors on the hospital roof. OK, the choirs became a bit bombastic at this point but there had been some nice musical touches from Murray Gold throughout this story. If only they could keep his hands off that volume switch.
When we return to Amy’s house, the Doctor leaves on a test flight of the TARDIS and we see an unusual scene. Little Amelia is again sitting on her suitcase, waiting for the Doctor to return in five minutes and we hear the TARDIS materialising. Then Amy wakes up at the sound of the TARDIS materialising in 2010 (presumably). Did a TARDIS really return for Amelia all those years ago or was Amy just dreaming it?
“I am definitely a madman with a box.”
And off they go on their adventures, leaving us with the sight of all Amy’s Raggedy Doctor dolls and drawings and…her wedding dress.
All in all then, a great debut for Matt Smith who shows every sign that, however rocky the scripting road may become, we’re likely to be carried over it by sheer fascination at his portrayal of the Eleventh Doctor.
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.