BBC airings of Doctor Who run a bit ahead of premieres on BBC America. So if you're on the North American side of the lake, fair warning that spoilers lie below! – Eric
Quick Take: Doctor Who, "The Big Bang"
A beautifully flawed and constructed creation of genius if there ever was one.
Review: Doctor Who, "The Big Bang"
(S0513) Doctor Who finales have often been a bit of a letdown. “The Parting of the Ways” was the first of these, and it was a finale filled with plot holes, weak dialog and terrible resolution, redeemed mainly by Tennant’s fantastic first appearance as Doctor “Ten”, but still not a great episode by any stretch of the imagination. This trend of superb penultimate episodes followed by lacklustre finales would continue throughout the series. Russell T. Davies was the man who penned every single one of them and it seemed his writing just wasn’t the right style for science fiction finales. Even the last appearance of the Tenth Doctor suffered greatly from Rusty’s weaknesses in the genre, in particular his tendencies to believe that characters were more important than plot for finales. His unwillingness to allow permanent large scale ramifications stand out (often after having huge changes take place in the first part episode) as does his reliance on creating a solution to the problem quite literally out of thin air without any real build up or sense that the solution was anything more than the old “Big Red Reset Button of the Gods”.
As such, many of the fun, memorable and great moments in previous Doctor Who finales are always flavoured with a hint of bitterness, because they were followed up by some terrible moments of plotting that just left you cringing.
Because of this I often went into the final episodes of each Doctor Who series with a sense of trepidation, I had to prepare myself to feel let down with the resolution of the episode or at least one moment (often more) that would have me rolling my eyes and wanting to walk from the room. These past moments include the entire ‘Bad Wolf’ thing, the singing Ood, the ‘flying’ Master, the world chanting the Doctor back from old, old age and many, many more besides. (This is not to say everything Rusty wrote was awful, I still fondly recall the Cyberman/Dalek conversation and Mickey’s growth as a character from someone I wanted to see dead into one of my all time favourite companions.)
Why is all of this relevant in the context of the “The Big Bang”? An episode penned and helmed not by Rusty but by Moffy (Stephen Moffat)? Well it’s because the previous episode – “The Pandorica Opens” – felt a lot like a Rusty script, and in many ways “The Big Bang” also feels like a Rusty special, but with Moffy’s hand tempering a few of the excesses.
Was “The Big Bang” a good episode? Yes, most certainly. Was it one of the best finales? Yes, but the competition kind of sucks. Was it full of odd moments, plot holes and a tidy, happy resolution? Yes, but it was done so well you can forgive it its weaknesses.
So let’s press on...
“The Pandorica Opens” left the entire universe on the brink of destruction: the Doctor imprisoned in the perfect prison, every sun gone supernova, Amy killed by plastic Rory and the final thing we saw was Earth falling into darkness. Pretty epic stuff, but huge cliff hangers are not as important as a great resolution that is both enjoyable and feels ‘real’ (within the context of the show). Moffy had set the bar pretty high with “Pandorica” and I must admit I went into this episode expecting something rather like Rusty’s work – bringing it all to a happy ending conclusion that worked, but only if you glossed over certain parts and accepted that the intelligence of the plotting was going to be pretty weak. In some ways I was proven right, and in others I was quite, quite wrong.
“The Big Bang” opens up with quite a surprising moment. Rory sat there cradling the lifeless body of Amy, and is surprised when the Doctor – complete with a mop and a fez – appears from nowhere. What follows is a small scale story that deals with a disaster of the largest proportions. While the threat is massive, there are relatively few characters in this final episode of the series – just Amy, the Doctor, River, Rory, Amy (again) and a Dalek. No huge fleets of spaceships, no massive armies, just a man, his companions, a single (damaged) enemy and the impending end of reality.
The episode unfolds in a fine fashion. One of the issues Doctor Who has had in the past is that the concept of time travel in the show is little more than a vehicle to get to the next cool place where things happen. Sort of like the star ship Enterprise, but painted blue and making a cooler noise. But Moffy has in the past shown a real ability to use the concept of time to create memorable storylines and exceptionally twisted plots that really push the envelope of what is ‘timey wimey’. He gave us the wonderfully circular “Blink” and the superb concept of River Song – who I detest as a character, but I have to admit I love the way she moves through time in the opposite direction to the Doctor and now an entire season built around the idea of twisting up time and then breaking it.
“The Big Bang” is an episode that at its core is a Rusty style story. It’s a huge and sweeping threat driven by characterisation and the small moments, but somehow, despite all the potential pitfalls associated with that style of writing, it comes together perfectly at the end and the final few moments with the Doctor’s triumphant return. Simultaneously it's the corniest scene in the show’s history and one of the most brilliant, because for once we can see the Doctor’s plan forming and appreciate the payoff moment as being created by the characters in the show (as opposed to a simple Deus ex Machina plot device).
I’ve since watched “The Big Bang” twice, and that’s a rare thing for me as normally each episode of Doctor Who is something I watch once and then move on. But “The Big Bang” has joined “Vincent and the Doctor” and “Blink” as an episode I’ve been willing to watch again and enjoyed it more the second time round.
That’s one heck of an achievement, and as such all I can really say is “The Big Bang” is a flawed creation if you look at the plot and the science in any detail. But it’s such a beautifully constructed story that you find yourself forgiving all of its flaws and falling in love with the poetry and genius behind its construction.
We’re entering a new era of Doctor Who and all one can say is “Geronimo!”