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 Pandorica Opens”
A cliff hanger on par with The Shield and the greatest of television history.
Review: Doctor Who, “The Pandorica Opens”
(S0512) For those of you who want an entirely spoiler free review of “The Pandorica Opens” here it is.
Dear Mr. Stephen Moffat,
Seriously? How dare you do that to us! I don’t think I’ve watched a tenser piece of television since The Shield’s final pair of episodes. You sir, are a magnificent b*****d!
Everything else following this is going to be spoiler heavy. There’s no real choice because “The Pandorica Opens” is one of those episodes (like the aforementioned Shield Episodes “Parracide” and “Family Affair”) that cannot be written about without overtly talking about the frankly series shattering moments that have occurred in it.
If you haven’t seen it, turn away now and go watch it, then come back and carry on.
For everyone else, read on...
I just don’t know where to start when dealing with this episode. Traditionally, every series of nu-Who has ended in a two (or more) part storyline with a massive cliff-hanger moment before the final episode. Episodes like “Bad Wolf”, “Army of Ghosts”, “The Sound of Drums” and “The Stolen Earth” have all left on moments that have made any chance of a happy ending impossible (and at times we didn’t get one either) but “The Pandorica Opens” has taken the bar and just punted it right out of the stratosphere and into the eye of Jupiter.
Just about every single major villain race makes an appearance in the episode: the Cybermen, the Daleks, the Sonatrans and more besides. Not only that, but Rory was brought back into the episode in an incredible and completely believable fashion as an Auton duplicate of the original Rory. His presence was both realistic and a lot of fun. Initially there was a great deal of confusion about why he was there, but then it was followed with the revelation that he wasn’t the original Rory and then the tragic final moments of the episode. But I’ve gotten ahead of myself there...
The episode opens with a fun and energetic series of scenes that tied together several characters from earlier in the series: Winston Churchill, Bracewell, Liz 10, Vincent Van Gogh and of course River Song. These culminate in a massive act of wanton graffiti designed to bring The Doctor to River in order to discover the truth behind Van Gogh’s final painting, a piece titled “The Pandorica Opens” and depicting the TARDIS exploding.
This results in some light-hearted exploring involving River pretending to be Cleopatra (a deceased Cleopatra mind you), The Doctor and co. exploring Stonehenge before discovering the Pandorica itself, and Amy being assaulted by a Cyberman arm, head and then the entire thing before being rescued by Rory.
Rory’s return is also well played within the scope of the episode. He remembers who he is even if it’s an entire mystery why he exists (ignoring the fact that he’s an Auton for a moment, he was erased from existence entirely, so how could a duplicate be made?). Still, his reunion with the Doctor was classic and his scenes with Amy heartbreaking.
And after everything is said and done the episode ends with five of the most magnificent minutes of television this year, the escalation of tension is quite incredible and we end with every single character in an unthinkable situation. The Doctor is imprisoned in the Pandorica (not that surprising really, but still tense, especially when he started pleading with the united forces of all his enemies who had banded together to deal with The Doctor and the threat he posed to reality). River Song is trapped on the TARDIS as it overloads and begins to explode (controlled by an unknown individual/presence), Rory is revealed to be an Auton duplicate, effectively killing him off a second time and... AND.... A...N...D...
Rory shoots Amy right at the climax of the episode.
Everything ends with a palpable feeling of despair and failure as one by one every star goes supernova and the Earth (seen from orbit) is plunged into darkness. The TARDIS is no more, The Doctor is imprisoned in the ultimate cage and River, Amy and Rory are all dead.
Now my major concern with this episode is rather similar to what I’ve referred to in the past as “The Rusty Factor”. Russell T. Davies during his reign as the show runner was notorious for creating penultimate episodes that had almost unthinkable scenarios occurring where it looked like everything was lost. Unfortunately he tended to write himself into a corner (science fiction has never been Rusty’s strong point, he’s better at characterisation and dialog) and tended to undo everything he’d done with the use of the old deus ex machina (and one time, quite literally a “magic” button) to reset everything. Each and every time a series of nu-Who ended I was always left with a bitter taste in my mouth from the weakness of his resolutions (apart from “Journey’s End”, which worked pretty well on the whole with “Doctor Donna”).
So I’m a little concerned that Moffat will reach into the bag of tricks and come up with... the magic reset button, somehow undoing all of the mayhem, bitterness, tension and death that “The Pandorica Opens” brought us and getting things back to normal. I want to see some lasting consequences, I want to see some loss and sadness, I want to sit back after “The Big Bang” has aired and feel a bit bummed out over the events. I don’t want a completely happy ending.
Still, talking about one heck of a cliff hanger, there’s a reason I brought up The Shield at the start of the episode. The Shield is my all time greatest show for tension and escalation of unthinkable scenarios, but “The Pandorica Opens” comes close to achieving that same plateau.