by William Hohmeister
I left out The Unicorn and the Wasp from the artist episode. Donna and Ten solve a mystery with Agatha Christie (zoinks). There is one artist episode per Companion, not per Doctor, and I suggest watching all of them, as they are great.
The Pandorica Opens and The Big Bang form the series 5 two-part finale of Doctor Who. The Pandorica is the central plot device of both episodes. The Doctor (Matt Smith) called it a fairy tale in Flesh and Stone, and hasn’t changed his mind. River Song (Alex Kingston) calls him and Amy (Karen Gillan) to Rome-controlled Britain to show them a painting by Van Gogh. It’s called The Pandorica Opens, and it shows the Tardis exploding.
The Doctor, despite his skepticism, picks Stonehenge as the likeliest hiding place. River, Amy, and the Doctor ride out to it, and from there it’s a straight shot to the end of the universe and series 5. I’m going to review both the episodes and series 5 as I go along from this point. I think the themes, highlights, and problems of the series are all shown in this two-parter.
The Pandorica is a big creepy box buried beneath Stonehenge. It is supposedly the perfect prison, built to house the worst thing in the universe. Cryptic clues written on the box warn of a creature that would “…drop out of the sky and tear down your world.”
This actually refers to the Doctor. The Pandorica was built by an Alliance of all his old enemies, including the Nestene Consciousness, Daleks, Cybermen, Judoon, Slitheen, Silurians, Sycorax, Roboforms, Hoix, Sontarans, and more. As the Pandorica opens it emits a signal that calls all of them to Stonehenge to spring the trap. The Doctor emerges from beneath Stonehenge to find the sky full of alien ships.
The Alliance should have been the series 5 story arc. The Cracks only feature as a part of three episodes: The Eleventh Hour, Flesh and Stone, and Cold Blood. They are forced into the ending of other episodes, usually with a close-up. And the answer to why they exist isn’t interesting: the Tardis exploded. Straightforward, easy, boring. How did the Alliance form? What convinced all of the universe’s deadliest species to stage an elaborate setup?
River enlists Roman army volunteers to help hold off the Alliance, while the Doctor bluffs to gain more time. Matt Smith is at his best Doctor here:
This Doctor is the oldest chronologically but the youngest by his behavior. He often seems more like a teenager than a grown man; his morals, recklessness, and fashion choices display his immaturity. He never wonders if sacrificing the Romans is right, and unlike previous pacifist Doctors he admires their military. This is the Doctor series 5 needed; not a hypocritical hero (like Ten) or a damaged survivor (Nine), but a rock star who reminds us the power of time and space in the hands of a teenager is both incredibly dangerous and ridiculously cool.
Amy reveals the nature of the trap: the Romans were her favorite history subject, and Pandora’s Box was her favorite book. The Alliance used her memories to trick the Doctor into accepting the premise that the Pandorica already has a prisoner. River leaves to bring the Tardis to Stonehenge. A damaged Cybermen attacks Amy and the Doctor; and the best part of the trap appears:
Rory Williams returns in full Roman garb to save them! Sadly (actually awesome), he’s an Auton, a plastic duplicate created by the Nestene Consciousness. So is the entire Roman army.
Rory is my favorite part of series 5. Even back from the dead as a Roman soldier, he downplays it. He still loves Amy, and is broken up when he realizes the Crack erased him from her memory. River is great too, but Rory still wins my vote for best character.
When the Pandorica opens, the Alliance springs the trap. The Romans grab the Doctor and force him into the Pandorica while his enemies beam down and explain that the Doctor will destroy the universe. The Tardis then explodes with River still inside, which destroys the universe. Rory succeeds in reminding Amy of who he is, but the signal to the Autons forces him to kill Amy with his handgun. As the episode ends, the stars go out until the earth is alone in the sky.
This sets up a lot of interesting stuff for series 6. Before it exploded, a Crack appeared in the Tardis and a creepy voice said: “Silence will fall.” The Alliance is being played by someone with greater power and knowledge than even the Daleks, and they don’t mind destroying creation to get at the Doctor.
The Doctor escapes thanks to a paradox as The Big Bang begins. Despite the timey-wimeyness, the episode is straightforward: The Doctor tells Rory to free the Doctor and put Amy in the Pandorica so it will heal her. The freed Doctor travels to the night he first met Amelia Pond. Rory stays behind to guard Amy.
These episodes use fairy-tale aspects of the series well. Amy and Rory are lost children following the Doctor. The Doctor is part fairy godfather, part monster. This is clearest in Amy’s Choice: Rory tells Amy that they all have to grow up someday, and Amy replies, “Says who?” In the same episode, the Doctor’s subconscious (it’s weird) points out that the Doctor “likes them young.”
The Doctor likes Amy because she is still so much the little girl that she was when they first met; it’s easier for her to believe in the Doctor than it is for Rory, who met the Doctor as an adult. This stunts Amy’s character growth, while Rory goes from the simple village boy to “The Last Centurion.”
There’s also quite a bit of Changeling legend mixed in. Both Amy and Rory are at different points replaced by duplicates – Amy by Prisoner Zero in The Eleventh Hour, and Rory by an Auton. I’m not sure what, if anything, it means, other than to hammer home the fairy-tale theme, but I thought it was interesting.
The Doctor, back in the present, leads Amelia Pond to the Pandorica so she can open it and free Amy. If you’re wondering how human history still happened with no sun (it went out with the other stars) it’s because the Tardis, exploding over and over in a time loop, serves as the earth’s source of heat and light.
The Pandorica also revives a stone Dalek that attacks on sight, but Rory stuns it. The group escapes, with the Doctor taking time to rescue River from the Tardis and instruct Roman Rory in the past, closing the paradox of how he escaped.
I’m not going to explain the Doctor’s plan to save the universe. I tried a few drafts and it made my brain hurt. Basically: Pandorica + Exploding Tardis = Big Bang Two. But the Doctor has to fly the Pandorica, which will trap him outside of the rebooted universe. The Doctor watches the series rewind, as now none of it ever happened. The Doctor leaves clues to let Amy remember him, however. This is the most subtle plot point in this series; if you’re not sure what I mean, watch Flesh and Stone again and observe the Doctor’s wrists.
Amy remembers the Doctor on her wedding day, and the Doctor reappears, thankfully dressed for the occasion in top-hat and tails. Rory and the other guests also remember the Doctor, though I’m not sure why.
In-universe, the Doctor never existed. This is actually a big problem with the finale, as the Doctor achieves amazing things and loses nothing. It takes away the danger that lurks behind the Doctor’s adventures. He’s a rock star, but don’t worry, he’s a nice, wholesome rock star. He’s a hero! And the hero always gets the girl. Series 5 had a great chance to tell a Doctor Who fairy tale, but the ending wastes it.
The Doctor can’t die, if the series is to continue, but I think he should have lost Amy. If she remembers him, the Doctor can return to reality. Why should he be able to see her again? Why should her memory last more than a moment? The theme of series 5 is fairy-tales, and the payoff, I think, should have been how people grow out of – even forget – them.
The series ends as Rory and Amy continue to travel with the Doctor.
Series 8 is coming up fast, so my next two reviews will be of series 6 and series 7 as a whole. I also have a preview of series 8, what I hope and fear it will be, as well as a review of Moffat himself, and the writing of series 5-7.