Doctor Who Series Finale, Part 1
The first half of the highly anticipated series finale of Doctor Who was on BBC One yesterday, and it. Was. Epic. For those of you who’ve been following my reviews of the series so far, I’m treating this posting a little differently to the previous ones. This entry will be in 2 sections. Section 1 looks at the episode itself in the style I’ve been using throughout the series so far, then Section 2 gets onto the fun stuff. This section looks at some of the comment on this episode, and on the series as a whole so far, and is also where I’ll be hypothesizing wildly about what I think’s going to happen next week. However, section 2 won’t technically be spoilers. I don’t like spoilers that much myself. I’d rather hypothesize about what could happen than go to a fansite and read what’s actually going to happen, so I haven’t done that. Instead I’ve been reading theories, opinions and observations of what we’ve already seen and built some theories on that. That said, if you don’t like spoilers you’re unlikely to enjoy section 2 that much anyway so it’s best for you to avoid it.
Sections 2 draws on my own thoughts and ideas and those of my friends, but a significant proportion of what’s there also comes from the people who frequent the ‘Dr Who.’ thread on h2g2, which has been discussing the show in depth since (I think) round about the start of the 4th new series with Catherine Tate. These guys really know their stuff – many of them watched the classic Doctor Who (1963-1989) as well as New Who (2005 until now) – so if you want some proper Doctor Who talk then head over to that thread. In the meantime though I hope you enjoy the following…
1) What’s in the Box?
“There was a goblin. Or a trickster. Or a warrior. A nameless, terrible thing, soaked in the blood of a billion galaxies. The most feared thing in the cosmos…”
In a way, this was always going to be the Doctor. No other being could have entirely fitted this description. This also ties in with the Doctor’s reputation, which we know Moffat likes to bring to the forefront (as he did in Forest of the Dead and in The Eleventh Hour). This latest episode reinforced this reputation and did so in a way that was entirely original and which ingeniously inverted the viewers’ perception the Doctor. This is because to us he is a saviour (he’s saved the human race more times than I can remember, and that’s just in the new series), but to others he is terrible and destructive. The young schoolboy Timothy spoke of the Doctor’s reputation in The Family of Blood, and Rosanna blamed him for the end of her species in Vampires of Venice, as did the Racnoss in The Runaway Bride. Ironically, when the Doctor used this reputation to try and scare his enemies into retreating he was holiding himself out to be the “most feared thing in the cosmos” in the process, something that could have tipped him off about the Pandorica’s true purpose if only he’d spotted it. But now his enemies have outsmarted him and he’s trapped, Amy’s either wounded or dead and River and the TARDIS are on a crash course with the end of the universe. As cliffhangers go this was hands-down one of the best I’ve seen in a long time and I can’t wait for next week!
The beginning of The Pandorica Opens was well-paced and engaging. The episodes in this series have been much more connected than in previous ones and the finale is no exception. It managed to nicely interweave some elements from earlier in the series into the final story-line without the links seeming tenuous or forced. The use of ‘Hello Sweetie’ again was a fun way of contacting the Doctor without distracting from the reason why she was looking for him, and the subsequent juxtaposition between the ride to Stonehenge and the Doctor, Amy and River discussing the painting was very effective for adding pace and urgency to the start of the episode. The scene where the cyberman sentry attacked Amy and the Doctor was good too (I bet there were a few children hiding behind the sofa when that was going on), and the cables coming out of its head reminded me of medusa which I thought tied in nicely with the fairytale/mythological theme that surrounded the Pandorica. However, surely cyberman was the wrong type? This one was one of those that came from the parallel universe where Rose is living with the human-Doctor (after the climax of series 4). Either this fact has been overlooked by the production team or we’re supposed to just assume that cybermen in this universe now look like the ones from the parallel universe. Unless of course there’s some strange inter-universe stuff going on (which I doubt). I also thought that the Daleks trying to prevent the destruction of the universe was a bit strange given that this was their objective in Journey’s End, but those were a different variety of Dalek so I think we can assume the priorities of the new technicolour ones are different.
Alex Kingston made another strong return in this episode, balancing River Song’s usual confidence with moments of confusion and fear and doing it well. Her use of the hallucinogenic lipstick was another nice link, and it’s certainly an effective substitute for the Doctor’s trusty psychic paper. However if she were given a choice between the two I reckon River would plump for the lipstick anyway, don’t you? Karen Gillan’s performance was good here too, especially when she was crying and couldn’t work out why, and Matt Smith damn near stole the show with his superb transitions from comic, to confused, to desperate. The look on his face as he was taken to the Pandorica was heart-wrenching.
Interestingly, even though Amy herself didn’t play a huge part in this episode her past and her life were crucial. Her childhood memories were the template for the coalition’s trap, the TARDIS took River to Amy’s house of its own accord, her forgotten fiance was resurrected as one of the Roman soldiers and her wedding day is the day when the Bad Thing happens. Having Amy be of such importance in an episode where her actual role is quite small is strange, though it did allow the Doctor and River to be elsewhere discovering these things while Amy got down to the important business of remembering who Rory was, something I know I’ve been waiting for ever since the Crack took his body 3 episodes ago. If we look at it like this we can see the clever way everything is being brought to light, all at the same time yet in 3 different places, and in 2 different time periods. It’s this compelling mix of drama and science fiction story-writing that draws people into Doctor Who, and after the rather excellent set-up in The Pandorica Opens I’m confident that next week’s episode, the aptly named The Big Bang, will be a cracker.
- “Arise, roman person.”
- “I hate good wizards in fairytales. They usually turn out to be him!“
- The visual effects that made the space ships were extremely good here, and I enjoyed spotting all the different ships, like the Sontaran’s one and the Judoon one. The only issue here was that we couldn’t hear the Doctor very well when he started talking to the ships, but after he told them to be quieter it was easier to hear him.
- “You know I often have really good ideas? … Sorry“
- The Doctor poking Rory to see if he’s really there.
- Use of the Nestine Consciousness’ minions was a nice nod to Rose, the first episode of new Who where the Nestine Consciousness was the monster living below the London Eye.
2) Thinking Outside the Box
Here’s where I get wonderfully analytical. As I said above, if you don’t like spoilers then you probably shouldn’t read this bit, but if you do then feel free to get stuck in. First up, analysis.
Regarding the series so far, HonestIago (h2g2) said this: “Some episodes have been utterly superb…but the series just doesn’t seem to be working.” Indeed, although individual elements of the series have been great – Matt Smith in particular has received great praise for his portrayal of the Doctor (Stephen Fry called his portrayal “superb” on Twitter after Vampires in Venice aired), and I firmly agree with HonestIago when he says Amy’s Choice and Flesh and Stone are up there with some of the best Doctor Who episodes – there still doesn’t seem to be the same feel to this series as there has been to previous ones. This could simply be because it’s not finished yet, so we aren’t able to look back holistically on it, or it could be that the build-up before the series began – and the fact that Moffat was at the helm – have left us with high expectations that the series hasn’t quite been able to fulfill. As BrightBlueShorts (h2g2) put it, “there’s a certain irony that pretty much all of us were convinced Moffat would do a great job with the series, but not so many of us were confident about the choice of Matt Smith as The Doctor.” This isn’t to say that the series has been a failure (though Reefgirl (h2g2) may disagree with this having given the series only 3/10 so far), it just means that at this point a lot of people feel slightly unsettled about it and want it to be resolved. And actually, when you think about it, this is exactly how they want the audience to feel after the penultimate episode – interested and a bit befuddled about what’s happened so far and excited to see how it all works out in the end. The resolution and happy ending stuff is supposed to wait until the end of next week, now is the time for excitement and intrigue.*
The other thing that’s been discussed a lot is Karen Gillan as Amy. Such is the fate of any new Who companion, especially one who’s a relative unknown. I was impressed with her in Eleventh Hour and she’s had some stand-out moments in the series (she was especially good in Amy’s Choice), but as HonestIago says she hasn’t been a very consistent actor. “I think it’s the first time we’ve seen an inconsistent companion: Billie Piper took a few episodes to get into the role, but after that was good, Freema Agyeman was wooden and annoying from her first episode to her last, and, apart from the Christmas Bride, Catherine Tate was amazing in every episode she was in.” A pretty fair critique, especially when you consider how many times we’ve seen Amy do her ‘surprised’ face. You know the one, all eyebrows-up and staring. It’s in pretty much every episode. Karen, you’ve got a good face, just please use it a bit more. And while we’re talking about the acting I’d like to restate my high opinion of the supporting cast. They have consistently impressed me, everyone from Rory to the militant Bishop in Flesh and Stone, and from young Elliot in the Silurian 2 parter to handsome Geoff in The Eleventh Hour. The casting people have done a brilliant job with this series, keep it up!
And now, here’s where we get down to the speculation. Like I said I’ve not been on the proper spoiler sites but I have come across some interesting things nonetheless, and my brain-box has assembled them thusly. First thing’s first, we need to know what to look out for. Some of the clues are obvious, but what of other more subtle ones? What are the Cracks, for example, distracting us from? What are we failing to notice? My sources tell me that Moffat talked in one episode of Doctor Who Confidential about there being 5 things to watch out for right from the first episode. Geggs (h2g2) had a stab at what they might be and came up with the following list, which I shall use as my starting point and template.
1) The Cracks. We’ve all been noticing them, and for the latter half of the series the characters have too. The first Crack was pretty significant in The Eleventh Hour, but consider this: this is the only Crack where there’s been something on the other side, at least as far as we know. All the other Cracks have just been blinding white light and swallowy-up nothingness, yet this one led to Prisoner Zero’s former jail. Does this mean anything? I’m leaning towards no, mainly because I can’t yet think of any convincing reason for why this Crack would be special, aside from the simple fact that it’s in Amy’s house and she seems to be very important for reasons currently unknown. The other thing with the Cracks, and I’m talking about all of them now, is that we see them, or at least the effects of them (like the Silence at the end of Vampires of Venice) in almost every episode, and aside from the Doctor the only other things that are present in every episode are Amy and the TARDIS. Are the Cracks following them, and if so, both of them or just one? And which one? Originally it seemed that they were following Amy, especially as the first one existed before the TARDIS crashed in her back garden, but as I said this was before they went all blinding-light and eating people, so maybe it’s actually the TARDIS. This would link into the TARDIS-eventually-exploding idea, because since this explosion is echoing all over time the TARDIS is probably feeling the echoes and they’re disrupting it, thus producing the Cracks wherever the TARDIS lands. Or maybe it’s the combination of Amy and the TARDIS that causes the Cracks, which is why the first one was different as she hadn’t entered the TARDIS yet. Whatever the explanation behind them, I think it’s a pretty safe bet to assume that the Cracks are number 1 on Moffat’s list, as well as being on Geggs’. So, what else is going on that we’re being distracted from?
2) “The Pandorica will open.” By this point we all know what this means. Prisoner Zero probably heard the transmission just like everyone else did, but maybe he (she?) just didn’t know what it meant as he wasn’t part of the coalition. I also like the new meaning I’ve just seen behind “silence will fall”. The Doctor talks a lot, but with him locked away in the Pandorica no-one will be able to hear him. Maybe the Silence line isn’t that simple and actually has more to do with catastrophic universe-ending things than Doctor chat, but maybe not. We’ll have to wait and see. However, the real question surrounding the Pandorica at this point should be does it open again? That’s the question the Doctor’s going to want to want answered anyway. We shall have to wait and see.
3) “The Doctor in his TARDIS doesn’t know.” 2 possible reasons here. Either it’s because the Pandorica is a trap for the Doctor and everyone else knows because they were all in on setting up the trap and obviously wouldn’t want to broadcast this to the Doctor, or (and I think this is more likely) the broadcast was simply that the Pandorica was opening and was intended to lure the Doctor there much earlier but the TARDIS has been blocking this message from the Doctor in an effort to save him (and ultimately itself). This would also explain why everyone else had such a hard time getting hold of him, and why River had to resort to ‘hello sweetie’ again.
4) “If there’s no ducks how to you know it’s a duck pond?!” This is where it gets much more interesting and subtle. This, ladies and gentlemen, is where we talk about Amy. Who, or what, is she? She clearly has friend and acquaintances in the village but she has no family present at any point in the episode. She’s lived in a massive old house since she was 7, and from the way she cooked all that food for the Doctor she’s pretty self-sufficient there so I’d say that her aunt, whoever she is, wasn’t really around to look after Amelia that much. Hardly a normal life for a 7-year-old is it. She also doesn’t remember the Daleks. The rest of the world takes pictures of spaceships on their phones as if it’s all routine by now, and yet Amy doesn’t remember the Dalek invasion from the end of series 4. Why? Rory’s ID badge that we glimpse in the sequence on the village green showed an issue date in 1990, some time before the Doctor would have met Rose. The theory (stated here) was that Amy’s encounter with the Doctor was actually before Rose met the 9th Doctor, which would explain Amy not recognising the Daleks, but this theory seems to have been shot down by the revelation at the end of Flesh and Stone that Amy’s wedding day is in 2010, so actually the relevant timeline is parallel with that of the viewer. If we assume that Rory’s ID badge was accurate then what sort of timey-wimey weirdness is going on here? I’m sure I can’t work it out. And if we assume that the badge was just mocked up wrongly by the production team then we’re still no closer to working out what’s wrong with Amy’s memory (remember that this issue wasn’t followed up on even after the Doctor explicitly pointed it out at the end of the WWII episode). One new theory is that Amy is a fake, like the scientist in the WWII episode was, and that she’s been planted in the Doctor’s path by someone with nefarious ideas. I don’t like this theory though, on the one hand it’s too simple, and on the other she’s been scanned a few times this series (e.g. on Starship UK) so if she wasn’t a human the Doctor would have worked this out by now.
But is it possible that Amy’s been brainwashed? This is where the duck pond comment comes in (a clue that’s even linked to Amy’s surname, coincidence?). How is a pond a duck pond if there aren’t any ducks? What would cause someone to unquestioningly make that kind of assumption? How does Amy’s mind work, and has it been tampered with? We’re supposed to assume that someone goes rifling through her memories at some point, which must have happened before she boarded the TARDIS (I know they could have got the info just from the books but I think we’re supposed to assume there’s been head-scanning going on too), and probably before the duck pond bit too. Remember that she said she’d seen 4 psychiatrists after her first encounter with the Doctor when she was 7? Remember too the ‘dream’ Amy had when the Doctor came back for her after his 2 year jolly to the moon? Just before she wakes up we see her as Amelia, sitting on her suitcase looking dejected as the sun comes up, and she hears the TARDIS noise and looks up smiling. Amy then wakes up, at night, runs to the garden in her nighty and flies away with the Doctor and the dream is forgotten. But what if it wasn’t a dream, and something came for her the morning after the Doctor left her? And what was it that the Doctor said to her when she was 7 that he wanted her to remember when she had an angel in her eye? We never did find out.
5) “Bow ties are cool!” This is another interesting theory that follows on from the previous point: are there 2 Doctors? That is, are there 2 versions of the 11th Doctor running around at the same time? Great play has been made of the Doctor’s bow tie, but again the big and obvious seems to be distracting from the subtle and interesting, for the bow tie is reported to change colour. Sometimes it is red, sometimes it is blue. Red for the past Doctor, blue for the future Doctor? I’ve only come across this theory recently but although it intrigues me it doesn’t convince me. The Doctor generally tries to avoid crossing his own timeline, and although this does in fact happen a fair bit it still seems like it would be too simple to just have 2 of him with one being captured and the other saving the day. On top of this I just re-watched the bit in Flesh and Stone where the Doctor tells Amy to remember what he said to her when she was 7. A friend (real life this time) told me that his bow tie was blue here, not red as it had been up until this point, and that he’s still wearing his jacket despite having just lost it to the angels. However the bow tie is still red here, and anyway the cardinals would surely have noticed if there were 2 Doctors all of a sudden, so I think that the jacket was just a continuity error, and that the 2 Doctor bow tie theory isn’t a very strong one.**
Phew, there’s a hefty chunk of speculation in the bag. However, now that I’ve dismissed the bow tie from the 5 things that we’re supposed to look out for, what takes it’s place? Well, I think it’s Amy’s aunt Sharon. And I think Amy’s aunt Sharon is River Song. I think she managed to get the TARDIS to Amy’s past somehow and stepped in to raise Amy and prepare some sort of help for the Doctor. This is why Amy’s aunt is mysteriously out on the very night the Doctor first lands in Amy’s garden. If it’s River then of course she would want to be out of the way, otherwise there’d be all kinds of spoilers. And remember the way Amy says that the Doctor is “as bad as my aunt”. If it is River then it fits brilliantly, can you imagine her trying to be a parent! Admittedly this theory isn’t watertight. I don’t know how River being Amy’s aunt ties in with River having killed someone – someone who we’re supposed to think is the Doctor – and obviously there’s the issue of Amy not knowing who River was when she first met her, which she should have done if she’d been raised by her. However, that sort of memory loss could explain why Amy doesn’t remember the Daleks either. Another factor is that we know River doesn’t die here, because we’ve seen her in her future. This means that whatever’s happening to the TARDIS at the end of The Pandorica Opens it isn’t something that’s going to be fatal to her, which means it’s probably not a cataclysmic universal explosion of any kind, instead it’s just stuck somewhere near Amy’s house. Or better still, maybe the TARDIS is Amy’s house and River’s fixed the chameleon circuit. This could explain why the TARDIS was so far off when the Doctor tried to land it back in the garden 5 minutes after he left – because the TARDIS was crossing its own timeline and this upset its navigation.
I realise I’m doing little more than thinking out loud now, but if River does end up being Amy’s aunt then I want some series recognition for calling that one!
Other interesting bits to consider:
- As Amy remembers Rory now, thanks the the copy of him that appeared at Stonehenge, is there going to be a way for the real Rory to come back?
- Did you notice that this episode was set largely at Stonehenge and was aired just before the solstice? Just like the episode with the Doctor playing football was aired just as the World Cup was starting, and the episode with the election theme on board Starship UK was around the time of the general election? As BrightBlueShorts (h2g2) put it, “Nice work Mr Moffat!”, there have been some brilliant topical tie-ins in this series.
- Taff (h2g2) said this, which I think would be quite a nice (if unlikely) thing to happen: “the TARDIS does not explode, and in the far future the Pandorica opens and an old man stumbles out and young Amy is there and calls the old man grandfather and they climb into the TARDIS and set off through time having adventures.”
* Sadly for me I’m not around next Saturday so I’ll have to wait a day or so longer to see the finale. A friendly warning: anyone who ruins it for me will pay dearly.
** (Update) Having said that, it was in this story that River parked the TARDIS silently, so the Doctor could have popped up right next to Amy in the TARDIS without anyone seeing. I’m still not hugely convinced by the 2 Doctors theory though.