THIS EPISODE TAKES
PLACE AFTER THE
NOVEL "THE COMING
OF THE TERRAPHILES"
AND DIRECTLY PRIOR
TO THE TV EPISODE
"THE BIG BANG."
'THE COMPLETE FIFTH SERIES' LIMITED EDITION STEELBOOK BLU-RAY DVD
(BBCBD0130) RELEASED IN NOVEMBER 2010.
The Doctor's friends unite to send him a terrible warning; the Pandorica - which is said to contain the most feared being in all the cosmos - is opening. But what's inside, and can the Doctor stop it?
19TH JUNE 2010
(50-MINUTE EPISODE, PART 1 OF 2)
Amelia Pond has been waiting her whole life for the Pandorica to open, and it feels like she’s not the only one. Matt Smith’s first season as the Doctor has been energetic and emotional, but it’s also been excruciating. For months now, Steven Moffat has teased us with unexplained cracks in time and space, and ominous warnings of the silence that will soon fall. Reveals have only begged more questions, and startling developments have left viewers literally salivating for the pandemonium of the Pandorica’s opening.
“It’s obviously a message, and you can see who it’s for…”
The Pandorica Opens’ elongated pre-title sequence has a sense of scale to it that evokes the feel of Russell T Davies’ famed “blockbuster” finales. It put me very much in mind of The Stolen Earth especially, as it sees the Doctor’s recent allies rally to his cause. Vincent van Gogh (Vincent and the Doctor) paints the future, Isaac Mendez-style, only for his prognostic canvas to eventually fall into the hands of Winston Churchill (Victory of the Daleks). The old Prime Minister then tries to telephone the Doctor to warn him of the danger foretold in the painting, only to find himself put through to an inmate of the Stormcage in the far future: none other than River Song, some time prior to the events of The Time of Angels, from her standpoint. River then has to persuade Liz 10 (The Beast Below) to part with the artwork, which by the 52nd century has become a part of her royal collection. And then, thanks to what Moffat mischievously suggests might be Captain Jack Harkness’ Vortex Manipulator, River makes her way back in time to Roman Britain, where she has made certain that the Doctor will find her.
“A nameless, terrible thing, soaked in the blood of a billion galaxies.
The most feared being in all the cosmos.”
In Roman Britain, things only get bigger. After a beautifully-shot horse ride that could have been torn straight out of The Lord of the Rings, the Doctor, Amy, and River arrive at Stonehenge, where they find the fabled Pandorica nestled underground. The whole season has been building towards the unearthing of this ancient, stone cube cell; this inescapable prison that is now gradually unshackling its bolts and broadcasting a signal that is about to bring down a carnival of monsters upon the Earth. With the audience still reeling from the procession of babyface returnees, Moffat proceeds to flood the night sky with an asso-rtment of noted antagonists: we’ve got the Daleks, Cybermen and Sontarans; Sycorax, Silurians and Slitheen. The Nestene, the Drahvins, the Terileptils and the Draconions. Even Gareth Roberts’ Chelonians are reportedly on hand, the hellions in the half-shell making their first (oblique) appearance outside the world of prose.
It’s a testament to the intrigue that Moffat has built up over the course of the season that, even with goosebumps raised and my fan-brain in euphoric overdrive, I was far more interested in that big square box and its contents than I was the unprecedented confluence of baddies. Whilst half of my mind was transfixed by Toby Haynes’ atmospheric, ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ direction and the actors’ exquisite delivery of Moffat’s characteristically enthralling dialogue, the other half convulsed in a frenzy, impatiently trying to slot the pieces of the puzzle into place before the plot did it for me. “The most feared being in the universe” had to be the Doctor. Had to be. But a future Doctor? A past one? And the “good wizard” who trapped him? I was so close, yet so far.
“You and whose body?”
Indeed, for all its epic elements, for me this episode’s strongest scenes are found stapled through its middle. Between the preliminary pageant of allies and the concluding cavalcade of adversaries are scenes that see Amy stalked by the ruin of a Cyberman; its avulsed arm menacing the Doctor, and its divorced helmet spewing a sprawling mass of mechanical tendrils and putrefied human remains. Scenes that see Matt Smith’s majestic Doctor in the centre of the stone circle, holding back the onslaught with nothing more than the power of his words; the threat of the Oncoming Storm. Scenes that see Rory Williams, not merely back from the dead, but evidently torn from the hollows of time and given new life as a Roman Centurion.
When Rory met his rueful fate in Cold Blood, like many I felt that his return was unavoidable. As cruel and as dramatic as Rory’s death and subsequent erasure from history would have been were they to stand, I didn’t think that the series had the audacity to twist the knife like that, given its predominantly family audience. Imagine my surprise then, when The Pandorica Opens presented us with what even the Doctor concedes is a “miracle”, only to have that “miracle” violently devastated and salt poured in our gaping wounds.
“If something can be remembered, if can come back.”
You see, Rory isn’t actually Rory. He didn’t get shot and wake up in the past, wondering whether he was mad, in a coma, or back in time. He’s made of plastic. His fingers fall away to reveal the barrel of a gun. You’ve got it - he’s an Auton drone; a plastic facsimile drawn from Amy’s buried memories of him. Memories that are just starting to return to the surface when the Nestene Consciousness takes hold of his body and has him gun her down in cold blood. As Arthur Darvill weeps for the loss of his lover and himself, I challenge your heart not to break.
And to say that the ensuing, climactic cliffhanger is fully loaded would certainly be under-stating matters. By his own admission, Moffat was “really going mad” with his script, and boy does it show. Drunk with the power in hands, the series’ showrunner condenses every childhood dream cum nightmare into a startling sequence of sensational moments, painting pictures that, until now, have been reserved for the front covers of reference books.
“Everything that’s ever hated you is coming here tonight.”
As the Autons activate, “Underhenge” is invaded by members of the alien races in orbit (though sadly only the races that have previously appeared in the revived series, and thus already have costumes in the prop shed, are represented. Damn that budget cut!) All these races claim to have allied themselves to try and “save the universe,” which they aver the Doctor is about to destroy. The Pandorica finally opens, not to release some monstrous force but to embrace its Time Lord prisoner.
‘Meanwhile’, next Saturday, River is trapped inside the TARDIS as it’s poised to explode, whilst back in Roman Britain, Amy lies dying in the arms of a Rory-shaped Auton; galaxies detonating above her head as she draws her last breath. Each and every one of our heroes is royally screwed, and the universe is approaching its end. Get out of that one, Steven.
“Silence will fall.”
Before I’d seen last week’s trailer for this episode, I’d expected something ambitious but controlled; more Parting of the Ways than Journey’s End. The Pandorica Opens, however, is instant whip. It has all the eclectic energy of The Stolen Earth, the weight and the worry of The End of Time, and a unique storybook sensibility that sets it apart. Inevitably though, its concluding instalment will have to be bristling with more retcons than you can shake a sink plunger at, but even so it’s still hard not to be impressed by this brazen wallow in the series’ rich heritage. If this is Moffat’s first finale, I shudder to thing how big things are going to get in a year or two’s time.
Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2010
E.G. Wolverson has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
Certain episodes of Doctor Who cause my phone to buzz. They’re generally the ones containing momentous events, significant changes of direction, great expectation or particularly devastating cliffhangers. My phone buzzed a lot on Saturday night. So, after leaving work amidst an urgent flurry of texts, and an even more urgent flurry telling them to stop, for crying out loud, because I hadn’t seen it yet, I finally went home and watched The Pandorica Opens with family and friends.
It wasn’t hard to see why my phone had been going so crazy. The Pandorica Opens is an absolute stonker of an episode; one that is a worthy successor to the grandiose, over-the-top season finales that we came to expect under the term of Russell T Davies. Yet, while there are similarities - a linking theme from across the season reaching its fruition, a vast threat to the universe, a gaggle of returning friends and enemies - this episode felt a good deal more controlled than the previous finales (although we’re still only halfway through, of course).
The opening scenes, with numerous retuning characters from the season so far (wonderful turns again from Tony Curran, Ian McNeice, Bill Paterson and Sophie Okenedo) felt a good deal less contrived and gratuitous than the big companion ball in The Stolen Earth / Journey’s End, or even the affecting farewell scenes in The End of Time. The vast array of aliens and enemies felt perfectly fitting for an event of such magnitude, rather than self-indulgent. Even though it could happily have survived with just the new series’ ‘big four’ of Daleks, Cybermen, Sontarans and Nestene - a suitably impressive force in itself - it draws in almost every alien species from the revived series, throws in cameos from spin-off series’ creatures and references enemies from the old 1960s serials and even the novels - and feels totally justified. Even the Weevils make an appearance, skulking at the back.
“A message from the dawn of time. The very first words in recorded history.”
It’s tricky to sum up this episode briefly or succinctly, so I’m not going to bother. I’m just going to witter on about some of my favourite elements. First of all, the return of River Song, a character that has earned the dislike of some fans and the love of others. Personally, I think she’s absolutely marvellous, and I generally love watching Alex Kingston’s sexy, sassy time-traveller. Again, this version of River originates from a point before the last time we met her, and so the Doctor knows a little more about the future than she does - although she’s still well ahead on points. The daring escape attempt, involving a phone call from Winston Churchill, a dash across space to the British Royal Archives and the appropriation of a vortex manipulator (possibly off the wrist, or even including the wrist, of one Jack Harkness) she ends up on Planet One, the oldest planet in the universe (there’ve been a few of them). I love her ‘secret’ message in the cliff face - and did anyone else notice that she knows the Doctor’s school nickname, Theta Sigma?
Then we have the not that long-awaited but still very welcome return of Rory Williams, played by the wonderful Arthur Darvill, and his reunion with Amy Pond, portrayed in such a heartbreaking fashion that I can barely write about it. We all expected him to come back, somehow, but as part of a Roman legion stationed in ancient Britain? Quite unexpected. It was my good friend Jim who pointed out, though, that Bracewell retained the memories of the man he was based on. Could he be a Dalek duplicate? No, something even less expected. The Roman soldiers point their hands in that way, and “Oh my god, they’re Autons!” Although that does beg the question as to how River’s hallucinogenic lipstick works on one of them.
“If you buried the most dangerous thing in the universe, you’d want to remember where you’d put it.”
There’s some really fantastic imagery on offer here. Steven Moffat’s love for the works of George Lucas is evident, with the feel of both Star Wars and the Indiana Jones franchises evoked, as we have alien vistas, a thousand starships over Stonehenge, and cyborgs up against Roman soldiers - who then turn out to be plastic automatons! There’s also some memorable dialogue, be it the occasional impressive speech from the Time Lord or the frequent silly aside. “Everything that’s ever hated you is coming here tonight,” may be the most ominous line ever uttered in Doctor Who, but it falls behind gems such as “I hate good wizards in fairy tales. They always turn out to be him.” Best of all though is the Doctor’s “look at me - I’m a target!”
In an odd way, this series plundering / homaging / love of the past seeps into the episode’s very core. Not only do we have references to Zygon, Drahvin and Terileptil starships in orbit (sadly, I don’t think they’ll make new costumes for a cameo next week, but we can hope), but moments in this episode hark back to that first revived series in 2005, so long ago now, such as the Doctor’s furious “I am talking!”, the return of the Autons, and even the killer arm. What’s more, Moffat and director Toby Haynes manage to make the Cybermen truly creepy again for the first time since 1966. The battered Cyber-guard, with the slithering, scuttling head straight out of The Thing, which then snaps open to reveal the rotting skull within - shiversome. That’s not the last of the outside references - the Cyberman declares that Amy will be assimilated, Borg-style (but then, the Collective stole “Resistance is futile” from the Cybermen in the first place, so fair’s fair).
“You will be assimilated.”
It’s not perfect, of course - nothing ever is - but crikey, it’s close. Matt Smith is wonderful throughout, but those big, dominant speeches might have sounded a bit more impressive coming from Christopher Eccleston or David Tennant. They’re still overdoing the flash-backs too, including ones to earlier in the same episode, presumably for the very young and the hard of thinking. And perhaps they could have cut that intro a bit shorter… no, I’m clutching at straws there. There really is very little to say against this episode. Episode 13 is going to have a lot to live up to, coming as it does after so much build up, and perhaps the greatest cliffhanger in the series’ history.
Now, right from the fifth series’ first publicity releases, when the Radio Times had quotes from each episode, I had a little theory about this one. “There was a goblin, a trickster, a warrior…” it begins. “The most feared being in all the cosmos.” Straight away, that said “the Doctor” to me. As the season went on, and we learned about the Pandorica, it became clear: the Doctor was going to find himself in there. Yet, as the episode progressed, the truth suddenly hits you in the face: it’s a trap. A huge, convoluted, ingenious trap that has ensnared the Doctor, exploiting his love for his companions and, above all, his arrogance and curiosity. This was all set up to get the Doctor in the position where his enemies could lock him away in that box forever. It’s chilling, and ironic. The greatest conquerors in the universe, united to save it. The Doctor brings peace, in a way he’d never have imagined.
“A trap the Doctor could not resist.”
Of course, the Daleks and their allies have missed one vital piece of information. They don’t know that River can fly the TARDIS. Now, while the Doctor cries out helplessly from his prison, the TARDIS is exploding, devastating the entire multiverse. All universes will fall, never having existed. Quite how they’re going to outdo that one next year, I don’t know. Still, I have to agree with the person who posted on the SFX board that if this is what normally happens when a TARDIS explodes, then the Time War would have been fairly short.
And that’s only the half of it. Amy is apparently dead, and so is River. Now, logically, River can’t die here, because we’ve seen her future - but if time is collapsing, then all the rules are out the window, surely? Amy, however, worries me much more. The Bracewell parallel continues, as she talks to Rory, trying to preserve his identity. She fails, and in one of the series’ most devastating moments he shoots her. Now, I can’t quite believe that the show runners would off a companion by shooting her in the gut, but the official website is referring to her in the past tense. It could be a bluff, of course. Then again, remember that we’ve lost one member of the regular cast at the end of every year since the series returned. It does not bode well.
“This is you and you are staying.”
Even without resolving that powerful cliffhanger, The Big Bang has more to do. There are still many unanswered questions. The Doctor says to Amy that her life makes no sense, that there are too many empty rooms in her house. Have the cracks been erasing people from her life? If so, what are the cracks link to her, other than the apparent coincidence of the date of the TARDIS’ destruction matching that of her wedding day? Who built the Pand-orica - is it of Dalek construction, or one of their allies, or did they appropriate it? Just who owns the voice that declares that “Silence will fall?” Who wants all of reality to perish? Why couldn’t they at least give us a trailer?
26th June 2010. It can’t come soon enough.
Copyright © Daniel Tessier 2010
Daniel Tessier has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
He’s gone and done it again. Just when I was starting to lose faith in Steven Moffat’s vision for Doctor Who, he’s gone and delivered two astonishingly good episodes that are completely different to each other yet still make a great pair, tying up the season satisfactorily and in doing so turning it into something far more effective than it would have otherwise been. It’s not because the episodes this year have been bad, but I feel that the last five or six have lacked the ‘wow factor.’ The momentum of a Russell T Davies season is like a steam train tearing for the finish, getting more and more dramatic as it progresses. What Moffat has done here is much cleverer, lulling the audience into a false sense of security with a number of calmer episodes before letting the shit hit the fan big-style and ending the universe. Yes I said ending the universe. What a guy.
There is so much to gush about in The Pandorica Opens I hardly know where to begin. In true Steven Moffat timey-wimey style I will start at the end and work backwards. If you were to pitch “I’ve got this great idea: the Daleks, Cybermen, Sontarans and all the monsters the Doctor has ever fought all join forces to defeat the most evil scourge in the universe!” you would either be Terrance Dicks walking away with a fat cheque for his abomination of a book Warmonger, or you would be laughed out of the office and told that you don’t have to go to such lengths to trump Davies having the TARDIS towing the Earth back into its rightful place. However - and I still don’t quite know how - Moffat manages to pull of the most fanwanky of ideas without it once feeling contrived, embarrassing, or unrealistic.
“We will save the universe from you!”
We’ve all noticed the cracks in the universe throughout the series and so it is perfectly natural that all the races featured in this episode have too. To understand how momentous this moment is in Doctor Who history you have to have been with the series a little while and understand something of its mythology, but this is the moment where many of the monsters that the Doctor has beaten finally catch up with him and lock him up. Since he left Gallifrey in that rickety old TARDIS he has been facing some of the greatest evils that the universe has ever known, but now he has become the greatest threat to the universe. This is payback time and it is with some glee that many of the Doctor’s deadliest foes ensnare him in a fantastically elaborate trap. The direction of these moments is nothing short of masterful, the slow moment as the Doctor is dragged across the mud, the soft music, the terror of how calmly his foes tell him that they will save the universe from his meddling. It is a huge moment in Doctor Who history that should be celebrated along with his exile and his regenerations. I was left reeling at the implication of the Doctor finally getting his come-uppance. It’s going to be hard to top that cliffhanger next year.
“You’re tricks don’t work in here Doctor Song!”
The episode starts on exactly the right note, spanning several millennia and diverse locations, hopping from one to another with total confidence and style. This episode is a direct sequel of at least four episodes this year and it’s wonderful to see Liz X, Churchill, Bracewell, River, and Vincent again, even just in small cameos. It gels the season as a whole, giving it the feel of a grand piece of storytelling over thirteen episodes rather than just another season of Doctor Who. It’s great to catch up with River Song especially and to actually see her imprisonment in the Stormcage facility. The series often boasts about these spectacular locations without ever actually showing us them, so it’s nice to have something set up in an earlier episode that is paid off later (which sums up the season quite nicely actually). You can definitely see why the money has been saved throughout the season, this blockbusting finale episodes boast some elaborate and lavish locations.
“The Pandorica. More than just a fairytale.”
It’s also really great to see Stonehenge being used in Doctor Who (although I am starting to wonder if there is a single location of historical interest that the show won’t claim responsibility for!). It’s such an iconic visual and it really adds to the epic feel to this episode. Seeing the Doctor, River and Amy galloping towards one of the most famous British landmarks on horseback could have been lifted from a feature film rather than a BBC Saturday teatime serial. My husband loves the Tomb Raider films and there is a definitely the same feeling of mythology being built as they descend into the secret passages of the Underhenge and discover the Pandorica. The Pandorica itself is gloriously photographable; even sitting in an immense torch lit cavern it looks huge and foreboding. You would think that would be enough to sustain this episode, but the surprises just keep coming…
One being the remains of a Cyberman littered around Stonehenge. I’ve never been the greatest fan of the Cybermen for so many reasons; I feel that their biggest selling point (so aptly described in this episode, in true Borg fashion “You will be assimilated”) which was so prevalent during the 1960s was lost during their subsequent blockbuster returns during the 1970s and 1980s. Some of my most reviled Doctor Who stories sport them as their main attraction (Revenge of the Cybermen, Silver Nemesis, The Next Doctor) and they have this annoying habit of turning up just because rather than for decent storytelling purposes. As soon as that brassy signature tune honked out of my television speakers as we pan across the remains of a Cyberman I groaned. Stupid, stupid Joe. This isn’t another Davies epic pouring out armies of the tin pot soldiers for the hell of it. Moffat does something far more insidious and creepy than that. He really capitalises on the fact that these are now artificial men made up of parts that can come together again. During some deliciously dark sequences we find a decapitated Cyber head attacking Amy, the metal tendrils that worm their way into its body whipping at her, Spider-Man 2-style. Can you imagine anything more horrific than grappling with such a homicidal head only to have it spring open and the desiccated skeleton of the human being that it used to belong to springing out? It’s horrific and comical and utterly pleasurable to watch. I love how Moffat finds new ways to explore old ideas.
“I’m missing something obvious, Rory… Something right slap in front of me.”
Even better is the return of Rory which comes as no shock whatsoever despite being built up as one. My ideal Doctor / companion set up is one boy and one girl à la Jamie and Victoria or Sarah and Harry, and so adding the gorgeous Arthur Darvill back into the mix is welcome indeed. He has come on more of a journey than either the Doctor and Amy over this season, merely a comic irritant in the first episode but making his mark in his quadrilogy of stories in the middle of the season and now finally coming into his own in the finale. He’s been killed off twice, insulted, ignored and grown up to a point where we love his goofish behaviour now. Poor Rory has to try and cope with the final indignity now, forgotten by everybody who has ever known him including his former fiancé. Darvill plays these scenes so well - Rory is angry with the Doctor for bringing this calamity upon him and imploring Amy to remember who he is. The episode suddenly twists as soon Amy starts to remember who he is and in true doomed romance style he reveals his true nature to her: he’s an Auton duplicate. In another lump in the throat moment we see Rory fighting his Nestene instructions but unable to do so and shooting Amy in cold blood. Wowza, how the hell will they get out of that one?
Whilst I found the whole episode a joy to watch, everything after River appears in Amelia’s house was superlatively stunning. As soon as she spread her torchlight over the children’s books in Amy’s bedroom you realise with icy sweat that this whole episode has been one gigantic fake and the audience (despite being given several clues) have been as duped as the Doctor. I love it when a television show does that; it’s one of the reason I enjoyed Jonathan Creek so much, and just as I did that David Renwick mystery drama, I went back and watched this episode again just to see how neatly everything fits into place.
“Remember every black day I ever stopped you.”
The real plaudits however must go to Matt Smith. He’s weathered his initial nerves and ploughed on to deliver a number of exceptional performances as the main man in his first series. Remember his limp punch to Bracewell, his expressive joy at being inside the Star Whale’s mouth, his disgust at Scottish bacon, his tears as Father Octavian gave his life, how he stood up to Lady Calvierri, and tentatively approached Amy as Rory turned to dust? Remember his disgust at the worst of humanity facing the Silurians, his impatience at Vincent van Gogh slow painting, and how much joy he took in telling Mr Jorgensen to hold whilst he ate a biscuit? He is the Doctor, and he definitely ranks as one of my favourites. The Pandorica Opens is quite a quiet episode for the Doctor in that he doesn’t make much of an impact on the story until he jumps on one of the stones and threatens the menagerie of enemies circling in the sky. What I love is that he isn’t really a showy Doctor like David Tennant’s tenth Doctor was; he is at his best during quieter, more intimate moments. I loved it when he tried to explain away the ring in the TARDIS and his hilarious under reaction to Rory’s reappearance. Best of all was his fate in the climax which sees one of the most fallible of Doctors dragged to his fate by his enemies as he begs for them to listen to him. “Plllleeeease listen to me!” he screams, and I was reduced to tears. Smith is extraordinary in these climatic moments, suggesting his Doctor had met in his end in a way none of the other incarnations could.
How many more superlatives can I throw at The Pandorica Opens? It’s an unforgettable Doctor Who experience, an important piece of the show’s history, not to mention a stylish and gripping piece of television. If it wasn’t destined to be pipped by an even better finale, it would be my favourite of the season.
Copyright © Joe Ford 2010
Joe Ford has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
For River Song, the events of this story take place prior to The Time of Angels and Flesh and Stone, which for the Doctor and Amy have already happened. As this episode begins, River is an inmate of the Stormcage Correction Facility, from which she is temporarily released in The Time of Angels / Flesh and Stone. This suggests that River has already killed the “good man” to whom she refers in that two-parter.
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