Sunday, June 27, 2010

The Big Bang

26/6/10 “The Big Bang”
The Doctor: Your girlfriend isn’t more important than the entire universe.

The finale to series 5 (or whatever you want to call it) had the distinction of feeling satisfying yet leaving lots of tantalizing questions unanswered; giving some genuine joyful moments; being small and self-contained and yet very large and complicated in scope. It was chronologically complex yet there was emotion within it, and I think it did review the heart of what makes the Doctor our hero. To do that, though, it had to penetrate our darkest fears. The Vast Toffee, as we have seen, is good at doing that.

After the cliffhanger, we were told to fast forward 1, 894 years to young Amelia Pond in her strange house, praying to Santa Claus at Easter. Instead of being interrupted by the Doctor’s appearance, though, she only noted a gust of wind. Her aunt Sharon criticizes her for drawing a nightscape with stars; only the moon and sun are left in this post-Pandorica timeline. “You know this is all just a story.” Aunt Sharon has the psychiatrist over (at first I wondered if Amy had two aunts, or what was going on, but after being informed who she was by the brother of the actress who played her, it nominally made sense!). “We don’t want her joining these star cults . . .” Very “Silence in the Library,” which is as much a recognition of a theme or a motif as it might be a criticism. A bit like Harry Potter and his first OWL, Amelia receives a flyer passed through the letter slot by a Doctor-ish figure that talks about the Pandorica at an exhibition. It has a Post It with the Doctor’s handwriting in red pen (eagle-eyed viewers will remember these details from “The Lodger”) saying, “Come along, Pond.”

Aunt Sharon takes Amelia to the National Museum (a nice way of acknowledging that it’s the National Museum of Wales that has shown up a lot in locations this series). Among the exhibits are stone Daleks (I think I would have been more shocked and confused had Doctor Who Magazine not spoiled it for me. Finally Amelia sees the Pandorica—someone swipes her drink from behind her—and on the stone is another Post It saying, “Stick around, Pond.” This is a very appealing proposition for kids, I think—secret, mysterious messages meant just for you, encouraging you to stay behind in the cool but slightly spooky atmosphere of a museum . . . I once wondered what Donna did for the hours she spent waiting in the loo during “Partners in Crime”—it resulted in fan fic, and it’s very tempting again to see this spirit replicated in Amelia’s wait. For two seconds I was reminded of “Ghost Light” as the museum seemed to come alive. Amelia tripped over some stuffed penguins and then had the rather astonishing surprise of seeing Amy in the Pandorica greeting her, “Okay, kid, this is where it gets complicated.” And all before the opening credits. That’s concise writing and editing!

Then we go back to where we left off, with Auton Rory cradling dead Amy on the Roman field in 102 AD. Rory’s sad little musings might help people to recall what’s going on, but he also said, “Now we’ve never been born. Twice, in my case. . . . You would have laughed at that. . . . I could do with a ridiculous miracle right now.” Little impish flashes of the Doctor, wearing a fez and carrying a mop, interrupt his musings. The Doctor hands him the sonic screwdriver and tells him to get him out of the Pandorica. “Just point and press.” “How do you do that?” The Doctor’s Puck-like behavior makes me recall the “goblin/trickster/warrior” speech from the previous episode, but that doesn’t wash with the part about being imprisoned by a good wizard. Rory dutifully goes to the Pandorica and lets the Doctor out. “You gave me this,” he says. The Doctor still has the screwdriver, though—yet when the two screwdrivers touch, they short themselves out. “Me from the future,” says the Doctor happily. “I’ve got a future, that’s nice.”

Looking around them, they find the Underhenge littered with ash-like statues. “History has collapsed. These are like after-images—fossils in time.” Not sure I buy this, but it’s very picturesque! As for why the Doctor and Rory haven’t been affected by the end of all things, “We’re just the last life to go out.” Rory shows the Doctor Amy’s corpse and wonders if she can be brought back. “You’re a Nestene duplicate.” “But I’m Rory now!” The Doctor seems quite disaffected. “Probably [I could bring her back], if I had the time.” It struck me, upon watching “The Lodger” for the second time, that when the Doctor used reverse psychology to belittle and then goad Sophie, the First Doctor (and perhaps the Seventh) would have just stopped with the cruelty. The Eleventh Doctor’s pattern of cruelty then kindness does seem age-appropriate. Anyway, he has done the same thing here, goading Rory into fury (and getting a punch in the process). “I had to be sure.” Amy’s latent memories of Rory brought back “not just your face but your heart and soul.” They put Amy into the Pandorica. “She’s MOSTLY dead.” A bit Princess Bride? :-D Not sure I buy that the Pandorica can bring Amy back to life any more than I buy that the TARDIS can bring Grace and Chang Lee back . . . any more than I buy the fact the Doctor can “leave her a message for when she wakes” by pressing her forehead! Rory wants to know whether Amy would be safer in the Pandorica if he was guarding her. The Doctor quibbles but eventually agrees that she would. “You’d be conscious every second.” “How could I leave her?”

The Doctor has River’s vortex manipulator so he’s off to make the jumps into the future that enable him to do what we saw in the first few minutes. Moffat has streaks of pure romanticism that surface from time to time; Rory’s “long wait” is one of them. In the Pandorica exhibit, the looped film says, “Throughout 200 years, the Centurion was there, guarding it.” Up until 1941 during the Blitz. The Pandorica survived but since that was the last time the Centurion was seen, “he perished in the fires that night.” The Doctor is sprinting around, leaving his messages for Amelia . . . then Amy and Amelia meeting. Again, really not sure I buy the fact that they can exist at the same time and be able to touch each other and not explode. Yet . . . whatever. “Come along, Ponds,” says the Doctor, taking both Amelias. They are stopped by a stone Dalek coming to life. Again, stretching credulity, but I suppose you needed a simple menace for this sequence, so the Dalek would do. Plus, it’s cool to see Auton vs Dalek when the night watchman shows up . . . and it’s Rory the Auton! “Two thousand years I waited for you!” Very sweet, very romantic reunion.

The Doctor doesn’t understand how Amelia knew to come to the exhibition, so he quickly grabs a flyer to drop off at her letter slot in the near-past, etc. He also swipes the drink from her and returns it to her in the future. “There you go, have a drink.” The Doctor picks up a fez and a mop, thus knowing when to go to the past to give Rory the screwdriver. The fez is ixnayed. Everyone is curious about the Doctor’s short time hops. “Vortex manipulator—very bad for you. I’m trying to give it up.” A future fez-less Doctor next rolls down the steps. “Me from the future . . . yes, yes, of course he’s dead.” This is ominous (and also hard to believe, again!) but the Doctor doesn’t pause and he, Amelia, Amy, and Rory continue their climb to the roof of the museum. I do a little dance because I remember scaffolding going up at the Guildhall in Swansea and having a vague feeling about it being Doctor Who-related but only now do I seem to be vindicated. Anyway, on the roof they see the “Sun” exploding. “It’s the TARDIS . . . that’s what’s been keeping the Earth warm.”

The Doctor thus remembers that River was in the TARDIS and that the TARDIS must have put her in a time loop to keep her alive, at the eye of the storm. “Hi honey, I’m home,” he says, as he rescues her from the time loop and drops her off on the roof with the others. “I dated a Nestene duplicate once,” she says, which sounds very Captain Jack to me. “I wear a fez now,” says the Doctor, though Amy and River take great pleasure in disintegrating the fez. But how will they save the universe? “In theory you could extrapolate the entire universe” based on Amy’s memories and do a “reboot.” “One spark is all we need for the Big Bang 2.” Unfortunately, that’s when the stone Dalek shoots him (dead?). There’s a sequence with River and a gun and the Dalek which is a bit too drawn out for me. “It died,” she tells them later.

In the confusion, the Doctor has managed to crawl back into the Pandorica. “Reality’s collapsing.” By flying the Pandorica into the TARDIS, they can broadcast all the memory cells to all time zones at the same moment. But in return, the Doctor will be forgotten and will never have existed. This, of course, was an ultimate danger hinted at in “Flesh and Stone,” but it’s a pathos-tinged corollary to the fact the Doctor so often goes around saving people who never even knew he was there. “We all wake up where we ought to be,” but he’ll be “trapped in the nether space.” For a moment, I wondered if this was going to be a reboot on the scale that we saw a couple of time in the EDAs. River tells Amy that the Doctor wants to see her before he goes. “He doesn’t know me yet—now he never will.” Very sad!

The Doctor confesses to Amy what he was going to tell her last episode, why he took her with him. “Amy Pond, all alone . . . nothing is ever forgotten.” In exchange for forgetting the Doctor, Amy can remember the parents that were sucked into the crack and forgotten, before “The Eleventh Hour” even started. “You brought Rory back, you can bring them back, too.” There’s a moment of terrific, poignant sadness as the Doctor says, “You won’t need your imaginary friend anymore.”

He flies off in the Pandorica into the TARDIS explosion—yet wakes up on the floor of the TARDIS. “I escaped, then. . . . I can buy a fez.” However, realizing he’s in the TARDIS at the same time as an unseen adventure of his and Amy’s in “Florida in Space,” he thinks he’s “rewinding my time stream.” He’s going to disappear after he goes back to the beginning, when he first met Amy. “Goodbye, Doctor.” I have to say bravo to the eagle-eyed viewers who can feel very proud of themselves for noticing the Doctor’s subtle change of outfit in “Flesh and Stone”—that second speech was more desperate in tone for a reason, as it was the post-Pandorica-into-the-TARDIS timeline. Finally the Doctor goes back to “Amelia’s house when she was seven.” He’s at her bedside. “When you wake up, you’ll have a mum and dad. . . . We’re all stories in the end.” This is very sad and reminds me of the Second Doctor’s speech to Victoria, about his family living in his memories. The Doctor is disappointed he didn’t get a chance to tell Amy about how he acquired his blue box. “It was the best. I borrowed it, I was always going to take it back.” All his adventures will still be there “in her dreams.” He retreats before she wakes, and walks into the crack before the very beginning . . . “I don’t belong here anymore.”

Granted, this is all kind of a reversal of Human Nature, but to me, it also has more worldly parallels. While Doctor Who was off the air and unpopular, in a way the Doctor only lived on in the minds of the fans who loved it so much, it stayed flesh and blood to them. It’s the same kind of idea about faith and the strength of stories that gave us Floaty Messiah Doctor in “The Last of the Time Lords,” but a bit more personal and subtle. It’s poignant and rather affecting. When Amy awakes in the newly-rewritten 2010 on her wedding day, she cries, “You’re my mum!” even though it quickly dawns on her that she’s had her mum since, well, the day she was born. “And you’re my tiny little dad!” Everyone is preparing for the wedding, of course; yet Amy feels there’s something important she’s forgotten. She asks if Rory feels the same way. “Are you just saying yes because you’re scared of me?”

At the wedding, Amy receives a blank TARDIS book from River and starts crying. “Someone left it for you . . . it’s blank.” Why is she crying? “Because you’re happy, probably.” “No, I’m sad! Why am I sad?” Rory’s a little at a loss to answer this! Then Amy remembers and shouts, “I remember you!” Then the Doctor arrives in his “brand new ancient blue box.” “How did we forget the Doctor?” asks Rory. The Doctor pops out of the TARDIS dressed in very smart top hat and tails. “I’m Amy’s imaginary friend.” He says hello to the “brand new Mr. Pond.” “I only came for the dancing.” Again, I think of Cornell and his Christmas short stories, “The Hopes and Fears of All the Years” and “Deep and Dreamless Sleep,” for the way the Doctor is triumphant and joyously part of the proceedings, yet someone just a bit removed. “The boy who waited,” he says of Rory.

Outside on the way to the TARDIS, he hands River her diary. “You always dance at weddings,” she says. “I didn’t peek,” he replies. “Are you married?” he asks her. “Are you asking?” “Yes.” “Yes.” “Was that a yes or yes?” “You’re going to find out very soon now.” (Well, we hope so.) Rory and Amy run out and want to join them in the TARDIS. Strangely, despite Rory’s devotion, Amy still seems to want to get into the Doctor’s pants. “It’s my wedding.” “OUR wedding!” “Space and time isn’t safe . . . the silence is still out there.” And first, “an Egyptian goddess is on the loose in the Orient Express . . . in space.” “I think it’s goodbye.” And it’s goodbye to Leadworth as they all leave in the TARDIS until Christmas. It’ll be a very interesting mix of companions now.

More discerning viewers than I will have a more exhaustive list, but there are a lot of unanswered questions. Who was controlling the TARDIS and caused it to explode and is presumably the voice saying “Silence will fall”? Is it the same person who tried to create their own time machine in “The Lodger”? What will become of the Silurians in 3010? Is the Doctor now in his first incarnation again or still on eleven? I’m sure all these questions will be eventually answered, years down the road.

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