Sunday, June 27, 2010

The Pandorica Opens

19/6/10 “The Pandorica Opens”
Impossible things just happen.” –The Doctor

I feel a bit of pity for anyone who decided now was the time to start watching Doctor Who, as they might have been alienated by the first few minutes. Nevertheless, for those who have been following it week by week, it was a nice salute to the entire season and a reminder that up there, the Vast Toffee has it all planned out. Going in chronological order, it starts off with Vincent van Gogh in 1890 having a fit and his Doctor and landlady (?) examining his latest ghastly work. “He’s very ill.” “It’s even worse than his usual rubbish.” The master of suspense, the Vast Toffee keeps us guessing about the painting for the next ten minutes or so. Churchill sees it in 1941—“You’re not supposed to understand it.” He phones up the Time Vortex (interesting, that!) and gets River Song, in prison, in the Stormcage Facility 5145. He’s expecting the Doctor. “You’re phoning the Time Vortex—it doesn’t always work.” In any case, she learns about the painting and uses her Poison Ivy-esque lipstick to escape. She ends up in the Royal Collection, where Queen Elizabeth from “The Beast Below” wonders why she’s there to steal a painting. Four stories have been alluded to in very quick succession, and it’s neatly done.

Maldovarium 5145 (which looks a bit like the Firefly universe, down to River’s exquisite gown) is where she blackmails—well, it looks like the Duke of Manhattan—for a Vortex Manipulator (from the hand of a “handsome Time Agent,” but presumably not Jack unless he gets his arm chopped off in the next series of Torchwood). Presumably she next goes to Planet 1 and graffitis the “oldest cliff face in the universe” with “Hello Sweetie” and some coordinates, as that’s where Amy and the Doctor next go and see the inscription. (The TARDIS being able to translate anything is not strictly true. It didn’t work in “The Impossible Planet.”) The Doctor and Amy follow the coordinates to Earth 102 AD. They see a Roman camp, and Amy announces it was her “favorite topic at school.” A soldier then hails the Doctor as Caesar and brings him to Cleopatra (as one of the soldiers later points out, Cleopatra VII—if that’s the one they mean—should have been long, long dead at this point. I suppose it’s a cute way of referencing things like the Doctor’s conversation in Ghosts of India where Donna wonders how he knows about the interior of Cleopatra’s bed chamber).

Cleopatra is, indeed, River Song, and after showing the Doctor and Amy Vincent’s painting, they ride off to Stonehenge (presumably). (The painting shows the TARDIS exploding in different directions—“it might not be that literal” says River.) It seems that the events of “Time of the Angels” are in River’s future, though that’s quite confusing—hopefully it will be explained a bit more in the finale. In any case, having recently seen “The War Games,” the horseback riding and Roman legions seem like a nice homage (like was said at the Mythological Dimensions of Doctor Who launch, Romans are much more the trendy civilization to be seen in Doctor Who; the Greeks haven’t been glimpsed since “The Horns of Nimon”). At the base of Stonehenge is the Pandorica, “a box—a cage—a prison,” a myth and legend and “not real” according to the Doctor. Descending into a tomb-like atmosphere provided Indiana Jones shorthand for suspense (and I did think the Cybermen clips were linked to this tomb bit, for obvious reasons). Like the whole season, we’re left wondering if this is “more than just a fairy tale.”

According to the stories, a “goblin/trickster/warrior—the most feared being in all the cosmos” was trapped “by a good wizard.” Anyone with the McCoy era burned into their brain will think the good wizard was the Doctor (and River even makes the connection), but the Doctor has been known by all the above, so it’s very ambiguous. Is he the villain, the victim, the destroyer, the creator? Amy speculates on the name “Pandorica,” saying it sounds an awful lot like the story of Pandora, which was one of her favorites as a child (details about who Pandora was and hope being left in the box, etc, are not mentioned). Is Amy Pandora? She didn’t open the TARDIS in “The Eleventh Hour,” if memory serves correctly; the Doctor climbed out. The Doctor notices the coincidence, but says, “unless you’re busy, then you ignore coincidence” (similar to what he said in “Boom Town” about Bad Wolf). With Stonehenge as big transmitters telling people to go away, the Doctor wonders who has converged on them. There are Daleks, and Cybermen, and a long list of old enemies—I noted Zygons and Draconians among them. The Doctor wonders how they are going to defeat so many Daleks, bets on the element of surprise, but then talks sense—“that would be a fairly short surprise!” “You have to run,” says River. “Run where?” “Fight, how?!”

The Doctor, rather bafflingly, puts his faith in the contingent of Roman soldiers. He gets “a volunteer” after River goes up to talk to them. I didn’t predict anything else correctly, but I knew the volunteer must be Rory. Amy has decided to ask the Doctor about the diamond ring she found in his pocket earlier. “If something can be remembered,” he says, “it can come back.” This is a nice but elusive statement. There’s a fun bit of Cybermen nonsense—a broken-off arm shooting at the Doctor and Amy and finally electrocuting the Doctor; Amy grappling with a scary Cyberman head that ejects its human skull at her and then tries to eat her with its neck wires/spinal cord and then spits a dart at her to “assimilate her.” The Cybermen has seen a version of Sleepy Hollow and puts its head back on its body. Amy is only saved by Rory the Roman and his gladius (that’s sword-thing to you).

Amy faints before Rory can say anything, but the Doctor, in a Doctor-ish manner, ignores Rory’s reappearance for a bit. “How do you do?” he finally manages. Of all things for Rory to come back as, a Roman soldier is quite satisfying, IMHO. He seems a lot more assured in this guise, and I like him tons more. “How can you be here?” the Doctor asks. “I don’t know.” The Pandorica itself sort of resembles Aztec calendars. Meanwhile, overhead all alien baddies ever are converging in their pretty space ships to confound (yet the Romans don’t seem too confounded). The Doctor makes a Doctor-ish speech to them on top of a stone, shouting at the darkness. It seems a victory for the Doctor and his lack of weapons, his ability to talk people down (the bad-ass-ness of it witnessed in “The Eleventh Hour”). “Something else I don’t have . . . anything to lose!” (This isn’t strictly true! River, Amy, Rory, the TARDIS!!) “Do the smart thing—let somebody else try first.”

Having seemingly successfully driven off the hordes, the Doctor, Amy, and Rory mill around, the Doctor sends River to retrieve the TARDIS. Amy doesn’t remember Rory. “How can she not remember me?” The Doctor explains what happened in “Cold Blood,” how Rory was erased from time, and quite sensibly wants to know what happened from Rory’s perspective. He remembers dying and then woke up, “head full of Roman stuff.” (The fan fic possibilities are endless.) “I thought you’d come back for me,” Rory says with pathos, a bit reminiscent of Captain Jack. “Why am I here?” asks Rory. The Doctor, looking on the bright side, declares it a miracle (with a little hint of “Everybody lives!”).

River is having trouble with the TARDIS and can’t seem to move anywhere other than 26/6/2010. (I love that the TARDIS uses the European dating system!!) She discovers a Roman book where everything is just as it appears in 102 AD (or wherever they really are), discovers Amy’s Legend of Pandora book (alongside the Raggedy Doctor and Amy dolls), and things start to look like Sally Sparrow and her 17 DVDs. Great fodder for my Unsilent Library essay—“they’re all in a book.” She phones up the Doctor at the Pandorica, relaying this information—“Something’s using memories.” Realizing the Romans aren’t garden-variety Romans, she says, “They actually believe their own cover story.” With “The War Games” still in mind, I was thrown off the scent (perhaps intentionally) and wondered if they were like the brainwashed soldiers in the different zones in the War Games. “They used Amy to get close to you.” Massive conspiracies within conspiracies as the Roman start acting very machine-like and I write in my notebook, “Autons?”

They are Autons, which Rory realizes. Unfortunately, he’s got Amy in his arms, who’s crying, because she’s remembered who he is, because she’s remembered the ring (or so she says—I think it’s something else). “Amy, you’ve got to run!” Rory snaps, reverting to Auton-consciousness. That was a great twist, I thought, one I didn’t see coming. Rory the Auton! Surely that means the real Rory is actually gone? Where could the baddies get the memories of Rory if he’d never existed? What is going on? The Doctor would like to know, too, as, like Cyrano de Bergerac (if a little more literally), he’s surrounded by “all his old enemies” (and strangely, the Judoon). River can’t get out of the TARDIS and can’t get out of the time zone. Rory the Auton accidentally shoots Amy (“there are crocodiles”) but I’m afraid it doesn’t have a whole lot of emotional impact because with Rory in and out of the story, it’s easy to believe Amy will be back, or at least explained as something other than what she is. Perhaps, as has been suggested, it’s all still a dream from “Amy’s Choice”? Or maybe the whole series has been a dream of some sort? In any case, I’m no good at making predictions so I have none to make.

I was wracking my brains trying to figure out what was the Pandorica and the only answer I could think of was the Doctor! So it’s appropriate that “an alliance” of his enemies (rather like a Roger Langridge comic) seal him in some kind of torture chamber (though they all say it’s just to prevent him from using the TARDIS to create the crack and destroy the universe). It feels a bit like poor Eight destroying Gallifrey in The Gallifrey Chronicles . . . and there’s no trailer for next time, so let’s see them get out of that one!

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