The Big Squib
Acres of irrelevant grumbling about the Series 5 finale.
Oh great. River’s back. Again. Un-yippee and un-hurrah. Still, Moffat must have his opportunity to present female characters as self-involved, smug enigmas who lead men around by their noses, put them through hell for the sake of hapless devotion, boss them about and remain pretty little puzzleboxes that men have to try and solve. In these episodes, he does this with no less than two man/woman couples.
The first episode is just loads of portentous narrative procrastination, albeit to a less egregious extent than ‘End of Time’ Part 1. There is some pleasure to be taken in the cobwebby, Indiana Jones-film look of the underground chamber, and River’s pleasantly spooky trip to Amy’s empty house… but, really, how generic is all this? A secret chamber under Stonehenge? An ancient artefact that has something scary inside it?
Mind you, they could’ve turned it around if the contents/purpose of the Pandorica hadn’t been so obvious right from the start. I can honestly say that I knew, ages before we were told, that the Pandorica would either have the Doctor inside it, or would be empty and waiting for him (especially since this story seems to owe so much to Alien Bodies). The only thing worse than what we got would’ve been a gateway into another universe (a universe of evil, natch), which lets loose unspeakable ‘Old Ones’ or some other ‘horror from before time’ when opened. So it could’ve been worse. But could also have been much better.
Sadly, we are soon confronted with a huge alliance of returning monsters who, in line with Moffat’s usual disinterest in evil, are trying to save the universe… by locking the Doctor up in a box rather than just killing him. For some reason.
The Doctor indulges in his now customary bit of ludicrous, embarassing and deeply inappropriate macho posturing. What a bad-ass I am, he essentially shouts to a sky full of heavily armed battle cruisers. Laughably, they bottle it rather than just zapping him. This is so dumb it defies description. I mean, I know the Doctor always wins… but surely they don’t need to be scared of him when he’s standing in plain view under their laser beams, waggling his weaponless hands? Just zap the silly sod! You don’t even have to go anywhere near him!
On the subject of that speech… really, when did the character turn into this kind of person? When did this become the point of him? I hate this depiction of the Doctor as a bumptious, boastful, mouthy, showoff incredibly aware of himself as a Hero. I realise the scene in question is meant to show him bluffing, but still…
The Doctor always used to occasionally be a bit big headed (i.e. “he’s almost as clever as I am” etc) but it always seemed like self-mockery or good humour. These days the Doctor seems to seek out opportunities to talk like a lame-ass ‘tough cop’ cypher (i.e. “there’s something you never put in a trap if you want to live – ME!”).
For a start, is it really supposed to be a good thing that loads of people are scared of him, or think of him as a destroyer. Should he really revel in it?
It’s all part of the abandonment of the amateur virtues for the professional vices. The Doctor should be a dilletante, a fartaround, a bimbler… who stands and fights (with his intellect first and foremost) against injustice… not a semi-professional capeless superhero who, when he’s not ostentatiously displaying his jumble of contrived synth-eccentricities, is delivering long sermons about how dangerous he is.
Oh, and why don’t the assembled monsters listen when the Doctor explains that the TARDIS will cause the cracks – and so, since he’s not in it, trapping him will achieve nothing? I mean, that seems like a very, VERY important and plausible remark. At least worth investigating, no? But the Dalek says that only the Doctor can pilot the TARDIS (which they just MUST know isn’t even close to being true), so… so what? Even if it were true, why does it mean that the TARDIS couldn’t cause the cracks by itself? Still, just go ahead and trust to luck… I mean, it’s only the possible universal armageddon we’re risking… and it’s not like we’ve invested much time and effort in this massive conspiracy, is it?
Head, meet desk. Desk, this is head. Oh. You’ve met before.
Weirdly, the alien hoardes seem less scared of him when they are personally right up close to him; when, in other words, he’s in a better position to do them serious, personal damage. But they manage to get him into the box, which makes you wonder… oh never mind. Said terrible, portentous, powerful, inescapable box turns out to be easily escapable almost immediately, natch. How many times is it possible for a show to relentlessly undercut its own openly daft logic before viewers start feeling insulted? Quite a few times, it seems.
The second episode is an improvement on the first. Actually, the recap of ‘Pandorica Opens’ at the start of ‘Big Bang’ is better than the actual episode it recaps – all the essential plot points and none of the procrasto-padding.
I theoretically admire the idea of having a final episode which largely consists of people fighting the slow death of time and history in an echoey, empty museum… but, really, we are just watching corridor athletics, aren’t we?… just set amidst exhibits of old tombs and stalked by stone Daleks… which, again, sounds great until you realise that none of these potentially potent signs and symbols add up to anything.
It kind of reminded me of ‘The Creature from the Pit’. I’m not flinging cheap insults. ‘Creature’ is another story rich with signs and symbols and themes… none of which really connect with each other. They’re just sort of there.
The first episode, for all that it was was garbled and naff and empty, did hint at possible developments. The business with the Roman soldiers emerging from a book in Amy’s room, etc., hinted that we might be in for some voyage into metafiction… but, of course, nothing of the kind arrived. It’s just that the Autons raided Amy’s memories. Er, when? And how? And… umm… why? As a trap, it’s overcomplicated, random, and works only by sheer chance!
I suppose, if you peer at ‘The Big Bang’ intently, you can discern some themes about memory and loss… but was anything really done with them beyond playfully batting them around the place and then using them as the basis for a cutesy resolution? A resolution which, ironically enough, was more like Four Weddings than anything in the Richard Curtis episode.
What does it actually say? That remembering things can bring them back from oblivion? Well, I hate to point this out, but… it doesn’t. It really doesn’t.
Sure, remembering things can keep them alive in some form, i.e. myths and legends… but this story actually undercuts and undermines myths and legends by making them literal. The ancient guardian stops being so potent an idea the moment you find out there actually is an ancient guardian… who is guarding the impregnable box which is keeping his girlfriend alive… for no reason at all. Once you do that, it just becomes plot… and silly plot to boot. As for the characterisation? Rory appears unchanged after his millenia long vigil, even down to resuming conversations he had before it began. Is this satisfactory? Not to me. But it does provide ‘romance’ of a kind so ridiculously over the top that it actually makes the Amy/Rory relationship less believable, hence less touching.
Oh, and how can Rory wait for thousands of years of history… if history’s been erased? Oh yeah, eye of the storm. Like all the other things that need to be saved for the plot to work. I mean, they really are just making this shit up as they go along, aren’t they? The stone Daleks are “afterimages” of erased timelines (umm… why weren’t they preserved in the “eye of the storm”? …I mean, they were standing right next to the bleedin’ Pandorica, much closer than AutonRory and Amy’s corpse!) until they need to come to life, whereupon some Pandorica light can resuscitate them… which kind of works… until you ask why the Pandorica needs to be a life-support system at all!
I can’t help but sigh with relief that we’re no longer getting the kind of embarassingly hammy, OTT, semi-crazed, everything-but-the-kitchen-sink emo-porn that RTD used to serve up at the end of a season… but, for all that, RTD’s better season finales had some semi-coherent Stuff To Say.
‘Bad Wolf’/’Parting’ (clearly the best) has the Daleks as religious (market) fundies, lurking behind a twisted, but scarily believable, depiction of Western media culture as a giant machine for the grinding up of people into raw material. ‘Sound of Drums’/’Last of the Time Lords’ has a real New Testament vibe going on and, much as it might personally revolt me to see the Doctor behaving like the resurrected Christ, it packs a genuine emotional punch underneath all the histrionics… and manages to be heavily political in a decidedly unstraightforward way.
Sadly, ‘The Big Bang’, for all the convoluted mytho-fairytale stuff and self-consciously clever plot dynamics, says zilch to me. Which is quite an achievement. I can hardly believe that somebody made a Who story about the erasure of time closing in on an empty museum, about stone Daleks, about ancient myths coming to life and convergences between story, myth and memory… and I don’t like it. How did they manage that?
‘Big Bang’ is a Rubik’s Cube. You work at it, solve it, look at it and think… is that it? Why did I bother?
There’s a theme in there about the power of storytelling; about myths and fairytales and the dreams of children, and how they can represent deeper truths…but it doesn’t amount to anything more than banalities and stylistic borrowings. And showoffish tricksy plot gymnastics. And, after all that, it still basically relied on a great big cheaty Reset Button, didn’t it? As bloody usual.
And how does Amy remember the Doctor back into existence/reality anyway? She hasn’t done that with anything before! She says she brought Rory back but she didn’t – AutonRory was created by the monster alliance and newlywed Rory is part of the cosmic reboot!
And why does Moffat always try to make wonderful places like museums and libraries sinister and scary?
And I really don’t know why Moffat insists on making the Doctor so matey with authority figures (i.e. “your majesty” on the phone). I just hate that. I shall be accused of being ideological again… as though having the children’s hero on friendly terms with loads of powerful establishment figures is somehow neutral, apolitical and non-ideological!