Time Travel Is Always Possible In Dreams (The Pandorica Opens/The Big Bang)
It’s June 19th, 2010. Shout is at number one with “Shout,” which lasts both weeks of this story. Kylie Minogue, Eminem, David Guetta, Lady Gaga, and Baddiel, Skinner, and Lightning Seed also chart, the latter with a hilarious belief that England might not crash pathetically out of the World Cup. Spoiler: the day after this story wraps, they do. Also in news, David Cameron apologizes on behalf of the government for the Bloody Sunday Massacre, and George Osborne presents a budget statement full of austerity. Also, on June 26th, the entire universe ends.
There is no point in pretending that my opinion here is anything other than what it is. I think this is decisively and thoroughly a good thing. I love the Davies era dearly, but the Moffat era is, for my money, the pinnacle of the show. Indeed, it’s basically this pair of episodes that’s why TARDIS Eruditorum exists: because I could not get them and their implications out of my head. I have been looking forward to this post since I started, and the observations I want to make about this story are, ultimately, the observations that I created the blog to make. Although, having now gotten to it, it seems like so much of what I could say is stuff I’ve made obvious, and that nobody reading this needs to have pointed out. In many ways, everything I’ve said in TARDIS Eruditorum and the entire critical apparatus for looking at Doctor Who that I’ve built exists so as to make this story the most self-evident and explicable thing imaginable. If you’ve any understanding of how the thought processes of TARDIS Eruditorum work, you can figure out most of what I like about this story without effort. Its metafiction, its alchemy, everything about it is so thoroughly in line with the approach I take to Doctor Who that there’s almost nothing to say. By spending four years building to it, I’ve left such a clearly defined piece of negative space that filling it seems unnecessary.
Let’s, then, do the obvious thing and approach it in the context of Season Five. Much of Season Five, viewed through history’s lens, has felt, understandably, like an extended exercise in incremental change from the Russell T Davies era. Which is understandable – it’s easy to forget that the gap between The End of Time Part Two and The Eleventh Hour was only three months. To people who don’t pay attention to who the writer of an episode is, which is to say, to roughly 100% of the population, a period of bedding in was important. And so we had a season that retained numerous structural elements of the Davies era: a present/future/past triptych to start the season, a thirteen episode season consisting of seven single episode stories and three two-parters, et cetera. Yes, there were some changes – the first two-parter was, despite the presence of familiar monsters, the more adult and weird of them, while the second one filled the “for kids” brief. Rory, and particularly his death, consistently failed to quite work like you’d expect. The season arc was mischievous, partially paying off in the fifth episode instead of, as one might have expected, just having the crack show up every episode. But for the most part, Season Five behaved like a slightly cracked mirror take on the Russell T Davies formula.
In one sense, that continues immaculately into The Pandorica Opens/The Big Bang, which follows key parts of the Davies formula for season finales to the letter. In another, however, the finale marks the point where Moffat breaks decisively from the Davies era and announces that this is his show now, and that it will henceforth be a fundamentally different thing.
Unsurprisingly, the turning point comes at the cliffhanger. The Pandorica Opens is, in effect, a fairly traditional narrative collapse. Every villain in Doctor Who teams up to lock the Doctor in an inescapable prison. As usual, the threat isn’t just “bad things will happen” but “Doctor Who will end as a type of storytelling.” As with all of Davies’s finales, the plot hinges on the idea that the bad guys have already won – by the time the Doctor gets involved with events, he’s already seemingly lost. It all seems very tidy and standard issue, really.
Except that a narrative collapse is supposed to be averted, albeit at a terrible price. That’s the way these stories are supposed to work. And instead we get led to the brink of the same setup as the last season finale. As Davros put it, “your strategies have failed, your weapons are useless, and, oh. The end of the universe has come.” Except that where Journey’s End had Donna swoop in and save the day just before the Reality Bomb detonated, The Pandorica Opens goes one further. The Doctor is locked in an inescapable prison, Rory has killed Amy, River is trapped on an exploding TARDIS, and oh, yes, the end of the universe has actually come, with the cliffhanger shot just being every star in the galaxy exploding. The narrative collapse isn’t threatened – it’s allowed to happen. There’s not even some version of the get-out clause that The Sound of Drums consciously offered – no Martha escaping to have the task of saving the world single-handedly. Instead there’s nothing. Every possible avenue of escape is closed down, every possible agent who could fix things is sidelined. The narrative collapses utterly, such that, at the end of The Pandorica Opens, there’s absolutely nothing that can possibly follow it. It is, in this regard, the single most audacious cliffhanger in the entire history of Doctor Who.
This works, of course, because it’s meticulously earned. The Pandorica Opens is an efficient masterpiece. While I’m sure there exists somebody who has complained that the episode’s plot consists of the Doctor sitting around Stonehenge for fifty minutes waiting to be shoved into a box, the truth is this fact passes with almost nobody noticing it. The entire episode is an exercise in stalling, which is to say, it’s a Doctor Who episode, but its delaying tactics are gobsmackingly clever. At the top of the list is, of course, the Doctor’s speech to the assembled fleet of bad guys, which, in hindsight, accomplishes exactly nothing, but which is such a fantastic moment that nobody in their right mind cares. And the delays are used for things – while the Doctor effectively spins his wheels (and Amy spends large chunks of episode either unconscious or sitting around outside) we get the fascinatingly unexpected reintroduction of Rory. Sure, it maybe wasn’t that hard to guess that Rory was coming back, but you’d have had to poll an awful lot of Doctor Who fans to find one who guessed “as a Roman Auton.” Similarly, the pacing of the episode gives River a meaningful chunk of time in which to hold down a solo plot, which lets her be a female equivalent of the Doctor for the first time, instead of just being presented as someone who could be that. Still, The Pandorica Opens is ultimately just the setup for something altogether more extraordinary.
Obviously the first and biggest question of The Big Bang is what its first scene will be once it finishes its recap. What story do you tell when there are no possible stories to tell? The answer is, in hindsight, inevitable. You return to first principles, recreating the slow pan through Amelia’s garden that opened The Eleventh Hour. It’s easy to make far too much of the idea that the companion is an audience identification figure, but a crucial part of Amy’s character has always been that she is herself a Doctor Who fan. (Indeed, the total gap between Amelia’s long night and The Beast Below is, at fourteen years, in the same general ballpark as the Wilderness Years.) She engages with Doctor Who like a member of the audience does. And so she is the natural place to go after the narrative collapse. If we’ve dismantled the entire narrative apparatus of Doctor Who, where can we go but to the audience, left watching nothing?
It is in this context that we can understand what is otherwise a slightly strange thing to focus on: Amelia’s insistence on stars. There are several things to point out about this. First is that, even in the absence of the Doctor, her life takes the same basic path, complete with psychiatrists trying to cure her of believing what is, in fact, the truth. And yet it’s worth looking at the particulars of Amelia’s insistence on stars. She does not attempt to claim that there really are stars in the sky that we can’t see. She doesn’t try to declare that stars are real. Instead, she draws them into her pictures. She wants there to be stars. She insists not on their existence, but on their preferability. In the face of a world she doesn’t like, she tells a story of one she does.
Everything else in The Big Bang ultimately follows from this point. Once Amelia has rejected the world of “the universe has ended,” a better sort of story enters the picture as the Doctor drops off the museum flyer. And in the end Amy saves the day through the same principle: insisting on a different story than the one being told. Hindsight reveals this trick to be at the heart of Moffat’s work in Season Five – you’ll note that we described Amy’s victory in The Beast Below as being won by finding a better story to tell as well. And, of course, by the end of The Big Bang this isn’t even subtext anymore, but rather an explicit moral principle: “We’re all stories in the end. Just make it a good one.”
Again, it’s worth praising the connective tissue, not least because it’s where Moffat really does start to change the entire approach for season finales. The Pandorica Opens has nineteen credited characters. The Big Bang has ten, and two of them are Amy. The Pandorica Opens ostentatiously has more monsters than any previous story. The Big Bang has a single Dalek. There’s a move, in other words, to a small and intimate scale that’s quite unlike any previous season finale. The core of the episode is just a four character chamber piece. This is where a particular iconic TARDIS crew gets made – not just because it’s the first time we actually see the entire Pond family together, but because we spend so much time with them, letting them play off of each other and react to one another. This is, in practice, quite liberating. Moffat goes as big as it’s possible to go, crafting a cliffhanger that will never be topped in terms of sheer stakes, and then uses it to demonstrate that there’s no need to go bigger anyway.
But it is, of course, the resolution that really needs to be talked about. I’ve no idea how many times I’ve watched this story, but rewatching it for this post, I still found myself tearing up at its climax. “Raggedy Man, I remember you, and you are late for my wedding” kills me, every time, without fail. Up until the volcano scene in Dark Water, I’d have unhesitatingly called it the single greatest scene in Doctor Who, and I’m not sure I still wouldn’t. It’s a scene that justifies every theme, every idea, and every narrative approach involved in bringing it about. Many of its virtues are, of course, clear. And yet there’s something in excess of all of the thematic weight that makes it work. Moffat has written other sequences that validate my views on stories and Doctor Who as well as this. But he’s only written one other that hits this strongly after this many viewings.
Why? What makes it work so uncannily well? Part of it is the tone – the desperate hope of it, and the mad insistence on having a better story. That tone coinciding with the beautiful moment of everything snapping together around the “something old, something new” rhyme, is an emphatically well delivered catharsis. There’s also a real beauty to Amy’s character in that moment. The bravery in delivering that speech, even as her mother bemoans all the psychiatrists they took her to, is wonderfully moving, especially for a female character. It’s such a perfect payoff for everything that Amy’s character is. And, after all the thematic buildup, there’s something profoundly appealing about the simple, emphatic declaration that Doctor Who is a better story than not Doctor Who. All of this is part of it.
But it’s not all of it. There is something else – something slightly ineffable that refuses to simply be explained. Something that, after all of this buildup, I have to admit that I simply cannot quite capture or depict. And I think that is because it is something that embraces two beautifully contradictory viewpoints. On the one hand, the basic idea of “Raggedy Man, I remember you” is the animating fantasy of storytelling, namely that there exists a story, or a telling of a story that, if you could only capture it and express it, would save the world. That there’s some combination of words and images that, with enough refinement and inspiration, could fix everything. On the other, it is fundamentally a plot development based on the desire for more stories. The only reason to bring the Doctor back, after all, is that there is still an absence and a lack – still something that needs to be said. And so we have a moment that is simultaneously the fantasy of a perfect ending and the fantasy that there never has to be an ending. And for one brief and beautiful moment, just as Amy’s desperate insistence on telling a better story gives way to the restoration of Doctor Who after its narrative collapse, these two fantasies exist, perfectly suspended and in balance.
And that, in the end, is the point of the exercise. If that moment cannot quite be captured or looked at, then let us go with the alternative. Let us look at and understand every moment around it, crystalizing it so that this one scene stands in relief, reconstructed, if you will, by the hole left when everything else is understood. This moment when, from nothing but a child’s stubborn insistence on a better world and a better story, out of thin air, a blue box appears. The magic trick that cannot ever be explained: when something that was only ever an idea steps from the Land of Fiction into the world, real as anything. When nothing becomes something, not with a big bang, nor even with a little one, but rather with the sound that, if we are being honest, accompanies all progress, material social and otherwise: wheezing and groaning.
December 29, 2014 @ 12:17 am
Baddiel, Skinner, and Lightning Seed also chart […] with a hilarious belief that England might not crash pathetically out of the World Cup.
It says a lot that when you read the lyrics of what has basically been England's premier World Cup pop anthem for the last twenty-odd years or so, they can essentially be summed up with "Well, we might not get utterly humiliated this time."
December 29, 2014 @ 12:46 am
Wonderful. Worth the wait. Worth the blog.
Wait, is that title quote actually from Capaldi in "Last Christmas"? If so, there's a tremendous act of providence for you. The patterns of magic…
Gods, but I love the "something old, something new" bit. that's just so desperately clever and perfect, so much so that I have the nasty feeling someone's going to pop up in the comments to tell me Lawrence Miles came up with it first somewhere (except that his version would have been far less moving and beautiful, natch).
It's interesting how two series of Moffat's Who end with a wedding. I wonder if Jane's going to have thoughts on the alchemical significance of the idea of marriage.
December 29, 2014 @ 1:38 am
The title quote also fits a plot element in Name of the Doctor, for what it's worth.
December 29, 2014 @ 1:39 am
'Time travel is always possible in dreams' was first voiced by Madame Vastra in The Name of the Doctor.
A wedding is a union, though usually between two people with both similarities and oppositions.
December 29, 2014 @ 1:42 am
I wouldn't be utterly surprised were Moffat to say he'd basically written the entire season arc so that he could use the 'something old something new' motif.
December 29, 2014 @ 1:46 am
I gather that Walt Simonson wrote a Fantastic Four story in which,among other non-linear time travel plotting, Reed Richards escapes Doctor Doom's impossible death trap by travelling back in time and letting himself out. Simonson's justification being, 'of course he escapes the impossible death trap: he's Reed Richards'. Which I think fits very much with Moffat's attitude to Doctor Who (and Phil's attitude).
December 29, 2014 @ 1:55 am
While Ian Broudie is the only consistent member, The Lightning Seeds are plural.
(Indeed, the total gap between Amelia’s long night and The Beast Below is, at fourteen years, in the same general ballpark as the Wilderness Years.)
The parallel is designed even more specific than this — Amy is born in 1989, the year Doctor Who disappeared from television; he reappears for one night only in 2006, before disappearing again and leaving her wanting and waiting to know more, for years to come – her formative life is defined by an absence of Doctor Who in our world as well as hers…
December 29, 2014 @ 2:02 am
I've worried away at Phil's use of 'narrative collapse' before; may I do so again?
I still think that using 'narrative collapse' to cover every threat to the possibility of future Doctor Who stories is widening the concept too far. Any cliffhanger that threatens the Doctor fits that description (except arguably between Ribos Operation and Warrior's Gate).
Phil originally introduced the term to cover extra-diegetic threats to Doctor Who, which I think is a more original and more useful term. So the threatened narrative collapse in the Big Bang (and in Last of the Time Lords) isn't, will the Doctor and companions save the day and put everything back the way it was (of course they will), but will they do so in a way that doesn't feel like a cheap use of the Big Friendly Reset Button.
Alan Moore's reason for not making Alec Holland Swamp Thing is then that the nature of the story is the protagonist trying to provoke a narrative collapse, and that's inherently unstable and unsatisfactory for an ongoing story.
December 29, 2014 @ 2:38 am
I am fairly certain you have your years wrong, as that would make Young Amelia 17.
December 29, 2014 @ 2:41 am
Wait, is this… it? Is this the last TARDIS Eruditorum? It can't be, can it? There's still a few more, right?
December 29, 2014 @ 2:56 am
It's better than that. Amelia was born in 1989, and never knew the Doctor growing up. The Doctor appeared for one night in 1996.The Eleventh Hour is an ersatz Eighth Doctor story. In fact, in 1996 Easter fell in early April, which is when previews for the movie apparently started airing, it wouldn't actually air until mid-May.
The next time he shows up is 2008, which was the last time the show was regularly on the air, and then he vanishes for two years to do some Shakespeare or something and then voila, season five begins!
December 29, 2014 @ 2:59 am
Still got Day of the Doctor and Silence in the Library to work through. He said he had a few climaxes to go through. And besides that we've got the rest of the Doctors Revisited. I'll be interested to see his take on 9's, it was a strange choice of episode.
December 29, 2014 @ 3:07 am
For my money, this really is the biggest, most audacious cliffhanger the show ever has and probably ever will pull (not necessarily equal to "the best" but still, top three or five easy). The entire cast is dead and the universe is destroyed. Silence falls, literally cutting off the music before the show ends. The only thing that could make it any better is if they'd left out the "To be continued".
I have a pretty hefty takedown of the Kovarian plan that I could share now, but the time has either passed or not yet come for it, and it's very much trying to straighten a spring to see how it works. Suffice it to say, it's extremely interesting that the Pandorica alliance is made up primarily of the forces that the Silence are trying to keep away from Trenzalore.
Well, okay, one more thing regarding the Silence and the TARDIS and the whole plan. Whodunnit has pretty well been established at this point, and Whydunnit followed closely, but the remaining key piece missing, the one that bugs a lot of people (myself, sadly, included) is Howdunnit. It bugged me for ages until I just… stopped thinking about it, one day, and it came to me. Who's in the TARDIS when it explodes? Who's working the controls, right before it explodes? Who's the only one that hears the voice? Who's the one we know is an agent of the Silence?
… well, okay, starting those sentences with "Who" doesn't really work since she kept her maiden name, but…
December 29, 2014 @ 3:22 am
Interesting also is the piece in DWM where Moffat talks about a Tennant-led Series 5 (which he re-works into what became Series 6 with Smith). I definitely get the impression he planned both Series 5 and 6 very carefully.
December 29, 2014 @ 3:25 am
The only thing that could make it any better is if they'd left out the "To be continued".
I thought it was neat that they didn't even give us a teaser/trailer for The Big Bang. Again, it's the team going one step further. RTD was careful not to show any Doctor moments in the trailer for Journey's End, so as not to ruin the cliffhanger. Here, however, Moffat and co. just decide not to give us any trailer at all.
December 29, 2014 @ 3:27 am
I fear I'm in a very small minority here – whilst I do like the Ponds and some of their future adventures, I also feel that The Big Bang would've been the perfect place to end their era. (Going with the cracked mirror of an RTD series – had RTD been at the helm, it would've been perhaps likely that the Ponds would've made an exit here. By taking them beyond, into more series, it could be argued that Moffat is further 'breaking' the RTD formulas and making the show his own.)
December 29, 2014 @ 4:24 am
The alchemical wedding is the union of opposites — in Big Bang (which implies a honeymoon, of course) it's the union of finality and eternity, the small scale of which Phil describes so eloquently in Amy's storytelling.
Writ large, of course, it the tension between a Universe with a single beginning and end, versus one that perpetually renews itself in a kind of Eternal Return. We humans live in the former; the Doctor is of the other one.
One is a Line, the other a Circle. And those principles inform the Pandorica, the Circle in the Square (for squares are constructed of discrete lines) that represents the union of the Divine and the material Body, without which there would be no material social progress.
December 29, 2014 @ 5:07 am
That last paragraph is the best.
December 29, 2014 @ 5:55 am
I think this is perhaps the point where Phil and I fundementally part ways. I didn't feel that The Pandorica Opens earned its climax, so it didn't resonate with me. Having a lot of the villains gang up on the Doctor? Great idea, but here it came across more as digging through the prop box to see what costumes were available than some grand conspiracy.
I don't see the Daleks teaming up with anyone, least of all the Cybermen, without good reason, and nothing was actually established about how they all got together and why the Autons had a copy of Rory two thousand years before he died, or what the stupid crack had to do with any of it.
To me it was all superficial flash and fireworks, to distract you from the lack of solid storytelling underneath. Like far too much of Moffat's work.
December 29, 2014 @ 7:07 am
Roman Rory is explained pretty succinctly – he is a reproduction based on psychic residue from Amy's room. When River discovers the house having been broken into, among the things she finds is a photo of Rory and Amy in their fancy dress costumes. (His unintended faithfulness to the original is attributed to the power of Amy's memory from long-term crack exposure.)
The Daleks' team up was prompted by all of time being about to go splat, even Daleks don't want to un-exist and they're not above feigning helpfulness. The cracks were damage from the 'splat' spreading outwards.
December 29, 2014 @ 7:32 am
I ENJOY this episode, but if one looks remotely critically at it there are some irksome things. A friend of mine cannot bring himself past his hatred of the scene where a Dalek pleads for mercy at the mere mention of River Song's name. I have a similar distaste for the same character's ability to be taught to fly the TARDIS in a sequence of events not unlike every child's first attempt at self-insert Mary Sue fiction. Years later, the most problematic thing about this episode is that the TARDIS still does not have a feasible reason for exploding, other than some vague hand-wavy-ness that a bad person blew it up despite having absolutely no method of doing so.
On a more minor note, the fact that the Daleks managed to travel back in time to convince races that had no beef with the Doctor at this point that he needed to be sealed away for all eternity is rather head-scratching. The fact that the Doctor's speech is ultimately pointless also hurts the episode's integrity on a fan-only level.
December 29, 2014 @ 8:00 am
Excellent, @Jarl. I'm not going to look this up to check every last detail, because I want it to be correct.
December 29, 2014 @ 8:03 am
Jarl's post above has one solid method for a bad person to blow the TARDIS up. Otherwise, we could blame it on a Silence confessor slipping on board. (I'd rather blame it on a Silence confessor personally, but I think Jarl's explanation is the one Moffat had in mind.)
If the Daleks can travel back in time, they can ferry other races along with them.
December 29, 2014 @ 8:07 am
We finally made it to the fireworks factory.
I don't personally find this story to be quite everything this essay says it is, but given that I disagree that the Moffat era is the pinnacle of Who it would be literally impossible for that to be the case. It has, however, finally given me a justification for the 'Doctor goes back in time and rescues himself' resolution – although the concept of the Doctor being able to do that fundamentally breaks the show, he can only do it when the show is already fundamentally broken. That makes sense to me.
December 29, 2014 @ 8:27 am
Seeing all of this series in a marathon, it did pay off for me.
Even if watching certain episodes of the RTD era or Clara's (which she is a great charater in her own right), this two parter solified that, even if I end up watching beyond this era of the show, this version of the TARDIS will be seared in my heart.
December 29, 2014 @ 8:34 am
I think you'll find those are highly personal "irksome things" – as I love both of those parts. The TARDIS conspiracy as outlined by Jarl above is also the one I subscribe to, so I have no problem with the TARDIS blowing up either.
The point of the Pandorica speech is to correspond with the speech on the hospital roof in The Eleventh Hour. We're tricked into thinking that the Doctor is yet again "The man who can turn an army around at the mention of his name", but (as great as the speech is) it's all very unsatisfying. What, again? I could accept this working on the Atraxi, but with all this lot as well? How rubbish. But then it's meant to be: the Doctor's being arrogant here, and a speech really isn't going to cut it this time. We soon see him punished for his hubris as he's dragged into the Pandorica, feet kicking uselessly at the ground. But the audience is punished along with him, punished for allowing ourselves to be suckered, and forced to watch our narrative collapse in front of our eyes. No more Doctor Who for you.
Well…perhaps something'll turn up next week.
December 29, 2014 @ 8:55 am
The speech sounds like hubris, except that when we get to the conclusion, it isn't run away, but rather the bathetic 'let somebody else go first'. Followed by the Doctor's even more bathetic 'that should buy us half an hour'.
December 29, 2014 @ 9:15 am
I gather it's gonna be like the last half hour of Return of the King.
December 29, 2014 @ 10:26 am
the protagonist trying to provoke a narrative collapse, and that's inherently unstable and unsatisfactory for an ongoing story.
I dunno — it worked for Quantum Leap, and probably quite a few other more obvious "I just wanna be normal again" examples I'm failing to think of offhand. But I get your general point.
December 29, 2014 @ 10:27 am
I gather it's gonna be like the last half hour of Return of the King.
If you mean frustratingly light on Sam/Frodo makeout sessions, I fear you're probably right. 🙁
December 29, 2014 @ 10:49 am
All this comment and no one has mentioned the Fez? Fezzes are cool.
December 29, 2014 @ 10:53 am
Looking back at my own commentary, which was really underwritten on account of being mainly for my own benefit at the time, it seems that I really enjoyed "Pandorica" but was left kind of cold and perplexed by "Big Bang," wondering and worrying about what events of Season 5, if any, had been negated. It's probably at least down to the influence of this blog that it seems silly of me to have cared so much.
When I think about it now, I find I'm not all that excited by the prospect of rewatching "Pandorica" (even at the time I remarked "For about 34 minutes it seems pretty silly…big, fast, loose, very kitchen-sink with the monsters and the gratuitous CGI"), but I remember "Big Bang" as a hell of a lot of fun followed by a pretty legitimately moving sequence starting with the Doctor tracking back through his adventures and then the speech to Amy.
About that speech: those are the ones I treasure. I'm clearly "not in my right mind" because I can't abide the grandstanding speeches; when I think about moments in New Who that make me cringe, it's typically stuff like "what do you never put in a trap? me," "basically: run," or "the Doctor’s speech to the assembled fleet of bad guys." Though, to be fair, as David noted above it's nicely undercut by the Doctor's own comments and the fact that they're all up there like "ha ha, shit, he has no idea what's coming." It's the quiet speeches that do it for me. That bedside monologue is the one, man.
In hindsight, then, though I'll never like this as much as Phil does (who could? I guess Moffat, maybe), I heartily agree it's one of the best finales and some great fucking television.
Even if I'm still not sure, as I wrote back then, "what good is a prison any idiot with a sonic screwdriver can open from the outside?"
December 29, 2014 @ 11:19 am
She's not only in the Tardis, she's messing around with two big tubes in a scene very reminiscent of when she dies in Forest of the Dead. I'm guessing that's deliberate. And, in the loop, she's saying "I'm sorry my love". At the time, I assumed she was apologising for not having fixed it, but this is a better reading.
December 29, 2014 @ 1:07 pm
Yes, sorry: typo obviously.
December 29, 2014 @ 3:46 pm
"I definitely get the impression he planned both Series 5 and 6 very carefully."
Series 6, perhaps less so, but those highs… oh, they are SO high. And then we reach the tedium of Series 7, and oh do I still wish Matt Smith hadn't ended his run with such a blah series. 🙁
December 29, 2014 @ 3:56 pm
I remember, watching "The Big Bang" for the first time (on Dailymotion — SORRY! — because this was before American and British broadcasts were synched up); the recap ends… and I gasped at the opening shot. It was "The Eleventh Hour" again!
And at that moment, I felt… magic. I felt possibilities, unlimited… I felt an awe come over my soul. And I knew, at that moment, that Moffat had me. Hook, line, and sinker.
I've wriggled off his line since, but that moment… I am still amazed at what awe it brings me. The child at heart, the joy of infinity…
December 29, 2014 @ 6:15 pm
The Doctor describes it further than that, it's literally Rory's soul in the robot, which is why he remembers it when it comes back. Remember, in the show's cosmology, one of the few consistencies is that souls exist as a real, physical phenomenon. This is what Cybermen steal from humans, what Regeneration batters and deep fries but never destroys, what the Library saves, what the Autons captured when they made a Rory duplicate. In fact, the soul is so real that it can likewise be duplicated, as we see in the Rebel Flesh and Name of the Doctor. Remember, the souffle isn't the souffle, the souffle is the recipe.
Also, as far as I'm concerned, this episode gives further insight into the Time War, via the Doctor describing the remains of creatures that can never have existed as "footprints of the never-were". So that's one half of the Could-Have-Been King's army, creatures who have no past and thus are perhaps immune to being rewritten by time travelers. Tamun Shud, perhaps?
December 29, 2014 @ 10:43 pm
I also disliked the scene where the Dalek begged River for mercy. I don't have a problem with a weakened Dalek being afraid of River Song and understanding that among all the Doctor's "associates," she is the one most likely to have both the means and character to kill a Dalek. I just have a problem with it begging for mercy, because to me, it undermines one of the most iconic moments in Dalek history — when the head Dalek coldly informs Davros that it has no understanding of the word "pity" because it was never programmed into their vocabulary banks.
Also, in retrospect, the TARDIS explosion bugs me because I am an anorak and in hindsight it is a serious plothole. Either the Silence did not realize that blowing up the TARDIS would destroy the entire universe (in which case they are incompetent) or they did … in which case they believed that the outcome of Gallifrey's return would be so bad that the total annihilation of the entire universe would be a preferable outcome which, frankly, seems extreme even for an insane religious movement.
December 29, 2014 @ 10:49 pm
I got to see Sylvester McCoy deliver that speech at DragonCon a few years back. The crowd ate it up, but I didn't think it worked for him any better than it did for Smith. It didn't have either Seven's wry understated sarcasm or any of his righteous anger. Honestly, it felt like a Tennant speech. Or possibly Colin Baker if they added a few more 25-cent words.
December 29, 2014 @ 11:17 pm
"That tone coinciding with the beautiful moment of everything snapping together around the “something old, something new” rhyme, is an emphatically well delivered catharsis."
"But it’s not all of it. There is something else – something slightly ineffable that refuses to simply be explained. Something that, after all of this buildup, I have to admit that I simply cannot quite capture or depict. And I think that is because it is something that embraces two beautifully contradictory viewpoints."
I think it's utterly perfect this story. Perfect also that the climactic scene is at a wedding, always making me tear up too, as we feel wedded to the show as Amy in her soul felt wedded to the story of the Doctor. But also as Jane mentions above, this is an alchemical wedding of the two viewpoints of the the story, the two types of story happening in that moment.
"Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue." Perfect.
December 30, 2014 @ 12:58 am
The third option is they knew the Doctor would save the day and end the conflict, but they assumed he would be trapped on the other side of the Crack when it finally closed.
That's definitely giving them way too much credit, but the choice literally being end the universe or the Next Great Time War, honestly I can see the logic behind ending the universe.
December 30, 2014 @ 2:09 am
The plan for Series 6 was immaculate. You can tell from how well the complicated structure of the season's story fits together, at least when you're dealing with summaries of each episode that are four or five sentences long.
As we will have seen when Phil examines the production background of Series 6, its major problems weren't in the plan itself, but in the execution. Moffat and the rest of his creative team were just overworked because they were producing Sherlock in such close proximity to Doctor Who, so couldn't put the necessary work in to polish the scripts to relative perfection, as in the previous season which they could prepare and even film concurrently with the broadcast of Tennant's Specials year.
The season begins with an epic two-part adventure as a Doctor from the future is apparently killed by an unknown figure with whom River seems familiar. The Doctor's assassin is linked to the strange child in the astronaut suit who resembles River and who regenerates like a Time Lord at the end of the story. It also explicitly introduces the Silence, which was teased in the previous season through the catchphrase "Silence will fall" and the TARDIS-like ship from The Lodger (the fate of the ship mirrors the structure of the season, where we see it after wrecking before seeing the cause of the wreck, the TARDIS crew's rescue of Amy). The following several episodes include several brief moments where it seems that something is very wrong with Amy.
We then discover, as an epilogue to a haunting story of human duplicates in a gothic castle retrofitted into a refinery, that Amy has been a duplicate herself since the second episode. Rescuing her results in an apparent confrontation with the Silence, though its leader Mme Kovarian escapes with Amy's daughter, who is revealed to have been the mystery child from the premiere and River.
The Doctor sets out to track the child River while the Pond family gets to know each other properly at last. But he's only able to find her once she's a young adult, when the form into which she regenerated at the end of Day of the Moon had been Amy and Rory's close childhood friend. This unstable young girl commandeers the TARDIS and, Kovarian's programming activated by her latest regeneration in the Doctor's presence, tries to kill him and rampages through WWII-era Berlin. But she's psychologically healed with the help of the TARDIS and her mother Amy, and gives up the rest of her regenerations to save the Doctor, to make up somehow for what she did under Kovarian's conditioning.
But the Doctor has still learned of his own death at River's hands at Lake Silencio, and spends the rest of the season facing up to this inevitability. His knowledge of his own future pre-determines the events. So he eventually says goodbye to Amy and Rory, and does one last round of his old friends. Despite a last moment of pique, he accepts the inevitable. But River, kidnapped from her university and forced into the astronaut suit, must act as history determines. Except she doesn't, breaking history to find another way. The Doctor, meanwhile, has figured out his own way to cheat history, and they marry happily at last. River agrees to live out her prison sentence for his murder to help maintain the lie of his death, while they periodically adventure together and her parents Amy and Rory are the only ones who also know the whole truth.
Sounds wonderful, doesn't it?
December 30, 2014 @ 2:19 am
But the Kovarian faction – the breakaway group responsible for all the River stuff, but not the ones at Trenzalore – are supposed to be pretty flat out bonkers aren't they? They're fundamentalists.
December 30, 2014 @ 2:38 am
I'd never heard of the Taman Shud case, and just went on a little wikipedia adventure. Having come to it from here with my Doctor Who hat on (when isn't it?), I was giddily excited by this sentence:
"Victorian detectives disproved all the claims and said that "other investigations" indicated it was unlikely that he was a Victorian."
Until I realized they meant detectives from Victoria, Aust. and not the Paternoster gang…
December 30, 2014 @ 3:20 am
I recall the "hanging on to the TARDIS" scene at the top of The Eleventh Hour was a very last minute decision, to help bridge the gap between eras. When The Big Bang rolls around, it's a bit of a shame when you look at it because, if you were to take that 'bridge' away, the last episode's beginning would directly mirror the opening episode's beginning.
December 30, 2014 @ 4:05 am
Torchwood conducted an investigation and concluded they could neither have sex with him nor use him for drugs. Furthermore, he had a tangential at best connection to the Tenth Doctor, and therefore was irrelevant to their charter.
December 30, 2014 @ 4:12 am
Gilligan's Island, Lost, Star Trek: Voyager, The Incredible Hulk, Battlestar Galactica … it's not uncommon for stories to be about people who are trying to undo the premise of the story.
December 30, 2014 @ 4:18 am
Of course Moffat uses the Time Loop in "Blink" and "Space/Time" too.
December 30, 2014 @ 5:48 am
Indeed – really, it applies to any ongoing story underpinned by a theoretically soluble problem, whether that be toppling the evil empire, finding a way home from this crazy Technicolor country/galaxy/time period, escaping the trapped life of a British sitcom character or whatever. Holy Grails and one-armed men can be very elusive.
December 30, 2014 @ 5:57 am
Hey, now that we know the order of the River posts, does it match anyone's predictions from way back when (and hence perhaps confirm their rationale)?
December 30, 2014 @ 6:53 am
Surely the speech is there to fulfil River's "prophesy" in Forest of The Dead? When she says "I've seen whole armies turn and run away" it's the events at Stonehenge that she's thinking back on.
December 30, 2014 @ 6:54 am
I loved Pandorica – well, except for the Doctor's big speech, but now it's been pointed out that this is a callback to the one in The Eleventh Hour which is then undercut, even that improves – but most of The Big Bang left me cold. Much as I found with Midnight, I was sitting there admiring how it was all put together, kept totally separate from the action. It was a neat puzzle-box that engaged my analytical brain when I was looking for something to engage my emotions. I have found this each time on re-watch too.
It all changes once we actually get to "Big Bang II", though – the Doctor's bedside conversation with Amelia brings me back. And then there's the wedding – which is pretty close to perfect.
So, I can't feel for it the same way as Phil, but still prefer it to most or all of RTD's finales (which are flawed in different ways) – and the mere knowledge that it brought us the TARDIS Eruditorum gives it a new, warm glow. I think I'm going to enjoy it that little bit more next time I rewatch.
December 30, 2014 @ 7:31 am
Beautiful post for a beautiful story. The fact that you've said all or most of what you wanted to say by the time you got to this story only proves what a success TARDIS Eruditorum has been. Congratulations! I can't believe we're winding down.
December 30, 2014 @ 7:40 am
I think all of the modern examples above did eventually resolve. Also, I think in each case there's a body of opinion that they outstayed their welcome.
It's easier to keep the kind of story going with a merely episodic structure, in which nobody ever refers to the fact that David Banner was in a different small town last week and almost succeeded in curing himself in a different way.
December 30, 2014 @ 8:09 am
I'd agree that after a certain point, if you don't want to end the story, you need to find a way to come to terms with the status quo or take it in a different direction. Moore's move makes a lot of sense in that light.
December 30, 2014 @ 9:47 am
I thought that we'd had Day of the Doctor already – we had but it was a 'Time Can Be Written" entry rather than a standard entry.
December 30, 2014 @ 10:05 am
I don't think so. This is the order (I think) with correct order first then the order they appeared in and the relevant Clara disguise 🙂
## replace Order Clara Disguise
1 Silence in the Library The Name of the Doctor River Song
2 Time of Angels The Time of the Doctor Number 2
3 The Pandorica Opens/The Big Bang A Good Man Goes to War Restoration field
4 The Impossible Astronaut/Day of the Moon The Wedding of River Song Empty room
5 A Good Man Goes to War Lets Kill Hitler duplicate of Amy Pond's infant daughter made out of synthetic flesh
6 Lets kill Hitler The Impossible Astronaut/Day of the Moon Swastika
7 The Wedding of River Song The Angels Take Manhattan Frankly alarming haircut
8 The Angels Take Manhattan The Time of Angels/Flesh and Stone (a new caption joke)
9 The Name of the Doctor The Pandorica Opens/The Big Bang (TARDIS Erootitorum)
10 The Time of the Doctor Silence in the Library (TBA)
December 30, 2014 @ 10:17 am
Also I think Eric Gimlin's first guess was close http://www.philipsandifer.com/2014/04/saturday-waffling-april-12th-2014.html
December 30, 2014 @ 12:55 pm
For all its flaws, it was wonderful
December 30, 2014 @ 1:12 pm
The reasoning for the Nine's episode choice made sense, really – the stories chosen were all 90 minutes, considered "Classics" (even if I didn't approve of some of the choices, they've at least gained that reputation) – but were also nice template episodes for that Doctor's era. The choice that leaps out, is of course, "The Empty Child/ The Doctor Dances", but it probably doesn't make sense to use a story by the current showrunner when introducing a Doctor written by the previous showrunner. Therefore, we're left with "Bad Wolf/ Parting of the Ways" (I dearly love AOL/ WW3, but it's not a story that's ideal for showing someone what makes the Ninth Doctor's era great). Obviously, a regeneration story is flawed for the purposes of introducing a Doctor to people, but process of elimination, really.
December 30, 2014 @ 1:17 pm
That's actually genius. Far better than my Garbled "Multiple Lodger TARDISes placed strategically around the Earth during different points the planet's history are all activated at the same time." It throws up a whole bunch of new questions, but who cares? It's awesome
December 30, 2014 @ 4:44 pm
The speech reminded me of John Constantine's speech in Neil Gaiman's Books of Magic, when he bluffs his way out of a room full of supernatural villians with just his reputation:
Zatanna: This boy is under my protection. Anyone who wishes to hurt him must first reckon with me.
Tannarak: My dear Zatanna. Face facts — there's one of you, and over a hundred of us. The child is history.
John Constantine: The boy's mine. And in thirty seconds, me, and him, and the witch, are going to walk out of here. You know who I am. Or you ought to. You know my reputation. Now… does anyone here really want to start something?
Zatanna: John, you don't have any power to speak of. Any one of them could have torn you to shreds. But they… were scared of you. I don't understand what happened back there.
December 30, 2014 @ 9:08 pm
It's interesting, isn't it, how much New Who's conception of the Doctor shares with Constantine. In addition to the "look me up" speeches, there's also that ongoing accusation that the Doctor puts everyone around him in danger all the time. And of course the long coat.
December 31, 2014 @ 12:14 am
Well I went a step further – I always assumed that the Silence only came into existence because the Doctor "reset" the Universe – they weren't in the old one. In other words, they created an even larger-scale version of the Pandorica resolution – they couldn't exist until they caused the problem for which the solution would have the side-effect that they come into existence…
January 3, 2015 @ 4:47 pm
Philip, thank you for your passion and insight into Doctor Who. While I have problems with the glib resolutions to some stories in the Moffat era (I got out of the inescapable Pandorica by escaping to help myself properly escape) the grandeur, humanity and narrative complexity are only laudable. Companions as equals or even superiors, the equal ease with which he uses the past to inform the future (the Crack is the Time Lords giving the Doctor a fresh set of downs) and the future to inform the past (the 39 minute mark of The Big Bang and how it ties into the 19 minute mark of Flesh and Stone; he does wear the jacket in both episodes, perhaps as a reference to a book jacket binding a narrative?) Looking forward to more great insights from you.