Let’s get this out of the way first. I’m a sucker for unnecessarily complex plotting. The more intricate the clockwork, the more elaborately interlocking the movements, the more of a sucker I become. This episode (on some levels this whole season) deftly pushes my buttons. Or winds my clock. Okay, forget the metaphor.
Then again, Doctor Who as a whole pushes so many of my buttons, not least the one labelled nostalgia, that it bypasses many of my critical faculties — with the huge caveat that it has to pass some minimum quality thresholds. It’s not that I’ll swallow anything. I hated much of ‘The Sound of Drums’ and ‘Last of the Time Lords’, for example. But on balance I’m a fairly easy mark.
So with that established, let me just say that I love love love this episode. Like some of Russell T Davies’ material I’m loving it in some ways despite my better judgement. It’s often derivative, it’s contrived, it appears to have a fair few plot-holes. But it’s also ambitious, clever, imaginative, and synthesises its influences into something I feel I haven’t seen before. Unlike some of RTD’s material I’m loving the detail and care that’s gone into crafting this particular rollercoaster ride, rather than just being bludgeoned by its bombast.
An example of the difference between the two approaches is the audacious opening that straddles several eras, settings and characters from the season to date in slightly mind-bending ways. Clearly these scenes were shot at the same time as the relevant episodes, evidencing a degree of forward planning that would never have entered RTD’s head. This is no mere loose chain of slightly illogical foreshadowing. Another great example is the climax of the episode leading to the cliffhanger, as the Doctor is dragged into the Pandorica to the strains of a sweeping, elegaic classical theme that’s counterpointed beautifully with the action, as opposed to that identical ‘DUM DUM DUM da da DIDDY DUM, DIDDY DUM’ Murray Gold bombast that accompanied every single who finale to date. I’d go so far as to say that this is Gold’s best score so far. It may riff repeatedly on John Williams, but that’s only because the action is riffing Raiders of the Lost Ark.
I particularly like the way the episode unfolds through a series of unexpected revelations. It’s reasonably forseeable, IMO, that the legend of the creature in the Pandorica fits the Doctor, from a certain point of view. What I didn’t foresee is the reversal: that the Pandorica is opening to receive him, not let him out. Great misdirection. River’s discovery at Amy’s house is another great moment that made the hairs stand up on the back of my neck, even when I didn’t quite know what it meant.
Again Matt Smith delivers a blistering performance. As always he brings the funny and the eccentric, but there are some nuances here too. I really like his delivery of the myth of the Pandorica, and his tender scene yearning for Amy to remember Rory is superb. His rock star speech is just this side of too big, but it was a scene that demanded chutzpah, and his plea as the Pandorica closes is pitch perfect.
Karen Gillan also rises to the occasion. She’s improved a lot in the latter part of the season, increasing the range and depth of her emotion, and I’ve never found her relationship with Rory so affecting as it is here. It’s fair to say that Rory’s death is the best thing that ever happened to that pairing, dramatically. They’ve wrung more poignancy from it since than they ever did when the two were together. The device of Amy crying without knowing why is lovely.
The cliffhanger is as hangy as it gets. I’m quite certain that next week’s episode will involve a great deal of timey-wimeyness, a significant quantity of spacey-waceyness, and will essentially amount to a big red reset button. However for the first time in modern Who I’m equally confident that the reset will be earned, organically, and will tie into the season to date. I can see the outline of certain elements, but I can’t put it all together yet. And that’s as it should be. Quite clearly The Doctor is at the centre of it all. Somehow. What’s really got me puzzled is who is saying “Silence Will Fall” in a sinister voice.
Above all this episode is FUN. Smart, well-made, fun. My main complaint is that I really can’t be expected to wait a whole week to find out how it ends.
* That photo of Amy as a policewoman and Rory as a Roman… has she been dressing him up as her fantasy blokes again? 🙂 Or was Rory a kiss-o-gram too?
* The trap is reminiscent of the final episode of Sapphire and Steel.
* The Pandorica set is very atmospheric, and the staging is of course extremely reminiscent of the Indiana Jones movies.
* The Cyberman head recalls the head that grows legs in John Carpenter’s The Thing, while the Cyberman reassembling itself is reminiscent of Ted Hughes’ The Iron Man (or the very different movie version Brad Bird’s The Iron Giant).
* What is so odd about Amy’s life? Nothing this week explains it. Intriguing.
* Rory’s duplicate who can be talked into being human is very close to Bracewell, although admittedly in this case it doesn’t work out well, and it feels more organic this time around.
*The Cyberman head going “chomp chomp” is a wee bit silly.
With a plot this complex there are bound to be a few holes, although everything is so timey-wimey it’s hard to say what does and doesn’t constitute a continuity error, but there are quite a few things that don’t quite sit right:
* Bracewell and Churchill are discussing the Doctor, but didn’t Bracewell go AWOL at the end of ‘Victory of the Daleks’? Not inexplicable, but slightly jarring.
* River is already in the Storm Cage prior to the events of this two-parter, so at this stage in her timeline she’s either already killed the very good man (who may or may not be the Doctor) or she’s in there for a separate hitherto unmentioned crime. I’d been assuming this plot point would pay off in the finale, but perhaps not.
* Why exactly would basing a scenario on Amy’s childhood interests make it more credible to the Doctor? The most you could say is that it fills in the required background knowledge of Earth, but the Pandorica is a sheer invention.
* I think we’re led to believe that these races seeded the Pandorica myth – but must have done so in the distant past. At what stage did this plan begin? The cracks are at all points in space and time, but if it was long enough ago that they created Stonehenge, why wait all this time for the pay off? Did they do it through time travel or did they live through it chronologically? How indeed are all the modern Who incarnations of the aliens hanging around in the 2nd Century AD?
* What was with the evidence of a laser battle at Stonehenge? Was that all local colour created to sell the fiction to the Doctor? Likewise what was the point of the lone Cyberman?
* Why does hallucinogenic lipstick work on a plastic Roman, even one who believes he’s a Roman?
* Where exactly has this Van Gogh painting been through recorded history, and why has the Doctor never seen it?