In the UK: Saturday 19th June, 6.40pm, BBC1/BBC HD
In the US: Saturday 3rd July, 9/8c, BBC America
We’ve been getting hints all series. Something important is going to happen in the finale. The Pandorica will open. Ooh. What’s inside?
Turns out – spoiler alert – Russell T Davies is inside. Who was expecting that?
After so many ominous warnings, the Pandorica finally opens, but the secret it holds is more terrifying than even the Doctor had anticipated. The first part of the series finale is a fast-moving, monster-packed adventure full of familiar faces and old foes.
Was it any good?
It was, bar a couple of slight issues, very, very good. Certainly, at first watch, despite some ‘legacy problems’ from previous episodes, it was excellent.
In true, but unexpected Rusty fashion, we start with revisitations of the characters from The Beast Below, Victory of the Daleks and Vincent and the Doctor, as well as the return of Stevie’s Captain Jack*: River Song. Something big’s happening, Vincent van Gogh’s drawn it and somehow the Doctor has to get the resulting painting, resulting in Winston Churchill calling River Song and River Song meeting Queen Liz.
That was the first nerd-gasm of the evening.
River Song, complete with time travel band nicked from the wrist of a Time Agent, ends up in Roman times, where the Doctor, having gone to visit the first words in the world (why? More on that later) finds they were written by River and goes to join her.
River’s in Roman times with the marvellous Clive Wood, and she leads the Doctor to Stonehenge, under which is the fabled Pandorica. The Pandorica is a fabled prison for the deadliest thing in the universe and now it’s opening.
Guarding it are the remains of a Cyberman. Now Cybermen have traditionally been "a bit frightening at most, but largely useless". Compared to most Doctor Who enemies, they’ve been very easy to kill and are a bit thick. Yet someone Stevie manages to make these cybermen frightening, giving their individual parts free will and cyberheads the ability to The Thing up, fire poison darts and a whole lot more so they can nick human beings’ heads and cyberise them. They’ve even changed catchphrase.
Second nerd-gasm of the evening.
After Stonehenge starts transmitting the Pandorica’s opening to all and sundry (including Vincent Van Gogh), River Song goes back and grabs some Romans, because there’s a whole bunch of aliens who’d quite like access to the Pandorica, it seems. The Doctor seems convinced that Romans – rather than the US Marine Corps, say – are the deadliest fighting machine in history and they’ll be able to help repel the aliens. River comes back with the Romans, but somehow good old useless Rory has become a Roman after dying in Cold Blood.
Third (minor, slightly disappointing) nerd-gasm of the evening.
Then River goes off to the future in the TARDIS, which is misbehaving, and finds herself at Amy’s house on the scary date mentioned in Flesh and Stone (26th June 2010 – ooh, next week’s episode’s airdate!). There she finds Amy’s house raided and that all this Roman stuff appears to entirely match Amy’s old picture book – Amy also owning a book about Pandora’s box (surprisingly long for something that would probably only last a couple of pages).
Turns out this Pandorica thing is a great big trap for the Doctor, laid by a grand alliance of all his enemies, some of whom are actually budgeted to appear – Daleks, Cybermen, Sontarans, Judoon, Silurians and – shock horror – Nestenes. Yes, the Romans, including Rory, are all Autons, and they want to save the universe from the Doctor, who’s going to destroy it with his prophesied exploding TARDIS.
Fourth (major, totally satisfying) nerd-gasm of the evening.
The ep ends with Doctor stuck into inescapable prison expressly designed for him, Amy being shot by plastic Rory after finally remembering who he is (just as he remembers he isn’t) and dying, and River Song stuck in a TARDIS that’s just about to explode.
Fifth nerd-gasm of the evening. Time for a cigarette, and a decision to make another date with that Stevie Moffat for the same time next week.
So obviously many, many shades of awesome in this episode: the Pandorica, the revelation of the enemy alliance, the exploding TARDIS still to come, the links back to all the previous episodes, Amy and Rory, Amy’s getting killed, the Doctor’s usual bluff turning out to have been counter-bluffed by his enemies and more.
It’s basically a Russell T Davies series finale, with the emotional turned down a couple of notches and the intellectual turned up a couple.
On second consideration, however, there’s a few flaws in the whole thing. The trouble is, you’re not exactly sure how many of the flaws are deliberate.
The Romans? What exactly was the Doctor planning to do with them? Why is the TARDIS about to explode – was River Song’s proud piloting in The Time of Angels all so much BS to cover up for her being the kind of driver who only uses the rear-view mirror to put on lipstick? What did the Doctor’s comment about Amy’s life not making any sense mean? WHY DON’T THEY JUST SHOOT HIM? Do we already know the Doctor survives all this because of River Song already having encountered it in The Time of Angels and having survived? Why did Matt Smith deliver such an inept performance when he’s being escorted into the Pandorica ("Ooh, please don’t kill me. Please. I have to save the universe. Ooh. It’s not that important is it?")? Why doesn’t the Doctor have any kind of decent plan to fight the baddies? Why doesn’t he travel by TARDIS to get to the Pandorica so he’ll have his bag of tricks with him? Why does Rory’s Auton duplicate have his memories, not Amy’s memories of him, which don’t exist anyway because she never met him? Why do I really not care about Rory and Rory and Amy’s relationship?
See? Lot’s of problems. I have my suspicions though that the majority of these aren’t genuine flaws. Okay, not really caring about Rory/Amy is a flaw that’s a legacy left over from previous non-Stevie episodes, but the rest have all the hallmarks of a Stevie/Doctor long-game con.
What that con is is tricky to determine at this stage – well, would be. I have the misfortune to be on a mailing list where there’s a guy who says things like "Isn’t it obvious that…" and then clearly explains every single non-obvious plot nuance that Stevie has (probably) laid down. I won’t ruin it for you, but by the sounds of it (and I can well believe it’s the right explanation), it’s all part of a cunning Doctor plan, involving all the timey wimey stuff that we’ve been noticing over the past series.
If it’s true, damn that Stevie’s good, and this could quite possibly have been the cleverest (and potentially best) bit of Who of the past 25 years. So I’m keeping my fingers crossed it is true and that Stevie isn’t going to do a full Rusty and have the Care Bears turn up and kill all the nasty monsters with love and a magic red button – and is instead merely using all of Rusty’s fan bag of tricks for something even better. Only time will tell.
Could just be a dark, perhaps a little emotion-free, but ultimately very good lead into a disappointing second part. Or it could be the first of the cleverest two-part Doctor Who story and series in recorded history. We’ll just have to wait until next week to find out!
* Okay, so Stevie did pretty much create Captain Jack (at Rusty’s instigation). But you know what I mean.