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Review: Doctor Who - 5x13 - The Big Bang

Posted on June 28, 2010 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

River Song in The Big Bang

In the UK: Saturday 26th June, 6.05pm, BBC1/BBC HD
In the US: Saturday 10th July, 9/8c, BBC America

Damn him. My 'obviously' guy was 90% right!

Spoilers, a review of the episode and a review of the series after the jump.

Plot
The Doctor is gone, the TARDIS has been destroyed, and the universe is collapsing. The only hope for all reality is a little girl who still believes in stars...

Was it any good?
Apart from a few slight cheats, this was probably the best episode since The Eleventh Hour. This is despite my basically knowing how most of it was going to pan out.

My 'obviously' guy last week predicted what was going to happen. Just so you know what I've been having to live with for the past seven days, his prediction was:

"The Doctor not only has to escape via the cracks, unhappen himself, be remembered by Amy, go back in time, prime Amy to remember him, but also get Amy back to the real universe, in which her house's many empty rooms are filled with her real vanished family!"

Bastard.

But as you can see, not 100% accurate. Because we were all expecting the universe's most inescapable prison to be, you know, hard to get out of. Instead, it turns out the deadlocked Pandorica is really easy to open if you have a sonic screwdriver. Damn it, if only the Doctor's enemies had ever seen him use one of those and had been prepared.

Also on the "Really, Stevie? Have you been talking to Rusty again?" school of cop outs, Amy's "partly dead" not fully dead? Huh.

So those really very big quibbles of the "with one bound, he was free" school - in fact, I'd go further than quibbles and say, major piss takes - made me think for a dreaded few minutes that no nu-Who finale could ever make the blindest bit of sense.

But soon, we were starting to see the signs that Stevie Moffat was in charge. Once we'd escaped from the land of cop-outs, our Stevie was doing his level best to give us a finale that at least had some kind of underlying logic, even if it was timey-wimey logic. But not just logic - some atypical emotion as well.

So after a few dozen uses of Stevie's standard timey-wimey trope - the future event that causes the past event to happen - we get to the point where Amy's going to be okay, the Doctor is out of the Pandorica and he's saved River Song, but the universe is still going to end.

It's at this point that a warming feeling struck me. Every time my little brain said "Hang on - why doesn't…?", Stevie almost instantly inserted a line of dialogue into the episode to explain it all.

Why is there still a sun if all the stars in the universe have exploded? Oh.

Why is there actually an Earth in such a universe? Oh.

Why is Rory Rory, rather than a selection of Amy's memories? Oh.

Even some of the questions that we had last week ("What did the Doctor mean about Amy's life not making sense?") were being answered. Okay, the question about Matt Smith's delivery of some of his lines, wasn't - you can imagine just how feral David Tennant's struggle against the Autons would have been in comparison to Smith's - but you can't have everything.

Stevie had been paying attention. He'd been thinking things through. He knew we would be too. Time to relax.

Changes
So then the Doctor gets shot by a stone Dalek*. Blimey. Wasn't expecting that - except in the sense we'd seen the Doctor dying a few moments earlier, and clearly, Stevie was working on a different level at that point, because you don't have the Doctor die in your finale.

The Doctor then (despite being dead) comes up with a cunning plan** to save the universe that will, unfortunately, result in his disappearance from reality. Nearly dead Doctor – good bit of work by Matt Smith – takes the Pandorica off to his exploding TARDIS, the whole universe is fixed and we're only halfway through the episode.

So this is when Stevie demonstrated for those who've been paying close attention what a clever old sausage he is. Yes, virtually all that weird stuff people have been picking up on throughout the season turns out to have been deliberate moves by our Stevie, not just continuity blunders et al. We get to see that yes, in Flesh and Stone, that really wasn't the same Doctor making that speech to Amy as the one in the rest of the episode, for example.

The whole trek through time for the Doctor was just one of the instances of actual emotion from our Stevie this episode. We'd already had Rory finally manning up and giving the Doctor a good punching for not caring enough about Amy; then we had the heartbreaking concept of Rory waiting 2,000 years by the side of the Pandorica, protecting Amy the whole time; and we had River Song getting all angry at the Dalek for killing the Doctor. It wasn't quite the passion of the Rusty years, but at least people seemed to care about something for a change.

And then, of course, Amy gets her life back. She gets parents. She gets Rory. Suddenly, all the things that somehow seemed wrong with Amy, that made her seem hard to know and like, were fixed. Clever Stevie - it was a ruse the whole time. He does like to play the long game.

And then she gets the Doctor back. Cue the love triangle. Except it's a love square.

The differences
So how is this all different to a Rusty finale, beyond a lack of massive space fights and cameos by anyone who was mentioned in Heat last week? Apart from the fact that good as Matt Smith is, he's just no David Tennant, we have to look at Stevie's plans. As someone remarked to me recently, the big difference between Rusty and Stevie's writing is that the more you look at Rusty's the less it make sense, whereas the more you look at Stevie's, the more it makes sense.

So even though we have a new bundle of questions - like how River Song knew to turn up to Amy's wedding and give her her diary - they're all relatively easy to explain with a little thought (it's a future River Song), it makes a sort of sense and any questions you have you feel are already being solved in Stevie's head.

It's actually quite nifty of Stevie to not just come up with a series-long arc, but one that lasts two series: why did the TARDIS explode and cause all those cracks in the universe? If we were expecting answers this time, we'd have been disappointed, but Stevie's confident enough in us that he makes it clear that he knows what questions we're asking and to assure us they will be answered if we're patient. In Rusty's hands, not only would Rusty not have answered the questions, he'd have forgotten they ever needed answering and laughed at you for being a nerd and even caring.

But the emotional content is still an area where Rusty rules. This was the first episode where Rory and Amy actually seemed like a couple, as though they loved each other. True, it could be that Amy needed to be 'fixed' by the return of her parents for that to happen, but until now, they've never so much as kissed (IIRC).

Yet despite what should be a lovely moment, our Stevie undercuts the whole thing by having Amy being somewhat of an insensitive biatch, not just by crapping all over Rory's feelings on her wedding day by telling him she's miserable, but basically propositioning the Doctor. Not for Stevie a few moments of pure happiness: it all needs to be undermined somehow. Rusty would know how to have handled it all and he'd have probably have had us weeping buckets with a montage of flashbacks of Rory saving Amy and the Pandorica throughout history, rather handing everything over to Nick "the voice of the Daleks" Briggs to narrate for a museum display.

The series overall
Overall, it's been damn fine. Stevie's scripts, with the possible exception of The Beast Below, have all been ridiculously good. We got the equally ridiculously good Vincent and the Doctor from Richard Curtis and the pretty good Amy's Choice from another comedy writer, Simon Nye. Meanwhile, Gareth Roberts'
The Lodger and Toby Whithouse's Vampires of Venice weren't as good but were enjoyable, throwaway fun all the same. Is the lesson, given Stevie's background, that only someone who's written for a sitcom should be allowed to write for Doctor Who, since they'll turn in the best scripts?

Better still, outside of these top episodes, there have been relatively few stinkers: Victory of the Daleks by Mark Gatiss, which might have been good as a two-parter, but as a one-parter was little more than Christmas toy product placement; The Hungry Earth, which was by Chris Chibnall; and Cold Blood, which was by Chris Chibnall. See what Stevie did wrong there? He hired Mark Gatiss and Chris Chibnall.

So, probably, in terms of script quality, the best of the nu-Who series so far and if Stevie had simply had some better writers, it could have been an even better series.

But not necessarily.

What we also learned was that Russell T Davies was a mighty fine script editor, and that Steven Moffat, while a great writer, tends to let other writers' scripts through with less editing than Rusty ever would have. There was far greater variability between episodes in terms of how the Doctor, Amy and Rory spoke and acted than there was between the Doctor and Donna acted, for example.

We also learned - or began to appreciate afresh - how much Rusty was prepared to give us in terms of comedy, big moments and emotion, in a way that Stevie wasn't. True, that restraint was often a good thing, but the Doctor/Amy relationship was never really explored. The Doctor was the Doctor, Amy was the companion and the whole relationship was taken as a given. We never got time really to breath or explore either as a character, beyond giving them a few noticeable character traits (11th Doctor - bit of a duffer, but cunning; Amy - bit damaged, bit spikey, likes blokes).

In short, while the series had the intelligence that so many of Rusty's scripts lacked (obvious Rusty exceptions being Utopia, Midnight and Turn Left ), it lacked the colours of Rusty's Doctor Who. And actually, colour is what makes most people want to watch a TV show, rather than do a crossword, say.

Going forward
So, as mentioned, we already have questions to be answered next series, which can only be something to be joyfully anticipated. Anyone holding out for Omega to turn up as the most likely cause of the TARDIS's problems? We'll just have to wait and see, but I vote: no, of course not.

But we also have, as well as our first ever married companions, an almost full return to the series set-up for the first and second Doctors. The Doctor is pretty much the Troughton Doctor, with a Hartnell TARDIS, accompanied by the standard Hartnell/Troughton companions: one male, one female.

It's a nifty touch by the unsentimental Moffat - allow the Doctor to be a weird, unfanciable old (at heart) bloke while getting rid of the possibility of Doctor-companion romance by making sure she's married and her husband is with her. It also allows Stevie the chance to keep bringing back River Song as the Doctor's Irene Adler/Phillippa Vale so that he's not entirely a romantic dead end. No really big emotional flare-ups between jealous women this way, either, the limiting of soap opera moments seemingly the Moff's big aim this series.

I do hope that next series, as well as burning Chris Chibnall's business card, the Moff sticks with his current plans and approach, but remembers that we need some emotion to bring the otherwise sterile sci-fi world to life. It would also be really good if the BBC could actually splash out a bit on one of its most popular shows, since I suspect the Moff would have really gone wild this series if he could have afforded it. Instead, we ended up with three Daleks and some cybermen having a whinge as the full extent of the action in a two-part finale.

So fingers-crossed, Stevie builds on the excellent foundation he already has, corrects the few minor wobbles, and either does a bit more editing on other writers' scripts or finds some writers that don't need quite so much editing. If he does, that'll be a show to end all shows.

* Which turns out to be just a ghost, rather than the heavily theorised and much more interesting option of the "Weeping Angel"-ised Dalek - after all, isn't the Dalek eye-stalk just a TV screen for the beastie inside?

** In the context of the pseudo-scientific world of Doctor Who cunning, in which there are such things as restoration fields that can bring the dead back to life and heal atoms damaged by TARDISes

Related entries

  • June 30, 2010: Question of the week: what was your favourite Doctor Who story this series?
    What was your favourite Doctor Who story this series?
  • July 1, 2010: Liz Shaw's Best Bits: Spearhead from Space
    The first of Liz Shaw's Best Bits: Spearhead from Space

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