Review: Doctor Who – 5×13 – The Big Bang

A look back at the finale and the fifth series of Doctor Who

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




  • Sk

    There was quite a kiss in the Vampires of Venice, after the fish-beetle blew up.
    As for the finale… the plot was disappointingly linear, and I was not as happy as you were that the resolution to the series’s big plot (‘why did the TARDIS blow up and put holes in the universe?’) was put off until next year (I would have preferred a resolution that provided a springboard for next series, rather than an episode spent up, effectively, a dramatic siding, cleaning up the results of the TARDIS’s big bang rather than answering the big question of what caused it).
    Having said that, there were some great moments. None were quite as good as the dramatic gut-punch reveal of how Rory came to be back last episode, but on the other hand the plot to this episode, while linear, actually made causal sense and wasn’t just lots of padding and set-up, so on balance this one wins.
    In terms of the series as a whole, it had its flaws but its merits have probably outweighed them. I’d say it was a promising start, but I said that five years ago and look what happened.

  • stu-n

    “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.”
    Stevie dealt with that one last week. Doctor to River: ‘Any prison’s easy to get into from the outside. I want to know what I’m facing before I open it.’
    As for the Amy restoration, I’m going with her being pretty much dead until the moment little Amelia touched the outside of the box.

  • MediumRob

    “As for the finale… the plot was disappointingly linear, and I was not as happy as you were that the resolution to the series’s big plot (‘why did the TARDIS blow up and put holes in the universe?’) was put off until next year (I would have preferred a resolution that provided a springboard for next series, rather than an episode spent up, effectively, a dramatic siding, cleaning up the results of the TARDIS’s big bang rather than answering the big question of what caused it).”
    Each to their own, but I like the fact that Stevie is spending the time on plot necessities. The TARDIS blowing up and destroying the universe isn’t something that should be fixable with a Rusty magic button. They should take time. Something that gave us a hint to who or what it was (assuming we’ve just missed it) would have been good. But the Doctor did at least mention it, which, the strange advancement of Ood technology in End of Time, for example, just got completely dropped by Rusty.

  • MediumRob

    “Stevie dealt with that one last week. Doctor to River: ‘Any prison’s easy to get into from the outside. I want to know what I’m facing before I open it.'”
    But the sonic doesn’t work with deadlocks, allegedly, and the Pandorica has deadbolts. So it shouldn’t be so easy that that’s all it takes. But at the very least, you’d have thought the Daleks and co would want to build a prison that would be able to keep the Doctor. Defeats the whole point.
    Possibly, you could argue that they figured they could improve security on the Pandorica once he was in it, not realising that they were going to get turned into ‘images’ by the collapsing universe. But it still leaves you with a crap prison, either way.
    “As for the Amy restoration, I’m going with her being pretty much dead until the moment little Amelia touched the outside of the box.”
    Not what the Doctor says though is it? He says to Rory that she’s mostly dead and that if they stick Amy in the Pandorica’s restoration field that will fix her.

  • Electric Dragon

    “Instead, it turns out the deadlocked Pandorica is really easy to open if you have a sonic screwdriver.”
    The s.s. is at this point (as far as the Alliance is concerned) locked inside the Pandorica with the Doctor.

  • stu-n

    “Not what the Doctor says though is it? He says to Rory that she’s mostly dead and that if they stick Amy in the Pandorica’s restoration field that will fix her.”
    Didn’t he mention that it would also need a sample of Amy’s healthy DNA, which prompted Rory to ask where he was planning to get that from, cueing his trip back to little Amelia?

  • MediumRob

    “Didn’t he mention that it would also need a sample of Amy’s healthy DNA, which prompted Rory to ask where he was planning to get that from, cueing his trip back to little Amelia?”
    Yes, but that’s still “mostly dead” though, isn’t it? Not dead, just mostly dead.
    @Electric Dragon: but the sonic screwdriver specifically can’t work against anything deadlocked and the Pandorica is deadlocked.

  • stu-n

    “Yes, but that’s still “mostly dead” though, isn’t it? Not dead, just mostly dead.”
    Well, it’s obviously an homage to The Princess Bride, so we should just skip to the end. Which is, of course, mawwiage.
    (That can’t be a coincidence, can it?)

  • SK

    Oh, I agree that the TARDIS blowing up should have been dealt with; I just thought that the big plot could have been resolved as well (given that it was hardly an episode lacking padding).

  • MediumRob

    @stu-n: Maybe it is. But it’s still a cheat. You present the viewer with River Song in an exploding TARDIS that visibly destroys the universe, Amy Pond dead, Rory dead and turned into an Auton and the Doctor in the ultimate prison, and with the exception of saving the universe (which takes another 20 minutes), everything’s cleared up within 10-15 minutes, the dead are brought back to life, River Song’s being saved from the exploding TARDIS by the exploding TARDIS itself, Auton Rory’s all good, and the ultimate prison turns out to be easier to get into than the Big Brother house. I’d have liked the Doctor to have have to have worked just a tiny bit harder when presented with those kind of challenges, because they are a bit too much like one of Rusty’s “How can we destroy all the Daleks? Why don’t we just trigger the magic, easy-to-find self-destruct function from this computer?”
    @Electric Dragon: Should also point out that Romana had a sonic screwdriver, and that Sarah Jane has a sonic lipstick, so relying on there only being one sonic screwdriver, particularly with River Song out and about in the TARDIS where there could be 100 spares isn’t a good plan.

  • SK

    Well, that’s what I mean by linear: it’s all obstacle, overcome, obstacle, overcome, obstacle, overcome. There’s no twists or reversals of fortune or moments of revelation.
    The resolution of the ‘who blew up the TARDIS?’ plot could possibly have provided one as the Doctor would then have had an actual enemy who wouldn’t be defeated by episode’s end (as opposed to the Dalek which was just there as padding), or it could have turned out that stopping the TARDIS exploding actually helped the enemy’s plans in some way (maybe they’d hid in the TARDIS and piggy-backed on the recreation of the universe to spread themselves throughout the new universe, corrupting it).

  • SK

    Oh, and when did you drop an episode? There were thirteen in the series, weren’t there?

  • stu-n

    Can we at least agree that it was better than that Bad Wolf nonsense?

  • MediumRob

    “Oh, and when did you drop an episode? There were thirteen in the series, weren’t there?”
    Bugger. Last week’s I put down as 5×11. Ho hum. I’ll fix that in a bit.
    “Can we at least agree that it was better than that Bad Wolf nonsense?”
    Certainly. Or indeed any Rusty finale, although I still like certain aspects of Last of the Time Lords (Jesus Doctor, no; Martha’s family messed up, the Master winning for a year, etc, yes)

  • TemplarJ

    I liked it very much. It made the entire series come into focus for me, and after being excited that Moffatt had described his vision as a ‘dark fairy tale’ it was nice to finally see that happen. I imagine that the climax made more sense on an emotional level than it did as plot (judging by the reaction of the forum dwelling ADHD brigade for whom DOCTOR WHO DIED ON SATURDAY), but that was surely the point. Having been told all year that nothing could be lost as long as you remembered it, making that the punch line worked for me.
    Still not really buying Rory though.

  • Rullsenberg here (in case my sign in doesn’t work). Reviewed the finale. It should be up soon – can’t get my timer to playfair to post it…
    Loved it btw.
    Like you would think I may feel otherwise…

  • Thought it was a fantastic end to the series, even with the rubbish way the Doctor got out of the Pandorica. But it was a great reveal to have Amy inside it as well.
    Loved River Song (though, that pic is v unflattering – her hair looks like a very bad 18thC wig) – particularly the Honey I’m Home/You’re late exchange. She & the Doctor’s relationship is getting ever more interesting. I know what you mean about RTD getting the big emotions in the way that Steven Moffat doesn’t, but I do like the witty ripostes – all very Cary Grant (this maybe because I would love to be able to write romantic comedy like that).
    I did feel a LITTLE cheated at the end, just because it seemed to me the Doctor knew all along it would be ok, which made nonsense of his last sad words to Amy (I loved that bit btw).
    Also not very keen on Amy’s newfound family – they seemed a bit one dimensional, especially the dad, but maybe we’ll get to see more of them next series.
    I also loved Amy’s Something borrowed, something blue speech – wonderful stuff.
    Rob, I didn’t read Amy as being particularly bitchy to Rory when she said she felt sad – she seemed surprised, like she did with Van Gogh, she’s crying but doesn’t know why, because she’s forgotten something important. And I can also forgive her the kiss me comment to the Doctor – people do kiss brides at weddings – it seemed to me a heat of the moment thing, & I am thinking that after all she & Rory have been through together Rory is now confident enough not to worry about that anymore.
    I have been very lax about reviewing this series of Dr Who, but am hoping to get something up this week…

  • MediumRob

    “Rob, I didn’t read Amy as being particularly bitchy to Rory when she said she felt sad – she seemed surprised, like she did with Van Gogh, she’s crying but doesn’t know why, because she’s forgotten something important.”
    I was implying she was a tad insensitive at that point since it takes her nearly forever to say why she’s sad. There’s poor Rory saying you’re supposed to be happy because this is your wedding and she’s going no I’m really really sad, without explaining why!
    “And I can also forgive her the kiss me comment to the Doctor – people do kiss brides at weddings – it seemed to me a heat of the moment thing, & I am thinking that after all she & Rory have been through together Rory is now confident enough not to worry about that anymore”
    And I think you might have misheard Amy’s comment to the Doctor in the TARDIS since it was something along the lines of “wot? No snog in the bushes?”, with Rory more or less just behind her. People do kiss brides at the wedding, but generally not in bushes unless something else is going on…
    Serious or not serious, it’s a tad insensitive either way, don’t you think?
    Important question: what do Rory and Amy remember now? Do they simply remember the Doctor or do they remember all their adventures with him?

  • Oh no, I heard that, thought she was talking about Rory actually. Ah, yes, if it was the Doc she meant, it was a bit crap!! I was also assuming they remember everything, but now it’s all changed hasn’t it, as Amy has her family back, so has some of it now not happened? Hmm, will be interesting to see where they go with that! I do think having married companions is a really great step forward & will be interesting to watch.

  • SK

    She clearly doesn’t remember why she’s sad until she opens River’s diary, though, so at the point where Rory’s asking her why she’s crying she simply can’t tell him (though she could have put it a bit more sensitively: ‘This should be the happiest day of my life but somehow I can’t stop being sad’ rather than just ‘I’m sad, I’m really really sad.’ But Amy wouldn’t be Amy if she cared about other people’s feelings.
    On the kiss, though, she grabs the Doctor by his shirt and says ‘you may definitely kiss the bride’, in front of Rory. That’s a leeeeeetle out of order, you must admit. But again, very Amy.
    Finally: People are saying the new universe is based on Amy’s memories. It can’t be, though. There’s loads of the universe she didn’t see. The impression I got was that the new universe was based on the information stored in the molecules that were in the Pandorica, which yes includes Amy but not her ‘memories’ as such. ‘It’s like cloning a whole being from a single cell’, says the Doctor. The universe is recreated not from Amy’s memories but from information in the molecules.
    The only thing that Amy’s memory does is pull the Doctor back from the other side of the cracks. Memory isn’t mentioned (I think?) during the ‘fix the universe’ bit; only after the universe is fixed, when the Doctor’s trying to get Amy to remember him so he can escape.

  • MediumRob

    “Oh no, I heard that, thought she was talking about Rory actually. Ah, yes, if it was the Doc she meant, it was a bit crap!!”
    Just played back the scene. Doctor in TARDIS by himself. Amy comes in:
    AMY: ‘Oi, where are you off to?’ Rory comes in. ‘We haven’t even had a snog in the shrubbery yet.’
    RORY (slightly pissed off): Amy!
    AMY: ‘Shut up. It’s my wedding.’
    RORY: ‘Our. Wedding.’
    I rest my case.

  • SK

    I’ve been re-watching Joking Apart; I’ve just checked an internet episode guide and am disappointed that the ‘proposal’ episode I’ve just watched seems to be the last flashback one, and that there isn’t an episode set around the actual wedding. That would have been fun. Perhaps the budget wouldn’t stretch to a church. Or an extra.
    Still, all very nostalgic. And bitter. Fool (if you think it’s over), ’cause you said goodbye…

  • SK

    (A church for a second time, I mean. Obviously there’s the church in the first episode).

  • OK Rob. She’s being a cow(-:

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  • MediumRob

    Haven’t watched Joking Apart since it first aired. Or Press Gang. Not big on repeats, me. It was funny though.