Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Burdened By The Preposterous, "The Big Bang" Explodes With Mixed Credibility!

The Good: Decent performances, Concept of theme
The Bad: Light on character development, Vast amounts of plot exposition to simply explain what the hell happened in the prior episode and what is happening within the episode
The Basics: Steven Moffat tries desperately to dig Doctor Who out of the hole he dug for it with "The Big Bang," an episode that truly only works if one shuts off all rationality.

Doctor Who had a pretty formidable body of season finales under its belt before Steven Moffat took over as executive producer and had to form his own story end. "The Big Bang" was the first episode where Moffat had to create a story end and something that would encourage viewers tune in to the next season of Doctor Who. "The Big Bang" picks up immediately after "The Pandorica Opens" (reviewed here!) and it is a season finale that begins with a formidable weight against it. In order to truly discuss and evaluate "The Big Bang," it is impossible to not mention several key plot points from "The Pandorica Opens" that would be considered spoilers (were the material still fresh and new!).

When I write that "The Big Bang" opens from a disadvantageous position, it is because much of "The Pandorica Opens" is utter nonsense, both within the context of Doctor Who and in terms of basic physics and science. "The Pandorica Opens" found the many enemies of The Doctor, having realized that The Doctor and the TARDIS are responsible for cracks in the fabric of the universe that will lead to the destruction of the universe allying with one another to create a trap for The Doctor that he would be unable to resist. The Daleks, Sontarans, Cybermen, Judoon and other races work together to create the Pandorica in order to trap The Doctor and attempt to forestall the end of the universe. One of the few truly brilliant moments Steven Moffat created in "The Pandorica Opens" is the revelation that all of The Doctor's traditional enemies have come together to save the universe from The Doctor; The Doctor is, it appears, the villain and universe destroyer.

But while that moment is cleverly written and revealed well through the direction of Toby Haynes, it falls apart completely under any real scrutiny. First, the idea that all of the disparate enemies of The Doctor could and would work together for a common purpose is troublesome - "Doomsday" (reviewed here!) illustrated that the Cybermen and Daleks could not overcome their initial programming to stop shooting at one another and there is no reason to credibly believe that either race would not continue being so arrogant as to believe that they could stop The Doctor without any other race's help. So, first, "The Pandorica Opens" is predicated on the idea that one of The Doctor's enemies correctly identified the cracks in the universe as the work of The Doctor and then managed to talk the others into working with them to stop The Doctor. Which leads to the second problem; the trap constructed by using the memories of Amy Pond is vastly more creative than anything any race The Doctor has ever fought has illustrated in the past. Moreover, the only reason to devise a trap based on the Companion's memories is to make it relatable to the human audience of Doctor Who; the various enemies of The Doctor hinge everything on creating a plan that could intrigue Amy Pond, but she is a passenger through "The Pandorica Opens," merely following along as clues from other people put her in the right time and place. The reason this is a ridiculous idea is two-fold; The Doctor did not follow clues from Amy Pond's memories to locate the right time and place to be (he followed co-ordinates given to him by River Song!) and the enemies of The Doctor are hinging everything on a scenario that would interest Amy Pond on the belief that Amy Pond would be The Doctor's Companion at the time. The problem with creating an end of the universe type event and setting it in a non-linear narrative is an exponentially complex storytelling problem. The bulk of the episode occurs in approximately 200 A.D., so the presence of the various alien races around Earth means that at least one of them has time-travel abilities. While the Daleks have their "emergency temporal shifts," none of the other races depicted in "The Pandorica Opens" were present near Earth in this time period and - because I am not a classic Doctor Who scholar, I don't know if - the Cybermen might not even have been created yet. That said, with the Daleks identifying The Doctor as the cause of the time cracks and having time travel abilities, it seems like if they wanted to prevent the end of the universe, they would use this as the opportunity to visit Gallifrey and erase The Doctor from existence before any of this nonsense.

So, "The Pandorica Opens" is fraught with conceptual problems and on a plot front, its climax finds The Doctor being stuck in the Pandorica, Amy shot by the Rory robot, and River Song attempting to exit the TARDIS as it explodes. The Doctor claims that when the TARDIS explodes, it will put out the stars (not exactly sure how that works) but the last shot of "The Pandorica Opens" certainly implies that The Doctor was right and the end of the universe has come. So, "The Big Bang" opens immediately burdened by the question, "What do you do when the universe has ended?"

The answer, of course, is one has to find a way to save the universe. But, from a storytelling perspective, it's hard to sell the idea of saving the universe after it is already destroyed. "The Big Bang" is burdened by trying to make it credible that Earth somehow survives in a universe that never existed. And it's an impossible sell.

Opening in 1996, Amelia Pond is praying for help with the crack in her wall and The Doctor does not materialize. Amy dreams of the stars, which there are none of in the night sky. That night, her house is visited by a stranger who drops off a brochure for the National Museum, with the Pandorica circled and Amelia drags her Aunt Sharon to the museum, where she follows notes directing her and is in the museum after it closes. Amelia approaches the Pandorica and it opens, revealing Amy Pond inside.

Flashing back to Roman-occupied Britain, Rory is speaking to Amy's body when The Doctor appears, gives Rory his sonic screwdriver and tells Rory to rescue him from the Pandorica. Doing so, The Doctor places Amy into the Pandorica, which will restore her to life with a DNA sample from her living self and The Doctor uses River's vortex manipulator to leap forward to 1996. The plastic Rory soldier stays with the Pandorica to keep Amy safe. Arriving in 1996, The Doctor ties up the loop by going back to visit Rory and leave the clues for Amelia Pond before a version of himself from 12 minutes in the future arrives and promptly appears to die. When The Doctor realizes that Earth's sun is the exploding TARDIS, he rescues River and comes up with a plan to restore the universe by destroying the Pandorica.

"The Big Bang" is packed with conceptual inconsistencies. The Pandorica being employed petrified the Daleks and others near it, according to The Doctor because they were erased from existence. Amy Pond needed her own DNA in order for the Pandorica to heal her. And yet, somehow it is the light from the Pandorica that is explained to heal the Dalek . . . how did that happen without Dalek DNA?

The set-up for "The Big Bang" is that the universe ends in 2010 when the TARDIS exploded because The Doctor was not in the TARDIS when River opened the doors to it. The ripple effect back in time was that the stars went out in Roman times. The explanation from The Doctor is that the Pandorica's restoration energy is responsible for resurrecting the petrified Dalek. The Pandorica was designed as a prison to keep The Doctor from destroying the universe; why would it possess something designed to resurrect its captive? In simpler terms, "The Big Bang" asks the viewer to believe that all of the Doctor's enemies came together to prevent the Universe's destruction and to do that, they would want to keep him alive. There is no logical sense to that; if The Doctor is going to destroy the universe, the easiest way to prevent that from happening would be to eliminate The Doctor, not keep him alive.

"The Big Bang" is a plot-heavy episode. For sure, the concept of the episode hinges on the idea that Amy Pond's memories could be used by the Pandorica to reboot the universe. The theme of "The Big Bang" is an intriguing one; that memory can create and the universe has a decidedly human component to it.

The Doctor has a very "hand's on" role in saving the universe in "The Big Bang." When The Doctor takes the Pandorica into the exploding TARDIS, he has a very obvious heroic quality to him and it triggers a backward trip through the season to explain a throwaway moment from "Flesh And Stone" (reviewed here!). Matt Smith sells the monologues from The Doctor surprisingly effectively and Smith's plays sadness with exquisite precision near the end of the episode.

What "The Big Bang" does very effectively is finally answer and resolve the issue of the crack in Amy Pond's wall. "The Big Bang" manages to define the crack and seal it . . . with results that are almost as tough to buy as the episode's initial set-up.

"The Big Bang" is problematic on its own and in the larger context of Doctor Who becomes an impossible series of paradoxes, not the least of which is that it is River Song who sparks Amy Pond's memories of The Doctor. Of course, at the time "The Big Bang" was created, viewers had no idea just how ridiculous that notion would be (i.e. that in a universe devoid of the Doctor, River Song would be able to attend Amy and Rory's wedding . . . when she doesn't have her vortex manipulator!), but in retrospect, "The Big Bang" becomes one of the most conceptually convoluted, absolutely ridiculous episodes of the modern Doctor Who.

[Knowing that single episodes are an inefficient way to get episodes, it's worth looking into Doctor Who - The Complete Fifth Season on DVD or Blu-Ray, which is also a better economical choice than buying individual episodes. Read my review of the debut season of Matt Smith as The Doctor here!

For other big season finales, please check out my reviews of:
"The Parting Of The Ways" - Doctor Who
"Legendary" - DC's Legends Of Tomorrow
"The Expanse" - Star Trek: Enterprise


For other Doctor Who episode and movie reviews, please visit my Doctor Who Review Index Page!

© 2017 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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