Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Steven Moffat's First Big Doctor Who Payoff Begins When "The Pandorica Opens!"

The Good: Adequate performances, Moments of plot progression
The Bad: Very light on character
The Basics: "The Pandorica Opens" is a set-up episode that loosely ties together some of the past concepts from earlier in the season of Doctor Who without making a truly coherent narrative of its own.

Whenever serialized television is developed, there comes a key point when the seeding must yield to the payoff. Usually, this occurs when a season of television is written with each episode adding new threads to the overall serialized story and then in the season finale, those scattered plot points and character moments come to a head. Steven Moffat's first season of Doctor Who where he was the executive producer included very limited seeding; there was a crack in Amy Pond's wall from the very first episode that has been following Pond and The Doctor around for the whole season and River Song mentioned that she would see The Doctor next when the Pandorica opens. Beyond that, most of Moffat's debut season was generally episodic, but Moffat attempted to call back elements from all of his prior episodes as the season finale began with "The Pandorica Opens."

"The Pandorica Opens" offered a chance for various guest stars from earlier in the season to pop back up . . . with a limited sense of effectiveness. Instead of organically coming together, Moffat frontloads "The Pandorica Opens" with characters from episodes early in his first season as executive producer, plus Vincent van Gogh from "Vincent And The Doctor" (reviewed here!). The technique is presented entirely gratuitously, with no finesse, as a plot construction to bring River Song back into the Doctor Who narrative once again.

Opening in 1890 France, Vincent van Gogh is distraught, having just painted an image of the TARDIS exploding, Bracewell finds the painting in 1941 and has Winston Churchill deliver the message. Churchill's call is rerouted to 5145, where the imprisoned River Song gets it and hunts down the painting and a vortex manipulator. The Doctor and Amy Pond visit the oldest world in the universe which has a message that has been untranslated . . . until they visit, open the door to the TARDIS and get Song's "Hello Sweetie" message and co-ordinates to go to. Arriving in Roman-occupied Britain, The Doctor and Amy are reunited with River Song, who shows them van Gogh's painting, The Pandorica Opens. The Pandorica is a box, which is holding the most dangerous thing in the universe (according to a legend that The Doctor denies), which The Doctor is convinced is below Stonehenge.

Entering the Underhenge, having failed to notice the Cyberman head nearby, the trio finds the Pandorica. The Underhenge, as it turns out, is a massive transmitter, letting the universe know that the Pandorica is present and it is opening from the inside out. Earth, as it turns out, is surrounded by over 10,000 warships and The Doctor's solution is to use the Romans to fight the alien soldiers. While River Song enlists the aid of the Romans, Amy confronts The Doctor on the engagement ring she found, but gets only cryptic responses from him. When Amy is attacked by a Cyberman, she is rescued by Rory, who reappears as a Roman soldier. As River Song tries to use the TARDIS to get clues into the impending destruction of the universe, she arrives on Earth in 2010, on the date the Doctor previously saw would be the date of the end of the world. But when River Song investigates Amelia Pond's home and becomes convinced that The Doctor is in a trap, her attempt to flee with the TARDIS has disastrous results!

"The Pandorica Opens" includes the whole story of the Pandorica, so there is something odd about the episode and the magnitude of it. While the Pandorica was alluded to a prior episode, the legend of the Pandorica coming up after it has already been found feels cheap. Steven Moffat frequently plays with prophecies in his subsequent seasons of Doctor Who; that the menace of the Pandorica has not been adequately foreshadowed makes it feel like an abrupt universe destroyer. It is hard to take seriously the supposed magnitude of what is supposed to be inside the Pandorica when this is the first time it is referenced.

While the Romans may be the greatest military machine Earth has ever seen, they are technologically outmatched on every front, so the idea that the humans could be enlisted to fight any of the alien armies is utterly ridiculous and further undermines the menace of classic Doctor Who villains like the Daleks, Cybermen, Judoon and others. Having only fifty Romans is just silly.

Rory's return is glossed over in a similarly awkward way. While "The Pandorica Opens" has Rory asking key questions about his relationship with Amy, the mechanism for his return is not satisfactorily explained in "The Pandorica Opens." When Rory was last seen, he was dying and The Doctor let his body be consumed by the traveling tear in the universe. In "The Pandorica Opens," Rory's explanation is "I died and came back as a Roman." That is hardly a coherent concept for a character resurrection. The Doctor's insistence that Rory never existed plays as ridiculous given that Rory did exist, was erased, and has now managed to return. Arthur Darvill returns to Doctor Who with a beautifully sad performance as Rory deals with the fact that Amy does not remember him at all.

Karen Gillan has an understated role in "The Pandorica Opens," which makes some sense given that the episode is very plot-focused. Gillan gives one of her less-impressive performances as Amy Pond after Amy is drugged by a Cyberman (with the slowest-acting poison on television!). Gillan's final moments in "The Pandorica Opens" lack the sense of epiphany one would hope for for the magnitude of the character moment. Matt Smith does fine as The Doctor in "The Pandorica Opens," though he is saddled with a lot of exposition. Smith rises to the occasion as The Doctor when he has to solve the major problem of the massive fleet by talking his way out of the potential fight.

Ultimately, "The Pandorica Opens" feels like exactly what it is; a set-up for a second part. But in order to weave the episode together, Steven Moffat makes something that is more nonsensical than it is great or coherent.

[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 works with Tony Curran, please check out my reviews of:
"Penny And Dime" - Daredevil
Thor: The Dark World
X-Men: First Class
The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen
The Mists Of Avalon


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

© 2016 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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