A Conversational Journey through New Who – S05E12/13 – The Pandorica Opens/The Big Bang

David is coming to New Who for the first time, having loved Classic Who as a kid. Tehani is a recent convert, and ploughed through Seasons 1 to 7 (so far) in just a few weeks after becoming addicted thanks to Matt Smith – she’s rewatching to keep up with David! Tansy is the expert in the team, with a history in Doctor Who fandom that goes WAY back, and a passion for Doctor Who that inspires us all.

We are working our way through New Who, using season openers and closers, and Hugo shortlisted episodes, and sometimes a couple of extra episodes we love as our blogging points. Just for fun!

Tansy and Tehani love this season so much we’re making David do more work – we’re changing up our usual plan and reviewing each episode, in sets of two.

“The Pandorica Opens / The Big Bang”
Season five, episodes twelve and thirteen
The Doctor – Matt Smith
Amy Pond – Karen Gillan
Rory Williams – Arthur Darvill
River Song – Alex Kingston


Never get involved ina  land war in AsiaTANSY:
I always forget quite how much I love “The Pandorica Opens” until I’m watching it. The ‘cold open’ piece before the credits is especially wonderful. It’s fascinating how quickly this new mode and tone of Doctor Who has established itself in only a few months, so that the season finale is able to rely on nostalgia about the Eleventh Doctor and the friends he has made along the way.

It’s quite amazing how much is packed into that beginning, and how lovely it is to revisit old friends in such a way. And they feel like old friends, even though we’ve really only just met them!

The whole setup of this episode is wonderfully done, not only do we get a refresher on some of the key players of the season, we barely have time to draw breath. River is wonderful, and we see her as this real James Bond type figure, absolutely dashing and fearless. And the reveal of the cliff face and the message was hilarious – It is certainly one way to get someone to return your calls!

The River Song of these episodes is my favourite. This is the point at which we start seeing the Doctor respond to her overtures (if not entirely crossing over into romance on his side) by being genuinely intrigued (rather than just annoyed) by this woman who knows him so well that she will deface one of the wonders of the universe just to get his attention – and of course set up a colossal scam which establishes her as Cleopatra, and him as Caesar. My favourite River quote of this episode (and there are many): “I hate wizards in fairy tales. They always turn out to be him.”

I love that line. And River too. I also love in these episodes that the Doctor by now just completely expects River to be able to do the things she can, and believes her and works with her, without a blink.

Romans, romans romans! Is it any wonder that it’s this episode specifically that I feel so attached to?

It’s terribly surprising, given your background… :)

The use of the Roman army in this story just makes my heart sing, and I appreciate especially that as the trap closes in around them, and the Doctor is overwhelmed by the sheer number of aliens fleets in the sky who are personal enemies of his, it’s the Roman army he sings the praises of. This of course leads to a fabulous reveal in the build up to the cliffhanger (people talk a LOT about the cliffhanger from “The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances” but I think this one is the best use of the form in New Who because of the way it’s set up all through the first episode) that the Romans are Autons – and specifically that Rory, our Rory, who has mysteriously returned as a Roman centurion, is made of plastic.

I loved the way that so many of of the historical foes of the Doctor were name checked in the fleet, but I was disappointed that we didn’t get to see more of them. I would love a modern episode featuring the Draconians, they are one of the more intriguing species we’ve come across.

Picture me looking blankly at you…

As much as I enjoyed the Doctor’s speech as he stood on the altar, I think that they need to be a bit careful that the whole “Remember who I am?” type thing doesn’t just become a get- out-of-jail-free card. Yes the Doctor is pretty awesome, but he is not omnipotent or invulnerable and some of the best stories have been about how he has triumphed against much more powerful foes who have no reason be scared of him. The whole scaring his enemies works as a great scene here, and worked even more with the Atraxi, but I think it could soon get old.

Oh David, I’m so very sorry. Perhaps maybe you might not want to watch Season 7…

I guess it shows one of the big shifts in the portrayal of the Doctor from Classic to New Who, where he was once relatively insignificant to now being perhaps the most important being in the Universe. There is probably an essay (or a few) in examining how that might be connected to the changed status of the show – from niche to one of the hottest spec fic properties on the planet.

Go forth and WRITE this thing!

800px-ThePandoricaOpensThis is the beauty of rewatching – I really didn’t understand the first time what was going on. Didn’t catch the Nestene references (and would have gone over my head anyway, I think). This time, though, it made a lot more sense, which was a nice surprise! I think sometimes you need to listen really really carefully to put some things together (and having someone give you the historical references is useful too!). Didn’t stop me loving the episodes first time though – I just like them even more now they make a bit more sense.

I’ve been really surprised about how heavily the Nestenes have featured in New Who. I certainly wouldn’t have picked them to be the first cab off the rank when it came to picking a monster for “Rose”. Saying that, they have generally worked well, and they were particularly effective in this story. Rory’s struggles to overcome his “programming” and his devastation at killing Amy are very poignant.

I think the Nestene/Autons work well as a monster reflecting contemporary issues/iconography – and until plastic becomes irrelevant, they will always represent modernity! The real surprise is how little we saw of them in the old days, as their original appearances in the two Pertwee stories were fabulous, and then never again. They would have been really cool in the Peter Davison era – imagine Tegan facing down killer mannequins. Or Ace blowing them up during the McCoy years!

I love Tegan…

I love that you love Tegan.

The scene in which Rory and the Doctor meet again and the Doctor just carries on, not realising the significance of Rory’s presence, is one of my favourite Matt Smith and Arthur Darvill scenes of all time. I liked early Rory a lot, especially in “Vampires of Venice”, but this is the point at which the actor and the character levels up, and he has developed his dry, sarcastic responses to the Doctor so nicely while still being utterly vulnerable and earnest.

Yay for more Rory, and more River!

I’m generally not a huge fan of moral relativism, but it was a great concept to see the Doctor’s enemies banding together not through some evil plan, but to try and save the Universe from him. You could understand why for them he might actually be the Bad Guy, and a threat to their existence. After all, he does have a spotty track record!

I have to admit, I did pick the Doctor as the likely contents of the Pandorica from the very start, it wasn’t that subtle. It reminded me of one of the Eighth Doctor Adventures called ”Alien Bodies”…though I won’t spoil it for anyone who hasn’t read it.

The AllianceTHE BIG BANG

This two-parter has an amazing cliffhanger, all the more amazing because the peril at the end of “The Pandorica Opens” isn’t resolved in a single line or moment, but takes a large part of the second episode to resolve. It’s wonderful to see Caitlin Blackwood back as little Amelia in this alternate version of reality where the stars don’t exist, and the museum scenes leading up to the scene of Amy in the Pandorica (including freeze dried Daleks) are full of tension.

Yet another fantastic set for the show. Actually, some great sets for both episodes, what with the Romans and Stonehenge and all!

I like that the ‘damselling’ of Amy from the end of the last episode only takes up about five minutes or less of the narrative, and that she’s central to the action in this story for most of the episode. I don’t mind a bit of equal opportunity damselling, and given how much Rory has been damselled in this season, five minutes of Amy here and there is okay by me. For balance, you understand.

The image of her sitting in that Pandorica is so powerful.

I loved the scenes in the museum. The Dalek statues looked great, and really conveyed the idea that all the things we were familiar with had passed into myth or been lost in the fog of antiquity. Combined with the idea that stars had become the domain of dreamers (though I was confused whether it was accepted that there had been stars at one point), all these things pointed to a universe that had suddenly become far smaller, and was merely a remnant of what once was.

Rock the DalekTANSY:
My favourite quote from this episode (and there are lots of good ones, many of which have been immortalised in song) is the Doctor’s ‘Come along Ponds’ when he sees big and little Amy together. It’s interesting how epic this story feels considering it has such a small cast for most of the action scenes, just our core four characters running around an empty museum with one Dalek. But the tension is constant, and no sooner are Amy and Rory back together again than everything else is on the line. River is again wonderfully strong in this story, with the hints of that dark edge to her as the Dalek looks her up and starts begging mercy. Wonderful stuff!

For me, the most powerful part of this episode is where Amy is watching the museum video about the mysterious centurion. The idea that Rory has spent almost 2000 thousand years guarding her is simply beautiful, and these two have to be one of the greatest romances in sci fi. There are obviously some dysfunctional elements to their relationship, but overall I find it much more healthy and meaningful than the vast majority if portrayals of love that we see in the media. It actually quite reminds me of Zoe and Wash from Firefly – even down to the faux triangle.

I agree! Amy’s come a long way in this season, from not wanting to admit she has a boyfriend and running away on the eve of her wedding, to embracing Rory as a fellow crew member in the TARDIS, and losing him, and now him coming back to her in such a spectacular way. The wedding at the end is most definitely earned.

And meeting her family, which of course we only had the aunt of before – while we don’t see them in the same way we see Rose, Martha and Donna’s families of the previous seasons, I love that we do get them established as characters in this episode, not just background set pieces.

I will admit I was pretty over the whole weddings-in-Doctor-Who motif after the RTD era, but I really enjoy this scene in “The Big Bang”. Finally, after seeing Amy isolated and hurting and abandoned for most of the season (and so prickly/defensive before that), we find her happy and surrounded by a real family and friends. Her relationship with Rory, and their happiness, is such a world away from the crackly, hesitant pre-wedding Amy we originally got to know. Though it should be noted, Rory hasn’t changed at all! His effusive call to Amy and their relationship there is very reminiscent of how he called her on his stag night, unaware that she was a lot less sure of their impending marriage than he was.

Wait, doesn’t she call HIM this time? Which I thought was sweet. Also, when he says “Yes” because he’s scared of her? V. cute.

Yeah, Rory knows his place when it comes to Amy, and while this is played for laughs and quite an old fashioned trope, it suits them both very well.

You’re right that she calls him! And that goes to show that she is an entirely different Amy. How can she not be different, with memories of being raised in a loving family overwriting the Amy who didn’t trust anyone not to abandon her? She is still very much herself in personality, but when it comes to her relationship – yes, this is a different woman. That she is confident and clever enough to stand up in front of everyone she knows and summon her imaginary friend back into existence is one of the character’s most powerful moments and I love everything about it – her performance, her demanding tone, and her reaction to the Doctor turning up in his beautiful suit to dance at her wedding. Like a giraffe.

I did feel a bit bad for Rory, though. Yet again he is upstaged and pushed to one side!

Hello?While Rory could easily be perceived as a “weak” character, I think that this is completely off the mark. One of the things that I admire so much about him is the fact that he is confident enough in who he is and in his love for Amy that he can continue to display such equanamity through everything. Some men would be threatened by having such a strong partner, and wouldn’t be able to handle it, but Rory really does possess such a quiet strength that is reflected in his lack of ego (though, of course, we do see some moments where even he struggles). I think it is a great inversion of the tired trope of the colourful, larger than life male and the supportive, in the background female that we see so often in fictional relationships.

Saying all that, the wedding is lovely and it is the perfect emotional payoff for the wonderful love story we have seen over the course of not just the doubleheader, but the whole season. There are two little throwaway lines that sum up the rightness of this wedding perfectly. One is that the Doctor calls Rory the “boy who waited”, and it is only right the he and the “girl who waited” are now together.

The other is this great exchange:

DOCTOR: Amelia, from now on I shall be leaving the kissing duties to the brand new Mister Pond.
RORY: No, I’m not Mister Pond. That’s not how it works.
DOCTOR: Yeah, it is.
RORY: Yeah, it is.

Yes, that is how it works here!

I like Rory’s general lack of jealousy (except under extreme provocation) because he does trust Amy and he’s confident in their relationship. Also he seems quite pleased to see the Doctor – I like the line “How did we forget the Doctor?” and the way that the Doctor is now no longer presented as a threat to their relationship, but a genuine friend to them both. Love triangle = resolved. Friendship continues. Nice.

I need to mention the music – I really liked the music in this season, and in these two episodes it’s particularly striking. There have been times I’ve felt it gets in the way of the story, but not here.

I think it’s worth noting that we’ve had the same composer for the entire run of New Who, but he keeps bringing new styles in. It’s particularly striking how distinct the musical style is between the RTD & Moffat era, though it’s the same guy doing it. It feels like he threw everything out at The Eleventh Doctor and started from scratch.

David, I have to ask. The bit with Matt Smith’s jacket, when he goes back through his own timeline. Did you see it coming? Had you spotted the ‘continuity error’? Because there was a major fan discussion that year about whether the jacket was just a jacket, and only a few die-hard paranoiacs actually pushed the theory that it meant something. After this story, of course, EVERY tiny detail of the show, especially anything that looks like a continuity error or a dialogue screw up, has been scrutinised to a ridiculous degree.

Nice Fez! Nice Mop!TEHANI:
Wait, do *I* know about the jacket??

Well, in “Flesh and Stone” when Amy’s abandoned in the forest and can’t open her eyes, the Doctor after being quite careless with her feelings comes back to her suddenly & is really loving and sympathetic and happens to be wearing his jacket again when he had taken it off in that story. He comforts her and tells her to remember what he told her when she was a child. And in “The Big Bang”, we discover it’s because that was him having gone back in time, intersecting with that story from a different direction.

But when we were first watching “Flesh and Stone”, it was a slightly odd moment and a possible continuity error! Because of the jacket.

Ohhhhh… Nope, didn’t get it at the time at all!

Haha I feel very unperceptive now. I didn’t notice the jacket until it was pointed out. And, it is not like continuity errors are unknown in TV shows! I guess it goes to show that just because you are paranoid doesn’t mean that there is never going to be some hidden conspiracy – after all, even a stopped clock is right twice a day (I thought I’d sneak in a Tegan reference of my own…).

Ha, it’s true! I’m pretty sure I didn’t notice it either first time around, it’s one of those things that being surrounded by fan discussion & podcasts will do for you, though when you watch it again you will certainly notice the shift in tone and the way that the Doctor is so much more kind and nurturing towards Amy.

“The Pandorica Opens/The Big Bang” double was the Hugo winner for the 2010 Awards, beating out “Vincent and the Doctor” and “A Christmas Carol” (as well as the fan-vid “F*ck me, Ray Bradbury” and our own Shaun Tan’s short film The Lost Thing, which won an OSCAR instead!). Do we think the win was deserved?

I definitely think that it deserved the win from a Doctor Who point of view – the only episodes I would put in contention with it are not on that list, as I’d suggest “The Eleventh Hour” as well, and maybe “The Time of Angels/Flesh and Stone” or “The Lodger”. I like that the Hugo results reflected the delight of Who fans about finally getting such a good two part series finale – I think only “Army of Ghosts/Doomsday” can match it as far as quality goes, and that one did far less to pull together the plot of an entire series. I like to think that voting for the series finale is kind of like voting for the whole spectacular season, because this season is the most cohesive of all New Who (and it could certainly be argued, all Doctor Who ever).

Given the other episodes that were nominated I have to agree with Tansy and say that it probably deserved to win from a Doctor Who POV, though I wouldn’t have howled with outrage if “A Christmas Carol” had won either. I am not sure that “Vincent and the Doctor” deserved to be on there as opposed to ones Tansy mentions – I loved “the Lodger”, and thought the Angels ones were excellent.

“F*ck me, Ray Bradbury” was one of those things that was cleverly done and went viral at the time, but I don’t think it is the sort of thing that you’d look back on five years later and say it deserved a Hugo (of course, you could say that about a few things). As for The Lost Thing, I am going to hang my head in shame as I admit I haven’t seen it! So, I can’t comment on whether it deserved to win over the Who double.

You live in Melbourne! You could go to the exhibition at ACMI and watch it there! (sorry, digression. Carry on.)

I think that New Who has actually been very good at creating cohesive story arcs across whole seasons. The Bad Wolf stuff was peppered right throughout that season, and was obviously thoroughly planned. The only arcs that spring to mind in Classic Who, at least off the top of my head, are the “Key to Time” and the “Trial of a Time Lord” episodes. There is no doubt that New Who is more sophisticated in this regard.

Yes, and maybe the first Tom Baker season with the ‘we are wandering without the TARDIS’ theme, and the ‘Seventh Doctor is being mysterious about Ace’ material, but they simply were not usually organised enough to do such a thing. It’s something that I think is more likely to happen when the producer is also the head writer on the show, a feature of New and definitely not Classic Who, though there were some notable partnerships between producer and script editor. Story arcs were less necessary because it was an episodic show and also because the format already had self-contained stories made up of several episodes. I’d argue that we need story arc more now, not just because audiences expect a higher emotional connection to their SF drama, but also because the seasons are mostly standalone single episodes, and need something to pull them together in lieu of the old ‘story’ format.

I think it’s a good point you made, about voting for the season as a whole. And everything you said there. It’s a fabulous season!

I do think that Shaun Tan’s The Lost Thing was also pretty damn worthy of a Hugo that year. I suspect he wouldn’t swap his Oscar with Steven Moffat’s Hugo, though…

Previous Episodes
“Rose”, S01E01
“Dalek”, S01E06
“Father’s Day”, S01E08
“The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances”, S01E09/10
“Bad Wolf/The Parting of the Ways”, S01E12/13
Season One Report Card – David, Tansy, Tehani
“The Christmas Invasion”, 2005 Christmas Special
“New Earth”, S02E01
“School Reunion”, S02E03
“The Girl in the Fireplace”, S02E04
“Rise of the Cybermen/Age of Steel”, S02E05/06
“Army of Ghosts/Doomsday”, S02E12/13
Season Two Report Card – David, Tansy, Tehani
“Smith and Jones”, S03E01
“The Shakespeare Code/Gridlock”, S03E02/03″
“Human Nature/Family of Blood”. S03E08/09″
“Blink”. S03E10″
“Utopia/The Sound of Drums/Last of the Timelords”, S03E12/13/14
Classic Who Conversation podcast – Spearhead from Space (1970)
Season Three Report CardDavid, Tansy, Tehani
Classic Who Conversation podcast – Genesis of the Daleks (1975)
“Partners in Crime”, S04E01
The Sontaran Stratagem/The Poison Sky, S04E0708
“Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead, S04E0910
Turn Left, S0411
The Stolen Earth/Journey’s End,S04E1213
Season Four Report Card – David, Tansy, Tehani
The Next Doctor / Planet of the Dead / The Waters of Mars
End of Time
The Eleventh Hour. S0501
The Beast Below/Victory of the Daleks,S050203
The Time of Angels/Flesh and Stone,S05E0405
The Vampires of Venice/Amy’s Choice,S050607
The Hungry Earth/Cold Blood,S050809
Vincent and the Doctor/The Lodger”,S05E10/11

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  1. Pingback: A Conversational Journey through New Who – Season Five Report Card | Ebon Shores

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