Saturday, June 19, 2010

The Pandorica Opens: Don't Step On The Cracks, If You Wanna Come Back

'The universe is big. It's vast and complicated and ridiculous. And sometimes, very rarely, impossible things just happen and we call them "miracles." That's the theory. Nine hundred years, I've never seen one yet. But this would do me.'

The irony of the situation could - and probably would - not have been lost on anyone with half a brain. In the very week when it had become, unwittingly, embroiled in a somewhat manufactured media story about the current state of British TV drama, and when one of its own most high profile and vocal supporters used the unfortunate metaphor of comparing it to chicken nuggets, Doctor Who only went and produced an episode that laid any suggestion it is, merely, a show for children firmly in the grave. It's so much more than that, on so many level. The Pandorica Opens began with a six-and-a-half minute pre-title sequence - beautifully, intricately constructed - dragging in references and characters from half-a-dozen previous episodes of the series and tying them all together in a neat and delicate little bow. Is that adult enough for you, Stephen?!

'I hate good wizards in fairy tales. They always turn out to be you,' River Song tells the Doctor during a lighter moment of flirty bitching in a episode that's atmosphere was tense and dark and clammy but still found the opportunity for humour. ('Nice swording!') And wit. ('Arise, Roman person!') And more humour. ('Never underestimate a Celt!') And, more wit. ('They'll never expect three people to attack twelve thousand battleships! Because we'd be killed instantly, so it would be a fairly short surprise. Forget surprise!') And more humour. ('We'll need to start a fire-fight, turn them against each other. I mean, that's easy, they're the Daleks, they're so cross!') Cleverly constructed around a concept of the Doctor's mortal enemies for once uniting in a common cause, The Pandorica Opens, traps the Doctor, Amy and River in a piece of grand theatre of the absurd, a literal play-within-a-play-within-a-play in which the Doctor's own curiosity is used against him to devastating effect. 'Silence will fall.' The Stonehenge setting provides a suitably historic backdrop for something that is, actually, not about chronological history at all. But, rather, it's about a very personal history. A personal used history.

In an episode of many highlights, it's difficult to pick out obvious contenders for the praise, although Alex Kingston's tight stetchpants certainly are near the top of the list. There was also the Doctor's triumphant 'remember who's standing in your way' speech which comes close to being this generation's take on Terrance Dicks' mission statement for the series as a whole, 'The Doctor is never cruel or cowardly.' 'Whoever takes the Pandorica, takes the universe. Who's coming to take it off me? Come on!' Matt Smith's manic, adrenalin-charged delivery of this is, however, beautifully juxtaposed by the scene in which he explains the myth of the Pandorica to Amy; that once there was a goblin, or a trickster, or a warrior (or, as it happens, all three) 'a nameless, terrible thing soaked in the blood of a billion galaxies. The most feared being in all the cosmos. Nothing could stop it, or hold it, or reason with it. One day it would just drop out of the sky and tear down your world.' How could the Doctor have predicted that he's actually describing his own actions as seen from the point of view of those he battles with? 'It is real, it's here, and it's opening.' I loved River Song's line to the Roman commander, 'you're all Barbarians now.' I loved the Doctor's moment of tenderness to Amy when she asks about the significance of the ring she found in his pocket; 'People fall out of the world sometimes. But they always leave traces. Little things we can't quite account for. Faces and photographs, luggage, half-eaten meals. Rings. Nothing is ever forgotten. Not completely. And, if something can be remembered, it can come back.'

And, then there was Rory's triumphant return. ('I died ... and turned into a Roman. It was very distracting.') And Amy's shocking discovery of suppressed memories. ('You're not going anywhere, ever again.') There was River's sudden realisation of imminent danger. ('Everything that ever hated you is coming here tonight. You need to run.') There was the terrifying Cyber attack on Amy. (Karen Gillan is astonishing here. And funny too: 'You and whose body?') There was the arrival of the protagonists, the completely unexpected revelation of their plans, the Doctor's too-late realisation that he has been used and a quite breathtaking triple-cliffhanger which sees, apparently, another companion die, the TARDIS explode and the Doctor become trapped for infinity inside the Pandorica itself. That's as good an episode ending as Doctor Who has ever pulled off - a gigantic 'get out of that' boast of defiance to those who reckon this this is all just fluff and nonsense. I thought it was an outstanding episode, easily as good as anything British fictional TV has produced in years. Proper grown-up drama from a proper grown-up drama show. 'You're crying because you remember me.' Fifty minutes of emotional and action-packed tragedy, a rip-roaring roller coaster of a dramatic ride. So, Rory's an Auton, Amy is dead, River is trapped in the TARDIS which is about to blow up and destroy the universe and The Doctor is entombed beneath Stonehenge and unable to stop the apocalypse to come. Get out of that? Pfft... No problem. This is Doctor Who. It does that sort of thing for fun.

1 comment:

Tony Jordan said...

An excellent review of a brilliant piece of television there Keith.

I think it's possible to juxtapose the Doctor's big speech here with the one he gave the Atraxi at the end of The Eleventh Hour.

Then, they ran. This time he's too self confident and the materialisation of so many enemies shows that his self-confidence is misplaced.

Roll on The Big Bang.