The Big Bang
Onscreen title: PREVIOUSLY
Production Code: 1.13.
Story Number: 212b.
So now it’s clear why the William Hartnell version of the Doctor featured so much in this season…
More on the First Doctor later in the review, though it should be noted at the start there is one aspect of this season that was clearly very “Hartnell” from the first few episodes. This ep begins with “PREVIOUSLY” to signify it’s the second half of a two-parter, though the notion of what was one story and the next was blurred by episodes two and three, the Churchill phonecall and Dalek silhouette (of Victory of the Daleks) featuring in The Beast Below. This sort of thing was common in the First Doctor’s first seasons, e.g. Serial D really begins at the end of Serial C. Likewise, the end of Flesh and Stone leads directly into The Vampires of Venice. This idea of the long story constantly moving forward to the next serial is an idea that this season has too.
An amazing end to the season, to the story. With this story, the Doctor really is a magician. There’s a magic box trick (not always performed by the Doctor), the same magic box trick really but with different boxes – six times this season with four different boxes (the magic trick four times in this ep, all by the Doctor), plus one miracle. The magic trick? The boxes? The miracle? I will explain.
The miracle arrives just after Roman Rory wishes for one – it’s the Doctor wearing his fez (with mop), though he promptly vanishes after handing Rory the sonic screwdriver. After Rory has sprung the Doc from the box, that’s not the magic trick. And is it really a miracle? Well, in the sense it’s what Rory was wishing for – in the Doctor Who Universe this kind of thing isn’t impossible – though it is an ontological paradox (the DVD easter eggs in Blink, the note in The Lodger.) It’s a miracle to Rory though. If this had happened at the very start of the episode it would have been an amusing if flat resolution to the Doctor leaving the box, but at this point the audience have a whole new mystery to propel the story along – e.g. how did exactly did Amelia meet Amy?
All this stuff with a fez and mop is after the long pre-credits mini-story of Amelia opening the Pandorica in the museum. It’s an audacious start to the story, as what the audience are thinking about (how will the Doctor escape the box? Are Rory and Amy and River, the TARDIS and the Universe really dead?) is replaced by surprise and a new dazzling mystery – how the heck is Amy now in the box? “Ok kid, this where it gets complicated” – as the glow of the box fades and Amy is revealed, it’s instantly one of the Greatest Doctor Who Moments of All Time. It’s also Moffat speaking to the audience – this is where it gets complicated: but all the labyrinthine plot twists are turns are alongside scene after scene full of great character moments, some great emotional scenes. It’s an emotional rollercoaster. As a two-parter, it really is one the greatest Doctor Who stories ever.
The lady from the box – that’s one version of the magic trick (the first version this ep), this magic box of the Pandorica keeping the memory of the “mostly dead” Amy alive until she can be fully alive when Amelia causes the box to open.
The Doctor takes the short way to the future, leaving Rory (at his request) the long way. This really is a moving scene, almost 2000 years of devotion from Centurion Rory. (It’s also foreshadowed by the story Nasreen and Tony Mack in the ep Cold Blood, Tony Mack like Amy having to sleep for hundreds of years.) With the Doctor re-united with Amy(s) – “Come along Ponds” – the story rattles along with a lone Dalek now emerging from a slumber too. The triumphant return of Rory in the museum is another great moment.
The magic trick is repeated again to save River, with the Doc appropriately enough wearing his Tommy Cooper stage magician fez. The reveal of what the Sun is – the TARDIS-Sun is just one awe-inspiring moment in 55 minutes full of them. Again, it’s a magic box with a memory in it – they listen to the audio-loop of River’s last words, then the Doc teleports to take River out of the video-loop (it’s not literally a video – unlike the first time this magic trick was done this season, with the video memory of River in the magic box of the Home Box from the Starship in The Time of Angels. Left in a museum. Like the Pandorica!)
In the review of Victory of the Daleks, this blog was pondering what the basic elements of Doctor Who are – the Doctor and the TARDIS? The Doctor and the TARDIS and the Daleks? (Like the cover of the novelisation Doctor Who and the Daleks discussed in that review.) Here though are the basics of Doctor Who: the Doctor, his TARDIS, his companions – and one lone Dalek, again. There’s more Timey-Wimey with another “Future” Doctor and after the Dalek has gone (and they find out what the Doctor’s been doing this while as they catch up with the Doctor) it’s another hugely emotional scene as the Doctor asks to speak to Amy and say goodbye. This is another reason the season has featured the First “old” Doctor many times (to remind us the Doctor is really ancient) and here the Eleventh Doctor doesn’t look quite so vibrant, he really does seem to be fading.
The third time this ep for the magic trick of the magic box though, and again it features the memory of someone or something to bring them back. The atoms from the old Universe can combine with the Pandorica’s restoration field and TARDIS to create Big Bang Two. Like the second time in the season this magic trick featured, the mementoes and memories from the box of the Pond House, when combined (unknown by the Nestene) with Amy’s wilfulness brought back the essence of Rory, Amy can, by remembering, bring other people back to this new Universe – her mother and father. “You won’t need your imaginary friend any more”.
The images of the Pandorica soaring forth from the museum as the Doctor sets the controls for the heart of the TARDIS-Sun is as spectacular and epic as anything featured onscreen in Doctor Who before.
At the point it’s only two-thirds of the way through the 55 minutes and there’s already been a steady flow of dazzling, moving, scenes. The next sequence though is even more impressively intricate in the way the plot is woven into the fabric of the season, even more emotionally resonant. The Doctor is rewinding, unraveling, an unseen (but not unheard) observer. Fandom emits a collective “Aaaaah” as the fan-theory of the “Future Doctor” speaking to Amy in Flesh and Stone is proved correct. (Whether the general audience appreciated that he was wearing a jacket in that scene and thus was “Future Doctor” or not, they would surely remember that this was from that earlier story.) The genius of Moffat’s Timey-Wimey writing is that while the Doctor is saying for her to remember what her told her when she was seven, he still hasn’t told her. That’s the next scene.
“The night she waited”. The emotional rollercoaster continues as the Doctor reminisces about the story of Doctor Who, as he realises he will soon be gone from the Universe, “Funny, I thought if you could hear me I could hang on somehow.” The story, It was a good story “it was the best”, he retells the story of how he borrowed that ancient blue box. He really will be just a story now. (All this is immensely moving and superbly acted by Matt Smith.)
And then she woke up. The day of Amy’s wedding – and she realises someone is late for her wedding. River passes the window (I like to think she’s there as the Universe doesn’t want her to miss the wedding, even though she doesn’t remember the Doctor. How can she? The wedding gift, from River, her diary, doesn’t feature any story. Only Amy remembers the Doctor.) Yup, it’s yet another hugely effective emotional scene as Amy refuses (just as she refused for all those years) to forget the Doctor. It’s the box that brings the Doctor back as she speaks the magic words “Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, Something Blue”.
As the Doctor said in the The Eleventh Hour – “Amy Pond, there’s something you better understand about me, ’cause it’s important and one day your life may depend on it. I am definitely a madman with a box!” She remembers the Doctor and his box.
This is last time the magic trick features in the story, (the memory, the story, brought back to the Universe by the magic box), and, yes, the Doctor kinda knew this magic trick would happen – he is, after all dressed for the wedding in top hat and tails (which like the fez, is the attire of the stage magician!) Like the Doctor knew Amy could hear him when she was sleeping (thanks to Prisoner Zero) in The Eleventh Hour, he knew she he could hear him and would remember his story of the ancient and new, borrowed and blue TARDIS.
After the wedding, the Doctor congratulates Rory – “good on you” – from the shadows, though seems rather wistful as he slips away to the TARDIS. The Doctor smiles at the sound of River’s voice though. Amy and Rory have a happy ending – the Doc and River now ambiguously discuss wedding bells in his future/her past in a lovely scene – that ends on a darker mystery as River leaves the Doctor once more.
Murray Gold’s music now underscores the idea that the story is now continuing with The Eleventh Doctor’s theme (the music is called Every Star Every Planet apparently) in the background and Amy and Rory rejoin the TARDIS.
The Doctor explains, the story is continuing: “Space and Time isn’t safe yet. The TARDIS exploded for a reason. Something drew the TARDIS to this particular date, and blew it up. Why? And why now? The Silence, whatever it is, is still out there, and I have to – excuse me a moment…”
The next story is calling – it’s a narrative callback to the Churchill phonecall of The Beast Below (this time, perhaps, from her Majesty Liz 10). Like the Hartnell-Doctor seasons, like earlier in this season, the story keeps continuing, into the next story before this story ends.
After the closing theme tune – “DOCTOR WHO WILL RETURN” (Christmas 2010).
It makes perfect sense that the narrative is of this season doesn’t end with the season – it’s one of the themes of the season, that the story of Doctor Who (which began with Hartnell’s version of the Doctor, continuing through all those serials) continues, it returns. Amy couldn’t forget this story, refused to forget.
It’s the story that will return, “the best story”, the story of Doctor Who.
Rating: 5/5 (for this part of the story)
and for the whole story, 5/5.