The Pandorica Opens
This week's episode is the first part of the two part finale to series 5. Returning after a few episodes writing break, Steven Moffat closes out his inaugural series as Doctor Who show runner.
Things epically kicks off by tracing the path of a Van Gogh painting through more than 3000 years of it's history. With Vincent's madness getting worse, his disturbing dreams have given him visions of the future. In those visions he foresaw a terrible event, he put this down in a painting intended as a message to the Doctor. Weaving it's way through a few of the centuries and characters we've met earlier in the series, it ends up in the hands of River Song. She knows it's serious and the Doctor isn't answering his phone, so she carves some huge words in the oldest cliff-face in the universe. “Hello Sweetie”. The Doctor and Amy happen to go see the cliffs and see the message, this then leads them to head off to the given coordinates and meet River in Roman Britain, complete with Romans.
The painting was named by Vincent as “The Pandorica Opens”. Given all the previous hints the Doctor has had about this “mythical” prison - “that contains the most feared warrior in the entire universe”, he can't help himself and has to find it. Deducing that it must be in prominent place, where you could find it no matter what time you are in, he reasons it must be underneath the nearby Stonehenge. So Amy, River and the Doctor head off to scan the area. After moving one of the big stone blocks they find some stairs to the “under henge”, down the stairs is a door and inside the door is a big room with a big box... the Pandorica... dum dum dum....
The Doctor and River both start scanning everything around them again. They discover that the Pandorica's internal security locks are disengaging one by one. What ever is in there is on it's way out. Further scanning reveals the stone pillars in the room, the bottom ends of the Stonehenge stones, are transmitting across time and space that the box is opening. The Doctor concludes that this must have been what Vincent was picking up on centuries in the future. River then brings it to the Doctor's attention that this also means everything else can hear it as well. She does yet another scan and discovers that there are roughly thousands/millions of ships in orbit. Dalek, Cybermen, Judoon, Sontaran – a veritable BBC costume department's warehouse worth of sci-fi evil doers - all now arriving for this box.
The Doctor sends River off to get some Romans for backup, then he and Amy promptly get set upon by a dismembered Cyberman. It turns out said Cyberman did a bad job of Pandorica guard duty, but he's still got a zap or two in him. The Doctor gets knocked out and Amy is almost Cyber-fied, but just in time a Roman solider comes along and saves the day. Rather unlikely, but not impossibly, the solider happens to be Rory. He's now all Roman with Roman memories, but he's also 'fully Rory', with his previous memories. The Doctor finds this turn of events fairly miraculous, but he goes with it - why not eh, it's only a coincidence, what's the worst that can happen?
With the box opening imminent, the plethora of evil alien races touching down on Earth and generally all the s hitting the f; the Doctor sends River back to the Roman camp so she can bring him the Tardis. He needs some more equipment with which to work. This does not go to plan. The Tardis is taken control of by some other being, it takes River to 26/06/10 (yes that date that's been teased all series) and we hear a very ominous, “silence will fall”, from a mystery voice. Then a screen in Tardis cracks.
The place River has been taken to in the present day (or technically next week) is Amy's house and it's door has been kicked in. As River investigates Amy's things, she discovers that Amy's previous familiarity with the Roman army and the design of the Pandorica (which is similar to Pandora's box), might not be a coincidence. It appears that her brain has been scanned, the Roman's are Autons and it's all an elaborate trap set for the Doctor. This also means that the Rory, who is now the only person keeping Amy safe, is sadly a Auton as well.
River then leaves 26/06/10 in the Tardis, only for it to start throwing sparks all over the place. River can't regain control of it from whoever has it and it lands in solid rock, trapping her inside. Back with the Doctor the Romans switch to 'evil'. This leads Rory to loses control of himself. He contorts as he fights off his Auton programming, and just Amy remembers him, he succumbs to his bad Auton self. Amy pays the price.
The Doctor, who doesn't know this, is still thoroughly confused as to just what is going down around him, gets grabbed hold of by some Rome-bots. Then all the aliens waltz/transport in around him. He is man(Auton)-handled into the now open Pandorica. So all his enemies have come together in an alliance so they can get rid of the menace that is 'the Doctor' once and for all.
This was a truly epic episode. You can see what the producers have been squirrelling all that spare budget from the past few episodes away for and it was used to great effect here. There are CG ships a-plenty, a nice set for the Pandorica room with snazzy 'Pandorica opening' effects and a really nice shot of the universe exploding with supernovas. The episode was also chock full of reference to films like “Star Wars”, “The Thing”, “Close Encounters” and the great opening was akin to the “The Red Violin” compressed into just a couple of minutes. So can't complain on that front.
There was also a great balance between the three main characters. Usually, for the opening of a two parter, the first part gets the short end of the stick in that one of the characters doesn't get enough to do. The plot items for a particular character are sometimes saved for the next part. Plus generally there is a drawing out of one or two plot elements, so that the feature length run-time can be filled. I didn't feel that at all for this episode, it moved at a good pace and there was enough going on for it to feel like it flew by.
Also you'd expect to be left without much with which to draw a conclusion on, that being left for part 2 also. However I could imagine that this would stand on it's own as a, very annoying (given how long you'd have to wait for a conclusion), finale episode. It had enough twists and turns to work on it's own. I think that's telling of the quality of this episode.
On the subject of the performances, there is nothing to fault here either. River Song stood out in this episode for me. Alex Kingston did a great job, better than any other episode she has appeared in. This is no doubt in-part due to her being more integral to the plot than before so she had plenty to sink her teeth into. Then there's Rory's return. While at the start of the series he wasn't exactly a 'good' addition to the cast, for me, every subsequent episode he's been in has improved on the character and he's become more likeable as a result. Here he did a great job and I almost expected him to turn into a werewolf or Mr Hyde given the amount of contortion and pain that Rory was going through as his Evil Auton self began to take control. Great stuff.
But I do have to dial back the love a little now, as I didn't feel everything was great. The particulars of the plot and just how far the 'alliance' were able to second guess and plan out this trap wasn't very clear. Also the Roman Autons built from Amy's memories were a bit silly and convenient. I'm also left slightly confused as to when Amy's brain was scanned. Auton Rory was able to remember up to the point he disappeared into the 'time field'. If Amy's brain was wiped of him seconds after that.. how does that work exactly? None of this plot point works well enough for me. However this is part one, so maybe it will all become clear in part two when we find out who's blown up the Tardis and why. I'm just glad that whoever it is, it presumably can't be one of the 'alliance' of over used Who villains we already met. None of them had a clue as to why the universe blows up and or that it's the Tardis. This means we might get a new mega-baddie for once. Though I wouldn't put money on it.
Bring on the final episode. It already feels like it'll be a good one.