Ladies and gentlemen, are you ready for the end of the world? Doctor Who has gone on quite a journey for the last eleven episodes, trekking through the past, present and future. Steven Moffat’s dark fairy tale approach to the series has been consistently enchanting, entertaining and occasionally frightening throughout its fifth season, and you can tell he really enjoyed living out his dream job, because Series 5 feels like a labor of love. With the Series 5 finale, “The Pandorica Opens / The Big Bang”, this season is finally coming to an end, and it’s time for him to wrap everything up as neatly and efficiently as he can. Ideally, a season finale needs to tie up every character arc the leads have been given, deliver on all the promises the showrunner might have made in regards to the series arc, and be the culmination of all the themes and ideas the writers have been toying with throughout the year – while still being a fun, engaging and rewarding piece of television in its own right as well. “The Pandorica Opens / The Big Bang” certainly delivers in all those regards.
Like many of Steven Moffat’s stories this season, not a single moment is wasted is in this two-parter as it races forward with a brisk and invigorating pace, challenging the audience to try to figure out the mystery of what may lie inside the Pandorica before the Doctor does. At the end of the first episode, Moffat does what he does best and turns all of the viewer’s expectations on their heads, revealing this finale has been about something entirely different than what they were initially led to believe, as all four of the main characters are put in grave danger at some point. During the second episode, Moffat pretty much goes wild, indulging in all the timey-wimey shenanigans and non-linear storytelling that he desires. But at the same time, he narrows the scope of this story significantly from the first episode and focuses almost all the attention on the four major players of the Doctor, Amy, Rory and River, making the world-saving mission in “The Big Bang” a family affair.
In “The Pandorica Opens”, all of the Eleventh Doctor’s friends and allies pass along a message of great importance to him about the end of the world, and it involves his TARDIS exploding. The warning draws him to the site of the Pandorica, a mythical prison that’s said to hold the most dangerous thing in the universe inside it: a fairy tale come to life. The Doctor has been around a long time, long enough to know that some myths can hold truth to them and that the Pandorica can be a legitimate threat. He’s a natural-born sleuth so he’s immediately drawn to this this literal mystery box: he’s mesmerized by it and he has to know what its contents could be. So against his better judgement and River’s warnings, he’s determined to stay by the Pandorica and prevent his enemies from getting their hands on it as whole armies of them descend on the box.
He’s confident that he can hold them all off, because he’s the Doctor. He’s a master of defying the odds and he can do anything if he really puts his mind to it. Plus, he’s beaten them all before under different circumstances anyway. The Eleventh Doctor has always been a bit too overconfident for his own good, a bit too sure of himself, and eventually that flaw was always going to catch up to him. He once again falls back on his reputation to strike fear into the hearts of his adversaries, like he has done before, except this time, they’re playing him. They’re feeding his ego and giving him what he wants to see so he’ll stick around and let down his guard – and it works like a charm. Over the course of Series 5, Matt Smith has displayed a real talent for injecting life and passion and energy into the Doctor’s speeches, and he slays the hell out of the Doctor’s final stand on Stonehenge, as he stakes his claim on the mystery box. When his foes finally spring their trap, the Doctor is unable to stop his TARDIS from exploding, because he was done in by his own hubris, and he’s very nearly imprisoned inside of the Pandorica for all of eternity.
In “The Big Bang”, the Doctor and his friends are repeatedly saved by a few stable time loops, receiving vital help from themselves in the future. Under ordinary circumstances, messing around with the laws of time like this could risk tearing a hole in the universe, but the universe is already dying in this two-parter, so they’ve really got nothing left to lose. Once he’s freed, the Doctor pushes himself to his limit to try to think of a way to save the world, using all the resources he has on hand. The Pandorica was meant to damn him to hell, but it ironically turns out to be their salvation, as the Doctor makes it an integral part of his plan.
“The Big Bang” explores how the Eleventh Doctor always seems to be several steps ahead of everyone else, as the smartest person in the room. Like the Seventh Doctor, Eleven is a bit of a chessmaster, who moves all the pieces on the proverbial board where they need to be without anyone noticing. He’ll tell his friends what he thinks they need to know to reassure them or get them to cooperate, but it’s in his nature to keep his secrets close to his chest until they become relevant. For instance, he knew about the date of the cracks, what caused them, and how they stole Amy’s parents from her for ages and never said a word until now. Sometimes, he’ll even make something up: at one point, he takes advantage of being shot by a Dalek to buy himself some time to work on the Pandorica in secret. As River astutely points out, the Doctor lies. Since the Doctor’s ship is at the heart of this apocalypse, he takes full responsibility for it and sacrifices his life to save the world, being erased from existence by the cracks – though it isn’t long before he’s restored by Amy and River. At the end of the day, the universe is safe, but the Doctor still has no idea who blew up his ship or why they would even want to do that. The future is still uncertain, but he’s ready to face whatever it may bring, with some great friends by his side.
“The Pandorica Opens” is a pretty momentous two-parter for the Doctor’s sidekick, Amy Pond (Karen Gillan), with long-lasting ramifications for her character. Amy is quite happy to see River Song again, who she always gets along incredibly well with, and she tries to pitch in and help out the best she can as she tags along on the Doctor and River’s investigation into the Pandorica. But unfortunately, this is another one of those times where Amy is more than a bit out of her depth, because she’s not a super genius like her friends. In the last episode, Amy found the engagement ring Rory gave her, which has triggered her latent feelings for her late boyfriend. Amy may been have forced to forget him, but her love for Rory is still buried deep inside her subconscious, and she misses him dearly.
Throughout Series 5, the Doctor has suspected that Amy is somehow at the center of this season’s big mystery, and that certainly proves to be the case, since an alliance of the Doctor’s enemies used her memories to set a trap for her and the Doctor. They created a legion of Roman impostors, including an Auton duplicate of Rory. As the first episode draws to a close, the strength of Amy and Rory’s bond is demonstrated on both ends, once they’re reunited in terrible circumstances. Amy has lost her lover twice now, and she’s determined to never let go of him again. As Rory’s programming starts to kick in, he urges Amy to get to safety, but she refuses. Instead, she tries to get him to overrule his orders that have been forced onto him, by accepting he’s more man than machine with a little mind over matter. She’s confident she can pull it off because she’s already done it before in “Victory Of The Daleks“, and she knows Rory a hell of a lot better than she knew Bracewell. Unfortunately for Amy, the Nestenes apparently build their androids with much better programming than the Daleks, and she gets shot for her troubles.
From there, you would naturally assume for it’s game over for Amy and the rest of the universe. But thankfully, the Doctor works out a way to save her life with the Pandorica as Moffat takes us back to the beginning of the season in “The Big Bang”, bringing our journey full circle. The crack in time in Amy’s wall gave her a special ability as she was growing up: the ability to remember alternate timelines, and with the aid of the Doctor’s plan, she’ll be able to warp reality and remember things back into existence. The cracks in time erased her family a long time ago, then they took Rory, and now she’s forced to lose her Raggedy Man too so he can put an end to them.
The emotional climax of “The Big Bang” – an intimate, solitary two-hander chat between the Doctor and Amy – features some exquisite, restrained acting from both Matt and Karen. The emotional core of this season has always been the bond between the Eleventh Doctor and Amy Pond. He helped her rediscover her inner child, dream of impossible things, and grow into the very best version of herself – and now her imaginary friend can give her one last gift: helping her fix her shattered life and reclaim what the cracks stole from her. The sadness of the Doctor’s first goodbye to Amy is somehow topped by a second one he has with her sleeping childhood self, where he waxes poetically about the choices he’s made with his life, and leaves a message for her to remember on her special day. After a whole season of build-up, Amy and Rory finally get married once the universe is properly restored, and it’s the happiest day of their lives – but it’s not complete until the Doctor is there to witness it too. Amy’s willingness to believe in the impossible has always been a big part of what makes her unique, in more than one timeline, and in “The Big Bang”, that personality trait literally saves the Doctor’s life. It also finally vindicates her in the eyes of her neighbors, when her Raggedy Doctor shows up as a guest at her wedding.
Rory Williams (Arthur Darvill) returns in a big way for the Series 5 finale. He’s only been gone for two episodes between “Cold Blood” and “The Pandorica Opens”, but I’ve really missed Rory. As the straight man of the group, he brings that little bit of something extra to the TARDIS crew that makes it feel complete – and he goes through hell in this story. As you’ll recall, Rory got shot by a rogue Silurian in “Cold Blood”, and was subsequently erased from history by a crack in time. In “The Pandorica Opens”, he seemingly returns from the dead as part of a Roman legion in 102 A.D., filled with conflicting memories in his head over whether he’s supposed to be a Roman soldier or a 21st century Brit. It’s seemingly a miracle that the Doctor finds himself talking to a ghost, but the Doctor doesn’t believe in miracles, and for good reason – if something seems too good to be true, then it usually is. The role of a loyal, dutiful soldier – who puts his life on the line to keep the people he loves safe – certainly fits Rory well though.
Rory is heartbroken that the cracks made Amy forget him, and he tries to get her own memory jogging throughout the hour. As it turns out, Rory and his fellow centurions are sleeper agents, created by the Nestene consciousness. He was meant to be a pawn, but he took on a life of his own and grew beyond his programming, because he has Rory’s heart and soul and his devotion to Amy. In a rather cruel turn for the worst, Rory discovers his true nature just as Amy starts to remember him. He tries to resist his masters’ orders, but his willpower gives out, because he’s not strong enough. His body betrays him, and he betrays Amy. Rory is every bit as horrified by this as you would expect him to be, considering he spent a lot of Series 5 worrying about Amy’s safety and well-being. The very worst thing he could ever imagine happening, and he’s forced to bring it about himself, which crushes him with guilt.
By “The Big Bang”, Rory has grown a lot more confident and assertive than he was before, being direct and to the point about whatever he has in mind. After the adventures they’ve had together, Rory trusts the Doctor’s judgement completely and knows there’s no better man to figure out how to save the world, working alongside him to the best of his abilities. However, he’s not afraid to go against the Doctor’s wishes if the time lord’s interests conflict with his own in an unspeakable way. At one point, Rory sucker-punches the Doctor when he suggests letting Amy die. The Doc brought that up as a test to see if he actually had Rory’s humanity, and afterwards, he concludes that he’s definitely the real deal. When the Doctor seals Amy inside the Pandorica so it can heal her, Rory decides to take the slow path to the modern day – that way he can stay behind to look after Amy and atone for his actions. He waits roughly 2,000 years for her and becomes a living legend in one version of reality as the Last Centurion.
After catching up to the Doctor and Amy in the present day, Rory helps them finish their mission of rebooting of the universe, and after going through a hell of a lot of emotional pain in this two-parter, he finally gets his happy ending when he and Amy trade vows. Once the storm has passed, the Doctor returns to traveling the universe and the Ponds are eager to go with him, since they’re fully in the spirit of adventure. After all, what could make for a greater honeymoon? I’m thrilled to see we’re keeping the same TARDIS crew for Series 6, which is something the show hasn’t done since Rose Tyler’s time. Martha and Donna were both brilliant sidekicks, and they both left the series after only one season. Since Amy and Rory are sticking around for another year, we get to see them continue to mature as they adjust to married life, and we get to see their relationships with the Doctor develop even further as they’re put to the test.
With the Series 5 finale, Steven Moffat establishes a tradition for the Matt Smith years that I’m completely in favor of: bringing River Song (Alex Kingston) back a few times per season so she can come and join the party during the climaxes of his most important arcs. In this instance, she busts out of Stormcage prison so she can help the Doctor and do her part in circumventing the apocalypse. As the lancer of the Doctor’s gang, River is a free spirit who can’t be tamed by anyone, certainly not the people who think they can hold her in jail, but she’s fiercely loyal to the small number of people who have earned her trust, and she looks out for the people she cares for.
If it wasn’t already apparent before from her last appearance, this two-parter firmly cements River’s status as an anti-hero. She’s definitely on the Doctor’s side as one of his greatest allies, but she’s her own personal brand of adventurer, and he may not approve of some of her methods of getting the job done. River can be pretty ruthless as one stone cold mama, like how she blackmails Dorium Maldovar by poisoning his wine, or how she gives a Dalek a taste of her wrath after it shoots the Doctor, eventually making it beg for mercy in a very, very awesome scene. The Doctor is pleased to see River again, and as he expected, she brings hell with her in her wake. River is completely in love with him while also being completely exasperated with him, knowing all of his flaws and his strengths by heart, and she continues to share insight into his personality with Amy and Rory, who she’s still feigning ignorance of. She understands his habit of keeping of secrets all the time, because she’s keeping plenty of her own: some out of necessity, and some because she wants to.
River gets in quite a bit of trouble when she embarks on her own side-quest in this adventure, getting whisked away on a detour from the main action by the TARDIS. As we discovered in “The Time Of Angels“, River knows how to fly the Doctor’s ship, and she has her own special connection with the TARDIS. Since the TARDIS has a mind of her own, she helps River figure out the mystery of what the Doctor’s enemies have done while she still has the time to, and then keeps River safe from harm when the Silence tries to kill them both (which is actually kind of sweet when you think about it). During the climax of “The Big Bang”, River helps Amy to remember the Doctor, so the man they both care for can come back to life – which, in retrospect, is another nice hint about her lineage. River is Amy’s daughter, and she’s part time lady, so she’s inherited her ability to remember alternate timelines.
River is a technological genius, and she and the Doctor make quite a dynamic duo when they’re working in unison, covering a hell of a lot of ground with their detective work. It’s always a pleasure watching them brainstorm together, because they play off of each other so well: River’s street smarts and her pragmatism, combined with the Doctor’s experience and his willingness to think outside the box as a big ideas man. The ship tease moments between the Doctor and River are starting to ramp up as well, as he’s starting to grow more fond of her and more open to her advances. As the story reaches its conclusion, Moffat promises something big is on the horizon for River’s character in Series 6, something that will permanently change her dynamic with the Doctor and solidify his feelings for her, and it does not disappoint as it plays out through several wild stories like “The Impossible Astronaut“, “A Good Man Goes To War” and “The Wedding Of River Song“.
In “The Pandorica Opens”, danger advances on the Doctor and his friends from two different fronts, which they’re completely unprepared for. One of the biggest recurring themes in the Matt Smith era is perception: how different something can seem when you look at it from a different point of view. The legend surrounding the star whale in “The Beast Below” was an excellent example, earlier this season. In the Series 5 finale, we get some insight into how the rest of the universe might perceive the Doctor as he frequently dashes around, affecting the course of history. Moffat suggests that people on other worlds might not look at him as kindly as his friends (or the viewers) do: an idea that he’ll explore in depth in the next season, when the Doctor’s showboating lifestyle starts to have consequences.
Many of the Doctor’s enemies decided to band together and lure him into a trap with the Pandorica (when they usually can’t stand each other), because they figured out the Doctor’s TARDIS exploding was the cause of the cracks in time and they wanted to save themselves. In a fantastically dark and ironic twist for the series, some of the most evil foes in the Doctor’s rogues gallery thought they would be the universe’s salvation for once. However, they didn’t know about River’s ability to fly the TARDIS, so they were already too late to avert that catastrophe. The TARDIS blew up because of the Silence, a religious cult that tries to assassinate the Doctor. They obviously didn’t intend to destroy the world, and their plan backfired horribly on them, but it still doesn’t stop from trying again in the next season. The Silence and the Alliance are two completely different groups of villains who are working independently of each other in this two-parter, but their actions do parallel each other in a way that the viewers only become aware of after the fact: they’re both trying in vain to avoid something terrifying in the Doctor’s future, only to wind up causing it to happen anyway.
“The Pandorica Opens” is directed by Toby Haynes, and I have to say, it’s a shame he only worked on three (consecutive) stories for Doctor Who, because he does a phenomenal job of handling all three of them. His vision for the Series 5 finale is consistently grand, sweeping and cinematic with spellbinding establishing shots and a few clever scene transitions that feel reminiscent of “Star Wars”. In particular, I love the sequences where footage from several different scenes are spliced together and unfolding at once, like the Doctor and his friends riding on horseback to the site of the Pandorica, or the cliffhanger of the first episode, where all four of the leads are faced with a grim fate. A few scenes in “The Pandorica Opens” were shot at the site of the actual Stonehenge in Wiltshire, while others featured some lightweight replicas of the monument constructed in Wales. For the Pandorica’s underground chamber, a massive set was crafted in Upper Boat Studios, where the set designers tried their best to create a dusty, cob-web filled location that would feel right at home in an “Indiana Jones” movie.
Murray Gold’s score is epic, whimsical and enchanting throughout this two-parter as Moffat’s dark fairy tale approach to Doctor Who reaches its conclusion (in fact, it has nearly an entire disc worth of space devoted to it on the Series 5 soundtrack). Some notable highlights include “Beneath Stonehenge“, a darkly foreboding suite of various monster themes Murray has created over the years; “The Pandorica“, a sinister, apocalyptic motif that accompanies this story’s titular mystery box; “Words Wins Wars“, the most bold and noble riff on “I Am The Doctor” that’s been penned so far; “The Life And Death Of Amy Pond“, a tragic, melancholy reprise of “Amy’s Theme” that rises to a stunning climax as Amy dies and the universe dies with her; “The Patient Centurion“, Rory’s warm, thoughtful and loving musical identity; and “The Sad Man With A Box“, a somber reprise of the Eleventh Doctor’s secondary theme that builds to a soaring crescendo when he makes his big, heroic sacrifice in the second episode.
As a season finale, “The Pandorica Opens / The Big Bang” is a stellar tour-de-force with a complex, emotionally satisfying storyline, numerous character-defining moments for the Eleventh Doctor, and loads of great character development for his two closest companions – it’s everything I could hope for as a conclusion to Series 5.
* Poor Vincent. From what we saw in “Vincent And The Doctor“, Eleven and Amy are the first real friends he’s had in a long, long time, and as far as he knows, they both died horribly in a fiery explosion.
* “A vortex manipulator, fresh off the wrist of a handsome time agent. Ugh, I said ‘off the wrist'”.
* “There was a goblin, or a trickster, or a warrior. A nameless, terrible thing, soaked in the blood of a billion galaxies. The most feared being in all the cosmos. And 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”.
* “I hate good wizards in fairy tales, they always turn out to be him”.
* “What is it?” “Your favorite school topic. Your favorite story. Never ignore a coincidence, unless you’re busy. In which case, always ignore a coincidence”.
* “Think of the fear that went into making this box. What could inspire that level of fear? Hello, you. Have we met?”
* According to River, the Atraxi show up as well as part of the Alliance. Considering the way the Doctor humiliated them back in “The Eleventh Hour“, I’m sure they were glad to help set up this trap.
* “What is that?!” “A fool would say the work of the gods, but you’ve been a soldier too long to believe there are gods watching over us. There is, however, a man. And tonight he’s going to need your help”.
* “People fall out of the world sometimes, but they always leave traces. Little things we can’t quite account for. Faces in photographs, luggage, half eaten meals, rings. Nothing is ever forgotten, not completely. And if something can be remembered, it can come back”.
* “Rory, I’m not trying to be rude, but you died” “Yeah, I know. I was there”.
* “Now, the question of the hour is, who’s got the Pandorica? Answer, I do. Next question: who’s coming to take it from me? Come on! Look at me. No plan, no back up, no weapons worth a damn! Oh, and something else: I don’t have anything to lose! So, if you’re sitting up there in your silly little spaceship, with all your silly little guns, and you’ve got any plans on taking the Pandorica tonight, just remember who’s standing in your way! Remember every black day I ever stopped you, and then, and then, do the smart thing. Let somebody else try first”.
* “The universe is big. It’s vast and complicated and ridiculous, and sometimes, very rarely, impossible things just happen and we call them miracles, and that’s the theory. Nine hundred years, and I’ve never seen one yet, but this would do me”.
* “The Pandorica is ready!” “Ready for what?” “Ready for you!”
* Fun fact: “Amy’s Theme” and “The Life And Death Of Amy Pond” were usually paired up during the Doctor Who proms (a live concert of Murray’s music for the show), and it’s easy to see why. When you listen to those two tracks back-to-back, they send you on quite a musical journey through the highs and lows of Amy’s time as a companion.
* “Total event collapse! Every sun will supernova at every moment in history. The whole universe will never have existed. Please, listen to me! The TARDIS is exploding right now and I’m the only one who can stop it! LISTEN TO ME!”
* As impressive as the Pandorica is, this is an excellent example of why the Daleks’ and the Cybermen’s plans always fail: they make them way too needlessly convoluted. I certainly don’t want the Doctor dead, but if these villains were smart, they would just shoot him already and be done with it.
* “Okay kid, this is where it gets complicated” Yeah, that’s an understatement, Amy.
* It’s fitting that the bulk of “The Big Bang” is set inside a museum: a place filled with dead relics from the past, relics from another life.
* “All of creation has just been wiped from the sky. Do you know how many lives now never happened? All the people who never lived? Your girlfriend isn’t more important than the whole universe” “SHE IS TO ME!!!” Hell yes.
* “Rory, why do you have to be so… human?” “Because right now I’m not”.
* It’s left up to our imaginations what Rory got up to for 2,000 years. That’s some expanded universe material just waiting to be written, in my opinion.
* The Doctor and his friends have a number of close shaves in this story, but they’ve also very, very lucky. If the events of this finale had played out any differently, they all would have been so screwed.
* “Rory, please, shut up” “Yeah, shut up, because we’ve got to go. Come on!” “I waited. Two thousand years I waited for you” “No, still shut up”.
* “Doctor, there’s something else. There’s a voice” “I can’t hear anything” “Trust the plastic”.
* “Right then, I have questions, but number one is this: what in the name of sanity have you got on your head?” “It’s a fez. I wear a fez now. Fezzes are cool” What follows is sudden, unexpected hat murder.
* “Records indicate you will show mercy. You are an associate of the Doctor’s!” “I’m River Song. Check your records again” Hell yes.
* “Ha! Amy Pond crying over me, eh? Guess what?” “What?” “Gotcha”.
* “When you wake up, you’ll have a mum and dad, and you won’t even remember me. Well, you’ll remember me a little. I’ll be a story in your head. But that’s okay. We’re all stories in the end”.
* “The daft old man who stole a magic box and ran away. Did I ever tell you that I stole it? Well, I borrowed it. I was always going to take it back. Oh, that box. Amy, you’ll dream about that box. It’ll never leave you. Big and little at the same time. Brand new and ancient, and the bluest blue ever. And the times we had, eh? Would have had. Never had. In your dreams, they’ll still be there. The Doctor and Amy Pond, and the days that never came”.
* “Amy, what is it?” “Something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue”.
* “I just want to congratulate the brand new, Mr. Pond” “No, I’m not Mr. Pond. That’s not how it works” “Yeah, it is” “…Yeah, it is”.
* “Did you dance? Well, you always dance at weddings, don’t you?” “You tell me” “Spoilers”.
* Believe it or not, Amy and Rory consummating their new marriage inside the Doctor’s TARDIS actually becomes a plot point in the next season, so “The Big Bang” turned out to be a very appropriate title for the Series 5 finale, in more ways than one.