Review by Martin Odoni
Was it hot or cold? Lukewarm I think. I’m sure there are going to be some “Meh, does nothing ever please this guy?” eye-rolls on reading that, but yes, I found a number of things that didn’t quite work in the series finale.
Let’s start with the rather obvious riff of the Bill & Ted movies. (It also resembles the “Enig-…!” scene in the Red Dwarf episode, The Inquisitor.) I suppose it’s only right that Dr. Who should lift ideas from those films, seeing how many ideas they stole from Who in the first place (time-travel in a phone box being only the most obvious example), but the repeated use of the timey-wimey “future-self-saves-the-past-self” plot routine is now starting to gall. I’m afraid this is another way of resolving a cliff-hanger without actually coming up with a plan for it. Nobody within the storyline ever thought up how to get the Doctor out of the Pandorica. It simply happened because the Doctor himself found he had been freed and became aware that he was going to make it happen in the very near future. So the plan has no origin, and the basis on which it is written into the story is entirely and consciously, “It happens because the writer says it does.”
In short, it’s a cop-out. It’s perhaps a better cop-out than the ones we had to put up with previously, but it’s still not a very good start.
Other details are hugely questionable.
An alternative Earth still existing more or less as we know it in an otherwise empty universe is impossible. The implication of the ending to The Pandorica Opens was that all the stars of the rest of the universe were nullified by the time cracks, and so in effect never existed. But the Earth’s development is dependent entirely on heat and light from the sun, and from matter falling into the atmosphere from outside. Without these things, life would never evolve. Okay, the destruction of the TARDIS provides an alternative sun, I can just about buy that. But it only detonated around the year 100AD. That leaves a gap of about five billion years in which the Earth had nothing with which to feed its primordial soup. The chances of any multi-cellular life on Earth evolving in less than two thousand years is practically nil, but for a human race to evolve, and to build society exactly as it did in the previous reality – Amelia Pond is there still doing her prayer to Santa, for Pete’s sake – is just so far out of the realms of possibility it seems almost childish to suggest it.
Why did the Doctor not regenerate when blasted by the Dalek? How come Amy could bring the Doctor back into existence simply by remembering him? That was not how Rory came back in the cracked reality; he was revived by the Nestene, merely using Amy’s submerged memories as a blueprint. How come River was able to remember the Doctor?
The whole idea of jump-starting a second Big Bang really was another re-set button moment. One big flash and some prolonged loud noise later, and everything is put back the way it was, with almost everybody oblivious as to anything being wrong in the first place. There was a well-paced, carefully explained build-up towards it that at least spared us the feeling of ‘suddenly-plucking-a-resolution-out-of-your-anus’, which we tended to get under RTD. The poignancy of the Doctor’s voluntary self-annihilation helped too. But it still seemed too neat and tidy, with the two key plot devices cancelling each other out so perfectly that it could only be a blatant contrivance. It also rekindled an unfortunate leaning of the Tenth Doctor’s era; by becoming the creator of the second Universe (do I hear a quote from Red Dwarf: Back To Realty there?), the Doctor’s messianic credentials are back on the agenda, and that’s not a good idea.
But for all these flaws, I couldn’t help but like the episode, at least somewhat, principally because the characterisation was so good. Rory has proven himself to be a very positive character, and it’s impossible not to admire both his loyalty to Amy and his blossoming courage. The Doctor’s ability to take humiliation without developing any corresponding sense of humility remains as strong as ever – see his casual cheeriness as he helps Rory to revive Amy in the immediate aftermath of his total defeat by his enemies (and indeed see his laughably bad dancing at the wedding) – and Amy proves that, when written as a straight-up, serious character, instead of a smart-mouthing-sassy-movement generator, she is one of the best companions the Doctor has ever had. And the dynamic works well as a triumvirate, as Rory and Amy spark well together, and with the Doctor. (And now that Rory and Amy are finally married, perhaps that will end once and for all the revived series’ puerile insistence on having some kind of sexual tension between the Doctor and his always-female companion. Even with Donna, there was a lot of needlessly explicit reference to that.) River was also written well here, with plenty of emotion and turmoil instead of the usual smugness.
Performances were as good as they’ve been at any stage in the season. Matt Smith in particular really excelled himself in the scenes before he disappeared through the time-crack, his tearful goodbyes to little Amelia so convincing, and performed with such impressive restraint that he truly showed David Tennant how it’s done. Karen Gillan and Alex Kingston both had the full gamut of emotions to run here, and really took advantage of the opportunity. And Arthur Darvill was, let’s not mince words, absolutely superb, certainly his best performance yet. He had to portray grief, turmoil, the usual confusion, anger, courage, determination, fear, elation, love… everything. And not once did I think, “Failed his EastEnders exam.” He was absolutely at the top of his game, and I’m genuinely delighted that both Rory and Amy chose to stay with the Doctor at the end. As I mentioned before, it should prevent the sexual tensions betwixt Doctor and companion, but also Rory in his own right is a character well worth the series exploring further. The chemistry between Darvill and Gillan perhaps still needs a bit of work, but it’s already improved enormously on what it was in The Eleventh Hour.
Production was very good, lots of convincing sets, props and CGI, although I must make special mention of Murray Gold. I really want him to work with Gio Compario (you know, the opera singer from the Go Compare insurance adverts), Specifically, I want Gio to sing at a specially-arranged performance with Gold conducting an orchestra composed of Oasis and the England football supporters’ club band. That way, when I plant the bomb under the stage, I can be sure of wiping out the lot of them.
Oh yes, shame the fez got blasted. Yes it looked silly, but when did that ever stop the Doctor? It would’ve helped make the Eleventh Doctor look a bit more distinctive from previous incarnations.
All-in-all, it’s likeable nonsense. I give it a 7 out of 10, more for the later stages than the early ones. The two-parter as a whole is perhaps less than the sum, but I’ll give it a 7 as well.
So it’s all over for another year, and that leaves only the question of the how I view the season in total. It undoubtedly started superbly, with the first two episodes, The Eleventh Hour and The Beast Below, particularly worthy additions to the series’ legacy of classic television. But the season did have a realy earthbound-crash with Flesh & Stone, ruining an excellent first part, and from there it never quite got off the ground again (with the possible exception of Amy’s Choice, which I watched again the other day and realised I was probably being a bit unfair on when I reviewed it). It was never sinfully bad again either though, which is an improvement in itself over the last couple of years of RTD. So it was marginally above mediocre, certainly not all it might have been, but a great deal more than it would have been in other hands. And it was largely an excellent first year in narrow terms of establishing a new Doctor. Given the enormous ‘bedding-in’ process that was certain to be required because of the widescale change of personnel, we can give the season the benefit of the doubt and conclude that it was a positive one. But let’s keep in mind that that excuse loses its validity after this.