“We’re all stories in the end. Just make it a good one, ‘cause it was, you know.” With a single, heartfelt monologue – delivered to the sleeping, grade-school incarnation of his current companion Amy Pond – the titular character of BBC America’s Doctor Who reminded us once again that underneath the show’s sci-fi, galaxy-hopping, low-budget f/x exterior, it’s the basic storytelling that matters most of all. And honestly, if by episode’s end you found yourself like Amy at her wedding, surprised to discover tears collecting in the corners of your eyes, I am here to tell you that you were not alone.
Yes, as a fifth-season finale, “The Big Bang” delivered the goods. But before we dive into the specifics, I have to admit that I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little bummed that the second half of last week’s cliffhanger immediately squandered the terrifying scenario of The Doctor trapped inside the multi-layered prison of the Pandorica, at the exact moment that the universe and all its history was collapsing.
I’d have given anything to see our protagonist terrified and struggling inside the Pandorica, rendered totally impotent to save the day, to see his brain churning for ideas to break out of the trap set by his myriad enemies. But alas, everything zagged when I was hoping it’d zig, and we immediately saw a fez-clad Doctor jumping from the future, handing the sonic screwdriver to robo-Rory, and instructing him to release “present-day” Doctor from the Pandorica. I’m still not completely convinced this was a valid means of escape: If, in fact, present-day Doctor was locked away, at what point in time did Fez Doctor originate? Because for Fez Doctor to ever exist, wouldn’t present-day Doctor have had to break out of the Pandorica beforehand? [If I’m missing some essential logic here, please set me straight in the comments section. But I will say I don’t buy that wedding-crasher Doctor could’ve pull it off with a jump back in time, either, because he’d never have existed if Amy hadn’t swapped places in the Pandorica, right?]
But I’m getting bogged down in timey-wimey stuff, when at its heart “The Big Bang” was all about characters and their connections. I was psyched to see grade-school Amy back in action, kicking off the episode by praying to Santa and getting chastised for her belief in the existence of stars. (Earth, you see, was just the final planet waiting to be switched off by the nefarious crack in time.) Children always work well in the context of the Who-verse, because both their willingness to believe in the unbelievable, and their wide-eyed reactions to these unexplained phenomena, often mirror our own experiences as an audience. Those post-its – “Come along, Pond” and “Stick around, Pond” – might just as well have been addressed to us; ditto for Amy’s opening remark to the child version of herself: “Okay, kid, this is where it gets complicated.”
So as it turned out, almost-dead Amy switched places with The Doctor inside the Pandorica, and became the girl who waited all over again. I think my favorite part of the episode was the museum information about the Roman centurion (aka Rory) who’d been spotted throughout almost 2,000 years of history watching over the Pandorica, and as a result, had become an “iconic image in the artwork of many cultures.” I mean, you can have your Titanics and your Gone With the Winds: I don’t think it gets any more romantic than having your half-mechanical boyfriend (made “real,” Velveteen Rabbit-style, by your love/memories) dooming himself to 200 decades worth of guard duty just to make sure your unconscious self was never “alone.”
Ultimately, though, after The Doctor sprang River Song from repeat loop inside the burning TARDIS, and after Amy and River played a very necessary game of skeet-shoot with The Doctor’s ridiculous chapeau, it was determined that the only way to save the existence of everyone everywhere was for The Doctor to use River’s vortex manipulator and fly the Pandorica into the TARDIS. Whew! (In other words, the light from the Pandorica could translate the TARDIS’ memories of the universe, thereby rebooting it all, in a sequel known as The Big Bang 2.) Only problem was The Doctor’s method would put him squarely on the wrong side of that crack in the universe, erasing his very existence from the cosmos. Wasn’t it nifty the way The Doctor used the power of suggestion at various points in time to seal his existence into Amy’s memory bank? There was “remember what I told you when you were seven” (way back in the “Flesh and Stone” episode) to the little hints he embedded as he said goodbye to present Amy (“you won’t need your imaginary friend anymore”) to that monologue to young, sleeping Amy. And thus, her moment of realization – “I found you in word like you knew I would.” – made complete sense, even if the science behind it all was perhaps just a little fuzzy.
The last piece of the puzzle, of course, came via River Song’s wedding gift to the bride – a blue journal with a cover that happened to look very much like a police call-box. The whole “something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue” parallel might’ve played a little hokey if Karen Gillan hadn’t delivered some of her best work this season as Amy. Ditto for Matt Smith, who made The Doctor’s journey to possible obliteration a thing of haunting beauty, especially when he said goodbye in the blue light of the Pandorica.
Oh, and not that we could forget, but how great was it to not only have Alex Kingston’s scene-stealing River Song along for the ride, but to have strong hints to the promise of her participation in season 6. Her exchange with that crusty Dalek was both hilarious and butt-kickingly delish:
Dalek: “Reports inducate you will show mercy. You are an associate of The Doctor.”
River: “I’m River Song. Check your records again.”
Looks like season 6 will try to determine who or what had taken control of the TARDIS with an eye on universal destruction. And it looks like it’ll be a case of three’s company aboard his time-traveling vessel, as Amy and Rory both seem eager to spend a honeymoon exploring the outer reaches of space and time. What did you think of “The Big Bang”? Was it a satisfying conclusion to the first season of the Smith-Gillan partnership? And any theories on the meaning of River’s parting explanation of who exactly she is? “You’re going to find out very soon. And I’m sorry, that’s when everything changes.” Is this a case of Doctor River? Or is she maybe less of a good guy than we think? Season 6, you can’t come soon enough!
Follow Slezak on Twitter @EWMichaelSlezak.