I have to say, The Pandorica Opens has not filled me with the love of Who and wowed me back into the Radiophonic Age. It has not sent me spinning off into space like a straight six into the pavilion. It strikes me that there's about five minutes of real plot in here, cushioned in forty minutes of set pieces and heavy vamping.
(Some may say that that's what we got in 2008, too. That's not a good thing as far as this episode is concerned. Some might further suggest that Moffat is spoofing the RTD finale. That's not a good thing either – unless it's very, very obvious that you're taking the piss, deliberately creating tat just leaves you with tat, and worse, tat that isn't aspiring to anything greater. The likelier possibility, I think, is that Moffat is genuinely trying to cater to an audience that now expects the Who series finale to have this frothy texture, either by his own choice or at the behest of BBC execs who are nervous about changing a formula that they find winning. It's also possible that this is just how Moffat writes finales. We'll find out in the fullness of time.)
For instance, there's not a lot of point in spending all that time at the start tying back in with Vincent van Gogh (who apparently now has full-on psychic powers, and tops himself because he's seen the TARDIS blow up – bit cheap, that), Winston Churchill (who must be informed in his London bunker immediately about any paintings found in French attics) and the Pearly Queen (2000 years older and still going Mockney). The Doctor – and the viewer – already knows perfectly well that the TARDIS is going to blow up. It's a pretty contrived way to get River Song onto the scene.
Then there's the set piece with the knackered Cyberman, which has “padding” acid-etched all over it and very obviously serves no purpose except to wake us up in the middle of that monumental longueur in the basement beneath Stonehenge. I mean, I like Cybermen too, and it's interesting to see this new take on the idea of them as body-snatching rogue technology, but it doesn't belong in this story. A sentry, indeed; hacked up by Celts, I'm sure; pull the other one, it's got a dessicated head in it.
And who's grooming the monsters, ready for the Monster Parade? The execution's immeasurably better than Dimensions in Time, but the basic idea looks to be pretty much the same – dig out whatever monster costumes we've got available until we've got enough for a crowd scene. The Silurians are there, for some reason. So's that thing that was caught up in the Scooby-Doo chase scene in Love & Monsters – I hadn't realised he felt so strongly about it. (Couldn't spot them in the episode, but publicity shots even included that well-known race of galactic conquerors, the Weevils from Torchwood. Hmmm.) In principle, the idea of all these alien fiends teaming up to fight the Doctor is extremely cheesy; the idea that they're doing it because he's going to destroy the universe and they're going to save it is brilliant; but there's a part of me that instinctively recoils from the old pile-everything-on finale moment regardless. At least that bit of the episode was brief.
And how did they all get there? Did they hitch a lift with the Daleks, or are they all time-travellers now? Or did Moffat just really want Romans in this one and to hell with explanations?
I have a couple of other questions. Are we now to assume that the Nestene carry their own supplies of plastic around with them, since there's no way they'd be able to source the stuff in Roman Britain? And it's possible that this may be addressed in next week's episode, but I do wonder how Rory remembers everything up to his death if he's based on “psychic residue” the monster alliance picked up at Amy's house.
And yet, and yet. There is something of an epic feeling about it all. And even though it wasn't hard to guess who was going to end up inside the Pandorica, it was still a neat idea. Top moments of the episode for me include:
- The scene in the prison after River escapes.
- “I said off the wrist...”
- The clever twist that, after the Doctor's repeated his bit about the Pandorica being “a fairy tale” and then found the real thing, it turns out that it is a fairy tale after all, lifted from Amy's book.
- The incidental music abruptly cutting out as everything vanishes.
But by and large, I found it entertaining without being particularly memorable. Usual first-part-of-a-two-parter caveats apply, but I'm tentatively giving The Pandorica Opens 6 out of 10.
(Edit: On further consideration, 7 out of 10. This puts it on a par with The Eleventh Hour and Utopia, both of which I think compare aptly.)