Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Open the Box!

No, on second thoughts, take the money.

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.)


Christopher Pittard said...

Bejesus, you're a harsh one, Toon - I thought this was crackin'. And no, I didn't see that ending coming; instead, in retrospect I thought that was a rather nice bit of playing on RTD's habit of bringing in the end of term baddie in what he thought were huge surprises, but which really weren't (in other words, the Moff had us thinking "Oh, is it going to be Davros? Rose? John Simm?", but never "Oh, nobody"). It also makes the Doctor's address to the massed forces somewhat grimly ironic, which is always appreciated in nu-Who.

The Cyber-head as padding? If so, that's padding I can live with. It may not have much to do with the plot, but then neither did that dalek at the end of part one of *Remembrance*, and I'd hesitate to describe that scene in similar terms.

Incidentally, you may have noticed that daleks here are never shot from the back or in full profile. The new design doesn't seem that popular after all, and as for next week... well, that would be giving stuff away. Suffice to say that next week's shenanigans are particularly amusing with reference to their new look.

As for the unlikely coalition... well, this series has been superbly timed with real-world events (elections, football mania, solstices...). I'll say no more. All in all, we're going to disagree again, but for the first time (as far as I can remember), I'm going to go higher. This is at least a 9. At least.

Christopher Pittard said...

All right, not "as far as I can remember." I'd forgotten *The Beast Below*. The irony, it burns.

John Toon said...

Yes, the big reveal is a nice twist, and the Cyber padding is nice padding, and that's why I rate this episode above the average. But I stand by my observations.

So did you not think "Sounds like the Doctor" when he said his piece about a trickster falling from the sky and tearing down your world? That jumped right out at me. Could be exposure to the spin-off novels - they tended to play with that idea of the Doctor quite a lot. Come to think of it, Moffat's already raised it a few times in his TV episodes - all that stuff about monsters having nightmares about the Doctor.

Re the Daleks, it is odd. Why spend the money redesigning them that way (and Moffat must have signed off on it, lord love him) if directors are going to shy away from showing them off? I've seen it suggested that the bulgy backs have some purpose yet to be revealed on screen, but I still suspect the prime reason for the redesign is just to give the operators more room.

John Toon said...

On reflection, I might stretch to a 7. I gave The Eleventh Hour a 7, and I think it's a fair comparison - they're both set-piecey runarounds spiced up with small sparkly moments in the script.

The key differences that I can see are that the narrative stitching is more obvious here, and that Amy had less to do here (astonishing as that may be). Those are the reasons I only say "might".

Christopher Pittard said...

Yes, that description does sound like the Doctor (which I'll admit didn't leap out at me - I was too suckered into the "It's Davros, isn't it?" trap), but in a quite brilliant piece of writing, Moffat has River Song point that out a couple of minutes later, which *seems* to undercut any clever identification of subtext by the viewer. It also means that she actually tells us exactly what's going to happen, except that we don't really listen. That's having one's script cake and eating it.

Something else that occurred to me, though, is that I didn't see any trailers before watching this episode, which may have made it more of a surprise. Going back and watching the trailer I presume appeared at the end of *The Lodger*, it seems much more obvious. Am I viewing this with hindsight, or does the trailer give too much away?

Strabec said...

As I have said I enjoyed the episode but I am not quite sure why . The whole of this episode did seem to be one gimmick after another. The Cyberman attack on Amy was just laughable, as was the Alien Convention. Other episodes that were one gimmick after another (see the entire RTD era...) just left me feeling bored and waiting for the end (especially Tennants finale!). But this had something. I wish I could put my finger on what.

Speaking of the Aliens, although I find them all joining sides to jointly defeat the Doctor unlikely, I don't think it is impossible. Oh yes I'd figured out the Doctor was going in the box as soon as someone mentioned that it was supposed to hold the most feared thing in the Universe. As the Doctor himself pointed out he'd defeated all the aliens separately.

John Toon said...

Pitsy - as I recall, the Doctor says "a wizard" is supposed to have defeated and imprisoned whatever's in the Pandorica, and River says she hates that kind of story because "a wizard" always turns out to be the Doctor. So really Moffat's subtly priming us to expect the opposite, which, as you say, he then undercuts.

I'm itching to find some broader application for what looks like an in-story use of the old "a wizard did it" spoof line. (How did the Doctor get out of that? Oh, a wizard did it.) And who knows? Maybe in the final episode...

Re trailers, there is an argument to be made. I understand the UK didn't get any trailers at all for the final episode - at least, none that included footage from the episode itself - whereas over here we did get a trailer right after ep 12. Nothing too major, but it did include a shot of the Pandorica flying up into the sky, and the Doctor saying "Goodbye, Doctor". Potentially revealing, but I think you'd be hard pressed to deduce the content of the episode from it. Actually, rereading that description, I'd say it's quite misleading, so well done to whoever edited the trailer.

Strabec - I don't see a huge difference yet between what RTD did and what Moffat does in terms of finale plotting ("We'll throw all the images up in the air, and what the script editor wants, he'll keep!"), just in the kinds of misdirection they use to try to keep you from looking too closely. I suspect the real difference is quite simply that you prefer the way Moffat misdirects to the way RTD used to misdirect. Disclaimer: opinion may go down as well as up, and is subject to change after seeing ep 13. I'll probably ramble about this in more depth when I've had a chance to look back and ponder the series overall.