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New Who 5.13: The Big Bang

I was out when this was broadcast, and away the following weekend, so it's taken me a while to find time to sit down and write up my thoughts about it properly. So apologies for the fortnight's delay, but here at last is my write-up of the Doctor Who finale.

This has been the first season finale from the hand of Moffat, so most of fandom was waiting with bated breath to find out if we'd finally seen the back of magic reset buttons, dei ex machinis and Total Bollocks Overdrive. My view on that is that actually we haven't really. There were plenty of things in this episode that didn't really make sense or stretched the suspension of disbelief - see this post (especially points 1 and 6) and this one (especially the fourth paragraph) for some of them. Specifically, we might well say that the Pandorica basically turns out to be a magic reset button, River at the point when she arrives at Amy's wedding is a dea ex machina, and the business with flying the Pandorica into the heart of the TARDIS to undo the effects of the explosion is Total Bollocks Overdrive.

But Doctor Who has always been full of nonsensical plot devices, lightly glossed over with a bit of hand-waving and technobabble. To me, the difference between Russell T. Davies and Steven Moffat is more one of presentation than of content. Moffat's resolution was signalled better in advance than Davies' usually were, so that we have absorbed ideas such as 'time can be rewritten' gradually over the course of the season rather than suddenly being expected to swallow them at the last minute. His overall plot structure is more complex, which for me created more of a feeling that it must make sense at some level, and that if it didn't quite convince, then that must be my fault for not getting it rather than his for writing palpable nonsense. Indeed, most of the niggling questions which the finale raises can be answered. By comparison, RTD's didn't tend to leave questions of the type listed in the linked page at all: only questions along the lines of "What? I waited an entire season and all I got was X hokey plot device? Is that it?"

So overall it was a more satisfying finale than RTD used to produce, although still not entirely WTF-free. And Moffat has of course also left us with a tantalising list of unanswered questions to keep us on tenterhooks until next year. Who or what was it that made the TARDIS explode in the first place? Whose was the voice saying 'silence will fall'? Who was the 'good man' that River song killed; why; and who actually is she anyway? And what about that TARDIS-like ship in The Lodger: who built that and what happened to them? This is a new move which RTD didn't really make use of – unless, I suppose, you count the gradual unfolding over all four of his seasons of revelations about what happened in the Time War.

Meanwhile, back to this episode, I thought Matt Smith was superb again, right from his touching-without-being-sentimental monologue by little Amelia's bedside to his mad-as-fish wedding dancing. Little Amelia herself was great too, but I'm afraid that after a whole season I'm still quite lukewarm about grown-up Amy. I don't hate her, and she certainly has her moments. I liked her for most of the Time of Angels / Flesh and Stone two-parter, for example, where she managed to be inquisitive, intelligent, self-confident, unwise, brave, scared, noble and compassionate over the course of the story while still seeming like a coherent single character. But over the season as a whole I have found it difficult to relate to her as a rounded person. She does odd unpredictable things sometimes which don't really sit well with the rest of her behaviour, feeling as though they just pop up out of nowhere only to be forgotten again the next minute. Her attempt to seduce the Doctor at the end of Flesh and Stone is an example of that, but it's not the only one. In the Doctor, similar unpredictability is great, because it keeps us interested and helps to signal how alien he is. But in a companion, who is supposed to be our audience-identification figure, it becomes disconcerting. And I also don't think it was helped by Karen Gillan's tendency to pull rather weird pouty, stary faces and vogue-y poses all the time:

Not to worry, though, because I am growing immensely fond of Rory. I liked him already before The Big Bang. He's unapologetically normal where Amy feels like she considers herself to be special (without really convincing me of the fact), but he's still basically game to have a go at anything, especially for Amy's sake. I don't personally share in his admiration for Amy, but that's not a problem for me. We've seen at several points through the season, and especially in Amy's Choice, that what Rory thinks he wants is ordinary, settled security. But we've also seen him gradually discovering that he can enjoy experiences well beyond the ordinary, and at the very end of The Big Bang he has reached the point where he's every bit as enthusiastic as Amy about running off with the Doctor. So to me what that signals is that he was probably attracted to Amy all along partly because he subconsciously did long for excitement and adventure, and saw Amy as someone likely to provide those things. That's perfectly understandable, even if I find Amy a bit weird myself. And his final decision in The Big Bang is also a very satisfactory resolution of the adventure vs. domestic bliss debate which has been something of a theme of this season, especially in Amy's Choice and The Lodger. The answer we've ended up with is – why not have both? And that seems very positive to me.

So I'm totally thrilled to see Rory heading off into space, and indeed to hear on the rumour-vine that Arthur Darvill will be getting his name in the opening credits as a full-time companion next season. I'm keen to see more of him as a character, and have been hoping for a multiple-companion Team TARDIS set-up anyway ever since I got into the First Doctor era and realised how well it can work. I really think it allows much more scope for character-development, simply because there are more characters who are consistently present across more than one 45-minute story. I'd actually have trusted RTD to make better use of that potential than Steven Moffat, but then again we have seen a fairly convincing character-arc for Rory in the current season, if not so much for Amy – so maybe Moffat will do great things with it after all. It certainly seems like a wise move with the rather more alien Doctor that we now have in Eleven by comparison with Ten. I'd love to see more scenes in which his alienness is played off against Rory and Amy's humanity – him doing strange things which make them doubt whether they should trust him; him needing a human perspective to help resolve a situation, and so forth.

The other particularly interesting thing about Rory from my point of view is that he seemed to get back his full memories of his time as an Auton replica at the exact point when the Doctor re-appeared at his and Amy's wedding. (When the Doctor appears, he exclaims "It's the Doctor! How did we forget the Doctor? I was plastic! He was the stripper at my stag night!"). This is fantastic, because it should mean that he is now familiar with all of British history from AD 102 to 1996. OK, so he's only going to have the fairly limited perspective of what he saw or heard from his stand-point beside the Pandorica – but still, the pictures of the Pandorica throughout history suggest that both it and he did move about a fair bit during that period (even going backwards in time if the Egyptian and Classical Greek images are taken into account - though I don't think they need be). There's certainly every reason to hope that, without depriving Rory of his basic ordinary humanity, those memories should give him something of a depth of perspective that can be drawn on occasionally for dramatic purposes, and even better plenty of local knowledge of the time-periods which the TARDIS might now visit.

Rory is now in a position, in fact, to play the same sort of orienting role in historical stories as Barbara used to do thanks to her knowledge as a history teacher. Indeed, Moffat has already shown markedly more interest in historical stories than RTD did, with a total of four stories this season set either entirely or substantially in Earth's past (Victory of the Daleks, The Vampires of Venice, Vincent and the Doctor and The Pandorica Opens / The Big Bang) - a hit-rate which is proportionately very close to that of the mid-1960s, when roughly every third story was a 'historical' as a matter of course. So Rory's new knowledge could well see quite a lot of action next season. Is it too much to ask, I wonder, that we might even finally get a 'pure' historical with that set-up, in which the essential drama revolves around Amy and the Doctor trying to get along in a society which is alien to them, but not to Rory? I'm not banking on it – new Who seems pretty wedded to the basic assumption that There Must Be Monsters, and of course I recognise that their absence raises problems around creating opportunities for heroics which don't also threaten to change the past. But I can dream.

Anyway, the phone-call at the end of the story strongly suggests that the Christmas special will give us an Egyptian goddess on the Orient Express... in space! Clearly not a pure historical, or even a straightforward historical in the sense of being set chronologically in Earth's past, then – but still by the sounds of it a story which will draw on not one but two periods of human history. With a Doctor I now firmly like, a multi-companion TARDIS team and a historically-well-informed companion on board, that should be pretty good watching.

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( 26 comments — Leave a comment )
Jul. 10th, 2010 09:23 pm (UTC)
Thanks for this, I always enjoy your perspective, and I'm particularly pleased that you spotted that Rory seemed to remember his time as an Auton, because I failed to notice it, and it definitely makes me feel better about a lot of things - I loved Auton!Rory so much! (Although I liked original Rory pretty well too.) I look forward to the next season as you anticipate it - I hope it lives up to that.
Jul. 10th, 2010 09:25 pm (UTC)
Auton!Rory is brill! I may have to make myself an icon of him actually, especially since he can serve double-purpose as standing for Roman militarism at the same time.
Jul. 10th, 2010 09:57 pm (UTC)
I love Auton!Rory and I loved that line but it raises an awful lot of quibbles - OK Amy brings back both Rory and eventually the Doctor by remembering them, but SHE remebers Rory-human - how can he have the memories of plastic-Rory? It just doesn't make sense - UNLESS Amy brought back the last Rory she saw,namely Auton!Rory!! Now that would be so cool - and also rather a downer for Rory's hopes of normality and babies?! I doubt very mucvh we'll get this (as with Chrurchill's android, wouldn't Rory have er noticed?) but it would be so cool - he'd be a superhero!.
Jul. 11th, 2010 08:59 am (UTC)
I suspect it's just the memories. Amy remembered them both (and probably liked that he was romantic enough to guard her for 2,000 years), so he got both the memories, but she probably preferred him to be human, so that's what she got. Which is a shame, because I was totally up for having a proper android in the TARDIS, after the disappointment of Kamelion.

*uses Kamelion icon*
Jul. 11th, 2010 11:08 am (UTC)
As I understand it, Amy's memories (as channelled through the Pandorica) reset the entire universe to how it should have been before it was ever affected by the time cracks - except minus the Doctor. So the Rory in the reset universe is basically the ordinary human Rory who has never left Leadworth, and neither he nor Amy have any memories of ever having travelled with the Doctor.

But at the same time, all those adventures with the Doctor did happen, and have left both Amy and Rory with half-forgotten fragments of memory that no longer fit with the dominant reality they are experiencing. Amy gets her memory jogged by the appearance of River and the gift of the TARDIS diary. And similarly, when Rory sees the TARDIS, that is enough to jog his own memories of what happened to him in a different timeline and a different universe.

For most people, there will probably never be similar memory jogs - for example, Amy's aunt Sharon will probably never remember the time she spent raising Amy on her own without Amy's parents. But Rory gets a strong enough jolt to remember his own experiences, perhaps helped by the fact that he has travelled in the TARDIS himself, so has a different perspective on time from most humans.

And Rory does seem to have complete existence as an autonomous person each time he is 'reconstituted'. This has happened to him twice now, both times essentially from Amy's memories (once as an Auton using the imprint from her house, and then again as a human using the memory of the universe imprinted into the Pandorica). But I don't think that means that each time he only exists as Amy subjectively experienced him. Each time he seems to have intact memories of experiences that Amy never witnessed - such as his stag night.

I don't know exactly how that works, but the same principle must apply to the whole universe. Amy may have no direct conscious experience of (say) Androzani Minor, but she has also absorbed the entire universe subconsciously through the time crack in her bedroom wall - so Androzani Minor is back as it ever was, and so are the whole of every individual human being's experiences, even if Amy knew nothing about them.

It's pretty confusing, I'll grant you, and obviously doesn't make any real-life sense at all. But I think it does make a kind of fairy-tale sense if you squint a bit!
Jul. 10th, 2010 11:53 pm (UTC)
I'll be honest, there's almost never a big ending without a reset button, it's just that Moffat tries to set up the script so that the buttons are more obvious to the general viewer - which makes it more appealing than

a) look into the heart of the TARDIS,
b) reverse a one way device from a void,
c) a Paradox Machine that goes to the exact moment you needed,
d) a human/timelord hybrid who's worse at deus ex than The Doctor.
e) the ultimate prison that contains parts of the original universe.

All those ideas sound crap in isolation, it's all about presentation.
Jul. 11th, 2010 11:09 am (UTC)
Well, yes - that's pretty much what I thought I was saying in my post!
Jul. 11th, 2010 12:19 pm (UTC)
Which you do, you just seem to come down harder on The Big Bang. I think Moffat could have written almost anything and it would have been better than most of RTD's endings.

I am hoping that now the cracks have been sorted, Amy might make a bit more sense rather than having bits of her life randomly vanishing. But Rory is now a very interesting character, given that he's lived longer than The Doctor!
Jul. 11th, 2010 04:05 am (UTC)
Rory Williams alias Pond is the new Barbara Wright...

I really thought that Rory had been handled even more inconsistently than Amy for his run as companion mid-season, and didn't miss him at all when he died at the end of Cold Blood. The finale made him far more interesting and gave Arthur Darvill more to work with; I hope this is taken forward (and even have a story coming on, if I have time).
Jul. 11th, 2010 11:19 am (UTC)
Mid-season Rory didn't seem too inconsistent to me, although it may be that I wasn't yet paying enough attention to him at that stage to notice. My impression of him up to Cold Blood was that he was frequently quite confused and out of his depth, but actually possessed of hidden depths of competence and intelligence of which he himself was largely unaware. I can see how it would look inconsistent as he switches from one to the other, but my overall impression of his character-arc (in retrospect at least) is of a gradual (though not smooth) shifting of emphasis from the former to the latter. Anyway, I definitely agree that he emerged as a far more interesting character in the last two episodes, and am very hopeful about where that could lead.
(Deleted comment)
Jul. 11th, 2010 11:31 am (UTC)
Yep, definitely - I think you've expressed better than I did how Rory seems to work.
(Deleted comment)
Jul. 11th, 2010 11:40 am (UTC)
Yes, I did find myself wondering, "What? Hasn't a TARDIS ever exploded before?" I think the rather surprising extent of its effects can be explained away in one of two ways:

a) Previous TARDIS explosions were contained by the sealed bubble in which the Time War was taking place, and which was already separated from the rest of the universe, so did not have any noticeable effect on the rest of it.

Or b) The Doctor's TARDIS is now the only one in existence, so previous TARDISes might have exploded without any particularly serious effects, but this last one has acquired a greater importance and a greater impact on the universe than the others ever had.

But it would have been nice if Moffat himself had included some passing reference to an idea along these lines in the script. And indeed, as you say the time-travelling escape solution could have done with a bit more explanation too.
(Deleted comment)
Jul. 11th, 2010 11:42 am (UTC)
Hmm, that issue with Amy's house has been discussed a great deal on doctorwho. Some people agree with you, but others think that the second staircase does just lead up to some kind of small attic room - and I think I agree with them.
Jul. 11th, 2010 02:34 pm (UTC)
"the phone-call at the end of the story strongly suggests that the Christmas special will give us an Egyptian goddess on the Orient Express... in space!"

I took that as a sly comment on RTD's Christmas stories, particularly "Voyage of the Damned". I have heard that Moffat has said that the festive episode will be the most Christmasy one yet and all that it will feature the -*-*. But, of course, that doesn't preclude it being set on the Orient Express... in space!" (And we only hear one side of the conversation. We don't know what whoever phoned the Doctor actually said to him.)
Jul. 11th, 2010 08:21 pm (UTC)
Hmm, yes - could be. I really hope it's what the phone-call suggested, though, as that sounds like an awesome story.
Jul. 11th, 2010 06:48 pm (UTC)
Thanks for doing that. And yes - I think it's just as much a deus ex tardis - but since it was built up to it ceases to be a deus ex tradis. Or at least cease to feel like one.

And - well - scattering that one moment of the doctor out of sequence - to me - showed a greater depth of writing then anything in RTD. Immagine the return of the time lords handled like this - rather then hurled backwards and then thrown away.....

Jul. 11th, 2010 08:24 pm (UTC)
Yes, I would have loved to see the return of the Time Lords handled better - ideally including them actually sticking around rather than, as you say, getting thrown away again. Here's hoping they'll be back again some time in the programme's future.
Jul. 12th, 2010 12:33 pm (UTC)
I think I also find Rory more interesting than adult!Amy, especially now that we know why parts of her life didn't make sense, so don't have that to keep us interested. I love your ideas for how the show might use him next year, and like you, I'm glad to see multiple companions. Moffat is quite good at writing things with a mildly poly feel (he knows enough poly people, of course), and that gives me a nice warm glow of recognition, even when it's not necessarily a sexual thing.
Jul. 12th, 2010 01:44 pm (UTC)
Yes, there has definitely been quite a bit already in season 5 that can be read from a poly angle - like Amy's references to 'her boys'. So I'm sure there will indeed be more.
Jul. 26th, 2010 01:53 am (UTC)
Finally watched this episode tonight, and promptly read your review (as I always do with Dr Who stories). I wanted to firmly ditto your opinions on Amy and Rory. Amy drives me bonkers, and that is certainly not helped by the actress' preference for the pouty expression that makes her features look distinctive and attractive. I think this may be a common fault in actresses who've done extensive modelling previously, as I had the same issue with the character of Kate in Lost. In both cases, I was struck by the expression in the first episode--and thoroughly irritated by it in all subsequent ones.

Rory however always rather appealed to me (and part of my dislike for Amy is her cavalier attitude to him). I was particularly impressed by Arthur Darvill's acting in the finale two parter, and I am delighted he's going to stick around as a companion. Hopefully, he'll get due attention paid to him over the next series, now that we've resolved Amy's 'specialness'.
Jul. 26th, 2010 09:36 am (UTC)
Heh, I'm glad I'm not the only one irritated by Karen Gillan's pouting! Still, yes - Rory does very much help to make up for it. :-)
Apr. 8th, 2011 12:39 pm (UTC)
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Nov. 2nd, 2011 08:24 pm (UTC)
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( 26 comments — Leave a comment )

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