The Pandorica Opens / The Big Bang

* That’s a hell of an opening sequence, bringing together pretty much every major guest character from the series so far. Well, almost – if you were James Cordon or Meera Syal, you’d have to take it personally. It’s a new twist on the way the finale sits with the rest of the series – as well as there being seeds of the finale dotted throughout the preceeding episodes, bits of preceeding episodes are dotted throughout the finale. It makes the whole thing feel like it’s all been one big story – Series 5 is one long and varied chapter in The Doctor’s life, rather than several smaller ones.

* River Song Timeline Watch: The Weeping Angels story hasn’t happened to River yet. Is the implication that we’re following River’s story in exact reverse chronological order? That would be the easiest interpretation to follow, but hold on – she doesn’t seem to know who Rory is, so this can’t take place after any of her Series 6 or 7 stories. Unless she’s just pretending to not know Rory, in order to avoid any spoiler-related faux pas. Oh, I’m only three River stories in and I’ve gone cross-eyed.

* I really like the way the Cybermen are used here, like creatures in a horror flick. There’s the disembodied head scuttling about on spidery tentacles, then the skull falling out of the helmet, then the headless ghost coming to attack. Despite how unusual a Cyberman appearance this is, it’s the most effective they’ve been in the revival so far, and the skull is the closest they’ll come to nailing the body horror until they give up and bring back the Mondasians.

* Rory’s back. Hooray! I couldn’t quite remember all the details of how it happens, and considered the possibility that he’d remain an Auton for the rest of his life. That would have been great – The Doctor having a companion that’s ostensibly human in pretty much all respects, except that his hand can turn into a gun. And he might accidentally kill his wife when stressed.

* Quick status check at the end of the first part: The Doctor has been imprisoned by every monster he’s ever met, Amy has been reunited with Rory only for him to shoot her dead, River is trapped in an exploding TARDIS, and every star in every universe in every reality is going out, one-by-one. Yeah, that’s a pretty high-stakes cliffhanger.

* When things are this extreme, it makes me nervous, as it’s a big challenge to get out of situations like this in a satisfying way. Moffat handles this by once again tinkering with the format of a finale. It’s often the case that the first ep is largely one long set-up for the second ep, but here it feels more like two distinct stories. By not starting The Big Bang in the same time and place as The Pandorica Opens ended, it’s an indication that the answer to “how do they get out of that one?” is going to take the whole episode.

* It’s an answer that involves the return of young Amelia Pond, and she’s up against stone Daleks, which look a hell of a lot better than the New Paradigm bastards elsewhere in this series. We’re also introduced to The Doctor’s penchant for a fez, as part of a timey-wimey jigsaw puzzle of a plot, which sees the show once more channeling Bill & Ted-style time travel humour. This use of time travel as a story-telling device is something that would become a trademark of Moffat’s era, so it’s easy to forget how fresh, unusual and exciting it felt at the time.

* Inevitably, the ultimate conclusion to the story requires a little bit of what people like to refer to as a “reset button”, but there’s so much more it than that, and it avoids all the pitfalls that often make this term a pejorative one. Firstly, the show acknowledges exactly what it is – The Doctor is rebooting the universe, simple as that. Secondly, it’s not without its cost – The Doctor has to sacrifice his existence in order to make it happen, cleverly linking up with the rest of the series once more as he goes.

But mostly, the crucial part is that by the time everything’s worked itself out, the characters still remember everything that happened. Amy piecing everything together was a thing of joy, and it meant that all the things that the reboot erased were still “real” to her, Rory, River and The Doctor, even if that’s not what the history books will say. As far as they’re concerned, Rory spent the best part of 2,000 years guarding Amy, while she managed to bring both the men in her life back from the dead, and all the character development that goes along with these things will still apply.

So yeah, call it a “reset button” if you like, but it’s not a cheat – it’s our heroes fixing a problem and winning the day like they always do, even if nobody but them will know they did it.

RATING: 9

SERIES AVERAGE RATING: 8.2

  • Seasons/Series watched: 31 of 36
  • Stories watched: 212 of 275
  • Individual episodes watched: 769 of 839

What a fine series that was. One thing I’ve noticed is that when I was rewatching Series 1-4, seeing Eccleston and Tennant was like revisiting old friends, as I had been for Doctors 1-8. But with Smith, despite the fact that I adore Capaldi, I’ve been kind of forgetting that he’s not the current Doctor – he’s still so exciting to watch, and I’ve always thought he could have easily stuck around for longer.

Coming up next, I’m about to go on holiday for a week and a bit, which might rather dent my hopes of finishing this thing before Christmas. However, I’m taking my laptop and my Sarah Jane DVDs with me, just in case it rains…

Victory of the Daleks

Right, format breaker time, because this is a very strange episode indeed. It contains the best stuff Gatiss has ever written for the show, the two leads remain on stunning form and there are a couple of outstanding guest performances. But there’s one big problem.

OH MY GOD THE NEW DALEKS ARE TERRIBLE.

For starters, they’re simply too big and bulky. It changes their basic shape too much, and for some reason I find them a lot more menacing when they’re not towering over everyone – they were hardly diminutive before, but the point is they’re so dangerous that they don’t need to be quite so imposing. They’ve got fat shoulders, big arses and stupid long necks, which makes their heads look too small in proportion. I can take or leave the bright and varied colours, but that’s about as close as I can get to a compliment. The voice is all wrong too. It’s just not quite a Dalek, like it’s a slightly shoddily made knock-off.

I am a lot less angry now than I was seven years ago, considering they’ve been quietly shelved in favour of the proper ones since, but I’m still baffled by the decision to change them in the first place. It’s one of the single most iconic designs in television history; even if the new design was brilliant, it would be hard for people to accept the change. But it’s not brilliant. Having a new batch of Daleks out there who aren’t in any way connected to RTD’s Time War makes sense from a story perspective. Redesigning them only makes sense from a toy-selling perspective.

So I wanted to get all of that out the way, because rewatching this story has made me realise it’s such a shame that the New Paradigm bastards completely overshadow the rest of the episode. Everything was going so well up until the big reveal, and it’s only now that I’ve calmed down enough to appreciate all that came before and after it. So let’s ignore the elephant-sized Daleks in the room, expunge that part of the episode from the record and start again…

Victory of the Daleks

* Why are half the people in the Cabinet War Rooms cosplaying as Captain Jack? This is World War II, not a Torchwood convention.

* Bill Paterson! A man who, thanks to a childhood obsession with Roald Dahl adaptations, I will forever associate with cock-a-leekie soup. Now there’s a guest actor who’s playing a part worthy of his status. While I’m still not sure how I feel about the notion that you can persuade a bomb not to go off by telling it that it’s human, he’s one of those actors who’s so captivating that you’re willing to go along with it.

* There is one Dalek redesign that I am on board with: what I like to call the Dad’s Army Dalek, complete with black out curtains over the lights. It’s rare that the Daleks are played for laughs, but in the right circumstances it can work. There are obvious echoes of Power of the Daleks, so much so that I kept on expecting them to say “we are your servants” instead of “we are you soldiers”. However, there are few Dalek moments in history so amusing as one responding to being hit on the head with a spanner by asking “you do not require tea?”.

* So Amy doesn’t recognise the Daleks, and therefore doesn’t remember their recent invasions. The inconsistency as to how people have responded to these events is something I’ve been complaining about for a while, so I suppose this works as a retrospective fix. Basically Moffat can use the crack in time to undo any bits of continuity hanging over from Russell’s era, thus giving him a blank canvas.

* I love the fact that The Doctor and Winston Churchill are old friends, and that we just accept this. The character is of course a rather romanticised version of the real person, but then you wouldn’t expect them to explore the whole anti-Semitism thing of a Saturday teatime. The “Keep Buggering On” persona is certainly in keeping with what the real Churchill represents, culturally speaking, and it’s a fine performance from Ian McNeice, a good balance between characterisation and impersonation.

*┬áThere’s a character that we see a handful of times throughout the episode – a woman serving in the War Rooms, whose boyfriend/husband is an RAF pilot, and we learn towards the end that he’s been shot down and killed. It’s clearly there to illustrate the horrors of war, but it’s so weird that neither The Doctor or Amy interact with her at all. You’d expect her and Amy to get chatting at some point, so that her story is fleshed out and we care more about her later loss, but no – we don’t get to know her at all, so her fella is just another statistic instead of a human story.

RATING: 7