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…

The Time of Angels / Flesh and Stone

* Bloody hell, it’s Mike Skinner. That has to rank as one of the most incongruous pieces of guest casting of all time. I seem to remember his star was already waning somewhat in 2010, but he was still a very recognisable face to choose for a part that lasts all of ten seconds. Later in the episode, Father Octavian is your man from Game of Thrones – I don’t even watch Game of Thrones properly, but his voice is always so distinctive in the few bits I’ve seen.

* So, does River know Amy’s her mum at this point? I’m genuinely not sure – I always assumed even though the whole River Song story was confusing while it was playing out, it would make sense to me by the time it was finished. But even now, I feel like I need a diagram, so I’m going to do my best to piece it all together properly on this rewatch. Thus far, her time-twisting, Bill & Ted-esque escape from the Byzantium is the first major example we’ve seen of why The Doctor will eventually come to love her.

* Doing a sequel to Blink is a tough job, so Moffat went down the route of taking the original monster and adding shitloads of them, a la Aliens. They also have a whole raft of new abilities – the image of an Angel becomes an Angel, they can use the voices of the dead to communicate, and they can even turn you into an Angel if you look them in the eye. Sally Sparrow’s lucky none of this shit happened to her.

* The speech about what not to put in a trap is a big moment for Smith, and he does it well. We’re starting to get a real grip of his persona now; he’s child-like and over-excitable to some extent – which is a trait that I recall was toned down over time – but he still commands enormous respect, and when he wants you to take him seriously, you totally do. Also, that scene is so much more dramatic on DVD, without an animated Graham Norton dancing all over it.

* After a more action-heavy first half, it becomes more like a horror movie again in the second, which must be partially due to the fact that the soldiers/priests are getting killed off so fast that it’s no longer a fair fight. The moment you realise that Amy is involuntarily counting down to zero is when the tension starts to ramp up, and by the time she’s walking through a crowd of angels with her eyes closed, because if she opens them for more than a second she’ll die… well, you daren’t blink.

* The fabled crack in time turns up in all its glory after only five episodes. Things seem to be moving a lot quicker these days, but it’s more that the series arc is becoming a bigger part of each episode – this isn’t an early culmination, it’s just that they’re taking the time to flesh the idea out more along the way to the actual culmination. If anything, it’s a bit of a shame that the Angels took a backseat when the crack starting eating people, scary and fun though that was. People forgetting other people existed mid-conversation will always make me think of Red Dwarf‘s Out of Time.

* This time round, I totally noticed that The Doctor suddenly had his jacket on when he came back to talk to Amy… but then I was looking out for it. Totally passed me by originally.

* Oh I say, I’d forgotten how racy that final scene is. I have very conflicting feelings about seeing Amy Pond acting in that way. Moffat said recently that he regrets the way that scene ended up, and on balance he’s right to do so, although it’s nearly all worth it for The Doctor offering to sort Amy right out.

RATING: 9

Silence in the Library / Forest of the Dead

* Hello, sweetie. River Song comes crashing into Doctor Who, dressed as an ambassador of death. Looking back, what a wonderful thing it was to have such a complex and unconventional love story unfold so slowly, in occasional installments over a period of seven years. Revisiting the first chapter now that the tale is complete gives it a completely different complexion. I remember it initially took me a few appearances to warm to River, but now that I have it means I’m on her side from the start, and I found myself getting frustrated with The Doctor’s attitude towards her.

I’m not sure how much of this would have been intentional in 2008, but the consequence of this is an episode that can be interpreted and enjoyed in two completely different ways, depending on which of the protagonists’ perspectives you take. It’s either the start of a new relationship or the end of an old one; neither is the definitive experience on its own, rather they complement each other and your second viewing is truly rewarded. Now that all the gaps have been filled and all the questions answered, it feels like an already brilliant episode now has extra layers of brilliance on top.

* Was people saying “spoilers!” already a thing when this episode was aired, or did it originate here and has since disseminated into the public consciousness? The release of said spoilers about The Doctor’s future started off small with little hints like her having her own Sonic, and the fact that she’d never met Donna implying that she won’t be around for much longer, thankfully.

Then by the end, River’s numerous speeches about “her” Doctor were effectively a big advert for how brilliant the forthcoming Moffat era was going to be. By this point in Tennant’s tenure, some of the attention-grabbing magic of his early appearances was wearing off, and I do remember thinking it was about time to mix things up. But by the end of this episode, this one encounter with River had given The Doctor his swagger back, to the extent that he’s confident enough to try opening the TARDIS doors by clicking his fingers, and it works. You can almost see him starting to become the next Doctor, and we’ve just been told how amazing he’s going to be. Thankfully, he was.

(The order of events in this blog post is becoming terribly jumbled, but that seems apt. Go with it.)

* Moffat just loves to make kids scared of everyday things, doesn’t he? This time: the dark. The Doctor literally says at one point that fear of the dark is “not irrational”. The notion of shadows and the dust in sunbeams actually being tiny flesh-eating monsters is quite a memorable one, and the Vashta Nerada are an absolutely perfect foe for this episode – they do exactly what’s required to play their small part in a much bigger story.

* Mind you, they’re not safe from the mandatory repetitive catchphrase trend. The concept of ghosting is amazing and truly creepy – one of the best moments in the whole thing is the realisation that Other Dave is repeating the same phrases over and over again in the background. But the cliffhanger kind of exploited the concept to provide a more playground-oriented kind of monster. Between “who turned out the lights?” and “Donna Noble has been saved”, it become more of a cacophony than a climax, but meanwhile you had all the stuff with Dr Moon and the little girl, and that was just brilliant.

* Speaking of those segments: Mark Dexter! Now there’s an actor who I definitely wouldn’t have known at the time, but in the intervening years, thanks to his role as Rimmer’s brother in an episode of Red Dwarf, he’s someone who I’ve become a fan of, been to the pub with, and directed to pull stupid faces as part of the opening ceremony for a convention. Elsewhere in the guest cast, Steve Pemberton easily wins the competition for which member of The League of Gentlemen got to appear in the best episode of Doctor Who.

* It’s in the second half, when the focus switches more to the alternative world, that this story leaps from great to one of the greats. There are so many ideas here, each more twisted than the last – Donna is basically trapped in a little girl’s TV, experiencing her life as a series of hard cuts between scenes, gaining a husband and two kids in around four blinks of an eye, and then Miss Evangelista turns up dressed as the Grim Reaper, then Donna finds out that her kids aren’t real, then there’s that face, then the apocalypse happens around her, then her kids disappear from right under her nose – layers upon layers of really weird shit. It’s incredible.

* And then the kicker – the genuine heartbreak of Donna’s VR husband seeing her as she walks away, unable to call her name. It’s gut-wrenching, and along with River dying and then being saved, it’s a really emotional last few minutes. I don’t remember being particularly affected the first time round, but then wibbley wobbley timey wimey, River means more to me now. I’m mourning her death, even though she gets sort of resurrected, and even though I’ve got loads more of her stuff still to watch. That’s how good River Song is.

* At one point, The Doctor persuades the Vashta Nerada to back off him by telling them to look him up. Capaldi’s Doctor did exactly this on the telly last week, in Extremis. Moffat steals from the best – himself. Which reminds me, I’d forgotten what happened to River’s diary in The Library, so I now understand why people were so annoyed about Nardole having it, and yet I still don’t give a shit myself.

RATING: 10