Doctor Who 5.13 – The Big Bang

And so we come to yet another season finale of the greatest science fiction series ever created. This is the recap I’ve been both anticipating and dreading writing in equal parts since first seeing “The Big Bang” some weeks ago; anticipating because of how much I adored this finale, and dreading because there’s no way I can do it justice in a mere recap. It’s not even an issue of space or time (or is it?), it’s a matter of the story, as well as the 12 episodes prior to it, being too dense to dissect thoroughly. You’ll have to forgive that this doesn’t resemble a recap proper, and I instead ramble on about other issues.

I didn’t go into “The Pandorica Opens” and “The Big Bang” expecting a whole lot, conditioned as I am on Russell T Davies’s extravagant-yet-ultimately-lightweight season finales. Don’t get me wrong, they were most always a great deal of fun, but they most always left me somewhat wanting – excepting Season Three’s Master trilogy, although I’m not sure that’s in line with popular opinion. Oh, and “The Parting of the Ways.” Wait a minute…I loved most of his finales! But I often felt as if they didn’t go as far as they could. Part of the way through the current season the Pandoricrack, as I’ve come to call it, started to annoy me, and I began not so much resenting the thread, but rather simply dismissing it – assuming that whatever it was about wouldn’t be terribly thrilling. It turned out to be not only thrilling, but strange and deep and stimulating. This was Steven Moffat’s trademark “Wibbly-Wobbly, Timey-Wimey” taken up to 11. (Maybe next year will go to 12?) This two-part finale forces viewers to go back and reexamine most of the season, and that isn’t something that can really be said for the Davies finales, which isn’t to imply they’re inferior. More on that later…

My first viewing of “The Big Bang” left me pretty disoriented. The tone of the thing felt very different from the graveness of “The Pandorica Opens.” Subsequent viewings have alleviated much of that, and I’m not sure it needed to feel like a Part Two, as much as its own dog. It’s a majestic piece of television, really, that celebrates the wonder of this series, as well as its darkness. A universe without stars – hell, a cosmos without the Doctor, as the Master once said, scarcely bears thinking about. The fez. How was a fez jammed into the narrative in such a way that while it had virtually nothing to do with the plot, and yet you can’t imagine the episode without it? The raggedy Doctor? All a result of the TARDIS blowing up at the close of “The End of Time.” Love the fact that he becomes the raggedy Doctor once again, after being shot by the Dalek. Back when I wrote up “Flesh and Stone” I mentioned the scene where a version of the Doctor from the future came to briefly visit Amy. Turns out that theory was correct! The stone Dalek was good stuff. A finale with loads of Dalek, and yet it never became too much. Oddly though, my favorite moment in the entire hour is when Amy sees the display in the museum charting the sightings of the centurion who guarded the Pandorica. That was just brilliant. It was so very much like the kind of thing you see in a museum or in a book and dismiss as legend. But here the centurion was real, or at least as real as an Auton can be I suppose. Who doesn’t love Rory, the boy who waited, at this point, and look forward to seeing what he brings to the TARDIS crew as a companion?

A while back I wrote about the feeling that a reset button of sorts had been pressed with this season, and how the season wouldn’t make perfect sense until the finale had played. Clearly I was onto something. Indeed Amy Pond has even been branded by the Doctor “the girl who doesn’t make any sense.” A huge amount of this season, as we’ve now found out, has been very much about Amy. Far more so than I think anyone was able to clearly see as the season moved forward. As “The Big Bang” ends, you almost feel as if you’re for the first time seeing the real Amy Pond, and that her journeys with the Doctor are just beginning. This couldn’t have been as easy role for Karen Gillan to play, and I’ve much more respect for her as an actress, now knowing the heavy narrative load she was carrying.

Here’s the thing, as great and complex as this finale (as well as the season) was, I don’t think there’s any way this could have been executed and accepted by the average BBC TV viewer five years ago when Davies unveiled his first season. It took five years worth of the less complex Davies structure, as well as him introducing and reintroducing all the ideas that make up this series, to get the show to a point where someone like Steven Moffat could come along and attempt something this elaborate. And make no mistake – it is elaborate, not to mention confusing. (One need only take a look at this graph to get an idea of how complexly structured the two-part finale is. Another great piece of reading is over at Den of Geek.) But this doesn’t come as a huge surprise. Even before he started working his magic on “Doctor Who,” as far back as “Coupling,” Moffat showed how skilled he was at twisting narrative structure around, and in that show he didn’t have the benefit of time travel as a means to accomplish it. So even though I’ve had issues from time to time with some of the choices Davies made during his tenure, I give him several warm rounds of applause for being the guy whose choices allowed for Steven Moffat to step up to the plate and give it a go. Anything great that happens with “Doctor Who” in the coming years owes a huge debt to the groundwork laid by Russell T Davies.

Moffat is also clearly able to indulge in ludicrous flights of fancy in the same way Davies did. “If something can be remembered, it can come back.” What the fuck is all that about? It has no basis in science, not even wacky “Doctor Who” science, and yet it’s immensely pivotal to the story. There’s a poetry to it, no doubt, but it’s strictly fantasy, and really has no more business being a component of this series than the mumbo-jumbo sprinkled liberally throughout “The End of Time.” But “Doctor Who” is an ever-evolving beast, and it has to be to survive. These are the kind of ideas that it pulls out to assert its place in the TV universe. No other sci-fi series would dare display something so baroque, and ultimately its peculiar bits and bobs such as that are quickly becoming hallmarks of this show. Nevermind that Philip Hinchcliffe wouldn’t have dared try something of that ilk; the fact is Steven Moffat did and it somehow works.

One of the serious ideas Moffat has brought to the series is the notion that “time can be rewritten,” which is in stark contrast to Davies use of “fixed points.” Fixed points indicate rules and structure; time can be rewritten means all bets are off. Now this isn’t necessarily a brilliant move on Moffat’s part, as much as it is a bold one. It says, “I’m not going to play by the rules. Instead I’m going to invent some new ones.” Steven Moffat’s style of writing practically begged for this development, as I suspect he’d have felt stifled by hanging onto the old rules. For some this could be considered heresy, but ultimately that’s what any good showrunner will do with this series. He or she will find a way – their way – to reinvent it. What’s interesting is how this is quite logically an extension of what was going on in the last few Davies specials, starting with “The Waters of Mars,” and the Doctor’s trashing of the fixed point at Bowie Base One, because as far as he was concerned, the Laws of Time were now his to play with. Furthermore, everything that went down with the Time Lords in “The End of Time” could easily have exacerbated this attitude in the Doctor. Whether Moffat and Davies ever discussed this we do not know, but it’s worked out beautifully, and it’s taken the series to a whole new, exciting level. Whether or not the Doctor will someday have to pay the piper remains to be seen, but for now it sure seems that his abilities to see through and manipulate time are at an all time high.

I also conjectured a while back that Moffat had a longer-range plan in mind than just the components of this season, and sure enough, we were left with numerous, important dangling threads. What is The Silence? Whose nasty, ugly voice is uttering those words? Who ‘sploded the TARDIS? Exactly how different is the rebooted universe of Big Bang 2? Oh, and pretty much everything about River Song, who remains almost as much of a mystery as she did when we first met her in Season Four. If time can be rewritten, does that mean it’s possible that River’s death will not be in the Library after all? (By the way, Alex Kingston was especially strong in this hour.) Exactly how far does Moffat plan to take this idea? This show can seemingly go anywhere it wants at this point. I suppose that’s always been the case, but it’s feeling unusually fresh at the moment. Moffat had a very tough job putting his stamp on “Who” after the Davies renaissance, but now he’s got an entire season under his belt, and I’d like to believe that Season Six will be considerably tighter. For the time being though, just the seasonal arc as presented in “The Eleventh Hour”, the Weeping Angels two-parter, and the two part season finale is a five hour testament to what Moffat’s capable of doing with this series.

Finally we come to Matt Smith. Taking over from David Tennant’s near-unanimously beloved portrayal was never going to be an easy task for any actor. When Smith was announced it was very easy to be skeptical about what he could bring to the table. Right off the bat, his age seemed as if it could only work against him. The fact that he was a total unknown didn’t seem to help matters. And yet he somehow projects all the hundreds of years the Doctor has lived seemingly effortlessly. Back before there ever was a new series, I think every “Doctor Who” fan had his or her idea of what they thought a new Doctor should be like. Matt Smith is almost alarmingly close to what I’d always thought a modern Doctor should be like – a heroic fogey trying desperately to get with the times; someone who’s equal parts clueless and clued in. Christopher Eccleston and Tennant were both great Doctor’s as well, but neither of them had a true sense of the alien about them. They sort of tried to chisel it into Eccleston, but there was so much going on with reinventing the series at the time, I don’t think it was the kind of thing that anyone really concentrated on. (Who knows what Eccleston may have done with the character had he done another season?) Tennant never seemed even remotely alien, and that’s fine. Not every Doctor must project that (Peter Davison certainly didn’t, and he was a great Doctor). Smith loses himself in the alien nature of this character. It’s a gorgeous thing to behold, and I imagine he’ll only get stronger and stranger as time moves on. The man is a fine actor and this series is lucky to have him.

If you’ve been reading throughout this season, I’d like to extend a thank you to you – and then an even bigger thank you to those of you who took time out to drop some comments my way. That really makes my day, when a reader takes the time to write a few words. I hope you’ve enjoyed this season as much as I have, and until Christmas, I think it’s time to say goodbye. So, goodbyyyyyyyye!

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Classic “Who” DVD Recommendation of the Week: No DVDs to recommend this week. Instead I want to recommend a book: “The Writer’s Tale” by Russell T Davies. I finally just found a copy of it myself today, and I’ve been paging through it and it appears to be every bit as good as everyone says it is. If you really want to have a better understanding of what it takes to put this series together, there is no better text. Make sure and pick up the edition subtitled “The Final Chapter,” as that includes an extra 300 pages worth of material that wasn’t in the previous edition.

(Thanks as always to Sonic Biro for the screencaps.)

  

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