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June 30, 2010

Making it a good one

Doctor Who: The Big Bang

Review by Paul Kirkley

BB Amelia The Big Bang is very possibly the greatest episode of Doctor Who ever made. Here are 50 – count ’em! – reasons why:

He’s back – and it’s about time. No, it really is this time. It’s incredible how little this ancient TV show about a time traveller has actually exploited the fantastic, fairytale possibilities of time. This episode does its best to make up for half a century of neglect in 55 minutes.

We got a total story reboot. All those Dr Who Monster Book baddies gathered together at the end of last week’s episode was undoubtedly an OMG moment, but having them all standing around chatting and shuffling would inevitably have diminished everyone involved. As an idea, it peaked before it even got started, so it was the right decision to just let it go.

Instead, we got a brand new mystery for the young adventuress Amelia Pond - like getting a whole new bonus story when we were least expecting it.

A world without stars. Or the Doctor. I don’t know which is the more unthinkable.

The museum scenes have a real filmic quality to them. Beautifully shot by Toby Haynes and scored by Murray Gold in a manner that wouldn’t have disgraced Steven Spielberg and John Williams.

A stone Dalek. Uh-huh-u-huh, that’s pretty cool

“Okay kid – this is where it gets complicated.” Yep, you got me. Wasn’t expecting that.

Rory needs a ridiculous miracle, and he gets one: the Doctor, in a fez, with a mop. Given that the last time we saw our man he’d just been locked away for eternity by an alliance of all his greatest enemies, this sudden comic, vaudeville reappearance – with props - totally subverts our expectations.

“Echoes. Fossils in time. Footprints of the never were.” You never got this stuff with Robert Sloman, did you?

“Your girlfriend isn’t more important than the universe.” “She is to me.” Ouch, I felt that. Still, you go gallivanting around the universe with a jaw that big, you’re gonna have to take the occasional slug.

Rory’s vigil. The lonely centurion, performing one last act of devotion to the box he had pledged to protect for nearly 2,000 years. Now that’s what I call an epic fairytale.

It’s reassuring to know the Doctor only changes history for the most important of reasons. Like getting a little girl a drink.

It’s all jaunty, timey-wimey caper one minute and then, bang: there’s a dying Doctor from the future. Breathless – and breathlessly inventive –stuff.

Things you can do in 12 minutes: Suck a mint, buy a sledge, have a fast bath. See Sidney? This show’s still educational.

“Today, just dying is a result.”

BB Dalek The lone Dalek powering up in the darkness echoes the latent menace of 2005’s reputation-rescuing Dalek (you know, before before it was pissed away again in various camp runarounds)

The Doctor against the London skyline and the exploding sun-TARDIS burning up the sky: it’s the sort of shot that makes you feel justified in using poncy terms like mise en scene. See, I just did.

And then a Dalek rises up above the roofline. A decade ago, that would have been an iconic moment in itself. Here it seemed positively throwaway. I guess we’ve just got spoiled.

“It's a fez. I wear a fez now.”

The Doctor getting frazzled by the Dalek is still a shock, even with all the warnings we’ve had. Maybe I should have been keeping count.

“I’m River Song. Check your records again.” Blimey – we’ve come along way from that Dalek being Rose's new BF in series one, haven’t we? This one was petrified in more ways than one. And then it died.

Rebooting the universe: not so much jargon as anti-jargon, bringing the biggest Event of all down to the level of everyday Windows frustrations.

And for all its crazily epic scale, the idea that all you need is a few atoms to grow a universe is a very elegant sci-fi concept; after all, yer basic periodic table of elements provides all the building blocks you need. (Okay, so recreating a specific universe - stars, planets, Mr Kipling’s French Fancies and all - is a bit more tricky. But hey, it's still better than that bloody Paradox Machine, right?)

The Doctor in The Pandorica: so weak, so broken, so utterly defeated. Have we ever seen him this vulnerable before?

“He wants to talk to you before he goes.” It’s the “before he goes” that gets you: a deathbed farewell.

“Amy Pond. All alone. The girl who didn’t make sense. How could I resist?” How could anyone?

And

"You'll have your family back - you won't need your imaginary friend any more." As if.

And

“Nothing is ever forgotten.” This is what Michael Praed’s Robin Hood said just before he died. As a kid, it broke my heart. And so did this.

That kiss. We’ve had our fair share of Doctor-companion lip-lockery in recent years, but that tiny, chaste, blink-and-you-miss-it kiss to the back of the hand was the most beautiful by a mile.

“Geronimo!”

Look at the pain etched on the Doctor’s face as he pilots The Pandorica into the heart of the explosion. In the flying final sacrifice stakes, it beats even Davison’s heroic effort at the end of Androzani part 3. I have never feared for my hero more. If this had been his final end in the final ever episode, I wouldn’t have felt cheated.

Flashbacks: to Aickman Road and then, oh yes… the Byzantium. Hah! That jacket! It’s a measure of the quality of this show that we would immediately assume some clever timey-wimey trickery over a mere continuity blunder. And then be proved right.

Amelia asleep on her suitcase in the garden. The girl who waited.

And then, because Moffat is really spoiling us now, another impossibly lovely goodbye. “When you wake up, you’ll have a mum and dad.” Now that’s a Doctor with a bedside manner.

“You’ll dream about that box. It will never leave you. Brand new and ancient at the same time. And the bluest blue ever.” This was lump in the throat stuff, even before we knew it was clever coded message.

The Doctor shedding tears not for the loss of himself, but for the loss of his friend. And then the way his expression turns to real fear as he turns to look at the crack. “I don’t belong here any more.” It’s difficult to know in which of these Doctor-Amy farewells Matt Smith is more extraordinary. But if Tom Baker ever starts guffing on about “Well of course Doctor Who isn’t really an acting part…”, can someone bung a DVD of this in his gob? Cos, don’t get me wrong, I love Tom Baker – we all love Tom Baker - but there’s a lot more to playing this crazy, raggedy man in a box than the ability to walk through a door interestingly.

Twinkling lights in the sky: Amelia’s reward for wishing upon a star. Then the sun comes up and…

It’s Amy, all grown up. How many little surprises can one episode throw at us?

And Amy has a family. With a little tiny dad! In The Doctor Dances, everybody lived. Here, even people who were already dead get to live.

Amy the bride: how traffic-stoppingly beautiful does Karen Gillan look?

BB wedding 1 Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue. But of course. With the benefit of hindsight, how else was this series ever going to end? If you didn’t cry or laugh out loud or punch the air at this point, you might want to ask yourself if you actually genuinely like Doctor Who. The most glorious, utterly transcendent moment in the show’s 47-year history? Today, at least, I’m saying, Hell yes.

“Raggedy man, I remember you and you are late for my wedding!” The tremble of glasses. The wind. A wheezing, groaning sound. And there it is: that iconic blue box. The bluest blue ever.

The Doc in his dapper new duds. “Hello everyone. I’m Amy’s imaginary friend. But I came anyway!”

The Doctor Dances. Really, really badly. (“That’s it, that’s good, keep it loose!”)

“2,000 years. The boy who waited. Good on you, mate.”

“Hang on, did you think I was asking you to marry me, or asking if you were married?” The wise and ancient hero who saved the universe. And still a little boy lost when it comes to women.

Who is River Song? We’re going to find out very soon. And she’s sorry, because that’s when everything changes. Ooh ’eck.

An Egyptian Goddess loose on the Orient Express. In Space. Somewhere in a parallel universe, Russell T Davies is still writing the Christmas specials…

But not in ours. In ours, Steven Moffat is the man with the power to make and break realities, to reboot universes and give little lost girls the gift of stars. He is the custodian of the greatest story ever told, with the greatest hero who ever lived, and died, and lived again. And in Matt Smith, he has found his perfect muse, and given us the perfect Doctor Who.

“I’ll be a story in your head. That’s okay – we’re all stories in the end. Just make it a good one, eh? Because it was, you know. It was the best.”

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