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June 25, 2010

The Memory Cheats

Doctor Who: The Pandorica Opens

Review by Paul Kirkley

TPO henge Expectation is a slippery biscuit. Because, clearly, this was brilliant. Amazing, in fact. And yet, on first viewing, I couldn’t help but feel a tiny bit short-changed, possibly because of all the tweeting and blogging that had been going on since the BAFTA screening about how it was the greatest thing since, well, the Big Bang. (Or, at least, that’s what Ian Levine said. But then he probably said the same about Take That’s first single. And we can only guess how much the bloke who wrote Attack of the Cybermen must have got off on a continuity porn-fest like this.)

Anyway, I’m not going to do my usual nitpicking about plot holes and lapses in logic because the plotting is so dense I suspect that, on this occasion, it might be a case of, it’s not you, it’s me – i.e. it made sense but I simply failed to understand it. One thread I will risk a tug on, though, cos it’s quite fundamental, is the whole idea of the trap built from Amy’s memories.

So how does that work, exactly? It’s a terrific concept but hard to get a handle on in any real, practical sense. River says the Doctor’s enemies have used Amy’s memories to construct a scenario he will believe, in order to get close to him. But, as Neil has already pointed out, surely the Doctor was delivered to Stonehenge by van Gogh’s painting and River’s graffiti? The only bits from Amy are the Romans – and they’re little more than window dressing who could have been replaced by any old army – Rory, who makes cock all sense anyway, and the Pandorica itself, which the Doctor appears to have known about since his own childhood and which, I’m pretty sure, he’d have come and taken a shufty at whatever it was called. Unless I’m missing the obvious, this actually turned out to be an even more nebulous concept than series one’s much-derided Bad Wolf arc – which at least made a kind of sense, if you sort of squinted and tried not to think too hard about it.

(Incidentally, I bet it was the Daleks’ idea to construct the whole “Amy’s memories” scenario. They seem to have been taking a lot of inspiration from The Anthony Ainley Book of Hopelessly Convoluted Traps lately. You can imagine the scene when they outlined the plan to all the other Big Bads, with much awkward coughing and shuffling of feet from the Cybermen, while the Sontarans insisted it would be a more effective martial strategy to just poke the Doctor on Facebook.)

My other big irritation was with the cliffhanger. Not because it wasn’t brilliant, but because it was teetering right on the verge of Best. Cliffhanger. Ever. until the Doctor ruined it by blabbing too much. The idea that our hero is a more dangerous force than the combined evil of all his enemies is a pretty powerful one, and would have left us with much to chew on over the next seven, agonising days. Instead, the Doctor kind of blew the whole gaff by revealing it wasn’t actually him that was the threat but the TARDIS, and that the Daleks et al had basically not bothered to check their facts about who could pilot it (sloppy, as there’s a whole list of people who have in the new TARDIS Handbook, available at all good galactic bookshops, etc).  I couldn’t help feeling this revelation undermined the moment somewhat: instead of the terrible, unknowable powers of The Oncoming Storm, it was basically reduced to the equivalent of a misunderstanding about who was at the wheel when a vehicle got flashed by a speed camera.

Fatty wouldn’t be the first to have one off the wrist from Captain Jack

There were a couple of other little niggles – I thought the reveal of the vandalised cliff face was a bit chucked away by the director, and the silence falling at the end still feels less like a dramatic flourish and more like Murray Gold’s just mis-timed his cue. Also, though I don’t usually trust anyone who uses the term “fanwank” – it smacks of a lazy reflex response ming-mongs use to try to prove they’re too cool to care about old monsters and stuff – the Evil Alliance did push credibility to breaking point. Then again, if the Lib Dems can hook up with the Tories, I guess anything’s possible.

But enough griping. On the whole, The Pandorica Opens rocked like a stone Dalek (hmmm… interesting idea: someone should write that down).

Some things to note:

The pre-titles sequence was so Alias it hurt. But hurt in a good way.

River’s contact got his vortex manipulator from “a handsome time agent”. Anyone we know? Still, Fatty wouldn’t be the first to have one off the wrist from Captain Jack.

Speaking of which, the Blue Man Group have really let themselves go in the 52nd century, haven’t they?

The Cyberhead: Sweet Jesus, have those metal muthas ever been more terrifying than when skittering across the floor on their own spidery innards? And that was before it opened up and popped a big grinning skull out.

Joke of the week: “You graffitied the oldest cliff-face in the universe.” “You wouldn’t answer your phone.”

It’s been mentioned elsewhere, but look at Matt Smith’s face when he first hears the Daleks. Look at the eyes: that flicker of doubt, of fear, of weariness. Then the mask comes on, and he’s instantly back to his quipping, larky self. (Interestingly, David Tennant pulled off exactly the same trick, in another exchange with River Song, in Forest of the Dead. Maybe Moffat puts this stuff in the stage directions.)

The last time we saw a plastic boyfriend, it was Noel Clarke with a champagne cork stuck in his bonce. This, I believe, is called progress.

And the Comedy Award goes to… Matt Smith and Arthur Darvill, for their beautifully awkward reunion exchange – especially Smith’s “How’ve you been?” and the way Darvill, when prodded, slowly rocked back on his heels, like a Weeble.

TPO hard enough Loved the Doctor’s “come and have a go if you think you’re hard enough” speech, especially the taunt about “your silly little spaceships with all your silly little guns”. That'll learn 'em.

The scenes between Rory and Amy: how can something be so simultaneously ridiculous and heartbreaking? Only in Doctor Who... It certainly rescues the Autons from burping bin ignominy; the last time we saw a plastic boyfriend, it was Noel Clarke with a champagne cork stuck in his bonce. This, I believe, is called progress.

Toby Haynes’ direction was impressively cinematic, and not just in the big money shots: River exploring Amy’s darkened house was just as beautiful. (Hard to think this is the same show where directors once had to fight to get a dimmer switch put into TC3.) And the decision to go slo-mo in the climactic moments was spot-on: we’ve had pomp and bombast before – Russell the T loved a bit of that – but has Doctor Who ever been more grandly, more thrillingly operatic than in those climactic shots of our defeated hero being dragged, Christ-like, to his final humiliation? Stunning.

In summary, then: Stephen fry can fuck off.

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