10 and 1 Things About The Big Bang

(Major spoilers for the finale of Doctor Who Series 5.)Item 1: Of all the New Who finales, this has very much been my favorite to date, in large part because it at once met and subverted my expectations. And right from the start too. The teaser features little Amelia Pond (expected) opening the Pandorica to reveal... Amy? Great hook. I fully expected the Doctor to escape the box with River's vortex manipulator, but he doesn't. He uses a paradox instead, and uses the vortex manipulator only to move about in the absence of the TARDIS. And it does things like this right through to the end when you HOPE that Rory will become a companion, but surely tv rules say he won't, and then he does! Like Doomsday, this thing had me in tears, but tears of joy (is this the first finale with a happy ending? I think it is!). Aesthetic orgasm, as I call it. It was exactly what I wanted it to be, even though I might not have known what I wanted.

Item 2: As the first year of a new era, we're still comparing Moffat to Davies. It's inevitable. One of the things that really made this finale stand out from previous efforts is how personal and intimate it felt. RTD was good at spectacle. Huge stakes resolved in public - Rose as God destroys the Daleks, a Cyberman in every home, the Master tyrant of Earth, planets in the sky - which went well with the operatic emotions and Doctor-as-God theme of the last few series. The difference between RTD and Moffat is essentially the one between myth and fairy tales. Fairy tales share (supernatural) elements with myth, but are far more personal. They're about children lost in the woods and house cats with special powers, things kids can relate to. The cat's master wins a kingdom in Puss'n'Boots, and that's similar to the epic scale of the end of the universe in The Big Bang. But the way the universe is saved is through a personal, fairy tale story involving a little girl and her imaginary friend. Nowhere is this more apparent than when the Doctor visits Amelia's room at night and tells her the story of how he got the TARDIS (the oldest fairy tale on the show). This is the climax, not piloting the Pandorica into the heart of an explosion. Similarly, the resolution isn't the recreation of the universe, it's the remembering of the Doctor. At a wedding. In a small town where everybody knows everybody. And where there used to be Star Wars-style celebrations on the whole planet, there's the Doctor dancing goofily with the village's kids.

Item 3: Fairy tale logic. I loved the episode, and I think most people did. But the backlash from certain parts of fandom who DIDN'T like it is the kind of thing that makes we wonder why I go on the Internet at all. The biggest criticism levied against the finale (or, in fact, Series 5) is that the resolution involving Amy "wishing" the Doctor back doesn't make any sense. As if the Whoniverse was 1) a coherent continuity and 2) anything close to hard sf. I personally thought that the story was internally consistent and that the various ways the day was won were set up and earned. It did not smack of deus ex machina, which really requires a "by the way, we didn't say it, but..." moment. (Examples include: "By the way, though looking into the TARDIS regressed that Slitheen to an egg, it can turn Rose into a goddess." "By the way, closing the gap between worlds will suck all the Cybermen and Daleks out of ours." And so on.) RTD explained things with techno-babble, and in SF, we're used to that making "sense". It doesn't really. They're just "magic words" dressed up as science, but we accept the justification. How is fairy-babble any less legitimate? Older Whovians should also remember the Pertwee era's Buddhism-babble and Bidmead's math-babble (specifically Logopolis and Castrovalva). Even RTD fans should remember The Shakespeare Code as featuring a distinctly magical way of dealing with the universe. The Big Bang doesn't rob you of the scientifically ordered universe you crave, it's just that the Doctor doesn't always talk about events in a pseudo-scientific way. "If something is remembered, it can come back" excludes the quantum ramifications of such a statement, but they are nonetheless implied, and no stranger than the Weeping Angels reality/irreality. How would it help Rory to know the science behind the effect, when all he needs to know is how to invoke the effect? And the Doctor says it himself: "It's not a light, it's a restoration field, but never mind, call it a light." Buy the premise, buy the bit. Everything that happens in The Big Bang has been set up, but not over-explained or scientifically justified. I don't care because it's so satisfying on a poetic level.
Item 4: The Future Doctor. If you read my comments on other episodes of this series, you'll remember the idea of a future 11th Doctor going back to past episodes, explaining away a strange shadow here, an unseen character there, etc. This actually happens! Although, it seems that everything I thought was the future Doctor's doing wasn't, and what I dismissed as a production problem... was! While I was busy saying the strange bit with the Doctor having his coat when he'd lost it in Flesh and Stone was just a continuity flub, I was neglecting to go back and listen to the exchange again. Because it's a very weird thing that does not pay off in the episode. That should have been my real clue that it was the Doctor returning through history. Jury's still out if he's the shadow in little Amelia's house - they don't reuse the footage which is sort of damning evidence. Maybe there's lots of deleted scenes where he opens a door on the roof of Churchill's bunker, etc.

Item 5: One of the greatest moments of the episode has to be Amy's use of "Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue" as a sort of summoning spell for the TARDIS. I got there maybe a split second before Rory started stuttering through his reference to the traditional saying and burst out in tears as soon as Amy clued in and actually said the very incantation I was myself reciting in my head. It's incredible how it all fits the description of the TARDIS, isn't it? Magical!
Item 6: Speaking of magic, there's Rory, "the boy who waited". We're pretty far from Mickey here. Moffat somehow turns Rory into both an equivalent of Amy (who also waited) and of the Doctor (also a "fairy tale") and cemented his place in the TARDIS crew. And so the show makes history by having the first married couple as companions. And Rory's had 2000 years to build up his confidence and skills (depending on what he can actually remember from his plastic days). He's only really afraid of one thing, and that's Amy (love that he knows deep down that he's now Mr. Pond).

Item 7: We were never sure about Geronimo, were we? It seemed too close to Allons-y, which itself had outworn its welcome (I'd say that after meeting Alonso in Voyage of the Damned, it had climaxed and should have been retired), and kinda silly besides. I wouldn't say it was overused this series, but I think it was all worth it for seeing the Doctor text Geronimo to his peeps on Earth while heading to his death aboard the flying Pandorica. That was great, and Alex Kingston reads it beautifully, her voice breaking.

Item 8: I can't wait for Murray Gold to release the series' music so I can put some of these musical cues on infinite loop. One cue that was really intriguing in The Big Bang was this kind of reverse music that accompanied the universe's reboot, but found its best place over scenes with River.
Item 9: The doctor lies. It's been River's mantra lately. In The Time of Angels, I took this to be a bit of obfuscation about her identity since she admitted to lying as well. River = Doctor. Now that that theory has been made much less likely, we have to expect the Doctor to lie to her sometime soon (i,e. her past). I'm thinking the lie might be about not having peeked at her journal before giving it back to her in this episode. It's a peek that might get him out of trouble in timey-wimey fashion in the next series or later.

Item 10: If Moffat and I share something, it's a love of metatexty-postmoderny... stuff. There's the ones you get on the first pass and make you smile, like the Doctor hating repeats as he suffers a clip show of the past series. The truly beautiful bits are those you only get on a second or third pass. In this case, it's Amy's dad writing his speech as a metaphor for the rewriting of the universe. Look at it again. His speech isn't finished the same way the universe isn't complete, not without a Doctor. He scribbles the last few words as Amy starts to remember, and he's done when she's ready to summon the Doctor. Wonderful.

Item 11: Moffat's left a number of things unresolved, like who caused the TARDIS to blow in the first place (the voice announcing the silence in the previous episode). The Doctor even says the universe isn't safe yet. With rumors of their bringing back the Yeti, my money's on the Great Intelligence. The nihilism implicit in the "silence" fits its New Adventures redesign as a Lovecraftian Great Old One. In a very brief interview I saw with the Grand Moff, he also said we'd find out who/what River Song is. Series 6 - my reason to live.

I don't know if they were being cheeky with the whole Egyptian goddess on the Orient Express... in space, but I'm primed for Christmas either way!


greywulf said...

Amen to all that. It was an utterly wonderful finale to a cracking series, and had more turns than.... well, a twisty turny thing. Some things fandom had half-guessed, but much of it wrought a gasp of surprise and awe from us all.

Loved it!

Beyond the mystery of River Song, which is something that's really set the fandom alight with speculation and theories (most of which I'm betting is wrong, including my own), there's plenty more plot holes to fill in the upcoming series.

Me, I think the universal reboot has brought back Gallifrey and the Daleks. The voice we hear in the TARDIS is Davros back from the dead (again), and we're going to hear a lot about Omega and Rasillon too.

And I can't wait!

LiamKav said...

The Daleks have already been brought back though, haven't they? The "Silence will fall" voice though did sound a bit Davros-y, though.

The only thing I don't get about the Doctor essentially rescuing himself is how the loop started. How did the Doctor get out of the pandorica in order to give Rory the tools to get him out of the pandorica in the first place? If we just shrug and say "paradox", doesn't that then mean they can use the same excuse to remove all tension from any future peril?

Siskoid said...

Once we're past the BBC America threshold, I'll probably do a post that explains the time travel and irons out the paradox.

If I can.

Loki said...

I find myself wondering if the unseen door-opener in WW2 London wasn't Rory - it's mentioned that he was in London during the war...

Anonymous said...

I say the issue LiamKav brings up is a genuine hole in the story, but too big for Moffat not to have noticed. In other words, Moffat put the hole there deliberately and there will be a forthcoming explanation.

Siskoid said...

Although how timey-wimey-ness can happen at all may just be based on willpower. The mind has an effect on the universe in Doctor Who (people remembered, kids who can calculate its "code", words that break the rules of physics, etc.). I think that hatching a timey-wimey plan makes it happen.

The Doctor was always going to get out of the trap because before being put in there, he's already had the idea to go back in time, in effect creating his other, paradoxical self.

The other explanation is one that deserves its own essay. Heck, maybe they both do. Watch the skies!

Anonymous said...

Generally something needs to happen to kick off the time loop, though. After that, timey-wimey seems to constrain cause-and-effect to see to it that events can repeat themselves, even if it could potentially require a repeating sequence of dissimilar time streams to get there. (By which I mean: the Doctor could wipe out the Daleks in one timeline, leading to the Cybermen becoming his great foes. So he wipes out the Cybermen on the next pass, creating a timeline where the conditions are once again favorable to the rise of the Daleks. It's a two-stroke arrangement but it is stable.)

In that way, timey-wimey might explain this. By putting the Doctor in the Pandorica, the Daleks et al violated TW, eliminating themselves and thus creating an unstable time thingie; therefore something had to happen that would restore TW. When I say "had to happen" I don't mean as a matter of preference or probability; I mean the only events possible at that point were ones that would lead to a new Big Bang.

So ironically, the size and scope of this event may have meant that, no matter what happened, there was going to be a new Big Bang. Drama-wise, that's an enormous cop-out, so let's not focus too much attention on it.

Jeff R. said...

It's not difficult to start the loop, really, since the Pandoria was really pathetically easy to break into for a prison-to-last-all time. (Rory did make the thing safer, since Sonic Screwdriver tech isn't exactly a Tardis. It's been duplicated before and could have been in our hypothetical Ur-timeline.)

I'll put my money for the 'Silence' voice down on Omega, by the way. Although "the Satan-entity from Season Two" is another evergreen contender. And I wonder if that place, by virtue of being older than the universe, was still around during this episode...

snell said...

Allow me to point out that all of the "paradox" occurs in the "eye of the storm," in the last remaining chunk of the universe where history was erasing itself. Certainly we can postulate that, in this very different environment, the normal rules of cause and effect might be, well, wibbly-wobbly.

Or, alternately, it was a magic fez.

As to the "silence voice," I thought it sounded like Toby Jones's Dream Lord...but maybe that's just me.

Kaiser The Great said...

"Dude, Ted...when we get out of this box we totally have to remember to go back and give Rory our screwdriver or else we'll never get out of this box. Whoa..."

Andrew Gilbertson said...

Yes YES YES, again! On this great big, hostile world wide web of ours, here is a isle of refuge and sanity- a small, shining beacon of hope where someone GETS IT! :-) Actually... even more so than we few in NJ that bemoaned no one else in the world seeming to- you like it better! And honestly, while I found it a bit anticlimactic (but then, my favorite finale is Last of the Time Lords, the only finale I felt DIDN'T disappoint, so what do I know? ;-) ) looking at it in light of Item 2... I think I just may find myself liking it as much as you do! Fairy tales vs. Myth- I like it!

And Item 5... oh, item 5! Yes.


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