Doctor Who #855: The Big Bang

"Something old. Something new. Something borrowed. Something blue."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Jun.26 2010 (the day of the actual wedding).

IN THIS ONE... History is collapsing, the Doctor triggers a new Big Bang but his time stream is unraveled, until Amy remembers him at her wedding.

REVIEW: As good a finale as we've ever gotten, I think it still ranks as probably the best. Something a showrunner's first series perhaps needs to do is purge the previous administration's legacy, stand on its first merits and yet, please the fans who are there because of that previous regime. With The Big Bang, Moffat manages to close out Series 5 in just such a way. While epic in pretty much the same way RTD's finales were, it rejects the notion of the epic, by reducing the climax to an intimate affair. Rebooting the universe within an exploding TARDIS isn't the climax; Amy remembering her imaginary friend at her small wedding is. No cheering crowds here, but more important, no sad ending! Maybe RTD had little choice, having to write a cast member out every season, but his finales ended on such heavy notes, they have to have a kooky epilogue just to relieve the tension. Moffat unabashedly gives us a happy ending, one in which a married couple is permitted to travel aboard the TARDIS, and that obviates the "lonely" ending the episode telegraphs. Another subversion can be found in the Doctor's dancing. Moffat introduced the metaphor of dance as sex back in The Empty Child, and here shows us a Doctor who dances at the level of a child. His role in romance is always that of catalyst, making sure his friends find love in their lives. He doesn't provide it. Rebooting the universe is, in fact, a writerly act of negation, striking down all that went before. RTD purged.

Beyond that meta-textual statement, The Big Bang is an internally consistent spectacular that goes crazy with the concept of time travel in a most delightful way. What the 10th Doctor could do as a parlour trick (the tie business in Smith and Jones, for example), the 11th makes useful. There was some of this in previous episodes (notably in The Lodger, but River Song is a long, complicated instance of this), but here, and perhaps more easily because space-time is collapsing, he manages clever paradoxical feats to get himself out of the Pandorica and to save Amy from certain death. Looking at it too closely will make you wonder if we can have eggs without chickens or vice-versa, so don't. Just enjoy the unbridled power of a Time Lord essentially saving himself from his own future. There's also the idea that history is collapsing around Earth, and humanity not noticing (as per the cracks' usual effect, which is very much the same as the warp bubble's in ST TNG's Remember Me). No stars, weird historical amalgams in the museum, and no one wonders why. Throw in the Doctor's time stream rewinding and his visits to various points in his past where he can make a small, but crucial difference, and you've got a fantastical feast of temporal tricks, somehow working together in unison. You can question the physics of it if you like, but who knows what its laws are in such a universe.

There are a lot of fun ideas here - the fez, Amy appearing to her young self where you're expecting the Doctor to be, Amelia showing up at all, the repeat of THAT scene from Flesh and Stone, the TARDIS acting as a sun, the best use of "Geronimo" ever, River teasing the Doctor about their impending nuptials - but at the heart of the story is Amy asserting her willpower on the universe and getting both her boys back. The Doctor engineers his own return with that wonderful bedtime story, so well performed by Matt Smith, but it's Amy that takes the story and makes it real. Her recitation of the "old wedding thing", which is so brilliant in how it mirrors the TARDIS' characteristics, like a magical summoning, gets me every time. The sequence is impeccably designed so that you come up with the solution just before Amy does and are rewarded for your cleverness. And it all happens with her dad trying to finish his wedding speech in the background, and it's not complete in the same way the universe isn't without the Doctor in it. She gets Rory back too, and events have turned him into "the boy who waited", just as she's "the girl that waited", a perfect match, and an epic love story. This makes Rory twice as old as the Doctor himself! "This is goodbye" to Leadworth is a perfect finish to an often admirable season. If only everything could have been explained - who blew up the TARDIS, and whose voice was taunting us with "Silence will fall", two things that are much too slow in coming - it would have been perfect. Darn close though.

SECOND OPINIONS: My original review, 10 and 1 Things About The Big Bang, was overwhelmingly enthusiastic as well, and spends a little time on the difference between myth and fairy tale in the context of the RTD/Moffat eras.

REWATCHABILITY: High - Hugely entertaining and very clever, I don't think Doctor Who finales were ever this good again (or earlier).


Freddy said...

An absolutely brilliant episode, filled with so many magical moments. My absolute favourite is a tiny one that can be easily missed.
As the Tardis materialises at the wedding, Amy jumps the table, and Rory turns to Amy's mother and says "I was plastic".
Rory truly is the boy who waited having full memories of those couple of thousand years, a bit of a pity they never followed up on it though, would have liked him to slap Amy down in The Girl who waited as he'd waited longer, or boast how his memories are now of a lifespan longer than the Doctors.

Anonymous said...

More good stuff in this episode than I can shake a stick at. The tale of the Last Centurion always gets me.

I've never taken the "dancing" as a metaphor for sex, so much as the sort of competition guys engage in when they're trying to win a girl's affection. See also this scene from "Earth Girls are Easy":

My favorite tiny moment is Amy laughing at the Doctor's terrible dancing; it seems very authentic, and it underscores how Amy sees the Doctor as just a guy, not a character out of her childhood or an advanced alien.

Toby'c said...

Highlight for me is the bit where he steals Amelia's drink from her because she's thirsty a few hours later - because he stole her drink.

A really good fanfic inspired by this episode:

Siskoid said...

Love that moment too, Anon.

But if you don't think what you've described is sexual, well... I can't help you ;)

Madeley said...

I really wish I'd warmed to the Ponds as companions, but I never did (to the point of irrational near-hatred by the end) and I think that's the major reason why I find the Moffat tenure so hit-and-miss. Of this series, I loved The Eleventh Hour and The Lodger, but not really any of the other episodes (although I thought Matt Smith was, and still is, BRILLIANT.)

I enjoyed the final two-parter, but I have to admit not as much as the RTD ones. But I know in general I'm pretty forgiving of RTD's faults.

As for best 11th series-enders, does Name of the Doctor count, or is Time of the Doctor technically the finale? Either way, I think I prefer either to The Big Bang.

abc said...

Hah. Referencing a TNG episode to explain what's going on in a Doctor Who episode? And explaining it well? Just one of the reasons I enjoy this blog everyday.

Siskoid said...

Thanks ABC, all the pieces matter!

Madeley: Those aren't season enders any more than Christmas episodes are. They're specials.
-Siskoid, splitting hairs since 1971

Madeley said...

To attempt to glue the hairs back together, Name of the Doctor is, surely? The one where John Hurt appears at the end?

Siskoid said...

Sorry... they have very confusing titles... Name of, Night of, Day of, Time of...

Yes, Name of is a finale.

Madeley said...

They'll be missing a trick if the first Capaldi isn't called Dawn of the Doctor.

LiamKav said...

There are so many wonderful bits in this episode. The story of Rory as the Last Centurion. The revelation that the sun in the sky is actually the TARDIS. And the beautiful "something old" (do you reckon Moffat had that saved up for years?)

And yet... I just can't forgive how the Doctor gets out of the TARDIS. "He gets out because Rory let him out using the sonic screwdriver that he gave him after he got out" is utter nonsense. In a comedy episode (or comic relief special) it's fine, but as a way of resolving the cliffhanger it's cheaper than anything RTD did, because it completely undermines any danger the Doctor might ever be under in the future. He can now work on Bill & Ted logic.

So yeah, I think it's the best cliffhanger cliffhanger of the Moffat era and I love 95% of it. But that 5% just grates.

Anonymous said...

I'm drawing a distinction between dancing as a way of displaying dominance and therefore sex-worthiness, and dancing as a metaphor for sex itself. Otherwise we've got a video where Damon Wayans is telling that other guy, "well here's what I'D do to you if I were in bed with you!"

... which actually makes it a lot more fun to watch, so forget I said anything.

Anonymous said...

LiamKav: here's a possibility presented by the fanfiction author who lives in my ass. We'll call this the "unfilmed time loop" theory. We know that the Last Centurion used to warn people not to try to open the Pandorica; that implies that the Pandorica is openable without a sonic screwdriver, given time and effort. So let's assume that Rory was eventually able to free the Doctor. That's enough to kick off a better time loop wherein the Doctor can hand the sonic screwdriver to Rory and expedite the process.

I think that utilizes just enough of what Moffat provided to be plausible, especially since I left out the part where they team up with Sonic the Hedgehog.

Siskoid said...

This is also how I treat most paradox stories. We're basically seeing the ultimate timeline, but there was a version of events where things were more complicated.

There's an awesome (and old) website where they do this for the Terminator movies and others.

jdh417 said...

"Okay kid, here's where it gets complicated," was such a cool start to the episode. The Doctor's soliloquy to little sleeping Amelia has to be one of Matt Smith's high points. "I hate repeats!" Moffat probably should have nudged the series away from the fairy tale stories after this episode. There was going to be no topping this one.

Andrew Gilbertson said...

I thought that this failed somewhat as a finale, but suceeded as an episode.
I think it was based on a brilliant concept- as the univers ecollapses and shrinks inward toward Earth, it happens all throughout time- meaning there isn't a moment of standing on Earth watching the universe collapse, but a progressively-rewritten 'while of history from beginning to end' featuring less and less items. ('Remember Me' being both a fantastic example, and a fantastic epsiode.) It's a great concept, as are a number of the temporal paradoxes. Which is why it's a good episode.

However, I think, like a 7th Doctor story, it also requires you to sit down and think it out, or watch it multiple times. For a finale, that's poison. It needs to be the climax, hte emotional catharsis, the big wrap-up. But if you don't understand it the first time, that experience is incomplete... and by the time you have thought it through and do understand it, it's far enough past that you can't get the catharsis back. I think finales need to work simply and completely on the first viewing, and this one doesn't. So, I think that as a season 5 climax, it kinda fails... but as an episode rewatched for itself, it succeeds... if that makes sense.

Also- the 'gotcha' callback seems to come far too removed from the original to make any sense (most people I talked to were quite confused by it), but on the flip side of the coin, Rory's response to the Doctor's test- a slug across the jaw, and "She is to me!", is my favorite Rory moment ever. That was the moment he became the hero of the show, to me- as he remained until his departure. In fact, pretty much everything about him this episode is awesome.

The casting of the TARDIS as 'something old, something new, etc.' was a stroke of brilliance that feels like it was inbuilt into the concept from An Unearthly Child itself, just sitting around waiting over 40 years for someone to think up. And while it was disappointing (though understandable budgetarily and for clarity) that the Doctor 'hated repeats' and skipped us seeing hm in classic adventures, a nice 3-year wait would finally net us that idea that was teased in Name of the Doctor- albeit not with Matt Smith. :-)

Siskoid said...

Agree on the gotcha line, but as for the rest, I guess I understood it the first time. Definitely still a favorite of mine.


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