The Pandorica Opens / The Big Bang, by Philip Bates

As is often the case with more recent New Who, I don’t seem to have written up the closing episodes of Series 5 previously. In case you have forgotten, it is the climax to the first set of stories featuring Matt Smith as the Doctor, Karen Gillan as Amy and Arthur Darville as Rory, first shown in 2010. (And Alex Kingston also turns up as River Song.) It’s a story that merrily zips back and forth from Roman times to the present day, with loads of Doctor Who monsters and also Stonehenge. The universe gets destroyed and then put back together again, and the Doctor and the TARDIS are almost eliminated from it but summoned back by Amy at her wedding to Rory. It’s a lot of fun.

Doctor Who is meant to be entertaining, and I’m with the majority who find that this time it worked – The Pandorica Opens had the highest audience ratings so far of any Series 5 episode, beaten the following week by The Big Bang. It was the fifth of six Doctor Who stories to win the Hugo for Best Dramatic Presentation (Short Form), remarkably rising from second last place in both nominations and first preferences to win the award on transfers. It’s the first of the Hugo winners to be covered by the Black Archive series (and at time of writing, the only one).

I noted briefly before that it “manages to avoid pulling its punches”; I think I’d go further, and say that it’s the best of all of the Moffat era season endings (cf Dark Water / Death in Heaven, and Heaven Sent / Hell Bent).The plot doesn’t honestly make a lot of sense, but this is covered with spectacle, action, wit and knowing references to things that had happened earlier in the season so that you are made to feel that it all hangs together, more perhaps than it really does. Amy’s line “something borrowed, something blue”, tying ancient and incomprehensible wedding traditions to the TARDIS is simply beautiful.

Philip Bates has written a fair bit of commentary, but this appears to be his first book. A short prologue states his case that the story succeeds because it is “an intimate tale on epic proportions”. The rest of the book provides supporting arguments.

The first chapter, “Balancing the Epic and the Intimate”, looks at how Moffat pulls off the feat of intricately linking the story with the preceding episodes of the season, and indeed how they are linked to the rest of Doctor Who.

The second chapter, “Myths and Fairytales”, interrogates the concept of fairytales, stopping off briefly at Pandora’s Box, and the way in which fairytale lore informs both the story in question and the character of the Doctor.

The third chapter’s title is “Anomalies”. Its brief second paragraph is:

And so, we’re teased with timely anomalies that hint at what we’ve lost and what could return.

Here Bates looks at the concept of anomalies and how they contribute to the plot of the episode, going (perhaps a little more than necessary) into the scientific concepts underpinning the term.

The fourth chapter, “When Time Travel Wouldn’t Help”, looks at the “rules” of time travel and how Moffat uses them to support the plot – referring back also to his first Doctor Who work, the short story “Continuity Errors“.

The fifth chapter, “The Trouble with Time”, which is the longest in the book, looks at the arrow of time, time loops, and (again) the current scientific understanding behind them, and the way in which they are used in the story.

The sixth chapter, “Endings and Beginnings”, is mostly about scientific understandings of the end (and beginning ) of the universe.

A brief conclusion meditates on the concept of “favourite stories”.

An appendix, “Good Question for Another Day”, attempts to unpack the question of why the TARDIS explodes and who, if anyone, is responsible.

This book lacks a lot of the things I usually like about the Black Archives – analysis of the development of the script or of details of the production -and includes a fair bit of science, which is not what I get the Black Archives for. But I can forgive a lot of it for Bates’ infectious enthusiasm for a story that I already liked a lot. You can get it here.

The Black Archives
1st Doctor: Marco Polo (18) | The Dalek Invasion of Earth (30) | The Romans (32) | The Massacre (2)
2nd Doctor: The Underwater Menace (40) | The Evil of the Daleks (11) | The Mind Robber (7)
3rd Doctor: Doctor Who and the Silurians (39) | The Ambassadors of Death (3) | The Dæmons (26) | Carnival of Monsters (16) | The Time Warrior (24) | Invasion of the Dinosaurs (55)
4th Doctor: Pyramids of Mars (12) | The Hand of Fear (53) | The Deadly Assassin (45) | The Face of Evil (27) | The Robots of Death (43) | Talons of Weng-Chiang (58) | Horror of Fang Rock (33) | Image of the Fendahl (5) | The Sun Makers (60) | The Stones of Blood (47) | Full Circle (15) | Warriors’ Gate (31)
5th Doctor: Kinda (62) | Black Orchid (8) | Earthshock (51) | The Awakening (46)
6th Doctor: Vengeance on Varos (41) | Timelash (35) | The Ultimate Foe (14)
7th Doctor: Paradise Towers (61) | Battlefield (34) | The Curse of Fenric (23) | Ghost Light (6)
8th Doctor: The Movie (25) | The Night of the Doctor (49)
Other Doctor: Scream of the Shalka (10)
9th Doctor: Rose (1) | Dalek (54)
10th Doctor: The Impossible Planet / The Satan Pit (17) | Love & Monsters (28) | Human Nature / The Family of Blood (13) | The Sound of Drums / Last of the Time Lords (38)
11th Doctor: The Eleventh Hour (19) | Vincent and the Doctor (57) | The Pandorica Opens / The Big Bang (44) | The Impossible Astronaut / Day of the Moon (29) | The God Complex (9) | The Rings of Akhaten (42) | Day of the Doctor (50)
12th Doctor: Listen (36) | Kill the Moon (59) | The Girl Who Died (64) | Dark Water / Death in Heaven (4) | Face the Raven (20) | Heaven Sent (21) | Hell Bent (22)
13th Doctor: Arachnids in the UK (48) | Kerblam! (37) | The Battle of Ranskoor av Kolos (52) | The Haunting of Villa Diodati (56) | Flux (63)