Sunday, June 20, 2010

Doctor Who (UK) - “The Pandorica Opens”

The fifth season of 'Doctor Who' in the UK is airing a few episodes ahead of that in the US. If you are watching 'Doctor Who' in the US on BBC America and do not wished to be spoiled... GO NO FURTHER! Read only the reviews marked "Doctor Who (US)". If you are watching 'Doctor Who' in the UK, read ahead if you've already seen this episode.

Review by David Lowbridge
'Doctor Who'
Season 5 - Episode 12
"The Pandorica Opens"

In my review of this season’s “The Hungry Earth” I babbled on about how continuity annoys me without giving the opposing view; that actually it can be pretty cool. Cool for those in the know, that is. We can sit back (or, this being the run up to the season finale, on the edge of our seats) and feel clever for forty-eight minutes as we mentally tick off places we’ve been, enemies we’ve defeated and sound effects that were first heard in the BBC Radiophonic Workshop more than four decades ago. It’s like a televisual I SPY!

Arguably, the best part is knowing that half the audience won’t have these thrills of recognition. They don’t watch every episode (twice). If they do watch it, they don’t watch closely enough, or they don’t have the sound turned up to maximum like we do. They don’t put a restraining order on conversation so that anyone who dares to try and talk over The Who is instantly transported aboard a prison ship bound for the seventh moon of Skaro.

But then comes the guilt. It came, with me, as I heard the musical leitmotif for the Cybermen, first heard in season two, recur not once, but twice. The majority would have been absorbed this subconsciously; an audible tip off that something was about to go wrong. But I knew it for what it was; Murray Gold causing all the fans to have multiple geekasms. He could have gone with a low bassy rumble without a discernible melody, creating a generic sense of foreboding. But he went with the rising/falling horn motif that has scored every encounter with the Cybermen in recent times. “I know what this is! Hoorah for consistency!” I cried (I actually did. Yes, I am twenty-seven. And a teacher. I can authenticate your passport. Scary huh?). It’s at this point I realised that feeling a part of an exclusive club can make you feel excluded too, and not remotely cool.

Others among you might have got off on the Zygons coming back, or being able to identify every type of starship in the impressively CGI invasion fleet, murmuring “here come the Sontarans” like a trainspotter detecting The Flying Scotsman cresting the horizon. I’m sure we all felt smug as we put a name to the description of the “handsome time agent” alluded to in the Mos Eisley-style cantina in the pre-titles teaser. It’s this kind of anal attention to detail that has led more than one of my nearest and dearest to diagnose me as being quite high on the autistic spectrum. Needless to say, I was the first one to point the finger.

But hell, I don’t care (too much). At least, I don’t if it’s the season finale. Or, better still, the episode before the season finale. With ‘New Who’ the build-up has consistently been more impressive than the payoff, although I’ll be happy to eat those words next week if Steven Moffat serves up a meat course to rival this wodge of antipasti.

Wodge it is; it feels huge, despite mostly being set in an Indiana Jones-esque chamber. And even though there are five different locations in the first five minutes, appearances from most of the iconic villains in Who history and Roman legions (plural), characterisation is still very much to the fore. Everyone has their moment, though still not in lachrymose fashion we’re accustomed to by this point in the season. Is Moffat saving the tears for bedtime?

He still seems more intent on teasing our brains. He’s cleverly tied together many of the threads from the season but we still don’t really know what’s going on. Two questions stick out in my attentive mind: Which “best man” does River kill (episode 5)? Why were there no ducks on that duck pond (episode 1)? I’m assuming we’ll get the answers next week, though at the moment ‘next week’ is a bit of an abstract concept, along with time, space the universe and pretty much everything. It’s all going, going... gone?

The best thing about continuity is not the big-headness from knowing more than casual viewers (though that is nice). No, the best thing about continuity is that it provides a warm blanket of familiarity. Whatever the drama, continuity reminds us that all is right with the world. Except... this time it isn’t and we can’t see how it can all be corrected. With the bleakest Who cliffhanger to date we need all the comforts we can get.

Anyone coming to this fresh wouldn’t have a fiddlestick in hell’s chance of understanding what’s going on. Even ‘we’ (yes, you can come in – that personal pronoun is your membership card) feel a bit lost. In some ways it feels right; the Doctor has been outwitted, the companions are in jeopardy, the universe is threatened with extinction. But in other ways it’s a bit unsettling; the Doctor has come a cropper a la The Prisoner (Who is Number 1? Who’s in Pandora’s Box? Are you sure you want to know?), the boundaries of life and death are being tested to breaking point and we can’t see an easy way out of this.

I have a week to wait until I find out how Moffat can write himself out of his hole without making the audience feel cheated. In the meantime I will stave off the feelings of nausea such uncertainty instils in me (told you I was autistic) by rewatching this generally triumphant season for further clues, tightening that warm blanket of continuity around me the whole time.

Reviewer’s Note: There is actually one continuity error in this episode. Before looking at the ‘oldest writing in the universe’ the Doctor claims the TARDIS can translate anything. ‘We’ know this not to be the case, don’t we?

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