In “The Big Bang,” Steven Moffat did his best to deliver the most bang for a DOCTOR WHO fan’s buck with a massive finale, and he mostly succeed by delivering an epic tale of love and loss and regeneration (but not Regeneration); a wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey tale of the Girl Who Didn’t Make Sense, and the Boy Who Waited.
Let’s face it, this was a pretty great story, but one marred by a key flaw. Moffat loves to manipulate the timestream in his stories, and usually he is very clever about it. (Or, in the case of the spoof “The Curse of the Fatal Death,” downright hilarious.) But this time he messed up. Oh, the story gets by in the heat of the moment because all the sound and running hither and yon masks the mistake; it almost works. Almost. Which is a shame, because “The Big Bang” is otherwise very entertaining, and rivals “Doomsday” as the best of the grand gesture season finales, but it falls short because the mistake kept nagging at me. And I’m not even talking about the Pandorica itself being used as the ultimate deus ex machina… or should that be machina ex machina?
“The Big Bang” certainly did not pick up where “The Pandorica Opens” left off! While the Doctor was cooling his heels in the inescapable prison, Part 2 of the story began 1,894 years later. (That’s 1996 to you and me… Right about where “The Eleventh Hour” began. In fact, exactly when “The Eleventh Hour” began, with Amelia Pond (little Caitlin Blackwood, an amazing child actress) praying to Santa to send someone to fix the evil Crack in her wall. Only some things are different: She lives in a world without stars in the sky. A flyer calling the Pandorica “the legendary, inexplicable puzzle box…a mystery spanning thousands of years” was slipped through the post slot, and on the back was written, “Come along, Pond.” She dragged her Aunt Shannon to the museum, past the petrified Daleks, to the Pandorica. Sticky note commanded her, “Stick around Pond,” so she hid among the “Nile Penguins” until after closing. Something compelled her to touch the Pandorica…and it opened. (This recalled the manner in which Rose revived the Dalek in “Dalek.”) It opened to reveal…the adult Amy in bondage. “Okay, kid,” she gasped. “This is where it gets complicated.”
And then came the part when the story went off the rails for a bit. And it happened 1,894 years earlier…
“The Doctor said the universe was huge and ridiculous and sometimes there were miracles,” Auton Rory (Arthur Darvill) sighed over the corpse of Amy (Karen Gillan). “I could do with a ridiculous miracle about now.” On cue, the Doctor appeared in a flash of light, wearing a fez and carrying a mop. The Doctor used the Vortex Manipulator to travel back in time to give Rory the sonic screwdriver and explain how to free him. (Turned out, the Pandorica was only impossible to open from the inside; it was quite easy to open from the outside!) Once freed, the Doctor explained to Rory how he could exist: the Nestene Consciousness took a memory print from Amy through the Crack in her wall, but it got more than just the image of Rory, it got his heart and soul, so the plastic Rory was, in effect, a real boy. The Doctor placed the “mostly dead” Amy (Yay, Princess Bride shout-out!) in the Pandorica with a telepathic message bringing her up to speed. The Pandorica forces its prisoner to stay alive with its restorative light, and since Amy is “mostly dead” all the Pandorica needs is a print of her living DNA to sort her out – which would become available in about 2,000. Then, in a most romantic gesture in the history of DOCTOR WHO, Rory vowed to wait with Amy, guarding her prison for the next 20 centuries, and passing into history as the “Centurion,” a legendary protector of the Pandorica relic. The Doctor appeared in 1996 just before the Pandorica light revived a petrified Dalek. During all the to-ing and fro-ing, Rory noticed the Doctor wearing a fez and carrying a mop. When he pointed out that was the way the Doctor appeared in AD 102, the Time Lord immediately jumped back to give Rory the sonic and his instructions. And that’s when Moffat broke my brain just a little… because that gimmick could not possibly work.
I have thought about it for days, and it violates cause-and-effect. To keep it simple, the 1996 Doctor could not have traveled back to free the 102 Doctor, because the earlier Doctor could not be freed without the 1996 sonic. The situation looks like a closed time loop, and one might think that since the 102 Doctor was released, he would be free in 1996, but 102 literally happens first, so in 1996, the Doctor should still be trapped within the Pandorica, because he has not yet gone back to 102 to free himself. (Think about carefully: He can’t free himself if he’s still bound.) I was extremely disappointed that Moffat goofed up this timey-wimey stuff. I loved the time-travel conceits Moffat employed in “Blink” and “The Girl in the Fireplace,” which just makes this all the more disappointing. But still, it was not enough to ruin the story for me; it just made it less than it could have been.
The TARDIS exploded, just as we saw at the end of “The Pandorica Opens,” and the burning machine has been keeping the Earth warm in a universe without stars. The TARDIS’ emergency program sealed off the control room and put River into a time loop to protect her, so the Doctor used the Vortex Manipulator to pop into the control room and rescue her, drolly observing, “Hi, honey, I’m home.”
The Doctor realized that the Pandorica had a sample of the universe that used to exist, and that the prison’s restorative powers could be used to “relight the fire” and reboot the universe. All the Time Lord had to do was fly the Pandorica into the TARDIS, which was exploding at every point in history, and… “Let there be light.” Sure, the Doctor employed the vortex manipulator to pilot the Pandorica, but it was convenient that the prison was so mobile. And that it was programmed to keep its victim alive, no matter what. The Doctor knew that when he sealed the Crack he would be on the wrong side, and all memory of him would be purged from the universe. But on the plus side, Amy would get her parents back. He told her there was a reason that he took her with him: “Amy Pond, all alone. The Girl Who Didn’t Make Sense. How could I resist?”
The Doctor sacrificed himself to reboot the universe, and his life began rewinding toward oblivion. He re-experienced everything his 11th persona had done. And he stopped off during the events of “Flesh and Stone” to tell Amy to remember what he told her when she was 7. Remember how I pointed out that that particular sequence seemed somehow…wrong? And I even speculated that it was another version of the Doctor. Well, I was right, wasn’t I? So what, precisely, did he want her to remember? When he returned to her sleeping 7-year-old self, he told her to remember him as “a good story,” as “a daft old man who stole a magic box and ran away.” It was interesting that the Doctor revealed some of the true circumstances of his leaving Gallifrey in that old Type 40 TARDIS. “Did I ever tell you that I stole it?” he admitted, wistfully. “Well, I borrowed it. I was always going to take it back.”
But there was no taking back what the Doctor did, and so he was erased from history. Amy and Rory and the entire universe were restored to its rightful state. Without the Doctor’s interference, Amy married Rory, but spied River Song outside the reception and started crying. “I’m really, really sad,” she told her new bridegroom. River’s gift her diary – now empty because the Doctor never existed – combined with Amy’s grief to help her recall the Doctor, and since whatever is remembered can never be forgotten, the Doctor was willed back into existence as Amy recounted tales of “my raggedy Doctor. He wasn’t imaginary!” (Notice how the resolution of this story hinged on the Doctor’s companion remembering him, while the denouement of “Journey’s End” relied on companion Donna Noble not remembering the Doctor!). The TARDIS appeared in the middle of the hall. “It’s the Doctor,” Rory shouted, surprised at his own sudden memory. The Doctor flitted out of the blue box, outfitted in a tuxedo. “Hello, everyone,” he announced. “I’m Amy’s imaginary friend. But I came anyway.” So he partied. And once again, the Doctor danced.
Later, the Doctor reflected on Rory’s sacrifice back when he was plastic rather than flesh: “Two thousand years. The Boy Who Waited. Good on you, mate.” The Doctor went on to ask the question that was on everyone’s lips: “River, who are you?” She replied, “You’re going to find out very soon. And I’m sorry, but that’s when everything changes.” Let’s hope that “very soon” means “very early next season.” Prof. River Song, the Woman Who Knows Stuff the Doctor Doesn’t, is a great hook, but eventually it will get tiresome to hear her chirp, “Spoilers!” Let’s see the reveal at last.
Meanwhile, life goes on as usual for the Doctor and the Ponds. As the episode ended, they were departing for The Orient Express…in space? How delightfully daft! I cannot bear the thought of marking time until the Christmas special to see the Doctor, Amy and Rory again, but I must. Then you can call me the Boy Who Also Waited…