Sunday, 27 June 2010

Reaction: THE BIG BANG

Written by Steven Moffat, directed by Toby Haynes, 2010

Less a story than a puzzle box, though exhilarating The Big Bang can't help but be ultimately anticlimactic, given that nothing is resolved. I don't know what I was thinking, really, imagining that, say, the Dream Lord, or some similar vengeful supervillain would be responsible for the TARDIS' destruction. Obviously I reckoned without Steven Moffat's wormy brain.

I feel I should be annoyed by the ultimate lack of resolution to these events (and I’m sure lots of people will be), but actually, the delicious tortuousness of this story is perfectly adequate recompense. "Silence will fall," indeed?! I should have known nothing so mundane would be on the cards. The potential for multi-season arcs is quite intriguing, though one wonders what a general audience must have made of this story (if anything), let alone another self-involved conundrum down the line.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Less out-and-out dazzling than the preceding episode - the essentially four-handed structure makes it feel surprisingly small, and though, frankly, I prefer a bit of intimacy, it somewhat undercuts the epic threat - this final episode was nevertheless filled with numerous great moments, not least those when a chunk of the plot fell into place. There was still a touch too much exposition of the 'this is going to happen because I say this is going to happen' variety (for example, flying the Pandorica into the exploding TARDIS is in no way self-evident as a solution, rather something we have to take on trust). But, it still widdles over Davies' efforts, given that I don't immediately wish it could be purged from my mind.

I was expecting some sort of progression from the previous episode, akin to the initially baffling dream world with which Moffat's Forest of the Dead begins, so the "1,894 years later…" caption didn’t come as a massive surprise (incidentally, how satisfying must they be to write?!). The revisit of The Eleventh Hour's opening moments - the series coming full circle - was unexpected, but felt absolutely right, especially as it was actually great to see young Amelia again. Given the Doctor’s childlikeness, it seems odd this affinity hasn’t been exploited with child-companions before now (suddenly I have images of TV Comic's John and Gillian appearing on screen in the sixties...).

Similarly, I can't be the only person to have also welcomed the revisits to other previous stories, though it would have been nice if they’d been more integral. Considering how baffling this story could be though (if you didn’t pay attention), that might have been asking for trouble. Having said that, I wasn’t fully convinced that this would actually happen, on the basis of the scene where the Doctor briefly appeared to have regained his jacket in Flesh and Stone, which seemed almost too subtle to be anything besides a continuity error. However, it did appear to me that there actually was a continuity error this time round, as he seemed to have bare arms even when wearing the jacket?!

More than any of his previous series fnarg stories, this finale demonstrated the most outrĂ© elements of Moffat's imagination, as well as it arguably being here that he fully justifies his position as showrunner and head writer. Rory as a two thousand year old Auton - who'd ever have seen that coming?! That sort of unrestrained approach to storytelling is something always attributed to Davies, and which never quite worked for me - whereas here I think it does, the difference being that the story doesn’t coast on one or two elements. On the contrary, The Big Bang encompasses Roman Britain, 1996, calcified Daleks, Amy and Rory's long-awaited nuptials, a fez ("Fezzes are cool"), the TARDIS as a sun, and obviously "nonsensical time-travelling farce,” as Moffat puts it (nicely undercut by the future Doctor appearing and tumbling down the stairs).

Speaking of Daleks, it's entirely appropriate that it is one of them which forms the only sentient threat in this half of the story. I certainly can’t say I’m particularly upset that the alien alliance of The Pandorica Opens is pretty much irrelevant, simply serving as a means to put the plot into motion, so we're spared Doomsday-style interminable monster-smackdowns.

Probably unsurprisinglyly, I feel this is an episode which will repay rewatching in a big way, and already very much makes me want to return to the beginning of the season with the benefit of hindsight. I can't believe the Eleventh Doctor's first run is all over, but, gloriously, The Pandorica Opens/The Big Bang has fully justified the poorer stories of the series (which, in fairness, are relatively few) – though, in light of the season's strong opening and closing, these become little more than forgivable lapses.

My only substantial reservation is probably an unfair one. That is that The Eleventh Hour formed such a perfect pilot that I feel quite cheated that Leadworth and the inhabitants we met in that episode didn't become at least semi-regular. Given the format established prior to this year, it does make Moffat's version of the series lacking in not having a central core in that way (if not in many other ways).

It’s either less… or more… than the sum of its parts – not sure which – but I loved it. A finale that I didn’t simply tolerate at best! Some of it is too easy (the Doctor and River’s escapes), but at least things don’t get overly laboured, and instead we just get on with the story. Pleasingly, both Rory and Amy are brought back without recourse to much-derided deus ex machina reset switches; the situations of their deaths were resolved rather than rescinded. Moffat’s definitely a keeper.

It doesn’t feel like a coherent, fully fleshed-out story in the way The Empty Child or Silence in the Library do – it’s too episodic for that, and maybe a bit too clever-clever for its own good. But, in dramatic terms it’s massively satisfying - even if there’s probably a billion plotholes, should one chose to enumerate them. I don’t, though. Dramatically, it works; the Silence apart, it ties up a season’s worth of adventures and enigmas, and the effortlessness with which Moffat essays the audaciousness of the plot is glorious.

Other observations…

• So was Amy not remembering Daleks (and, presumably, Cybermen) a symptom of the events here? Or something else? It didn’t seem explicitly addressed. (Oh, and the whole thing with the duck-less duck pond - I presume that was an oblique reference to the emptiness of chez Pond?)

• It’s funny how quickly we as the audience – and the Doctor – have come to take River for granted, despite (rather like Captain Jack) not knowing the first thing about her history or background. She also seems to have returned to the somewhat milder, (marginally) less arch figure of Silence in the Library, rather than the brassier portrayal of The Time of Angels/Flesh and Stone.

Having her make a Dalek beg for mercy is an interesting development – though heavy-handed; yes, we get that she’s not necessarily that ‘nice’ – even if it does smack of yet more fan-teasing. Given that we have Moffat’s assurance that the next series will reveal more about her, I can live with that; I particularly can’t wait to see their first encounter (from her PoV).

• Matt Smith's evening wear is better than David Tennant's Paul Smith tux. Exciting that his costume is apparently being souped-up for future outings, but I’d be happy to see him retain his Edwardian spiv look, for a while at least.

In terms of this series at large, overall, Moffat hasn’t reinvented anything as such – rather added a fairytale/childlike veneer to the format he’s appropriated from Davies. Fortunately the format itself, since the show came back, is a strong one, and given that I prefer the slightly more magical approach Moffat has brought to the series, these are Good Things.

Perhaps my main overall criticism would be that Amy hasn't been given much chance to respond to what she experiences; there's been a slightly disappointing old series-style assumption that her thoughts should be implicit with the audience, whereas Davies brought the wonderment of the situation to the surface. This needn't be a constant, but it would be nice to see some acknowledgment that she has at least some self-awareness. Similarly, I don't really want to see a return to the domestic milieu of the companions' families (somehow I can’t imagine Augustus and her mum becoming major presences?), but at least glimpses of it throughout the next run might make her seem more rounded.

To be frank though, I’ve enjoyed the underlying tenets of this approach to Doctor Who so much more than the Davies era that any criticism is pretty much superfluous. The highest praise I can possibly give is that I am looking forward to Christmas and series six with excitement rather than apprehension.



  1. hello. i've been following your reviews of this series from the first, & i just wanted to say: thanks. i haven't always agreed with you (where's the fun in that?), but your insights have been some of the most interesting/illuminating of all the reviews you can find on the interwebs of this brilliant, brilliant show. so: thanks.

  2. hi there - wow, thank you so much! i pretty much only do this blog for my own personal satisfaction, and am never really sure whether anyone out there is actually reading it... so that's enormously gratifying to hear.

    i'm going to try to keep up regular posts, so stick around. it'd be great to get more feedback too, so feel free to comment further.

    thanks again!