Monday, 21 June 2010

Opening The Box

The more things change, the more they stay the same. A year after I was finally able to clamber trembling from my underground bunker, blinking hopefully in the sunlight as I gazed out into the dawn of a new, less Welsh-y era, I am once again sat considering the penultimate episode of a Doctor Who season and thinking "This could be really cool, so long as it doesn't all get reversed at the end of next week".

Major spoilers follow.




First of all, can we please find some way of ingraining onto the minds of all fiction writers across the globe that there is a world of difference between a connection and a reference. Revealing the Pandorica has been pushed on us by various alien races since the start of the season specifically to screw over the Doctor legitimately works as a cool reveal; evidence of a larger game plan. Sticking four of the characters who were in earlier episodes into this one is not. It's just as bad as RTD constantly confusing an overarching plot with repeatedly saying the same words: it doesn't make you think the writers are clever, it makes you think the writers are desperate enough to try anything that will make you think they're clever. And it doesn't work. Liz X was particularly ridiculous in this sense. Other than some hand-waving nonsense about Van Gogh's picture being in her treasure trove, there was literally nothing interesting about that scene that couldn't have been replicated by having River Song pop to the toilets and find Amy Pond's aunt sitting in the next stall.

In fairness, a lot of what happened actually worked pretty well. The fact that I managed to get so far as working out that the Doctor was actually perfectly suited for incarceration in the Pandorica but didn't follow it through was, I hope, evidence of the episode doing exactly what it was supposed to, getting you almost to the answer and then distracting you. Of particular note is the seeding of the idea that it was the Doctor who sealed the box, which you think of half a beat before the show points that possibility out, and then whips you off for more madness (much as I continue to despair over the thrice-exterminated alternate Cybermen once again showing up without explanation, the sequence with the disembodied head was very well done). You're offered a gob-shite awful non-explanation of why Rory is back just long enough before the truth is revealed that you have time to be pissed off at how bad it was, but not to try to figure out what's really going on. You raise your eyebrows at the Doctor successfully smack-talking 12 000 warships into turning tail, and roll your eyes at another instance of the show bigging up its hero to a baffling extent, only to learn at the conclusion that you were looking at deliberate tactics to keep the Doctor from having time to question what's really going on.

And yet...

There's still a lot we're not getting here. Why, if Rory was erased, is there a picture of him in Amy's house? Is the house the problem? Or Amy? In either event, why can Rory remember up to the moment he was killed? Amy hasn't been back to the house since then. Why set up so complicated a trap when the fleet could simply have obliterated Salisbury Plain (the most obvious - and interesting - response being that the Alliance Of Jerky Aliens Who Are Jerks are smart enough to try to keep the Doctor alive)? For that matter, why do both sides of this - the AJAWAJ and Mr Silence - both seem to have access to Amy (why else would the TARDIS break after returning to Ledworth, and why else would the Doctor have ended up meeting Amy to begin with, if not some heavy behind-the-scenes string-pulling by our mysterious Big Bad?)

Pick one or two of those questions, or potentially all of them in a better series, and I'd be genuinely intrigued. Looking at this, right now, and with BSG and Lost both still lurking in my mind as examples of how not to wrap up mystery-heavy situations, it's hard not to be concerned. I mean, it just about works because it was so much better than the ridiculous reference to random miracles offered just a few minutes beforehand, but it's not like Stone Tapes-style memory recordings are a particularly good explanation either.

The make-up of the AJAWAJ is a tad confusing, as well. At least one of the alien species depicted are little more than violent predators. It's hard to picture them as part of a massive, universe-spanning conspiracy to trap the Doctor in a box. Why are the Silurians there? Did they just wake up one day, find a crack in their wall, and decide to give the Daleks a call? Or are they from the far future too? With the Draconians, presumably, since it's a bit much to believe they could have predated our space-flight capability by two millenia and end up too scared of our power to wipe us out when we finally meet them in interstellar space. Does everyone have time-travel technology these days? I mean, it's a little hard to imagine the Daleks giving it out like Christmas presents, or guarding their knowledge of it any less jealously than did the Time Lords back in the day (or forwards in the day, or whatever. Timey wimey.) Speaking of the Draconians, it's a nice idea that they're there, since it makes the alien horde less of a Greatest Villain Parade and more of a legitimate interstellar intervention. Of course, only people who know of their origins from forty-odd years ago would know that, which makes it a shame no-one pointed out that they stuck out like sore thumbs amongst the Daleks, the Sycorax, and the Cybermen. Having said that, the Tereleptils and the Atraxi at least can be more fairly seen as totally unconcerned with human life than as out-and-out aggressors; and possibly the Zygons too. It seems a little lazy - if not counter-productive - to reel off such massively different alien species in one breath as though they're all exactly as vicious and unpleasant as each other.

For a brief moment, as the Auton Centurions began to reveal themselves and the true nature of the Pandorica was revealed, I was sure that this collection of totally incompatible alien species had finally decided that enough was enough, and that the Doctor had to go. It would certainly make sense in the context of the new interpretation of the show. Every time the Doctor pulls of a new act of outrageous, galactic-level interference, there must be plenty of people watching at a distance and thinking "Will we be next?" It's the First Law Of Harriet Harman (Former Prime Minister): Having the Doctor show up in the middle of a shit-storm and start throwing his weight around is the best possible thing that can happen to you right up until he decides that you are doing it wrong. At that point, you could be exactly as screwed as the bug-eyed monsters who are currently eating your drinking buddies. Having the Draconians and the Judoon (presumably working under the authority of the Shadow Proclamation) helping out the Daleks of all things would underline that point exceptionally well (remember, the former race almost started an interstellar war due to Dalek trickery, and the latter almost declared intergalactic war at the Daleks specifically after all that business with the stolen planets).

The trouble is, I actually like that idea far more than the one we got. Having the Doctor as an immediate universe-destroying threat makes things more exciting (at least for those poor fools who can't grasp that the correlation between greater jeopardy and greater excitement is actually all that high), but it would make for a far greater character point (in addition to making the legend of the Pandorica far more ironic and interesting) if this was simply the universe deciding We Have Had About Enough, Thanks. Perhaps AJAWAJ will do something more interesting next episode (though I doubt it, Moffat doesn't seem to have any interest in presenting them as interchangeable villains right now), but at present this is just Doctor Who's Greatest Villainous Hits. And even then it's Doctor Who's Greatest Villainous Hits: '05 - '10, at least on-screen. It might not be anywhere near as irritating as the soporific, endless self-pleasuring we were forced to endure as the Tenth Doctor stumbled around with the world's prettiest case of radiation sickness, but its dramatic DNA is a remarkably close match.

Of course, that would solve the mystery of the Pandorica, but you'd need something to take the place of the cracks. So I'm willing to wait and see whether the final whole works better than the alternate first half that my head gifted me (though is there any way we can end with the universe in flames and Amy shot without another reset being trotted out and making me want to kill myself?). Since the last time I found myself in this situation I got "Last Of The Time Lords", though (and before that, The Matrix Reloaded), I am somewhat less than massively optimistic.

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