Spoilers will fall!
(This particular review was written at high speed after the credits rolled, and as such it's very much a 'first reactions' affair rather than an in-depth dissection. However I'm planning a second look at this series finale after I've had some more time to reflect on it...)
Well it’s been a glorious three and a bit months, but all good things must come to an end. This series of Doctor Who has had many mountains to climb; a new production team and, more importantly, a new Doctor have all had to win viewers’ hearts. And for my money, Moffat and Smith have largely succeeded; we’ve had a season that has been the most solid yet. True not every story is a gold plated classic, but across the board the stories have been stronger, the writing tighter, and the budget better spent. However the final test remains – can this series deliver a truly satisfying grand finale?
Previously the pattern generally has been a great set-up followed by an irritating conclusion. And largely this has been due to Russell T Davies being on script duties; while he has many strengths as a writer, delivering proper conclusion that make sense has always been something of a weak spot for him. Even before he landed the job of bring back Doctor Who, his previous work showed this; indeed my main reservations on hearing he was going to take the wheel of the good ship Who was that I’d found the endings to Queer As Folk and The Second Coming deeply unsatisfying affairs that didn’t do justice to the exemplary scripting of the rest of the shows. And unfortunately his Who finales have been more of the same, hammering the reset button with a huge deus ex machine and serving up sentiment and spectacle in lieu of any proper narrative sense.
However Steven Moffat is a very different kettle of Saturnyians, and this can be clearly seen from the way in he has approached not just the finale but the plotting of the series’ on-going storyline. While the Cracks appearing in most episodes (and in the real universe too it would seem) has been similar to the old RTD method – i.e. drop in a reference (e.g. ‘bad wolf’, ‘torchwood’) and call it an story arc – there has been a lot more going on to that ties all the episodes together and to brings us to the finale. To begin there have been other recurring motifs; the talk of perception filters and the appearance of the First Doctor, but more importantly there has been a greater sense of continuity between the stories, with the consequences of the previous adventure visible in the next.
All in all, rather than the anthology of adventures that have a few hints of the series end we have previously received, this series actually possesses a proper over arching plot. The extended opening sequence of The Pandorica Opens makes this clear – and I’m sure that like myself, many of you readers took the hint and have been rewatching the previous episodes this week. And what a rewarding experience that has proved to be – there are lots of clues and thematic goodies to pick up on; we have numerous references to fairy tales, the Doctor and boxes, how time may be rewritten and a running thread that there is something very wrong with Amy Pond’s life.
Now, true to form, the opening part of the finale was a cracker, full of surprises and building up to a massive three pronged cliff hanger. When the credits rolled we have the Doctor imprisoned, Amy dying and all the stars in the universe going nova. Better still though, there was no ‘Next Time’ trailer and the teasers that surfaced later in the week consisted solely of shots from what we had already seen. Fan speculation on the interwebs went crazy with all manner of bizarre theories being debated – is River Song a future incarnation of the Doctor? Or is she the Doctor’s daughter now grown up? Or does Amy grow up to be River Song? Plus everybody has been wondering about the mysterious voice heard in the TARDIS – is it Davros, Omega, The Beast, Sutekh or some other big bad from Who history or just an echo of Prisoner Zero?
But although it’s been fun to explore such speculations, another running theme of this series has been misdirection and so when the credits for The Pandorica Opens rolled, the only firm prediction I was willing to make would be that The Big Bang is going to deliver surprises that few will have seen coming… However having rewatched several episodes, I was fairly sure that we would be revisiting some scenes for a second time and I was praying that the issue of the returning jacket in Flesh and Stone wouldn’t just turn out to be a continuity error…
Right then so how did everything pan out in the end? Well for me, The Big Bang nicely resolved the situation that The Pandorica Opens had set up. While some may say the concept of rebooting the universe from the restoration field is a little on the rabbit from the hat side of plotting, but really we knew he was going to do it somehow and it would have to involve a plot device that verges on the magical. But the arcane properties of the Pandorica's technology are neither here nor there, the key thing is how it was utilised in the tale itself. And on that front, this finale gets a pass, for rather than a quick reset button at the end that undoes everything that has gone before - Last of the Time Lords I AM looking at you - as this particular restoration is carefully worked up to throughout the episode. Everything that has happened, stays happened, and it comes at the cost of the Doctor’s place in history.
Of course he doesn’t get erased, and the solution to this other dilemma had been seeded throughout the preceding dozen episodes. And this is why this finale was so satisfying - it wasn’t just a last big, high octane adventure to end on, it was the conclusion of the entire series, of all the hints and motifs that had been built up over the last three months.
As I’ve said before this has been a very solid series in terms of quality, but as it turns out this run of episodes actually fits together beautifully into one huge narrative. It has been so dexterously plotting that I’m really looking forward to watching it all in sequence now, as there will be lots we missed or didn’t realise were as relevant as they’ve turned out to be. For example, I’m seeing the end of Victory of the Daleks - namely the power of Bracewell’s memories - in a whole new light now.
Alright we didn’t the answers to the questions of who River Song actually is, or the enigmatic Voice and Silence, nor was there anything about perception filters or the First Doctor. But I half expected that some things would be left unsolved - the level of detail in the plotting of this series led me to believe that some of the hints in this series would be Moffat laying down the beginnings of future plot lines. After all, in many ways the plot arc of this series actually begins in Tennant’s last series with his Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead episodes.
But this series has been more than just a story arc, for as well as the plot points, there has been character development and an almost literary approach to the themes in the stories - Moffat hasn’t just been telling stories but reflecting on their importance, on the value of fairy tales and fables, of imagination and on the stories we chose to tell ourselves.
POST SCRIPT - I did originally intend to write a spoilery follow up piece to this review, mainly unravelling the plot twists that had some baffled. However the excellent Den of Geek beat me to the punch! So rather than penning an article that would be duplicating many of the points of lore they illuminate, I'll just redirect you to their article which covers all the twists and questions with admirable aplomb! Find it here!
JIM MOON, 26th June 2010