Moffat delivers. Superb in every sense of the word. THAT is how you do a “Doctor Who” season finale!
Ever since the Doctor returned to our screens in 2005, each season of the show has tried to create a season-long story arc, with varying degrees of success. In the first season, Bad Wolf proved to be a fun novelty, let down by its resolution.
Part of the problem with the previous season story arcs was that the concept of the arc often proved to be far more interesting that the execution and resolution. For all its trying, the new series has yet to have a truly satisfying season finale.
We’re halfway there.
The first words out of my mouth after I picked my jaw up off the floor Saturday evening were, “Now THAT is how you do a season finale!” They were followed by, “Is it next Saturday evening yet?”
Saturday night, Steven Moffat moved into same stratosphere as Joss Whedon with the first part of a season finale that not only rewarded fans for watching all season, but included so many Easter Eggs to the entire run of “Doctor Who” that this long-time fan could barely keep up because of sheer giddy delight at hearing them all. From the opening moments of the teaser, Moffat made the entire season of threads into a tapestry and one that moved at just the right pace, infusing a sense of dread with glimmers of hope and mystery and paranoia. Moffat understands that sometimes less is more and just the basic name-checking of a plethora of old and new school adversaries would be enough to give the season finale the epic feel the series has been struggling to find since 2005.
Moffat manages to pull in details from several points this season effortlessly.
Responding to a message from River, the Doctor and Amy head back to Roman times. River is there waiting, with word that the Pandorica is opening. Riding to Stonehenge, the Doctor discovers the ancient site is a transmission center, alerting a plethora of factions across the universe that the mysterious box will open. The Doctor assumes there’s something inside trying to get out that many of his foes want, but the truth is far more intriguing.
The episode achieves a nice balance of character moments and plot developments, leading to a surprise that is nicely set up, but once it comes along is the most obvious thing in the universe. Amy’s arc picks up from last week, as she ponders the meaning of the engagement ring she found in the Doctor’s pocket. The stakes get raised further when Rory shows up in Roman times, alive and with memories of Amy. Amy, for a while, doesn’t recognize him since he’s apparently been erased from history. This storyline has some of the best character beats as Rory struggles with Amy’s lack of memory of him and then tries to win her back and make her recall who he is.
It’s also interesting how short sighted the Doctor is in this one, falling into the trap set for him. At several points, the Doctor points out he’s missing the obvious and once the pieces all fall into place, this is exactly what’s happened.
It turns out the Pandorca is opening not to let something out but as a prison for the Doctor. All season long, clues have been scattered throughout the stories that will lead the Doctor to this point, where a host of his old enemies have teamed up to trap him inside and save the universe. Or so they think. It seems the cracks in the universe are the Doctor’s fault and his enemies have decided to lock him up, separate him from the TARDIS and solve the problem.
As I’ve said before, the episode makes the entire season a tapestry and makes the show feel truly epic in a way its been trying and failing to achieve since 2005. In many ways, it’s almost as if Moffat wanted to take the elements that were used in “The End of Time” and show how they could be used better.
The other great thing about this episode is that unlike many of the Russell T. Davies finales, we weren’t left with dead spots to “sit through” until we got to the meat of things. “Bad Wolf” is memorable for the segments once the Doctor, Rose and Jack escape the reality show hell and the Daleks show up. But there’s still twenty or so minutes of time treading water to that one as we wait for the Doctor to catch-up to what was already spoiled in the preview.
There are some calmer moments to “Pandorica” but it never feels like we’re sitting around, waiting for something to happen. This could easily have been the case, especially when it comes to bringing back Rory. But even those moments feel earned and like they’re delivering on the promise of the entire season instead of as a filler until we get to the cliffhanger.
And once again, Matt Smith shows why he was chosen for the role of the Doctor. His single-minded devotion to solving the problem is nice as is his growing sense of paranoia in the final quarter of the story. Seeing Smith terrified as his enemies lock him up and begging them to not do this is one an incredible moment in a season of incredible moments for Smith.
In short, it was superb in every sense of the word. And I can’t wait to see what happens next week. Steven Moffat, I know you won’t let us down.