As I said last week, ever since it returned in 2005, “Doctor Who” has been struggling when it came to season finales. While the season finales have been ambitious at times, they still left me with an empty, slightly disappointed feeling when the final credits rolled. That’s nothing really new when it comes to “Doctor Who,” though. In other seasons where there was a connective storyline, for the most part, those seasons came together with a whimper rather than a bang (the big exception being season 18, which has a loose arc story.)
So the question going into the “Big Bang” was could Steven Moffat buck the trend or would the series finale collapse under the weight of its ambition?
Thankfully, the answer is more in line with the former.
While not quite as jaw-dropping and thrill-inducing as last week’s installment, “Big Bang” was still a satisfying series finale and resolution to the season, giving us the answers we needed and providing some genuinely emotional moments along the way. After the break-neck pace of last week, Moffat slows the story down a bit to examine the implication of things.
For a series about time-travel, “Doctor Who” has rarely looked at the implications and the nature of time. “Blink” did it to a degree and what we get with “Big Bang” is that taken to another level. Moffat uses the mechanics of time travel to not only pay off the season-long story arc, but he also gives the series an emotional finale that felt like the end of an era or the end of the show all together.
To save the universe, the Doctor must sacrifice himself and the TARDIS. Using a memory of the universe stores in the atoms trapped in the Pandorica, he can pilot the box inside the exploding TARDIS and restore the universe. It’s a second big bang and one that will reboot the universe. The only problem is that by doing so, the Doctor must be on the other side of the explosion and will never have existed.
As the Master said in “The Five Doctors,” “The universe without the Doctor scarely bears thinking about.” Watching the Doctor flash back across his entire journey this season and bringing together a variety of threads from the season was heart-breaking and staggering. His decision to stop watching the rewind when he first met Amy is a nice touch (though it denied us the chance to see the Hartnell Doctor worked into the series this week).
Looking at the series finale, it’s clear that Moffat had a distinct end-point in mind for the season. And watching as both halves of the finale put these elements together to finally deliver the series finale “Doctor Who” fans have wanted for close to fifty years was a joy to behold. In every second of the story, I was transfixed with emotions running the gamut from shock, awe, suspense, wonder and a big lump in my throat as we got to the ending scenes. The moment at Amy’s wedding when River walks by and then the TARDIS re-appears was one of just one of a number of perfectly constructed moments in a season full of them.
And the best part is that while Moffat cleared up the cracks in time, he still left enough threads open and dangling to make sure that we’ll all be there when the next series open. River promises that we’ll soon know more of her secrets and the plot thread of the silence coming across the universe hasn’t been resolved. Given his background in writing comedy, Moffat clearly knows how to deliver the punchline but leave the audience begging for more. Hopefully the Christmas episode will be an encore to the season and one that I await with eager anticipation.
A superb wrap-up to the best season the show has had since it returned. It’s too early to know where this one ranks all-time among “Doctor Who” seasons, but on first glance I think it deserves a spot in the top five of all time.