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Doctor Who XXXI.12: The Pandorica Opens

June 20th, 2010 (12:02 am)
current music: The Kinks: Plastic Man

Parking my car in North Oxford this afternoon, I realised that the attractive older lady walking her dog on the pavement was Lalla Ward. I refrained from declaring my fanhood by making a reference to K-9 or by any other statement. That isn't what you have come here to read, though...

Like Lalla Ward, this episode was really quite beautiful. There were loopholes, but it may be that we can expect to be driven through them next week on a wheeled chariot, doubtless made of plastic.

The extensive pre-credits sequence - over seven minutes long - was the tip of an iceberg which seemed designed to make the last five years of Doctor Who and its kinseries at least lead up to this episode's climax. The effort given to making Victory of the Daleks build up to Bracewell's dilemma now makes much more sense as foreshadowing. Other episodes perhaps suffer: the careful depiction of van Gogh's depression and synaesthesia in Vincent and the Doctor might be undermined by the reinvention of van Gogh as visionary and prophet. Perhaps, though, the Alliance (and I have an absurd image of the assorted aliens having the Spitting Image puppets of David Owen and David Steel as their spokespeople) needed to plant the vision of the TARDIS exploding in Vincent's imagination, to lead the Doctor and Amy to the Pandorica.

There are nods to Torchwood too, enjoying different relationships to the narrative. Handsome time agents aside, Rory is suffering a fate comparable to Beth in the Torchwood series two episode Sleeper; and the Doctor, in the Pandorica, is enduring a grander version of Jack's fate in Exit Wounds. They were even both lured to Roman Britain. Jack's fate is always to shadow or anticipate the Doctor, it seems.

These allusions were part of a more complex net - potentially readable as a system, I suspect - of references inside and outside the Doctor Who universe, but serving to strengthen Steven Moffat's interpretation of Doctor Who. The similarity of the Pandorica name to Pandora isn't just one of those painfully self-conscious borrowings, such as Krynoid or Adipose, but is there by the design of fictional participants in the narrative. This is a Doctor Who story engaged in writing itself, as much as The Mind Robber ever was.

Elsewhere in the episode, the Cyber-head manages to tell Amy that she will be "assimilated" - a word associated with Star Trek's Borg to SF and fantasy television viewers. This asserts the debt the Borg owe to the Cybermen, but also acknowledges that they are variants on the same human fear. The body horror of Russell T Davies's Cybermen was largely displaced by their expressed wish to "Delete" their enemies like unwanted computer files, the Cybus Cybermen themselves becoming more robotic than in their earlier Mondas-Telos incarnations (except in Torchwood's Cyberwoman, where it was explained that the Cybermen had developed an emergency conversion procedure which used more of the human body than the brain). While wearing Cybus shells these Cybermen have more in common with their earlier ancestors. The shock of the dessicated human head falling out of the outer skin of the Cyberskull, which then attempts to fit itself around Amy like an even more demented clam than the one which grabbed Harry's foot in Genesis of the Daleks, brought back the idea that Cyber-technology literally smothers individual human identity.

There's more than a ghost of cultural assimilation here too. River has an exchange with the Roman commander about how the Romans are regarded by the less technologically advanced peoples they conquer, which gains additional levels of irony by the end of the episode. When the Doctor says "Nothing is ever forgotten", at least almost a direct quotation from Robin of Sherwood, he's taking a line which refers both to the resistance of Robin to the attempt by the Norman-Angevin elite to erase the culture of the people they conquered, and the idea that the undercurrents of cultural identity will always give birth to a people's leader and guardian who will fight the oppressor. The Doctor's folkloric identity is thus reasserted just as he is about to be arrested by an intergalactic army of sheriffs of Nottingham who are exploiting another culture for their own purposes; and the law, in the shape of the Judoon, seems to be on their side. With the same speech Doctor Who disowns its half-sibling, the late Jonas Armstrong-led Tiger Aspect-produced Robin Hood, and shows that it can outsail the other ships launched in the wake of its own escape from dry dock. Yet this is no good to the Doctor, whose boast that the Pandorica belongs to him is far emptier than the message that Sherwood belonged to Robin in the Hood.

In giving such prominence to the Autons, Steven Moffat puts them to a use they were never convincingly given in Rose, as well as raising questions about the narrative voice of Doctor Who. The presentation of the Autons in Rose was conditioned by the need to relaunch Doctor Who with memorable images as well as root Doctor Who in the (albeit stylized) here-and-now which Russell T Davies wanted the programme to inhabit. The Auton duplicate of Mickey was obviously artificial, perhaps representing director Keith Boak's search for an exaggerated hyper-reality with anachronistic overtones allegedly inspired by the Warren Beatty Dick Tracy film of 1990. It also represented the unconscious of the viewpoint character, Rose (later explicitly identified as the 'narrator' of Doctor Who at the series two finale) which recognizes Mickey determinedly as 'wrong' but which the conscious Rose, dulled by narrow horizons and distracted by the mystery of the Doctor, doesn't notice. The end result was something of a misfire and potentially made Rose appear stupid and the Nestene Consciousness unsophisticated. Here, the Nestenes have hypothecated a chunk of the Roman army (exactly what isn't clear, and I've not yet looked at strange_complex's thoughts) based on Amy's childhood-influenced bedtime reading.

There are still many unexplained questions about Amy - the Doctor was about to start enlisting Amy in the search to find out what is odd about her, but was then distracted by the Cyber-arm. I'd have liked there to have been more concentration on this arc element earlier in the series, but it's good to see it now. Whether we will find out how the Nestenes or their allies were able to maintain such a connection with Amy's mind as to create so realistic and detailed a Rory, perhaps we will never know, which bothers me. Given that this Rory was perhaps the nearest to Amy's ideal, her Leadworth playmate who was also a 'Hot Italian', it's perhaps right that Arthur Darvill's most confident and best-judged performance should be in this episode.

The potential directions in which The Big Bang could go are many. The owner of the voice, presumably belonging to the entity which seemed to be battling River for control of the TARDIS, is as yet unknown. I watched tonight's episode with poppylt, who thought it sounded like Julian Bleach's Davros (and "Silence will fall" could indeed be a development of his plan from Journey's End); I suggested the Great Intelligence. It could easily be neither. The final shot of the Earth, apparently alone as the rest of the universe explodes, suggests that the planet might be caught in a paradox as 102AD and 2010 catch up with one another; plenty of time for someone to rescue the Doctor from the Pandorica, if they know what they are looking for, though if the Alliance have followed Osiran precedent - and the way the Daleks, Cybermen, Sontarans and friends regard the Doctor has some parallels to Pyramids of Mars's Sutekh - the Doctor's rescue could involve a long journey and some puzzle-solving. Furthermore, Amy's somewhat Pyrrhic victory - for it seems that Auton Rory has maintained his personality at the cost of Amy's life - might lead to dissent in the Alliance, as part of the Nestene Consciousness comes to disagree with the party line. The title suggests that there might be a whole new universe created, perhaps along the same lines as the old... but it is well past my intended bedtime.

"I don't want to go," declared Auton Rory as the Roman soldier personalities were deactivated. The tenth Doctor's farewell line is transferred to someone else, who declares that he is a 'thing' - which is how Mickey described the Doctor in Rose, when he begged Rose (at first successfully) to stay with him and not join the Doctor in the TARDIS. As with the reuse of the Autons, revived Doctor Who is brought full circle. The humanity of the Doctor and other unearthly life forms is brought into question and the Doctor's own rebirth mocked as the indirect cause of Rory's death, apparent revival, recreation, and imminent cruel consignment to oblivion. Amy may have "saved the day with Wuv" yet again, as Nyder puts it in the 'Repeated Meme' strand at her Dyner, but it is her death at his hand which might have redeemed the Rory duplicate's soul, and however happy her sacrifice may have been this is not what Rory was struggling for. Whether I have more to say about this moment depends on sleep and probably what happens next week.


Posted by: Jay the Nerd Kid - Elitist Internet Royalty (bewarethespork)
Posted at: June 20th, 2010 07:26 am (UTC)
mortola - eleven and amy

Fantastic review, with some excellent food for thought. Thanks for sharing. :)

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: June 20th, 2010 10:10 am (UTC)

Thank you! I didn't realise how much I'd noticed until I started writing. The 12.02am timestamp represents the time I put fingers to keyboard; a little later I looked at my watch and three hours had passed.

As for the Amy question, and especially whose vortex manipulator that was, you might like to see sebastienne's post here.

Posted by: Jay the Nerd Kid - Elitist Internet Royalty (bewarethespork)
Posted at: June 20th, 2010 10:18 am (UTC)

Oooh, thank you for the link! *Goes to read* I love all this pre- and post-episode speculation, I think it's fascinating. :D

Posted by: unfeathered (unfeathered)
Posted at: June 20th, 2010 08:50 am (UTC)

Some really fascinating thoughts here - definitely stuff to think about! Thank you. :-)

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: June 20th, 2010 10:14 am (UTC)

And thank you! As I've said to bewarethespork, sebastienne has evidence about which time agent's arm has been taken...

Posted by: unfeathered (unfeathered)
Posted at: June 20th, 2010 10:18 am (UTC)

Whee! Thanks for that!

I'll admit, I did think the setting for River's meeting there reminded me of Jack's bar anyway, so perhaps I was remembering the alien subconsciously!

Posted by: Lady Summerisle (strange_complex)
Posted at: June 20th, 2010 11:34 am (UTC)
Asterix Romans

Thanks for this - you've spotted some great nuances, and definitely added extra layers to my enjoyment of the episode. I particularly agree that the use of the Autons here is magnificent, and like your thoughts about the possibility of dissent within the Nestene Consciousness.

As you now know, I don't have any particular thoughts about exactly what part of the Roman army the Nestenes have created. It would be slightly surprising to come across a legion of real Roman soldiers in a temporary camp on Salisbury plain in AD 102. By that stage, all the legions were already stationed in permanent fortresses in Wales or northern England, and if a legion was moving around in temporary camps, it would be far more likely to be doing so in Scotland.

Still, the Romans did all sorts of strange things which we don't always fully understand, so I could readily accept that the imperial administration might have sent real soldiers to that location at that time. Another question is whether the state machinery knew about this legion at all, or believed they were real. I suspect the idea is meant to be that these soldiers were fully integrated into the Roman military structure right up to the point when they 'awoke' as Autons. A couple more Autons on the staff of the provincial governor could easily generate the necessary orders to get them sent to the right place at the right time.

What I didn't notice was any insignia on the military standards or equipment which might give the legion a name. I may have another look, but I have a feeling we just never saw anything of the sort.

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: June 20th, 2010 02:27 pm (UTC)
Horace Walpole

One might wonder whether the absence of insignia supported the idea that these are broad-stroke children's illustrator Romans, though I'd agree with you that they are meant to be real to anyone they meet and are fully integrated into the military structure. Perhaps the commander had been visiting the Autons on the provincial governor's staff; or he's not an Auton at all, but from Raxacoricofallapatorius or somewhere.

Another point which I had meant to make in terms of Doctor Who's relationship with other 'folkloric' television also relates to its presentation of history. The idea that "structures can hold memories" references Nigel Kneale's The Stone Tape, but also says something about what visitors to historic monuments might be looking for.

Posted by: sensiblecat (sensiblecat)
Posted at: June 21st, 2010 11:50 am (UTC)
book corner

I read them as children's illustrator Romans, since the camp seemed to include just about every cliche possible, including a highly impractical Imperial bust in a tent and a textbook recreation of a neat Roman encampment. Intriguingly, that was the point at which one of my younger co-viewers exclaimed, 'This isn't gonna work', assuming that they were genuine Romans co-opted into fighting for the Doctor's side. A remark that turned out to be prescient - I hadn't seen the Auton link coming at all, though I'd wondered at various times in the series narrative whether Amy was a robotic companion figure.

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: June 21st, 2010 12:56 pm (UTC)

I don't think you are alone in having doubts about Amy. There are some people who think that the entire village of Leadworth was populated by Autons and that's part of the reason why Rory's personality was captured so well, though that would defeat the purpose of the raid on Amy's house.

Posted by: Becky (beckyc)
Posted at: June 20th, 2010 03:58 pm (UTC)

I was wondering something about Amy - is there a reason why we never really see much of a family? Like a plot driven reason of something more I mean.

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: June 20th, 2010 04:01 pm (UTC)

There must be a revelation of some sort coming, otherwise the Doctor wouldn't have brought up why Amy's life "doesn't make sense". Did he really only go to the moon and back, in those two years before defeating Prisoner Zero and the Atraxi in Leadworth, and reappearing to collect Amy?

(Deleted comment)
Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: June 21st, 2010 02:15 pm (UTC)

Effects of the hallucinogenic lipstick - River must have kissed a lot of Autons (I think they all were); but the Commander was not convinced.

This is the sort of thing where Steven Moffat, I suspect, is more bothered about an explanation than Russell T Davies would have been.

Posted by: widsidh (widsidh)
Posted at: June 21st, 2010 07:00 pm (UTC)
liz shaw

Wow, impressive - I don't think my small beginner's thoughts can quite match up, but that is why I am not writing my own reviews...

I was very pleased with this episode, especially the manner of Rory's return, which was unexpected - twice!
I didn't see the Autons coming weeither, so the originally annoying trailer spoiling Daleks and Cybermen now turns out to be clever misleadery.

I wasn't too keen on the Doctor's speech in Stonehenge, but liked the idea that he does not expect it to solve anything, but just to buy a little time, neatly undermining the annoying Doctor=God scenes of the RTD years.

I am getting increasingly uneasy about the extent of the deception, given that the Pandorica is already mentioned by Prisoner Zero, and (as we are reminded)much about Amy does not quite make sense. I'm sure I'm not the only one who expects the whole reality to collapse next week. In my personal little fantasy, that will also include the title sequence/music...(there has been some visual indication that this might even be the case).

However, where would that leave River, and other Doctor-related things that cannnot possibly come from Amy's memory? Moffat has his work cut out resolving this one - but I still have trust in his skill.

As for Saturday's ending - interesting that Earth is still there, and it would have been *really* cool if they'd let the credits roll in silence...

PS, I'd never recognize Lalla Ward in the street (or any other actor for that matter...) :-(

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: June 22nd, 2010 01:30 am (UTC)

People who don't write their own reviews are able to sleep at nights, I suspect...

There's some speculation that Auton Rory will become a Longinus figure, waiting for eternity (or at least 1908 years) to atone for killing Amy. This gives Amy Christ parallels, which have their own problems.

I, too, think there might be a new title sequence for the next season; though they do cost... the thunderclaps and lightning might at least disappear.

There is a lot to unravel in 55 minutes on Saturday... and the solitude of Earth was remarkable. As I think I alluded in my review, I wonder whether the TARDIS explosion has two start points, in 102 and in 2010, and one has to catch up with the other, giving the Doctor (once released) nearly two millenia in which to work, albeit without the TARDIS (though I suspect he will have River and the Vortex Manipulator).

Posted by: tigerfort (tigerfort)
Posted at: June 24th, 2010 01:24 pm (UTC)

There's some speculation that Auton Rory will become a Longinus figure, waiting for eternity (or at least 1908 years) to atone for killing Amy.

That would explain why his staff badge says 1990 on it, although you'd have hoped the hospital staff would get suspicious about someone who worked there for 20 years and never got any older. But Rory does assert "we were kids" when talking about their 'raggedy doctor' games in Amy's childhood, which would count against the idea. (And IIRC Amy says something about them growing up together, too.)

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: June 24th, 2010 08:20 pm (UTC)

Mr Moffat, of course, claims that the 1990 badge was an error... depending on what turns up on Saturday, and what was revealed during filming, we'll know whether a 1990s strand to proceedings had to be dropped or not...

Posted by: nineveh_uk (nineveh_uk)
Posted at: June 24th, 2010 07:44 pm (UTC)

This is a fascinating review, picking out all sorts of illusions I merely saw fleetingly (neophyte that I am)! And I wait with anticipation for Saturday night.

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: June 24th, 2010 08:17 pm (UTC)

Thank you - it's all very impressionistic, based on what-I-can-remember, too many viewings (surely no such thing?) and a wish to see anything and everything as relevant. (I missed that another speaking Auton-Roman was played by the actor who played Jeff, the 'good-looking one' in the first episode of this series, just to underline that the Romans had been created from Amy's memories.)