The Pandorica Opens

DVD NTSC
Region 1
13-episode
box set

DVD PAL
Region 2
13-episode
box set

Ltd.
DVD PAL
Region 2
4-episode volume
See below for Blu-Ray options
(Doctor Who Story No. 217, starring Matt Smith)
  • written by Steven Moffat
  • directed by Toby Haynes
  • produced by Peter Bennett
  • music by Murray Gold
  • 2 episodes:
    1. The Pandorica Opens (49 min.)
    2. The Big Bang (54 min.)
Story: A troubling vision brings the Doctor, Amy, and River Song to a Roman invasion of England in 102 A.D., where they go digging for the mysterious Pandorica at Stonehenge. If the legends are true that it was built as a prison to contain the most feared thing in all the universe, what will they find inside it? How many of the Doctor's enemies are coming to control it and its contents? And why is the entire universe slowly being erased from living memory?

DVD Extras (box sets only) include:

  • Episode Two picture-in-picture commentary by Karen Gillan (Amy Pond), Arthur Darvill (Rory Williams), and director Toby Haynes.
  • Monster File featurette (10 min., also included in 4-episode volume) adding writer Steven Moffat and executive producer Piers Wenger.
  • Doctor Who Confidential featurette: Alien Abduction (10 min.) with Haynes, Gillan, Moffat, Matt Smith (The Doctor),
    Alex Kingston (Professor River Song), and Nicholas Briggs (Alien Voices).
  • Doctor Who Confidential featurette: Out of Time (16 min.) with Smith, Gillan, Moffat, Darvill, Haynes, and executive producer Beth Willis.
  • Video Diary entry by Matt Smith
  • Outtakes & Bloopers
  • Season Finale Trailers

In-Depth Analysis Review

by Martin Izsak

WARNING: This review contains "SPOILERS", and is intended for those who have already seen the program.
To avoid the spoilers, read the Buyers' Guide to the season instead.


Of course, it's completely ridiculous to think that things happened the way they appear to happen in this story. But perhaps the only thing that really matters is: someone must remember those things this way.


Predictably, this season finale attempts to throw everything including the kitchen sink into itself, whether it makes much sense or not, just to artificially create the impression that it's "big". In actuality, it's really quite small scale - continuing threads that began in other stories, and not really tying up anything that would help make sense out of what we get here.

"The universe is tiny now.... Earth alone in the sky."

Is that anything new? It seems to have been the case all season, and indeed in most of New Millennium Doctor Who. I think I'd have invested in the Pandorica mystery much more had it been located on a brand new alien planet we've never seen before. But no, it's Stonehenge. Yawn. At least 102 A.D. is a little bit cool. The season also seems to have an obsession with museums though. I don't mind that so much, but it is curious.

When not pacing back and forth asking questions about what is going on in this adventure, the lead protagonists spend most of their time explaining the over-complicated plot to themselves. Lost in all this fuss is a clear sense of exactly what they're struggling against, if not their own imagination. Every now and then they attempt to use "time being rewritten" as an explanation for what occurs. But nowhere (nowhen?) do we get any indication that this is due to somebody at somepoint making a decision differently to what history remembers. Instead we've got hyper-advanced technology like the TARDIS or the Pandorica doing something inexplicable, which just happens to erase everything, or bring everything back, always of course leaving just enough wiggle room to let our protagonists run around trying to do something with one half-dead villain or another from the show's past dragging itself after them to add a bit of tension.

Every now and then comes a sequence that crams a bit of everything into too short a space to do any of it justice. The opening is a bit of a gratuitous re-run of characters from this season's previous stories, plus a quick flip-through of a couple of off-planet settings that we should have had more of. Leave off the guest star re-runs. Give the planets to us in their own proper stories.

Then there's the questionable act of trying to cram in every major alien adversary the show's ever had into one big simultaneous cameo. If anyone was looking forward to seeing any particular one, they're probably disappointed. They came as a (relative) surprise to me on first viewing, but it was hard to be excited about it, since I couldn't anticipate the lot of them having much of anything to do. They basically all share one role - and it's not really a very big one.


One major point of confusion with this "alliance" is its purpose. Are they teaming up against the Doctor because he always beats them, or because they think he'll end the universe? If it's about ending the universe, this is particularly problematic for the Daleks, since their plan in "The Stolen Earth" (story no. 203) was to end the universe. A lot of fans thought the classic series went a bit too far in the 1980's when it tried to threaten the end of the universe every week, making the stakes less credible and too intangible. It's even worse now that Russell Davies decided to rope in all parallel universes at the same time, and Moffat here copies the mistake. Size doesn't matter; emotional investment does, and that investment is easier with a tangible idea. I actually groaned a bit to see Daleks in this story at all - can they not ever do a decent season finale without them? They're getting to be the show's crutch.

If the Alliance is about getting back at the Doctor, which is frankly far more believable motivation for the "big" villains gathered here, we now have another problem. A good deal of the more "minor" aliens don't seem to deserve to be part of this alliance, since they aren't really of the villainous variety. Why would Judoon and Silurians turn against the Doctor - they've no long-term grudges against him. Or non-criminal Terileptils? Or Draconians? If they've got it in for him, why aren't some future humans in on this Alliance as well?

If there's one alien who's really at home here in this plot, I'd say it was Christopher Ryan's Sontaran. He does at least get a couple of the best lines, and gives the most memorable acting job during this overpopulated cameo scene.


Time or Memory?

So, the minute the Doctor is sealed within the Pandorica, the alien alliance crumbles and the universe disappears. Did the alliance inadvertently create the very thing they feared? Did they mistakenly blame the TARDIS exploding for the disappearance of the universe(s)? Has the universe actually collapsed because somehow the Doctor is "now" prevented from doing something in some future adventure to save it? This seems to be the most plausible explanation the audience can guess at with nothing else being offered, particularly since the whole TARDIS exploding thing remains a point of confusion and speculation. But even then, how can we buy it, since, in order to continue to make a concluding episode that still features the show's star front and center, the Doctor is very quickly and easily let back out of the Pandorica without much of a challenge? Once more, the audience is left at a loss to know exactly what any of these characters are struggling against, other than their own confusion.

As far as manipulating time goes, Moffat seems to pull off his best stuff when simply letting the audience discover cause and effect in the wrong order, as with the Doctor's jumping around with River's vortex manipulator on his wrist, none of which explores alternate versions of events. These are the bits that are understandable and watertight.

But where it comes to the big changes and the threats of the universe disappearing, this ultimately makes less sense as manipulation of time, and more sense as manipulation of memory - an area where there is perhaps more room for artistic freedom. Most of Moffat's scenes concerning memory are really poignant and moving, and this is where the finale's conflict gels best.

But whether this is a time problem or a memory problem, there is pretty much equal danger of this turning into "The Adventure That Never Really Happened", which most audiences find disappointing most of the time. I think that danger is magnified here, as it easily seems to want to encompass the entire 31st season as well, and if it does that, how can it not also encompass the rest of River Song's future and past experiences with the Doctor, or even the previous 30 seasons of the show? Indeed the season and the finale's bizarre events need make no more sense than a star that burns cold, if we want to say the Dream Lord made it all up and one day our protagonists wake up and sort out which memories were real and which were only dreams. But who wants a finale that didn't really happen?

The memory issue is interesting enough that I could handle it focused in a single 90-minute (or 103-minute) adventure, even if that adventure turned out never to have really happened. I'd be very reluctant to accept an entire season of Doctor Who getting "time-rewritten", or turning out to be a figment of someone's imagination or aberration of memory. Applying that across 31 years of the show's history is out of the question. Not going there.

In the end, this adventure's presentation of the memory issue leans a little too much towards fairy-tale for my tastes, largely because it doesn't contain the fairy-tale within its own 100-minute single-adventure boundary, and lets it spill out over only-Moffat-knows-exactly-how-much of the rest of the show. Indeed, with all the redo's that seem to happen, I find myself at the end of the adventure not feeling like I know what really happened, or what was simply imagined, and it tends to lessen my investment in the characters. It's all a bit too Peter Pan in the end - some of us actually came to get some decent sci-fi, and fairy tale doesn't quite cut it. Mind you, I'm incredibly curious to see more, but less willing to invest in the reality of the challenges that face these people, since I'm less and less convinced that those challenges make any real sense.

Interestingly, Star Trek: The Next Generation seems to have tackled similar problems of disappearing people, memory losses, and collapsing universes in its fourth season episode "Remember Me", and pulled it off with an equal sense of mystery, plus far greater finesse, audience emotional investment, and understandable and believable payoff. Just a regular episode they came up with off-the-cuff that beats this over-planned season finale hands down. Compare the two for yourself, and see what you think.


Format-Locked for Domestication? Who would ever have thought....?

Another area of dissatisfaction with this story for me was the whole element of resurrecting Rory and the impending wedding, and setting the final beats of the story at the wedding. It feels less like we're resolving the issues of the season, and more like we're bringing the fifth-wheel problem back into the Doctor's relationship with his companion. Really, it's hard to get any worse with that idea than to have a companion bring a spouse along into the TARDIS on their wedding night, and then have their journey be about answering a phone call for some Earth-bound-sounding Christmas-special nonsense. At times like that, I really wonder if there's anything left of the show I used to love about a timeless galactic wanderer.

At least the wedding is allowed to be a wedding, with no idiot exploding Christmas ornaments or unexplained robots wandering around. Sometimes normal events are more powerful without the bizarre.

And when all is said and done, I think the Doctor gets satisfying actions to perform to solve the challenges of this story, with a decent hand over to Amy to finish up one of the last ones, which may be the most thematically important of course. Not bad. I'd have preferred a different setting other than the wedding, either through time-rewriting or just picking a different point in Amy's life to begin with, but still, not bad.


Production

Murray Gold's work has been exceptionally good all season, nicely filling in all the scenes with appropriate moods from excellent cues. But when it all comes to the end, the only truly memorable pieces of music seem to be the themes for Amy and the Doctor created for the season opener "The Eleventh Hour", which have received variations and developments in nearly every other story this year. Those themes are definitely used well and prominently in the season finale, and this story's score as a whole continues Gold's streak of excellence on the show.

Toby Haynes also deserves due credit as a director. The script handed to him was definitely a confusing one, and he has done a lot to ensure that what ends up on screen presents all the pieces of the puzzle that he does have as clearly as could be possible. Additionally, the story has good atmosphere and tension from the directing, and its action sequences are well done. And when it needs to be emotional, everything gets pulled off really well. Nicely done.

Music by Murray Gold
The new title music,
theme for the 11th Doctor,
and a full suite of music from the story
are available on the 2-disc audio CD album:
Doctor Who: Original Music from
Season 31 (aka "Series 5", 2010)

More info & buying options


Ultimately, I think one has to just take this adventure as neither a proper beginning nor end, but rather as a bizarrely over-hyped middle piece of a larger saga, one which has yet to explain enough of itself to make satisfying sense. Although I anticipate the very next chapter to be awkward and still too domesticated with Rory aboard and newlywed / Christmas issues to sidetrack us, I also expect the next season to deliver some good stories and much anticipated answers. Another River Song adventure that changes everything? I'm there!

I'd rate this adventure easily better than either "Bad Wolf" (the season 27 finale) or "The Sound of Drums" (the season 29 finale). It's on about the same level as "The End of Time" (story no. 207), having about an equal number of unbelievable things in it, while giving about as good an emotional ride with a stronger sense of mystery, even if it requires more many more words to think through and explain my nits in this case.



Season 31 Rankings:

Best Story:

  • The Hungry Earth
  • The Time of Angels
  • The Eleventh Hour
  • The Vampires of Venice
  • Vincent and the Doctor
  • The Pandorica Opens
  • Victory of the Daleks
  • The Lodger
  • Amy's Choice
  • The Beast Below

Best Director:

  • Jonny Campbell (The Vampires of Venice, Vincent and the Doctor)
  • Adam Smith (The Time of Angels, The Eleventh Hour)
  • Toby Haynes (The Pandorica Opens)
  • Ashley Way (The Hungry Earth)
  • Andrew Gunn (Victory of the Daleks, The Beast Below)
  • Catherine Morshead (The Lodger, Amy's Choice)

Best Writer:

  • Chris Chibnall (The Hungry Earth)
  • Toby Whithouse (The Vampires of Venice)
  • Steven Moffat (The Time of Angels, The Eleventh Hour, The Pandorica Opens, The Beast Below)
  • Richard Curtis (Vincent and the Doctor)
  • Mark Gatiss (Victory of the Daleks)
  • Gareth Roberts (The Lodger)
  • Simon Nye (Amy's Choice)

This story has become available on DVD and Blu-ray.
Click on the Amazon symbol for the location nearest you for pricing and availability:

DVD NTSC Region 1
13-episode box set
for the North American market:
in the U.S.
in Canada
DVD PAL Region 2
13-episode box set
for the U.K.:

(Limited Edition)
DVD PAL Region 2
4-episode volume
for the U.K.:

Blu-Ray NTSC Region 1
13-episode box set
for the North American market:
in the U.S.
in Canada

Blu-Ray PAL Region 2
13-episode box set
for the U.K.

(Limited Edition)

Note: The full season sets contain commentaries, behind-the-scenes featurettes, and other extras. The smaller volumes only feature the plain episodes.


Comments on this article are welcome. You may contact the author from this page:

Contact page


LYRATEK.COM


Read the In-depth Analysis Review for the next story: "A Christmas Carol"



Home Page Site Map Star Trek Sliders Doctor Who Matt Smith Era Episode Guide Catalogue