Talk about a cliffhanger! The penultimate episode of Doctor Who‘s fifth season ended with such a horrifying jolt — such a stinging sense of dread and absolute helplessness — that I wouldn’t blame anyone who dialed 911 and reported BBC America for psychological abuse. I mean, seriously? [SPOILERS ahead, for those of you waiting to watch on your DVR.] We have to wait an entire week to find out how (or if) The Doctor extracts himself from a thick, windowless box/cell constructed by a consortium of nefarious species from across the universe?
Maybe I’m gullible, but I cannot say that for a single second I saw it coming — neither the taut, terrifying conclusion to “The Pandorica Opens,” nor the devastating emotional impact this episode would hold. Then again, things didn’t start out all that promisingly: That opening sequence featuring Vincent van Gogh, Winston Churchill, and the Queen of England (circa 5145) had me worried this was going to be one of those “Journey’s End“-esque epsidoes in which too many cooks unite to save the universe. I know, I know…the season 4 finale ended remarkably (poor Donna! still miss her!), but I’m the kind of Who fan who can live without ever again seeing a very special crossover episode with Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Adventures.
But I digress. “The Pandorica Opens” was a different kind of journey altogether. Sure, we had the patented cheekiness of River Song defacing the universe’s first known written words with a “Hello, Sweetie” overlay — loved her excuse: “you wouldn’t answer your phone!” — but the lightheartedness didn’t last long. It seemed peculiar to me that only a few minutes past the midway point of the episode, we had The Doctor giving such a rousing speech — standing in the middle of Stonehenge, looking skyward toward his collected enemies, and declaring “Do the right thing! Let somebody else try first!” — but, for a change, he’d overplayed his hand.
Turns out there was a “vacancy” sign flashing inside the Pandorica, an insanely secure box designed to house the most terrifying menace in any galaxy ever. And The Doctor, Amy, and River weren’t there to prevent Intergalactic Enemy No. 1 from breaking out, but rather, had been tricked into Pandorica proximity, the better to entrap The Doctor for all eternity. I don’t think a Dalek (in Kitchen-Aid white) was ever quite so scary as the one who barked “you have been scammed!” while our protagonist was led to his cell.
Even more brilliant was the way the villains executed said scam — by tapping into the memory of The Doctor’s companion and fashioning a world so fully realized that our merry band of heroes couldn’t see the lies before their eyes. River Song’s moment of realization was a stunning one: As she rummaged through the effects of Amy’s bedroom, she saw The Raggedy Doctor doll, a book about Pandora’s Box, a text about Roman soldiers in which all the sketches looked exactly like the Centurions they’d encountered in the English countryside. (Side note: Amy’s initial response to running into Roman soldiers — “My favorite subject in school: Invasion of the hot Italians.” — was completely in character, and pretty damn funny to boot.) And, oh how could I forget, that picture of Rory in ye olde Roman garb?!?!
That was a heartbreaker, but a good kind of heartbreaker. Because in all honesty, I didn’t want to buy The Doctor’s explanation that Rory’s return from the crack in the wall, that his physical actualization in the wake of having his entire existence wiped from the universe’s hard drive, was some kind of a miracle. I expect a little bit of science, some timey-wimey stuff, in the Whoniverse, which is why I was equally horrified and mind-blown and impressed that Rory — dear, sweet Rory! — had also been woven out of Amy’s memories, that he wasn’t real, that he was just another weapon in the arsenal against The Doctor.
And so we are here with Amy dying in robo-Rory’s arms; with Rory crying but perchance still infused with a little humanity from inside the synapses of the woman who loved him; with River Song trapped between a rock and a malfunctioning TARDIS, helpless to prevent the horrors to come; and The Doctor, spitting, barking, screaming mad inside a prison from which escape is all but impossible. And, oh yeah, without his assistance, the entire existence of all life in every corner of the universe is about to get erased forever. And you can’t even blame The Doctor’s captors, since apparently “all evidence concurs. The Doctor will destroy the universe.” Whew. Before I sign off, let’s just recount this little exchange:
Sontaran: “The Pandorica is ready!”
Doctor: “Ready for what?”
Dalek: “Ready for you!”
Who else can’t wait for next Saturday to arrive? Share all your thoughts, feelings, and freakouts in the comments below. And remember, if you live across the pond and have already seen next week’s conclusion, please do not spoil it for your U.S.-based friends. (Even vague hints of a “you’ll see it sucks/you’ll see it’s great” nature are not really appreciated.) Thanks!
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