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Review: The Pandorica Opens


The Pandorica Opens is the twelfth episode in the 31st episode of Doctor Who.

Review

With only the finale ahead, this epic first part sets up the prospect for a wonderful finish to the Eleventh Doctor’s first season. “The Pandorica Opens” is a fantastic treat as threads from previous episodes are used to weave a larger tapestry, one in which the unexpected happens, everything and everyone gets to come back -- even Rory. There is surprise after surprise, and the ending is a shock which leaves the viewer completely baffled at how the Doctor is going to get out of his predicament and how Amy comes back from the dead.

Yes. Amy dies. That is the one of the major shocks of the episode. And it is the culmination of what is a truly heartbreaking thread within the story: the return of Rory -- only not really. Thanks to the Autons setting a trap for the Doctor using characters from Amy’s childhood memories, Rory is reincarnated as a Roman soldier. He turns up just in time to save Amy from a Cyberman (more on that later). It is heart-breaking when Rory realizes that Amy doesn’t remember him but the scene between them when Amy starts to cry because she’s happy (a wonderful redux of the scene with Vincent in “Vincent and the Doctor” (31.10)) is just so moving. The ending where Rory knows he’s an auton but tries to fight his programming to stay with Amy who has (at last!) remembered him is incredibly well-acted. Both Arthur Darvill and Karen Gillan pull out all the stops to create something wonderful, touching and incredibly tragic.

Equally wonderful was the return of Alex Kingston’s Doctor River Song. The story of how she gets the Doctor’s attention (by writing “Hello sweetie” on a cliff on the oldest planet in time) is fantastic as is her escape from Stormcage; her theft of the Van Gogh from Liz 10 and her turning up as Cleopatra (all beautifully balanced between action and comedy). The whole sequence of the escape and theft actually brought to mind Michelle Ryan’s Lady Christina de Souza in “Planet of the Dead.” Kingston and Smith continue to have great chemistry and a natural back and forth in banter. Kingston’s final delivery of “I’m sorry, my love” as she realizes she can’t stop the TARDIS from exploding is so poignantly done.

If Darvill, Kingston and Gillan all pull out the acting stops so too does Matt Smith. His Doctor holds this episode together in typically mercurial fashion: in one moment, frantic, pacing and thinking ten times faster than anyone else such as when he greets Rory but in another, soft and gentle as he tries to prompt Amy’s memory of Rory and later tells Rory to be brave. His impassioned speech to the gathered Alliance of his enemies at the end when they won’t listen to him as they place him in his prison just hits all the right marks; it’s messy and pleading, emotional and desperate.

The Doctor being the thing that goes into the Pandorica was the only thing that didn’t take me by surprise. I rather thought after hearing the description of the goblin-trickster-warrior who had the blood of a billion universes on his hands that it was going to be the Doctor. I did, however, expect the box to open and reveal the Doctor, not for it to be empty and for the Alliance to put him inside of it right then.

Surprises were the name of the game for “The Pandorica Opens” and possibly the best was the dismembered and headless Cyberman coming back to life in a very creepy fashion. The way the head used its tendrils like an octopus to wrap around Amy, the opening of the head to reveal the desiccated skull, the way when Amy taunted the head, its body appeared...so creepy. It’s possibly the best rendition of the Cybermen since the reboot began.

The production team outdid themselves. Everything from the direction to the set design to the special effects to the costuming to the lighting was spot on. I loved the setting of Stonehenge. It felt grand enough, important enough that it should mark effectively the Doctor’s prison. The Doctor Who team did film at the actual Stonehenge and it shows in the quality of the final product. I will also say that the atmosphere evoked by the Underhenge cavern where the Pandorica sits was beautifully done. The music throughout the episode was well-judged including the silences. The last moment where the music simply stops abruptly is chilling.

There are a couple of small issues: if Rory was erased from time and time was rewritten, how come he shows up in a photo tucked away in Amy’s bedroom? Shouldn’t that have also been erased along with Rory? If the Romans are nothing more than plastic constructs then shouldn’t the Doctor have realized that with his sonic screwdriver before they activated? But these are very small issues.

I absolutely loved this first part. Everything seems hopeless but as the Doctor said himself in “The Time of Angels” (31.04): there’s one thing you never, ever put in a trap -- and that’s the Doctor. I can’t wait to see how he gets out of this one.

Previously published at Geek Speak Magazine.

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