This review may contain spoilers.
One thing is clear about "The Pandorica Opens" -- it is ambitious.
In fact, there hasnt been an episode of Doctor Who with such ambition since The Stolen Earth at the end of the fourth season, uniting all of the Russell T. Davies era companions for a single grand adventure against Davros and the Daleks reborn.
Like The Stolen Earth, The Pandorica Opens re-introduces several recognizable faces that have all be introduced this season and the opening teaser is wonderfully strung together by a collection of scenes from several episodes. "The Beast Below," "The Time of Angels," "Victory of the Daleks" and "Vincent and the Doctor" are all given some recognition (although, in sticking with the nature of time travel, not exactly in that order).
Each cameo appearance details part of a mysterious prophecy that was left in a painting (how very Isaac Mendez) involving the Doctor. In each and every scene, the ramifications of what has been captured on canvas is revealed to be Earth shattering : and when the work of art is finally displayed it turns out to be true.
That fast paced sequence of catch-ups very nicely prepares the episode for what is about to come: the very much anticipated Pandorica. And that is primarily the reason why the episode works so well; the origins and purpose of the Pandorica are never truly revealed until the final moments and even then there are so many questions still unanswered.
As always, the real win is the terrific banter between the new core four and the energy that exists between them. This is by no means a perfect episode, it does have its flaws, but it is the energy holds together the story's outlandish -- and sometimes wildly disparate - elements together. Smith and Kingston are again terrific together, so much so that the pair would make a truly entertaining duo on a more permanent basis. But, as fun as it is to see "Hello Sweetie" as the first words in the whole of creation, it is Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill who are truly spectacular together.
Remembering Rory was a very tender moment and proves to be short lived as the truth of Rory's reincarnation is quickly discovered. The resurrection card is clearly an overdone clichÃ© (how can you possibly take a show seriously when a beloved character is killed in dramatic fashion and then promptly revived weeks later?) but it is played with conviction and fueled by a burning desire to see everything turn out for the best.
And, given the disastrously pessimistic ending, "The Big Bang" now has a lot to live up to.
With so much going on, "The Pandorica Opens" could easily have gotten out of control; as if the companion-bursting "Journey's End" offered no lesson on diluting a tightly packed plot, this episode features Daleks, Cybermen, Autons, Sontarians, Silurians, Judoon, Sycorax, Atraxi and many more. Each villain was kept on a short leash and with the result that the story remained grounded and moving at a brisk pace.
The episode clearly defines the Pandorica as being a box to hold the most feared being in the cosmos, a being so powerful that the whole of creation looked upon it and trembled. The Doctor himself explained that a trickster -- nameless terrible thing - was soaked in blood of a thousand galaxies and locked into the Pandorica.
And so, as the truth is revealed that the Pandorica is actually a prison designed to hold the Doctor there is some pause for thought. From the outsiders perspective, wherever the Doctor goes he brings death and destruction. Wherever he falls, chaos soon ensues. The Doctor himself is a trickster. A believer in non-violence, he relies on others to do his bidding.
Once again, River Song was very well utilized (this time, the chronologically earliest version of the character weve seen yet). Kingston brings a lot of fun to the show, including her catchphrase, Hello sweetie, and also goes on to outline the stakes if they fail in their mission. Her bar-side meeting in the opening teaser was very "Star Wars" - it was in the middle of an alien cantina and River's excellent use of micro-explosives was reminiscent of Leia in the Bousch disguise holding a thermal detonator.
Props to the art department as the mysterious painting was every bit as much a work of art as those by Van Gogh himself. So much so that it is sure to become a part of the "Doctor Who" merchandising machine at some point in the not-too-distant future.
Murray Gold's score very gracefully incorporated hints of the previous tales from the series, including the "Doomsday" suite involving the Cybermen, mixed in with this year's fast paced and heart pumping action track. There were times where it perfectly captured the light-hearted moments, and others it was spine-chilling.
Then, as the Tardis goes into meltdown and the camera pans over the alliance of villains, the series became very "Lost" in a way with a score filled with heart and meaning, coupled with some well conceived shots of the adventures conclusion : and there's nothing wrong with that.
And the episode also included what has to be the shows funniest piece of dialogue yet: "Look at me, I'm a target!"
What Didn't Work
Its creepy and enigmatic, but "Silence will fall," is just not a scary enough threat from an unknown villain.
Also, the Cybermen proved to be the weakness of the monster mash-up. There was no explanation on how the Cyberman guardian was dismembered and left beneath Stonehenge. The phrase "You will be assimilated," was incredibly underwhelming (and that is saying a lot given that most of the Cybermen lines usually turn out to be duds) and is something probably best left in the Star Trek universe.
In the same respect, the snapping Cyberman head was a little hard to fathom (although the tentacle did add a nice new dimension to the creatures) and Amy may as well have come under attack from a pillow in real "Police Squad" style. One can only wonder how the sales of Cybermen helmets will be affected by the ordeal.
Giving Credit Where Credit Is Due
"Doctor Who" stars Matt Smith and Karen Gillan. "The Pandorica Opens" was written by Steve Moffat and directed by Toby Haynes.
"Doctor Who" airs Saturdays at 6.20 p.m. on BBC One in the United Kingdom and at 9 p.m. ET on BBC America.
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