Aired 19 June 2010
Any questions about how well Steven Moffat could handle the opening of a two-part series finale are firmly laid to rest with ‘The Pandorica Opens,’ a superb opening instalment that begins to shed light on to just how much planing has gone into this series as a whole. With new scenes pertaining to several preceding stories and bringing seemingly minor and disparate events from other episodes to prominence, Moffat proves that he is a master at connecting the tales under his stewardship into one true narrative.
And so viewers are taken on a bit of a pre-credits whirlwind tour at the beginning, first showing van Gogh from ‘Vincent and the Doctor’ at one of his darkest periods as he his haunted by a premonition. The painting that represented that premonition then passes through the Cabinet War Rooms with Bracewell and Churchill from ‘Victory of the Daleks’ and throughout history to eventually wind up in the hands of River Song as Cleopatra. The premonition of the painting? The TARDIS exploding, complete with date and map references.
Stonehenge provides the main setting for the proper tale featured in ‘The Pandorica Opens,’ and confirmation quickly comes that the Pandorica is a device meant to house the most dangerous thing in the universe. Rather than focus squarely on the Pandorica, though, a lot of time is spent building the threat and atmosphere, beginning with a loose Cyberman arm and head that provide a surprisingly effective and creepy vibe. In some aspects, these components provide a better Cyber threat than has been seen in a very long time. However, even more menacing is the fact that an vast assorted collection of his alien foes from throughout history are orbiting the planet, ready to attack him at a moment’s notice. The result for now is Matt Smith having the opportunity to deliver one of his most electrifying and dynamic speeches since taking over the lead role, though he is fully aware that all he is done at the end is buy himself a few minutes of time.
River Song becomes entwined in events as the Pandorica begins to open, urging the Doctor to run as everything that has ever hated him is here in this one time and place, ready to kill him. Help arrives in the form of a Roman regiment that River recruited, however, and one of those Romans turns out to be Rory, and while his return is not unexpected, the means of it is certainly surprising. This is a man who actually did die, only to find himself suddenly a Roman centurion with Roman knowledge and memories, still fully aware of Amy and his own past.
Amy and Rory, then, truly form the crux of this opening episode as Rory tries to get Amy to remember him. Ingeniously, though, Steven Moffat shows his foresight as he reveals that there is much more to Amy than there initially seems. This entire situation seems to be centred around her as glimpses into her home showing one book about Roman centurions and other about Pandora’s Box are attained. River quickly works out that this is a trap for everyone involved, and the threat level suddenly rises even more.
And yet, while most programmes would be content with the amount of content already presented, ‘The Pandorica Opens’ takes things one step further and- truly surprisingly- shows that all of the Roman including Rory are, in fact, Autons, making their triumphant return to Doctor Who for the first time since ‘Rose.’ This leads to the most shattering and heartbreaking moment as Rory’s programming takes control and, just as Amy remembers who he is, he can’t stop himself from shooting her. Again, it’s likely that somehow Amy will come back, but for now this is an incredibly suspenseful and intense turn of events.
It’s just at this time that the Pandorica fully opens, and its true purpose becomes clear as it is revealed to be a prison made specifically for the Doctor, the being the collection of foes have deemed responsible for the destruction and end of the universe. With almost no fanfare whatsoever, the Doctor is led into his solitary prison, a dark and surprisingly understated cliffhanger that, when added to the others, proves just how much ‘The Pandorica Opens’ manages to achieve both in terms of answering questions and raising more for the conclusion.
‘The Pandorica Opens,’ then, turns out to be one the darkest and most ambitious episodes in Doctor Who history. The question remaining now is how successfully Steven Moffat manages to resolve the epic scope of events that have been set in motion; as the the 26th June 2010 approaches, though, that omnipresent date that was singled out earlier in the series, the stakes have been raised higher than ever before and the Doctor and company certainly face an uphill battle going into ‘The Big Bang.’