The end is here for this season of “Doctor Who”, with all the dire prophecies coming home to roost. So it’s put up or shut up time for Steven Moffat, time to make an episode that lives up to everything that’s been building up since “The Eleventh Hour”. And boy does Moffat ever put up, giving us a breathless and wild show that’s as clever as it is jaw dropping. Russell T. Davies, ya got schooled.
We open with Vincent van Gogh, who has created a painting that’s driven him to raving madness, a painting his companions cannot even remotely fathom. Cut to a World War II bunker, where the painting is brought to the attention of Winston Churchill. He contacts River Song, who breaks out of her prison cell and contacts The Doctor in a manner even he can’t ignore. The TARDIS arrives in ancient England, where time travelers encounter a battalion of Roman soldiers and River masquerading as Cleopatra.
They’ve landed at Stonehedge, but it’s not what’s above ground that’s of interest, it’s what’s waiting below. For below lays Pandorica, a box legend has it holds the deadliest creature in the universe. Or does it? But that question becomes lost amid a myriad of others. Rory has inexplicably returned as a Roman soldier, despite being wiped from existence a few episodes before. River Song takes the TARDIS and winds up at Amy’s house, but extraterrestrials have beaten her to it. Why are they so interested in her life, and why does her past correlate to what The Doctor is dealing with now? No time to ponder those queries, since every alien foe The Doctor has faced just appeared in the skies over Stonehedge. Cybermen, Daleks, Sontarans, Slitheen… they’re all there and they’ve brought an armada with them. It’s assumed they want the Pandorica, and now The Doctor has to face off against all of them without the TARDIS, assuming it’s what’s inside the Pandorica that they truly want.
After teasing us for the entire season, Moffat pulls off an amazing feat — he smacks us between the eyes with a powerful episode that practically no one saw coming. He nicely uses some of the previous shows as bearing walls for the plot, and in the end leaves us with The Doctor and friends defeated and emotionally devastated. Some of his concepts, such as the true purpose of the alien coalition and their plans are so amazingly audacious you’re riveted to your seat, daring not to move, for God knows what you’ll miss otherwise. Many have doubted Moffat could pull off a decent finale for the season, and he didn’t. He gave us a fantastic one, that’ll have Whovians clamoring for more.
Naturally, one person doesn’t make an entire show and Moffat brings out the best from all involved. Director Toby Haynes slams the pedal to the floor. We’ve barely gotten over one revelation when another slams into us at terminal velocity. But he finds a way to bring some terrific human dynamic into play, along with some of the best performances the show has seen in a long time. Matt Smith brings his A game as The Doctor; it’s a priceless moment when The Doctor is facing down the coalition, screaming to the heavens to remind them just who he is and daring someone to be stupid enough to come down and take him on. The Rory and Amy back-story is a touching one as well, with Rory heartbroken Amy can’t remember him and seeing his second chance with her slipping away. When they finally reunite, what happens next is even more tragic than had they remained apart. Alex Kingston is again effective as River Song, who serves as a wife figure to The Doctor if she isn’t already or will be. She gives a fine performance, although it’s occasionally overshadowed by all the catastrophic commotions.
“The Pandorica Opens” is a fantastic episode, proving beyond doubt that Moffat was the right man for “Doctor Who”. It’s an imaginative foray, one that keeps the viewers constantly off balance and demanding more when the credits roll. This season might have started on a soft note, but it’s gonna end with a bang.