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rare female film critic | by maryann johanson

‘Doctor Who’ blogging: “The Pandorica Opens”

(all spoilers! don’t read till you’ve seen the episode! this is a love fest only — all complaints and bitching must come from a place of love / previous: “The Lodger”)
I knew it. I frakkin’ knew it.

I will admit that I didn’t see the whole “the Doctor’s not in there yet, the monsters are about to imprison him in it” thing about the Pandorica till the last moment, which was awesome, both the twist itself and the fact that I didn’t see it coming. But still: I knew it.

And yet I hope I’m still wrong about this whole season being totally in the Doctor’s head. Because if that’s not what’s going on, it’s going to be even so much cooler than that. It’ll be interesting if I’m right, but I don’t care whether I’m right or wrong as long as it’s cool. And as long as it’s honest about the Doctor’s character.

But it looks like that is what’s going on, and it looks like it might be honest to the Doctor’s character, at least as I’ve been thinking about him since New Who began. And some of the things I’ve been thinking are:

1) The Doctor doesn’t really know himself as well as he might, considering how old he is.

This episode is positively chock full of him saying things about whatever is in the Pandorica that, to our ears, sound like absolutely spot-on descriptions of the Doctor himself: a “goblin or a trickster or a warrior, a nameless terrible thing soaked in the blood of a billion galaxies, the most feared being in all the cosmos.” And “If the Pandorica is here, it contains the mightiest warrior in history.” How can he have lived the life he has lived without seeing himself in that? Or, conversely, perhaps he’s all too aware of himself as the most feared being in the cosmos but is trying to deny it to himself.

There is this, however: Not knowing who he is has always been a part of regeneration, the having to rediscover himself, so the sense that he’s been even less self-aware than you’d expect this season could be a hint that this is all a regeneration crisis. Or maybe not even a crisis per se, just a metaphoric, dreamlike illustration of what he goes through each time he regenerates.

2) The Doctor doesn’t really appreciate how others see him.

If this is all a dream, that means Amy may be invented too (see below). And if he doesn’t understand the awe in which we mere mortals hold him, that could explain why Amy seems so blase about the wonders he’s showing her: because they’re not quite as wondrous to him as they are to us. And of course his own life is not as wondrous to him as it seems to us.

And: “Think of the fear that went in to making this box… What could inspire that level of fear? Hello, you. Have we met?” Hello, you, Doctor. Have you met yourself?

3) The Doctor hates himself, especially after the horrors of the Time War, and now after losing everyone who has recently been important to him (Rose, Donna). And he think himself a monster, after all the terrible things he has done (even if they might have been in a good cause).

All his enemies, everyone who hates him for what he’s done to them, coming together to stop him from destroying the universe… it’s like all of his fears about himself coming to the fore. If the Doctor invented the Pandorica for himself, it’s a fear of himself that he’s talking about. And he’s running away from himself, perhaps. It’s like The Wizard of Oz: “And you were there, Daleks. And you, Cybermen. And you…”

“Rory”?

How could Rory be there after he died, and more? “You didn’t just die,” the Doctor tells Rory. “You were never born at all, you never existed. How can you be here?” Because he’s not there. Because it’s all in the Doctor’s head.

Are we supposed to think that that missing Van Gogh canvas of the TARDIS exploding has been hidden all these years (we’ve certainly never seen it) but later ends up in the Royal Collection, which has been long abandoned by 5145? Or is it all in the Doctor’s head?

Liz Ten is still Queen 2,000 years after the events of “The Beast Below.” (Yeah, she ages slowly, but that’s still really old.) Or is it all in the Doctor’s head?

“The Pandorica is a fairy tale, a legend. It can’t be real!” says the Doctor. And maybe it’s not real.

“You lot, working together, an alliance? How is that possible?” Cuz it’s all in his head.

“Sometimes, very rarely, impossible things just happen, and we call them miracles, and that’s a theory. Nine hundred years, I’ve never seen one yet.” And perhaps you still haven’t, Doctor.

And now he’s being dragged back toward reality, perhaps?

Or it’s his psyche trying to protect itself from reality?

Is the actual TARDIS actually going to explode? I still don’t think so. (“It might not be that literal,” says River — I think we should pay attention to that.) I still think the crack in the universe, which is supposedly caused by the TARDIS exploding, is the real world impinging on the Doctor’s consciousness, the real world trying to get through to him. And it will destroy this “world” we’ve been traveling around all season, of course, because this “world” is all in his imagination. As with Dorothy’s trip to Oz, however, some of it may have parallels in the Doctor’s real world, outside of his dream.

Like this: What if the Doctor is lying in a bed in a fever or a coma in seven-year-old Amelia Pond’s house? And has been since he stumbled out of the TARDIS? What if there is no crack in Amelia Pond’s wall, just a lonely little girl delighted to be looking after the strange sick man who fell into her life? What if she’s reading him books about the ancient Romans and about Pandora’s box while he sleeps? What if little-boy Rory is sometimes reading to him, too? (Or perhaps Amelia simply tells the Doctor stories about Rory.) Alternatively, the Doctor could have seen the books in Amelia’s house and incorporated them into his dreaming in the same way that he’s invented a grownup Amy and a grownup Rory.

What if the Doctor is Prisoner Zero, hidden away in a room in Amelia’s house while he recovers? (Credit to bronxbee for the Prisoner Zero notion, which I think is absolutely brilliant, and would be a wonderful mindfuck for viewers.)

Two things here work as possible counterclues to my theory. First, the Dalek saying “Only the Doctor can pilot the TARDIS.” The Doctor would know that River can fly the TARDIS, and so would, theoretically, not manufacture a complicated dream scenario for himself that would rely on only him being able to pilot the TARDIS. (On the other hand, though, if this is all a dream, it means that he has not, in fact, met the real River again since the Library, and would presumably not know whether or not River can fly the TARDIS, or what else she can and cannot do. In which case, never mind.) Second, would the Doctor manufacture a companion for himself, in Amy, who doesn’t remember the Dalek invasion and Canary Wharf and such? (On the other hand, perhaps he would prefer to imagine a more innocent human, someone untouched by the hell he’s brought to Earth in recent years. That could tie in to the whole “he hates himself and thinks he’s a monster” thing.)

For the most part, though, I think here we have all sorts of really poignant pointers in the direction of a Doctor lost in his own head and on the verge of finding himself again. When he says to Amy, ostensibly about Rory, “If something can be remembered, it can come back,” I get the feeling that he’s really talking about something besides Rory. When he admits to Amy that he lied about there being no reason he took her along with him (I knew it!), he says, “Your house: it was too big, too many empty rooms,” it sounds to me like he’s talking about himself and the TARDIS.

In any event, I do think we’re going to learn that the man behind the curtain is the Doctor himself. As River herself says, about the “good wizard” who tricked the whatever-it-is into the Pandorica, the good wizard always turns out to be the Doctor. The Doctor is putting himself into the Pandorica. Perhaps it’s the last defense mechanism his confused brain is throwing up in an attempt to keep the real world out.

Random thoughts on “The Pandorica Opens”:

• Ah, so the Van Gogh story is connected to the big arc…

• I so expected Han Solo to stick his head in here:

Or maybe Mal Reynolds…

• Nice juxtaposition between River’s bomb-disarming earring

and Amy’s engagement ring:

I don’t know if this will turn out to be anything more than just a nice edit. Although, maybe: Look what River will give up for the Doctor, and look what Amy won’t?

• So, on the oldest planet there’s a cliff of pure diamond on which there are letters 50 feet high spelling out a message from the dawn of time, the very first words in recorded history. It’s God’s final message to all his creation, right? “We apologize for the inconvenience”? No?

Ah: it’s a mash note for the Doctor. And he likes it:

(It suddenly occurred to me to wonder if… and yes, someone has indeed registered hellosweetie.com, but there’s nothing there yet.)

• Ah, so the Doctor taught River how to fly the TARDIS! I suspected she was only teasing him earlier when she implied that it was someone else who’d taught her… (Or else, not…)

• If the Doctor Who production people are looking for a good way to raise money for Children in Need or some other charity, they should start by auctioning off this prop painting:

I bet it would go for a small fortune. (I wonder who painted it…)

That

is definitely the real Stonehenge. I’ve been there, more than once, and I recognize the place like an old friend. (Oh, and this episode definitely represents a better Stonehenge apocalypse than the other recent one, which tried to foist a totally fake CGI British Columbia Stonehenge off on us.)

Also: The Stonehenge bits make me hear the voice of Nigel Tufnel in the back of my mind telling us about the Druids, and how no one knows who they were, or what they were doing…

• River is so totally frakkin’ awesome

that I am majorly girl-crushing on Alex Kingston to an embarrassing degree. I so hope River doesn’t get erased.

• Spiderhead Cyberman is very very creepy. Think I might have nightmares about that…

• Who is saying, “Silence will fall”? Why do I have a really bad feeling about this?

• This has got to mean something:

but it’s not ringing any bells with me.

• Great quotes:

“I said, ‘Off the wrist,’” –big blue guy in the 52nd-century bar (did someone forget that the 51st century would be the 5000s, not the 5100s?)

“Invasion of the hot Italians…” –Amy (describing the Roman occupations of ancient Britain)

“Hail Caesar!” –Roman soldier
“Hi.” –the Doctor
“Welcome to Britain. We are honored by your presence.” –Roman soldier
“Well, you’re only human. Arise, Roman person.” –the Doctor

“Never underestimate a Celt.” –the Doctor

“Oh, Doctor, why do I let you out?” –River

(next: Episode 13: “The Big Bang”)


MPAA: not rated

viewed at home on a small screen

official site | IMDb

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