Doctor Who. “The Big Bang.”
My before-the-spoiler-cut review (because there may be people reading this who watch on the North American schedule) —
I got weepy.
I was shocked — and amazed — at the audacity.
The Doctor got bloody damn lucky. (I’ll explain later.)
Overall, I think Steven Moffat played fair with narrative in ways that RTD didn’t.
Oh, wait. That last one didn’t happen. It should, though! Doctor Who should really, one of these days, do an American Revolution story.
One reason why time travel was probably been avoided as the hook, the basis for the story is that, by and large, time travel stories collapse under the weight of their own illogic. In a one-shot novel, which takes pains to establish its “rules” for time travel, like Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time Traveler’s Wife, the rules can be self-consistent. In a long-running series, like Doctor Who or Star Trek, the rules that exist are valid, by and large, only for the story that is being told in a given week, and they may contradict many other stories. (Just look at Star Trek fandom’s inability to agree upon precisely what the 2009 Star Trek movie did for a prime example.)
The cliffhanger to last week’s episode, “The Pandorica Opens,” left the status quo of Doctor Who in a very bad place — Amy was dead, the Doctor was imprisoned for all eternity, and the TARDIS was exploding. It was the latter — the destruction of the TARDIS — that was going to bring about the end of the universe as time and space tore themselves apart. (I suspect Steven Moffat has been reading up on “The Big Rip,” a theory that posits that twenty billion years from now Dark Energy Strings will rip the universe apart.) Fans, not unreasonably, asked, “Moffat, what have you done?”
The basic shape of the resolution in “The Big Bang” wasn’t difficult to guess, assuming Steven Moffat played fair with narrative as opposed to his predecessor. The Doctor would have to escape from the Pandorica. Since the universe’s destruction was due to the explosion of the TARDIS, the Doctor would have to get back to the TARDIS before its destruction ripped the universe apart. The easiest way to do that? River’s Vortex Manipulator. Rescue River from the TARDIS, stop the explosion, defeat the Big Bad, and, oh, toss in a reboot for good measure.
The only thing I had wrong? We never did find out who the Big Bad was. Who was it that said “Silence will fall” ominously in the console room? I know what the prevailing theory in fandom is to answer that, and “The Big Bang” leaves it open as a question to be addressed in the next season. If the Big Bad is who fandom thinks it is, the motives are frighteningly easy to guess.
I was impressed with the audacity of the episode. You had to pay attention as the Doctor leaped from one moment to a past moment or a future moment. Doctor Who as a non-linear narrative. I thought it was fab.
The episode raises a lot of questions. Besides the identity of the Big Bad or the precise nature of the Doctor’s relationship with River Song (I was expecting her to betray him, to be frank), what is the nature of the rebooted universe?
Yes, Steven Moffat rebooted the Doctor Who universe. Some think it’s a small-scale reboot, like “Last of the Time Lords” wiping out the year the Master ruled the Earth. Going by the dialogue in the episode, however, it’s wider-scale than that, wider even than J.J. Abrams’ reboot of Star Trek.
To stop the exploding TARDIS, the Doctor must use the light of the Pandorica to recreate the Big Bang (“Big Bang II,” he calls it), and this will recreate the collapsing universe. River and the Doctor both tell Amy that the rebooted universe will be a universe in which the Doctor never existed. This means that the TARDIS won’t have exploded (because the Doctor didn’t exist to have piloted it to Stonehenge), the cracks won’t have existed, and thus the things that fell through the cracks and “unhappened” — like Amy’s parents, like Rory, like (presumably) the ducks in the duck pond — won’t have ever unhappened and they will exist again in the rebooted universe.
But, why does the Doctor tell Amy, before he T-Mats the Pandorica into the exploding TARDIS, that she must remember her parents to bring them back? Besides the fact that in fairy tales the good wizard, the kindly hero, tells the heroine something reassuring, that no matter how bad things look, there is always hope.
This is where the Doctor gets bloody damn lucky. (See? I said I was coming back to this.)
Amy will return to her “place” in time. Maybe she will have an echo of a memory of what she’s experienced traveling with the Doctor. Maybe she won’t. But she will have her parents and, to the Doctor’s way of thinking, his sacrifice to rebirth the universe is worth it because she gets the life she can’t remember back. Even though the Doctor tells her that she must think about her parents to bring them back, the reality is that the Doctor’s sacrifice is what really brings her parents back. Amy didn’t have to remember them; they would naturally exist sans the Doctor, sans the TARDIS, sans the cracks. In a universe without the Doctor, they would be there.
To the Doctor’s surprise, when the universe reboots, he finds himself in the new universe as his timeline rewinds, his adventures unhappen, his existence unravels. The Doctor realizes that he can exist, if only he can be remembered. So he makes a few furtive attempts to remind Amy of him, hoping that the command he gave Amy before he flung the Pandorica into the TARDIS explosion, to remember her parents still remains in her mind like an echo, like deja vu, as something he can take advantage of and use, like a lifeline, to pull him into the new universe. But ultimately he gives up; Amy can no longer remember him, and he knows he can no longer remain, he must be on the other side of the cracks, in the collapsing original universe, for the cracks to fully close and the new reality to fully form.
The Doctor got lucky. He didn’t know he would be able to transition over from the collapsing universe to the new universe.
At Amy and Rory’s wedding, thanks to the echo of Amy’s memories, the Doctor entered the new universe, a universe where he was never born, where he never existed. “The End is the Beginning” the first trailers said, and that’s literally what we have at the end of “The Big Bang” — at the end of the series is the beginning of the Doctor’s new life. Matt Smith is the nineteenth Doctor and the eleventh Doctor — and also the first.
The Doctor remembers everything because it happened to him, but it didn’t happen. No Time War. Gallifrey lives again.
Everything old is new again.
Who says Doctor Who isn’t awesome? 🙂