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Series Finale, Part One: Doctor Who – “The Pandorica Opens”

“The Pandorica Opens”

June 19th, 2010

As a newcomer to Doctor Who, one of the challenges I’ve had to face in terms of writing about the series is what to do with its two-part episodes. In particular, there’s a distinct challenge with writing about the first part of those episodes, as Doctor Who tends to quite literally split narratives in half as opposed to telling two connected stories. As a result, the first half tends to be fairly heavy on exposition and setup before the second half brings it all to a resolution: while this means that there is plenty to speculate on about the first episode, it’s tough to offer a critical opinion when so much of the two-parter’s effectiveness depends on how it concludes.

[Note: this seems as good a time as any to link to Scott Tobias and Noel Murray’s fantastic conversation about the challenges of writing about television at The A.V. Club – I’d add “two-parters” to their list of confounding situations for television critics who write about television on a weekly schedule, although they are not particularly common in this day and age.]

I’ve gotten away with it so far this season by either writing about episodes from previous series (catching up with the Weeping Angels and River Song in my review of “The Time of Angels”) or catching up on previous episodes in this series (lumping reviews of “Vampires of Venice” and “Amy’s Choice” in with “The Hungry Earth”), but with “The Pandorica Opens” (the first part of the series finale) I knew that there was no such cheat available, which meant that the episode was either going to lend itself to instant analysis or it wasn’t.

There are times when I write about episodes of television because I feel I have something to say, or because I want to start or continue a conversation, but there are other times when I simply feel as if I need to write about something so as to be able to even come close to being able to wrap my head around it. “The Pandorica Opens” is one such episode, a first-part which wastes no time drawing a clear (and quite ingenious) connection between this story and the ongoing series narrative and in the process leaves me enormously confused in the best possible way.

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Doctor Who – “The Beast Below”

“The Beast Below”

April 10th, 2010

While Doctor Who effectively transcends our understandings of both time and space, it is generally the former which has had the most impact (at least from my outsider’s perspective): the Doctor is, after all, a Timelord, and the different locations that the Doctor visits tend to be defined more by “when” as opposed to “where,” especially when you consider that location is often dependent on time period. There is always that initial moment, upon the Doctor’s arrival, where the question of “where” becomes immediately important, but it is often superseded by the show’s interest in “when” the Doctor has arrived in order to place the events in question into some sort of new context.

“The Beast Below” is one of these examples, beginning with a really fascinating question of place and national identity before eventually delving into a complex investigation of morality in the wake of great tragedy. In the end, the episode boils down to considerations of time as opposed to any questions about location, but the presence of those ideas is sort of what makes Doctor Who so intriguing to me. While we would normally complain that so many potentially interesting ideas regarding Spaceship UK and its police state are left uninvestigated, their presence makes for a more engaged audience experience – the show may eventually boil things down to a single story, but the presence of that added potential is something for us to chew on, which is at least half of what Doctor Who means to accomplish.

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