Eleven Years of the Eleventh Doctor: The Big Bang

doctor who the big bang matt smith karen gillan caitlin blackwood pandorica moffat haynes review

You know this is all just a story, don’t you? You know there’s no such thing as stars.

It’s more of a piece with The Pandorica Opens than it seems, of course. The Big Bang seems small by comparison to its predecessor, almost, but it’s full of that same inventiveness and confidence: the National Museum makes for a nice parallel to Stonehenge, the epic reduced to an archaeological curiosity in the face of the apocalypse. (Toby Haynes is still evoking the same Indiana Jones aesthetic as last week, but it’s more the epilogue to Raiders of the Lost Ark than the opening this time.) There’s something quite haunting about the Dalek, last week representing an unprecedented danger, reduced to nothing more than a shadow of a fossil in the face of a much grander existential threat.

Again, much like last week, this is a very polished affair: it’s as much a showcase for Toby Haynes as The Pandorica Opens was, and it’s easy to see why he was invited back first for A Christmas Carol and then again for the Series 6 opener. His direction is rarely ostentatious, but always evocative: the contrast between the green/blue light of the Pandorica and the orange/red lighting of the sunrise towards the end looks really, really good. (Haynes does a lot of nice, understated work with the lighting throughout, getting a lot out of the condensed daytime conceit – it’s subtle but atmospheric, giving the episode a sense of momentum and escalation without drawing attention to it explicitly.) There’s a real flourish and panache to this, making it an almost singularly impressive episode: it’s not necessarily the best of the Moffat era, but it’s surely one of the most satisfying to watch.

Which as much because of the writing as the direction, of course. It’s smart and funny (again, you can trace a lot of this back to Moffat’s sitcom work) and bold; even eleven years later, it still feels just as new and exciting as it did the first time around. You get the sense that “Something old, something new. Something borrowed, something blue” is an idea Moffat had been holding onto for years, maybe even building the entire series around it – surely the only reason it can’t be traced back to an old usenet post like A Good Man Goes to War’s origin of the word “Doctor” is because he was holding onto it so closely? Rightly so, in any case: it’s one of the most sweeping, triumphant moments of the series.

What The Big Bang is ultimately about, in the end, is healing – the universe isn’t just reset, it’s restored, and so are the characters. It’s what Amy does for the Doctor, remembering him back to life, and it’s what the Doctor does for Amy too.

Not, crucially, by bringing back her parents – she does that on her own, more or less. No, it’s returning to her wedding, in full view of everyone, representing years of doubts dismissed all at once: Amy’s imaginary friend always was exactly as real as she said. (There’s a callback again to the pain of The Eleventh Hour – “the psychiatrists we sent her to” – before that full circle moment, and it’s telling that we see young Amelia go through a version of that at the start of the episode.) That’s the real triumph and catharsis of that moment – not the Doctor surviving, because we always knew he would, but validating Amy once and for all.

They both share the same moral throughline, one that stretches back to The Beast Below and forward to Extremis, to declare without compromise the chance to tell a better story – because if it’s all a story in the end, why not make it a good one? It represents a breath-taking rejection of cynicism, in the end, an effortless dismissal of the sort of dour realism that would insist on misery and preclude something like this: insisting on stars. (In amongst all this there’s a nice resonance with The Doctor Falls, and what was almost the Twelfth Doctor’s final words: “Pity. I hoped there’d be stars.” It’s unlikely a conscious parallel – just the sort of echo you get when the same writer brings the same perspective to a show for seven years – but it’s nice little moment of poetry nonetheless.)

And so the episode ends with one last subversion of the Davies era format: “Goodbye” is less ostentatiously clever as “something borrowed, something blue” but it’s just as thrilling in its own way, Amy and Rory both embracing the Doctor – and Doctor Who – for one more year at least.

Related:

Eleven Years of the Eleventh Doctor

Doctor Who Review: Series 12 Overview

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