Crack and a Box

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“Spoilers, sweetie…”

And so to our concluding two-parter. In lieu of reviews fellow ZB-reviewers Peter and Al have carried on a conversation about each episode. Feel free to pitch in at any time!

P: After a pretty good year despite the challenges of a reduced budget, a year off and a new team to usher in, surely you can forgive Steven Moffat a little indulgence – and here it is, the longest pre-credits sequence of the entire series. It’s a quickfire surprise second lap around a lot of the earlier stories courtesy of some sneaky extra scenes, and of course the expected return (one of a couple) of River Song in her most Harkness-like performance. It’s all build-up, and what a build-up! Stonehenge, eh?

A: I remember reading a report in a copy of Starburst magazine, back in the late 1980s about the ‘upcoming’ Doctor Who movie. It excitedly mentions the script featuring ‘strange explosions and lights at Stonehenge, and alludes to comparisons with ‘another adventurous Doctor, with the surname of ‘Jones’. You have to wonder if a younger Steven Moffat might have read this with as much excitement as we did, and remembered…

P: Stonehenge is an idea so iconic it’s amazing it never got used.

A: Agreed –maybe it’s because Quatermass nicked it?
Anyway, surely the highlight was the ‘monster mash’ at the end of the episode.  I’m relieved that episode 13 immediately took a different direction because I just can’t imagine what the assembled alliance of enemies would have done next. Stood around in little cliques, perhaps, balancing wine glasses and hors d’ourves while chatting about what they’re going to do now that he’s out of the way?

P: Oh, there would have been blood. You wouldn’t expect any of that lot to settle for doing away with the Doctor and then heading for home. The idea was a nice rug-pull moment, especially so for the bravura performance by the Doctor and his handy mic on the stage stone. Fancy bluffing his way out of a confrontation he couldn’t hope to win, then to not only discover that there was to be no confrontation (well, not of the sort he’d imagined), but that the prison box he’d hoped to defend was in fact a trap for him? That’s clever, and a clever inversion of course of the original myth, with, literally, all the evils in the world sealing Hope (in the form of the Doctor) into Pandora’s empty box.

A: Inversion is a good word to use. I liked the idea that the Doctor hadn’t heard of the ‘warrior-trickster with the blood of whole races on his hands’ whom the Pandorica was built to imprison, because from his many enemies point of view –it was him.

The various monsters appearances were well handled, and thankfully managed to avoid bearing any resemblance to Dimensions in Time. Perhaps it was a logical step, having already had a ‘league of companions’ in Journey’s End, but having the ‘big three bads’ and supporting nuisances from the past five years was still a fan dream well-realised.

P: The choice of aliens strikes me as simultaneously sensible (recent, recognisable monsters) and a little strange (Weevils? the Hoix? Pilot Fish?) I’ve read comparisons to Dimensions in Time, but the main thing surely is the brevity of the whole bit. They’re simply a shorthand for ‘all the Doctor’s enemies’ rather than a literal depiction. I’m glad the Weeping Angels weren’t there, and ecstatic that the Slitheen weren’t bobbing their heads away like dashboard ornaments. Oh, and how good was it that Christopher Ryan was on hand to play Strak, only the second actor after Kevin Lindsay to play two different clones! Plus it saved Nick Briggs having a three-way conversation with himself.

A: Yes, and wasn’t it gratifying that the Sontarans were by far the most charismatic of the assembled villains – but we’ve always known that!

P: I see those Daleks were being filmed very judiciously again though – once more from head-on angles only. It stings to have such an obviously bad profile, doesn’t it?

A: Wasn’t the earlier ‘Bedknobs and Broomsticks meets The Thing’ Cyberman sequence absolutely fantastic? I’m loathe to admit that the Cybermen could quite easily appear a little dull by comparison to some of the other, more emotional creatures in ‘Ep 12’ – but Amy’s encounter achieves what Dalek did for a lone specimen of that race back in 1995 – and shows how terrifyingly relentless a single Cyberman can be.

P: Not before time, I thought, with The Next Doctor having been such a damp squib for them. I really enjoyed the Cyberman scene, and it’s worth noting that I didn’t even bat an eyelid when a headless Cyber-body was walking around – I’d have freaked as a teenager! I also took note of the Invasion-style Cybership in the sky too – a good decision given the range of vehicles on offer (saucers are now definitely a Dalek thing, while the 80s Cyberships are just too blocky for the Deco-revised Cybermen).

A: Well spotted.  I’d love to take a bit of time over screen-grabs of that scene – the astonishing detail is so briefly glimpsed; making me think of enormous, bioluminescent deep-sea creatures.  It was a carefully saved –up for ‘money shot’ which the previous team might have killed for.  Speaking of them, Russell T Davies was never shy to depict all types of sexuality in his stories. With Moffat taking over I’ve wondered what agenda he might choose to pursue – and now I think I’ve discovered it. The Doctor wastes no time in attributing the Cyberman’s battered state to an encounter with one of the Producer’s early ancestors: “Never under-estimate a Celt!” Pro-Scottish propaganda can be found throughout this series if you know where to look – and why not indeed?

P: That Cyberman of course came to grief at the hands of another important element to this episode – namely Amy’s literal knight in shining armour, Rory. His return must be oe of the least surprising elements of this year, yet I like the way it’s been handled, and in an episode of big surprise reveals, his actually comes across as a quiet one, despite the heroism. God I like Rory – I can even forgive his Mickey-like reinvention as a hero here because Arthur Darville’s made what is still quite a sketchy character wonderfully rounded.

So much going on, and we’ve not yet got to the triple-header climax. The Doctor trapped, Amy dead, Rory a plastic killer! Now that’s how you end an episode… 

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