Doctor Who episode 785: The Big Bang (26/6/2010)
‘Amy Pond, all alone. The girl who didn’t make sense. How could I resist?’ The Curse of Fatal Death done with a budget. Moffat pulls his favourite trick of opening the episode 1894 years after the previous one, cycling back to little Amelia from The Eleventh Hour before opening the Pandorica for a surprise reveal. The rest of the first half involves a series of time jumps that are as funny (if less flatulent) as Fatal Death’s, before the second half focuses on the dying Doctor saving the universe and sacrificing himself.
There’s a niggling line of criticism of Moffat, which is that he treats each episode like it’s standalone. That sounds absurd, given how much of the prior series this pays off, but it does include moments that – in context – are funny or clever, but which, if you follow the logic, have implications for every other episode. The Doctor nipping back in time to free himself is huge fun when it’s a Comic Relief sketch, but more perplexing when it’s the season finale. It begs the question, is there drama in the show if we know the Doctor can always pop back to rewrite time? Why didn’t the tenth Doctor nip back during his long goodbye to make sure Wilf didn’t get locked in the radiation booth? Why didn’t the seventh Doctor pop back and leave himself a Post-It note to check the scanner before visiting San Francisco? Why didn’t the fifth Doctor save Adric? It’s not even like it would have taken much to fix: the Doctor says, ‘history has collapsed’ why not add ‘that’s the only reason I can do this’?
The answer is: The Big Bang is good enough for none of these gripes to matter much, it moves at such a pace and so effortlessly that mealy-mouthed technobabble would be like touching up Vincent’s Daffodils with a Sharpie. So, it gets away with it, but I’m watching. To an extent, the whole episode is just a sleight of hand, tying up the Pandorica story with the biggest reset switch in the universe (Big Bang 2), while laying more breadcrumbs about River and her relationship status and promising imminent answers, and paying off all the Robin of Sherwood style hints about ‘nothing is ever forgotten’ by having Amy remember the Doctor himself back into existence (courtesy of a brilliant moment of ‘something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue’).
In some respects, this feels like a high-water mark for Moffat’s vision of the show: brimming with style and enough confidence to set itself on the day of broadcast and conclude with the Doctor, Amy and Rory flying into new adventures, and ongoing stories – of River and of the mysterious Silence. It’s the first time in the 21st Century that a TARDIS crew continues unchanged from one series into the next.
In other respects, there are some minor hints that Moffat is mining his own material for inspiration. There are the echoes of The Curse of Fatal Death. Amy’s story is Reinette’s, spread across a series – and the Doctor is going to meet other impossible girls whose lives are inextricably linked with his in the coming couple of seasons. People and worlds being resurrected by magic boxes. Even then, any writer is going to return to themes and play them out in different forms – but when these ideas are oddball, like little girls who become obsessed with much older men who vanish and reappear, the similarities are more obvious.
So, I’m oddly ambivalent about The Big Bang. I think it’s a superb achievement, but not a flawless one. I think it brilliantly caps a largely excellent fifth series, but I think it places a lot of audience expectation on Moffat that there will be satisfying answers to the mysteries it sets up: ‘nothing is ever forgotten’.
Doctor Who will return in Death of the Doctor
Next Time: The Nighmare Man