“Okay kid, this is where it gets complicated.” No kidding. The season finale to Steven Moffat’s first season running Doctor Who is nothing if not complicated. Even the second time through, I’m not sure I sorted out all the various intersecting timelines or the way it slipped out of various paradoxes. But the other thing about “The Big Bang”: It’s only complicated up to a point. After the universe gets saved—again—it turns valedictory, celebrating The Doctor’s continued existence and, by extent, the show’s. I don’t think “The Big Bang” is wholly successful in either segment. The climactic action is a bit too rushed and the epilogue too relaxed. It also feels like a letdown after last week’s superb “Pandorica Opens.” But as the capper to an overall quite fine season of Doctor Who, it’s still beyond-satisfactory and filled with great moments.
If anything, “The Big Bang” has more good ideas than it knows how to handle. We get a glimpse of young Amy growing up in a world that’s forgotten about stars, a set-up that might have provided the fodder for a whole episode. Ditto Rory’s career as the “Lone Centurion,” a man who’s spent millennia guarding the Pandorica-confined Amy. Or the fossilized Daleks. But, hey, better too many ideas than too few, even if the episode has to rush to bring them all in.
Much of that rushing occurs at the British Museum, a great setting that, in its own way, is a bit like a real-world time machine. We get there after some hopping about in time and the rather convenient revelation that the Pandorica has some life-preserving abilities, thus negating Amy’s apparent death last episode. Then again, “The Big Bang” is largely about negation and the way it can roll both ways. The crack in the universe has leeched away elements from Amy’s life, from her family to the stars above. But in her successful rebooting of the universe, the loss gets turned around. Everything from Rory to her parents comes roaring back. Well, almost everything.
The Doctor’s return to existence at Amy’s wedding risks sentimentality but it worked for me anyway. It also felt like the moment the season—really the last five seasons—has been building to all along. This year has been about Amy reuniting with a magic-seeming man who filled her childhood with wonder and mystery, a man nobody else remembered. Isn’t that really the story of the Russell T. Davies and now Stephen Moffat versions of the Doctor? Sure, Doctor Who never lost its cult entirely, but the show’s following diminished greatly over the years. It took those who remembered it, and believed in it, to bring it back. And here we all are.
So, what are your thoughts on this first Moffat/Smith season on the whole? Me, I’m a fan. It had its ups and downs but overall this felt like the strongest season of the new Doctor Who since the first. That’s not a knock against Davies, but this season had a strong sense of purpose that reminded me of the Eccleston year. It was ingeniously structured, for starters, and thematically coherent, returning to the notion of how the stories we tell ourselves shape our lives. That’s true whether we’re a lonely child like young Amy dreaming of a bowtie-clad man who once helped her, or Vincent Van Gogh, tortured by the disparity between the genius visions in his head and inability of anyone else to recognize that genius.
And while David Tennant will always be the defining Doctor for fans who, like me, stepped on board with this 21st century incarnation of the show, Smith’s been fantastic this year, utterly confident in the role and quickly able to make it his own. Specifically, he’s amped up the Doctor’s ability to be goofy—as in this week’s fleeting fez fixation—and menacing, shifting between the two tones remarkably easily. He developed great, charged chemistry with the similarly winning Karen Gillan and, later, a chummy bonhomie with Arthur Davill’s Rory, who looks likely to return next season.
Speaking of next season, I’ll see you then. It looks like we’ll have an Orient Express to catch, doesn’t it?