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David Hines [userpic]

why I didn't like "The Pandorica Opens" (spoilers)

June 21st, 2010 (07:45 am)

I didn't much like "The Pandorica Opens," and I haven't much liked the season of DOCTOR WHO, over all. I think Matt Smith is a fabulous Doctor and Karen Gillan is a magnificent companion, but Steven Moffat has fallen into some of the same problems that the new WHO faced under RTD. Whereas RTD would cover the problems with GRAND EMOTIONAL MOMENTS, Moffat goes for something much less sappy and tries to make the story carry the day, and that's a problem because his stories -- which are, after all, Moffat's strongest point -- are not up to his usual extraordinary standard.

Exhibit A: once the Doctor, River, and Amy get under Stonehenge, did you notice how the episode pretty much stops dead for a while? The show goes from racing forward to stalling like crazy until the bad guys show up. The Cyberman attack doesn't happen for an actual reason. It happens to kill screen time.

Here's why I say that: a dismembered Cyberman is an unusual thing to encounter under Stonehenge in 102 AD, yes? You would think that, for example, on encountering a severed Cyberman arm under Stonehenge, the characters would remark on such a strange thing. They might wonder, for example, *what it was doing there.* They might wonder *what had happened to it.* They might wonder *if it was alone.* They might wonder *why the other Cybermen left it.* You know, little stuff like that, the things I shout at the television when characters are ignoring things that they might want to consider *if they wish to stay alive.* Except the Doctor and Amy don't talk about it. And a Cyberman under Stonehenge is A WEIRD THING THAT SHOULD BE TALKED ABOUT. But no, until it starts shooting we just get more tap-dancing about the Pandorica, and afterward we get the Doctor and Amy failing to notice that Rory comes out of a room that only has one entrance.

And then the Doctor explains the Cyberman in a throwaway line (a sentry! dismembered by Celts!), which is a trick Moffat is relying far too much on. It's a problem, because the explanatory throwaway line is what DOCTOR WHO lives on; that's how the Doctor explains the rules of the game every week. But Moffat isn't just using the throwaways to set the parameters that the show operates on. He's using them *after* his situation unfolds. He's not using them to establish the set-up, but to justify the payoff. This engenders a "bullshit" response in the viewer, by which I mean "me."

It doesn't make the slightest bit of sense. And that's the problem.

DOCTOR WHO has well and truly fallen into the technobabble trap. I expect a little technobabble in a science fantasy show, which DOCTOR WHO is, but at this point the series is in the position of STAR TREK: VOYAGER, which got whole seasons out of the cycle of 1) impose fantasy situation by writer fiat; 2) have characters wander around in situation for a while; and 3) remove said situation, again by writer fiat. DOCTOR WHO is smarter about its technobabble than VOYAGER was; VOYAGER tried to sound scientific, but the Doctor just flat-out says what the rules for each episode are in normal-sounding language and expects the audience to follow along. So it's not as jarring, but it does feel pretty lame when it's used to justify and resolve rather than set up.

For example, I never want to see the following scene again:

The Doctor does stuff with the sonic screwdriver.

			DOCTOR
	Exposition, exposition.  Exposition!

			AMY 
	Questions a potential plothole.

			DOCTOR
	Tapdances to cover plot hole!  Exposition!

			AMY
	Excited question!

			DOCTOR
	Begins, breaks off -- 
		(beat for hushed pause)
	LOUD EXPOSITION.

The Doctor crosses the room and leaps into action.

			AMY
	Says something to switch gears --

			DOCTOR
	Continues loud exposition!

			AMY
	Adds to what she was previously saying --

			DOCTOR
	Continues exposition!

			AMY
	Flatly says something that is meant to scare the kids watching.

HORNS BLARE OR ELECTRONIC MUSIC THINGY.  CUT TO SOMETHING DRAMATIC.


That is not television about people making choices. Or even about people doing things. It's television about people speaking complete nonsense at the appropriate speed to convey a semblance of urgency, when what they decide to do really doesn't make a dang bit of difference to the plot. It's as if Moffat thinks if it doesn't have to *go* anywhere, as long as the characters are talking fast enough.

The plot hole thing is the most annoying. For whatever reason, Moffat enjoys having people do something that is really really stupid and should not work, and it works, and the writer only later provides a reason that explains why it worked, or why it happened. The Cyberman is a case in point; another is the Doctor's frelling stupid RTD-esque, 10-esque, glory-hogging, shouty speech to buy half an hour; you know what I was thinking when I saw that? "IF I WERE A DALEK SHIP, I WOULD SHOOT HIM FROM ORBIT NOW." It turns out later that the Daleks want him alive, to put him into the Pandorica, so they have a semi-plausible reason to not shoot him; but at the time this feels so stupid that when it is explained it comes off more like the writer tapdancing over a plot hole. My rule of thumb: if the audience notices something is weird, the *characters* bloody well should. (See: Cyberman.)

There are good scenes and great character moments, but "The Pandorica Opens" isn't a solid story. More oddly, it doesn't feel like an Eleven Story; it feels a lot like a Ten story, with all the strong points and weaknesses inherent to Ten's era. Moffatt's doing an RTD thing for the finale, but, y'know, RTD moved on and I'm glad he did. I want to see Moffatt being more Moffat. In particular, I like the way he handles emotional moments much better than RTD's trademark soppiness; I like his more cerebral approach. But part one of this finale felt too much like him doing things the RTD way.

Originally posted on my DW. | comment count unavailable people have commented there. | Do so yourself, if you like.

Comments

(Deleted comment)
Posted by: David Hines (hradzka)
Posted at: June 21st, 2010 04:28 pm (UTC)

Yes, that.

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