This story in a nutshell: All the world's a story...
Nutty Professor: Still adorable at this point, Matt Smith is riding high on the success of his debut year. The awkward, geeky, desperately cute eleventh Doctor of season five is still my favourite version of his character (at Smith's too) before the rot began to set in (season six is responsible for a lot of problems in this era). Whilst the gentle pace of Vincent and the Doctor and The Lodger afforded the eleventh Doctor the chance to enjoy some of his warmest character moments it is nice to ramp up the pace a little and see him trapped in an impossibly dramatic situation. Much of season five is quite quiet in terms of huge threats for the Doctor to face (the run from Vampires of Venice to The Lodger sees the Doctor squaring up to fish people, himself, Silurians, an alien chicken and a spaceship interface) and this is the chance to see how he copes under the pressure of the sort of danger that his predecessor dealt with week in, week out. Pretty damn well, as it happens. The much celebrated speech he makes atop Stonehenge to the collective menagerie of monsters that have shown up is a scene that celebrates how confident this character can be in the face of impossible odds. He does it all with a smile on his face and a song in his heart. He doesn't have any weapons, just a great deal of front. His 'look at me I'm a target!' and two thumbs up to Amy when they dash into danger are just gorgeous, the sort of simple character humour that the show forgot how to pull off in Smith's final year. There will be moments in subsequent seasons where Matt Smith will wow me despite the some of the material he is given but there is no moment where I was quite as thrilled by his performance as the final scene where he is locked in the Pandorica. The Doctor is completely at the mercy of his enemies, begging for them to listen to him as the universe falls apart. Matt Smith really goes for it, vulnerable and desperate, and I was quite literally on the edge of my seat.
Scots Tart: 'She's Amy and she's surrounded by Romans, I'm not sure history can take it...' Amy walks from the TARDIS drunk on her own confidence, tipping wink to the Roman Army and impossibly smug in her certainty. My teeth grind at how appallingly self satisfied she is at this point. The mistreatment of the character in season six couldn't come quick enough. The Doctor points out that Amy's life doesn't make sense and the whole story is built around the mystery of how vacuous her back story is. Beyond Rory, we still don't know a great deal about the character (beyond the fact that she is stroppy and horny a lot of the time) but Moffat is acknowledging that that has been done for a reason. I still don't think it is the best approach to introduce part of a character with so many gaps - it makes it very hard to warm to them when you can't see what their motivation is or why they behave the way they do - but at least the repair work has begun. Come her final half season Moffat will have assembled a full character, it's just a shame that for much of her run she should be so lacking. Just before she is shot to death, Amy starts to behave like a human being. Go figure.
Loyal Roman: It's the first instance of the resurrection of Rory so the idea is still innovative at this point. You can't help but cheer at the re-appearance of the character and how Moffat plays it up to comedic effect, the Doctor completely failing to notice the impossibility of him being here. I'm glad they didn't go with the Doctor's 'it just happened, let's just except it' explanation (I think Moffat is preparing us for the magic tricks that he will pull off without explanation in the second episode) and there is a solid reason for him showing up by the end of the episode. The scenes that plays out between Amy and Rory at the climax are the first time I felt the tragedy of their relationship really clicked into place.
Sparkling Dialogue: 'Everything that ever hated you is coming here tonight.'
'Remember every black day I ever stopped you and then do the smart thing, let somebody else try first.'
'No, we will save the universe from you!'
* It's worth remembering that at his height Steven Moffat is capable of writing some very funny material and The Pandorica Opens is packed full of some of his funniest jokes; the stick person drawing left on the wall of River's cell, the insinuation that Jack's wrist has been cut off for his vortex manipulator (which would tie into the idea that he is the Face of Boe), the Doctor poking at Rory who cannot exist.
* The Pandorica is certainly given appropriate build up, billed as the ultimate prison for the most feared creature in the universe. I love how the story tries to trick us into thinking that there is something inside that wants to get out when in reality it is an empty casket waiting to be filled. I don't think anybody could have predicted quite where this story was going. It always feels like the story is building to something impressive with the clicking of the Pandorica's gears as it gets itself ready to open and unleash...what?
* Cinematic influences abound with stirring footage on horseback that reminded me of fantasy films such as Lord of the Rings and a secret entrance beneath Stonehenge that apes Indiana Jones. The soundtrack certainly thinks it is accompanying something more majestic than a small screen production and the astonishingly vast sets below ground concur. When we catch a glimpse of the Pandorica in the half light, draped in cobwebs and adorned with symbols it is a masterpiece of design.
* To my mind this is still the best use of the Cybermen in NuWho. It works because the Cybermen are not the central threat of the story so not a great deal is expected of them and thus Moffat is able to surprise with some gloriously inventive and macarcbre moments as parts of a Cyberman come to life and attack the Doctor and Amy. The standout moment of horror comes when Amy is lashed at by the tendrils of a Cyber-head and when she grapples with the mask it pops open and a screaming human skull is revealed inside. I have always asked for the body horror of these creatures to be exploited and Moffat fulfils some of that desire in these visually delicious scenes. On first transmission I was screaming with delight. The head scuttling away to find its body and being plonked on top to make a complete soldier might be my favourite moment of the entire year.
* Whilst there are many, many things to praise in The Pandorica Opens, it is also the point where Moffat realises that he can do anything with the show and get away with it, almost to the point of smugness. The first recorded words in the universe being HELLO SWEETIE scrawled on a cliff face is the sort of self-satisfied nonsense that would pollute the next two seasons. 'I hate good wizards in fairytales, they always turn out to be him.'