Warning: spoilers throughout.
“The Big Bang” is surprisingly quiet for a “Doctor Who” season finale. There are no armies of space monsters, no overwhelming forces for the Doctor to battle. Aside from a solitary Dalek, we get no baddies at all. Yes, the fate of the whole of space and time is once again at stake, but there is very little suspense and even less action.
It’s precisely the ending we need. Keeping with the intimate tone of this year’s adventures, we watch as the universe collapses around our four main characters (can we call River a main character? I think we can), the only four people in the universe that, as far as the story’s concerned, matter. The Doctor makes a great sacrifice to “reboot” reality but spends more time talking than doing, considering “doing” mostly involves just sitting and grunting. Steven Moffat’s script realizes that we know the day will be saved, and the real interest is in figuring out how Amy and Rory will handle the aftermath. This is a season finale built entirely around emotion.
The gentler tone fits perfectly with the season’s fairy tale motif. This closes the story of the Girl Who Waited, first by giving her a Boy Who Waited, then by bringing her Raggedy Doctor back to life. This is Moffat’s “Who” at its fairy tale-iest, the Doctor seeing in Amy the power to create life from imagination and memory – he lived because she wanted to remember him. And the girl and boy got married, flew away in the magic box, and lived happily ever after.
Daringly, Moffat refuses to squeeze too many answers into this finale. Indeed, he even asks some new questions, mainly: how, exactly, did Amy bring the Doctor back? Was that a remnant of the crack in time, a little time traveler fairy dust lingering just long enough to work? Or were the Doctor’s enemies, when reaching into Amy’s mind to create their Auton Romans, merely unlocking an energy within Amy herself? After all, the Doctor knew something wasn’t right with her. Maybe he meant more than just a too-big house.
And then there is “silence will fall,” and who said it, and why, and what caused the TARDIS to explode in the first place, and why at Amy’s house, on her wedding day? Perhaps Moffat realized going in that to cram all those answers would simply take too long and leave no time for an actual story to unfold. Or perhaps he’s thinking big, plotting the sort of multi-season arc that’s never been attempted in “Who” new or old. Or maybe he’s just a naughty writer who likes to keep audiences guessing as long as he can. (It’s probably all three.)
“The Big Bang” is Moffat’s finest hour, revealing at last all the intricate planning that went into the entire thirteen-episode run (a sweet reward to all those fans who rewatched past stories hunting for clues, and a real one-up to Russell T. Davies, who attempted such inter-season complexity but never reached these heights), allowing the season to come to a gratifying emotional close, and tinkering with the series’ space-time format one last time for the year. In a delightful tightrope walk, the finale works just as well separate from the tales that precede it yet also fits perfectly as the last piece of a vast puzzle.
It’s its own puzzle, too. Rather than start where we’d think – the scene with Rory lamenting Amy’s death is the logical place to pick up the tale after the Doctor’s imprisonment – the teleplay winks at us, rewinding the entire season, starting at the beginning with a new Amelia Pond, living in a world without stars, being lured by a thin man whom we surely recognize. Before we can begin to thoroughly wonder how the Doctor managed to escape and leave Amelia a trail of notes (a nice touch: with his “come along, Pond” scribbles, he treats young Amelia as if she’s an adult; she’s certainly bright enough to be respected as such), we’re tossed a doozy of a new question mark, with grown-up Amy, alive if not well, having replaced the Doctor inside the inescapable box.
It’s only then (well, after the opening credits, anyway) that we pick up from last week, with Auton-Rory and dead Amy. Here, Moffat takes the story into unexpectedly lighter territory, all that “Doctor in a fez” stuff that’s played for laughs – and earns them, because we’re so thrown for a loop. The lighter touch remains throughout most of the episode’s first half, as everyone runs from the lone Dalek, River disintegrates a hat, and the Doctor pops back and forth to tell Rory one more thing after another. There are serious moments, too, like Amy’s discovery of Rory’s two thousand year devotion, but the rest remains buoyant, a nice counterbalance to last week’s grim goings-on. Even the arrival of a dead Doctor from the future doesn’t dampen the mood; instead, it gives us one more riddle to crack before the story doubles back.
It rips along so briskly that it’s not really until the Doctor’s already begun his sacrifice that the gravity of all begins to sink in. It’s all run-run-joke-joke-run-run-zap-joke-run-wait, the Doctor’s doing what?
The script tosses us a few red herrings as the universe reboots and the Time Lord rewinds. Surely he’ll escape this one, right? Look, he’s back in the TARDIS, and… oh. Ah, he’s back on the Byzantium, and… oh again. He follows the cracks in time – or, rather, they follow him – back to Amelia’s bedroom, where he laments his demise, and finally, we begin to really doubt if the Doctor can get out of this one. Matt Smith plays it like it’s the end for real (and is heartbreaking in the process).
When Amy wakes up in New 2010, with New Mum (Karen Westwood) and New Dad (Halcro Johnston, and oh, I do hope both return next year) and Not-An-Auton Rory, we’re truly lost. Hooray for Amy gaining (or recovering, since we can assume the crack’s defeat returned the universe to the way it originally was before we met her) a family, but how can the Doctor possibly be alive now?
With magic, that’s how.
Oh, I’m sure there are serious explanations bound to put this all in the realm of science, but really, the Doctor was brought back by magic. The magic of the Girl Who Waited, with a possible assist from the Boy Who Waited. For this season of “Who,” that’s all that matters.
And now Amy and Rory, happily married, will run away with the Doctor again, lured by the Doctor himself (who’s clearly leading the couple on with overheard talk of “the Orient Express… in space!”). How can they resist? They’re a fairy tale couple and the madman with a box, closing the book on one fairy tale, eagerly eyeing the next.