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The Secret of Stonehenge Revealed!

By C. Robert Dimitri | TV Reviews | July 20, 2010 | Comments ()


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"Everything that ever hated you is coming here tonight. You can't win this. You can't even fight it."

In France 1890 our good friend Vincent van Gogh lies in a fit of screaming madness, seemingly driven to this state by sickness, delirium, or a combination of the two. The people tending to him look upon his latest painting, which is "even worse than his usual rubbish."

In 1941 London our old friend (and Dalek android creation) Bracewell brings that recovered painting to Winston Churchill. I wonder briefly about the untold story of Bracewell attempting to chase that lost love that Amy and the Doctor urged him to find. Whatever happened, Bracewell has returned to the war room to help Britain. Bracewell interprets the painting as a message for the Doctor, and Churchill attempts to telephone the Doctor.

In the year 5145 the phone at the Stormcage prison facility outside River Song's cell rings. The TARDIS rerouted the call there. River speaks briefly to the millennia-old P.M. and pulls the rookie guard close to the bars so that she can deliver a hallucinogenic-laden kiss. By the time the alarm brings reinforcements, the guard is left in the cell pointing a gun at a River Song stick figure drawn on the wall.

At the British Royal Archive an escaped River pilfers the painting, but she is stopped by still another old friend from this season: Queen Elizabeth X, who has apparently maintained her reign for the full two thousand years since we last saw her. River shows Liz Ten the painting and tells her that she needs to find the Doctor.

In a bar called the Maldovarium, River procures a time vortex manipulator from a salesman, who had taken it from a "handsome time agent." (Could this be a reference to our very old friend Captain Jack?) The bartering item that River offers is a device that would deactivate the micro-explosives that she slipped into the salesman's wine. (This River Song has a ruthless streak in her.)

Picking up where we left off on the TARDIS, Amy ponders the engagement ring that she found, but she does not recall its origin. The Doctor has transported them to diamond cliff faces on the ancient Planet One. Inscribed on these cliffs is the purported oldest writing in history, never translated until now by way of the TARDIS' translation software. The message is another "Hello Sweetie" for the Doctor from River Song along with time-space coordinates.

Those coordinates lead them to 102 AD Britain, where River Song has used aforementioned lipstick to convince an invading Roman legion that she is Cleopatra and the Doctor is Caesar. Amy comments that she is aware of the Roman invasion of Britain as this was her favorite topic of study in history. River shows them the van Gogh painting, a very nifty image of the TARDIS exploding in van Gogh's distinctive style.

This is the portion of the recap where I make an obnoxious, self-serving solicitation. If anyone finds a print of this van Gogh fictional painting (called "The Pandorica Opens"), please feel free to send it to me as a gift, because it's one of the cooler things I have ever seen.

River points out the date and time reference on the painting itself that has brought them to this point in time-space. Its title is a reference to a legendary cage that is said to hold the most feared being in the universe. The Doctor, Amy, and River rush to Stonehenge, presumed by the Doctor to designate the Pandorica's burial location.

They find the entrance, unlock its electronic safeguard, and proceed underground. Nearby a severed Cyberman head stirs ominously. In the underground chamber they find the closed, cube-shaped Pandorica. A Cyberman arm is also on the chamber floor. The Doctor retells the legend of the Pandorica: The being contained therein was soaked in the blood of countless star systems until a "good wizard" tricked it into the container. River snidely remarks that the "good wizard" in this sort of story is always the Doctor.

Amy comments on the similarity of the Pandorica to the legend of Pandora's Box, which was her favorite book as a kid. The Doctor notes this second coincidence but is absorbed in the mystery of the Pandorica, which has layer after layer of locks. River's futuristic screwdriver-equivalent reveals the Pandorica is currently being unlocked step by step from the inside. More disturbing, however, is the realization that the Pandorica is a transmitter that has been sending out a signal for many years. River is able to detect the presence of countless thousands of starships that are hovering in wait above the Earth. Daleks, Sontarans, Cybermen, Slitheen, Atraxi, and innumerable other enemies of the Doctor have arrived for the Pandorica.

Back above ground they gaze at the starships buzzing in the sky overhead, and River asks the Doctor to run in the face of this futile battle. The Doctor, however, decides to make use of "the greatest military machine in the history of the universe," i.e., the Roman legion. The Romans were certainly mighty conquerors by Earth standards, but I suspect the Doctor is engaging in hyperbolic false bravado with this statement.

River returns to the Roman camp to find that the news of Cleopatra's death has reached them. River uses her technological advantage (a laser gun) to attempt to convince the Roman general to follow the Doctor's lead. A mysterious centurion outside the tent volunteers to aid her.

Meanwhile, the Doctor and Amy continue to examine the Pandorica underground, and Amy asks the Doctor about the engagement ring. Amy seems on the verge of remembering Rory, and the Doctor gently tries to guide her mind to the memory. He reveals to her that there was a reason that he chose to take her with him on the TARDIS; he observed that her house had too many empty rooms, and that her life made no sense.

Before the Doctor can say more, the severed Cyberman arm fires laser blasts at them. Amy draws the arm's fire while the Doctor subdues it with his sonic screwdriver. The Doctor warns her that the arm could be bluffing submission, however. The Cyberman head sneaks up behind Amy and knocks her to the ground using metallic tendrils protruding from its neck. The arm uses the moment of surprise to zap the Doctor unconscious. With the aim of assimilating Amy, the Cyberman's body emerges to replace the head on its neck. Amy struggles to hold onto consciousness after the Cyberman head hits her with a dart. The Cyberman is slain by the mysterious centurion, who is revealed to be Rory. Amy faints, and the Doctor regains consciousness.

The Doctor asks Rory how he could possibly be there, and Rory has no explanation or memory of what transpired between his death and this sudden mysterious appearance as a Roman soldier.

The Pandorica shows signs of being near its opening, and the spaceships in the sky above fly closer. The Doctor orders River to fetch the TARDIS, and with his Roman military flanking him, the Doctor stands atop Stonehenge. In a stirring speech consisting of still more false bravado, the Doctor defiantly challenges the enemy fleets above that he has defeated many times before to try to take the Pandorica from him. The ships retreat for the time being in response to the Doctor's bluff.

The Doctor returns to the Pandorica, where a distressed Rory learns that Amy still has no memory of him. Alone with Rory, the Doctor tells him that he fell through a crack -- the residue of a great explosion -- that placed him outside the universe and erased his entire history. Rory explains that he remembers dying and awoke as if from a dream. He began to believe that his life with Amy and his experience with the Doctor had been only the dream of a Roman soldier. The Doctor gives Rory the engagement ring and urges him to jog Amy's memory. He describes Rory's existence as a possible miracle -- something that he has not seen in his 900 years of life but is perhaps possible in a mysterious vast universe that sometimes defies understanding.

Alone on the TARDIS, River attempts to fly it, but a malfunction takes her to June 26, 2010, at Amy's house. After she leaves the control room, the display screen of the TARDIS cracks, and a menacing voice reminds us that "silence will fall." Outside, River finds strange burn marks like footprints on the ground. She enters the house and discovers a book in Amy's bedroom with pictures of the Roman army that match exactly those they found at Stonehenge, as well as the Pandora's Box book that Amy mentioned.

River contacts the Doctor from the TARDIS to warn him of what she has found. The Doctor concludes that someone has tapped into Amy's memory to create this scenario, and that the Roman army duplicates are so genuine that they believe their own cover story up until a hypothetical activation. River concludes that this can only be a trap for the Doctor; she attempts to return in the TARDIS, but it again does not respond to her commands. Sparks fly from the console, and the voice warning of falling silence returns. An external force is piloting the TARDIS. The Doctor tells River to land the TARDIS and preempt its explosion.

Rory attempts to bond with Amy, and she cries in happiness, not understanding the meaning of her reaction to her conversation with him.

The Roman army activates; they are actually a group of yet another of the Doctor's old enemies, the Autons, who are under the control of the Nestene Consciousness. They converge on the Doctor. The Pandorica opens.

Above ground, the Auton Rory attempts to cling to the memories of Rory that have been grafted into his body, and he warns Amy to flee, just as she finally remembers who Rory is. Amy stubbornly refuses to leave Rory despite the warning and reminds him of their relationship and the engagement ring he carries. Auton-Rory's hand transforms to reveal a laser gun that shoots Amy. She dies in Rory's arms as he continues to struggle with his true identity and curses himself for killing her.

The TARDIS lands, but it will not allow River to leave. If she can exit, it should power itself down. She rigs wires to the doors to force them open.

The Auton soldiers lead the Doctor to the now open Pandorica, which houses an empty chair for its prisoner. The Doctor's enemies beam down to the location. There are Daleks, Cybermen, Sontarans, Silurians, and many more. They inform the Doctor that the Pandorica is ready to imprison him. We are treated to a peaceful musical interlude that accompanies the approving faces of the Doctor's many enemies as he is locked in the Pandorica.

The alliance that has worked to imprison the Doctor informs him that they are doing this to save the universe. The source of the cracks in space-time was determined by them to be the TARDIS and by extension the Doctor. The Doctor has ironically united these beings to act for a greater good, albeit a misdirected one. The Doctor pleads with them to let him out so that he can stop the explosion and the supernovae of every star in the universe, but the Pandorica slams shut.

River finally pulls open the doors to the TARDIS, but a wall of stone blocks her exit. The TARDIS console erupts in flame as River says, "I'm sorry, my love." High above Amy's dead body held in Rory's arms, the lights of all the stars explode and flicker out, leaving the Earth alone in space. The image fades to darkness, and silence engulfs the universe.

*****************

This was a fast-paced episode that successfully integrated many of the season's stories. If you are a Doctor Who nerd, "The Pandorica Opens" must offer at least some satisfaction with its unprecedented convergence of so many of the Doctor's enemies.

I did quickly guess the twist that the Pandorica was intended for the Doctor. With so much villainy in the universe, who else could the "most dangerous being" be? I did wonder briefly if we might find one of the Doctor's alternate incarnations already contained inside. Even if it was telegraphed, it was still a satisfying twist to find that crew of villains working together to stop the Doctor from unwittingly destroying the universe. As Doctor Who cliffhangers go, locking the Doctor in an inescapable prison while detonating the entire universe is tough to exceed in scope.

The being that manipulated the TARDIS to its destruction is a mystery. Could it be as simple as the return of The Master?

I would not have guessed I would be happy to see Rory again, but his bumbling manner and now unrequited love for Amy gave him charm. Twisting his impulses into those of a murderous Auton was a satisfying turn of events as well, as I would hope that a return from death in the Doctor Who universe would not be quite so easy as to be dismissed as a "miracle."

Next week we have the final episode of the season. The title, "The Big Bang," certainly seems loaded with weighty cosmological implications.

C. Robert Dimitri spent many of the prime Saturday nights of his youth staying home to watch syndicated episodes of Doctor Who on PBS, and his social skills might be beyond repair as a result. He's not the most hardcore Whovian, but he's a respectable representative. The first episode he remembers watching was Tom Baker's "The Creature From The Pit." At one point he obsessively watched all the Hartnell, Troughton, and Pertwee episodes that were available to him, and sometime around the age of 14 he dragged his mother to a Doctor Who convention. All he truly has ever wanted for Christmas is Perpugilliam Brown, but he would be almost as content with K-9.

He once had a very unsettling nightmare about the deterioration of the Earth's orbit and the sun's falling out of the sky, but simultaneous supernovae of all the universe's stars has yet to haunt him.


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