The Pandorica Opens/The Big Bang
|Story No.||230 and 231||<!-height=180>|
|Production Code||Series 5, Episode 12 and 13|
|Dates||June 19 and 26 2010|
With Matt Smith,
Karen Gillan, Arthur Darvill
Written by Steven Moffat Directed by Toby Haynes
Executive Producers: Steven Moffat, Piers Wenger, Beth Willis.
|Synopsis: The Pandorica holds a goblin or a trickster or a warrior. But what does that have to do with the universe ending?|
Moffat on top form by Clement Tang 22/1/12
To those who are reading this, cut me some slack as this is my first time and still a teen with so little time to watch Doctor Who. I've been watching the show since 2010 when my teacher showed us Blink. Immediately, I wanted to watch other stories because that was brilliant. Coincidentally, that story is by Steven Moffat who wrote the two-parter which I am reviewing right now. I think Moffat's writing is as good as those from Old Who (Robert Holmes, David Whitaker, Terrance Dicks etc.). His stories are cleverly written and blend in different genres well without concentrating too much on them (unlike RTD who seemed to emphasise emotional drama).
I know there has been a lot of hate for River Song, but Alex Kingston plays her so well that, for me, it's hard not to dislike her. I particularly like the hallucinogenic lipstick scene. And I know that Matt Smith isn't right for the role of the Doctor to some, but in here he is on top form. Karen Gillan also portrays Amy very well. In fact, she's one of my favourite companions, even though she is more disliked than any other companion in the new series.
Speaking of companions, Rory makes a surprise return in this story. But first, I need to elaborate about Steven's writing in this story, then I'll get back to him. The plot seems complicated at first, but after a while, everything just seems to click. The reason why Amy doesn't remember her parents, the Alliance making a memory print of her memories to re-enact the scene at Stonehenge, River being younger than before (she did forewarn the Doctor in Flesh and Stone about the Pandorica). And about Rory....
Because Rory was still in Amy's memories, it makes sense why he is now an Auton soldier in this story instead of just plain old Rory. He was recreated by the Alliance all this time. I still won't understand why he is so well liked since Rory seems so bland, but in here Arthur Darvill manages to give a better portrayal compared to previous episodes.
The dialogue was good, too. From the Doctor's speech in the Pandorica (well done, Matt) to small lines like when the Doctor tries to save River from the TARDIS ("And what sort of time do you call this?"). Even the very line "Fezzes are cool" is still popular among fans. In fact, there's a very video of the fez scene on the rooftop on the internet.
There was an emotional scene I like and that was the conversation between Amy and the Doctor before he brings the Pandorica along with him to restore the universe. You can see how Amy is unwilling to let the Doctor, her best friend, erase himself from reality to save the universe.
The ending was really great. Seeing how Amy remembers the Doctor just from looking at River's diary and from the story the Doctor told Amy during his rewind about something old, new, borrowed and blue (the TARDIS) and everything is pieced together.
There are still going to be many Old Who fans who will still criticize New Who and there are still going to be Tennant fangirls who think Moffat shouldn't be head writer. But considering that I love Old Who more than New Who yet I love both as a whole, Doctor Who can still be enjoyable for Old Who fans, and this is one example. It's a shame that his stories weren't as good in series 6 (they're good, but way too complicated for nongeniuses to work out). I personally think this story, along with The Empty Child two-parter and Blink, are worthy of classic status.
"Paper house" by Thomas Cookson 13/7/14
This story is difficult to review, because I'm not entirely sure I understand it. There's a frustrating vagueness about it.
Lance Parkin was pretty foreboding about Moffat's promotion to showrunner, claiming Moffat hadn't yet proven he could write a 'simple' story like Smith and Jones. Personally I hope Moffat never sets his standards that low. But had Moffat revived the show instead, I could see The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances, The Girl in the Fireplace or Blink working as a pilot episode, grabbing people from the start and cleverly introducing everything they need to know. In fact, if not for the promise of those stories, I think a sizeable audience would've dropped off.
Moffat's never done a season finale before, but maybe The Silence in the Library could've worked as one, with its tantalizing teases of the future and storybook conclusion.
The problem is, Moffat's season structure here is a second-hand one, inherited from Russell. Perhaps if Moffat had revived the show, he'd have selected a season format best suited to his natural schedule. Maybe only eight to ten episodes. Something he could maintain his focus on. But he can't reduce the number of episodes now.
Maybe if not for Russell, Moffat would go for Silence as his season-finale model, rather than RTD's brand of mass GCI armies, ludicrous stakes and hyperbole.
Sometimes, for all Moffat's foreboding portents, I get the sense his heart isn't entirely in his finales, and that he's only doing them because he's following a routine from Russell that he thinks the show still has to do. He's said himself how he saw Russell's method of showrunning as a learning model for himself.
So where does this finale succeed and where does it fail?
Well, it's rather undone by preceding stories. The lead-up momentum just isn't there. Series 5 was very top-heavy, and perhaps it peaked too early with The Time of Angels/Flesh and Stone. But it's more than that. One frustrating problem has been the Doctor's awareness of the threat of the crack, yet his continual refusal to break a sweat over it. There's been too much of the status quo in later episodes. A perfect solution would've been to simply go from Cold Blood's shocker ending to right here. The intrigue would be fresh, as would the foreboding question about what will happen to the TARDIS. Somewhere between Vincent and the Doctor and The Lodger, that was lost, as the show got completely distracted elsewhere.
This two-parter is Series 5's top-heaviness in perfect microcosm. The Pandorica Opens is an impressive set-up that delivers the impact it needs to, and gives a boost of tightness and momentum to the season. But it's so hard to top that it almost by default sets The Big Bang up for a fall.
It demonstrates some key areas of improvement over the RTD finales. Whereas RTD gave us cartoonishly overabundant CGI Daleks attacking en masse, and then all being disintegrated by a quick-fix deus ex machina, this is a refreshing return to the old-school approach. Things are scaled down, so that a single dismembered Cyberman with broken parts and a sole calcified Dalek on minimal power are shown to be formidable, relentless threats by themselves, without needing vast armies behind them. And frankly it makes for far more involving tension than the ridiculous upping of scales and oversaturated spectacle we got with Russell. Resultantly, after the overexposed mass humiliation of the Daleks in Journey's End, finally the Daleks feel threatening again, capable of being used in interesting ways. Proving how 'less is more'.
Also, compare Amy's amnesia about Rory with Donna's. With the latter, Donna acts as though she's deliberately trying to ignore the Doctor and is pretending not to recognize him and to be distracted by trivia just to snub him. The scene tries so hard to force the point that Donna doesn't know the Doctor anymore that it exposes its artifice, as a part of you knows it's not real, which devalues her tragedy. There's nothing natural about her reaction to the Doctor. I mean yes you can possibly theorize that Donna's evasive behavior with the Doctor is governed by her subconscious mind warning her away from the danger of remembering him, but it doesn't feel like anything so intelligent is going on here.
Whereas Amy here, when she bumps into Rory and shows no recognition, she reacts to him as though meeting him for the first time. Trying to place him in her memory, realizing she should know him from somewhere, and even showing that she kind of fancies him by flirting with him a little, quite cringingly. It feels so much more spontaneous and real because of it, thus putting you in mind of Amy's changed memories, and maybe even hinting at an echo of how she acted when she originally first met Rory.
Basically, the usual RTD things are done much more interestingly here. The mass armies are seen here, but kept at bay, kept nebulous, only unleashed and brought to screen at the climax to punctuate the final dramatic cliffhanger. Thus adding to the sense of a ticking clock, and the episode's pacing is meticulously spot on.
But the alliance raises plenty of difficult questions and has been knocked by fans who complain tirelessly about it being a far too fannish idea, how this should be a show for non-anoraks and this will confuse and alienate normal viewers, blah blah blah. Most of that is utter rubbish. Series 5 as a whole has been perfectly designed as an accessible starting point for new viewers. Anything you need to know about River and the Angels is explained in The Time of Angels. Likewise, the season effectively reintroduces the Daleks and Silurians.
The Pandorica Opens is much like a modern version of The Five Doctors. And just like in The Five Doctors, you don't have to be a fan to understand what all these monsters and foes are, but it just might make a fan of you. Whilst I've said the classic series should have ended on The Five Doctors, there's many fans who said it was where it all started for them. This is much the same. Any questions about who are the Drahvins, Nestenes or the other aliens are more likely to invite curiosity than confusion.
However, that's not to say this alliance makes sense. The fact that the Daleks are involved in this benevolent alliance made me seriously wonder if Moffat actually 'gets' them, even on a basic level. Besides, why would the Nestenes willingly work with them? Didn't the Daleks destroy their colony worlds and bring them to the point of extinction in the Time War? Or does The End of Time now mean it was actually the evil Time Lords that did that? If so, that idea can go die in a ditch. Why are the Silurians of the Roman era involved in the alliance? Not only are they Earthbound, but they've been hibernating. How and why did the alliance contact them?
And how and why are the Nestenes using Amy's mind and her favourite childhood books to design the trap? Why would they even go near Amy's house when it has a massive crack in it? And if the Daleks are here, why don't they just kill the Doctor now?
These questions possibly don't matter though because the story is going for something big and mythic that's all-encompassing enough to bring these disparate elements together and have them suggest an unprecedentedly wide cosmic scope. Much like The Five Doctors, forget the details, enjoy the party.
But then comes the morning after. Here is where Moffat first introduces an increasingly frustrating trend of following up a massive cliffhanger with a massive chronological leap and effectively pushing the audience out of the story so they now have to find their way back in.
Actually, this was done in Dalek Empire II's final chapter, where we skipped ahead 2000 years to two historians discussing the legendary man who caused the great catastrophe (Hmm?). This was of course after the previous cliffhanger where Kalendorf not only revealed himself to be a traitor, but he actually made sure no one was left alive to stop him. And we don't get to follow up what happened next until some fifteen minutes into the finale.
But there it was necessary, and it worked. If we'd simply followed Kalendorf's treachery from then on, we'd have no way of trusting there was any possibility of a resolution, or that Kalendorf was doing anything for any greater or sane purpose or point. By framing it like this, we're reassured that something ultimately happened which vanquished the galaxy of the Daleks, even after Kalendorf handed the galaxy to them. It's the question of how these massive odds were overcome which makes it compelling. It also frames the theme of historical knowledge being important.
Here it's more done as a narrative collapse. Showing what the season opener would be like in this parallel universe where the Doctor lost. It's a bookend, but one that somewhat suffers for having too many ingredients and plotlines that confuse and upset its return to innocence. It also becomes a bit harder to immerse yourself in the momentum without having nagging questions. After all if Earth survives some thousand years later, where's the ticking clock? This 'apocalypse in stasis' seems based on Moffat's idea that, when catastrophe happens, the universe itself will preserve a small bubble of itself, and will consciously hold out as long as it can to give the Doctor time to save it. I like that idea.
But the story still feels like it's stretching time just to kill it again. As if the momentum of The Pandorica Opens was discarded and replaced with a less sturdy framework, as though Moffat thought the former wasn't good enough. Sometimes Moffat needs to trust in what he's got.
The museum runaround with the Dalek is tremendous fun, but it's transparently padding. Then we reach the ending, where the Doctor sacrifices himself to reboot the universe, at the price of his erasure from it.
The problem is, this isn't so much a season finale as a story to completely finish the show on. It gets to that point, where the Doctor is reduced to a fading ghost, letting young Amelia know he'll be gone in the morning but she'll have her family back, and a happy life.
If Moffat carefully set up the Doctor's return, it might still feel like a tacked on happy ending, jarring with the preceding 'real' ending. So it has to feel just as important.
But it's left terribly neglected. It's set up clumsily on tenuous connections. Rory's presence here is supposed to prove how Amy's memories can revive people from the crack, because of her lifelong exposure to it. But she didn't. The Nestenes revived a copy of him in plastic form. In Flesh and Stone, her remembering Octavia's men didn't bring them back. So there's no precedent, but the conclusion insists there is. The Doctor reminding Amy in the forest shouldn't have worked at all because that entire event was erased.
It's also terribly rushed through, leaving too many questions unanswered. 'Ignore the details, let's dance' feels like a cold rebuff, not an inviting victory.
Like in The Trial of a Time Lord, we know some great long-brewing crisis happened, and the Doctor somehow survived and prevailed, going from his lowest point to his most jubilant, and that deceased companions were resurrected, in a happy ending, against all odds. We're just not entirely sure how it happened, or if any of it happened at all, or if the writer even cares how. I feel short-changed. The more I think about it, the less sense it makes.
Obviously, we must accept 'it all worked out in the end' over the narrative-dead-end alternative. But the restored status quo isn't reward enough. It all rides on whether what follows is worth this cheat.
Unfortunately, trouble's ahead.
Okay, kid. This is where it gets complicated. by Evan Weston 10/4/18
I am writing this about ten hours after I finished my second viewing of The Pandorica Opens/The Big Bang, and my brain has finally recovered enough for me to discuss the episode coherently. Or, at least, to attempt to discuss the episode as coherently as I possibly can, given the massive puzzle presented by Steven Moffat in his first series finale. I'll be blunt: The Pandorica Opens/The Big Bang is a convoluted, overcomplicated mess of exposition and time-bending and scale-building. By all accounts, it should be a complete failure, especially saddening after such a strong run of episodes.
But, as sloppy and ridiculous as it is, The Pandorica Opens/The Big Bang is trying so goddamn hard and it's so earnest that I find it hard to totally dislike or dismiss. This isn't like a bad Russell T. Davies finale where he's going straight for your tear ducts or just getting the gang back together for a bit of fanwank. Moffat is legitimately trying to tell a sophisticated, adult story, wrapping up a whole series of arcplot for these characters, and that's extremely appreciated by this reviewer. There's no disrespect or contempt for the audience - I'm looking at you, Army of Ghosts/Doomsday - just honest mistakes in a story that's about three times too large for Moffat or any writer to handle.
At times, though, it's brilliant. The final ten minutes or so of The Pandorica Opens are easily the best part of the episode, and my jaw dropped a few times even though I knew what was coming. The Alliance creating a scenario from Amy's bedroom is outstanding, and the execution of this revelation is nearly flawless. Likewise, the Alliance's big entrance around the Doctor is a tremendous moment - even if their plan makes absolutely no sense - and the Rory-Amy reunion/shooting scene ends up being almost moving, even though we know Amy can't die. Later, the Doctor's rewind, though way past the point of even trying to keep up with the story, is lovely and touching. Moffat's best timey-wimey moment also happens within this sequence, when he reveals that the Doctor who spoke to Amy as he left in The Time of Angels/Flesh and Stone (the best use of arcplot in the show's history, as you'll recall) was actually this Doctor going through the rewind. I was stunned even on a second viewing.
This is also a relentlessly entertaining spectacle, at least for the first half, even if I had no clue what was happening. The Doctor's speech to the Alliance - while fairly embarrassing for him in hindsight, had he known the Pandorica's true purpose - was tons of fun to watch, and just the process of keeping up with all the plot twists was good fun for the first 50 minutes or so. Even after that, we get Caitlin Blackwell back as Amelia, just as wonderful as she was in The Eleventh Hour. Along with her comes the Supreme Dalek in fossilized form, and my goodness, how great is it to see the Daleks being legitimately scary again? This is the start of their revival, one that continued in Series 7's excellent Asylum of the Daleks and carried through to their leading role in The Day of the Doctor. Nicholas Briggs' vocal performance is superb, as usual, and this Dalek doesn't mess around with long-winded speeches - it just goes for the kill. It also looks fantastic in its fossilized form.
In fact, the whole thing looks fantastic. This is to be expected for a finale, of course, but The Pandorica Opens/The Big Bang certainly doesn't disappoint, though it's clear that budget problems had become an issue at this point in the series. There are really only two sets - Stonehenge and the museum, which is clearly copied over past episodes - but both are used to their full potential. The highlight is the fleet of Alliance warships flying over the Doctor's head, which look stunning up against the black sky. The direction can sometimes give way to a bit of nausea, but that might have just been the script.
Other pluses for The Pandorica Opens/The Big Bang include uniformly terrific performances from the four principles. Matt Smith delivers more exposition than you can wave a sonic screwdriver at, but he's just as delightful to watch as ever, and he's fantastic during the rewind sequence. Karen Gillan actually spends most of this episode in the background, but she gets to pull some classic Amy moments, especially when she brings the Doctor back to her wedding. But more importantly, welcome back Alex Kingston and Arthur Darvill! River has a smaller role here than in her previous two outings, but she's become even more fun to watch, and the hallucinogenic lipstick bit never gets old. Darvill, meanwhile, is once again sensational as Rory, convincing us that he'd spend 2,000 years watching this girl, even if the script can't do the same.
And there it is. I'm trying so hard to apologize and be positive about The Pandorica Opens/The Big Bang, but there's so much wrong with it that I'm having a harder time not taking cheap shots. The plot holes are too numerous to list, so I'll simply bring forth my main complaint: I've now seen this two-parter twice, paying excruciatingly close attention to every sentence, and I still have no idea what happened in the second half of the story. None whatsoever. As far as I can tell, the universe's most secure prison can suddenly be opened with a sonic screwdriver, so the Doctor is out and Amy is in, then Rory gets really old, everyone runs around with a Dalek, the universe falls apart but anyone we care about is still alive for some reason, then the Doctor throws himself and the Pandorica into the exploded TARDIS and makes everything better because... Amy remembers him, even though Moffat goes to great lengths to express that no, she would not remember him at all.
That's me actively simplifying it for you. Try watching it with Moffat's vague dialogue spewed in rapid fire fashion by the actors, who need to fit it all into a neat 105 minutes. When it was over, my head hurt and I had dry mouth. I am not exaggerating. That is, to put it nicely, not good storytelling, and Moffat has clearly bitten off way more than he can chew here. So many things happen because they need to happen: Rory doesn't change at all in 2,000 years (an inconceivably long time); he manages to return even though the picture of him with Amy shouldn't exist anymore; the Alliance builds an intricate prison to hold the Doctor instead of simply killing him; the Romans are Romans until they need to be Autons; there's a Cyberman sentry so that we can have an action scene early on; and, worst of all, there's literally no explanation for how the Doctor saves the day or for how Amy brings him back that doesn't explicitly break the rules that define the episode. Moffat's Davies-era stories, even Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead, knew to stick to the rules they set out for themselves. This is a lesson he fails to remember until well after next year's LetÕs Kill Hitler, and it's maddening that he didn't end the practice sooner.
I wish I could now explain to you how well Series 6 is set up, and how wonderful "silence will fall" is and that things are just getting started, but to be honest, I can't tell you where things start and where things end. The Pandorica Opens/The Big Bang is so confusing as to render most of its points moot. In its endless plot holes and convoluted melodrama it loses the human side and the coherent character development that so marked the journey of Series 5, and were it not for the actors, that would turn this episode's grade far south. But there's so much effort and ambition here that I find it easier than usual to forgive such faults, and simply enjoy the story for what it is - a ridiculously silly extravaganza that never makes much sense but never fails to entertain.
Ranking the Stories - Series 5
Ranking the Supporting Characters - Series 5
Ranking the Villains - Series 5
SERIES GRADE: B+
"Raggedy Man, I remember you" by Hugh Sturgess 18/2/19
The Pandorica Opens/The Big Bang began an evolution of Doctor Who away from the spectacle of Russell T Davies to something a lot stranger. Series 5 takes the form of RTD's Doctor Who with minimal structural innovations, but then makes a decisive break from it with The Big Bang. Henceforth, Moffat charted his own course that eschewed a regular, reliable season structure (flipping the structure on its head in Series 6, splitting Series 7 in two, and the Capaldi seasons have their own unique rhythms) in favour of whatever seemed like a good idea at the time. So this story both began something (the era in which the show was firmly Moffat's rather than something he'd inherited from Davies) and ended something too (the long Davies era).
This is the well Moffat returns to again and again. The Doctor's allies bend time and space to get his attention (The Magician's Apprentice), while all the Doctor's enemies unite to defeat him (The Time of the Doctor). Time is broken and is restored only at a personal cost to the Doctor that symbolises the show itself coming to an end (The Wedding of River Song): the Doctor being erased from history (The Name of the Doctor). Viewed chronologically, it is reflected and refracted in shards throughout the rest of the Smith era. But viewing it after the Moffat era has come to a close, it's the send-off to Steven Moffat, taking his favourite ideas and doing them all at once. I find myself in the same position as Elizabeth Sandifer for this story. She decided to produce TARDIS Eruditorum after seeing The Big Bang, but by the time she got to it she had already said everything she had to say about it. Having gone back through most of the Moffat era, there's not much that's new to say.
Given it is the template of so much of the Moffat era, it's nice that it showcases its two sides so well. There is the Moffat Who of The Pandorica Opens, a universe-spanning epic exulting the Doctor as the author of history, and the Moffat Who of The Big Bang, a small, intimate, weird chamber piece with the message that the Doctor is admirable and emulable rather than alien and awe-inspiring. This is the greatest example of Moffat's tactic of moving quickly from the biggest scale, with a cast of thousands and the stakes as high as possible, to the smallest, with a few characters tackling a problem that is more personal than astronomical.
Davies ramped up the stakes every year, so we went from the Earth's far future being threatened by Daleks to the total destruction of time itself in The End of Time. Moffat's continued that escalation, but the way he goes about it is very different. For Davies, the finale was the moment the year's plotlines collided. Moffat shoves all that in The Pandorica Opens and leaves The Big Bang as the silence after the explosion. The Smith era maintained this new way of doing things, most notably in The Name of the Doctor and in The Time of the Doctor's insistence on avoiding the kind of epic clash it had promised. For Capaldi's era, the stakes in the finale are actually ramped down, so the world or the universe are only actually under threat in Death in Heaven. Many of Moffat's later works will interweave the big and small scale or pick one over the other, but here he uses both with a bright line dividing them. Having gone for the biggest scale imaginable ("all universes will be deleted"), Moffat then lets the series' climax be just four characters wandering around a deserted museum.
Moffat is wont to say that one of the things he finds most fascinating about the Doctor is the division between the way the universe must perceive him - as an immortal, terrible god who bends the arc of history - and the way the audience perceives him, as a frequently silly man who just wants to have fun. This division comes from the wilderness years, which frequently showed that the Doctor has left a mark on the universe that presents him in a very different light to the funny old man we know him to be. In the Telos novella The Cabinet of Light (a noir pastiche set in post-war London), the main character is subjected to a lecture that depicts the Doctor as a legendary trickster figure who gave humanity fire and began history itself. Sky Pirates! suggested that the Doctor's mild demeanour is a disguise hiding some alien terror beneath. Moffat, of course, once speculated that the human race got the idea of the word "doctor" from the Doctor himself, which got itself onto the screen in A Good Man Goes to War.
But Moffat returns to the vision of the Doctor as a legendary figure who scrawls his name across the history of the universe a little too often to say that he's interested in the ordinary man underneath. While the Doctor's "Hello Stonehenge!" speech is undercut by the revelation that the assembled armies are not scared by it at all, it is nevertheless one of many speeches in the Moffat years in which the Doctor's reputation is so terrifying it influences the behaviour of his opponents.
This is to say that The Pandorica Opens is a little too in this style for my liking. Yes, this is unfair, but after going through the rest of the Moffat era, yet another bombastic episode about how the Doctor's reputation is his own worst enemy can't help but seem tired. It does subvert it brilliantly by revealing that the Doctor's bravado has blinded him to a trap, and by making us think the thing in the Pandorica is the Doctor only to reveal that it is actually empty - but it is a convention to subvert only because Moffat indulged in it so much. One cannot write a story in which the Doctor is called out on his arrogance if you intend to just go back to flattering that arrogance again - and Moffat wrote exactly the same "call out the Doctor on his arrogance" story for A Good Man a year later! One can't criticise this story for something later stories copied, but it betrays a lack of progress over the Smith era that there is so much of this in The Time of the Doctor three years later.
This isn't to say that The Pandorica Opens doesn't have a lot to enjoy. The unravelling of the mystery of the Pandorica is very effectively done, the sudden reappearance of Rory throwing off our ideas of what is going on so we spend our time thinking about how he became a Roman rather than whether the Romans themselves are legit. The reinvention of the Cybermen, one that lingers through the rest of the Moffat era, as rogue technology cannibalising human beings, is introduced in what is probably its most effective outing, in the extraordinary scene of Amy under attack from a disembodied arm and head reassembling themselves into a Cyberman. And I have to laugh at the Doctor's realisation that attacking 10,000 Dalek battleships would be a surprise only "because we'd be killed instantly, so it would be a fairly short surprise".
Nevertheless, The Pandorica Opens feels generic and tries a little too hard to set the stakes as high as possible. The Big Bang, by virtue of its small scale and the genuine emotion that has gone into it, is much more special. It's where the bombastic Moffat disappears and instead we have the Moffat we preferred all along, the author of Blink and The Girl in the Fireplace rather than uncharacteristic epics that emulate Davies' brash finales.
If we want to be cheeky, we can observe that Moffat's first season, which in the main followed the formula of RTD, down to the present-future-past opening three episodes, culminates in a classically Davies-esque finale in which the universe is actually, for real, destroyed. The next episode takes us back to the beginning of the season, as though to have another go at it.
The Big Bang is a very different kind of finale, then, to all of RTD's and The Pandorica Opens. From a cast of thousands and "every monster ever", it is just the main cast plus the young Amelia, with only the stone Dalek to provide a token threat. This is the beginning of Moffat's preference for using returning monsters as little more than a cameo, often to show them outclassed by whatever else is in the story (here, it's River). The Daleks get the same treatment again in The Wedding of River Song and The Pilot, and the Cybermen get it in A Good Man Goes to War. The stone Dalek is a very generic, aimless sort of threat, essentially the idea of the Daleks reduced to their most symbolic: nothing but "a Doctor Who monster". It has no plan, no thought processes; its sole narrative role is to provide some threat that isn't purely conceptual.
With its time-hopping, its rewind through the season and the Doctor's efforts to get Amy to remember both her parents and him, the episode shows the Doctor rewriting the season until he gets something he finds more satisfactory. A Davies-style season has gone too far - the universe really has been destroyed - and now it's time to rewrite it so it was always heading for a happy ending. The role of the Doctor is very different than in The Pandorica Opens. He is no longer the Oncoming Storm, but a figure whose heroism comes in a clear form, one that the viewer can emulate. He relies not on his reputation but his wits, and he is admirable not because of his power but because he chooses to be erased from history so Amy can have the life she deserves. Repositioning the Doctor as a guide for others rather than a one-man army is done through his curious inactivity in the first half of the episode - he does a lot of directing, of both Rory and Amelia, but very little in the way of action himself - and that it is ultimately Amy who does the final, crucial act of rewriting, putting him back into the story and thus saving the series. A season that has been at least in part based around the Doctor trying to reshape Amy into the little girl he met in the garden ends with Amy taking control of the narrative and driving it herself.
If The Big Bang has a problem, it's the middle third between the Doctor's arrival in the museum and the restoration of the universe. It's manifestly just four people running around an empty building being menaced by a perfunctory threat (the stone Dalek) and an inconceivable one ("the end of the universe"). But once the universe is rebooted and the Doctor starts running backwards through his timeline, it absolutely soars. The Doctor's speech about everyone becoming a story in the end is among the most quoted of the Smith era, and for good reason. Doctor Who is more of a fairytale in these moments than anywhere else. It's about a magical man who will fade away if he can't convince a sleeping girl to believe in him - and that little girl stands up in the middle of her own wedding to call out his name because the world is a better place with him in it. There is also a moving beauty to the small, humble kindness of the Doctor resolving to fade away because Amy will have her husband and her parents with her instead. Moffat's Doctor scrawls his signature across the history of the universe, but the show always makes his greatest acts the small decisions to be kind.
Amy getting married, growing up and still wanting to remember the Doctor is about as literal a statement of the enduring worth of Doctor Who to adults as you're likely to get. It follows perfectly the arc of the season, that begins with young Amelia being enraptured by the Doctor and then has her forced to endure his absence for (ultimately) fourteen years. It isn't hard to see in this a diagetic recreation of the wilderness years (complete with a one-off return for a single day set partly in a hospital featuring an alien snake/worm). In that case, the resolution to the season's ongoing question of whether Amy wants to choose her life with the Doctor or her life with Rory - that Amy ultimately chooses to both "grow up" and stay with the Doctor - is a decision to embrace the silliness and youth of Doctor Who even as an adult.
The finale to Series 5 is the template for the rest of the Moffat era: the good and the bad, the bombastic as well as the quiet, the grandiose as well as the personal. At the time, it looked like what one might imagine a finale written by the author of Blink would be, but now it is much more clearly in keeping with the Moffat era that came after it than Moffat's most famous work.