My first thought after watching this episode was, "What the heck do you do as an encore after this?" Realising, of course, that it was seriously the first part of the two-part finale for Matt Smith's first series as the Doctor. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
This episode boasted the the longest pre-title sequence ever at 7 minutes, 17 seconds. It was a pre-title sequence that pulled many of the characters we've met in the current series into the thread - River Song, Liz 10, Winston Churchill, and Vincent van Gogh - and gave the commonality of the characters in question an interesting set of twists. I loved the bit when after the Centurion hails the Doctor as Caesar, and Amy asks him why the centurion called him that, and we get a quick shot of the centurion's face where we can see the streak of River Song's hallucinogenic lipstick smeared from his lips across his cheek. Wonderful stuff. The oldest words in history on a cliff face seems to be a nod to The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (with God's final message to His creation of "We apologise for the inconvenience" being replaced by "Hello Sweetie" and the Greek letters for the Doctor's nickname "Theta Sigma"), but that bit did not sit well with me. And, apparently it's not quite as old as the script seen in "The Impossible Planet".
From that point on, "The Pandorica Opens" was a fast, thrill-filled, emotionally impacting episode of Doctor Who that leaves little doubt that this is not the Russell T. Davies era any longer. One of the most interesting elements of this episode was that it all smacked of a weird compromise between the huge, action packed, emotional finales we came to expect from the Russell T. Davies period, and the pared down, much more character-driven stories of the Steven Moffat era. I found it to be an an odd mix, for sure. From a fan's position, it was great to see the likes of the Sontarans, the Cybermen, and all the myriad other aliens in there, like the Hoix, the Judoon, and so forth. There were even the "blow fish" aliens from Torchwood there as well... but it all seemed a little bit odd. Granted that the aliens created an alliance to save reality, and yet the Daleks themselves (under Davros's leadership) created a Reality Bomb to do exactly what the TARDIS explosion will accomplish...
And let's examine that fact in itself. If a TARDIS explodes, the whole of reality is destroyed. At least, that seems to be the premise, so this means that before the Time Lords were destroyed/imprisoned/whatever, there were likely hundreds of TARDISes out there, each TARDIS being in effect one Reality Bomb equivalent. Hmm, design flaw there for sure.
From a visual point of view, "The Pandorica Opens" was breath-taking. The set under Stonehenge was like something out of Raiders of the Lost Ark, the alien fleets were like something out of Close Encounters, but over Stonehenge, which gave it a truly alien feel. The business with the Cybermen parts coming to life and trying to take Amy over were both frightening and jaw dropping. Easily the most scary Cybermen scenes ever filmed.
The ending of this episode was brilliant! While I had figured out by the time the final moments arrived that the Doctor had to get into the Pandorica, it was brilliant that his enemies were doing this in order to save the universe! I mean think about it - the good guys *are* the bad guys! Doesn't that beat all? And then the rest of the team - Amy dead, killed by Rory, but a Rory who is actually an Auton disguised as a Roman centurion. River Song trapped inside the TARDIS, which is being controlled by an outside force, about to explode. And she can't get out and the TARDIS can't take off, and the door is facing a lump of stone. Truly a brilliant set of cliffhangers.
On the subject of the Cybermen, they was one of the most interesting, most scary aspects of the entire episode. While some might argue that the Cyberman guard was a throwaway or some filler, it reminded me of their presence in "The Five Doctors". Much scarier than the ones from the Classic series, with the human skull in the face area (these Cybermen obviously don't just take the brain and incorporate it in, they take the entire head!), the snapping face plates as it tried to get Amy, and the writhing tentacles. Creepy, terrifying, and very well done. Much scarier in may respects than current or RTD Daleks, and showing the potential to be a serious menace in current Doctor Who. What I'm still not clear on are whether these Cybermen were meant to be Pete's World Cybermen or the real McCoy from our world that the Doctor fought many times in Classic Who. And I really hpe they weren't meant to be the former, to be honest.
Then there's the enigmatic River Song herself. One of the things that can certainly be said about River is that she is exasperating at the best of times, but here I got the horrible impression that she may or may not have had something to do with the Doctor's incarceration in the Pandorica. This stems from the fact that the Daleks were specifically talking about her as they began to arrive, and when River snuck into Amy's house she questioned why she'd let the Doctor out. That perhaps speaks of what is to come in the second part of the story. However, by the same token, if River had any responsibility for the Doctor's current predicament, why did she tell him to run away from Stonehenge?
It's also pretty obvious to me that while all the alien races seem to be convinced that sealing off the Doctor in the Pandorica will prevent the cracks in time (their belief being that he caused them), it's pretty obvious that the TARDIS itself has a lot to answer for it. I have this nagging feeling that Amy had every right to worry about the TARDIS going boom in the next episode. I just hope for River's sake that she gets out of there before it explodes.
As for Amy, this was simply a huge episode for her in so many ways. All series long, something not quite right has been stirring with her, and in the last few episodes, the Doctor's noticed it too, but hasn't effectively done anything about it. The scorch marks in her garden, the house being trashed also says something else going on there. It was River that figured out the Nestene Consciousness had used Amy's memories in a bid to trap the Doctor. The use of the Pandorica, the Roman soldiers and the return of Rory all hammered this home somewhat. And to be honest, the Roman soldiers being Autons came as a total surprise to me, although I shouldn't have been since River mentioned that their ships were there as well in the earlier part of the episode. The reunion of Amy and Rory was extremely well handled, and had some strong emotions to it, culminating in Rory's seemingly killing her. I can't for a minute believe that Amy is actually dead, given that the series to this point has had the faerie tale elements that Steven Moffat promised, and I'm sure this will be resolved in part deux, but it still brought about a suprising seeming "end" to the Amy/Rory story for now. That said, I do think the Doctor could have perhaps been a little more helpful with Amy and Rory, too. While I understand he had a lot going on with the Pandorica preying on his mind, perhaps he should have kept them apart until he fully knew who and what Rory was. I had the impression that he wasn't convinced with the whole miracles speech and was suspicious of Rory myself.
In many ways, this episode went a long way to answering many of the questions that have been raised in this year's series of Doctor Who. I'm assuming that some of the questions that I'm still wondering about and have me perplexed will be answered in the second part of the story. Notable among them is how did Auton Rory know about his own death, given that, if the Nestene had created an Auton army using the psychic template from Amy's house, then I can understand why there would be Roman armies and so forth, but why does this Rory know that he died? Amy left the house before that happened, so any psychic residue left in the house wouldn't have known that, as it happened after she left. Hmm... Also, if Rory was erased from history, how does Amy have a photo of him in his Roman centurion garb? And what is the whole "Ever wonder why your life doesn't make any sense?" bit about, when the Doctor was asking Amy this question, in reference to the gaps caused by Rory not existing. What is exactly is wrong with the TARDIS? Who is in control of it? What's going on with the Doctor, since he certainly doesn't seem to be himself just before he's popped into the Pandorica.
A really terrific episode of Doctor Who, and one that leads into the current series finale, and will hopefully answer the remaining questions. Sure, there was a lot of food for thought in this episode, but it remains to be seen how Moffat pulls it all together in the second part of the story, and how many answers we get to the questions that remain and the questions that have been raised by this episode. There was stuff that I didn't like in the story, but the overall story was really impressive for the most part. I can't wait to see the finale of the series, "The Big Bang". Oh dear...
I give this episode a 9 out of 10.