Meanwhile, in the Doctor Who production office:
Steven Moffat: "Hey guys. Do you remember when Russell did the finale where the Doctor does a big speech about not having a plan and then a secondary companion gets resurrected from the mind of the main companion?"
SM: "And do you remember when Russell did a finale where the Daleks and the Cybermen teamed up and the Doctor and his companion got separated when a crack in the universe closed?"
SM: "And do you remember when I did a story with wibbly wobbly timey-wimey stuff?"
SM: "And do you remember when Russell did a finale where everything got put right by time being re-set?"
SM: "And do you remember when I did that bit where the Doctor confronted the big bad by telling it to review its records?"
SM: "And do you remember when Russell did an episode where all the stars went out?"
SM: "And am I right in thinking people love all that stuff?"
SM: "And do you think people will remember all that stuff?"
"Dunnoh boss, Why?
SM: "I'm going to be using all of that stuff for this years finale".
Some might say that I am being a bit uncharitable. But I think most people would admit that season's five's final was at times, a tad derivative.
Towards the back end of RTDs run (Stolen Earth onwards) there was a definite impression that the team had started to run out of creative steam. On reflection a year or so on the Waters of Mars is an honourable exception but Stolen Earth, Journeys End, The Next Doctor, The Planet of the Dead and The End of Time all tend to rely on their presentation and sense of occasion to support underdeveloped plots and/or recycled ideas. This is not to say that they were bad, more that they were like having a meal comprised entirely of deserts, enjoyable but lacking in nourishment and substance.
The Moffat era was therefore an opportunity to try something new. A way for the show to resist the pressure to go "bigger" all the time and instead try "different". Prior to the launch of season 5 there was much talk of the show having a more fairytale feel to it. But in reality this simply meant a return to old style Who sleepy villages in place of the urban settings and style of the RTD era.
Stylistically this years finale does feel smaller than any finale since Army of Ghost/Doomsday with most of the first part taking place in or under stone henge and with a relatively limited cast too. The first part is certainly very focused and I loved the use of the Cyberman as a technological mummy. The use of the head as a glorified Cybermat was totally cool too. Rory's return was handled in an amusing way, but at this rate he has already been resurrected more times than Jesus and will presumably soon have had more resurrections than the Doctor has had regenerations. The twist of the Pandorica being a trap for the Doctor was genuinely good. I could've done without the "alliance" of enemies. The reality is that any one enemy could have set this trap. I'm also stumped as to what the couple of random Silurians and the alien from the Love and Monsters chase sequence were doing there. The Judoon works in the context of the reasons given for the alliance and also ties in quiet nicely with the events of the IDW comics.
Sadly the twist is almost immediately undermined in the second part by more Wibbly-Wobbly stuff. This resolution is both clever and funny, but also too easy for my liking.
Much the same could be said about the whole of the second part of this story. The idea of the TARDIS exploding a causing the end of the Universe is a little hard to swallow in so far as there must have been TARDIS destroyed prior to this one (accidents, time wars etc). But on the basis that reality has changed now the Time Lords have gone I can accept this. What is somewhat harder to accept is that a cube of less than 100 square meters could contain an imprint of the entire universe. That is some compression ratio! I would be half tempted to refer to the use of the Pandorica as a deux et machina but for the fact that all good fans know only RTD does D.E.M.s!
The bottom line was that this was a clever and entertaining finale full of "cool moments". It was however something of a greatest hits package and I can't help but wonder if the Grand Moff was playing it safe. I also found the story basically lacking in the heart that I have come to expect from the RTD finales, each of which was a game changer. Here the resolution truly was a reset button as in terms of character development we are back to the middle of the season. I also found the whole thing to be somewhat lacking in heart, something I have come to expect from my season finales (be they Doctor Who or otherwise).
To boil it down into numbers, a solid 4 start out of 5. Very good, but not great and not a classic.
Overall though season 5 ranks highly for me, but not as high as season 3 which remains one of the greatest seasons of tv full stop. I would like to see Moffat and co take more risks with season 6. RTD's era had a few duds, but in those first four years you could never criticise it for playing it safe or staying in a comfort zone.