What’s in the box?

[A revised and improved version of this essay appears in my book The Eleventh Doctor: a critical ramble through Matt Smith’s tenure in Doctor Who.]

I was planning to avoid writing any more about Doctor Who except for the reviews of the last two episodes.  But I was so fascinated by last week’s trailer for this Saturday’s episode, The Pandorica Opens, that I’ve not been able to stop myself thinking about this: what is inside the Pandorica?

As Prisoner Zero told us right back in the first episode, “The universe is cracked.  The Pandorica will open.  Silence will fall.”

Apart from that, we don’t have a lot of clues to go on.  The relevant parts of the trailer (which is admirably spoiler-free) seem to be these:

Amy: What is it?

River: A box, a cage, a prison?

And this:

Doctor: There was a goblin, or a trickster, or a warrior.  Soaked in the blood of a billion galaxies.  The most feared being in all the cosmos.

We can probably assume that whatever is inside is related to the Cracks In The Universe theme, and quite possibly to River Song’s having killed the best man she ever knew (as told in Flesh and Stone).  It also seems like a good bet that we’ve not seen the last of Rory, and that his being written right out of history at the end of Cold Blood will somehow be undone.  Finally, it seems a given that the events in the final two-parter will involve the Doctor’s sudden realisation about Amy, also from the end of Flesh and Stone: “And you’re getting married in the morning.  In the morning …  It’s you, it’s all about you.  Everything.  It’s about you.  Amy Pond; mad, impossible Amy Pond: I don’t know why, have no idea, but quite possibly the single most important thing in the history of the universe is that I get you sorted out right now.”  I’ve never understood what made the Doctor suddenly launch into that, and I still don’t, but presumably it will become clear.

We’re invited to assume that the goblin/trickster/warrior is what’s inside the box, but I notice that we’re not actually told so: all we know from the trailer is that there’s something inside, and that there was a g/t/w.  Maybe they’re not the same?

With those preliminaries out of the way, what could be inside the box?  Some possibilities that have occurred to me are:

The Master?

Please, no.  That would be so painfully obvious as to be a little bit heartbreaking.

Daleks and/or Davros?

See The Master.  Would be a big disappointment.  Plus we’ve already had Daleks coming out of the Genesis Ark in Doomsday, so that would be a retread.  My fear is that, having regenerated the Daleks into Extra Big Brightly Coloured Dalektubbies, the programme won’t be able to resist using them.  But, come on, Moff, be strong!


Surely not, as they’re shown in the trailer.  It would be a dreadful anticlimax to see Cybermen gathering for the opening, then have the box open to reveal: more Cybermen.  And anyway, Cybermen are just not important enough for this big a gig.  Sorry, metal dudes — you know it’s true.

The Doctor?

Now we’re getting somewhere.  We’ve already seen a manifestation of the Doctor’s dark side (in Amy’s Choice), and it might work well to bring him back in the capacity of Big Bad — especially as his portrayal was so light and harmless-seeming.

Alternatively, the Pandorica could contain a future incarnation of the Doctor, though that would be laying all sorts of continuity/casting traps for the future; or maybe even one of the past incarnations, though it would be hard to explain why the current Doctor doesn’t remember these events if that’s the case (and no, explanations involving the Blinovich Effect do not help).

Could it be another instance of the current Doctor?  Not really — not so much for story-internal reasons as because it would be too uncomfortably similar to the two-David-Tennants climax of Journey’s End.

Bad Wolf?

This is my favourite option — that the Pandorica contains the most powerful sentient being we’ve seen in New Who, namely Rose Tyler in her Bad Wolf aspect.  Bad Wolf actually gone Bad, cut loose from all the ties and bounds of human morality, sweeping aside galaxies like insects, then imprisoned aeons ago.

I’d love this, but I don’t think it’ll happen for two reasons: first, I doubt the programme makers have the courage and callousness to do that to the Doctor (though I hope I’m wrong on that, and I’m much less sure than I would have been during RTD’s reign); second, and I think this is the clincher, if Billie Piper was going to be in it, I’m sure that fact would have leaked and we’d all be spoiled up to the eyeballs by now.

Shame, that.  It would have been fascinating.

Satan from The Impossible Planet?

Remember at the end of The Satan Pit (which was the second part of The Impossible Planet), the Satan-creature was possessing Toby, who went zooming off unprotected into the vacuum of space.  Toby died, for sure, but it seems unlikely that that could have been the end of the possessing spirit.  Could it obtain or manufacture a new body?  Or reinhabit the gigantic end-of-level-boss Chthon-thing that the Doctor had confronted earlier in the episode?  Could it be in the Pandorica?  I’d be interested in this possibility, because this is the one of the very few opponents the Doctor’s faced in recent times that he didn’t understand.  A bit of mystery always helps.

Time and/or Space, or The Void?

Maybe there’s not a person or a monster in there at all — maybe it’s a thing, or even a concept?  Remember that River Song, in the trailer, describes the Pandorica as “A box, a cage, a prison?”  It’s easy to assume it’s a cage or a prison, but maybe the first option is right: it’s a box rather than a prison, and it contains something like the very concept of space (which will of course stop functioning once it’s released) or time (ditto).  Along similar lines, it could contain the Void, which we all remember the Daleks and Cybermen being sucked into at the end of Doomsday — the space between universes.


Maybe everyone’s wrong about the Pandorica: maybe it’s not a container at all, but an artifact in its own right — a machine created by an ancient race using forgotten technology.  Maybe the Time Lords; maybe not.

Left-field guesses

Could it be either Rassilon or Omega, legendary Time Lords from the dawn of history?  Or The Other, the mysterious third in the Time Lord historical triumverate who may be a genetic ancestor of the Doctor?

Could it be a great concentration of Vashta Nerada that sweep across the universe?  That would explain the “Darkness will fall” motif.

Could it be the very first Weeping Angel, which gives rise to all the others?  That doesn’t necessarily make a lot of sense, but I mention it because the Angels seem to be on target to become Moffat’s signature recurring monster, and there must be a temptation to use them in the season finale.

Could Rory be in there?  How?  Why?  No idea, really; only a sense that we’re not done with him, and of course the Doctor considers his wedding to Amy to be hugely important.

Could it be the thing from Midnight, which possessed various people on the tourist shuttle and which was never explained?  What is it?  A disembodied mind?

Could it be nanogenes, like those that created the empty child, but much more virulent and powerful?  And maybe — oh, how about this? — nanogenes that were genetically engineered by Davros to mutate people into Dalek-like creatures?

Could it be The Trickster, from the excellent Sarah Jane stories Whatever Happened to Sarah Jane?, The Temptation of Sarah Jane Smith and The Wedding of Sarah Jane Smith?  It would seem odd to pull in a character from a spin-off at this stage, but his shtick is that he messes about with time, which seems to fit with the cracks motif.  And of course the Doctor does talk about “a goblin, or a trickster, or a warrior” in the trailer.

My best guess is …

… none of the above.

I think, and hope, that Moffat is a step or three ahead of us, and has something new in store — something that, unlike all the suggestions above, ties together all the unresolved plot threads: the cracks in the universe, Rory’s disappearance, his wedding to Amy, River Song’s killing of the best man …  Oh!  Literally as I type that, I ask myself whether the “best man” that River killed was the Best Man at a wedding?  Amy’s and Rory’s, presumably.

So: I don’t know where this is headed.  I have the strangest conviction that it’s going to turn on a choice that someone, probably Amy, has to make, and that Amy’s Choice will turn out to have been laying the ground for this.  But that conviction isn’t really based on anything.

All we know for sure is …

The Pandorica is opening!


16 responses to “What’s in the box?

  1. It contains a bag of peanuts (unsalted).

    The ensuing chaos follows logically from there.

  2. I think we were shown the loaded guns early on when the Doctor’s last line in an episode was “Time can be re-written…?” and when he has made himself out to be the most feared being in the Universe.

    So, my theory is that the cracks are caused by the Tardis blowing up, River Song somehow kills the Doctor (her crime), but the Doctor has a failsafe plan that re-writes time, negates the above and clears the way for Season 6. Silence falling is thus what happens to the timeline that gets re-written and presumably the bad-guys of the finale that get stuck in it at the end.

  3. When River Song said she has killed the best man, she’s ever known, it seemed obvious to me it was the doctor. So my money is on the doctor dark side somehow.

    You also failed to mention that the doctor extracts from a crack a fragment of the Tardis, meaning that it somehow gets destroyed/broken or at least badly damaged. That also concurs to the above.

  4. I like the idea that the box it empty. Perhaps the goblin/trickster/warrior is the Doctor. If that doesn’t fit your point of view, then think of the point of view of the Doctor’s enemies, now does it make sense?

    Perhaps the reason we see so many of the Doctors enemies in this episode is that they’re opening the Pandoricum and that what is creating the cracks in the universe which are following the Doctor in an effort to … catch him and imprison him so they can then have their way with time and space…. I would love to see that spin on this.

    It fits with what the Doctor’s enemies have said this season and with and makes sense out of our seeing so many of his enemies in the trailer. And remember, the Angels WANTED him to go into the crack in time and space.

  5. Whatever’s in there I hope it doesn’t disappoint :-) Unfortunately I won’t find out until after the weekend. I’m spending a couple of days at Bletchley Park for the Vintage Computer Festival!

  6. Yeah, count me fascinated as well.

    I do think that Moff is probably a step or two ahead of us. I think the whole Box full of Evil thing is just too similar to the Genesis Ark that the Pandorica itself might be a total MacGuffin.

    Also – WHAT’S WITH THE DUCK POND? (with no ducks in it)

    It was bothering me in the first episode – it just seemed like a loose end that was left sloppily untied. Then the Doctor started making cryptic references to it. What’s up with that?? I must know.

  7. I’m leaning towards the Pandorica containing all of the universe’s evils (as per Pandora’s Box), or at least something that calls to all the nasty things (Daleks, Cybermen, etc). The rest of it – cracks in the universe, time being erased/rewritten, etc – I’m guessing is engineered by the Doctor himself to clean up the mess.

    Of course, it’ll probably turn out to be much more complicated than that, I too am hoping Steven Moffatt has some neat tricks up his sleeve to pull the whole series together.

    Bring it on!

  8. Definitely not the Cybermen. Won’t be the Daleks or Davros. Doubtful it will be the Bad Wolf, Satan, Rapsillon/Omega or any of your other choices.

    My preferred choice would be some variation on the Valelord, but given the new series my money is on the Master.

  9. arw170 suggested:

    I’m leaning towards the Pandorica containing all of the universe’s evils (as per Pandora’s Box), or at least something that calls to all the nasty things (Daleks, Cybermen, etc).

    Are Cybermen evil? Or even, really, nasty? I don’t think so. They just want to make us into more Cybermen because they honestly believe that a Cyberman is the best thing to be. I think they think they’re doing us a favour. That of course stands in stark contrast to Daleks, who loathe and despise us, and want to annihilate us.

    That for me is a crucial difference between Daleks and Cybermen, and one that Army of Ghosts/Doomsday didn’t really exploit. Although there was a lot to love about those episodes, one of the ways they failed was in not drawing this fundamental distinction between the motivation of the two enemy races.

  10. I think there has to be a reason they are gathering all the baddies from the previous seasons. Whatever is inside the box likely has ties to all the previous seasons. Thus, the Master or the Doctor fits the bill. And the Doctor is likelier than the master at that, since a fragment of the tardis was in the crack, which has some relation to whatever will be happening.

    Are we going to see a Tennant doctor crossover? Same with Billie Piper that’d be hard to keep silent.

    I can’t wait to find out.

  11. On the Dalek vs Cyberman comment:

    The Daleks can likewise be said that they honestly believe they are superior, and they are doing the universe a big favor by getting rid of the garbage that is the human race (or all non-daleks). They’re doing it for the greater good of the universe.

    I guess it is akin to your house being infested with roaches and bugs, and you need to Exterminate them.

  12. Wils, it’s certainly true that the Daleks honestly believe themselves to be superior. As Doctor Chris said in S01E06 (Dalek), “It honestly believes they should die. Human beings are different, and different is wrong.” But I’ve never had any sense that Daleks think they’re doing the universe a favour, or that all the exterminating is for the greater good of the universe — only for the greater good of Dalek-kind. Most certainly they’re not doing it for the good of those who they exterminate. But I think that when the Cybermen upgrade people, they are truly doing it for the good of those who are upgraded. (That’s not to deny that they have other motivations as well, such as building an army; but that’s always additional.)

  13. Looks like Jason was pretty close with his guess – looking forward to your write-up – although, less so towards the actual finale, given that once again they’ve set the stakes so high, that the only answer will be to somehow undo events.

    (For me, the best Who episodes are always when there are consequences to people’s actions, and the weakness of most of the finales has been the tendency for everything to be undone again).

  14. Conor Grogan

    I concur with Jules, so far all the finales have been a bit of a let down. But the first half of this one was so cinematic I won’t be surprised if this one is more up to snuff. And I loved the way Moff made the Doctor the trickster, much better than having something physical in there that never could’ve lived up to our expectations. I have high hopes for the second half this time.

  15. Pingback: The Pandorica Opens (11th Doctor, episode 12) « The Reinvigorated Programmer

  16. Pingback: A spoileriffic Doctor Who question | The Reinvigorated Programmer

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