[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?
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:
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.
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.
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.
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!