I think there’s quite a good little story about Roman Autons inside this overblown introduction to the season fnarg finale, but unfortunately it’s been smothered by a menagerie of meanies and a small clutch of acquaintances of the Doctor.
I usually consider that even within a two-part story each episode should stand on its own merits, but this story felt so much like the prologue to the Big Bang that I was tempted to wait until next week to write my thoughts on it. Not that it wouldn’t be easy to speculate at length about what might happen on Saturday, but whatever I wrote I can be sure I’d be proved wrong just as surely as no one predicted the scoreline of Portugal – North Korea.
There was something very satisfying about the Roman Autons: not just the clever reintroduction of Rory but the concept itself. The self-deluding Autons reminded me of the fabulous autonomous Autons Jonathan Clements’ superb Brave New Town and I’d have enjoyed a bit more of this garrison of plastic going under the banner of The Empire. Other good things were: the Doctor riding a horse again, and Matt Smith. I’ve raved about Smith often but this time he was even better – just look at his expression as the light from the Pandorica falls on his face.
The problems with the episode were all the “epic” touches that I fear were included purely to meet a perceived obligation of scale. The pre-title sequence seemed tacked on (and I’m sure parts of it were tacked on to the filming of Vincent and the Doctor and Victory of the Daleks) but it didn’t make much sense. Why did we see those things at those time, rather than having them hidden within the stories they belonged to themselves? And the TARDIS re-rerouting the Churchill’s call through time? What is she, a trans-temporal telephone exchange?
But the most distracting aspect was the parade of costumes. I can’t see the need for all these other monsters invading this Auton story anyway (the stuff with the bits of Cyberman were very creepy, and very well done, but made no sense whatsoever). But if you are going to have an alliance of monsters, at least pick your mosters. Neil Perryman makes the point perfectly:
It wouldn’t have been so bad if was just the Big 3 who had turned up in person (Daleks! Cybermen! Sontarans! Oh my!), this way Moffat could have out-fanwanked Russell and we could have imagined the Zygons, Terreleptils and Quarks as some sort of orbital back-up. That would have been great… Instead, we are treated to a roll-call of some of the oddest “villains” in the history of this show. Weevils? Really? The Hoix?!
The problem is both that races like the Judoon or the Silurians are of a different nature to the single-minded Daleks or Cybermen; and that neither the latter two nor the Sontarans could ever form a lasting alliance with anyone (see Doomsday for further evidence).
So, plenty of questions for saturday: such as is Rory really dead, or being held somewhere by the Nestene, and how will this explain the date on his name tag? Is Amy really dead? Will the Doctor travel back in time to give Amy that talk in Flesh and Stone? And will we have to endure more of the day-glo Daleks to justify the new props?