Doctor Who: the mystery of series 5's exploding TARDIS

Feature Nick Horton 30 Apr 2013 - 07:30

Nick ponders the unanswered questions that arose from Doctor Who's series 5 finale: what caused the TARDIS to explode, and why?

Warning: contains spoilers for Journey To The Centre Of The TARDIS and The Pandorica Opens/The Big Bang

Now, after watching the fan-pleasing Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS, it couldn’t just be me who noticed the parallels between this episode and the finale of Matt Smith’s debut series as the Doctor – namely cracks in time and an exploding TARDIS. Which reminded me, is Steven Moffat ever going to explain just why and who blew up the TARDIS back then, or will it be a mystery forever dangled (and half-forgotten about)? 

For those who may have forgotten this momentous event, here’s a brief reminder – in The Pandorica Opens/The Big Bang finale the exploding TARDIS caused cracks throughout time which reverberated back throughout series five/thirty-one. River Song was trapped in the console room while a mysterious voice intoned ‘Silence will fall’ and various screens cracked. Then boom, and the universe was destroyed.

 

While the Doctor was able to use the Pandorica in order to create a second big bang and restart the universe, he discussed the unanswered questions at the end of the episode – what blew up the TARDIS and what was the nature of ‘silence’? Well one has been answered (sort of) on-screen, with the appearance of the Silence in The Impossible Astronaut, and later reveal of them as a religious order trying to make the Doctor's death a fixed point in time to prevent the question ‘Doctor who?’ being asked which will lead to their fall. However it’s arguably safe to say we’re still waiting on the exact cause of the explosion.

The most obvious and commonly held view is that the Silence blew up the TARDIS. This makes the most sense, at least superficially. One clever internet commenter has even suggested a way they could have done it, in which using timey-wimey trickery they used the crack through time in order to blow up the TARDIS which created the very same crack in time which let them destroy the TARDIS (you could spend years getting lost in the logics of time-travel). This is all good and well but fails to address the ‘why’ of their actions. What good would destroying the whole universe do them? Weren’t they trying to stop the Doctor from doing that in the first place by killing him? Did they just think ‘bugger it’, blow up the TARDIS and not really think through the consequences?

 

The other issue with this is that at no point has it been specifically addressed on-screen. It’s seemingly been left up to the viewers to fill in the blanks. Again, normally this wouldn’t be a complaint – one of the things I enjoy so much about Doctor Who is not having to be spoon-fed every single explanation all the time by the writers, but a bit of clarification on a question that was specifically mentioned by the lead character would be nice. The fact it’s been dangling for so long suggests that Steven Moffat has either decided to ignore it, is saving it up later for a massive pay-off, or doesn’t really know how to resolve it (or doesn’t want to). In Moffat’s tenure as showrunner, may he have lost sight of some of the very finer details as he spins his complex and entertaining web around the eleventh Doctor, even? Probably not, but it's still one theory.

So how about wild speculation time instead then? As several viewers have pointed out, why didn’t the TARDIS exploding this time cause the universe to end? Well perhaps it did. We don’t know what or who caused the TARDIS to explode in series five. Well maybe it was the TARDIS itself? Using one of those cracks in time, perhaps it sent its exploding self back to the point of The Pandorica Opens/The Big Bang? Are the two separate explosions in fact one and the same? While this doesn’t explain the ‘silence will fall’ line, it would neatly tie the two events together. Of course this is all idle speculation, and requires faith that there is indeed a larger consistent continuity being rigorously adhered to in Doctor Who.

It may seem a trivial matter, but one of the common criticisms about Moffat and Smith’s otherwise often excellent run together is the tendency for unsatisfying resolutions, and in this case seemingly no resolution at all. At least not yet. I would bow down to The Moff if he pulls of a four-year-spanning mystery in a satisfying way, proving all the doubters wrong. And I really hope that it won't turn out to be a lost plot thread, slipping through the cracks in time.

Read our spoiler-filled reviews of Journey To The Centre Of The TARDISThe Impossible AstronautThe Pandorica Opens, The Big Bang.

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