Judging by the shelf-fuls of merchandise the Doctor Who revival has spawned over the past few years (when the oil eventually does run out, I predict a Wicker Man-style execution for whomever made the decision to apportion even a tiny sum of this planet’s ever-dwindling resources to Cyber Men Bath Fizzers and embroidered Dalek hankies) it’s clear that the show is aimed at children (although actually, kids don’t use hankies do they? The only person I know who still does is my mum, who keeps a selection stuffed up her sleeves like a C&H Fabrics shoplifter planning a revoltingly snot-covered patchwork quilt.).
But Steven Moffat’s season five finale could only have been made with adults in mind.
I can’t deny how great it is for kids to be excited by science and by fiction and to have an unashamedly clever, pacifist hero in the Doctor. This last series has taken them on a tour of both Churchill’s labyrinthine war rooms and Van Gogh’s rustic Avignon apartment, all before bedtime, which seems, you know, proper Reithian charter stuff.
And I know grown-ups have cringingly been encroaching for years into realms which should, by rights, be solely populated by those who consider Miley Cyrus or Dappy from N-Dubz as an acceptable human being instead of a terrifying (delete as appropriate) be-wigged/hatted jailbait/jailwannabe automaton.
We wear Crocs that turn us into enormous rubber footed toddlers and insist that Pixar films are suitable viewing for people with mortgages but really, The Big Bang wasn’t for kids. It was for us.
By us, I mean those who have lived long enough to feel kinship with a Doctor fighting against the obliteration of the entire universe, the moment when the stars go out. I’m not trying to bring anyone down, and really, let kids enjoy all the camp spaceships, sonic screwdrivers, running around and shouting, and let them enjoy it while they’re still young enough not to realise that, when they grow old, they’re destined to spend their days fighting the same foe as the Doctor, the moment when their own stars go out.
Because the series was all about death. Or to be more specific and fittingly for the show, death’s companion: loss.
Just how many times does Amy lose Rory in season five? Once in a dream world, once in an underground cave, once in Stonehenge some time AD, once, so she momentarily thinks, in the London Blitz during his two-thousand-year vigil over her sci-fi iron lung. And surely there’s one to come, Daleks and monsters notwithstanding, in their future, after they too have said toodle-pip to the Doctor and been replaced by whichever nubile lovely is interstellar hitchhiking that week. That’s a lot of goodbyes.
The Doctor has had his own fair share of goodbyes in his 900-odd years. Escaping death with each regeneration, he selects his companions from a revolving carousel of youth, his story reprising the time-old tragedy of vampire/human love affairs with all but the blood-sucking and recent addition of a tacky Muse soundtrack. But more specifically than death, season five revolves around erasure (obviously not the band. That would be lame).
The show’s writers keep giving us characters who not only face the pain of being forgotten, but also the unspecific pain of having not quite forgotten those they love.
In the season four finale, the tenth Doctor visits the newly-memory-wiped Donna Noble. Brushing past him in her hallway, breezily chatting on her mobile he is dismissed with a vague, “Anyway, nice to meet you”. The man who took her light years away from office temping and brought her to unimagined worlds had been utterly erased to save her life. The moment is repeated in The Pandorica Opens. Amy saunters past who she thinks is a random centurion with a flirtatious thank you, leaving the besotted Rory distraught in his incomprehension. “Why doesn’t she remember me?”
Memory is the key to this finale. Amy’s is strong enough to bring the Tardis crashing back into the middle of her wedding speeches using silly sci-fi logic and some stuff about atoms. Moffat’s emotionally intelligent series reminds us that we keep our loved ones alive by remembering them after their loss. And Amy is just drenched in loss.
Like the time vortex trapping River Song, it is a repeating cycle for her. She loses people, and then she loses them again. Careless, really. But like all of us, Amy has the ability to bring them back. Ok, not in the actual, they-can-come-and-dance-at-our-weddings-kind-of-way, but a resurrection all the same. She remembers them. And they come back.
It’s the way she remembers that Moffat and his team have got so right in this episode. Silently crying whilst sat at top table, she asks herself why she feels sad, why she feels that she has forgotten something important. It has happened before. Since Rory’s erasure midway into the season, she has brushed away unexplained tears with bemusement and incomprehension.
Now reunited with Rory but with the Doctor trapped on the other side of a crack in time, she asks herself again why she is crying. It’s the loss Amy. You’re crying over the people you have lost, just as we all do. Even if they’re not quite in the forefront of your mind, they don’t leave us and neither does the gap they leave. Realisation dawns on her in small gulps as she looks around the room and glimpses a bowtie, a pair of braces, a blue book.
Those are Amy’s triggers, but yours might be a red dress, the sound of a vacuum cleaner or the smell of lavender, and all at once come rushing back the people we’ve loved and lost.
Now, I don’t really know anything about Moffat or his writers, but that wedding scene seemed like wish fulfilment. If only that everyday, nagging sense of loss pricked by those gulps of remembrance really could bring back the people we miss one last time for one last wedding and one last dance.
So, that’s why this one wasn’t about the kids. With any luck they haven’t yet loved and lost. But really, do let’s keep it as our secret. Let them enjoy their camp spaceships, sonic screwdrivers and (even) Dalek hankies. Because, despite the BBC’s charter, some education should be left as long as possible before it is learnt by heart.