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The Doctor has a secret he will take to the grave. It is discovered.
A stunning season finale that makes sense of this message, and explains the impossibility of Clara, wrapped up in a dark, complex, emotionally intelligent, and moving episode by Steven Moffat. It also features running glimpses of all the previous Doctors – William Hartnell in colour! – and some of their voices as part of the Doctor’s timeline. And if that’s not all you could wish for, it reveals another Doctor we’ve never seen before. This episode is about echoes in time, space, and the lives of these fascinating characters. Clara is the girl from Asylum of the Daleks, as we know when she tells Artie and Angie, “This time I will be souffle girl…a souffle is not a souffle, a souffle is the recipe.”
You know it’s going to get complicated when the opening scene is Gallifrey in the distant past, and William Hartnell’s Doctor is prevented from nicking a faulty Tardis by Clara. How did she get there? Well, it starts in 1893 London when Madame Vastra and Jenny receive the above message from a murderer. A dream conference call, with Trax, Clara, and River attending in spirit, literally in River’s case, is attacked by the white-faced,vampiric Whispermen, led by the Great Intelligence in the guise of Dr Simeon. They kill Jenny’s sleeping body, and take them to the Fields of Trenzalore, where Trax employs his medical skills to revive Jenny. River and Clara, lead the Doctor to them via a telepathic link with the Tardis.
Trenzalore is not a place the Tardis wishes to visit, since it’s a huge graveyard, site of the Doctor’s last battle and his final death. No wonder she refuses to land, and the Doctor has to make her fall to earth instead. Neither is the Doctor chuffed at the prospect – for a time traveller, it’s a place to be avoided at all costs – but he must rescue his friends.
Pursued by the Whispermen, they enter his tomb – the huge, grotesque ruin of the Tardis in the future – through a secret door in River’s gravestone. It has no business being there, but River knows about it, as she seems to know about so much. She prompts Clara with the information, apparently invisible to the Doctor, though he knows she’s there all along.
They’re re-united with Madame Vastra, Jenny, and Strax outside the control room of the Tardis/Tomb, where they are captured by the Great Intelligence. He wants to open the door, the key to which is the Doctor’s name, and he echoes Dorian the Blue Bloke when he asks, “Doctor Who? Doctor Who?” He tells his Whispermen to stop the hearts of the Doctor’s friends unless he gets an answer. River says the word that opens the door, but we don’t hear it.
There’s no body inside, just a column of raw pulsing energy where the central column of the Tardis would be. Because time travel causes damage, this is “the scar tissue of my journey through the universe, my path through time and space.” It is the Doctor’s time stream, peopled by all his past and future regenerations, singing with their voices.
The supreme prize for the Great Intelligence, who walks into it so he can destroy the Doctor’s work and happiness. (Cue more Doctors). As Madame Vastra says, “Simeon is attacking his entire timeline. He’s dying all at once. Dear Goddess, the universe without the Doctor! There will be be consequences.” And there are: Jenny is once more dead, Strax has reverted to being her enemy, before dying himself, and the stars are going out in a nod to Arthur C. Clarke’s story, The Nine Billion Names of God.
Clara steps into the timeline to rescue the Doctor in all of time and space. This is where she becomes the impossible girl, fragmented into echoes of herself, each one unaware of her past lives. While Dr Simeon is destroyed by his experience within the time stream, Clara is left lost and alone when her job is done.
Time now for the Doctor to enter his own stream and call her back with the leaf that brought her parents together in her current existence. Clara and the Doctor are re-united, just in time for her to see a figure with his back turned to them, also the Doctor
Doctor: The name I chose is the Doctor. The name you choose, it’s like a promise you make. He’s the one who broke the promise. He is my secret.
His Secret: What I did, I did without choice, in the name of peace and sanity.
Doctor: But not in the name of the Doctor.
This opens up endless possibilities. Could he be from the Time War, when Gallifrey was destroyed along with the Daleks? Then he turns round, showing himself as a ravaged old man, and the legend unfurls, “Introducing John Hurt as the Doctor.”
Well wham, bang, thank you ma’am, the Moff knows how to end on a cliff-hanger.
I hope you don’t mind the plot summary. So much is happening that I needed to get the bare bones laid out to think about it properly. Part of the reason for writing these reviews is to get my own thoughts about the series in order. I loved the way it brought so many themes together.
I’m glad the relationship between the Doctor and River has been resolved. It was all a little unsatisfactory that she disappeared from the series after their marriage. The Doctor made a copy of her in the Library after her death, and didn’t say goodbye, because “he doesn’t like endings.” He admits he did not visit her because “I thought it would hurt me, and I was right.” River wanted a proper goodbye and she gets one here, along with a good snog, in the Doctor’s promise to “see you around, Professor River Song.” I don’t think her echo will fade away.
There were other touching moments between Madame Vastra and Jenny. Madame Vastra is distraught at Jenny’s two deaths. Her reply to Strax, when he heals her the first time, is telling.
Strax: The heart is a relatively simple thing.
Madame Vastra: I have not found it so.
As for Strax, I laughed out loud at his idea of a good weekend off – having a brawl in a Glasgow pub – and Madame Vastra’s thoughts on the matter: “I wish he’d never discovered that place.”
The Doctor and Clara are now bound by deep ties of gratitude. While she has saved his life in all of time and space, he has rescued her from fragmentation within the time stream. What’s next for them, and will Clara feel the same way about John Hurt if he shows up as the next Doctor?
It’s a long time to November 23rd.
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