tl;dr WARNING: Yes, this piece is long. No, I don’t care. It’s the finale, after all! I am full of squee, and I’m closing out this series with a bang!
GALLIFREY!!!!! This is what I yelled (in my head, because I wasn’t watching it alone) right out of the gate. Way to scoop me up and get me stoked! I’m so glad I didn’t give in to my temptation to turn it off right there as I mentioned on the podcast. But I’ve already squeed about seeing the past Doctors with my beloved Clara, so I shouldn’t take up any more space here with that.
Ok, a teeny bit more space:
It should come as no surprise to anyone who’s been paying attention that I have some things to say about Clara. I did manage to happily babble a lot of my thoughts while we recorded, but as usual, I’ve got a few more rattling around my brainpan.
A Small Bone to Pick
As much as I loved this story, I do have to take issue with one repeated sentence: “I was born to save the Doctor.” I understand that it’s a catchy line, and it works great in promos, but I really didn’t think the story itself bore this out. As I said, one of the things I love love loved about was that Clara’s birth wasn’t caused by the Doctor. She may have been destined to save him, depending on how you look at it, but her birth had very little to do with it. Neither the Doctor, nor any of the echo-Claras, caused that leaf to blow into her father’s face. (We know it wasn’t the Doctor. He was across the street reading The Beano.) Yes, the Doctor might not have met her if not for the other-Claras, but she was still “a perfectly normal girl” just as Emma Grayling told him back in “Hide”. And we can’t know anything for sure. Maybe if this whole paradox hadn’t happened, he’d’ve bumped into her eventually and cajoled her into tagging along anyway.
So Very Clara
I love her reaction to the “conference call”. From Jenna Louise Coleman’s performance reading the letter to her dazed reaction afterward to her description of River’s “space hair”, I found that bit lovely. She’s so shaken by seeing the Doctor cry, but she doesn’t overplay it. Also, I noted that she didn’t react to the news that River was an “ex” by displaying romantic jealousy. She seemed a bit taken aback that the Doctor never told her, but that was all. Her characteristic bravery is on display from the first as well. Even after seeing the Doctor’s reaction to Trenzalore, she doesn’t balk. “No point in telling you this is too dangerous?” “None at all.”
I also appreciated how the engine room scene from “Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS” came back into play. It made perfect sense within the story, and somewhat ameliorated the annoyance I occasionally feel after a reset-button story. Now it’s back in both of their memories, so the experience counted for something! Yay! (And JLC pulled off that scene really well too. She’s simultaneously confused and demanding. Great balance.)
We discussed her self-sacrifice a bit, but I feel the need to mention it again here. I’ve heard people say it wasn’t really that much of a sacrifice because she knew she’d already done it. WRONG. She’s still doing something that will effectively kill her (as far as she knows). That’s absolutely a sacrifice, and she has the opportunity to break out of the cycle and simply not do it. Knowing that she’d already done it counts for something, but she still has to be willing to give up her life, and she does–with no hesitation.
And I ADORE the fact that her final line is now complete: “Run you clever boy, and remember me.” ME. That all-important word sang like poetry to this girl. THIS is “Our Clara”, “Clara-prime”, and she’s the only one who gets to say it all because she’s where it all begins. I want to hug Steven Moffat for that line. (Let alone the rest of the hug-worthy stuff in this story.)
Even after making the sacrifice, she’s steadfast. The Doctor enters his own timeline to rescue her and admits it’s collapsing in on itself. She immediately yells at him “Well get out then!” That’s Our Clara.
While we’re talking about poetic bits, I was also won over by the souffle metaphor. “The souffle isn’t the souffle; the souffle is the recipe.” As someone who’s been baking a special recipe (“Erika Cookies”) for decades, I completely understand and relate to this idea. The fact that it ties in to the first episode with JLC just makes it that much sweeter. The fact that it turned my expectation on its head made it sweeter still: when the souffle came up here, I thought it was somehow caused by Oswin, when it was 100% the other way around. Oswin’s souffle was a Clara reference, we just didn’t know it yet.
While we’re on the theme of Oswin and how she relates to Our Clara, I can’t help but wonder if Oswin was such a computer genius because the Great Intelligence’s lackeys pumped so much computer hackery into Our Clara’s brain in “The Bells of Saint John”.
Hellllooo Matt Smith! Bra-to-the-vo! From his brilliant entrance with the blindfold, I liked nearly everything about the Doctor (and Matt Smith as the Doctor) this week. We get him being silly, crying, and lying. (“This won’t hurt a bit. I lied.”) The idea of him settling down to an old age of beekeeping and watercolors both delighted and saddened me, as his face did while he mused over those impossibilities.
We also see a bit of the bravado that’s a hallmark of Doctor-number-eleven. “Clara’s got one advantage over the Great Intelligence…me.” It’s shades of “The Eleventh Hour” (“basically, run”), “The Pandorica Opens” (speechifying at Stonehenge), and “Time of Angels” (“there is one thing you never, ever put in a trap…me”).
This is the performance I wanted last week. He really brought it here, and all the pathos and brooding really worked for me.
Yep. I liked her here. I’m not sure if she wore me down or if she or I have changed, but this rings sweet and true as River’s last story (as I fervently hope it is). I completely agree with Lynne that this was an elegant ending for a character like hers, and I hope they let her rest in peace.
Speaking of, how perfect was it that her gravestone was the secret entrance to his tomb? That whole scene was brilliant. River feeding lines to Clara was absolutely hilarious, and didn’t mar the tension of the scene. On the contrary, it somehow managed to elevate it. Plus, that scene takes on a new layer when you re-watch it knowing the Doctor can hear River the whole time. (As do plenty of others. I suspect her ability to bring champagne to the conference call might’ve been a clue that she was copy-River.)
Hooray for River opening the TARDIS! Deb was right, there was no way we were gonna get the Doctor’s name, but as we know River knows it, this was perfect. It fits with River’s character too. She’s never been one to put up with the Doctor’s stubbornness, and she’s not about to start just because she happens to be dead.
Her kindness is on display here as well. She tries to talk Clara out of jumping, knowing it’ll kill her. (Or thinking it will. Probably.) Her manner here is slightly maternal–perhaps picked up during her time raising phantom library-children.
And then there’s the kiss. As I said, I was so deep into this episode that I didn’t even mind the kiss. I’m not going so far as to say I liked it. I didn’t. I still don’t like my Doctor being sexy or romantic, but that was clearly a romantic kiss. Part of my brain is trying to convince me he was kissing her passionately because he knew that’s what River wanted and it was a goodbye present to her, but most of me doesn’t want to buy that. Why? Because it was so heart-wrenching that if I believe the kiss was a put-on, then it loses its emotional punch, and I’m not sure I’m willing to give that up. This will probably be one of those “fixed points” of cognitive dissonance that litter Doctor Who. I’m okay with that. It’s all a part of the ride.
Okay, so I did have some questions, like how did that fourteen-time murderer know about the Doctor and the Great Intelligence’s lackeys? Would the Whisper Men even have existed in Victorian London? Yes, the Great Intelligence was there, but at that time the Doctor had only foiled him (it?) once, so I assumed the vendetta came after the next few encounters. It seems he can time-travel? And he can clearly get around–he makes it to Trenzalore after all. So couldn’t he just muck about with the Doctor’s timeline directly by actually going everywhere and everywhen? I suppose that would be a hassle, but he wouldn’t have to go through the pain and destruction of entering the Doctor’s time stream.
You know what though? I really don’t care. That’s the kind of plot thing I’ll gladly hand-wave into a happy nothingness. If I hadn’t enjoyed this thing so much, it might nag at my mind, but nope! Not worth the effort!
I also wondered how the heck Vastra knew exactly when and where the GI was killing the Doctor throughout his history. That’s a pretty nifty gadget. Seems a bit overpowered if you ask me, and I didn’t really think we needed it. I’d’ve almost preferred Clara to make the leap without putting together that she’d (sort of) already done it.
The most interesting question I have isn’t about this episode, it’s about the next. Will the TARDIS have a crack in her window from here on in? The giant tomb-TARDIS had a cracked window, perfectly matching the one acquired when the Doctor and Clara fell to the planet. So if there’s no crack at some point in the future, then the Doctor’s death at Trenzalore–perhaps even the whole battle there–may be averted. (Or the TARDIS could just get cracked again in exactly the same place, but that’s boring.)
The biggest question of all is who’s John Hurt really playing? “The Storm”? (Or did that refer to “The Oncoming Storm”–the Dalek’s name for him?) “The Beast”? (If that’s a reference to something we already know, it was lost on me.) “The Valeyard”? (I loved hearing that name, but I’m not sure how I’d feel about his return. Guess I’d wait to pass judgement like I always try to do.)
I bow to Steven Moffat. I admit I started to doubt him after last season, but he’s gotten me back.
In case you haven’t figured it out yet, I really liked this story. There are so many parts about it that make me happy.
- Despite my questions above, I love the idea of the Great Intelligence entering the Doctor’s timeline and killing him everywhen at once. It does make my brain hurt, but in a good way.
- Strax as a baddie again! Hooray for Sontarans being (sorta) badassey!
- The Doctor’s method of trying to save Clara is intriguing to me. He enters his own timeline. That is some serious s&^! right there!
- Using the leaf as a grounding force to bring Clara back to herself was inspired. I didn’t like how it played into the denouement of “The Rings of Akhaten”, but here it worked for me completely.
In addition to loving the story and plot as a whole, I quite enjoyed many of the individual lines.
- “The doors require a key. The Key is a word.” Did anyone else want to yell “Mellon!” Speak friend and enter. (A lovely example of how punctuation is important!)
- “Bodies are boring. I’ve had loads of them.” I laughed.
- “The tracks of my tears.” Broke my heart. “Less poetry Doctor. Just tell them.” Really worked for me as a villain’s line, and Richard E. Grant handled it perfectly.
- “Oh dear goddess!” A very nice subtle touch, coming from Vastra.
- “Just this once, just for the hell of it, let me save you.” She did save him an awful lot–even before she became a series of echoes. And Matt Smith’s brought tears to my eyes here.
Okay, so there was one line that bothered me–well, not the line itself, but its delivery. Matt Smith wasn’t 100% perfect I guess. This is one of those nit-picky things that my nerd-brain can’t seem to let go of. I recognize that it’s dumb to harp on it, so no need to chastise. Anyway, when John Hurt appears as whomever-he-is, our Doctor says that’s him, but not “the Doctor”. When he’s talking about names, he says “the one YOU choose”. He should’ve said “the one you CHOOSE”. The choice is the important bit. Emphasizing “you” makes it sound like Clara chose the name, and nothing else made me think that was a twist that’s coming. (Oh please don’t let that be a thing. Clara has done enough.)
As you may know from listening to me on the podcast, humour and Doctor Who don’t always coexist peacefully for me. This time I found the balance to be spot on. The tension barely ebbed when Strax rattled off a line, and when that happened, it was needed. I’m not sure my heart could’ve taken that story with no respite. The gags were sprinkled in at just the right ratio. That’s such a tough equilibrium to achieve, I’m picturing Moffat on a tightrope, and managing to stay upright.
- Glasgow. *snort*
- “The one with the gigantic head?” “It’s hair, Strax!”
- “This planet is surrounded. Surrender your women and intellectuals!” (What the heck do Sontarans want with women though?)
- “Do not divulge our military secrets!”
- “It’s beautiful.” “Should I destroy it?”
- “Nobody else in this room can see you, god knows how that looked.”
And yes, I do realize I’ve just listed a bunch of dialogue with almost no specific comments or critique. I’m that squeeful. Sue me.
Bits and Bobs
- The “conference call” was an interesting way to get everyone together. I like that it was science disguised as Victorian mysticism.
- The Whisper Men didn’t quite work for me. As a concept, they were fine, but the rhyming seemed a little silly, and it was too hard to understand what they were saying. I mean, they weren’t classic-Ice-Warrior-difficult, but it was a bit tricky at times.
- TARDIS console explosions! That scene looked great. Pyrotechnics can be a tricky thing to pull off, so well done to Saul Metzstein and the crew!
- The TARDIS-as-tomb was exceedingly effective, both emotionally and visually. It broke my heart and creeped me out. Well done.
- The booming cloister bell was an excellent touch. The cloister bell has been a sound to inspire alarm for decades. Transforming it to match the distorted nature of the TARDIS made it truly unsettling.
- Remember how the voices coming out of the TARDIS console didn’t really work for me in “Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS”? Well this was a perfect example of how I think that sort of thing does work. We’re looking at the Doctor’s entire timeline, something we’ve never seen the like of before. It makes sense that bits of phrases would float out when coaxed by the right sonic screwdriver setting.
- I agree with Lynne that it was nice to see Richard E. Grant get a bit more to do this time. I like him better as cranky crazy villain than a non-emotive manchild.
And now we’re done with weekly Doctor Who for quite a while. And we have quite the cliffhanger to fret about for the next six months. I am therefore even more pleased that we’ve been left with “The Name of the Doctor” as our final episode. I shall be filled with the squee of this (and all of series 7b) from now until November 23rd. So here’s one more for the road: