It’s been an uneven season (or half-season) for Doctor Who. Let’s just be honest – it’s been a mediocre one. Only “Hide” and Neil Gaiman’s “Nightmare in Silver” were solidly above-average episodes by the standard of the Tennant/Smith era. And Clara has turned out to be a bit of a disappointment as Clara – her chemistry with The Doctor never materialized, and there was something in Jenna Louise Coleman’s performance that was a bit off-key, a false note. Amy and Rory have been terribly missed.
Thankfully, then, the season has capped off with a very good finale – making the last two eps of the season arguably the best. It seems pointless to warn of spoilers when they’ve been floating around the internet for a week thanks to the Blu-ray blunder, but for the record – I’m about to talk about the ending. To get the two big questions out of the way: yes, we do get a definitive answer about who Clara is, and no, we don’t find out The Doctor’s name. And thank goodness for that, I say – I never especially wanted to know it, as finding out would surely be an anti-climax and it would seriously dent his mystique.
Clara’s secret nature is, in fact, somewhat anti-climactically for all intents and purposes revealed in the first 30 seconds of the episode. She’s “the impossible girl” who goes goes throughout space and time, always saving The Doctor. The rest of the episode is more or less a discourse on how that came to pass, with significant supporting roles played by Vastra, Jenny and Strax (who I wish was The Doctor’s full-time traveling companion). We also get another appearance by the scenery-chewing Richard E. Grant as The Great Intelligence, who’s behind the major events of the episode, this time backed up by “Whispermen“. They’re quite scary but eerily reminiscent of a certain demon from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Oh well – Joss Whedon is a fan, so he probably won’t sue.
I’m not going to talk too much about the plot, which isn’t the strength of the episode and doesn’t really hold water from a logical standpoint. Suffice to say it involves The Doctor visiting his own grave on Trenzalor (never take Trenzalor without consulting your Doctor) – a problem, as apparently for a time traveler visiting your own grave is as far on the wrong side of the tracks as you can go. T.G.I. has it in mind to enter The Doctor’s “tomb” – a writhing mass of light strands that represents the “scar” his time travels have caused over the Centuries – and rewrite The Doctor’s history, turning all his victories into defeats. It actually turns into Grand Central a bit – first Clara follows T.G.I. in there to foil the plan by saving The Doctor from all the times he’s about to be screwed, and then The Doctor follows her inside to save her from, well – dying and stuff.
As premises go it’s pretty far out there, but it’s a fairly respectable explanation for why Clara has had the strange journey she has. What really stands out is Clara’s “interactions” with the previous 10 Doctors (sorry, no Paul McGann, sadly) which bookend the episode. This is all done through the magic of stock footage, and the effects people do a nice job matching Clara’s appearances to their respective eras – though it’s just possible that Christopher Eccleston and David Tennant were actually present. It feels a bit like an early 50th Anniversary special – it may be as much of the first 9 Doctors as we’re going to get. We also get a dose of River Song, which I never really look forward to. There’s been much debate of late over what constitutes a Mary Sue, but I can’t imagine anyone arguing against River being one. Apart from one or two grimace-inducing moments, though, she manages to stay out of the way of the good stuff.
The big whopper comes at the very end, the last thing The Doctor and Clara see inside his time stream. It’s a man who’s apparently The Doctor – except he isn’t. Smith’s Doctor says “I said he was me – I never said he was The Doctor.” This man is played by no less than John Hurt, a huge name that was miraculously kept out of the press until last week, and he’s cleverly introduced as “Introducing John Hurt as The Doctor”. Just who he is – Twelve, or The Valeyard, or someone else altogether – we’ll have to wait until the 50th Special to find out. Depending on the answer to that question, it doesn’t take a math genius to figure out we’re going close to a very important number in Doctor Who mythology.
All in all this was a very good effort. Murray Gold’s soundtrack is his best work of the season, and it was a treat to see geeky stuff like Clara telling William Hartnell which TARDIS to steal. I’m generally not a fan of Steven Moffat’s inclination to constantly deconstruct the series mythology, but this one felt on-point – philosophically, spiritually, it was a Doctor Who episode. And if the goal was to stoke interest in the 50th Anniversary Special, mission accomplished – though for me, the notion of seeing David Tennant back in the role was already more than incentive enough.