“My grave is potentially the most dangerous place in the universe.”
A couple of weeks ago someone a fellow fan mentioned how much he missed the cliff-hangers that Doctor Who was once famed for. Well, hold on to your console folks, as we just got ourselves a doozy…
Before we get to that though, what about that opening? In the pre-title sequence we finally got our explanation of who Clara is, via a fly-by through lives of the Doctor, putting Clara at key moments throughout his timeline – as an ever present, ever watching saviour. Well, it would explain how he got out of a few tight spots).
I have to admit to emitting a large ‘squee’ at the sight of the first Doctor and Susan creeping into that dry dock on Gallifrey to steal a TARDIS, “a long, long time ago” – (how about that for a sci-fi caption).
Clara was quite cleverly inserted into moments of each Doctor’s timeline via a Forest Gump style splicing, and the effect was somehow both clunky and perfect, all at the same time. It essentially felt like the 50th anniversary episode come early and goodness me, come November 23rd, the stakes have been well and truly raised.
The episode soon settled down, and once again employed the services of the Jenny, Vastra and Strax triumvirate, and pleasingly for the first time they didn’t grate. In fact, I found that I enjoyed the light humour mainly courtesy of Strax. –
(Clara: To River Song, “Sorry Professor, I didn’t realise you were a woman.” Strax: “Neither did I”)
We did have to casually accept the fact that the children that Clara looks after were now back at home as if nothing had happened lat week. I mean, sure, they’d travelled in a time machine that’s bigger on the inside, visited the distant future and encountered terrifying cyborgs, but now they’re back at home and doing their homework with no qualms or ill effects! Whatevs.
That aside, the episode soon took on a dark turn with the hissing, sharp teethed Whisper Men brining genuine scares.
“I’m so sorry madam, I think I’ve been murdered,” is simply one of the most chilling lines I think I’ve heard in Doctor Who. It was somewhat undone of course by a Sontaran gizmo bringing Jenny back to life, but hey – it’s all larks.
As far as performances go Matt Smith deserves a mention. His switch from losing at Famous Five style larks playing Blind Man’s bluff with the aforementioned kids, to his tears moments later at the realisation that his potentially greatest secret had been discovered, was something to behold. It’s not often we see the Doctor cry – I believe Tennant was the first, and it was a powerful moment.
River Song made a welcome return and it’s a testament to Alex Kinston that the character has never tired despite frequent appearances. Her appearance marked a completing of the circle for writer Steven Moffat, ending the story he started with the introduction of Song, back in The Silence in the Library.
We also get some return on the promises of Dorian Maldovar from Good Man Goes to War and the explanation of the Silence falling, as the lights winked out.
As they landed on Trenzalore, we find that it’s the planet is more of a tomb for the TARDIS that the Doctor. The giant size of the TARDIS exterior is explained as it’s dimensions leaking out as it dies – a fitting memorial to the Doctor. Inside though, there is no body – just his time stream, fizzing and sparking at the heart of the dead TARDIS. The Great Intelligence, played with hammy relish again by Richard E. Grant, jumps in and murders him throughout his timeline, but somehow the Doctor on the floor doesn’t just disappear, but gets to writhe around in agony.
Clara, then realises what she must do, indeed, what she is destined to do, and jumps in after him to save the Doctor – though how she does this isn’t really clear. Nor is it clear how he is able to jump into his own time stream, and somehow rescue Clara, bringing here to some unknown place. (Well, it escaped me)
Non of that really matters though, as we then get one of the greatest endings of any Doctor Who episode either. I am pleased to admit I was thrilled to recognise the distinctive tones of John Hurt, from his one line with the back to camera, and the dramatic words the appeared on the screen worked superbly well for me.
What so clever though is the way Moffat avoided the pitfall of having to actually reveal the “name of the Doctor”, which would, of course, have been a crushing let down – sometimes the questions is more powerful that the answer. It’s dealt with by Moffat’s superb play on words –John Hurt’s Doctor did what he had to do, but it was not, “in the name of the Doctor”.
But who is this Doctor? And what did he do? The theories are reverberating round the vortex that is the internet. Is he the Valeyard? -The evil version of the Doctor that was amalgamation of the in between stages between regenerations that we met in a Trial of a time Lord (1986), or is this a regeneration that has been blotted from history? The one between McGann and Eccleston and the one that did the terrible acts that, “broke the promise” and whose actions led to the destruction of Gallifrey in the Time War? Acts that the Doctor has since been running away from. Who knows, to coin a phrase.
We can hope that these questions will be answered in the 50th anniversary special and it’ll seem a long wait until November. What we got here though is an episode that was in many ones one of the best we’ve been treated to since the series can back to our screens on 2005. It seems to have given us a resolution, not only to the mystery of Clara but also to the mysteries of series 6, but also manages to set up some serious dramatic possibilities for the 50th anniversary special.
Crikey. I could do with a jelly baby.