This review contains spoilers.
I’ve seen a lot of praise for this episode already. Mostly from people who are shipping the Doctor and Clara and are content with face-touching, spinning hugs and emotional speeches. But in an episode where Twelve was so moved as to remember Donna and Pompeii, I can’t help but feel like there was something missing.
Twelve remembering where he got his face from was inevitable, and fans have been waiting for a return trip to Pompeii or something to trigger his memory. The flashback to The Fires of Pompeii and Donna’s desperate plea was like a punch in the stomach the first time around, and now serves as an uncomfortable reminder of how great New Who has been in previous years. If I’m being truly honest, that one flashback had more emotional impact than this entire episode for me.
My big issue is that it’s not like Twelve hasn’t been through this before; just last episode we had the death of O’Donnell, who had an incredible emotional impact, and Twelve’s memory wasn’t jogged. Even when Clara was distraught over Danny’s death, there was no indication that he remembered this important part of his own backstory. So why, when an entire village was saved through the power of YouTube and almost nobody died (apart from the warriors at the beginning), was it suddenly so important to save just one person?
I love Maisie Williams to death and her portrayal of Arya Stark has been stunning in Game of Thrones. But this lacklustre script did her no favours and, ultimately, there was nothing so impressive about Ashildr that she couldn’t have died at the end of the episode. I feel like this entire episode was just a jumping-off point for the second half of the serial, where it seems like the real action will be taking place.
After the ominous mention of hybrids in earlier episodes, it comes as no surprise that we were going to get one this season. I might have been more interested in the Dalek/Time Lord hybrid that the Doctor supposedly helped create back on Gallifrey, since Davros’s mention of it seemed to trigger such a guilty response from the Doctor. Instead, we have a hybrid created in a moment of passion and simply left to her own devices.
Honestly, considering he was moved enough to bring her back from the dead, it was kind of a dick move not to stick around and tell Ashildr what to expect. The Doctor obviously realised the implications as soon as he’d done it, and he’s constantly banging on about how horrible it is to be immortal and watch people die or move on, so why sentence someone else to that kind of life without so much as an explanation?
Clara showcased some of the skills she’s picked up from travelling with the Doctor, thinking on her feet to try and save the village with a vaguely threatening speech. As much as I appreciate the insinuation that the Doctor and Clara can’t live without each other, I can’t reconcile it with their actions. The Doctor may be totally devoted to Clara but the way she keeps referring to him as a hobby or a quick path to another adventure really irks me.
After one impressive speech, Clara is content to sit around and remind the Doctor that he’s supposed to have a plan. She doesn’t bother trying to come up with one herself because her part of the bargain is done. With her contribution quota reached, Clara is free to be used as a device to bait anyone holding out for a romantic relationship between her and the Doctor. Like the Doctor’s yoyo, this potential relationship was used as sleight of hand—an opportunity to keep the audience’s attention elsewhere as the writers scrambled to find some kind of impressive story.
I can only hope that the second half of this serial, The Woman Who Lived, is going to make up for this episode. Since I haven’t watched Torchwood, I can’t vouch for Catherine Tregenna but hopefully her writing will be better than this fan-baiting extravaganza supplied by Jamie Mathieson and Steven Moffat.