This review contains spoilers.
The Doctor has returned to Gallifrey to face the Time Lords in a showdown that takes him to the end of the universe. What—or who—is the hybrid? With nothing left to lose, how far will the Doctor go to save his best friend?
Hot on the heels of Heaven Sent, this was another immensely powerful hour of television. I’ll be honest and say that I was crying through a lot of it. Not ugly crying; just slow and steady tears streaming down my face for a good 45 minutes. No big deal.
There are several reasons why this episode is such a success. First and foremost, we have Peter Capaldi’s performance. His brilliance has become increasingly evident as this season has progressed and as his Doctor becomes a more fully realised character. Capaldi manages to perfectly depict everything from a traumatised and fragile being to someone brimming with raw power and rage. Even more impressive, he often manages to exhibit these two extremes simultaneously without it seeming forced or confused.
The other obviously amazing aspect of this episode is Jenna Coleman and the way Clara’s story ends. There were echoes of Rose and Donna in her story, which were undoubtedly the two most painful companion departures for me. Like Rose, Clara and the Doctor could no longer travel together because of circumstances beyond their control. And attempting to stay together could mean ripping apart the universe and time itself. The comparison between Donna and Clara’s endings is obvious. Jenna Coleman, when she’s given strong enough scripts, can work magic. And like Donna, she was becoming far too much like the Doctor to be able to continue. Like Donna, she would have travelled with him forever if she were able. If it hadn’t meant one or both of them dying.
But Clara, as always, marches to her own tune. From the very first ‘It’s smaller on the outside’ to watching as the Doctor’s memory of her is erased, she has always been the one to challenge the Doctor Who tropes. Even her constant refrain has changed from ‘Run, you clever boy. And remember me.’ Clara can’t ask the Doctor to remember her, can’t ask him to track her down through all of time and space. She doesn’t want him enduring any more torture or exacting revenge on an entire race of people. She wants him to be the Doctor that she remembers and the person that she loves.
All along, Clara has been toeing the line and playing at being the Doctor, erring on the side of reckless giddy obsession with time travel and adventure. And now she has finally taken the Doctor’s place (‘Clara who?’). Rather than forget the Doctor and leave him heartbroken and alone, she chooses to break her own heart and try to leave him—as best she can—whole. Clara will eventually die. There’s no doubt about that. But for now, she’s still echoing the Doctor. Travelling in a stolen TARDIS with a broken chameleon circuit, she’s off on her own adventures. One day she’ll return to Gallifrey the long way ’round. I hope that we’ll see her again. There’s a pattern developing in New Who: whenever a Doctor regenerates, he sees the first face he saw. Ten visited all his companions, saving Rose for last, and Eleven saw Amy. I’m hoping that, if they continue this pattern, Clara’s last adventure will be to say goodbye to her Doctor.
I love that Ashildr finally gets to travel in the TARDIS and experience life the way she always wanted. It may be the long way ’round, and her guide may be a heartbeat between life and death, but the joy on her face was beautiful.
The whole ‘Missy creating the hybrid by bringing the Doctor and Clara together’ thing doesn’t ring true; it seems more like a hurried attempt to address everything. This may have been where things ended up but I found it a bit infuriating that Steven Moffat used a few throwaway lines to sweep every clunky piece of character development under the rug and make it seem like this was where Clara was headed all along.
If this was in fact Moffat’s grand plan all along, I have a sneaking suspicion that he forgot about it at least four times during Jenna Coleman’s tenure and rediscovered his intentions every so often like a misplaced Post-it note. It feels more like Clara’s character development surprised even the writers, who were then left scrambling to claim ownership over the way the story emerged.
Eventually, it would be nice to see more of Gallifreyan politics and more of the Time Lords in general. Maybe I’m wrong, but it seems that, canonically, the only reason behind their behaviour is that they’re massive jerks. At least, that’s what I’ve always gleaned from New Who episodes; perhaps that should be addressed at some point.
I’m so incredibly happy that the sonic screwdriver is back and that Twelve gets his own iteration. The design is beautiful and perfectly echoes the structure of the TARDIS. Knowing what a total Whovian Peter Capaldi has been for all his life, it must be the biggest thrill to not only play the Doctor but have your own personal sonic screwdriver. Whether or not it’s canon, I’ll choose to believe that the sonic was created (or requested) by Clara, as part of her plea for him to ‘Run, you clever boy. And be a Doctor.’