Okay, y’all, I’m breaking this one down by plot element because, like a Frito Pie, there were a lot of things layered ontop of one another.
The Van Baalen Brothers
We start out with a spaceship (awesome) spewing some goldish fuel dust as it drifts along. I’m choosing to take that as a really, really slight Firefly reference because it’s the internet and we will Never Let It Go. This is a family salvaging business consisting of two brothers, Gregor and Bram, and their android tagalong, Tricky.
They capture the TARDIS and plan to cash in on its scrap, but the Doctor lures them into helping him find Clara before he sets the TARDIS to self-destruct. The brothers and their robot grudgingly comply, except that Tricky is no droid, he’s a Real Boy, who suffered some space accident that forced him to lose his sight, voice, and memory. After the robo-implants, his brothers tricked him into thinking he was an android. Which is all KINDS of messed up. And inexcusable? Like, realizing he’d been lied to all these years could have been very powerful, but the reasoning is wack: his jerky brothers were just being jerks and pranked him. In space. Things get Shakespearean when we learn that this prank was partially motivated by Gregor not wanting Tricky to take over as captain of the ship, which again, I say is a veritable platter of messed-up-edness. Especially because in the end, Gregor is nicer to Tricky, but we don’t really get the sense that Tricky will inherit the business as his father intended.
On the one hand, I love that it’s a pretty dark twist. On the other, we spend such little time with the brothers that they really come across as cruel. There could have been more of a parallel between Tricky finding out the truth about himself and Clara finding out about her mystery from the Doctor. Both revelations ring a little hollow because of the time-reset at the end and the fact that everyone seemingly forgets. How cool would it have been if Clara and Tricky were separated from the others, and she was the one to help him realize the truth about himself?
The Doctor/Clara/The TARDIS
Clara’s separated from everyone in the initial magnetic blast, and is stuck wandering the depths of the TARDIS alone. We get some great scenes of a massive library, the famed indoor pool, and the Gallifreyan version of the Room of Requirement where the Doctor has stashed all his knickknacks. Highlights include the Doctor’s baby cradle and the toy TARDIS that Amy created as a kid. While in the library, Clara stumbles upon a history of the Time War, and finds out who the Doctor really is (dun dun DUN!).
In addition to wandering the maze that is the TARDIS, she’s also stalked by a snarling, glowing zombie beast that winds up being the future version of herself, burned to a crisp after too much time near the Eye of Harmony. The episode’s strongest point is when things start to get timey-wimey and Clara sees past echoes of her and the Doctor within the TARDIS. I thought we might get an out-of-time version of their big confrontation, with Clara seeing echoes of the Doctor freaking out on her.
Instead, the simmering mystery of Clara’s origin climaxes in linear fashion, when the time loop completes itself and the burning Eye of Harmony turns the Baalen Bros and Clara into lava zombies. With TARDIS destruction imminent, the Doctor is backed into a corner and lashes out at Clara, telling her he’s run into her before and asking her what her ulterior motive is. Mind you, I didn’t think ALL secrets would be revealed or resolved, but I was still a little let down at how quickly and accusatorily he brings up her impossible nature only to immediately decide she has no sinister motive.
Clara says she’s scared—and rightly so, as the Doctor gets a bit terrifying—but it’s not long before they’re hugging it out and the rift in time puts everyone back to where they were at the start of the episode. I’m guessing that Clara will remember pieces of the conversation in upcoming episodes, similar to how Gregor is nicer to Tricky in the re-booted timeline, but for now the answer to her mystery is going to be teased out just a little longer.
Which brings me to…
The Lava Zombies
Call me picky, but I think this would have worked better if we had one or the other: zombies or Baalen Bros. Having both at once gave the episode a case of the Too-Much-Going-Ons. Overall, this is my second favorite episode after Hide. I think I’m just being a Negative Nancy because I wanted more of Clara and the TARDIS’s voice-visual interface interaction. Or a longer, messier fight between Clara and the Doctor where she demands more answers or threatens to stop traveling with him altogether. She knew he had been time-stalking her, and then finds out he’s seen her die multiple times. Like, girl, weren’t you ever taught not to get into spaceships with strange men who know your past and future?
So, with three episodes left in this season, we’re still in the dark about the Doctor’s true identity (and role in the Time War, actually) and what’s happening to Clara. Looks like we’ll find out some, if not all the answers in the finale (minor casting/topic spoilers at the link). Aside from Clara wearing more red in this episode, I don’t have anything else to add to my Bad Wolf/Rose references. I’m also thinking that our own FYA lady Alix may have been onto something with her theory about how River may end up being connected to, or influencing, Clara.
I leave you with a potentially dumb question—if the Doctor is the last of the Time Lords, who wrote the history of the Time War?
About the Contributor:
This post was written by Whovian extraordinaire Julie.