Sorry this is a little late, y’all, but I was caught up changing jobs and moving across the country. Naturally, I took the time to fit in some Who because I’m good at balancing life priorities.
Well, why not start at the beginning? Specifically in Gallifrey, a very long time ago. The First Doctor and Susan Foreman head to a TARDIS, only to have Clara point them to a different one. Spit take! Yes, our Clara. And the First Doctor. What is this sorcery?
“I don’t know where I am,” Clara voiceovers as she flies through spacetime. She’s scattered into a million pieces and only knows one thing: she has to save the Doctor. While this is happening, we see footage of Old Who with Clara always on the edge of the action, chasing previous regenerations. Can I say that she looks fan-freaking-tastic in that 60s get up? More Cateye Clara, please.
She describes how he never sees her—almost never, with the exception of Eleven—and finishes with: “I’m Clara Oswald. I’m the impossible girl. I was born to save the Doctor.”
Back in London in 1893, a dirty prisoner recites a creepy children’s rhyme about the Whisper Men, which reminds me a little bit of the Gentlemen from Buffy. To be fair, though, at any given time you can safely assume I’m thinking about Buffy. To wit: both beasties are pale monsters in suits that go after your heart.
Anyway, the prisoner is being interrogated by Madam Vastra regarding a series of murders, and she is just about 200% done with him until he name-drops the Doctor and talks about his biggest secret, “the one he will take to the grave—and it is discovered.” Mme Vastra sets up a supernatural conference call, where she, Jenny, Strax, Clara and River all meet in a shared subconscious dream space.
Yes, River is back, sipping champagne and sharing a few awkward moments with Clara. Things take a sharp turn when Mme Vastra mentions Trenzalore, the location of the Doctor’s deepest secret. River insists he must never go there; meanwhile, the Whisper Men have broken into the room where Jenny and Mme Vastra are sleeping. They kill Jenny and begin attacking the rest of the group, forcing them all out of the shared dream.
Clara wakes up to find the Doctor and fills him in. At the mention of Trenzalore, the Doctor loses his composure and retreats into the TARDIS, explaining to Clara that his grave is at Trenzalore. A timetraveler going to his or her grave is never a good idea, but the Doctor goes anyway to try and save Jenny, Mme Vastra, and Strax.
The Doctor’s grave is the future dying TARDIS, grown huge to show its true size. Whisper Men attack Clara and the Doctor, and fortunately River shows up again, having maintained the psychic link with Clara. She guides them to safety through a false grave under her name, though the Doctor can’t see her. Meanwhile, Strax is able to revive Jenny and they come face to face with…
THE GREAT INTELLIGENCE. Yes, it’s back, and reveals itself to be the formal Big Bad of this half season. Speaking in the form of Dr. Simeon from “The Snowmen,” the GI rants against the Doctor, calling him “blood-soaked” as he names the alien species the Doctor has decimated in the past. The GI even portends that he will have darker names in the days to come, including the Valeyard. Quick aside: how do the Whisper Men fit in to all this? Are they supposed to be the manifestation of the fairytale rhyme? Or are they a type of alien that is working with the GI?
Clara starts to get hit with serious deja-vu, remembering the conversation they had in “Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS” about how she keeps dying. She tries to get answers but is largely brushed off by the Doctor before they confront the GI. The only thing that will open the Doctor’s tomb is his name, but he won’t speak it. The GI sics the Whisper Men on his companions to pressure him into revealing it, but he doesn’t—River does, off-screen.
Inside the TARDIS tomb is a bright column of light, swirling around itself. It is the Doctor’s essence, in a way, a spinning collection of all of his adventures in timespace—even the days he hasn’t lived yet. Being so close to his past and future creates a damaging paradox, and the Doctor collapses. The GI takes advantage of the moment to complete its plan: it can now jump into the Doctor’s timestream and defeat him at EVERY moment of his existence.
It’s an extreme plan, to be sure, but I do admire the GI’s moxie. The Doctor warns the GI that jumping into his timestream will rip it apart like confetti, scattering him all over. And the GI’s like, “Perfect! Thanks!” and hops right in and starts causing trouble. The GI begins killing the Doctor across all of time, and as he does so, history is rewritten. Mme Vastra mentions the Doctor dying in the Asylum, and in Victorian London, triggering Clara’s memory.
It’s easy to see the conviction on Clara’s face as soon as she glances at the wilting timestream. River warns her not to jump in it, that she’ll just be copies of herself, but it all comes full-circle with the saying “The soufflé isn’t the soufflé—the soufflé is the recipe.” So our girl gets strewn about to live countless lives, always intervening to save the Doctor from the scheming GI.
This restores the status quo, bringing Strax and Jenny back and reviving the Doctor. Of course, the Doctor isn’t going to let the original Clara die this way, and contemplates going into the timestream after her. River tries to talk the Doctor out of it, despite the fact that he can’t see or hear her…OR CAN HE? Yeah, yeah, he totally can.
The Doctor admits that he always sees her, but hasn’t addressed her because he didn’t know how to say goodbye. And that it would hurt him too much. AND THEN THEY KISS. And I was like, gross. But, if you’re a River/Eleven shipper, then I’m sure it was full of fireworks and squeals. They share a sweet goodbye by playing it all cool and casual, and then River—or, more accurately, the psychic link manifestation of River—disappears. Is that…it? Her final farewell?
The Doctor follows Clara into his timestream to get her back. On their way out, the Doctor pauses—there’s a shadowy figure we haven’t seen yet, and Clara’s like “Who’s that fool? I’ve seen all of you and that’s not it.” The Doctor makes the distinction—that regeneration is technically him, but a darker version, someone who didn’t follow the rules and morals and promises that go along with being called the Doctor. And who is it? JOHN HURT.
Clara: So. Now we have the answer for our Impossible Girl. I like that she’s not a pawn of the Great Intelligence, or a part of a trap, but…while it’s very important that it was her own choice to scatter herself in the Doctor’s timestream, I wish that decision had more time to breathe. And like, that is a MASSIVE amount of telling and not showing. She decides to do it after five minutes of contemplation, then she exists in ALL of the Doctor’s time, and comes back in another minute. It’s a grand gesture on her part, and her endless sacrifice hits on the darker themes of companionship we’ve seen before, but I don’t know if the proper set up was there from her character’s point of view.
The Doctor’s Name: Depending on how fully you live on the internet, you may have been caught up in the grand kerfuffle of fan outrage when the name of this episode was revealed and when casting spoilers flew around. I am actually really pleased with this resolution and the emphasis on how the Doctor’s birth name is not relevant, it’s the symbolic name he chooses that matters most. Plus, John Hurt! As the Valeyard? As Regeneration 8.5 who started/completed the Time War? As something else entirely? I think this sets things up very well for the 50th Anni show.
What did y’all think? How does this rank in terms of season finales? Sad to see River go?
About the Contributor:
This post was written by Whovian extraordinaire Julie.