I’m just going to say it right now: after watching “Hell Bent,” I really didn’t know what to expect from Doctor Who‘s Christmas Special “The Husbands of River Song.” This is especially true as it was Steven Moffat that wrote the episode.
I mean, it could have been an entire episode where River doesn’t even know who The Doctor is and after a fanciful waltz of not knowing who he is, dealing with science-fictional talking decapitated heads he doesn’t say anything and she never knows: and somehow we’d be expected to get something some moral lesson from the entire thing as The Doctor sails, alone, throughout the cosmos until the next Companion comes along. I strongly suspect that I’m not the only one who was thinking that it could have very easily gone in this direction: a timey-wimey circuit winding nowhere.
But then something happened. It’s very easy to do, when you think about it. Doctor Who is often seen to be the journey of one Time Lord and his Companions, but we often forget that there is another party. That’s right. Sexy the TARDIS takes The Doctor to wherever he needs to be. This is an established fact from Neil Gaiman’s Doctor Who episode “The Doctor’s Wife.”
So here is how I choose to see what happened in “The Husbands of River Song.” Sexy pretty much figured Clara to be a phase in The Doctor’s life. You know: the date that your parent knows isn’t necessarily good for you, and will probably not be around forever but decides after a while to not interfere and just let the phase run its course. So here Sexy is by the end of “Hell Bent,” getting rid of all that graffiti from her surface, and deciding that The Doctor should have a new screwdriver and give those glasses something of a rest.
Then, eventually, she probably gets tired of his moping and takes him into the future on another world where, coincidentally, his parallel-travelling wife also finds herself in the midst of another scheme. She’s even playful about it: putting antlers on The Doctor’s head when someone approaches them to ask for a doctor.
And The Doctor, predictably, starts off as his usual grumpy old man self: perhaps even more so than usual as he knows his memory has been tampered with. But then he is reintroduced to River Song in the middle of another madcap scheme of hers, and she doesn’t even know who he is.
And then he meets her husbands: well, at least two of them in name. One is a tyrant who is a head on a robot body more malevolent than he is, who has a diamond stuck in his head that River is ultimately married to, and the other is a poor man who gets interrogated by the tyrant’s robot body and made into a talking head as well. At first, The Doctor is jealous: madly, quietly, seethingly jealous.
But then he takes that jealousy and decides to revert to his best feature from the beginning of his incarnations: being a troll. He goes along with River’s schemes, hams up a reaction to being in a ship that is “bigger on the inside” and generally asks snide questions and makes clever insights about River’s state of being. Finally, here, the tables have turned. When he first met River, he had no idea who she was and she had all the spoilers. Now, The Doctor is the one who has the keys to her Star Wars Episode VII so to speak, and begins to make the best of a bad situation: essentially having the time of his life.
It could continued something along these lines for a while: or even had their reunion trollishly teased and then subverted. Instead, they carried the tyrant’s head in a bag (The Doctor hilariously calling him a talking bag and in a rare of genuine mirth laughing hysterically at the situation) and they go to a luxury liner ship that is exclusively the domain of rich and powerful dictators and mass murderers to sell the diamond in the tyrant’s head.
As an aside, I would posit that The Doctor, having exterminated the Daleks and other evil races over and again, should have had a royal suite reserved exclusively for him on that ship. But anyway.
It turns out the buyers of the gem are all worshipers of the tyrant and it is when that revelation and all the mummery before it comes to a head, along with a poetic rendition of River Song’s love for The Doctor, that she finally realizes that her companion is her husband. Then they bicker like a married couple, outsmart all the baddies, complete with a line from River stating that she is an archaeologist from the future who has already seen their dead bodies four hundred years later, and they escape.
But it doesn’t end there. You see, The Doctor takes the diamond and finances the creation of a fine restaurant and hotel near the Singing Towers of a planet that he always promised to take River to, except he knew this would be their last night together ala “Silence in the Library.”
Finally, he brings her to this place that he made long ago. And, for the first time ever, we actually see this Doctor do something that he had never done before. We’d seen the Twelfth Doctor laugh, rage, scream, detached, bitter, and sarcastic. But we had never seen him cry. It’s at this point that we see him say something to his wife. This is the woman to whom he told his true name, and the one person who knows all of his regenerations: including the one that he never talked about to anyone else from The Time War.
He says something to her that challenges if not outright blows all of the best one-liners of Casablanca right out of the water. And we find out on this planet, with their last night together, that nights on this planet last … twenty-four years. Suffice to say, as the episode ends, it is no coincidence that The Doctor has also brought her a sonic screwdriver.
It seems as though The Doctor’s other wife, Sexy, knows what’s best.
“The Husbands of River Song” almost make up for the events of “Hell Bent.” Almost. As I’ve stated before, I hope that River Song manages to find a way to re-evolve herself from the Library database and incarnate once again: so that we can definitely see her continue to interact with The Doctor. Or at the very least we know that she underwent life-extension treatments to add two hundred years to her own lifespan in lieu of the regenerations she seems to have lost. Anything could happen with those addition two centuries: if not more.
It was a good episode to end off the year with and one that was completely and utterly deserved by The Doctor and Doctor Who fans alike.
In the words of the Dalek trapped by the Cloister Wraiths near the Matrix, “Exterminate … me …”
This week, on “Hell Bent” the season finale of Doctor Who, we see The Doctor return to Gallifrey — the world he thought he destroyed but ultimately saved — with the fire of wrathful self-righteousness. It is in the deserts of the outside of Arcadia that the common Gallifreyans, the people who were not fortunate enough to become Time Lords, celebrate the hero of Gallifrey’s salvation. As The Doctor comes home, the Chancellery Guard — still militarized with Time Lord-destroying stasers — surround him: demanding that he go meet the Lord President and High Council and reveal what he knows about the Hybrid.
After telling the multitude of Gallifreyan denizens to stand down with a wave of his hand, he leaves with the Guard: without any weapons, unnerving them all with his presence and the stories of what he has done. They respect him. They are afraid of him. It is there, at the Council that both the Councilors and the Sisters of Karn stand in attendance. The Doctor puts on his glasses as Rassilon, still Lord President of Gallifrey, comes into the chambers and both congratulates and threatens The Doctor. The Doctor asks why the High Council has not been disbanded, and Rassilon executed for attempting to destroy all of reality and betray their sacred oaths to watch over all of space and time. Rassilon makes a whole lot of self-serving remarks about how he is Time Lord society’s founder, creator, and liberator. He blames The Doctor for trapping them all in a pocket dimensional purgatory in which they cannot get out and for using The Moment to summon the Hybrid: to kill them all.
It is then that out of the shadows that Rassilon reveals the person who managed to get him here: by “revising” his confession dial. It’s Missy. In exchange for the repair of her destabilized body and another batch of regenerations, she lured The Doctor here through the manipulation of Lady Me: for the Council to interrogate him about The Hybrid. This and Missy’s “methods of persuasion” are why there are sections missing from Me’s books of memories. Of course, The Doctor is not fooled. He knows why Missy really brought him here. It turns out The Doctor had used his glasses to broadcast this whole interrogation to all of Gallifrey. The Chancellery Guard comes in. Rassilon orders them to kill The Doctor. But they ignore him. The General comes in after them.
Then the Guard surrounds Rassilon and point their stasers at him. The Doctor reveals that during this entire time, he also erased all of Rassilon from the Matrix and the Dark Matrix. He mentions that something that is dead and obsolete should remain dead and obsolete: that he cost him the life of his best friend. Rassilon tries to use his gauntlet, but The Doctor reveals that he has negated that too with his glasses. Rassilon commands the Guard to stand down, but eventually realizes they won’t. He pleadingly reminds them of who he is. The Doctor turns away as the General condemns Rassilon to death.
The Doctor exiles the rest of the High Council. Missy and The Doctor reluctantly work together in order to get Gallifrey out of its pocket dimension. This leads to The Doctor calling his graffiti-decorated TARDIS back using Gallifrey’s command functions. But they have some work to do first. They have to travel back in time just to help the other Doctor incarnations save Gallifrey during The Time War. And right after, he works with Missy and the other Time Lords on Gallifrey – many of whom he knows and trusts from his many incarnations – to bring the planet out again.
The Doctor, as Lord President, commands that Clara Oswald be brought back for her part in helping them save Gallifrey during “The Day of The Doctor.”
And it is then that The Doctor realizes the truth about The Hybrid. There are flashbacks to every interaction he had with all iterations of Clara: and how they met. They are at the Chamber: where someone can get called back from their time for just a few minutes. He realizes that Clara had been in his time stream. She had been introduced to him by Missy. Missy has done something to her. Even as he calls her back to save her, as Clara almost manifests again – changing this fixed point in time – she begins to destabilize time at the centre of Gallifrey. They just have a few moments. Clara tells The Doctor to let her go and something else we don’t hear.
The Doctor heartrendingly returns Clara to her death and turns on Missy who, in the confusion of the time displacement energy Clara was making as The Hybrid, has escaped. The Doctor’s glasses have broken. He leaves Gallifrey: utterly disheartened. But he sees the blackboard on his ship with Clara’s words: “Be a Doctor,” and a sonic screwdriver on the control panel of the TARDIS. The TARDIS then wheezes away out of reality to parts yet unknown.
This was an excellent season finale of Doctor Who …. that never happened.
What actually happens in “Hell Bent” is The Doctor came back to Gallifrey. Then we have a segue where he meets someone who looks like Clara at a diner. We think that she is just one of Clara’s echoes in Arizona. The Doctor goes back to the shack where he was raised. And it’s interesting because, as Lady Me says later on, why would a Time Lord from the high society of Gallifrey spend so much time around humans on Earth? Certainly, from “Listen,” we have to wonder just where The Doctor came from, and his origins as part of the family that is the House of Lungbarrow in the books was ultimately a pleasant and noble lie.
But the rest of it is true. The people, including the woman who raised him, meet him and celebrate. And then the Time Lords simultaneously praise and threaten him: particularly Rassilon who is still Lord President for some reason. There is some epic and foreboding music and you think: Oh, this is on now. But then they do turn on Rassilon, but instead of executing him for his crimes, The Doctor tells him to “Get off his planet.”
Rassilon whines so pathetically that you almost feel sorry for him. Almost. Then The Doctor goes to Arcadia and banishes the High Council as well. From this point on, and before, we are given the mystery of the Cloister Wraiths — that are very reminscient of Rassilon’s Time Lord Interstitials from the novel Engines of War — that guard the Matrix and why they are now active. Leave it to Moffat to create yet another monster of the week.
And then … and then … as Lord President of Gallifrey The Doctor calls back an … old friend: from moments before her death.
Yep. You guessed it.
Then he runs off with her, and the secret in the Matrix of this episode — a fascinating place of ghosts guarded by more ghosts utilizing Wraiths and enslaved Daleks, Cybermen, and giving Weeping Angels something to really weep about — being that there is an old TARDIS hidden in the tunnel under there. Granted, there is a touching scene where Clara actually asks The Doctor and the other Time Lords there what they actually did to him in the confession dial whereupon she tells them that the reason they suck is that they are “hated.”
Pot, kettle, black, but I digress.
They run off to the end of the universe where The Doctor meets Lady Me and we discover that The Hybrid is neither of them, but actually two people of similar temperament and hobbies: namely, Clara and The Doctor because The Doctor is willing to risk fracturing all of space and time to keep her alive.
But apparently The Doctor’s plan is to erase all of Clara’s memories of him specifically so that the Time Lords or reality can’t harm her: so that she can’t be tracked. Basically it’s Donna Noble all over again. So Clara doesn’t like this and they both decide to flip the memory-erasing device to see whose memories of whom will be erased instead.
And guess what happens? No seriously: guess. The Doctor’s memories of Clara are erased and Clara and Lady Me have a new TARDIS that looks like an Arizona diner. Clara has no pulse because she is still dead even though they travelled to the end of time itself so she has to stay on … her TARDIS in order to survive. I mean: at least Bill in Kill Bill had the decency to walk five steps afterwards, no?
So The Doctor isn’t talking to an echo of Clara, or a mind-wiped Clara at the diner that is a TARDIS, but rather Clara herself as he can’t even perceive her anymore. Then she and Lady Me leave: dematerializing around him and having not question it at all. And surprise: Clara brought back The Doctor’s TARDIS, with the blackboard’s inspirational message and a new sonic screwdriver that just happens to pop out and be waiting for him.
The blue box TARDIS and the diner TARDIS happen to pass each other in the night of the universe as they travel and … exeunt!
That’s “Hell Bent,” gentle-beings. No Missy. No Time War timey-wimey. No getting Gallifrey out of the pocket dimension because they already did it. Nothing more.
Honestly, I don’t really know what else to say here. It makes me wish that someone would go find Rassilon in his exile where he is totally not going to be plotting revenge against The Doctor, and beg him to destroy reality. To all the people out there that were hoping to see something spectacular about Gallifrey returning, well congratulations. You remember the Clara Oswald show that mercifully got cancelled? Well, we got a whole new bonus episode of that program instead.
At this point, Clara Oswald is a character that goes beyond being a Mary Sue. She is actually, more aptly, Steven Moffat’s Untempered Schism Sue or – more accurately – a Black Hole Sue. Google it: or better, yet, you can find what a Black Hole Sue is on TV Tropes: namely a character that the author likes so much and ascribes so much importance to even if there is no evidence of this importance aside from being told they are important to the point of warping all characters and plot around them.
“Hell Bent” was a terrible episode. If “Last Christmas” was one middle-finger to many Whovians, then this was easily two middle-fingers: especially when you consider that this was the finale of an otherwise better season. And if I had to rate this episode, that is precisely what I would give it.
“Hell Bent” can get bent with two middle fingers up.
At the very least, right now, The Doctor will no longer have to remember the Clara Oswald Show. If only the rest of us were so fortunate.
Back during “The Zygon Inversion,” I thought I finally saw Peter Capaldi’s Doctor shine through. It was also around that point, when he truly became poignant, that I worried about the character’s upcoming fate. After all, almost every time The Doctor has a particularly striking moment, it heralds the beginning of his next regeneration.
Well, perhaps I was wrong. Maybe it was an omen for something else entirely. Certainly, Clara as a Doctor substitute would suffice here: she died attempting to imitate him. But we see in “Heaven Sent” that there are many other ways you can die which do not necessitate regeneration.
Perhaps you were expecting the righteous wrath of a furious Doctor being unleashed on an opponent after “Facing the Raven.” Instead, after The Doctor appears in a teleport tube with his Time Lord threats quite clear in the air is a particularly vicious and cerebral form of torture: tailor-made specifically for this current incarnation. There is a lot that is excellent about “Heaven Sent.”
For instance, we get to see — intimately and in detail — precisely just how The Doctor’s mind actually works. It’s no mean feat. Steven Moffat truly brings out an advanced and alien mindset that is still affected by intense emotion. His mind is specifically assembled, probably through mnemonic training, like his TARDIS and he retreats and interacts with this fortress — his safe place and home — in his psyche even as he deals with death-dealing situations with a sharp and analytical mind.
But this episode is brutal. It didn’t take me long to realize who the person who activated the teleporter at the beginning truly was. There also was too much time to figure out whom each of those skulls in the bottom of the sea in the abandoned castle and its turning gears also belonged. In early stories pertaining to The Doctor, he dealt with the Eternals of Time and Death: which makes the shuffling monster surrounded by flies coming after him a bad pun and something eerie altogether. Even the music sometimes veers into strange eighties synthesized tones.
Moffat could have seriously ended “Heaven Sent” on a major down note. He was quite capable of having The Doctor get out of this in the upcoming “Hell Bent.” But that would be nonsense. Instead, through watching The Doctor fall over and again, you have a reminder of precisely how strong-willed and relentless he truly is. The way his prison works is that he would get a moment’s respite for every fear-based truth he told. But it was a losing proposition.
Think about it. If The Doctor told all of his truths, he would still die over and again. He would continually go insane. And his enemies, whomever they are, would know everything about him. If he just continued moving throughout the castle, he would still die and come back to life each time. A lesser mind would break either way.
But then The Doctor realizes something. He notices, each time after he brings himself back through the teleporter, that the stars are not in the right alignment as his innate Time Lords senses tell him. He also keeps punching a crystal in front of him: whittling it away through each incarnation, dying again, and crawling back to resurrect himself. The gears in the castle turn. It’s as though the entire prison is a puzzle calibrating precisely at certain temporal and spatial coordinates.
By the time The Doctor smashes through the crystal and finds himself in a desert, he doesn’t seem at all surprised by the revelation. First, we find that his prison was actually his confession dial. Second, he is back on Gallifrey.
The third truth is for us though. You know that Hybrid we’ve been hearing about from Davros onward this season? Well, apparently, it’s The Doctor. And from the way he looks at the end of the episode, there is going to be a reckoning.
For all the brilliance of this Doctor Who episode made by Sisyphus, there are still some issues. If The Doctor drowned in several incarnations — becoming those stacks of skulls underwater — how did he get to the teleporter to bring himself back those times? And, I’m sorry, but even in death Clara seems to be tagged on by the writer: a continuation of how important she actually is, while you just don’t really … feel it. Even her dialogue from the subconscious of The Doctor is contrived and outright callous. The episode keeps telling us we should care about Clara but it’s hard to when you already weren’t doing so. It just makes you aware that even though she’s gone, the badly written Clara Oswald is unfortunately going to linger on for a while.
All that said, however, here are some questions to consider. Who last held The Doctor’s confession dial? And is The Doctor lying for the benefit of whom might have done this to his dial? Are long time fan theories and certain lines from the 1996 Doctor Who movie about The Doctor’s origins true? Just how did Missy get out of Gallifrey exactly? Why did The Doctor leave Gallifrey to begin with? Who else did he leave with? And when he says “The Hybrid is me,” does he mean “Lady Me?” The same Lady who had a vast portion of pages torn out of one of her journals?
Perhaps we will find out next time on Doctor Who: “Hell Bent.”
A few episodes ago in Doctor Who we had the phrase “truth and consequences” to ponder over. But if “Face the Raven” can be summarized in a few words, it would be “actions and consequences.” The episode begins as most Doctor Who episodes with Clara Oswald do: with an off-screen adventure and praising of each other’s abilities. It’s only when the spray painter Rigsy, from “Flatline” phones the TARDIS directly that things become serious fast.
And I do mean fast. Rigsy has a number tattoo that keeps counting down towards … something. This “something,” of course, is Rigsy’s imminent death. This is obviously something that neither The Doctor nor Clara can tolerate as Rigsy has a family and, in particular, a small child. He also doesn’t remember how he even got this strange black tattoo. This leads to some fascinating research and the discovery of a hidden street and neighbourhood on par with Neil Gaiman’s London Underground in Neverwhere.
It turns out there is a hidden refuge for aliens and other beings on Earth. It is has a “misdirection circuit” that protects it from outsiders with any knowledge of its existence. It has existed for about a century and guess who operates as its Mayor?
That’s right: our old friend Lady Me.
One way she decided to protect the world against The Doctor’s “good intentions” was to create this refuge. And it contains quite a number of beings shrouded in advanced holograms: including and not limited to a Cyberman. But the real mystery begins here. It turns out that Rigsy apparently murdered someone in the refuge, a model citizen, even though he has no memory of this. As such, Lady Me is responsible for the tattoo on his neck that will summon what looks like a raven to enter his body and kill him with excruciating slowness: the price of any crime that would endanger the refuge.
So of course The Doctor and Clara seek to prove that Rigsy, who had no way of even finding this place on his own to begin with, is innocent so that Lady Me will remove his tattoo. The good news is they prove that not do they prove that Rigsy didn’t murder anyone, but that his supposed murder victim is still alive in stasis.
The bad news is that it had all been a trap.
It turns out that Lady Me, having watched The Doctor’s doings for centuries, found out about Rigsy and lured him to the refuge and faked the entire crime: just to lure The Doctor to her. She then captured him: for a mysterious benefactor who gave her the misdirection circuit and cloaking technology that she uses to protect the refuge. Further, she also takes his Confession Dial away from him: though whether or not it was for her benefactor, or herself remains uncertain.
And then … it gets worse. As if Lady Me not learning from her last negotiation with an alien benefactor weren’t enough, Clara also didn’t learn … until the end.
The symbolism is heavy. After all, it is no coincidence that the alien woman supposedly murdered is a Janus. In addition to having two faces that can see the past and the future, Janus himself — the deity which the species is based from — is a god of beginnings, transitions, and endings. Before they solved the murder that didn’t happen, Clara and Rigsy had figured out that the Raven’s mark could be transferred to a willing host. And so Clara decided that she would take Rigsy’s mark: figuring that The Doctor would succeed and thus save her as he always did.
Except he doesn’t.
As it turns out, Lady Me can’t remove a tattoo from someone who accepts it willingly. There is literally nothing she can do. It is only in those last moments that Clara begins to understand. It is a hard lesson. More often than not, The Doctor has always managed to outsmart both their opponents and threats that come their way. In fact, The Doctor has saved Clara from quite a few moments that should have led to her death and, after a time, she started to take this for granted. It is only at the end, realizing that The Doctor can’t save her that Clara understands that her actions have consequences.
It is a fairly tragic end to the character for a number of reasons. Even as she processes and accepts her impending doom she still acts as a mirror to The Doctor: stating that she wanted to be like him. She also grimly mentions that perhaps all of her risk-taking was, in reality, leading to this moment: or that maybe she can find meaning in her sacrifice as Danny Pink had done.
To be honest, all of these possible explanations seem pretty tacked on to a character who alternated between self-righteousness, tagging along, becoming a joke in this season, and having one moment of genuine grace in “The Zygon Inversion.” Even so, when she dies she goes out with a certain degree of dignity as the raven kills her very slowly in the refuge.
Suffice to say, The Doctor is teleported away to meet his new captor but not before it becomes very clear that Lady Me should hope to never, ever, meet him again. The episode ends after a pause where Rigsy leaves the TARDIS with beautiful graffiti commemorating Clara’s sacrifice.
What makes this episode so sad is how cleverly it begins and how it ends much in the way that Clara’s time with The Doctor began: with bravery, impetuousness, and stupidity. Clara didn’t have to die. If she had just waited and continued to do her part to help The Doctor, they could have saved Rigsy and left the refuge intact. If there had been symmetry to her character arc such as it was, she could have died peacefully in old age at a fixed point in time in “Last Christmas.” If Clara’s actions as “The Impossible Girl” had been shown to viewers, rather than told perhaps her death would have more impact than attempting to elicit pathos through three slow frames of motion. Just her final words themselves to The Doctor would have been more than enough.
The real tragedy of Clara Oswald, when it comes down to it, is that she could have been so much more and as abruptly as she came into Doctor Who she was just as arbitrarily removed. Frankly, she deserved better. Despite this, at the very least she faced her death as bravely as any Companion: and her exit from the show leaves an emptiness that we will have to see bridged in some way.
Because one thing is certain. Perhaps Clara was successful in keeping The Doctor from becoming the Warrior again, and convince him to “heal thyself,” but while he may not unleash vengeance he is most certainly going to seek justice next time, on Doctor Who.
Things looked pretty grim in the last episode of Doctor Who. UNIT was supposedly neutralized, at least in the United Kingdom, and a missile was headed towards The Doctor’s World Presidential plane from a Zygon assuming Clara Oswald’s form. I also mentioned, last time, that the plan of the Zygon radicals was worthy of HYDRA.
But perhaps “Hail Zygon!” was a little premature.
Take, for instance, what the Zygons did with Clara. They put her in a pod: her trapping her mind in a dreamscape to gather more information from her subconscious. And this is where the writers of “The Zygon Inversion” do something very … interesting. As it turns out, despite having a year to prepare and work itself into UNIT, the radical Zygon faction didn’t do their homework. They didn’t know about the events of “Last Christmas”: where Clara and The Doctor were held by dream crabs. Of course, that might not be entirely fair. I mean, they wouldn’t have had reason to know about “The Bells of Saint John” with the Great Intelligence or even “Asylum of the Daleks” and “The Name of The Doctor.” UNIT, assuming the faction even went as far as getting all of its information, didn’t even know about many of those events.
Clara has had her mind influenced before. It has been split across space and time. The Great Intelligence tried to synchronize it. And there have been many times she has been trapped somewhere: at the fringe between the damsel and refrigerator tropes. But “Last Christmas” in particular made Clara painfully aware of dreamscapes and the flaws within them. The Zygons did a shoddy job of making a dreamscape that was believable: a contrast to Steven Moffat and Peter Harness who use “the Gimmie” — the suspension of disbelief — to make us believe that she has a strong enough mind to resist and even influence the Zygon trying to access and steal her memories.
As unbelievable as it might sound, the way that Clara faces off against her Zygon counterpart Bonnie is nothing short of bad ass. Somehow Moffat, Harness, and Jenna Coleman make the character have this about face moment: leading you to realize just how screwed Bonnie — Clara’s Zygon duplicate — is going to be. Clara’s “schooling” of Bonnie is a hint of what Clara should have been from the very beginning.
But the epic element does not stop there.
You see, it’s really a combination of things. For instance, the show hits home exactly what the problem is with the Zygon radical faction. In my last recap, I likened them to HYDRA but I fear I might have grossly overestimated them. Oh, they shared HYDRA’s hubris, but their planning is only similar on a superficial level. The fact is: the radicals could have done a lot of damage in the longer term if they had been smart about it. They had about a year to prepare for an invasion without war. They are shapeshifters and are aware of what they are. Especially after one of the Osgoods died, they could have infiltrated UNIT across the world or — better yet — taken out the Zygon High Command first and dealt with UNIT later.
They could have appealed to the rest of their kind’s need to be more open, or to gain more resources through hit and run means. Meanwhile, they might have expanded their plan to use revealed Zygons — preferably “traitors” to their cause — as lightning rods to distract the humans and make a show of stopping them. Over time, they could have taken over places of human government and slowly improved human technology to make them more dependent on their innovation. And if they had taken UNIT in particular, it wouldn’t have taken much to place a bomb on, say, a World Presidential plane while its crew might have been … distracted by events.
The Zygon radical faction could have become the new Zygon High Command if they had been smarter: rallying the others of their kind by their example and using human civilization as its slave that they could monitor from within itself.
What happened instead was that Bonnie, as the leader of the radicals, wanted to make a statement. She wanted to reveal twenty million prepared and unprepared Zygons to seven billion humans right away. She didn’t care that those Zygons would most likely get slaughtered over time. Zygons are shapeshifters. Their greatest strength is hiding who they are until they have the advantage. Getting the Osgood Box would have only taken this advantage away by outing all of them.
The radicals are shown to be short-sighted and fueled by rage and a tremendous sense of self-entitlement. As The Doctor himself explains, they are more like rebellious children than anything else: rebels that are willing to destroy themselves and everyone else to be right rather than build anything lasting.
And this is where Peter Capaldi’s Doctor shines. He presents the radicals, through Bonnie, with a challenge. It seems as though The Moment affected him greatly as both humans and Zygons don’t merely have one box that could reveal or destroy them: but two. And it is almost a sick joke that both boxes have the radical motto on them: truth or consequences.
It is revealed that many threats to the Human-Zygon ceasefire have happened before. This is why The Doctor knows so much about Bonnie: because others had tried this before and he had erased their memories. But it goes further than that. He derails both Kate Lethbridge Stewart’s violence and Bonnie the Zygon’s fanaticism by showing them just how terrifying war is essentialized into two boxes with push buttons. He tells them about what real war is all about. And then he gives an excellent lesson to Bonnie. He teaches a shapeshifter that “thinking is a fancy way of changing your mind.” Of course. The Doctor himself is a much longer lived shapeshifter that did horrific things in the Time War so he would know all about it. The way he calls her out on the futility of revolutions and rebellion as a cycle and his own experiences in War made for a compelling and poignant moment in his own portrayal worthy of his other incarnations.
But even when you put Clara and The Doctor aside, there is Osgood to consider. When asked if she is either a Zygon or a human, Osgood basically says, “Yes.” She holds her own to The Doctor, still respecting him, but recognizing his strengths and flaws. And she stands by her convictions. Many fans believe Osgood to be the Companion that he should have had, but now it’s clear that she has her own destiny as an agency in her own right. And it’s not everyday that someone discovers they have a new sister after the loss of their other sibling.
I do think that Bonnie got off very lightly for what she and the others had done to human and Zygon lives. If this was a learning experience for her, it was a costly one. One can only hope that she will continue to improve herself as the next Osgood. She has great shoes to fill.
“The Zygon Inversion” took the concept of a Zygon infiltration, and a wasteful revolution of radicals and turned it into something else entirely: an examination of the futility of war and the working towards something greater. Almost every character in this story had their bad ass moment and even The Doctor’s manipulation of the situation — in an almost terrifying manner — hits home one fact that may not have always been clear in the last season. Because in those lines, and in those words there was The Doctor. There he is.
Let’s say we are still playing a game called Doctor Who. It’s to be expected that in a game between The Doctor, Missy, and Davros that the rules will change constantly, but imagine that both “The Magician’s Apprentice” and the more recent “Witch’s Familiar” share a one-word thesis statement.
What is that word?
Before we answer that, and realize why that is the correct answer, let’s look at what we might have gotten wrong. The conceit of “The Magician’s Apprentice” was that Davros was still in a nihilistic mood from “Journey’s End.” He already knew he was dying, there seemed to be nothing he could do about it, and it looked like it was going to be a case of “If I go down, I am taking you with me, along with my stupid, disobedient children.”
In retrospect, it might have also seemed clear that The Doctor symbolized the magician — who appeared out of nowhere on Skaro in the past to abandon a young Davros to Handmines — and that Davros was the apprentice to the ultimate sleight of hand and disappearing act of The Doctor. The act of abandonment and helplessness was changed by Davros into the creation of the ultimate survival of the strongest lifeforms that were fully dependable: on exterminating the hell out of you.
Some of this makes sense and you would totally be forgiven for coming to the conclusion that Steven Moffat attempted to lead us to: that Davros would force the magician of The Doctor to complete his disappearing act and help him go back in time to kill him as a child and destroy The Doctor’s own sense of compassion.
But there is something to be said about super-villains. The best super-villains are those with two qualities: complexity and, strangely enough, optimism. Most super-villains have a plan: even and especially when they are near defeat. It’s kind of like being a magician, or the apprentice to one. There is always something up your sleeve: which is even more incredible when you’re Davros and you only have one cybernetic arm left.
Now let’s bring Clara and Missy into the act. I know that a day or so before “The Witch’s Familiar” I remembered that Missy and Clara both have vortex manipulators. It explains a lot. So of course neither of them were dead. Right now I’m just going to say: if this episode will be remembered for anything aside from the compelling and uncomfortably poignant dialogue between The Doctor and Davros, it will be for the pure psychological torture porn situations in which Missy puts Clara.
This is literal. We start off the episode seeing Clara hanging upside down from a rope on a desolate tree while Missy is sharpening a long stick. Of course, Missy isn’t going to make it that easy. I will give you several guesses as to who the witch and who the familiar are in this dynamic. Clara doesn’t so much need Missy to help her rescue The Doctor so much as survive the horrors of the Dalek City itself. Missy explains the situation and lets Clara come to her own conclusions, but she doesn’t make it easy for her. But whereas The Doctor might have a tough love attitude with Clara at times, and still quite a lot of leeway, we are always reminded of that scene in “The Magician’s Apprentice” where Missy compares Clara to a pet.
Missy manipulates Clara. She threatens her in an almost playful manner. She comes up with plans and makes Clara do all of the dirty work. You can see Missy’s utter disdain, and amusement at hanging Clara from a tree, tossing her into the Dalek City Sewer, the psychological game of turning her back to a stake-wielding Clara only to remind her of her powerlessness and disarm her with ease, and then making her sit in Dalek armour after killing its original host, and always leaving Clara wondering if and when she is going to turn her over the Daleks.
This last act of Missy’s is especially terrifying when you remember “Asylum of the Daleks” where one aspect of Clara, Oswin, was turned into a Dalek. If this Clara has any of Oswin’s memories, you can imagine her reliving that lost life over and again.
Clara is even more of a plot device in this episode and somehow loses more agency than before under Missy’s seemingly arbitrary but ultimately meticulous cruelty. It almost makes up for The Doctor, yet again, trying to convince us that right now Clara is his “be all and end all”: and the most important person in the show.
So here we have a magician who is drawn into the act of his inadvertent apprentice, and a witch manipulating her familiar into her own scheme. These dynamics will overlap in final acts against The Doctor.
The backdrop is excellent as well. We are shown more about Dalek physiology and the differences between the Cybermen that interact with their systems through the repression of emotion, and the Daleks that express their power through anger and hatred. There has always been something poetic about how the Daleks speak and Moffat has Missy explain this in an extremely clever and disturbing manner. I mean, who knew “I love you” in the Dalek language meant something along the lines of “Exterminate exterminate.” But the Dalek Sewers are even more beautiful, in a horrific way. Daleks don’t consume enough to make a lot of waste. However, they have to put their dead somewhere. There is just one thing … Daleks are extremely hard to kill, and they do not die of old age. Imagine vast underground chambers where dying and rotting Daleks merge together into dark filth filled with pain, helplessness, and nothing but their own hate. It’s the literal foundation of Dalek society.
But then we travel above the Sewers and back to the top. You might find it kind of sad just how the interaction between The Doctor and Davros actually goes.
After The Doctor steals Davros’ chair — and you realize that Davros pretty much has no legs, or an arm and you get the lovely spectacle of seeing his metal spine sticking out of his torso — we get another “Genesis of The Daleks” moment where Davros tells The Doctor that he has been keeping himself alive through wires and tubes that connect him to all the Dalek race and entices him to destroy them.
And then we have the greatest feat of the episode. Whereas seeing the usually self-sanctimonious Clara humbled constantly is nice (there isn’t even a Shut Up Clara Mini-Game in this entire episode), Moffat actually manages to make us … feel sorry for Davros.
Oh it’s true. We know that Davros is most likely planning something, and he is, but you realize that everything he is saying to The Doctor is absolutely true from his perspective. Davros really did want to save his own race. He saved them by his own standards. He wanted to live so that he could further aid them in surviving and thriving. What is really touching in a weird kind of way is seeing the rapport between these age-old enemies: and Davros accepting his own mortality is reminiscent of The Face of Boe dying. It makes you want Davros to die this episode: for an entirely different reason. And look: it turns out he still has his eyes after all … and he’s crying.
But he probably stole those eyes from someone else because, what a surprise, he tricks The Doctor and tries to use his regeneration energy to make his Daleks more powerful: and keep himself alive. It is kind of a let down to be honest. Here we had a story that could have been quite poignant: with an antagonist that actually shows some humanity before he dies, or perhaps just wants The Doctor to give him a mercy kill.
I mean, it’s pretty horrible to be Davros when you think about it: the terrible will that drove him through all that pain and torment — by others and his own hand — to create a legacy that has tried to destroy him so many times. Or at the very least there was that hint of Davros getting his ultimate moral revenge.
But as I said before, super-villains have to be generally optimistic — read: ambitious — and Davros and his treachery makes sense for what he is.
Unfortunately, this isn’t the only heavy-handed villainous final act. After Missy actually rescues The Doctor — and hilariously pokes Davros in his one eye — she tries to trick The Doctor into killing Clara: who is still trapped in her Dalek armour and can only say “I’m a Dalek” and “exterminate.” Or so it seems.
And here is where things get interesting. Aside from the fact that Davros is, in The Doctor’s own words, “a moron” for not realizing that regeneration energy would affect the rotting Daleks in the Sewers — “The Sewers are revolting” being one of the best lines in this entire episode — Missy’s long and elaborate story about how she tried to save Clara from “the Dalek” would trip so many alarm bells in The Doctor’s mind that even the TARDIS crashing would be more subtle. Surely Missy understood that The Doctor knew she was more of a liar than he is and is far less trustworthy.
But here is where the game reaches its most important point. Remember the beginning of this article: how I asked you if you were going to find a one-word thesis statement for this two-part season’s opener, what would it be?
Daleks have a limited vocabulary. Aside from the Cult of Skaro, only one other Dalek said a word that was an anathema to its existence: such as when the Dalek in “Dalek” asked The Doctor for “pity.”
Clara, through her Dalek armour, asked for “mercy.”
And there it is. “Mercy.” How is that even possible for a Dalek to say without throwing up a little bit in its non-existent orifice of a mouth? But that word is the thesis of both “The Magician’s Apprentice” and “The Witch’s Familiar.” It is The Doctor’s greatest strength.
Cue in the timey-wimey. That’s right. It turns out Sexy didn’t die. TARDISes apparently have the ability to disperse into scattered molecules. So Sexy takes The Doctor back in time: back to where he abandoned a small child. He then destroys those mines with the gun he cobbled together and takes little lord Davros back home to, most likely, his fascist and warmongering family.
At the beginning of “The Witch’s Familiar,” Davros laments that all Daleks have a genetic defect of “respect” towards their creator. But it seems as though they have another “defect” as well. And now we know why.
Then consider Missy. Missy, after The Doctor realizes Clara is in that Dalek armour, reminds him that there are friends in enemies and vice-versa. Then she leaves. She must have known that the Daleks knew that word: mercy. She just made both The Doctor, and in particular Clara, work and suffer for it.
So there we go now. Davros and Missy are most likely still alive: and scheming. Clara becomes the plot device that resolves another episode yet again and inspires The Doctor to perhaps subliminally influence Davros into placing some compassion into the Daleks. We even get to see more tantalizing hints as to what The Doctor’s and Missy’s previous lives on Gallifrey might have been like while not spoiling the rest of their character development. And The Doctor continues to possess one power greater than Time Lord regeneration. One magic word.
Karn. The planet of Karn is the home to the Sisterhood of Karn. More recently, it was the site of the minisode “Night of the Doctor,” where we got to see the transformation of the Eighth Doctor into the War Doctor and the beginning of his entry into the Last Great Time War. However, Karn and The Doctor have an older shared history: from his time combating the renegade Time Lord Morbius as the Fourth Doctor and the introduction of the Sacred Flame and the Elixir of Life.
What is also interesting to note is that the Sisterhood of Karn are biologically Gallifreyan. In fact, not only do they possess the Elixir of Life that can at least temporarily restore life, but they create potions and processes that aid in helping a Time Lord regenerate. According to the New Adventures novel Cat’s Cradle: Time’s Crucible they are a remnant of the Pythia’s power: the original prophetic leader of an ancient matriarchal Gallifrey.
It could have been assumed, at least in how they were only portrayed in “Night of the Doctor” in the new Doctor Whos series, that Karn had perished with Gallifrey in the Time War but it also makes sense that they did not. The fact is, when The Doctor mentioned he had been the last of the Time Lords, he could have only been referring to Gallifrey and its ruling class. He never actually said he was the last of the Gallifreyans. Gallifreyans become Time Lords, but not all Gallifreyans are Time Lords and the Sisters of Karn are something else entirely: even if they are related in a biological sense.
Of course, this could be a moot point as due to the actions of The Doctor and all his past incarnations, Gallifrey was seemingly saved. Perhaps this could be applied to its erstwhile allies such as the Sisterhood of Karn as well. In any case, here in this Prologue we have an interesting situation.
Who is this person who has a history with The Doctor, and is attempting to use his servants to find him? Who is this “creature” that The Doctor owes nothing to? Well, it most likely isn’t Missy as Missy identifies with the female gender pronoun and the only minions she has are those she subverts or creates for twisted and zany purposes.
However, there might be another clue.
Who is The Doctor’s other arch-nemesis? Who has had, and still yet may retain, servants to seek him out? Who had a very long and storied association with him? Who could, at this point in his existence, be classified as “a creature?” And who is this person that he can identify with: someone who creates agents through circumstance almost as much as he has?
There had been leaks and rumours that Davros will be returning to Doctor Who. I mean, many believed that he had died before, so what is stopping him from coming back now. But there is more. One particular rumour states that The Doctor will be meeting Davros before his injuries, perhaps as a younger man … or a child. It always seems to return to that idea from “Genesis of The Daleks”: to that quandary of destroying an evil before it at least overtly becomes evil. And, as The Doctor proclaims in “The Prologue” sometimes “an enemy is a friend that you don’t know yet.”
I mean, if it is Davros he is pretty well beyond any form of redemption and some things are very much fixed points in time. Davros will create the Daleks. He will be one of The Doctor’s greatest and most ingenious enemies. But, then again, this might not be about Davros at all. This could be someone else entirely: someone we know or someone that we are about to meet.
As for the object The Doctor gave the Sister Ohila … who knows? Your guess is as good as mine. Doctor Who and its protagonist Mr. Cantankerous returns this September 19.
In terms of Doctor Who‘s “Last Christmas” episode, I’ll tell you later — I mean, it’s a long story.
Actually, the episode itself was very good. On the surface, you have The Doctor and Clara at the North Pole with a science team dealing with some creatures attached to people’s faces, and Santa Claus coming to the rescue. Of course, as with any Doctor Who episode of any kind, nothing is ever as it seems: especially if it is completely and utterly insane.
My introduction at the beginning of this recap is not a coincidence. The science team’s response to The Doctor of “It’s a long story” is very reminiscent of the line “I’ll tell you later” in Moffat’s Doctor Who and The Curse of Fatal Death. The dream crabs were interesting creatures, though I’m not sure how they coincidentally found all of those people scattered across space and time: a detail I might have missed or something put aside for the emotional impact of the entire story.
Think of the dream crabs as beings that feed off of your mind and give you pleasant dreams of safety or reality until you grow weaker from an ice cream headache at the right side of your skull as they drill into it and feed off of your existence until you die. They also create a scenario where if you die in this state they placed you in, you will die in reality: or, if you’d like: if you die in the game, then you die in real life.
The rest of the episode was combination of Miracle on 34th Street, Aliens, and some Inception and The Matrix for good measure. Everything is basically a dream. As for Santa Claus … think of it like this: the dream crabs have a collective consciousness that networks all of their victims together in order to feed off of them properly. Santa Claus and his elves are, at least at this time of year, a large portion of humanity’s collective unconsciousness attempting to help these victims resist the feeding and potentially wake up and therefore kill the creatures.
Think of Santa as something of a meme that exists in a considerable number of humans: even those that don’t believe in him. He is an ultimate archetype, and has a great sense of humour to boot. And as The Doctor, Clara and the others wake up from dream to dream there is an excellent festive, almost transcendent moment where they are on Santa’s sleigh after he rescues them from the entities in the final dream and you actually see a rare occurrence: the Twelfth Doctor actually driving dream-Santa’s sleigh and, dare I say it …
Actually looking happy.
It all flowed almost seamlessly together and even the ending where the Twelfth Doctor finds … Clara.
Well, it’s no secret that I am really disappointed with how Clara has been portrayed for this past while. But seeing her old and frail, realizing The Doctor left her for sixty-two years, and pulling apart a Christmas cracker with her much in the way that she did with his elderly Eleventh incarnation on Trenzalore … I actually felt sorry for her. It was artfully done, this parallel between “Last Christmas” and “The Time of The Doctor” and I’d heard rumours of this scene happening but seeing it was actually emotional: especially when Clara flat-out states that there were actually two men in her life that no one could actually match.
I even liked the dream scene with Danny and the realization that Danny — whether he was a dream or not — was very real. Poor Danny. I would have really liked to see more with him but I knew he wouldn’t be coming back. And for the first time we see Clara even apologizing to him for the lies. It’s like even she knew that he was just too good for her. No so much The Doctor, as he lied to her too, but there you go.
So … readers and Doctor Who viewers. Did you see the real end coming?
Did you know what I was going to happen to Clara Oswin Oswald?
I know I did. Or at least I wasn’t surprised. The fact of the matter is “Last Christmas” was self-referential, with some funny and terrifying moments, but also pretty clever and relatively put together. But when you look at how it ended, and what was teased — both Clara’s apparent end and the degrees of separation between The Doctor’s and Clara’s faces — and Santa coming back one more time …
Honestly, we’ve seen Moffat’s writing and his responses to the press before.
Just what did you think was going to happen?
Honestly: a teaser towards the episode of an episode and even some tear-jerking manipulation with a “too bad everyone, I am writing what I want at the end and Clara Oswin Oswald stays” at the finale. She even got to look at her face, at one point, in a tiny mirror.
It was some well-played trolling on Moffat’s part.
After we watched the episode, a friend of mine noted the Christmas tangerine on the snowy windowsill in the final scene of “Last Christmas.” He hoped this was all a dream. But here is where I think that tangerine is fascinating. You’ll notice that it is neither Clara nor The Doctor that sees it. It’s the audience. It’s us. Just as the dream crabs facilitated an interactive dream between its victims, between its members of its captive audience, so too — in a generally less grim and cynical way — does Doctor Who exist as a communal dream which we all participate in: some of us as long as sixty-three years. That tangerine — representing hope, the human imagination, the promise of Spring, and a Midwinter Night’s Dream — was well shown: well said.
And that being said, I don’t think I’m having any icy pains on the right side of my skull. I don’t think anyway.
I really wanted to like Clara Oswin Oswald. And I suspect that a lot of Doctor Who fans did, while others still do.
Between her introduction in “Asylum of the Daleks” as Oswin the brilliant and somewhat snarky Soufflé Girl and her assertive, plucky, and empathetic incarnation in “The Snowmen” as Clara Oswald — governess by day, bar maid by night — we had the makings of not only a mystery, but a fascinating character in her own right.
Imagine: a person that can simultaneously exist in different areas of space and time. She has no time machine, or special powers, or any other kind of anomaly. What’s more is that, starting with “Asylum” she is a genius in a grim science-fiction story while, in another time of “Snowmen” she is a woman seeking a troubled Doctor seemingly out of no other impulse but sheer curiosity: a force that inspires her to ascend into the clouds to find a blue box in a fairytale.
Then consider the premise that Clara exists in many other timelines and that even if they are all echoes of one person throughout time, they are nevertheless part of an individual’s entire existence. Just imagine what each iteration of Clara has gone through: how many skills, experiences, and lifetimes she gathered. It would stand to reason, after all, that she did something in space and time beyond waiting for The Doctor to show up so that she could be with him: you know, beyond the overall plot arc assigned to her.
Perhaps we might have gotten a character who was a combination of Oswin:
So what did we get instead? We initially got a hapless Mary Sue stalked by the Eleventh Doctor and a mentality divided between skirting around the issue of what a strange conundrum Clara Oswald is, and yet more unconsummated romantic tension between The Doctor and another Companion. Because, you know, we haven’t seen that before. And for all there are even hints that Clara gets greater access knowledge from her time interfaced with the Great Intelligence’s “Spoonhead” network she is mainly a human female extension of The Doctor’s sonic screwdriver.
But there was evidence that Clara, and her dynamic with The Doctor was still salvageable. Jenna Coleman and Matt Smith managed to show some chemistry, or at least evidence of a strong emotional bond between these two characters. Perhaps if The Doctor had spent less time trying to unravel her mystery and realized that she was just Clara Oswald, and was more important because of that thought alone, they could have moved on.
Instead we finally discover how Clara can exist in other times and still be human, a realization come to at The Doctor’s personal time-stream when she states, in some of the most poorly thought out words ever:
For me, though I didn’t want to admit it to myself at the time, that was the beginning of the end of my hopes for Clara Oswin Oswald. Unfortunately, it pretty much summed up everything she had been after her previous incarnation’s death in “The Snowmen.” She is just a character that revolved around The Doctor, just a part of him: a woman dependent on a male character’s existence as opposed to also standing up in her own right. And while it is true that Companions are judged by their relation to The Doctor in any season, this was a moment that could have been written a lot better had there been more character-development on Clara’s part.
And never mind the fact that this wasn’t even followed up on: that there wasn’t an episode or a minisode dealing with the fall-out of Clara realizing what happened to her and coming to terms with it, or even addressing the fact that The Doctor had an incarnation she never saw before that point. For that matter, we don’t really even get to see the consequences of what happens when she falls through, scatters in, and survives The Doctor’s time-stream. I mean, you would think there would be some psychological effects of some kind. These are issues that could have been dealt with or at least touched upon at the beginning of “The Day of The Doctor”: to actually show some flow and continuity instead of a jarring situation where the characters seem to have moved on and found themselves in a different situation.
But now I’m digressing into plot as opposed to what I really wanted to see: character-writing. Perhaps, in the end, these two elements are not that far removed from one another.
So between “Day of The Doctor” and “Time of The Doctor” we, again, get little show of continuity save in a “tell, but don’t show” situation. Matt Smith, before his departure, has said that he could have done another year of Doctor Who. And I can’t help but wonder if another year of the Eleventh Doctor with Clara Oswald — in which he wasn’t trying to figure out what she was — and where they both figure who they are — might have made something of a difference in their character dynamic. Or not.
And then we have the regeneration.
After The Doctor’s regeneration into Twelve, Clara can’t seem to get over the fact that he looks like an older man now. Remember: she just went through the Time Lord’s personal time-stream, met previous incarnations of him, saw him actually age on Trenzalore, and actually existed as different people with other experiences. The parallel was right there. Had there been some more organic character development, maybe Clara having always in some way been able to draw on the memories of her other selves — or echoes — or only been able to after “Name of The Doctor,” his transformation might have taken some getting used to, but she could have seen The Doctor she had always really known beyond appearances and mannerisms.
Unfortunately, again, in “Deep Breath” Madame Vastra seemed to all too correctly deduce that Clara pined for her lost young boyfriend.
Moffat might have you believe that this was never intended, and Peter Capaldi himself wanted to portray a character that wasn’t involved romantically with his Companion. But the groundwork had already been laid out. Between Clara’s previous “milady doth protest too much” claims that he wasn’t her boyfriend and The Doctor’s proclamations of “Clara, my Clara!” that romantic bond already existed. It was there: or at least portrayed as such by the actors. So this subtext was either retconned away, the Eleventh Doctor always thought of her as something of a fascinating object, or the Twelfth Doctor’s feelings had changed and this — again — wasn’t really explored.
In addition, I think the show writers began to realize that once they revealed the true nature of Clara’s existence and pretty much eliminated that mystique, they now had to do some actual character development beyond its suspension in the 50th Anniversary and Christmas Specials.
All right. So the dynamic changes. Moffat and his crew decide, at this point, to give Clara more of a life outside of The Doctor. They began it when they gave her a job as a schoolteacher in “Day of The Doctor”: which is a natural extension of her work with children as a nanny. And she even gets a love interest in the form of Danny Pink. None of these things negate her relationship with The Doctor either. She has her time-travelling interest in The Doctor and her romantic arrangement with Danny while also having her own career where she actually learns how to take responsibility for her own actions, and realize that her students depend on her.
But of course, because of all this, Clara suddenly develops a potent case of shallowness and insensitivity. When she isn’t taking pot-shots at Danny’s military past, or constantly brushing him off to go sailing into the stars, she never even bothered to tell The Doctor about Danny, or wondered if this might actually change something in their dynamic. She becomes abrasive and rude when she’s not being outright entitled or completely self-righteous about Danny calling her on her behaviour, or The Doctor not acting the way she wants him to act.
Because, you know, apparently it would taken too much time and effort to show Clara struggling between these relationships, thinking about others, and actually having some honesty occur: where she, Danny, and The Doctor actually talk about what is going on. Moffat could have worked with this tension and conflict. Remember “Kill the Moon” where Clara delivered what was probably hoped to be an epic verbal beat down on The Doctor’s behaviour complete with the threat of actual physical harm?
Remember how before that, when The Doctor left her to decide what happened to the creature in the moon and it just seemed as though, after all of Clara and the other characters’ arguing with him, that he just got fed up with it all?
They could have talked about that because, from what I saw, that conflict was partially due to the fact that Danny Pink was brought into their relationship without Clara really talking about it with The Doctor, or asking him how he felt about that. Instead, The Doctor is portrayed as genuinely not understanding why Clara is so upset: and not being affected by this one way or another. It just feels disingenuous: because there is what Moffat and his team want to happen, and then there are the places where the character dynamic wants to go, or at least adapt itself into going.
And that would have happened if we saw Clara and Danny actually befriending each other and get to know one another. I’m not saying that there wouldn’t be conflict, but a sense of chemistry instead of that forced feeling of Danny being added onto Clara so that we, the audience, would know that she is “over” The Doctor.
Then we have Clara’s lies and hypocrisy. She lies to Danny about who The Doctor is, then she lies to The Doctor about Danny supposedly being all right with their travelling after she tells Danny that they are done. And even though The Doctor is “a part of the Earth” and Clara seems to think she has the power to tell him to leave it, when he quotes her words right back at her “In The Forest of The Night,” apparently this doesn’t take away from the fact that she still thinks he should leave to save himself: because those words only seem to work when Clara wants them to do so.
But, for me, I think the death-knell came with “Dark Water.” You know the sequence: where, instead of asking for The Doctor’s help, she decides to betray him and force him to help her by threatening his age-old home to get a man back, whom apparently she is love with and “is the only person she will ever love” …
Steven Moffat has stated that, in this iteration of The Doctor’s and Clara’s relationship — as journeying with a time-traveller, that there should be actual consequences in doing so. Yet what consequences did Clara suffer as a result of her actions: especially in “Dark Water?” The Doctor kicked people out of his TARDIS for less than what she did in that episode. And barring that: The Doctor is Clara’s friend. She was there in all parts of his life. In fact, the only episode that I truly respected her in this iteration was “Listen” where she was there at both Danny and The Doctor’s very beginnings and provided them insight, inspiration, and strength while, in turn, she gained a whole other understanding of them. You know: character-development … or so it seemed at the time.
So why, realistically speaking, could Clara fall in love with a man she clearly doesn’t respect and then suddenly betray her best friend and threaten everything that made him who he is?
And even here, there was promise. We saw that Clara was part of Missy’s plan: that Missy had brought her and The Doctor together from the very beginning. Hell, we even saw that nice snippet from “Death in Heaven” where Clara tells a a Cyberman that “Clara Oswald doesn’t exist.”
But nothing happened with that, aside from it going to an extremely obnoxious and derpy place that doesn’t even convince a basic Cyberman.
It’s just like Moffat teasing that Orson Pink, the time traveller in “Listen” was just from a branch of the Pink family and not necessarily Danny and Clara’s descendant. Both have tension built up and both end with equally disappointing conclusions.
All of this is just downright frustrating to watch and I have to admit that while I was losing patience with Clara after “Kill the Moon” I lost all respect for the character after “Dark Water”: and the fact that she seemed to have learned nothing from her actions and that even after that she continued to bully The Doctor into other decisions.
Clara and her character dynamic has become more convoluted than any “Timey wimey, wibbly wobbly stuff” and I can sympathize with just why some Classic Doctor Who fans cannot stand the romance written into the program. In fact, I think it’s no coincidence that Steven Moffat, the very writer that created the “Timey wimey” idea of time-travel to explain away all temporal inconsistencies, would apply this same philosophy to character creation and relationships in his own run.
But, ironically, with time and patience we could have seen a very different Clara Oswald. As I said before, the ingredients were all there. The Doctor could have met her in more timelines. He might have tracked her down to 2013 where she was in a mental institution after being overwhelmed by all of her other memories. Perhaps he takes her out of there and, together, they explore how she can integrate those memories and just how this was all possible. Maybe The Doctor could have actually been Clara’s boyfriend because heaven forfend that he have a different relationship with a new Companion. Imagine how the rest of those events could have played out: with River Song wanting her husband to actually be happy and live on, and the impact of Clara saving The Doctor — again — by using her own sense of agency to jump into his time-stream without those very unfortunate words.
Or maybe Missy created Clara. I mean: just how did Missy know about Clara to begin with? Perhaps Victorian Clara died and Missy took her essence in the Nethersphere and used her hypnotic powers, which are canon, to re-engineer her into a new personality that would be The Doctor’s worst enemy. After all, Missy seemed to like violating the human dead for her ends. I mean, imagine The Doctor travels with Clara for all that time and even thinks he’s figured out how she existed in other times, only for her to betray him and claim that she had been Missy’s agent the entire time? It might have explained why the TARDIS was so dead set against her being there.
And just think of one sequence, modelled after the minisode “Clara and The TARDIS” where the TARDIS forces Clara to see all the echoes of herself: her past selves at different emotional points, her molten undead selves from “Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS” and even her iterations in other timelines to seemingly hurt her and protect her Doctor, but also to snap her out of that malignant, treacherous self and get her to accept those parts of herself, and take control of her own life.
Perhaps Clara dies to save The Doctor and every time he goes to another timeline or world he has to be reminded of the fact that he will never see her again. But if you don’t want to go all potentially Women in Refrigerators on this, maybe she just leaves after finishing her own A Game of You: discovering her own sense of identity separate from The Doctor and both her and him realizing that he is not the person she fell in love with any more and she has to move on.
At the very least, when she betrayed the Twelfth Doctor he should have helped her get Danny back while telling her that there was a price for her actions: namely, never being allowed to travel with him again.
When I first started thinking about all this, I thought that Clara Oswald shouldn’t have been the Twelfth Doctor’s Companion. If anything, she felt like more a part of Eleven’s life and could have fit into that dynamic a lot more efficiently. But after a conversation with a friend of mine, I saw that she was just a reflection of both incarnations of The Doctor. Eleven’s Clara represented all of his wonder and his need for her. Twelve’s Clara is all the former in addition to his angst, conflict, and uncertainty magnified a thousand-fold: the ephemeral breath on Virginia Woolf’s mirror instead of the refracted crystal of herself that she could have been.
I guess what I’m really trying to say here is that Clara Oswald’s main problem is the fact that she just isn’t written well. There were so many storytelling and character-driven possibilities that just weren’t even explored. The attempts to develop her character have been awkward and jarring to say the least and just thinking about some of her more lucid moments and what could have been just makes the experience all the more painful.
I will admit: when I heard that “Last Christmas” might be Clara’s last show, I felt a tremendous sense of relief: even as I feel some dread that due to rumours about Jenna Coleman wanting to return, she will be back. Despite some particularly touching moments, the character of Clara has gone from being a sonic screwdriver supplement to an attempt at a haphazard marionette portrayal of an actual human being.
It’s just sad. Clara started off with a lot of potential but it became clear that no one really knew what to do with her. Clara Oswin Oswald deserved much better than what she got, and I hope that Steven Moffat gives her at least the dignity of “Last Christmas” being her final adventure and letting us, and The Doctor, remember what could have been and finally move on.
Please, don’t read past this point if you haven’t seen this season’s finale of Doctor Who. It’d be something of an understatement to say that there will be spoilers.
I have to say that I think Missy, aside from this incarnation of The Doctor, has been my favourite character in this latest iteration so far. In fact, she is an excellent villain. Don’t misunderstand: I like the sinister, urbane, and hammy tones of Roger Delgado’s Master and the sheer bat-shit zany madness of John Simm’s Master but Michelle Gomez’s Missy manages to take those elements and make them understated and subtle with moments of vicious crazy as punctuation while conveying the Time Lady’s insanity in an overarching and truly horrifying scope.
I mean: what could be worse than decimating one-tenth of the human population and playing pop culture songs while making the survivors suffer in labour camps? Or duplicating one’s self to overwrite the DNA of an entire sentient species? How could anyone top that?
Well, try manipulating the fears of the rich and powerful into giving you their bodies, converting them into new forms of Cybermen, then going back in time and creating a concept of an afterlife (or manipulating existing ones) for an entire species so that you can store all of their consciousnesses onto a Gallifreyan hard-drive and then make a cloud substance — presumably composed of nano-technology — and resurrect all of that species’ dead as Cybermen.
And why? Why would you violate an entire species’ lives and even their deaths? Why would you manipulate your enemy into having a Companion that you can exploit as a weakness on a purely psychological level — to play on his compassion — kill some of his friends, and then turn over the army you made to him?
It’s very simple why Missy did all of that. She wanted to show The Doctor that they weren’t that dissimilar. She wanted his validation, his friendship, and even his love. This warped way of showing that love is to unleash as much pain on The Doctor as possible and even after Missy’s supposed “death” (and we have yet to see concrete evidence that she’s actually dead: meaning that given who she is, she probably isn’t) and that hearts-wrenching moment where The Doctor realizes she lied about Gallifrey being at those coordinates is all a part of that.
And I hope Missy isn’t dead because of the wasted opportunity that would be. After all, The Doctor did mention that she must have a TARDIS somewhere.
I like this character, this new incarnation of the being that used to be The Master, because she actually makes The Doctor more human again: bring him out of his cold and detached, even grumpy exterior and seeing him display the emotion of empathy more blatantly again. And the interplay of love, hate, and fear between them just really adds something to the show that has been lacking for a while.
I have to say: I’m still not very impressed with Clara. Her attempt to pretend to be The Doctor was rather underwhelming in itself: although it’s a nice teaser of The Doctor one day becoming a woman … as if Missy weren’t enough on her own for that. Seriously, I like the idea of Time Lords — or Gallifreyans — being able to change sex. There are just so many storytelling possibilities in that if handled right.
But that aside, Clara is just lacklustre and, if anything, it’s Danny’s transformation into a Cyberman that really hits home: and how he takes that and transforms what could have been a psychological mercy killing into something of salvation and personal redemption.
And, at the end, when you see The Brigadier … well, I would just love to see him become a Cyberman vigilante: protecting the Earth when The Doctor is away. After all, after saving his daughter and seemingly killing Missy, we never saw him self-destruct like the others. And oh man: he waited ages to shoot the being who was once The Master.
The episode almost ends much the way that Clara has been acting for most of this latter season: and The Doctor, arguably, has most of his life. Clara pretends that Danny has returned and The Doctor pretends that he found Gallifrey so that she can stay on Earth. To be honest: as a character I saw so much potential with, I was almost relieved that he didn’t want Clara to come with him. I think it’s time that this — whatever it is that Moffat has been trying to make — with Clara and The Doctor is over. Maybe he can actually go and search for Gallifrey now.
But I guess we’ll see what Santa Claus has to say about that. And so ends this recap of Doctor Who until Christmas. It’s been fun writing these up and I look forward to the next one. Travel well, fellow Whovians.