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Read full article here.
[Warning: Possible spoilers ahead for this episode and any episodes preceding it]
My first Doctor and companion (before going back and catching up on every episode since the show’s 2005 rebirth) were Matt Smith’s 11 and Karen Gillan’s Amy Pond, so for the approaching transition to Clara being the new companion, I expected and planned for a difficult adjustment period. Trouble is, here the season has ended and I continue to have mixed feelings about Clara and the show’s storyline itself (since Amy and Rory’s departure). Which is a really strange reaction to have towards Doctor Who, particularly the Steven Moffat era, of which I am generally a strong proponent for.
I’m not even clear if Clara herself is the problem, (Jenna-Louise Coleman, who plays her, is certainly spunky and keeps up well with the fast dialogue) but she is the major component that’s changed, and her dynamic with the Doctor has never fully solidified. Having it start out as flirtatious during her second appearance on the show in the Christmas Special didn’t help. All I could think of was the Doctor’s married now. This should not be happening. Even if his marriage, to the always marvelous River Song, never really sat right,* there was still no excuse for his starting to make eyes at the new girl, whether in jest or not.
* How could it, when his motivation for suddenly (quickly) tying the knot wasn’t fully motivated by feelings of love but saving the world (season six’s “The Wedding of River Song”)?
This is where concretely knowing River had died, her and the Doctor’s timelines officially done crossing, would have come in handy, to make me less irritated by behavior I saw as on the brink of the Doctor cheating on her. River clears the air, though, with her return and final visit with the Doctor, a meeting marked as their last by her retelling of the events of season four’s “Forest of the Dead.” While I hate to know Alex Kingston probably won’t be coming back again soon (or ever), having there be an end (even one masked as an “I’ll be seeing you again soon” to avoid acknowledging the finality of the moment) made me really want to go back and rewatch all of her episodes, which I believe means that her last scenes were quite effective.
Nonetheless, this clarification of the Doctor’s actions was held back for too long, and stands as one of the reasons why I believe this finale would have better fit as Clara’s second episode (as companion), so I didn’t have to have that reason for dislike sabotage my opinion of Clara’s relationship with the Doctor all season.
Another reason I have for this episode not being finale material, but better suited for airing earlier in the season, is the sudden producing of an explanation for Clara, “the impossible girl” at its end. This didn’t feel like a conclusion but the story finally being allowed to start. Finally one could move on from this mystery and get the real season started. But that wasn’t the reality of the situation. After having viewers hold their breath not knowing how Clara was reappearing (in slightly different forms) throughout the season, despite dying multiple times, the truth was kind of anti-climatic (she sacrified herself to prevent the Great Intelligence**, from reversing all of the Doctor’s good deeds by sending out copies of herself to every place and time the Doctor has ever been to save him from these direct attacks, the real Clara dying in the process).
I feared events might be lackluster after seeing the penultimate, Cybermen episode, “Nightmare in Silver.” While actually was one of the best episodes of the season [see SIDENOTE for the real best], it didn’t provide a strong lead-in to what the finale would be about***. There was no heavy inclination of what was going to happen next, no big battle or enemy confrontation which the course of the season had built-up to, no investment in solving the puzzle of who Clara was. No tension, no anything.
Only the previews offered up the news of the episode’s location being Trenzalore, the final resting spot of the Doctor. A great set, both in name, look, significance, and background story, I only wish there had been more time to focus on the magnitude of the Doctor visiting his own grave. The attention on Clara stole the thunder and attention away from his being there.
** I know the Great Intelligence is a villain carried over from classic Who but haven’t quite comprehended who he is yet, which could account for his defeat meaning little to me.
***Actually, “Nightmare in Silver” had a clever lead-in from the conclusion of its preceding episode, “The Crimson Horror.” The two children Clara babysat found out about her time traveling and blackmailed her to take them with her on one of her adventures, under the threat of telling their parents if she didn’t. Why couldn’t something as simple but entertaining as that have been placed at the end of “Nightmare in Silver” to set-up the finale?
Once it did become clear Clara was going to sacrifice herself, I admit I was set to have this be her last episode. It gave her existence a purpose, left her as a likable character (who wasn’t given enough time or didn’t have enough time utilized on her behalf to make viewers attached to her), and allowed for the show to move on, to try the old style again of having a companion only stick around for one season. I was content. Then the Doctor had to declare his intention to safe her and what would have been a more quiet finale but a creative standalone episode ended with a confusing and unnecessary rescue effort.
Turns out Clara was not dead (evidenced by the subtle detail of River still being around, her mental connection with Clara from the conference call earlier in the episode allowing her, or the ghost of herself, to remain at the tomb) but albeit that after saying multiple times how going into his own time line would create a huge paradox, the Doctor does it anyway. Why?!?
And then there’s the last second introduction of John Hurt as the Doctor, another character we have no clue about only minutes post-gaining resolution on the other character we couldn’t understand (Clara). If this had been episode two, then that secret breaking shadow person might have acted as a season initiative, but to be tagged onto the finale made not for an intriguing mystery but confusion. I know the show wants to create this intense 50th anniversary special in November, and John Hurt probably has a major role in those antics, but it just didn’t feel right, or at least was too much to be added onto an already complex episode which will not have any resolution for months.
Props to Mark Gattis for penning the two best episodes of the season, “Cold War” (with the first appearance of the Ice Warriors in Doctor Who since 1974) and “The Crimson Horror”).
For “Cold War,” the great historical backdrop of the trigger-close standoff between the US and USSR in the eighties greatly reflected the predicament the Doctor and Clara found themselves in, stuck on a sinking submarine with an explosion on the precipice of detonating and destroying the planet. The episode also included a military-minded alien, which I have found in the past to always be a good fit on Doctor Who, from the Sontorans to the Judoon.
The “Crimson Horror,” to its credit, included some great guest turns from real life mother and daughter actresses Diana Rigg and Rachael Stirling, as well as the return of Jenny, Strax and Madame Vastra. Having grown fond of this character trio, since their less celebrated random introduction in season six’s “A Good Man Goes to War,” as being friends of the Doctor who we had never seen or heard of before, I have since grown to view them as more fun companions than Clara. Occasionally popping up this season, each had their own unique individual personality, as well as a comedic team rapport, and as our knowledge about them expanded, so did my positive reception of them. Contrarily, Clara has yet to stick with an initial personality so such gathering of details about her has been impossible.
Other highlights in this episode: the Doctor’s flattering bowler hat, and the great scene filmed to mimic the old fashioned, black and white, grainy film shorts of old, making for a nice, whimsical change of pace.
Are you happy that it seems Clara’s going to remain as the Doctor’s companion? What about River? Will she ever return, in the style of previous Doctor love interest, Rose Tyler, who somehow always finds a way back on the show despite living on a parallel universe that’s supposed to prevent her from doing so? Jot down your theories in the comments below.
–Doctor Who screencaps from here