So, so very much to talk about this week. Doctor Who aired its season finale this week, though to be fair the Christmas special still has to air in 3 weeks so this wasn’t quite our last dose of Who for the year. After a stellar year for the show, save for one episode, the finale ended the year with a bang! To fit in everything they even expanded to a ninety minute run time this week.
Starting off in Nevada, with no explanation, Steven Moffat framed this week with a return to a familiar spot, the diner from season six, the one that kicked off “The Impossible Astronaut,” the first appearance by The Silence, a truly pivotal point for the show. Somehow Clara is a waitress in this diner but doesn’t call herself Clara and one of the shows best twists ever is set up from the start, but that comes later … or is it sooner? Time travel is tough.
This was one of those episodes that very little happens while everything happens all depending on your perspective. The Doctor, finding himself back on his home planet of Gallifrey, goes back to where it all started, the barn we saw in “The Day of the Doctor” as well as “Listen.” The Doctor’s childhood home, and waiting for him is … his mother? We never really get a straight answer as to who the woman is but she knows his face immediately and seems to care for him a great deal. It’s soon after this we learn two things: The Lord President of Gallifrey has it out for The Doctor, and that The Doctor is seen by his people as a war hero, or The War hero, the man who won the Time War singlehandedly and saved them all without using a weapon. After so many years of Time War talk it was nice to see his people giving him his due and taking his side over the Lord President’s, who is promptly banished from the planet.
We also find out Gallifrey is out of its time sphere and hiding at the end of the universe (a sly Hitchhiker’s Guide reference?). This status change could mean Time Lords will be back in the mix for future seasons. So many wonderful status changes and nods to past episodes this week. Moffat managed to give us a season of two-parters and single episodes with no clear discernible through line, yet somehow make everything tie together and feel cumulative.
One thing that felt a bit rushed was Clara’s death, and we saw why now. The Doctor uses an extraction chamber to pull Clara out from between her final heartbeats, and though he says it’s to ask her for information we all knew he was going to try and save her one last time. After running from the Time Lords into the Cloisters, as they describe it, Time Lord Hell, Clara and The Doctor get quick run-ins with fan favorite villains. A disturbing suicidal Dalek, a Cyberman, even some Weeping Angels all provide some quick scares for an episode which is otherwise very light on action. From there though, Clara and The Doctor both get to shine bright. First, Clara has a great moment in a very Doctor like way, distracting the Time Lords while The Doctor goes and does what he does best … stealing a TARDIS and running. A TARDIS with a working chameleon circuit, we get a modern version of the first Doctor’s ship! Such a great moment of fan service that makes total sense in the story.
Even more fan service comes when The Doctor and Clara run to the last moment of the universe to hide and four knocks come to the door of the TARDIS. Famously, four knocks were the death knell of David Tennant’s Doctor but there have been other meanings behind them over the years but always ominous. Here it’s Me or Ashildr, still alive after billions of years and waiting for The Doctor. Her role to play finally becomes clear and people’s guess that she would be a companion is fulfilled in a wonderful way. But first the handling of the hybrid. The hybrid has been dropped throughout this year, and even at the end the answer is sort of multiple choice. Is it the half human Doctor? Is it Ashildr? Or as she suggests is it two people, the combination of The Doctor and Clara that will bring ruin to the universe?
This gave us clarity finally about Clara’s role in his life. Missy orchestrated the whole thing so of course the outcome would be chaos. The Doctor realizes he’s gone too far, broken his own rules, willing to stop at no end for Clara. He lived and died over four and a half billion years for this woman. Not a healthy relationship, for them or the universe.
Then we got one of the best goodbyes for any companion in the series. Clara has finally become The Doctor’s equal. She’s brave, clever, and confident to a fault. How fitting that she uses his own Sonic Shades to reverse the polarity on a memory eraser, one that will leave the memories but remove one of them from the other mind. How fitting as well that The Doctor and she take their chances on who will get wiped away. But how surprising that for once The Doctor gets the sad fate, to know he had a great friend but never remembering her name, her face, or even her laugh. Donna Noble’s fate has become his and I can’t believe this wasn’t intentional.
This all makes it so much sadder when we return to the diner scene that frames this episode and realize while we thought it was him checking in on her, she is really watching over him. The scenes between them in the diner are sweet and sadly beautiful. Plus if that wasn’t enough to tug our heart strings, we find out the diner is the stolen TARDIS and Ashildr and Clara are flying off in it. Clara is virtually immortal and free to adventure, she finally became just like The Doctor, except she has an immortal companion. The idea that those two are bouncing around time having fun is a great way to send off Jenna Coleman’s run as Clara. After such a convincing fake out with her initial death, Moffat gave us the send off we wanted without knowing it. How perfect that the art mural of her on the TARDIS dissolves away as The Doctor leaves.
Some other fantastic beats this week included the idea of Clara going the long way around to her fate, mirroring The Doctor’s trip to Gallifrey, Capaldi’s guitar playing was lovely and haunting. The idea that memories become stories when we forget them was poignant for this week. Oh, and as I have said all season, Moffat has been screwing with fans this whole time as one of the final things they do is have the TARDIS generate a new Sonic Screwdriver! Obviously Moffat knew this was coming for a while but I bet he relished the fanboy’s anguish and online petitions in the meantime.
One of the best seasons for the show and an amazing finale, Doctor Who had top-notch writing this year. Even leaving that one last message on a chalkboard from Clara for us fans as much as for The Doctor, “Run you clever boy and be a Doctor!” With those words and a new Sonic in hand, the show closed the book on one chapter while leaving us earnestly awaiting next season!