Wow. So that was quite a season.
On the plus side, I got almost everything I wanted. More callbacks to earlier seasons, including those that weren’t written by Steven Moffat? Check. The amazingness of Maisie Williams’ character? Peter Capaldi really being given a chance to shine? HUGE check. Clara’s exit? I think we’re checking that one twice. We’ll get into that in a second.
But first, I’ve got to give a shout-out to Peter Capaldi, who was friggin’ amazing this season. If anyone remained unsure whether Capaldi could embody the Doctor the way, say, David Tennant did, this season should have answered that question. I could never get into Matt Smith’s 11th Doctor. While there were some standout episodes (“Amy’s Choice”; “Vincent and the Doctor”), I just couldn’t connect with him the way I did with Tennant. But I think that had more to do with Moffat’s more fairy tale style of writing–following Russell T. Davies grimmer take–than Smith’s performance.
So I was a little concerned when Smith transitioned into Capaldi. But in the 12th Doctor’s era, Moffat’s direction has taken a darker tone, and I like it. But Moffat is, I think, kind of an optimist at heart, and so while individual stories might be dark, the ultimate trajectory will be more hopeful.
Which brings me to Clara’s departure.
Two weeks ago, I praised “Face the Raven” for doing what very few “Who” episodes have been bold enough to do: kill a companion. It was a brutal episode that left me inconsolable. It was also a fitting end to Clara’s character: the mortal woman who aspired to be the Doctor finally overplayed her hand. The callback to Danny Pink was so appropriate for her character, and you get it: Clara had never really stopped mourning Danny, and to hide from her pain she threw herself into her adventures with the Doctor with total recklessness. That recklessness ultimately gets her killed.
Last week’s episode, “Heaven Sent” was just a brilliant piece of television. Hands down. It will go down as one of the best episodes in “Who” history, of any season. Peter Capaldi did almost the whole episode solo, and you see his grief, his pain, his fury, his fear, all rolled up into this wibbly wobbly timey wimey Doctor-y ball.
And this week, in “Hell Bent,” we get to see how that all played out. The Doctor spent 4.5 billion years stuck in his own confession dial, for one reason and one reason only: to save Clara.
I’m not going to recap the episode–but if you’re curious, you can read about it here. I, personally, have mixed feelings about it. Moffat, ever the optimist, manages to (sort of) resurrect Clara. When last we see her, she’s traipsing the universe in a 1960s diner-shaped TARDIS, with Maisie Williams’ Ashildr/Me as her companion. She’s frozen in time, stuck in the moment right before her last heartbeat. (Amazing that she’s not a little bit pissed at Ashildr, since it was her harebrained plan that got Clara in that whole “death” mess to begin with.)
On an emotional level, it’s a pretty powerful episode. While the message is more hopeful than “Face the Raven” or “Heaven Sent,” Clara’s pseudo-death is not without consequences. Both the Doctor and Clara realize how bad they are for one another–the Doctor having nearly destroyed the universe to save her–and so in a callback to Donna Noble’s tragic departure, he resolves to erase her memory and deposit her back into her normal life. But in a twist, it’s the Doctor’s memory that gets erased, which makes those diner scenes all that much more terrible: he knows he’s missing something, but not what. And for once, it’s not the Doctor being left behind with just the memories.
But Clara will live, in this frozen state, having resolved to go back to Gallifrey to return to her death “the long way around.” I’m not sure whether it’s a cop-out or not, on Moffat’s part–maybe a little, but not entirely. The loss was still there, if not as profoundly as before. That’s not the main problem I had with the episode.
This episode was like a sweater (or a jumper, if we’re being British about it) with a piece of yarn hanging off of it. Once you start pulling on that yarn, the whole thing falls apart.
Writing wise, story wise, the episode crumbles. Clara gets her happy ending, but at what cost? Will the universe ultimately start destroying itself because she isn’t really dead? Does that mean she can come back? (Please don’t, Moffat. Let’s not cheapen this departure by bringing her back dozens of times, one of my pet peeves of the Davies era.) And now that the Doctor has ousted the president of Gallifrey, who takes over? And what happened to the hybrid? If the Doctor/Clara combo really was the hybrid, as was implied, doesn’t that mean that Clara’s newfound adventures will cost billions of lives? Is the show just going to ignore this??? And was Ashildr brought onto the show just to be faux-Doctor Clara’s companion? Would the Doctor’s fledging memories of Clara–he got a picture, after all–be enough to cause that universe-destroying rift?
And finally…the Doctor has lost companions before. Many of them. We even get a callback in this episode to Amy and Rory. He wouldn’t destroy the universe for Rose Tyler. He wouldn’t create final paradox for Amy Pond. So not only would he destroy the universe for Clara, he’d do something completely antithetical to his persona–pick up a gun and shoot someone.
But maybe that’s just the conceit of “Doctor Who.” Each companion becomes the most important being in the Doctor’s universe…for a time. But the companion changes, and the Doctor endures, which is why he is so lonely. Maybe in forgetting Clara, he got the good side of the deal after all.
But…I guess I can’t complain too much. This series gave us some amazing episodes. Besides “Heaven Sent,” which should immediately be propelled into the legendary category, we had “The Girl Who Died”/”The Woman Who Lived.” And then of course, “The Zygon Invasion”/”The Zygon Inversion,” which gave us the Capaldi monologue which, for better or worse, has never looked more profound than in recent weeks.
It was a pretty amazing season overall, with an amazing actor playing the Doctor. And we get River Song back for Christmas. Who could ask for more?
*Moffat, if you ever manage to get Coleman back, even if just for a short (especially just for a short), please, please, please show her having sexytimes with Jane Austen.
*Funny that two of the series (and the show’s) best episodes came after one of the show’s all-time worst: “Sleep No More” sucked. Big time.
*The sonic screwdriver is back!
*I wish we had seen more Missy, and I hope she’s back next season. She basically walked away with the first two episodes of the season, so much so that I worried that the Doctor/Clara combo alone just wouldn’t be interesting enough anymore. That was for about two seconds. Capaldi and Coleman nailed it this year.
*I’m glad that this season was Capaldi’s season, but I feel like a lot of Clara’s arc was neglected instead. Whatever happened to Orson Pink? Did that change because of Danny’s death? And the connection between Danny’s death and Clara’s recklessness was never explicit enough for me.
*Peter Capaldi has come to rival David Tennant as my all-time favorite Doctor. Just…wow.