Defending The Krotons

If you ask Fraser Hines which of his stories he likes the least, he will say “The Krotons” (or “The Croutons,” as he likes to call it).  In the most recent Doctor Who Magazine poll, “The Krotons” ranked 207th out of the then 241 episodes, just above “Daleks in Manhattan.”  When I first saw “The Krotons,” however, I knew nothing about fandom’s (or Fraser Hines’) opinion of it. The episode that I watched was enjoyable and entertaining.  That’s why, even though it’s not perfect, I’ve decided to focus on the postives of the story.  Hopefully, I will inspire someone to reevaluate this underappreciated story.

Krotons

You have to admit they look cool from this angle…

I don’t understand the dislike of “The Krotons.”  Sometimes I wonder if part of the problem is that it is the first story written by Robert Holmes. Holmes went on to write some of Who‘s best stories; in the aforementioned Doctor Who Magazine poll, he has three stories in the top ten.  Perhaps that leads to higher expectations for “The Krotons?”  And, okay, maybe the design of the Krotons themselves is a bit of a let down.  True you can see the actors’ feet shuffling inside the costume when the Kroton has to walk, but its top half looks pretty cool.  While their arms seem rather useless, those spinning heads are quite something…

Basically, I find a lot to appreciate and enjoy in this story. One aspect that struck a chord with me was its emphasis on education.  Control of what the Gonds learned allowed the Krotons to control the entire population of Gonds on the planet.  While their goal was to create two more “high brains” so that they could pilot their ship and leave the planet, they didn’t want the Gonds getting too clever and thinking for themselves. The teaching machines presumably just taught the Gonds what they should know and didn’t encourage any curiosity or creativity (which seems as if it would be necessary in a high brain, so maybe that’s why the Krotons were still stuck after all those years). They were selective about what they taught the Gonds, in case any Gonds ever overcame their obedience conditioning and started breaking the laws the Krotons had given them.  The Krotons presumably taught them subjects such as mathematics and science, but omitted the areas that the Gonds could use against them, such as the study of chemistry.  This way they ensured that the Gonds would not have the necessary knowledge to defeat them if they ever tried to rise up against them. Control the education system and you can control the people.

While the focus on education is unique, the idea of the Doctor arriving on a planet to find one group dominating another is not.  While the previous story, “The Invasion” was a preview of the type of story to come, “The Krotons” is a new version of a classic format.  The second Doctor was in a similar situation (“The Macra Terror”) early in his tenure, but this plot is much more strongly associated with the Hartnell era.  The first Doctor has many stories in which the Doctor and his companions end up helping a group of rebels overthrow an oppressor (“The Space Museum,” “The Web Planet,” “The Savages”…). I didn’t feel that the second Doctor really fit into the format of “The Invasion,” but he is a perfect fit for the structure of “The Krotons.”

The first Doctor often begrudgingly helped others and was more of an authority figure. In his stories, circumstance or his companions generally push the Doctor into helping the rebels, or he ends up arguing with those in authority, trying to assert his own. While the situation is not unique, the completely different personality of the second Doctor makes a familiar format seem fresh. Unlike the first Doctor, the second Doctor actively wants to help people, but rarely wants to seem to be an authority figure.  Therefore, when the Doctor arrives on the scene, he doesn’t immediately take over; of course, that’s not to say that he doesn’t assert some influence over the Gonds. Remember, I said that the second Doctor doesn’t like to be seen as an authority figure; he still feels that he has to step in to deal with matters that others aren’t equipped to handle. In this case, he tries to show the Gonds that there is more to life than what the Krotons have taught them and to stop any further unnecessary deaths.  Continuing the theme of education, however, he acts more as a teacher, opening their eyes to new ideas and showing them that they can choose a different way of life.

Doctor, Jamie, Zoe-Krotons

The Doctor, Zoe, and Jamie arrive on a strange planet…and the Doctor remembers his umbrella because twin suns can make a place quite hot.

The final episode demonstrates the point at which the Doctor becomes “hands off.”  Throughout the preceding episodes, we have witnessed a power struggle between Selris, the older council leader, and Eelek, a younger man who clearly hopes to use the situation to seize power.  Selris sacrifices himself in the final episode, defying the Krotons to give the Doctor the sulfuric acid he needs, leaving the position of leader open.  Previously, the people have been following Eelek, but Selris’ son is clearly the better (and rightful) leader.  The Doctor, however, slips away before this conflict is resolved and offers no suggestion as to how this conflict should be resolved. He has helped the Gonds free themselves of their Kroton overloads, but he has no interest in sticking around to help them set up a society without the laws of the Krotons.  He has reason to believe that they are on the correct path, however. The Gonds figured out how to use sulfuric acid to dissolve the Krotons’ ship, showing that they are learning how to problem solve and think for themselves.  The ending is optimistic, even if we don’t see the ultimate resolution. The Gonds are free to learn, which will help them handle whatever problems may emerge.

This brings me to something else I like about this story: its use of science.  Unlike “The Invasion” in which all problems were handled with missiles, bombs, and guns, the Krotons are defeated with science.  The Doctor figures out that they are made of a crystalline substance which sulfuric acid dissolves.  Therefore, the Gonds and the Doctor use sulfuric acid to destroy the Krotons and their ships.  It’s quite satisfying to watch the Doctor outsmart the Krotons, who obviously have a high opinion of their own intelligence.

Another aspect of the story that Holmes gets right is that he makes good use of all the regular cast members.  Even though the Doctor and Zoe are more in the fore for this story, Holmes does a good job of finding ways to keep Jamie involved in the action.  For instance, when the Krotons are hunting down the Doctor and Zoe, much of the suspense comes from Jamie watching helplessly as the Krotons close in on his friends.

Holmes also manages to be true to the characters as we’ve seen them up to this point.    We see Jamie as impulsive, but he’s brave and loyal and has a lot of heart.  He never thinks twice about his own safety; his only concern is making sure that his friends are okay.   Holmes emphasizes Zoe’s intelligence throughout, but we also see her cleverness and her bravery. And as for the Doctor, well, I’ve already discussed his characterization so I won’t repeat myself here.

Perhaps my favorite parts of the story are the interactions between the Doctor and Zoe. I don’t feel like most writers knew what to do with Zoe.  Her characterization in the series is a bit inconsistent; one minute she’s taking down the Karkus and out thinking computers, the next she’s hysterical and screaming.  Holmes’ Zoe, however, is my favorite, and I love the relationship he creates between her and the Doctor.  They are both so intelligent that the Doctor doesn’t even always need to explain his plan to Zoe; she just picks up on it and plays along, as she does in the final episode. Instead of the Doctor putting her down for her intelligence (as he, unfortunately, has done in the past), there is a good-natured competition between them.  Wendy Padbury and Patrick Troughton play the scene with the teaching machines perfectly, with Zoe not being able to resist trying the machine to show off her intelligence, the Doctor getting nervous and making mistakes when taking the test, and finally Zoe needing to point out that the Doctor only scored higher than she did because he answered more questions.  The two have rarely had the opportunity for a double act, and this story shows how good their chemistry could be.

On a more random note, this episode also introduces the H.A.D.S. or hostile action displacement system, which has popped up again from time to time in the new series, most recently in “The Magician’s Apprentice/The Witch’s Familiar.”  As an extra bonus, Patrick Troughton uses the phrase “oh my giddy aunt” in the third episode, so what more could you want?

Kroton Teaching Machine

The Doctor uses the Krotons’ teaching machine, while Zoe despairs of him getting the answers right.

While “The Krotons” is not Robert Holmes’ best story, it’s much better than its reputation.  It’s a great fit for the Doctor and both of his companions.  I actually enjoy it more than the previous, much more highly regarded story, “The Invasion.”  The second Doctor is best when he’s playing the fool, not working with a military organization. I was quite surprised at Frazer Hines’ dislike of this story, since I think it’s a pretty good story for Jamie overall.  Perhaps one of the reasons that Frazer Hines doesn’t like this story is because the Krotons regularly insult Jamie’s intelligence.  They refer to him as a “low brain” while the Doctor and Zoe are “high brains.”  I’m actually not sure that there’s another story where Jamie is so regularly insulted.  Alternatively, maybe it really is just because of the rather unfortunately designed bottom half of the Krotons…

 

Cybermen in London: The Invasion

Following on the heels of the wildly inventive “The Mind Robber,” “The Invasion” is a more typical Doctor Who story.  It is the fifth appearance of the Cybermen on the show and shares some similarities with their previous stories.  Despite its familiar feel to the modern viewer, however, it was in many ways a departure from the stories up to this point.  It features the first appearance of U.N.I.T. headed by Brigadier Lethbridge Stewart, who would become an integral part of the show the next season.  It builds on what was started in “The Web of Fear” and becomes the first real attempt at what would become the format for much of the Pertwee era.  While I can’t say that they nailed the format out of the gate, the episode is still enjoyable.

Cybermen St. Paul's

The iconic image of the Cybermen

Much of what works in this story is familiar.  Several ideas are “borrowed” from the best Cyberman story, “The Tomb of the Cybermen.” I am a fan of the 60’s Cybermen, but I feel that they work best as an antagonist when the story uses them sparingly.  In this era in particular, they are often difficult to understand, so the less dialogue they have, the better. For this to work, the story needs another antagonist who is working with the Cybermen.  Just as “Tomb of the Cybermen” had Eric Klieg, “The Invasion” has Tobias Vaughn.

Much like Klieg, who was trying to awaken the Cybermen to help his Brotherhood of Logicians seize power, Tobias Vaughn wants to use the Cybermen for his own purposes: world domination.  Similarly, Vaughn both Vaughn and Klieg believed that they could manipulate and use the Cybermen.

Vaughn is already a successful man; he is the head of International Electromatics, a company that has a monopoly on the electronics business. What he wants, though, is to rule the world, and he thinks the Cybermen are the tools he needs to do so. The megalomaniacal Vaughn is reminiscent of the James Bond villains of the time; it might have been interesting to see him facing off against the James Bond of Doctors, the third Doctor.  Still, he’s a fun villain to have, regardless of which Doctor he encounters.

Vaughn colludes with the Cybermen, using his electronics to help them invade the earth. Of course, since Vaughn is a power-hungry egomaniac, he has no plans to obey the Cybermen once they successfully invade. Therefore, he is simultaneously kidnapping scientists and forcing them to come up with a way for him to subjugate or destroy the Cybermen.

His role throughout most of the story is to bark orders at the Cyber Controller and his evil henchman, Packer (because every megalomaniacal villain needs a henchman he can order about and yell at when things go wrong).  Rather than a flamboyant James Bond henchman, Packer is pretty much your basic, sensibly attired henchman, trying his best to satisfy Vaughn.   Vaughn is the star of the show here, and Kevin Stoney knows that.  He embraces the over-the-top villain and gives a memorable performance, if not a nuanced one.  Vaughn always thinks that he is the smartest man in the room and expects everyone to obey his orders.  Therefore, Vaughn basically displays two emotions throughout the story: smug condescension and rage.  Despite this, he remains one of the more unforgettable human antagonists the Doctor has ever faced.

Vaughn and Packer

Vaughn in one of his condescending moments, with Packer.

The other notable new characters in this story are Professor Watkins and his niece, Isobel.  They are clearly fulfilling the role of Professor Travers and his daughter Ann from “The Web of Fear” (they are even living in the same house).  Professor Watkins is just there to develop his machine, and is less memorable than Jack Watlings’ Professor Travers.  Isobel receives more development and drives the story a bit more.  Isobel is very much the image of the perfect 60’s girl: former model, fashion conscious, fun-loving, and slightly feminist.  I say slightly because she speaks about feminism, but it seems to be more lip service than actual belief.  True, she takes the Brigadier to task for being anti-feminist when he tells her that his men will go take the photo that she wants to take, but her going down to the sewers to get pictures feels more like a little girl in a fit of pique then a woman doing her job.  Unlike Ann Travers, who actually was the equal to the men in terms of scientific knowledge, Isobel feels more frivolous. However, this frivolousness is key to understanding her real narrative purpose, which emerges in her interactions with Zoe (which I’ll get to in a moment).

The story is a good showcase for the new characters introduced.  U.N.I.T. has plenty of screen-time and, indeed, controls most of the action.  Even at this early stage, the personality of the Brigadier comes through; he’s an excellent leader who remains practical and unflappable, even in extraordinary circumstances. Even before the Doctor arrives, U.N.I.T. has targeted the right person and is on their way to uncovering the truth.

The problem with this story is that this new format does not fit the regulars particularly well.  Part of this is because both Wendy Padbury and Frazer Hines got their vacations during this story, so both Zoe and Jamie disappear for an episode.  In particular, Jamie has little to do but go along into some dangerous situations.  Even after just watching it, I’m hard pressed to say exactly what Jamie did.

Zoe, however, fares better.  The first time I saw this story, I wondered why she was so silly in the beginning: posing for pictures, running around in that feather boa…  Once I had seen “The Wheel in Space” though, her behavior here made sense.  Zoe’s journey is to learn how to feel things and have fun; she wants to be more than just a human computer.  Perhaps because Derrick Sherwin was the script editor, he was the only writer to actually make use of that journey in a story.  Isobel is probably the first “regular” girl with whom Zoe has ever spent time. Therefore, it makes sense that she would enjoy some time to be silly.  Additionally, she is spending most of her time with two men, so it might be nice for her to have a bit of “girl time.”    

Zoe and Isobel

Zoe and Isobel laugh maniacally after Zoe destroys the computer

Zoe’s portrayal is not all silliness, however.  She also shows off her incredible logical, mathematical brain.  She is able to outsmart a computer, and her biggest moment comes at the end of episode 7.  When the roomful of men at the military base are not sure how to take out all the Cybermen’s transport ships, Zoe steps up.  To the Brigadier’s credit, he tells the men to listen to this young girl.  She does the complex calculations in her head in minutes and figures out how to launch the missiles so that they will take out all of the ships.

While Zoe manages to find a role in this story, the Doctor does not fit comfortably into this story.  As you will know if you’ve read anything else I’ve written about the Troughton era, I love Patrick Troughton; I think he manages to make just about any moment that he is on the screen entertaining, which is still true here.  He plays well off Vaughn, not letting Kevin Stoney’s scenery chewing upstage him.  Indeed, it is in these moments that the Doctor really shines because it is Troughton’s Doctor in his traditional role: the underestimated opponent to Vaughn’s overconfident villain.

He is less comfortable in his role with U.N.I.T.  It feels a bit strange to see the Second Doctor in charge of a military force.  It’s also unusual to have someone in the Brigadier who, having encountered him before, takes him seriously right from the start.  While this is exactly the relationship Pertwee’s Doctor would have with U.N.I.T., it’s a bit more of an uneasy fit on Troughton’s Doctor.  His clowning is not well suited to having a military force behind it. It requires a much more serious take on the material, which again is more in line with Pertwee’s take on the Doctor rather than Troughton’s.  Troughton does find some ways to inject humor into the proceedings, such as his rather comical fleeing from the firing Cybermen in the final episode, followed by his “reluctant” posing for Isobel’s photos.  Still, the story is a bit short on comedy, which is where Troughton really shines.

The fact that this story was particularly ill suited to the second Doctor’s era really emerges in the final episode.  The story sidelines the Doctor and his companions as U.N.I.T. takes over.  It feels as if the Doctor, Zoe, and Jamie could have gotten into their invisible TARDIS at the end of episode 7 and things would have played out in almost exactly the same way.

The Doctor and Vaughn

The Doctor and Vaughn face off

Despite my feeling that “The Invasion” is better suited to the Pertwee era than the Troughton, it is still enjoyable. I know Derrick Sherwin padded the story to stretch it out, yet it never drags. At the point of its recording, you could count the number of episodes set in the modern day on one hand. The Doctor spent most of this time abroad in either space or time. An episode set in then contemporary London was unusual; it is fun to see the Doctor and his companions in recognizable surroundings (U.N.I.T. dating controversy aside). It proves that an earthbound Doctor in the modern age could still be interesting to watch.  And, who knows, maybe this episode sets up the Pertwee era in ways we haven’t yet discovered.  Could Isobel have slipped the Doctor some more fashionable clothes?  Her fashion sense seems like it would compliment that of a certain dandy…

Not a String of Sausages: The Mind Robber

“The Mind Robber” was always destined to be an oddity in the long history of Doctor Who. The fact that it has the shortest episodes of any story make its structure unique, but that is not all.  Peter Ling, with an assist from Derrick Sherwin, came up with a very unusual premise; “The Mind Robber” is a story that is not set in the past, present, or future.  It is a story set outside of time and space as we know it, set in the Land of Fiction, populated by fictional characters.  The main antagonist is “the Master,” but it has nothing to do THE Master, since he doesn’t debut for two more years.  It’s a story that I enjoy and have seen many times, yet I’m still not sure I could completely explain the Master Brain’s plan. All I know is that installing the Doctor as the new master will allow the Brain to branch out from the Land of Fiction and take over the entire Earth. However, since “The Mind Robber” has its own kind of dream logic, details aren’t important, so I just go along for the ride.

TARDIS crew with Gulliver

The Doctor, not-Jamie, and Zoe try to obtain information from Gulliver.

As an avid reader, I’m predisposed to enjoy “The Mind Robber’s” celebration of fiction.  Who hasn’t imagined an opportunity to enter into your favorite stories?  I’d love to visit the garden with Mary Lennox, have tea with Elizabeth Bennet, and then attend a party at Gatsby’s mansion.  While none of those scenarios arise in this particular story (because, sadly, this story was not written specifically for me), it’s still a bit of a fantasy land for people who love the written word.  It’s a celebration of all fictional creations from the Greek myths to the comic strips of the future (although we’ve all been enjoying the adventures of the Karkus for a while now…).  From the cleverness of having a Gulliver who only speaks the words written for him by Swift to watching Cyrano de Bergerac battle it out with D’Artagnan, there’s much for fans of literature to enjoy.

The best way to illustrate why I enjoy this story so much, however, is to direct your attention to a particular cliffhanger. No, I’m not talking about the most famous cliffhanger, the one that created the memorable image of Wendy Padbury sprawled on the TARDIS console in that sparkly catsuit.  Actually, the characterization of Zoe is one of the weak points of this story; one moment she is physically besting the Karkus’ super human strength, the next she is hysterical and so illogical, like she is in the cliffhanger with the Medusa at the end of episode three, that I kind of want to slap her (but, I digress…).

Instead, the cliffhanger that I’m talking about is the ending of episode two. At its most basic level, it’s a cliffhanger like many others; a terrifying creature is menacing the Doctor, Jamie, and Zoe.  The fearsome beast is charging at them and we cut away moments before certain doom for our TARDIS crew.  Except, this being “The Mind Robber,” Frazer Hines is not playing Jamie and the terrifying creature…it’s a unicorn.

The Doctor and not-Jamie

The Doctor is about to create not-Jamie.

In reality, Frazer Hines had the chicken pox and was unable to work on episode two. Normally, this would have required a rewrite of the script that allowed Jamie to be trapped somewhere for the duration of the episode. The fact that this happened during such a surreal story allowed for an incredibly creative solution; they simply gave Jamie a new face for an episode. On how many shows would this even be an option?  Yet, it fits into this story perfectly.  Earlier in the episode, the Doctor attempted to reassemble Jamie’s face as if he were assembling a puzzle. Of course, the Doctor did it incorrectly, giving Jamie the wrong face. As a result, Hamish Wilson plays Jamie for the entire episode. The adventures continue with not-Jamie until the Doctor has a second chance to reassemble Jamie’s face in episode three (and he finally gets it right with a bit of assistance from Zoe).

That not-Jamie isn’t even the strangest thing about this cliffhanger  and says a lot about this story. The most head scratching moment in this whole story is the fearsome unicorn.  In episode one, Jamie mentions dreaming of a unicorn that was charging at him, so the end of episode two is his dream come to life. The interesting thing is that everybody in this story simply acts as if that’s what unicorns do.  Of course a unicorn would randomly charge at unsuspecting people, I mean, what else would you expect from a unicorn?

I know that the stories about unicorns have changed over the years, but I don’t remember reading a lot of tales of the savage unicorn.  It’s true that Marco Polo though that he had found a real life unicorn when he encountered a rhino, so that kind of unicorn, yes, might charge and kill you.  The white-horse-with-a-horn type of unicorn, however, seems much less prone to unprovoked attacks. What kind of storybooks have they been reading? Did I miss out on a whole genre filled with tales of death by unicorn?  Perhaps we just missed the moment in the Battle of Culloden when the leaders sent out the unicorn brigade to maim and kill, but I’m left wondering why Jamie is so terrified of unicorns. They’re even the symbol of Scotland, for crying out loud!

img_2693

The Doctor flees a terrifying unicorn.

Needless to say, the TARDIS crew escapes a bloody and brutal death at the hands of a bloodthirsty unicorn by stating that unicorns don’t exist, so no one actually ends up gored or trampled by a unicorn. Still, for a moment the possibility was there. And that, to me, sums up “The Mind Robber;” something that logically shouldn’t exist, but, nevertheless, there it is.

Happy Endings: The Husbands of River Song

I’ve never been a big fan of River Song. There, I’ve said it. She’s a very popular character, but I’ve always been rather…indifferent to her appearances. I don’t dislike her, but the news that she was returning for the Christmas special didn’t fill me with anticipation. I have to admit, however, that “The Husbands of River Song” was a pleasant surprise.  The key to getting this non-fan of River engaged with her was apparently placing her in her proper genre.

The Doctor and River find their happy ending (and, for the first time ever, I kind of want to cosplay River).

It’s difficult for me to put my feelings about River Song into words; to fully explain them would require an entire post. However, thanks to this episode, I realized what might be my fundamental problem with River: I have never found her to be a particularly believable character. I find her lacking in character development. She is a very competent character, but her relationship to the Doctor defines her identity. Without the Doctor, who is River? It’s impossible to know. Plus, with the timey-wimey-ness of their meetings, it’s difficult to get a handle on how River has grown or changed as a character.

However, in this episode, Steven Moffat discovered a genre in which River could flourish: the screwball comedy. River almost perfectly fulfills the requirements of the heroine of a screwball comedy. She’s witty, eccentric, assertive, and an agent of chaos. Most screwball heroines aren’t quite as ruthless as she is, but, then again, most heroines don’t find themselves in a sci-fi/screwball mashup.

Screwball comedies also feature a switch in traditional gender roles, with the heroine controlling the action and pulling the man along. In a traditional screwball comedy, a woman, who is a force of nature, enters the man’s life through unusual circumstances and proceeds to turn his life upside down, until they reach their “happy ending.” If that doesn’t describe the relationship between River and the Doctor, then I’m not sure what would.

I’ll admit that the first time through, I wasn’t sure how I felt about the episode. I was focused on trying to make sense of the plot (I mean, just what is River’s plan to get rid of the diamond, really?). However, the more I thought about it, the more I appreciated how cleverly Steven Moffat had actually written a true screwball comedy; in a screwball comedy, you generally don’t have a terribly believable or realistic situation. You might end up with two people taking care of a leopard or a wife returning on the very day a judge declares her legally dead and her husband remarries. When I considered it as an example of a screwball comedy, it worked for me. The chemistry and interaction between the leads is the most important aspect, not the logic of the plot.

The supporting cast is truly just there to move the plot along and not take too much focus from the leads, and they succeed in that. As is typical of a screwball comedy, the leads meet an eccentric cast of characters during their journey. Despite rather limited roles, both Matt Lucas as Nardole and Greg Davies as King Hydroflax make an impression and seem to thoroughly relish the absurdities of their characters.

 

King Hydroflax and a character who was visually striking yet I completely forgot he existed until I saw this picture.

The cruise of only horrible people was an interesting touch (and a way to make the death of a cruise ship full of people something that doesn’t put a damper on the fun of the episode), even if that was, perhaps, my least favorite section of the episode. Nevertheless, I did enjoy watching the Doctor and River try to improvise a way to make the sale of the head of King Hydroflax into something that would work for the buyers.

The most inventive aspect of the story, however, was the cyborg body in search of a human head. As long as you don’t think about it too hard, it is a fairly successful comedic antagonist suited to the tone of the episode. It’s dangerous, but doesn’t kill its victims; that’s good because killing off the only redeemable members of the supporting cast wouldn’t keep the breezy tone required of a screwball comedy.

Additionally, all of the absurdities of the episode stemmed from taking the most common elements of screwball comedies and adding them into the Doctor Who universe. Many of the original screwball comedies dealt with love triangles and the idea of remarriage; hence the many bizarre marriages of River: King Hydroflax/the diamond, Ramone, her second wife… Having River not recognize the Doctor was also another classic trope of the screwball comedy: mistaken identity. Overall, this was a good blend of screwball and science fiction. It’s far more effective than some of the previous attempts at combining genres in Doctor Who (yes, I’m talking about you, “A Town Called Mercy” and “The Angels Take Manhattan).

Just about the only element that isn’t at the forefront are the class issues at the heart of many screwball comedies (their heyday was in the 1930’s, after all), but it is set in the right kind of ambiance; there’s plenty of luxury and opulence on display and Alex Kingston gets to wear all those gowns.

A still from one of my favorite screwball comedies, Libeled Lady. Why, you might ask? Just because I can.

A still from one of my favorite screwball comedies, Libeled Lady. Why, you might ask? Just because I can.

Which leads me to another important reason that I preferred River’s appearance this episode to most of her previous ones: chemistry. Screwball comedies can only succeed if you have great chemistry between your leads. I never really cared for River’s chemistry with Matt Smith’s Doctor (although I did think she worked well with the tenth Doctor). The whole “Mrs. Robinson” gag wore a bit thin for me and it never really felt like Smith’s Doctor could keep up with her. The chemistry between Peter Capaldi and Alex Kingston is better. Exactly why they have chemistry together is difficult to say. It could have to do with age, but I think a lot of it has to do with the subtlety of Capaldi’s acting; he can say so much in just a few words, or, sometimes, no words at all. For most of the epusode, the Doctor and River interact in the traditional screwball comedy manner; there is lots of witty repartee, fast paced banter, and sarcasm. Yet as the episode progresses, they both sincerely reveal how much they care about each other in a very in-screwball way.

The ending is where the episode shifts gears, yet it didn’t feel disjointed from the rest of the episode. The shift from banter to sincerity happens subtly; more madcap action follows River’s heartfelt speech about the Doctor before the episode settles into its more serious final scene. The setting is perfect for a screwball comedy, even if the events are not. The suit, the evening gown, the nice restaurant…all of these things keep the glamour that one might find in a screwball comedy and visually connects the scene to the rest of the episode, despite the shift in tone.

The ending is where the episode deviates a bit from a screwball comedy. The fact that the ending has a few important purposes means that it becomes a bit more sincere than the story that preceded it. I always felt that we could not be done with River Song after “The Name of the Doctor” because there was still one scene that I didn’t feel that Steven Moffat could leave unwritten: the Doctor and River’s final night at the singing towers. Since Moffat loves to make the viewers feel, I couldn’t imagine that he would not want to write the scene in which the Doctor must send River off to her death and is powerless to stop it. I also can’t help but feel that Steven Moffat is doing his best to ensure that no other writer can ever use River, since he made a point of saying that River has not seen any faces beyond his first 12, but that’s another story. However, the scene does not play out as high drama, as I thought it might. It’s a very understated and quiet scene that would be a perfect farewell to River, if this is, in fact, her final appearance.

The ending also shows that forgetting Clara has brought the Doctor to a better headspace. He accepts that since he has already seen River die he can’t do anything to change it, something that the Doctor would most likely not have been able to do just a few episodes ago. Instead, both he and River focus on having a good time while they still have time, thus living happily ever after.

 

River threatens the head of King Hydroflax with her sonic trowel.

“The Husbands of River Song” is about ninety percent fluff, but it was the perfect episode to cap off what has been a rather brutally dark season. It’s not going to be one of my favorite episodes of all-time, but I think it is one of the better Christmas specials. It sets out to be a fun romp and it succeeds. It’s a strange thing to say about an episode that ends with the Doctor and River’s final night together (although said night is 24 years long), but yet it’s true. Even though the audience, the Doctor, and even River herself know what’s coming next for her, the episode ends happily. I guess it proves that Orson Welles was correct when he said, “if you want a happy ending, that depends, of course, on where you stop your story.”

The Long Way Round: Hell Bent

“Nothing’s sad ’til it’s over, then everything is.”  While the Doctor delivers these lines to Clara early in “Hell Bent,” I can’t help but feel that these lines express Steven Moffat’s feelings (and I would assume RTD’s feelings) about endings as well.  Every parting in the new series of Doctor Who is an emotional, heart-wrenching goodbye.  Endings are filled with sadness.  However, this episode is a bit less bleak of an ending than some; it puts a bittersweet coda on the exit of Clara Oswald.  Don’t worry though, there was still plenty of sadness to go around.

The Doctor says his goodbye to Clara

The Doctor says his goodbye to Clara

Overall, I found the episode a bit uneven, but what I found really stuck with me was the dialogue.  Therefore, I’ve decided to approach this episode through a series of memorable and/or important quotes.

“I heard the Doctor had come home. One so loves fireworks!”

Honestly, except for the parts with the Doctor and Clara in the diner, which I’ll get to later, the first 20 or so minutes dragged for me.  Maybe that’s because I just kept wondering why the Doctor seemed to grow up in the Dust Bowl.  Who is the woman in the barn (which makes its third appearance on the show, after “Day of the Doctor” and “Listen”)?  If the Doctor is a high-born Gallifrean, than why does his childhood home feel like an orphanage?

I did enjoy the touch of the Doctor dropping his spoon when told to put down any weapons (nice callback to “Robot of Sherwood”). It was a bit amusing to see how the Doctor just utterly ignored everyone until the president himself came (and interesting to see him draw a literal line in the sand), but overall it felt like filler.  Why did the Doctor have to wait too long for everyone to turn on Rassilon?  Was it just to have that old west showdown kind of feel to their meeting? The powerful Rassilon comes across more like a petulant child, which doesn’t make him seem like the best leader.  How did he get everyone to listen to his idea to trap the Doctor in his confession dial?  The door is clearly left wide open for a possible return of Rassilon, but I won’t be waiting with bated breath.

I did however, enjoy the return of Ohila.  I’m not clear how she got there, but it was kind of amusing to see her and the Sisterhood just barge in on the Gallifrey high command and make snarky comments. Apparnetly at the end of things one should expect immortals there to heckle you.  Of course, she is also there to let the Doctor know that he is going too far.  She accuses him of being cruel or cowardly by banishing Rassilon and the rest of the High Council, which is basically saying that he has stopped being the Doctor again.  I’d love to see the Sisterhood used in a more meaningful way again, but I enjoyed their appearance here.

Everyone finally turns on Rassilon

Everyone finally turns on Rassilon

“Stories are where memories go when they’re gone.”

As I mentioned previously, the part of the beginning that I did enjoy was the scenes in the diner between the Doctor and Clara.  I enjoyed the way that those scenes played with my expectations.  It began and I thought the Doctor was checking on Clara who no longer remembered their experiences.  However, right from the start Moffat put in clues that Clara knew more than she was letting on; the example that jumps to mind is when the Doctor’s guitar starts to play (a guitar version of Clara’s theme, no less) on the diner’s speakers.  Clara doesn’t even react, which immediately made me start to suspect that she knew exactly who the Doctor was.

“You like a cliffhanger, don’t you?”

Another quote from the scenes in the diner, but I just had to include it because it made me chuckle.   I do love the meta-commentary on the shows abundant use of cliffhangers.

“Back to normal, am I? Only time I’ve been a man, that last body.  Dear lord, how do you cope with all that ego”

At this point the story picks up a bit, although, let’s face it, this episode isn’t really a terribly plot-heavy episode.  The Doctor learns what the Time Lords know about the hybrid from the General before demanding the use of the extraction chamber to save Clara.  The scene between the Doctor, Clara, and the General was where the episode began to pick up for me.  Clara remains Clara, observant and clever even though she is terribly confused and I really enjoyed Peter Capaldi’s performance.  The look on his face as he let the General offered Clara explanations made it clear that he was about to do something that he knew he really shouldn’t.

I really enjoyed the General throughout the episode.  While Ken Bones played the General, he was almost the lone voice of reason among the Time Lords, proof that they were not all corrupted.  I was enjoying his performance so much that I was a bit disappointed when he started to regenerate (I did like that the Doctor checked to make sure that the General wasn’t out of regenerations before shooting.  I guess that’s Time Lord courtesy).  However, I was pleasantly surprised to see the General regenerate into T’Nia Miller, a black woman.  First, I liked that the show was taking the traditionally male role of a general and suggesting that it was traditionally held by a woman.  Plus, let’s face it, most Time Lords that we see on screen are male.  I enjoyed the fact that Steven Moffat clearly wanted to depict on-screen that Time Lords can change their race and gender at any time.  The quote above even shows that he was specifically making the point that a Time Lord can be one gender for all of his or her regenerations and then suddenly be regenerated as the other gender.

On a side note, when I was double checking the names of the actors who played the General, I was very disappointed to see that the credits bill Ken Bones as the General and T’Nia Miller as the female General, as if normal is male and female is an exception.  I’m a bit disappointed that the show would label the characters in such a carelessly sexist way, especially after what seemed to be a move against sexism.

The General, Gastron, and Ohila try to figure out what is the Doctor's plan.

The General, Gastron, and Ohila try to figure out what is the Doctor’s plan.

“The Time Lords have a got a big computer made of ghosts in a crypt guarded by more ghosts.”

Trying to figure out exactly what was going on in the cloisters was enough to make my head spin.  I remember the matrix from the classic series, but it has clearly been majorly upgraded since then. I could have used a bit less of the slightly confusing cloisters in this episode as well. The random Dalek, Cyberman, and Weeping Angels didn’t really seem necessary, and I’m a bit fuzzy on what the Cloister Wraiths were protecting (since all we really saw were corridor-like rooms, but the Cloister Wraiths looked cool.  They were a striking visual as they glided around with their flickering screen, screaming faces.  As for the rest of it, I’m going with the Doctor’s handy cheat sheet for Clara and the audience before I develop a headache.

One of the creepy Cloister Wraiths.

One of the creepy Cloister Wraiths.

“My time is up, Doctor. Between one heartbeat and the last is all the time I’ve got.”

The heart of the episode was the relationship between the Doctor and Clara.  This being Jenna Coleman’s final episode, Clara does get her share of moments, even though her role in the beginning of the episode was limited to her scenes in the diner.  I was happy to see that this episode did not deminish Clara’s bravery in “Face the Raven.”  She continues to accept that it is her time to go, trying to convince the Doctor that her life wasn’t worth fracturing all of time.  And I loved seeing her face off against Ohila and the General, distracting them while the Doctor stole another TARDIS.  I also can’t let that pass without mentioning how excited I was to see the original console room.

The moment that really stuck with me however, was the conversation between Clara and the Doctor in the cloister.  It’s played perfectly by both Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman.  Without even saying a world, it’s clear how well these two characters know each other.  Clara sees a change in the Doctor and realizes that he has been through a lot since she last saw him.  He knows that if he looks at her she will read the pain in his eyes, so he tries to look away, to not let her see.  Once again they are both trying to look out for the other.  Clara’s reaction when she learns that the Doctor spent 4 1/2 billion years trapped in his confession dial solely to bring her back from the dead shows that she is both incredibly moved and angry at the same time.  And somewhere Adric just cried.

“Even the other immortals are gone, it’s just Me.”

It’s not until the final third of the story that Me enters the episode.  Once again Maisie Williams does a great job of giving Me a slightly different, almost wiser air as she can appreciate the beauty in sad events, something the Doctor seems incapable of doing.  She’s a bit underused in this episode, basically popping up to become Clara’s companion in the end, but she makes the most of her limited screen time, even if she does basically disappear during the Doctor and Clara’s farewell in the TARDIS.

I’m also going to admit that Steven Moffat got me again when the Doctor said it was “me” knocking.  The Doctor has been to the end of the universe several times; it seems impossible that he wouldn’t run into himself there.  I held out hope for a moment that maybe, just maybe, it was Orson Pink and Moffat had found a way to explain his existence, but no such luck.

Clara and her companion head off to Gallifrey, the long way round

Clara and her companion head off to Gallifrey, the long way round

“By your own reasoning, why couldn’t the hybrid be half Time Lord, half human?”

The other reason Me seemed to exist in this episode was to troll the audience.  As she started this speech, I was thinking, he’s not actually going there, is he?  And of course, he didn’t, not really.  Moffat actually leaves the whole hybrid thing a bit unclear although it does seem that the prophecy must refer to the Doctor since he is the one willing to destroy a billion hearts to heal his own.  Still all three of the possibly hybrids are, at that moment, standing in the ruins of Gallifrey, so there really isn’t a definitive answer.

“Nobody’s ever safe.  I never asked you for that, ever…These have been the best years of my life and they are mine.  Tomorrow’s promised to no one, Doctor, but I insist upon my past.  I am entitled to that.”

This was my favorite moment of the episode.  I loved seeing Clara stand up to the Doctor and tell him that he did not have the right to take away her memories.  It felt like a bit of a redemption for the horrible ending that RTD gave Donna (I really, really, really hated that memory wipe).  And considering that Clara was willing to face her death and put an end to all of this, it was clear that it was the Doctor who really needed the memory wipe.  I think he realized this as well.  I’m pretty sure that he knew that Clara had managed to reverse the polarity, and he accepted it as a consequence of his going too far this time.

He and Clara’s final moments were touching, as he basically told her how to be a Doctor, which seemed to indicate that he had some idea of what she might do.  I happen to love pears, so I’m disregarding that part of his advice, but the rest of it was sound.  I will admit that I love the idea of Clara and Me traveling around the universe, even though it once again allows a death to not really be a death on Doctor Who.

“When something goes missing, you can always recreate it by the hole it left.”

I’ve heard many interpretations of the final scene in the diner.  Personally, I think the Doctor really doesn’t know that it is Clara to whom he’s speaking.  At first I wasn’t sure why Clara wanted him to know that it was her, but I think I’ve figured out an explanation that works for me.  Time and time again we’ve seen Clara looking out for others; I think this was her final act of looking out for the Doctor.  One of the last things she asks him is if he’s going to look for Clara, and he seems to want to find her again.  I think Clara wanted to plug up the hole a bit, so that he wouldn’t waste time trying to find her or wondering about her.  By making her TARDIS dematerialize around him, she let him know that he had been talking to Clara and that she was okay.  This was so he wouldn’t feel the need to search for her.

Clara takes a final look back at the Doctor (as Elvis watches)

Clara takes a final look back at the Doctor (as Elvis watches)

Overall, while this episode didn’t quite live up to the promise of “Heaven Sent,” it had a lot of good points.  Despite this being a rather dark season, it ended on a positive note.  The Doctor puts on the maroon velvet coat and become “the Doctor” again. Clara still has to go back and “face the raven,” but she has all the time in the world for adventures until that moment.  What better ending could there be than to see their TARDISs pass each other in the vortex, each off on a new adventure.  While I was sad to see Clara go, I think she got a good exit.  For a while, at least, she gets to essentially be her own Doctor, which was no less than this strong character deserved.

 

One Hell of a Story: Heaven Sent

To call “Heaven Sent” an unusual episode of Doctor Who is a bit of an understatement. It is not only completely unique in the 52 year history of the show, but it is also unusual for any major television show.  It is an episode with, essentially, a cast of one; it truly is the Doctor on his own. We’ve seen the Doctor without a companion before, but we’ve never spent an entire episode with just the Doctor. It was a risky episode, but one that succeeded exceptionally well.

transportedDoctor

I wouldn’t want to make him angry…

“Heaven Sent” is essentially the third part of a loose season ending trilogy, much like the “Utopia/Sound of Drums/The Last of the Time Lords” trilogy that ended season three. Therefore, some of the ultimate success of the episode will depend on its conclusion. No matter what happens in the next episode, however, this was one of the most compelling episodes of Doctor Who in a long time.

When Steven Moffat is at his best, he creates intricately plotted scripts with an emotional core. I’m thinking in particular of “Blink,” which is a complex “timey-wimey” puzzle of a story, yet it manages to hit strong emotional beats as well, running the gamut from funny to moving, all without a false step.

“Heaven Sent” is another one of those scripts.  It is a puzzle box of a story, an intriguing mystery for the Doctor to solve. I can’t say that I completely understand everything at this point, but when you write stories as complex as Steven Moffat does, there tend to be a few things that you just have to accept without explanation. For instance, at this point, I can’t say that I understand exactly why the Doctor had to dig to find the “I am in room 12” message, and I may never know. But I’m willing to accept that as just part of the overall eccentricity of the clockwork castle (Moffat does love his clockwork, doesn’t he?).  I’ve heard several people asking why the “diamond” wall didn’t reset, which is a valid question that is never directly answered in the story. I just assumed that breaking through the wall was the whole point of the experience, so that is why it didn’t reset.  Overall, all the pieces are there to figure out what is going on, it just takes the audience (and the Doctor) a while to put it all together.

It’s also an interesting idea to have the Doctor tormented by his own nightmares. The only familiar object in the castle seems to be the portrait of Clara, which keeps her loss fresh in his mind. It’s a small detail, but one that would ensure that he doesn’t forget his grief. And would serve to keep him a bit on edge.

More important is the relentless creature, The Veil, which pursues him around the castle, ensuring that he can never rest. The flies that always announced its presence were a nice touch. It made The Veil even more synonymous with death in both the Doctor and the audience’s minds. The monitors showing you the creature’s point of view were a clever idea as well; constantly seeing it coming adds to the feeling of dread.

The Veil reminded me of the somewhat similar creature in the recent movie It Follows. Both involve “monsters” that you can easily outrun, but who never give up their pursuit. Both show that a creature doesn’t have to be fast to be deadly. In fact, both creatures exemplify the idea that slow and steady wins the race; thus, the relentlessness of the creature is a frightening concept. As the Doctor states in the opening of the episode, if you are being pursued by an entity that never stops, even if you can outrun it, it will eventually catch you. It forces an exhausting state of hyperawareness, and at some point your guard will drop and it will be there ready for you.

ClaraPortraitandDoctor

The Doctor sits with Clara…I love the shot composition here.

Rather than hell, which, the Doctor tells us, is just “heaven for bad people,” this episode made me think of Dante’s purgatory. The repetitiveness of events, the punishments, the very gradual progress, and the reference to the mountain in the fairy tale all made me feel like the Doctor was on Mount Purgatory, earning his way into heaven. Although “heaven” in this case would be Gallifrey, which might be a bit higher praise than it deserves…

However, this being a Steven Moffat script, the puzzle isn’t the only thing going on and the journey through purgatory is an emotional one as well. The episode begins as an emotionally grueling experience for the Doctor. He is trapped in a seemingly endless loop in which, even though millions of years have passed, the loss of Clara is still fresh. The reset of the loop also resets his grief each time. His recent loss has made him so weary that we see the Doctor flirt with the idea of just giving up and losing.  Once he decides to fight, however, he begins his captivity somewhat delighted by the challenge (much like Clara, the Doctor wants to keep busy in his grief), but as the time passes (we never know exactly how much time comprises the loop) he begins to wear down and lose hope. To escape, he must not only put the pieces together, but he also has to suffer tremendous physical pain as well.

This is the point where it becomes an emotionally grueling experience for the audience as well. That montage of scenes towards the conclusion of the episode makes the viewer feel the weight of the Doctor’s seemingly endless suffering. The audience watches him die over and over again (another part of the resurrection theme this season) as he very slowly punches his way through the wall. The main sign of progress that we get is his ability to gradually get through more of the fairy tale as he breaks through the wall and is slightly further away from the creature (which I thought was a brilliant choice). That’s why, when the Doctor finally breaks through the wall and finds that he is on Gallifrey, it feels like an earned payoff. Both the Doctor and the audience have gone through a lot to finally return to Gallifrey.

DoctorGardener

The Doctor has a close call.

However, Steven Moffat does not deserve all the credit for the success of this episode. Rachel Talalay is an excellent director who sets the perfect tone for the episode (with help from all the behind the camera staff, of course). The colors are very dark and subdued and there is a general air of menace throughout. Visually, the castle is quite fascinating and the creature is always shrouded in enough shadow and filmed from angles that keep it mysterious and creepy. The idea that the TARDIS also exists in the Doctor’s head, as his storm room, is also well realized visually. The lighting in TARDIS, for instance, gives us information about the Doctor’s mental state that he himself cannot. I’d have to say the most striking image, however, were all of the skulls piling up on the ocean floor. Once the meaning of them became clear, each skull drives home just how many times the Doctor has died.

The primary reason, however, that this episode succeeds is Peter Capaldi’s amazing performance. I could probably write an entire post solely about that, but since this is already a long post, I’ll try to condense my enthusiasm into paragraph form. I don’t think any other Doctor could have pulled off this episode. Capaldi is utterly compelling at every turn, whether he is speaking out loud to himself, in voiceover, or to the Clara in his head. It would have been easy to play it safe and have him actually interact with the Clara in his head, allowing for some dialogue. Instead, the Clara in his head remains silent, with her back to him, except for that key moment at the end. This reminds the audience that he is using his memories of Clara to provide himself with an audience and that she is not actually speaking with him. It’s also a good way to see the Doctor dealing with his grief as he “talks” to Clara. I’m not sure any other Doctor could have pulled off the line “that’s what got you killed,” referring to Clara’s answer that she would do the same thing as the Doctor in this situation. Capaldi delivers it with a bit of humor, but yet he doesn’t play it for a laugh.

One of my favorite moments might be the way that Capaldi delivers his lines when he steps out of the transporter. Most actors would probably have more of a tendency to shout them or play them up, but Capaldi delivers them quietly, but with such resolve that you know at that point he would be incapable of holding back his rage against the person or persons responsible for the loss of Clara.

TheDoctorsSkull

How many family shows would have the main character carry around his own skull?

Last week, I thought that “Face the Raven” was the best episode of the season. Well, it looks like I was wrong, because “Heaven Sent” is an utterly unique story that has quickly climbed to the top of my list. It’s a story that perfectly combines the talents of both Steven Moffat and Peter Capaldi. The script was unique and incredible, but it needed the right actor to pull it off. I do find myself wondering if Tom Baker is at all envious that not only does Peter Capaldi have no companion for this episode, he has no real supporting cast. He doesn’t even have a cabbage to talk to…

In Need of Nepenthe: Face the Raven

After last week’s “Sleep No More” a Macbeth reference, this week’s episode title, “Face the Raven,” calls to mind “The Raven” by Edgar Allan Poe. As I suspected, it is an appropriate poem for this episode. “The Raven” is about grief and loss; a nameless narrator grieves over his lost Lenore. After this episode (and possibly in the episodes before due that Doctor Who timey-wimey storytelling), the Doctor will grieve over the loss of Clara.  While I was not looking forward to Clara’s departure, I have to say that I loved this episode.

ClaraFacingtheRaven

Clara faces the raven, but not without the Doctor standing behind her.

This was Sarah Dollard’s first story for Doctor Who, but I certainly hope that it won’t be her last.  This story grabbed me from the beginning.  Rigsy’s return meant that we didn’t have to spend a lot of time explaining how the Doctor gets involved in the situation or why Clara cares so much about him.  The focus gets to remain where it should be: on the Doctor and Clara in what seems to be their final adventure.  It was also a nice touch to bring back Clara’s “companion,” to remind us of how like the Doctor she has become.

The episode begins with a very light, humorous tone, a perfect beginning because it reminds us of why Clara enjoys traveling with the Doctor: it’s fun.  It all seems like business as usual as the Doctor decides that he will save Rigsy and it feels as though the episode is going in the direction of a fun romp.  As the episode progresses, however, it very subtly shifts its tone and Dollard very gradually raises the episode’s stakes until Clara’s death feels like the natural consequence of the events of the episode.

The plot sucked me in as well.  The countdown tattoo was an intriguing hook to get us to the trap street. Additionally, the refugee camp with a perception filter was a clever idea, and it’s an idea I almost wish could have been explored more.  I found myself wondering how some of the street’s denziens wound up there: what exactly does a Cyberman do to need to seek asylum?  The introduction of the Janus species was an intriguing one as well.  I know a lot of people felt the trap street was a rip-off of Harry Potter‘s Diagon Alley, but I enjoyed it.  I also liked the idea of Ashildr/ Mayor Me running a refugee camp.  It showed how much she has learned over the years that she was able to set up the camp, while her use of the quantum shade shows that empathy is still not one of her dominant characteristics.

An episode like this really benefits from having Maisie Williams playing the role of Mayor Me. While it’s still a bit ambiguous just whose side she’s on, Maisie’s performance at the end made it clear, without saying much, that she was horrified that she couldn’t help Clara.  I don’t think she means to do the Doctor any harm, but she will do what she has to do to protect her refugees. We still don’t know who it is that wants the Doctor (the logical bet would be Missy, but that may be too obvious), and in this episode she says that she made a deal with “them.” I guess we’ll find out soon.

Peter Capaldi turns in yet another great performance in this episode.  He obviously takes a bit of a backseat to Clara, but he is fascinating to watch.  He never upstages Clara during her death scene, but he is always reacting to what she is saying. He manages to hold his emotions in (as this Doctor would), but his face shows all the various emotions he is feeling. He shifts from rage to sorrow to love all without needing to say a word. Unlike the Doctor, I was moved to tears by his and Clara’s parting moments, and no small part of it was because of the heartbreak the Doctor was experiencing.

 

FACE THE RAVEN (By Sarah Dollard)

The Doctor attempts to threaten Me into saving Clara from the quantum shade.

All this leads me to the reason this episode worked so well: Jenna Coleman. Clara experiences almost every possible emotion in this episode and Jenna Coleman is fantastic at portraying them all. I can’t be the only one who’d love to see those encounters between Clara and Jane Austen, right? The opening of the episode showed Clara’s love of excitement (my one bone to pick would be that the scene of her dangling out of the TARDIS was a bit unnecessary and over-the-top since the opening moments already made that clear) and the consequences in this episode flowed quite naturally from her established personality traits and the choices she made.

This episode played almost as a Greek tragedy. Clara’s hamartia was what brought her down in the end. She was full of hubris, but also compassion. She wanted to help Rigsy so much that she did something foolish, without having all of the information. This is not unlike the Doctor, always putting himself in danger for the sake of others, sometimes without really knowing all the facts yet. Unfortunately, as he points out, he is less breakable that Clara, a point that she lost sight of in her overconfidence.  In this episode, Clara’s transformation into the Doctor seems complete. Ultimately though, what brought about Clara’s death in this episode was her belief not in her own cleverness, but in the Doctor’s. She believed that there was no problem that he couldn’t solve, which is why she could be reckless.

At first I wasn’t sure I would be satisfied by this episode’s conclusion because it was looking like Clara would die because of her recklessness and I wanted Clara to have a heroic death. However, she faces death as only Clara Oswald could, bravely and still thinking of others. She uses her final moments to first ease Rigsy’s guilt and then to help the Doctor.  She accepts that she is the one responsible for her predicament and does not want anyone else to share in any part of the blame.  Clara doesn’t waste any time bemoaning her upcoming death or feeling sorry for herself; instead, she takes charge of the situation and uses her final moments as best she can.  She knows the Doctor so well that she knows what he needs to hear. She takes on a very maternal role at the end, comforting the Doctor and ordering him to not seek revenge for her death.  She knows that losing her will hurt him deeply, and she doesn’t want her ultimate legacy with the Doctor to be a negative one. The last we see of Clara, she bravely faces the raven, not running away from it as others do.

 

RigsyTARDISGraffitti

Rigsy paints the TARDIS in tribute to Clara.

Still, I find it hard to believe that this will truly be the last we see of Clara. I will be very surprised if she doesn’t turn up in some way in the finale. Generally, the showrunner writes the exit for the companion, and I can’t imagine that Moffat would let somebody give Clara her final words. Whether it will be in a dream, a flashback, a point earlier in her timeline, or one of the Clara splinters I have no idea.  Even if she does get resurrected (as it seems to be one of the recurring themes), I don’t think it can diminish the power of her exit here. Currently, this episode is my pick for the best of the season.  Clara’s departure was very moving and a fitting exit for one of my favorite companions. Now I just need this Raven to take thy beak from out my heart…