Wow. Just wow. Of all the episodes, I get to review this one! As a life-long Doctor Who fan, this is absolutely fantastic. After a sort of mixed reaction to the previous episode, which featured Clara's actual death, Doctor Who Season 9 Episode 11 was a far more powerful send-off.
The premise of the episode is deceptively simple: the Doctor was trapped alone in a puzzle-box castle, being endlessly chased by a clockwork construct called the Veil. But the truth was far more complicated and downright horrifying once the Doctor realized it.
When Steven Moffat is at the top of his game, this is exactly the story he does so very well, bringing nightmares and childhood horrors to life. Here, that was actually taken to literal extremes, and it worked.
This was due in large part by the exceptional performance by Peter Capaldi, who imbued the Doctor with a sense of defiance, anger, tragedy, and stubborn hope all in the same moment. Seriously, the man was amazing, and he spent most of the episode basically interacting with himself, the Veil (which wasn't exactly very talkative), and a mental figment of Clara that communicated in chalk messages.
Save for one brief moment, when she turned, faced him, and told him to get up and win. The fact that he spent billions of years talking with her figment, that she was so fundamental in keeping him going, was a profound and touching way to express his grief. That, and the first words he said after stepping out of the teleporter:
If you think because she is dead, I am weak, you understand very little. If you had any part in killing her, and you are not afraid, then you understand nothing at all. So for your sake, understand this -- I am the Doctor, and I'm coming to find you. And I will never, ever stop.The Doctor
The last part of that quote takes on jaw-drapping status when one realizes that he was telling the absolute truth. Confronted by a wall that was 400 times harder than diamond, he didn't stop. It took him billions of years punching his way through with his fist, but he didn't stop.
No wonder they're all so afraid of him.
The end of the episode felt like a fundamental paradigm shift; the Doctor found himself back on Gallifrey itself, the place he'd run away from in his first incarnation, the place he'd been trying to get back to. Home – the long way 'round. He made it.
But there was no joy at the culmination of all that pain and anguish. It felt far more ominous, as the final words of the episode were the Doctor's revelation about the nature of the prophisied Hybrid:
The Hybrid is not a half-Dalek, nothing is half-Dalek. The Daleks would never allow that. The Hybrid, destined to conquer Gallifrey and stand in its ruins... is *me*.The Doctor
Ho boy. That was a loaded statement, especially given the weight of the fifty-plus year history of Doctor Who behind it. Speaking of history, there were a bucket-load of shout-outs, references, and the like throughout this episode, not to mention a ton of fantastic lines, which you can find on our Doctor Who quotes page.
Here are a few of the things I spotted; this is by no means a comprehensive list!
- The Doctor was turned to sand when he died to power the teleporter, like the victims in "Planet of the Dead."
- He told the boy to tell the city that he'd come home "the long way 'round," a reference to the end scene of Doctor Who Season 7 Episode 15, "The Day of the Doctor."
- We never saw figment-Clara writing on the blackboard; the words just appeared, reminiscent of Doctor Who Season 8 Episode 4, "Listen."
- The Doctor needed to find room 12, but described the numbering was confused. (The "12th" Doctor is, in fact, the 14th incarnation of the Doctor, depending on how you number them.)
- The button on his coat was replaced after Robin Hood cut it off during their duel in Doctor Who Season 8 Episode 3, "Robots of Sherwood."
The Doctor spent a significant portion of the episode inside his own head, what fans of fellow-Moffat series Sherlock will know as a "mind palace." In fact, this was where the funniest moment of an otherwise profoundly dark episode happened:
And I'm gonna explain to you how I survived. I can't wait to hear what I said. [breaks the fourth wall, glancing at the camera] I'm nothing without an audience!The Doctor
This series has leaned on the fourth wall occasionally, but this time it absolutely blew it to pieces with a stick of dynamite.
A few final assorted thoughts before I turn the discussion over to you:
- The Doctor switching his wet clothes for the dry clothes took on incredibly macabre tones when one realized that he's wearing the clothes of his dead predecessor, now a pile of dust and a skull on the floor.
- The Rubik's cube castle was pretty awesome.
- Jenna Coleman was not credited in the opening sequence, so it was something of a surprise when figment-Clara actually turned around and spoke. Also, points to those who predicted Clara would return before season's end.
- All those skulls... and that was after only 7,000 years! Just think about how many Doctor's skulls would be down there after several billion years...
- For those who missed it: "In Lower Pomerania is the Diamond Mountain, which is two miles and a half high, two miles and a half wide, and two miles and a half in depth; every hundred years a little bird comes and sharpens its beak on it, and when the whole mountain is worn away by this, then the first second of eternity will be over."
So, what did you think, fellow Whovians? Were you shocked when you realized that all the skulls were the Doctor? Were you touched when figment-Clara told him to get up and win? Were you surprised when the Doctor emerged on Gallifrey? Let us know in the comments below!
The season finale, Doctor Who Season 9 Episode 12, "Hell Bent," will air on December 5, 2015 at 9/8c on BBA America. You can relive the adventure when you watch Doctor Who online here at TV Fanatic!