I don't think I made it past the cold open before I was blubbing. In fact, I spent a great deal of this episode in tears. It was the absolute antithesis of what I was expecting—and was all the better for it. If this is what Moffat can produce for a season finale, imagine what he has planned for the 50th anniversary.
What an amazing opening montage! The way they inserted Clara into old show footage, and the way Moffat threaded her character through the show's history, was simply inspired. For a moment I thought I was watching the show's 50th anniversary—there were Doctors all over the place. Best of all, Clara's place among them made sense. This wasn't a typical Moffat finale, where you're left scratching your head, wondering how it all fits together—apart from the cliff hanger, it was all perfectly logical. It also gave Jenna an excuse to dress up in period costume, tszuj up her Barnet, and start rocking the Ace look. (Thank goodness the Mel look was nowhere to be seen.)
My favourite episodes this season have all featured the Paternoster Gang. The show sadly lacks genuinely likeable returning characters, and Strax, Jenny and Vastra are always value for money. Strax was the perfect antidote to the pathos. Every time something dramatic happened, he said something which made me laugh: when Jenny was murdered he called her Boy, when we first saw the Doctor's glowing time line, he threatened to destroy it. But losing Jenny twice was more than my wobbling bottom lip could take. Thank goodness they brought her back. If I wasn't so caught up in shipping Jenastra, I'd be championing Jenny as the Doctor's next companion. The gang have really made this season for me. Here's hoping they're back with aplomb next year.
I love it when the show's significant women get to meet. Rose meeting Sarah Jane was a classic, Amy meeting River was a blast, and Clara meeting River didn't disappoint. There were the usual dubious stares and icy banter. I'm glad they brought River back for one last hurrah. She had a relatively minor part to play in tonight's story, but her final scenes with the Doctor provided the perfect bookend for her character. Beautiful dialogue. I liked that there were no goodbyes. The Doctor, after all, hates endings—so what better way to part than with an impossible promise? It was hopeful, moving, and their last kiss provoked just the right amount of awkwardness from the watching Paternoster trio. Again, pathos followed by humour. Perfect.
Props to Jenna and Matt tonight, they were simply superb. I've always said that emotional, character driven stories trump overblown, world ending romps, and tonight's episode proved my point. Seeing beloved characters die has more of an emotional kick than the suffering of generic millions. Matt's tears had me welling up, and him risking everything to save his friends was the perfect note on which to end the season. Jenna was also stellar. I don't think her character has been best served by some of this season's scripts, but when the moment came for her to shine, she blazed. Risking life and limb to save the Doctor is what companions do, but Clara's sacrifice went far beyond the call of duty. Not only did she save Eleven, she saved them all.
The weakest part of the episode was probably the Great Intelligence, not because it was rubbish, but because it was secondary to the Doctor and Clara's story, and didn't get as much room to breathe. Richard E. Grant did his best with some fairly stiff dialogue, but his purpose for being there was simply to provide a problem for the impossible girl to solve. I did like the Whispermen, however; they were creepy, well designed, but ultimately a little underused. Here's hoping Moffat brings them back next season. If the farting Slitheen can return, then those guys certainly can.
Of course, Steven Moffat just wouldn't be Steven Moffat without dumping another mystery in our laps. Who is John Hurt's character? The closing credits identified him as the Doctor, yet Eleven seemed adamant that he wasn't. He was 'him' but not 'the Doctor'. Which, I'm assuming, is simply semantics. Because 'doctor' is a word synonymous with healing and care, and Hurt's Doctor broke that promise, is he simply refusing to allow him the name? Presumably this means he must be an earlier incarnation, but where does he fit in? Between two and three? Between eight and nine? Has Moffat decided to exploit the unseen regeneration loophole? All questions for the 50th, no doubt, but jolly exciting nevertheless.
—River seemed to do more than her fair share of face slapping tonight. I'd be reluctant to slap Vastra. She has a big sword.
—I'm surprised the cloister bell didn't ring clean off its support. I doubt the TARDIS has seen a paradox that big in a while.
—I'm glad the TARDIS' telepathic circuits reawakened Clara's memories. At least the reset button in 'Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS' didn't wipe everything away.
—Loved the returning leaf/soufflé metaphors.
—Yes, the CGI was occasionally clunky, but it succeeded in bringing back every Doctor, so who am I to complain? And Trenzalore looked wonderful.
—What was River's parting shot about being mentally linked with Clara about? A future ticket back, perhaps?
—Nice referencing of the Valeyard. At first, I thought that's who John Hurt's character was going to be. Not that he's much of a secret.
—Hands up if when you first saw Clara on Gallifrey, you thought she was a Time Lord.
Strax: 'Oh no, not the one with the gigantic head.'
Jenny: 'Sorry, so sorry... I think I've been murdered.'
Strax: 'Unhand me, ridiculous reptile!'
Strax: 'The heart is a relatively simply thing.'
Vastra: 'I have not found it to be so.'
Vastra: 'But what is the light?'
Jenny: 'It's beautiful!'
Strax: 'Should I destroy it?'
Clara: 'Don't steal that one, steal this one. The navigation system's knackered, but you'll have much more fun.'
Doctor: 'Since no one else in this room can see you, God knows how that looked.'
Four moor peaces eye rote, sea hear.