by Paul Kelly
This was a wonderfully dark penultimate episode. I've always believed that Clara and Danny would one day end up together. Despite her occasional indecision and whoppermongering, it always felt like the desired endgame. Until now. Now, I haven't got a clue what's going to happen. Help!
The first ten minutes were thoroughly absorbing. Initially, it seemed as if Moffat was taking us on one of his trademark timey-wimey jaunts: with the intercutting of past, present and future to form a single broken timeline detailing Danny's death, Clara's grief, and the Doctor's eventual call to action. Then the story ground to a halt, and became something of a slow-burning exploration of mourning and death. Danny's silence on the other end of the phone was so powerful. I was certain it was another fake-out. It wasn't. Danny's dead. And Clara's on the verge of falling apart.
Clara's struggle to cope with his loss was so complex, yet while there was hope, she simply refused to be overwhelmed. In a last ditch attempt to force the Doctor's hand, she even threatened to lock him out of his own TARDIS (or, since the Doctor can open the TARDIS with a click of his fingers, perhaps she simply meant to lock out future companions). Regardless, seeing her hope turn to ashes as the Doctor told her to 'go to hell' was tremendously affecting. Jenna totally nailed those scenes. Clara had played her trump card and lost. Seeing her bereft of ideas, her head hung in despair, and tears in her eyes was to see Clara uncharacteristically defeated. Which made it all the more delicious when the Doctor stepped up to the plate.
The Doctor may not believe in the afterlife, but he absolutely believes in debunking myths. Yet, despite the Nethersphere not being quite what it seems, it's definitely not mythical. The afterlife is real: it's just technological rather than spiritual. What this means for Danny, I have absolutely no clue. Potential cyber-oblivion? I liked that Moffat chose not to make Danny's death a fixed point in time. The rules governing what the Doctor can and can't change are something of a mystery to me. Sometimes it feels like the sole determining factor is how much drama not changing something might cause. But is Danny even rescuable? Even if his brain was uploaded to the matrix data slice, his body's still dead, right? Or is there hope while his body remains uncremated? Orson Pink has to come from somewhere, after all.
The Cybermen reveal was slightly ruined by last week's teaser. It had Cybermen in it! What kind of bullshit is that? This isn't Supernatural -- stop ruining it for us! As soon as Doctor Chang mentioned 'support exoskeleton' and explained the effects of dark water, it was simply a matter of waiting for the tin foil maniacs to appear. And appear they did. That shot of the Cybermen stomping down the steps outside St. Paul's Cathedral felt like the perfect homage to classic 1968 episode 'The Invasion'. The mashup of Cybermen/Time Lord technology used to bring about this latest cyber-incarnation was also nicely done. In fact, the central premise behind this whole episode blew my mind.
Moffat's usual style is to play on childhood fears, imbue them with some sort of underlying truth, and then use them to scare the crap out of the under twelves. Tonight, the themes felt far more adult-orientated. Since when did we become the targets? Playing on mankind's almost universal fear of death -- and in particular, the horror of being burned alive -- was a hideous master stroke. (Pun unintended.) I loved it! And the concept of creating a Cyber-army out of the totality of the earth's dead was unnerving to the extreme. How long the Mistress has been hatching her plan, and how the events of 'Day of the Doctor' affected her timeline, will hopefully be explored in the season finale.
On first watch, I thought the pacing of this episode felt a little laboured. On rewatch, it was easier to see how Clara's emotional response to Danny's death, the Doctor's reaction to her betrayal, and the overly info-dumpy nature of the episode needed time to unpack and breathe. This was an episode of pure setup. There was a lot of stuff needed establishing: from the nature of the Nethersphere, to the mechanics behind the afterlife, to the big Master reveal. (Which will undoubtedly give female-Doctor advocates something to gnaw on). Michelle Gomez totally knocked it out of the park as Missy. Good riddance, over-the-top, painfully laughable Master -- hello totally bizarre, fucked-up Mary Poppins Mistress. She'd better not regenerate into somebody awful next week. Bieber, for example.
And, again, the Doctor and Clara were the focal point of everything good about the episode. Tonight Clara needed the Doctor, and instead of droning on endlessly about paradoxes, he simply laid his cards on the table, assessed the potency of Clara's determination, and on realising her intention to move heaven and earth to bring Danny back, agreed to help. I love that even a string of betrayals wasn't enough to break their bond of friendship. Why wouldn't she deserve a friend like the Doctor? After the sacrifices she'd made to save him, it would have been a travesty of justice if he'd refused. Instead, he told her in the gentlest way possible how much she meant to him -- before telling her to get her shit together, cease wallowing in self-pity, and get her game face on.
It's difficult to judge two-parters after just one episode. It's impossible to tell whether the setup will pay off, or whether future explanations will make sense, but so far I'm encouraged. Danny's still a concern. His final words to Clara were lovely. Unable to bear the thought of Clara dying to be with him, he said the very thing he knew would push her away -- "I love you". I've grown a little cool towards Danny over recent weeks. He's felt like something of a bit player, and the reveal that he shot a child in the line of duty, although terrible, felt predictable. Yet I couldn't help but feel sorry for him as he sat sobbing over his iPad. Is he really Clara's Danny, or is it another trick? Why couldn't he answer Clara's questions? Hopefully next week will bring answers, and a resolution we can all live with.
Bits and Pieces:
-- I loved the Doctor explaining the paradox of saving Danny. Paradox loops are a real pain in the arse. They win every time.
-- How apt that one of the Doctor's TARDIS keys was hidden inside the pages of 'The Time Traveler's Wife' by Audrey Niffenegger.
-- Great call-back to 'Listen' with the use of the TARDIS' telepathic interface.
-- Was the reference to Xylo Jones meant to be significant?
-- How awful that the Doctor didn't grasp the implication of using dark water in swimming pools. Even Clara couldn't be bothered to roll her eyes.
-- When someone says to you "I'm not going to kill you until you say something nice", a word from the wise -- don't say anything nice. Idiot!
Doctor: "You betrayed me. You betrayed my trust, you betrayed our friendship, you betrayed everything that I've ever stood for. You let me down!"
Clara: "Then why are you helping me?"
Doctor: "Why? Do you think I care for you so little that betraying me would make a difference?"
Doctor: "This is it, Clara, one of those moments."
Clara: "What moments?"
Doctor: "The darkest day. The blackest hour. Chin up, shoulders back. Let's see what we're made of, you and I."
Clara: "I don't deserve a friend like you."
Doctor: "Clara, I'm terribly sorry, but I'm exactly what you do deserve."
Clara: "Are you forgetting why we're here?"
Doctor: "We're here to get your boyfriend back from the dead, so buck up and give me some attitude."
Doctor: "Can you just hurry up, please, or I'll hit you with my shoe."
Missy: "I'm sorry, everyone. Another ranting Scotsman in the street. I had no idea there was a match on."