I told you. He can’t possibly not have a plan.
This is how the universe does it, boys and girls. In another reality, London has changed a bit—it’s April 22, 2011. It’s the day the Doctor dies, ALL DAY, EVERY DAY, and time’s so messed up that in a parallel universe, the War of the Roses is still going on, cars are up in the air, suspended by hot air balloons, and Charles Dickens (Simon Callow) is on the telly, giving clues about the next Christmas special, The Unquiet Dead, while there’s hot Roman soldiers outside, in carriages. Oh, and pterodactyls are the new doves. Oh, and Churchill is the New Roman Emperor, and Malokeh‘s his doctor. It’s nice to have so many people put in a guest appearance, but… Eh?
The Doctor is a soothsayer now, soothsayers are cool. Churchill threw him in the Tower—thanks, Winston, very nice of you—and when things are bothering him, he gets him out to have him thrown at his feet. Something happened to time. A woman happened to time, and now all of history is happening at once, simply because time, the poor thing, has nowhere to go and nowhere to be.
Now, Doctor, kindly explain to me how that happened, and how in Dickens this is figuring into your plan to get you un-killed?
Before he went to die, the Doctor did a little information gathering. Scavenging everything anyone might know about the Silence, calling his friends, scaring his enemies, collecting his debts. And there are a lot of debtors, especially, who’d better be willing to talk—because this man smiles like he would at a nice old lady in a shop—like Five would have, in the old days—while he plunks down the eyestalk of a Dalek on a bar to make his point. His point being that he is dangerous and on a mission.
I cannot even begin to describe how amazing Matt Smith is in this episode: so many facets to this character, so many emotions playing out on that gorgeous face of his. He knows how to instill fear with a smile, how to be wise and broken, ruthless and desperate all at the same time.
And then, he reads Knitting for Girls while he’s waiting for the guy he needs to grill (the Teselecta crew again, should’ve known…), before he can go off and play a deadly game of chess in an arena—which reminds me of the stupid computer game Bond and Largo play in Never Say Never, by the way.
One important thing first, though: in between all of this, the Doctor takes Doriam with him to the TARDIS to make a phone call. That’s when he hears about the Brigadier’s death—Nicholas Courtney passed away earlier this year, and this is a touching tribute to himself and to the role he played in the legacy of the show. It’s also driving the point home: for the Doctor, history might be everywhere and anywhere, but time will catch up with him at some point. At some point, he is going to call a dear old friend only to find that he has lost him, and that he cannot go back to drink a last brandy with him before he dies, because that is not how history works. Time can be rewritten, but just this one thing, this one comfort of visiting his companion one last time will be denied. The Doctor has to live on while the people he loves wither and die, and there is no worse moment than this to be reminded of the fact than he can be a rubbish friend sometimes, and his friends still love him more than anything, and all he can do is remember them.
Anyway, Doriam’s head is still around, and he gives the Doctor the vital last clue as to why he has to die: it’s the damn question, of course, the oldest question in the universe, hidden in plain sight.
On the fields of Trenzalore¹, at the Fall of the Eleventh, when no living creature could speak falsely or fail to answer, a question will be asked. A question that must never, ever be answered.
(¹ Why doesn’t the Fourth Dimension tell us how to spell that? Going out on a limb here.)
Either way, the Silence want to prevent the Doctor from getting there, to the Fall of the Eleventh—nicely named, after all, it’s the Doctor’s silence that will fall upon the universe when the question is asked, although it’s not really about the question, it’s about the consequences. Rule One: the Doctor lies. And on that field, he won’t be able to. So what happens when someone asks the right question, and he has to answer—he’ll die, of course, because he knows something that will be used as a weapon against him and then against the rest of the universe. Must be one hell of a question. And why are the Silence so keen on protecting that secret from getting out? It’s clear they’re not doing that for the Doctor’s sake, he dies in either scenario; though he’d probably regenerate if they let him die on those fields. At Lake Silencio, they want to use a still point in time to create a fixed point in time. Meaning: killing him stone-dead, making it impossible for him to get out of it, since that will rip a huge, gaping hole in the space-time continuum, so he definitely won’t be telling anyone the truth any time soon.
Suppose there was a man who knew a secret. A terrible, dangerous secret that must never be told. How would you erase that secret from the world, destroy it forever, before it can be spoken?
Destroy the man, exactly.
But time went funny because the Doctor did get out of it, which is why there are two different realities. Which is why River can watch herself killing the Doctor, though she won’t remember it, because her Doctor will live, apparently. The thing is, the Doctor may have had the idea with the rewriting, but I’m not sure how far ahead he planned this—because some things, you can’t foresee.
Doctor: Well, then. Here we are, at last
River: I can’t stop it. The suit’s in control.
Doctor: You’re not supposed to, this has to happen.
Doctor: Did run. Running brought me here.
River: I’m trying to fight it, but I can’t. It’s too strong.
Doctor: I know. It’s OK. This is where I die. This is a fixed point, this must happen, this always happens. Don’t worry. You won’t even remember this. Look over there.
River: It’s me. How can I be there?
Doctor: That’s you from the future. Serving time for a murder you probably can’t remember. My murder.
River: Why would you do that? Make me watch?
Doctor: So you know that this is inevitable. And you are forgiven. Always and completely forgiven.
River: Please, my love, please, please, just run.
Doctor: I can’t.
River: Time can be rewritten!
Doctor: Don’t you dare! Goodbye, River.
Matt Smith and Alex Kingston’s performances in this scene are amazing. Heartbreaking as none of the other, numerous deaths we have seen this series have been, and so wonderful, though tragic. River is going to go to prison for something she can’t remember, though she did it, though she is forgiven. And it’s such a beautiful echo, back to the first time Ten met her: the day she died. He begged her not to do it, to get herself out of there, and she wouldn’t let him. He offered her to rewrite time, to find a way out, to never let it come to this. And she told him,
Don’t you dare! Not one line.
Because rewriting time would destroy all their good memories, and River wouldn’t let that happen even if it meant her death. And now, the Doctor knows who she is and trusts her implicitly, he loves her, and he wouldn’t give up what they had even if there weren’t a way out of this. Their future, their past, and he’s determined to keep it just the way it is, so he can die knowing her.
Don’t you dare.
Except then, it all blows up in their faces and we see something different from what we’ve seen in The Impossible Astronaut, because River had a different idea. She refused to kill the man she loved, at the cost of time itself. For a moment, the Doctor thinks he’s dead, but then he isn’t, and River is all, “Hello, Sweetie,” telling him that she just drained her weapons system, and then—reality splits. The scene goes white, there’s nothing, and the Doctor ends up in alternate reality with Winston. River rewrote a fixed point in time, completely strangling the Doctor’s rather brilliant plan, and that’s why time itself is dying; and the Silents are everywhere.
We’re screwed, you think? Oh, not quite.
Enter Pond, Amelia Pond. Classy. Also, hugging and missing the Doctor. Also, using machine guns to save her husband who she couldn’t remember properly, the stupid face who nearly dies from the pain to buy her time; and basically killing Madam Kovarian, taking revenge for what she did to her family.
Alternate!Amy: The Doctor is very precious to me, alright. But do you know what else he is? Not here.
She’s remembering it both ways, because reality split up—because the Doctor is still alive; and she exhibits a lot of the coldness and strength that she also possessed in The Girl Who Waited. Amy loves the Doctor, but she kills. Remember the Dalek in The Big Bang, asking for mercy? River got that from her mum.
This would all be much fun and haggling over marrying or murdering, because if the Doctor and River touch, they could short out the differential and get time back on track again, but she won’t let him. Things get complicated when they found out that the Silents haven’t been trapped, they’ve been waiting, and the eyepatches can kill. Hooray!
Alternate!Amy: You and me, we should get a drink sometime. And married.
That’s how you do it, kids.
Now, back to business: River used the TARDIS to build a distress beacon, to send a message out into the universe, everywhere.
The Doctor is dying. Please, please help.
As I said, when you can’t do it, your friends will be there to bail you out. And they are. They’re all answering, all willing to help. It’s not solar flares. It’s your friends. For all that blood on his hands isn’t enough to make the universe love him any less. He’s pretending to have convinced himself that the stars are better off without him, and, no doubt, he needed to see how his ways of doing things affected the universe, how much fear he evoked whereever he went. But the stars aren’t better off without him. He’s become a better man, as evidenced by his plan. And we need that man. River knows that she will need to short out the differential eventually, to get them back there. No-one’s actually coming, but they don’t need to. The Doctor understands, now. He’s understood all along.
Alternate!River: I can’t let you die without knowing you are loved. By so many and so much. And by no-one more than me.
She would suffer more than any living thing in the universe if she had to kill him. So what does the Doctor do? He tells her his name and gets them married. Or does he?
And why? Because there is no other way. The distress beacon is not enough. But it’s alright.
What he whispered wasn’t his name. I was on the right track in thinking that the Doctor we see dying isn’t exactly himself, I was thinking of a Flesh avatar—I feel stupid, not having considered that it might be a Teselecta copy of himself. No hassle with keeping the original copy of himself somewhere; and, also, no damage. The Teselecta probably wouldn’t like the gun blasts much, but he’d still be hanging in there, miniaturized. The oldest trick in the book: the disappearing act. Everyone, inluding time itself, will think he’s dead, and that’s the best cover he could have ’til it’s time to come back.
The Teselecta. A Doctor, in a Doctor suit. Time said I had to be on that beach, so I dressed for the occasion. Barely got singed in that boat. […] I got too big, too noisy. Time to step back into the shadows.
Time to wait for the question. The question, hidden in plain sight. The one question he’s been running from all his life, the one he gets asked everywhere he goes, and always avoids, giving the answer he’s chosen for himself because he could, because he had to. The Carrionites couldn’t name him, but what might happen if, some day, someone could?