Now, that was 90% great, 5% unnecessary subplot, and 5% rushed ending. Welcome to the heart of the TARDIS.
“Salvage of a lifetime. You meant the ship—I meant Clara.”
There are several good things in this ep, a few really great ones (some of which got retroactively squashed), and then some that work well in theory, but less in practice; at least in combination with all that other stuff already going on.
The fact that the TARDIS (or, actually, Time Lord technology in general) is something that everyone in the universe would love to get their hands on; and that the TARDIS itself is, literally, invaluable—that’s important. It’s also important to see what the TARDIS will do to you if you wrong her, or, worse, if you steal from her. She’s always been there for him, and the Doctor is so helpless when he doesn’t know how to fix her when it’s his turn, it’s heartbreaking.
The TARDIS is a living, breathing, feeling, sentient machine; and it’s important that she and the Doctor’s companions get along, because she’s always there for him, and for them. She protects them with all her power, and whoever earns the Doctor’s trust has hers. Have. we. all. got. that. Which also means that, try as he might, the Doctor didn’t trust Clara. He wasn’t sure whether she was hiding her identity from him, he thought she might be laying a trap for him; and as much as he loves her personality and the mystery she represents, he didn’t trust her, not fully. Hence, the TARDIS couldn’t, either, not unreservedly. She gave Clara kudos for struggling to save the Doctor whatever it took, but it’s still difficult beyond that. And why?
Because Clara’s relationship with the Doctor itself is standing on shaky ground. She likes him, they’re clearly important to each other, but she’s afraid of him, afraid of what he is, who he is, and what he does. She loves it, yeah. But she doesn’t know him, doesn’t understand him, and there are dangers lurking behind every corner, and for all her love of adventure, Clara can’t help but look at the bigger picture. Who is this man, this Time Lord, and what has made him who he is? That dialogue sequence on the cliff was brilliant, and it’s the main reason why I’m upset about the resolution. Clara needed that, because her story with the Doctor is predominantly one thing: scary. She fears him, he freaks her out; because his behaviour around her is entirely unhinged as he’s so frantically trying to figure her out. She loves him and she trusts him, when it comes down to it, but there’s things that happen that give her pause and wonder if she’s done the right thing, running away with him. Every companion questions that particular life choice at some point, but Clara never stops. Usually something happens that affirms the companions’ faith in him, and they get on with it. Clara squares her shoulders and gets on with it, too, but often enough it’s the opposite direction. If there’s one theme going on here it’s that the Doctor and Clara continuously get split up. Either Clara or the Doctor wander off or get captured, they spend significant amounts of an episode apart from each other. Oh, and Clara is angry, too. She accepts the danger when it’s there, but dammit, what does he think he’s doing? He shows them the Universe, and he puts them in mortal danger. It’s only right someone punched him for that, and hard.
“So we’re not doing hugging, I get that now!”
That’s it, right there. Every companion does the thing, they hug him; every episode, every time they come out of something ok and alive. Nine professed to hug anyone, Ten would have snogged an Ood, and Eleven is handsy by default. But Clara hugs? Not much happening there, right up until the end. And she’ll have forgotten that hug…
There’s a lot of One in Eleven; always has been. Every time he yells at you that he doesn’t care, that the Universe doesn’t care, that’s him. One had no qualms about stranding Ian and Barbara goodness knows where, and although he wouldn’t do that to anyone who didn’t have it coming anymore, no companion has been that afraid of him since Ian and Barbara. And when he threatened the salvagers with the self-destruct—they believed him. And, for a moment, so did I; even knowing that countdowns and Jammie Dodgers don’t mean much. You don’t just get into a spaceship with a madman—because that is how he sees himself. Driven himself mad with what he’s done. The Dream Lord once told him that he’d thrown his life away. And the Dream Lord is the Doctor.
“Safe-ish. Apart from the monsters and the TARDIS reinventing the architecture every five minutes.”
All of that is good and right and important. What’s a real pity is that Clara isn’t going to remember that conversation on the cliff. Ignorance is not bliss, she has a right to know what the Doctor’s thinking that she is, and she has the right to call him out on his weird behaviour. She did that at the beginning of the episode, of course, but not enough; she didn’t get at the meat of the story there. And now she’s probably never going to now because of this:
BIG FRIENDLY BUTTON
Right. What even was that thing?
“I can feel a TARDIS tantrum coming on.”
The ending felt rushed and too deus ex machina. After showing Clara the heart of the TARDIS, and the beautiful horror of the already exploded engine that the TARDIS is keeping contained in what’s probably unbearable agony (some of these interiors are truly sublime in every sense of the word), they just flick a switch. It felt anti-climactic and it felt like the spectacle of being in the heart of the TARDIS just… evaporated, unacknowledged. Since Gregor felt that “shred of decency” within himself even after the reboot, that could mean that the TARDIS was leaking enough of the timeline to enable Clara to remember…
And then, there are the Van Baalen brothers. Yes, great for showing that greed is bad, and that humans can be huge twats if you let them. But on the whole, that subplot about Tricky not being an android after all was entirely unnecessary and detracted from the pull and the pacing of the main story. It served as a reminder of Rory—”Why do you have to be so human?” – “Because right now I’m not.”—and it was a great way of showing how much our identity formation shapes the way we experience things. Tricky felt empathy with the TARDIS, he was the first to sense that she’s a living thing and that she’s in torment, which, in his understanding of his own identity, is because he’s an android. Machine calling out to machine, even though he says of himself, “No hate, no fear, no pain.” Still, that entire thing was a bad idea. Both older brothers were very flat, one-dimensional supporting characters, especially Gregor remained too simple, narratively speaking, in his greed.
“Proper trouble. It needs fixing or we’re toast.”
Now, there are several throw-backs to the past in this, because the TARDIS itself is leaking, but not only recent memories. Since I didn’t catch all of it, here an excerpt from the Fourth Dimension for this episode:
“When the Encyclopaedia Gallifreya ‘leaks’ and we hear knowledge ebbing from its container, you might just be able to catch the familiar voice of Timothy Dalton – in other words, Rassilon himself from The End of Time.
Immediately after Bram tries to dismantle the TARDIS console we hear an audio mosaic of lines from previous episodes– some more clearly than others… We initially catch the Doctor’s granddaughter, Susan, from An Unearthly Child, revealing how the initials of TARDIS stand for Time and Relative Dimension in Space. Also from that story, towards the end of the sequence, you can hear one of the people she was addressing – Ian Chesterton – expressing his astonishment at the nature of the ship! The clips from that scene are taken from:
• An Unearthly Child, episode 1. (see above)
• Colony in Space, episode 1. The Third Doctor explains to Jo Grant that the TARDIS is dimensionally transcendental.
• The Robots of Death, episode 1. The Fourth Doctor discusses trans-dimensional engineering with Leela.
• The Doctor’s Wife. The TARDIS asks if ‘sexy thing’ is her name!
• Rose. The Ninth Doctor assures Rose that the assembled hordes of Genghis Khan couldn’t get through ‘that door’.
• The Beast Below. Amy Pond reflects that she is in space…
• Smith and Jones. Martha Jones struggles to understand the TARDIS.”
That is good stuff.
But then, there’s this:
What. the. hell?
If the Doctor’s name’s in there… I mean, he’s the only survivor, so he probably wrote it, or maybe the TARDIS did. And, clearly, displaying it like this must be self-punishment. But… if it’s supposed to be one big secret, if the answer to the question that must never be answered is his name, then why write it down where a silly human can find it and accidentally speak it?
Sure, a Dalek or the Silence or whoever won’t get at it there, so they won’t find out just like that, but… there’s still that thing where the Doctor said to River that there’s only one occasion where he could tell anyone his name. We know that Alex Kingston is confirmed for the finale, so this must be it. But then, Eleven didn’t know what the Silence meant when they talked about the Question. So if Ten knew about the Field of Trenzalore itself, why didn’t Eleven make the connection? I’m still of the opinion that it won’t be the actual name that we’re going to hear, but rather the story behind it, the reason why his name must remain a secret, and why he gave himself the name of the Doctor. After all, the question is Doctor Who? That’s not necessarily aiming at who he is, or was, but it might also mean who he wants to be.
“Some things, you don’t wanna know.”
No, because then what would she think of you, Doctor?
Next: The Crimson Horror.