And this is when everything goes terribly, terribly wrong.
Because, as Danny receives a phone call from Clara, as she prepares for… something, as she warns him that there are many things she has to talk to him about, as she tells him that she loves him in a way that is final and foreboding and altogether weird…
Danny Pink dies.
“It wasn’t terrible. It was boring. It was… ordinary. He was alive, and then he was dead, and it was nothing, like stepping off a bus.”
“He deserved better. And so did you.”
“Oh, I didn’t deserve anything, nobody deserves anything. But I am owed… better. I am owed.”
“Who owes you?”
[the Doctor, through the phone] “Clara!”
Jenna Coleman’s acting in this scene is… off the charts. That change in Clara when Danny is taken from her by something as so…. fucking mundane as a traffic accident just when she is ready to put her life back together… it completes the change in her that’s been kicked off for real in Flatline. Clara is full of determination now. The deadly kind; and Jenna just… kills it, pardon the pun. That faraway look in her eyes, the mask of grief, shaken off when she has to pretend that everything’s fine when the Doctor answers her call… Jenna is fantastic, oh my god.
Methodically, Clara steals all the TARDIS keys from the various hiding places as she convinces the Doctor to take her to an active vulcano. And he does, because, how could he deny her, she’s his best friend? Ok, so he thinks vulcanoes are boring (and just not… his thing, you know, after Pompeji), but, ok, he’ll take her. He trusts her, so he pretends he never notices that all around him, she’s spinning a trap. She nearly succeeds in putting him to sleep just after he’s punched in the coordinates, and then she threatens to throw all the keys into that equivalent of Mount Doom if he doesn’t help her get Danny back.
“You told me once what it would take to destroy a TARDIS key. That’s what’s so good about lava. All seven, from all of your hiding places. Do I have your attention?”
“No. Not good, Clara.”
“And, fix it. Change it. Change what happened, save him. Bring him back.”
“Five left. Every time you say no to me, I will throw another key down there, do we understand each other?”
“Well, I understand you, let’s not get carried away.”
“Time can be rewritten.”
“With precision. With great care. Not today. But you know that, of course, otherwise you wouldn’t be threatening me.”
“Did you just say no?”
“If I change the events that brought you here, you will never come here and ask me to change those events! Paradox loop! The time line disintegrates, your time line, and yes!”
“Yes. I did just say no. Throw away the key.”
“I’ve seen you change time, I have seen you break any rule you want.”
“I know when I can, I know when I can’t. Throw away the key.”
“I know what you’re doing. You’re trying to take control.”
“I am in control. Throw away the key. Do as you are told!”
“Well, either you do as you’re told or stop threatening me. There really isn’t any other option here!”
“D’you know what, Doctor? When it comes to taking control, you really are out of your depth. One last chance. And I don’t care about the rules, I don’t give a damn about paradoxes, save Danny, bring him back, or I swear you will never step inside your TARDIS again.”
“Do as you’re told.”
“Say it again so I know you mean it.”
“I’m not kidding, Doctor–”
“Neither am I!”
“I will do it!”
“Clara, my Clara, I don’t think you will!”
And then she does.
“I’m so sorry, but I’d do it again. I’d do it again.”
She knows he’ll never do what she asks if she just asks. So, in her grief and her rage and her fury at the Universe for doing this to her, after all she’s been through, after all that Danny went through to get to that moment, happily in love with her, she will betray the Doctor and take what is owed to her. And she’s not completely blinded by it, she knows what she just did, and she’s grieving for the way she just betrayed the Doctor, she’s devastated by what she just did, but she’d do it again. Because it was her decision, and she made it.
I transcribed the whole scene there because I love it, for so many reasons. It’s a scene that could so easily end up in a stalemate, it could so easily have ended with the Doctor telling her that he can’t do it because her time line disintegrating means losing her, it could so easily have ended with Clara capitulating because he tells her that, it could so easily have ended with the Doctor emptying his hearts out and Clara giving in, but it didn’t. Yes, the Doctor implicitly told her that her life would end if he did it, and that that’s why he won’t, but it’s not one of those clichéd scenes where they bare all and that halts the conflict. The Doctor still guards himself (well, partly because he knows it’s just a dream state whilst she doesn’t), and Clara, even though she understands fine well what he is telling her, still does it.
“What are you doing, why are you just standing there, do you understand what I have just done?!”
“Look at your hand.”
“There’s nothing in my hand.”
“Clara, look in your hand.”
“The keys, they’re gone, they’re down there, they’re gone.”
“Clara, look in your hand. Did you seriously think that was going to work on me? They’re not sleep patches. They induce a dream state. Makes you very suggestible. I allowed the whole scenario to play out just as you planned. I was curious about how far you would go.”
“Well, now you know.”
“Yeah. Now I know.”
“I love him. So what now? What do we do now, you and me, what happens now? Doctor.”
“Go to hell.”
“Fair enough. Absolutely fair enough.”
“Clara? You asked me what we’re going to do. I told you. We’re going to hell. Or wherever it is people go when they die, if there is anywhere, whatever it is, we’re gonna go there and we’re gonna find Danny. And if it is in any way possible, we’re gonna bring him home.” […]
“You’re going to help me?”
“Well, why wouldn’t I help you?”
“Because of what I just did, I just—”
“You betrayed me. You betrayed my trust, you betrayed our friendship, you betrayed everything that I’ve ever stood for, you let me down!”
“Then why are you helping me?”
“Why? Do you think I care for you so little that betraying me would make a difference?”
By god, he loves her so much.
“I don’t deserve a friend like you.”
“Clara, I’m terribly sorry, but I’m exactly what you deserve.”
And he hates himself even more.
And if you’re not in love with Jenna and Peter’s acting now, you’re doing it wrong.
Go to hell — or, rather, the Nethersphere
He lets her dream state play out, he tests how deadly her determination is, and when it’s over, when she’s done it, he doesn’t judge. He doesn’t accuse. Yes, he’s angry, yes, he’s hurt. But he also knows that he is partly to blame for the fact that this is Clara Oswald now, this is who she can be if pushed too far. And he loves her. So he is going to do this, for her. And it’s the second time that he even calls Danny by his name instead of ‘P.E.’.
Then, it’s right on to Chris Addison returning as Seb, admin in the Nethersphere. Otherwise known as the Promised Land — the afterlife. This really is like The Thick of It — just a lot less fun. Or sweary.
“We’re here to get your boyfriend back from the dead, so buck up! Give me some attitude!”
He gives the best pep talks.
And then, Missy turns up and, uh, greets the Doctor. Clara’s face in that moment is pretty much priceless. I can’t believe this is my life now. Or my afterlife. I don’t even give a shit, just… someone, knock me out.
“Clara? Is it over now?”
“I think it’s over, yeah.”
“You’re very realistic.”
And ironically, the afterlife is where we learn those things about Danny’s life as a soldier that he could never talk about. The civilian that he killed, the little boy he shot in combat when he thought he was fighting terrorists. He shot a little boy. And now, in the afterlife, that little boy is right in front of him.
Matters of life and death — and complaints to the BBC
Also, the BBC got hundreds of complaints after this episode, for the dark nature of the subject matter. And I say: good. Let them tackle this, let them handle the scary stuff. Kids don’t have to have everything sugarcoated and presented nicely and neatly. Grimm fairy tales were nothing like fairy tales as we seem to understand them now, the Struwwelpeter stories are terrifying. But kids can take that. Death is part of life, and how can kids even hope to understand the world around them if we keep from them some of the most powerful concepts that drive human life, some of the things that break the people around them and they don’t know why?
Yes, it’s scary. But if Who can deal in such abstract concepts as Dalek genocide, then it can deal with death and what that means when it’s just about one person that you care about.
“Why’s there all this swearing?”
“Oh, I’ve got a lot of that internalised anger.”
And there is the Malcolm Tucker reference we’ve been pining for all series.
“She’ll be fine.”
“Speak for me again and I’ll detach something from you. I’ll be fine.”
I love her.
“Don’t cremate me.”
The thing is, the concept that the dying are still connected to their old life is a lie to keep the whole thing going. It’s like the little child in the cellar in Omelas, there’s got to be a lie that the people are being told to keep the racket going, and this is the one. Taken in by the idea that the dead can still feel, people agree to have their bodies stored like this so that Missy can… well. Do what she wants to do.
When the Doctor realises that it’s Time Lord technology that’s being used to make dead people into Cybermen, when he realises that it really was a two-timed heartbeat he felt, when he realises that there is only one Time Lord… well, Time Lady who loves him quite this much… that’s when the shit hits the fan, as they say.
The Master’s back.
“You know the key strategic weakness of the human race? The dead outnumber the living.”
“Couldn’t very well keep calling myself the Master, now could I?”
Actually, yes, she could have. Look, I adore that a Time Lord this important to the narrative has changed their gender, it’s fantastic, and it’s great the Doctor is every bit as afraid of her as he would have of him. But, seriously. If Elizabeth Swann can be Pirate King, I see no reason why a Time Lady can’t be the Master, for Christ’s sake. It’s their name, it was his, now it’s hers. The Corsair didn’t change their name when changing genders in between regenerations, did they? Of course there’s a field of tension there — the issue of “normal” words and the marked feminine version of it, the need for binary distinction. We could say that it’s important that a Mistress exists if there’s a Master, to emphasise the fact that women can do this, too, and that the title of power should not only lie in male hands; that we shouldn’t let the previously male identity of the Master subsume this new development — because we all know that there are fanboys out there outraged at the fact that the Master is a girl now. But we wouldn’t do that with “Doctor,” would we? So why should a Time Lord who’s millennia of years old be constrained by the fickleness of human linguistic concepts and gender binary because one word has a different etymology from the other? If we so desperately need to denote gender, we can say Master + her. Or they.
Anyway. The point is: now the Doctor is seriously, properly scared.
Next page: Death in Heaven.