Doctor Who Finale Recap: The Happy Ending (That Really Isn’t)
All told, this was a strong year for Who.
This is a recap of the most recent episode of Doctor Who. It contains spoilers.
With the season now behind us, we can all agree that it’s been a year of highs and lows for Doctor Who — even if we can’t agree on which were which. My own highlights were The Magician’s Apprentice, The Witch’s Familiar and Heaven Sent. My lowlights were, at first, Before the Flood and Sleep No More, but both of these stories have actually risen in my estimation over the weeks. One of the things that helped the original series to achieve immortality was the way the cream would rise to the top: what would at first seem to be an awful story would mature with age, as I recalled their numerous moments of originality and inventiveness — and that’s eventually how I’d remember the stories themselves. That’s what’s happening to me with both Flood and Sleep, which is always a good thing.
Speaking of achieving immortality: Everyone In The Finale.
From the Sisterhood of Karn’s Ohila to Ashildr/Me, and from the moment-before-death Clara to Time Lord founder Rassilon, the Twelfth Doctor’s era seems to be particularly enamoured with the idea and the consequences of immortality. The Doctor is now on borrowed time as well, having exceeded his regeneration limit, so this feels like a good time to explore the ups and downs of living forever.
All the action and drama in Hell Bent hinges on the idea of consequence.
The Doctor is willing to break his own rules to save his friend’s life, even if it means fracturing the Universe. And this is where the Doctor is actually correct: Clara’s death should not have happened.
The only real moment of concern in Face the Raven (one I did not mention at the time until it was clear how it would all play out) was that it felt as if Clara was being punished for trying to be like the Doctor. It was a strange rebuke, because the show is all about trying to make us be like the Doctor: never cowardly, never cruel. Her death felt like Doctor Who’s equivalent of moral punishments in slasher movies.
This week’s course correction to bring her back was more about consequences than it was about happy endings. The Doctor forgetting Clara (jokes from the anti-Clara crowd aside) is itself a deeply sad ending. What at first seemed to be an ill-advised repeat of the Donna Noble ending — the powerful season four finale saw the Doctor wiping his friend’s memory to save her life, depicted there as a tragedy and thus avoiding the potential moral problem of Clara’s demise — turned out to be a very clever switcheroo.
Hell Bent initially comes across as somewhat baffling, lurching wildly about until it finds its point. But this is an impression that will no doubt fall away with multiple viewings. Returning to other stories written by Steven Moffat that have received similar complaints have revealed narratives that are much stronger and more focused than they at first appear. It’s this big picture stuff that may lose both viewers and fans in the moment, but rewards in the long term.
All told, this was a strong year for Who. Perhaps the ratio of good stories was better in Capaldi’s debut season, but 2015 had a personality all its own. We now have a strong sense of what differentiates the Twelfth Doctor’s era from the others, and I’m particularly excited to see where it goes from here.
Question To Ponder
- Did we resolve all of Clara’s hanging plotlines? Almost, possibly. Did the fact that Clara couldn’t write the number ‘3’, as shown in The Bells of St John and The Rings of Akhatan, ever get explained?
- Is the Doctor right about having been in that exact diner before? It’s possible that Clara’s TARDIS simply took on the appearance of the other diner to blend into the surroundings. Or perhaps Clara and Me do actually go back to 23 April 2011 to serve drinks to the Eleventh Doctor and his friends. I prefer the latter explanation.
- This is not the first time a companion has wiped the Doctor’s memory: Charlotte Pollard, the Eighth Doctor’s companion, later travelled with the Sixth, then wiped his memory in the audio adventure Blue Forgotten Planet (2009) so as not to cause a paradox with her pair o’ Docs.
- If the neural blocker was set to “human”, why did it work on the Doctor? If it was a setting easy enough to switch with a sonic, then the Doctor wouldn’t have had to specify that he needed a human one. Conclusion: the Doctor is half-human, as Me suggests in this episode, and the 1996 telemovie’s most contentious claim is now (mostly) vindicated.
- Did the Daleks invade the Matrix during the Time War? Much earlier, it seems: the audio spinoff series Gallifrey saw them finagling their way into it in Ascension (2013).
- How does this depiction of the end of the universe square with other end-of-the-universe stories such as Utopia, Listen, and numerous spin-off books and audios? I have no answer, so you’ll have to ponder that one on your own.
- What exactly has been happening with Rassilon? The Time Lord founder, already a long-dead figure of legend in the original series, was resurrected in the form of Timothy Dalton for David Tennant’s 2009 swansong The End of Time. He’s apparently regenerated into Donald Sumpter, an actor who appeared in 1968’s The Wheel In Space, 1972’s The Sea Devils, as well as two episodes of spinoff The Sarah Jane Adventures, fact fans.
- Are we going to see more of Clara and Me’s adventures? Probably not, but we’ll almost certainly hear them. With audio company Big Finish now producing numerous stories based on the new series, it’s difficult to imagine they won’t try to sign Jenna Coleman and Maisie Williams for a bunch of Diner Adventures box sets.
- Was Missy lying in last year’s Death In Heaven when she told the Doctor the coordinates of Gallifrey? It seemed that way at the time when the Doctor finds nought but empty space, but it was a really weird lie to tell. Turns out she was telling the truth: she just didn’t tell him when. Psych.
- Why did the Gallifrey version of Clara in the Name of the Doctor insist on the First Doctor taking the other TARDIS? This one’s always bothered me, and now we know: it was actually Clara. We know she’s going back to Gallifrey at some point, so surely this suspiciously-specific advice is coming from a place of knowledge.
Did you enjoy seeing a season finale featuring Time Lord intrigue on Gallifrey, the Doctor becoming Lord President and breaking into the Matrix, and a brown-haired companion departing to have new adventures? Then you need 1978’s The Invasion of Time.
Taking place in the middle of the Fourth Doctor’s reign, it’s not quite as highly-regarded as his previous Gallifrey-set romp The Deadly Assassin, but there’s a lot to admire in it. It’s got a TARDIS-set chase that’s oft-mocked, but still pretty impressive, and a mid-story twisty cliffhanger that’s legitimately surprising.