It’s a bit of a cheat, I’ll admit, combining these two episodes into one review. But beyond simply making up for lost time, both episodes come from new-to-Who writer, Jamie Mathieson and center on the constantly evolving relationship between The Doctor and Clara. And while the basic premises of these two episodes don’t necessarily form a link between them, how The Doctor and Clara interact definitely does.
At the end of “Kill the Moon,” The Doctor and Clara were in a rocky spot after he basically did the one thing she never imagined he would: abandon her. This led to Clara giving him what’s for and storming out of the TARDIS. It was a marvelous scene and a clear turning point in their relationship.
Needless to say, it was quite the surprise to see her back with The Doctor in the following episode, “Mummy on the Orient Express.” Yet it’s quickly made apparent that the intention of this trip is for one last hurrah, one last jaunt somewhere off in the universe for The Doctor and his Impossible Girl. And while the chosen destination is the spectacular recreation of the Orient Express – in space, brimming with period amenities and characters – Clara can’t help but feel a little let down that their final adventure appears so innocuous.
But of course, she couldn’t be more wrong. This particular destination wasn’t chosen for its atmosphere, but rather because some mysterious madman has been trying to lure The Doctor there for ages to solve the mystery of the Foretold: a gruesome mummy who appears only to its next victim exactly 66 seconds before it kills them.
It was The Doctor’s plan from the beginning to arrive on this train and unravel its mummy mystery, and to do so he needed Gus – the omnipresent computer running the gig – to be left unaware of his true intention. To do that, The Doctor lied, but he also had to have Clara lie for him.
It’s a telling moment for Clara when she’s presented with The Doctor’s request: to bring Maisie, the Foretold’s next victim, to him by promising he’ll save her, when it’s more likely he’ll use her death as another opportunity to gather valuable information. Even more telling is the fact Clara does it, she lies sweetly, promising The Doctor will sort it all out, he always does.
However, in this case it doesn’t end up being a lie at all. The Doctor manages to trick the Foretold into thinking he’s Maisie, and as the mummy approaches he’s able to use those crucial 66 seconds to figure it all out – just like The Doctor always does. With the monster vanquished and Gus pleased with the results, the insane computer sees no reason for survivors and tries to kill everyone anyway, forcing The Doctor to perform another last minute miracle. (Or, he just saved Clara and let everyone else suffocate, hahaha.)
Once alone again, Clara apologizes for doubting him but The Doctor finally tells her the real truth: he was never sure he could have saved Maisse because he hadn’t been able to save any of the others. He’s never sure he can save anyone, and he would have continued to let passengers die until he figured it out.
“Sometimes, the only choices you have are bad ones, but you still have to choose,” he tell Clara, perfectly mirroring the dilemma in “Kill the Moon.” And while I personally still find his abandonment of her in that episode appalling, here he’s showing her that he must make these kind of decisions all the time, and then live with the consequences. That’s an unimaginable burden, and one The Doctor has carried for some 1200 years.
It’s also the most honest The Doctor has ever been with Clara, possibly with any companion, and this new level of understanding between them is very quickly put to the test in Mathieson’s second episode, “Flatline.”
As you can see, things were far from usual in “Flatline” as creatures from another dimension – a two dimensional dimension – were leeching energy from the TARDIS in order to make their way into our three-dimensional world. This leeching of energy affects the TARDIS’ outward appearance and in turn it began to shrink, making the phrase ‘it’s bigger on the inside’ never before more apt.
With The Doctor trapped inside his teeny, tiny TARDIS, it’s up to Clara to play Doctor – a role she’s played here and there throughout this season, but in this episode she gets to do so fully. She’s got the sonic, the psychic paper, acts smug and superior, but most importantly she has to make decisions that put lives at risk, and sometimes, she has to lie. It’s almost as if this entire season has been leading up to this moment where Clara gets to complete embody the role of The Doctor and learn firsthand just how hard of a job it is.
She makes a companion out of a graffiti artist, Rigsy, who provides her with indispensable local knowledge, and goes about putting together the pieces of the strange disappearances and bizarre paintings that appear out of nowhere and seem to depict the victims. With The Doctor constantly chatting away in her ear, the two eventually discover that those who disappear are being dissected by these two dimensional invaders as they try and learn how to enter our world.
With that knowledge, these two dimensional beings start to become three dimensional and soon Clara, Rigsy, and the other hapless humans with them are running for their lives through abandoned underground tunnels. While on the run, Clara loses The Doctor when the TARDIS takes a tumble down a shaft and lands on an active train track. The Doctor must then Addams Family his way to safety, eventually needing to lock the TARDIS into siege mode (Which looks uncannily like the Pandorica.) to prevent any more of its energy being stolen.
Now The Doctor isn’t just trapped, he’s really trapped, and these creatures are closing in. It’s all up to Clara to stop them. Thankfully, she’s a quick study: “Rule number one of being The Doctor is using your enemies power against them.” Tricking the 2D beings into feeding their energy into a fake door with the siege-locked TARDIS behind it, the TARDIS is repowered and fully-sized. The Doctor is then able to easily dispatch the invaders, giving a swell speech about being Earth’s protector, yada, yada, yada.
Yet is was Clara who really saved the day, performing the role of Doctor admirably; something The Doctor at first only admitted when he believed he was near his end and that Clara was no longer listening in, but he later acknowledges. Though, it doesn’t sound like it’s something he’s especially proud of: “You were an exceptional Doctor, Clara… goodness had nothing to do with it.”
With Clara perplexed by The Doctor’s statement, it seems there’s another who’s pleased with her work: Missy. Yes, that mystery woman who greets the dead in paradise and is for some reason keenly interested in The Doctor. Looking on she remarks, “Clara, my Clara. I have chosen well.”
WHAT? Just as we have The Doctor and Clara reaching a new understanding, with Clara finally learning firsthand the tough choices The Doctor makes, we get this: a vague and troubling statement that might just be what finally tears them apart. Is Clara working for Missy? Perhaps even unknowingly? Has her entire time with The Doctor been a test? And after finally proving she can think like him, did she pass it?
The possibility for speculation is endless, but it’s clear this season has kept its focus on whether or not the teaming of the Twelfth Doctor and Clara would work out. For months there have been rumors Jenna Coleman will leave at the end of this season, and if Clara’s involvement with Missy is the reason for her departure, it’s a good guess The Doctor will see it as an act of betrayal. (Bring on the feels.)
Also, I’m even more convinced now it was Missy who gave Clara the phone number of the TARDIS, since it appears she’s been orchestrating their relationship from the beginning.
Doctor Who airs Saturday at 9pm on BBC America.
Watch a preview of next week’s episode – “In the Forest of the Night”: