The writing was absolutely on the wall from the get-go. Last week’s “Next Time…” was intentionally vague – and if you were listening, you could hear exactly which actress was doing the voiceover talk about “the Raven.” Throughout this episode, the trail of breadcrumbs leading up to the final scene was so plain that each breadcrumb was as big as an entire loaf. Season finales be damned – sometimes you just throw down when you want to throw down.
WARNING: What you’re about to read contains spoilers about this episode and possibly other episodes/seasons of Doctor Who. Proceed at your own risk/reward!
RECAP: After an oddly gleeful pre-credits sequence where the Doctor and Clara revel in their narrow escape from death during their latest “big adventure” that just wrapped up off-screen (wall, meet the writing), we welcome the return of Rigsby to the show! He’s got problems, though: with a new tattoo on his neck that he doesn’t remember getting, he shows the Doctor and Clara that the tattoo is counting down, prompting the trio to do some against-the-clock investigating.
Their sleuthing leads them to discover an extra-terrestrial Diagon Alley of sorts (apologies for the reference if you’re not a Harry Potter fan) – a hidden street in the heart of London that serves as home for refuge-seeking aliens that have agreed to live in peace and quiet. Keeping things in line for this group is no easy task, so thankfully they’ve got a Mayor who’s been around the block a few times; that’s right, it’s the “surprise” return of Me/Ashildr, happily portrayed once again by Game of Thrones’ Maisie Williams. Welcome back, girlfriend!
There’s a bit of a “whodunit” vibe as we learn that Rigsby has been accused of murdering one of the aliens, but the mystery is quickly unraveled to reveal that the “murder” and accusation of Rigsby was just a ploy to get the Doctor trapped with a teleporter strapped to his arm, as someone has strong-armed Me into giving him up for some presumed judgement/execution/bantering. One minor wrench thrown into the works, though: that tattoo that Rigsby had was a countdown to his “death sentence” at the hands of an alien entity called the Night Shade, a sentence that Me can commute now that the Doctor is captive and it’s been revealed that there was no actual murder. The wrench, of course, is that Clara transferred the countdown to her own person, thinking she was being clever (upon their entering the alien refuge, Me promised the Doctor that no harm would come to Clara), but the transfer voided Me’s ability to call off the Night Shade.
Clara and the Doctor get enough time to exchange some final words, and then Clara meets her end. The Doctor is teleported away. The TARDIS becomes a sort of shrine from Rigsby to Clara. And after a one-week reprieve, we’re back to “To Be Continued…”
>>> I know it feels like I just glazed over it, but the big focus of the episode’s conclusion is obviously the death* of Clara. Yes, I have to put an asterisk there, because on a show likeDoctor Who, nothing is guaranteed to be taken at face value. Have we truly seen the last of Clara? After all, she’s already been “presumed dead” at least once (arguably more) this season already – in the two-part season opener – and look how that turned out. Is she really gone? Who knows. Who… knows. All of the fingers on all of the noses. With a nickname like “The Impossible Girl,” you can never say never.
>>> If this truly was the final adventure for Clara Oswald, however… I’m not sure how I want to feel about it. It’s no secret that Clara hasn’t been the most popular companion, and it wasn’t necessarily well-hidden information that she would be meeting her end during this season. Certainly it was designed to be a shock that it would happen midseason, but the signs have been painfully obvious for most of the season – her increased recklessness as of late, the Doctor’s struggle with losing people and how to save who he can. It’s almost as if Clara has been acting manically suicidal to a degree; on some level of her psyche, she’s wanted to die ever since Danny passed away last season, and she vaguely alludes to this fact when she name-drops Mr. Pink before she faces the Night Shade. This, for me, taints her farewell, more than a little. Her final piece definitely doesn’t register on par with Donna, or Rose, or even Amy and Rory for that matter. Hell, throw Martha in there while you’re at it. But I guess if everything was spectacular, then nothing would be, eh?
>>> I don’t necessarily want to keep harping on how Clara isn’t my favorite companion of all time… but I’ll just say this: it speaks volumes to me that, when it’s discovered that she is about to die due to a death sentence that she willingly took from someone and said death sentence could potentially be transferred to someone else, she’s in the presence of two essentially-immortal beings – beings that could conceivably take the “death sentence” from her and possibly survive it somehow (at least with greater odds than she could) – and neither one offers an attempt to do so. “Bye, Felicia…”
>>> The writer of this episode, Sarah Dollard, is a brand-new writer and this is her first DW script – talk about throwing her into the fire! Overall the episode was fairly solid from a plot/pacing standpoint, but my biggest nitpick is probably the inconsistencies with the setup of circumstances leading to Clara “having” to die. After all, the aliens of the alley made such a big deal about “the rules” and how important it was to keep the peace via staying true to the rules and the truth in general, but two big lies – the fact that Me had promised no harm would come to Clara, and the fact that the woman that Rigsby was to have “killed” and prompted all this outrage wasn’t even dead! – were the catalysts to Clara’s demise. Seems very contrarian to me.
>>> The “Retcon” drug reference, for those true fans of the Doctor Who universe, was established with everyone’s favorite time-vortex-jumping rapscallion Jack Harkness on his spinoff series Torchwood. Go check it out if you haven’t already, it’s loads of fun!
>>> This episode isn’t the first time that the TARDIS has been painted upon. Graffiti on her exterior was made infamous with the “BAD WOLF” markings in “Aliens of London,” the fourth episode of the Ninth Doctor’s only season. The best use of paint on the exterior of the TARDIS, however, has to be in “The Happiness Patrol,” a three-part episode from the 25th season of Doctor Who. Aired in 1988 during the Seventh Doctor’s run, the TARDIS gets painted a lovely shade of pink by The Happiness Patrol, a fanatical police force at a human colony where cheerfulness is forced upon every resident. Sadly, she is painted back to blue by the end of the serial.
CLOSING THOUGHTS: Not much to say here that hasn’t been said already. As much as I have at any point this season, I’m looking forward to see what next week brings us.
PRINCIPAL CAST FEATURED IN THIS EPISODE:
Peter Capaldi as The Doctor
Jenna Louise Coleman as Clara Oswald
Maisie Williams as Me/Ashildr