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Sunday, December 6, 2015

Doctor Who: A Theory In Flames

Clara used to be an adventurer like you, until she took a raven to the stomach.

Well. I didn't see that coming. Moffat's take on the series end was a touch more... linear than mine, but I wasn't disappointed. Honestly, I think I'd have been more disappointed if I'd turned out to be right.

If Heaven Sent was the finest sort of experiment that New Who could give us, Hell Bent was an exercise in sending lore nerds apoplectic. Lore nerds like myself.
"Words are his weapons. When did they stop being ours?" 
This is the most in-depth look at Gallifrey that we've gotten since... well, since probably The Five Doctors. Probably moreso, as we've previously seen at most the council chambers, a courtroom, Rassilon's Tomb and Death Zone, and a not-insignificant portion of the capitol city's main complex throughout the entire series. Gallifrey has been previously described as a barren planet, with desert wastes stretching out where the unfortunate Gallifreyan population not part of the Time Lord elite live, and we see that here. The separation between haves and have-nots is markedly shown in the robes & armour vs. archaic farm-hand clothing and Rassilon's remark that “no one that matters” is out there with them.
Modern Cloisters
Classic Cloisters
Rassilon and the Doctor have never had the most friendly of working relationships, even in the old, early days of Time Lord society, when the Doctor was rumoured to have been known as “The Other,” and it's fitting seeing him undermine and strip Rassilon of his authority and respect. Saying “Get off my planet”, and the literal line in the sand, show just how much influence the Doctor has and how dangerous they see him. The fear in their reaction is similar to that of the Daleks, and rightfully so.

Seeing the Sisterhood of Karn again was agreeable, too. They've made quite a few appearances in recent years, since we saw them aiding the transformation between Eighth and War Doctors, and they're a real bonus to those of us familiar with the extended universe, having appeared in several books and audios in one form or another, not to mention having an origin in one of the classic series episode. On top of that, Ohila, speaker for the Sisterhood, is quickly becoming one of my favourite new series characters.

Which brings us finally to the difficult topic of Clara Oswald. Despite my eulogy for her a couple of episodes ago, I felt that her death was rather rushed and empty. I didn't feel that same emotional rush I did when Rose was trapped on the other side of the rift, when Amy shouted “Why did you say five minutes?” at him, when Ten said “I don't want to go.” At least, not until she whispered “Four and a half billion years.” Then my eyes welled up and stayed that way until the end.

The entire last half of this episode served as a fitting farewell, finally, for Clara. One that Face the Raven teased but ultimately didn't deliver. (Now if only she and Ashildr/Me can fix their own Chameleon circuit and figure out how to change the interior from factory settings. I swear, Chameleon circuits are the most unreliable part of a TARDIS.)
The origin of the Diner photos, aka the nail in the coffin of my theory.
As I said previously, some are taken from us; some are left behind; some forget; but rarely, if ever, are any forgotten. At the end, Clara becomes The Impossible Girl, but in a more evolved and perfected form: not aging, not changing, and forgotten from the Doctor's memory. A thing that shouldn't be and is taking the long way back – and as Ace and the Seventh Doctor showed us, it's a long way back to Perivale when you're taking the scenic route.

Interestingly -- and as I'm sure many people will willfully overlook -- Stephen Moffat explains the gender-political question of why the Doctor is a man with one act and three words: when the Time Lord General (a character established for a couple of years now as a white man) is shot and regenerates into a black woman, she says “Back to normal.” There's a pattern to their temporal DNA, but sometimes there are deviations, such as The Master becoming Missy, or the General becoming a white guy. And I never saw sainted Russel T. turning a white guy into a black woman.

And so, we're at the end of the this season:

  • Clara's taking the long way back to face the Raven. 
  • Those damned sunglasses are replaced with a new screwdriver (of which I'm certain there'll be a licensed toy soon enough).
  • The Doctor's got his groove back (wearing his velvety coat again). 
  • The casting of Maisie Williams paid off in spades, giving us a very memorable character and the promise of some great off-screen adventures.
  • The decision to make the majority of the episodes two-parters resulted in some stories that got a great deal of breathing room allowing us scenes like the Zygon speech
  • And the show that Capaldi carried nearly by himself will likely be remembered as one of the greats of the franchise.
All in all, a successful year with some truly excellent stories and only one glaring exception: Sleep No More. This was the Slitheen of the year, the episode you could really do without watching, that raised more questions than it answered and left you feeling very unfulfilled. I'm severely disappointed that they didn't revisit that to answer those questions.

I'll see you back on Boxing Day, as it looks like River's back. I'm sure that's causing universal celebration (he says with tongue firmly in cheek).

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