We open in a machine shop. Two mechanics work on something spacey-wacey, timey-wimey. An alarm sounds, leaving one of them wondering: “What kind of idiot would try and steal a faulty TARDIS?” We zoom out to see we are, in fact, on Gallifrey. A very long time ago…
The First Doctor is just that kind of idiot it seems, and just that kind of thief. As he enters the nondescript tube that is the object of his plunder, we hear Clara’s voice. She is standing across from him, impossibly. “Doctor,” she says to One, “Sorry. But you’re about to make a very big mistake.”
Then Clara is falling, through what appears to be space and time itself. She doesn’t know where she is—why she feels fractured. She remembers only one thing. “I have to save the Doctor.” We see Clara saving the Doctor over and over again, in all his incantations, always knowing it is him no matter which face he wears. (If you are a classic Who fan, these are an utterly enchanting montages, seeing Clara chase after the Doctors of the past in period dress.) Though Clara calls to him, the Doctor never hears her—at least not until Eleven. Clara says she was blown into this world on a leaf, and she is still blowing. She wonders if she will ever land. “I’m Clara Oswald,” she reminds us with conviction. “I’m the impossible girl. I was born to save the Doctor.”
Then, we are in London, in 1893. A crazy prisoner in a cell, Clarence, chants a rhyme about the Whisper Men, creeping us all out. He is visited by none other than Madame Vastra, who remains awesome as always. Clarence wants to bargain for his life, but Vastra reminds him he’s a serial killer of women and she’ll have none of that. Until he says the magic phrase: “The Doctor.” He tells Vastra about the Doctor’s secret. “He has many,” she says dismissively. “He has one he will take to the grave. And it is discovered,” says Clarence. Now he has Vastra’s attention.
Vastra tells Jenny they need a conference call. Jenny begins preparations, hearing odd whispers in the hall as she does, but dismissing them. Vastra asks Jenny where Strax is, and Jenny reminds her it’s his weekend off. “I wish he’d never discovered that place,” Vastra sighs. That place? Glasgow, of course. Strax fights what is basically the human version of himself, in what appears to be the weirdest Highland Games ever. He asks his opponent to render him unconscious. This is a telepathic phone call, apparently, and Strax needs to be shoveled to the head to attend.
Jenny and Vastra take their places around a seriously cool pentagon shaped table. “Sleep well, my love,” Vastra coos to Jenny, making me sigh audibly. “You too,” Jenny says with a little smile. I LOVE THESE TWO!!! They are seriously the cutest couple on television. As they fall asleep to the strains of classical music, the ominous whispers begin again. “The trap is set for the Doctor’s friends…” something hisses, saying they will be trapped where the Doctor ends. Vastra and Jenny do not appear to hear this. Jenny and Vastra “awaken” in the dream state, pleasantly complimenting the decor and preparing tea. Strax appears suddenly, annoyed, of course. “Who else is coming?” he snarls. “The women,” Vastra reminds him.
Meanwhile, Clara is back at the Maitland house, attempting, to the dismay of Angie, to make her mother’s soufflé. This time she knows she will get it right. “This time, I will be Soufflé girl!” She talks with Artie about how the soufflé is all about the recipe, before discovering an ancient looking note that was delivered that day. It is from Vastra, inviting her to the call, which she (whether she wants to or not) will attend. Clara passes out.
Clara appears at the table. Vastra tells her that time travel has always been possible in dreams, and that they are awaiting only one more person. “Ugh,” moans Strax. “Not the one with the gigantic head.” You’d think he’d find that attractive no? Actually, it’s the hair that’s gigantic. The final attendee? Professor River Song. Cheers abound! From me, anyway. Vastra offers River tea. River smiles, thanks her, and starts drinking champagne. “How did you do that?” asks Jenny. “Disgracefully,” smiles River. Man, have I missed her. River and Jenny haven’t met and the introductions are a bit awkward, especially since Clara has heard of River, but never realized she was a woman. “Neither did I,” Strax admits. Brrr. Did it suddenly get really cold in here?
Vastra shows the assembled party what the prisoner Clarence has shared with her. It is coordinates, and they lead to the Doctor’s greatest secret. Vastra reminds Clara that the Doctor shares his secrets with no one—after all, does she even know the Doctor’s name? “Well, I know it,” River purrs, sanguine. Clara is surprised. “He told you?” “I made him,” River says, saucy. “How?” asks Clara. “It took a while,” River admits, and she doesn’t look like it was a task she minded performing. Not one bit. River tells Clara she is “A little more than a friend. A long time ago.” Vastra asks if the Doctor has never contacted her. “He doesn’t like endings,” River reminds her, sadly.
Throughout this discussion, Jenny has twitched. Looked scared. And now we see why. Jenny’s body is being approached by a Whisper Man, and he looks up to no good. In the dream state, River asks Vastra how she knows Clarence is trustworthy. She says the word that makes River sit up in alarm: “Trenzalore.” Vastra shows River Clarence’s words exactly. “He misunderstood…” River murmurs, and Jenny’s panic grows. Jenny tells Vastra repeatedly she has forgotten to lock the door, and Vastra dismisses her, wondering what River knows. Suddenly, Jenny stares into the distance. “Someone’s broken in,” she says, horrified. “Someone’s with us. I can hear them.” We see a flash of the Whisper Man’s vicious teeth. “Jenny, are you all right?” Vastra asks. “Sorry, Ma’am. So sorry, so sorry, so sorry,” Jenny says, in tears. “I think I’ve been murdered.” This puts the whole table in a panic, of course. “You’re under attack! Wake up now! Do it!” River shouts, slapping Vastra across the face. Vastra awakens. Jenny’s body is surrounded by hissing Whisper Men. River throws champagne into Strax’s face to awaken him. He too is surrounded by Whisper Men. Then, suddenly, the Whisper Men are in the dream state. “Tell the Doctor…” they hiss, over and over. “Tell him what?” demands Clara. The Great Intelligence appears and says, “His friends are lost forevermore. Unless he goes to Trenzalore.” River panics. She knows he can’t go there. He can never, ever go there.
Clara awakens, hearing the bumbling Eleven talking to her charges at the Maitland house. The Doctor appears, blindfolded, and I am sure River would have something naughty to say about that. He thinks he is playing Blind Man’s Bluff, a game suggested by Angie and Artie after he denied them the option to go to the movies. Clara knows better. The kids are long gone. Apparently, they’ve done this before. “The little Daleks!” the Doctor hisses, irritated. That would be his go to swear word, wouldn’t it?
Clara has to make tea for our stunned Eleven after she gets him up to speed, and the Doctor will only tell her that River is an old friend. When Clara tells him exactly what Clarence said, the Doctor’s eyes fill with tears. “And it was Trenzalore? It was definitely Trenzalore?” he asks, brokenly. “Yeah,” Clara says, worried. “Sorry,” the Doctor says, trying to get it together. He retreats to the TARDIS.
Clara follows him, of course. The Doctor tells her he’s heard of Trenzalore, but never wanted to find out what it was. “River would know, though,” he says, “River always knew.” He plugs Clara into the telepathic circuit of the TARDIS, saying it won’t hurt a bit. Of course, he lied. He tells Clara that there is one place you should never, ever go as a time-traveler. It turns out that what was “discovered” was not the Doctor’s secret. It was his grave. And though he must never go there, he will, to save Vastra and Strax, and Jenny (if it is possible. And it better be. Don’t do me like that, Moffat.) “They cared for me during the dark times. Never questioned me, never judged me. They were just…kind,” he says. Clara is all in. They’re going to break into the Doctor’s tomb.
Unfortunately, the TARDIS doesn’t like it. At all. She fights them every step of the way, and shuts down before she can land. The Doctor opens her doors, and sees the fiery planet of Trenzalore below. “How do we get there? Jump?” asks Clara. “Don’t be silly,” says the Doctor. “We fall.” And he turns off the anti-gravs, making our old girl plummet to the planet’s surface. I’m sure she is unamused. The Doctor broke her glass.
Clara and the Doctor emerge to silence in a graveyard. Though the many gravestones are bland and nondescript, the Doctor’s monument is not. It is the TARDIS. A giant, dying TARDIS who is too weak to even contain her “bigger on the inside” anymore. This upsets the Doctor greatly.
River suddenly appears, warning Clara that the Doctor can’t see her—only Clara can. “We’re mentally linked,” she tells her, noting that she left the conference call line open. The Doctor, annoyed, calls for Clara, until he stops in his tracks. “River,” he says—to her gravestone which stands before him. Clara protests that River isn’t dead, but the Doctor solemnly assures her she is. “But her grave can’t be here,” he says, intrigued.
Suddenly, Clara and the Doctor are surrounded by Whisper Men, chanting a new chant about how all must return to dust. River prompts Clara—if that’s not her grave, what is it then? “Maybe it’s the secret entrance to the tomb!” she repeats after River. “Makes sense,” the Doctor says hurriedly, trying to open it. “I’d never bury my wife out here!” “Your what?” Clara gasps, before they both fall into the earth.
Cut to the inside of the giant TARDIS. Vastra is there, as is Strax and Jenny’s body. Vastra is broken-hearted at the sight of her beloved so still. She hisses at Strax. “Get her back for me now or I will cut you into pieces.”UNHAND ME, RIDICULOUS REPTILE!” Strax says, adorable as ever. He uses his nursing ability (and a hand held medical device) to shock Jenny’s heart. And so my heart jumps too, at the sight of the reunited lovers. (All right, Moff. I’ll forgive you toying with my heart. AGAIN.) Before we can even sigh properly, however, the Whisper Men approach with Doctor Simeon (aka: The Great Intelligence.) He welcomes the trio to the Tomb of the Doctor.
Meanwhile, the Doctor and Clara are in some catacombs. “I hate catacombs,” says Clara, quite right. The…ghost, I guess?…of River follows, explaining to Clara what happened to her. That when she died, the Doctor uploaded her to the biggest library in the universe. “Left me like a book on a shelf. Didn’t even say goodbye,” River says softly. “He doesn’t like endings.” She is interrupted by Whisper Men. The chase is on.
Simeon is telling our trio of the Doctor’s “bloodsoaked” past, which surprises them. “The Doctor has been many things,” Vastra says. “But never bloodsoaked.” Tell that to the Daleks. Or the Cybermen. Or the other enemies the Doctor vanquished. Simeon warns them the Doctor will have other names. “Storm, The Beast, Valeyard,” he says (not talking about X-Men, surprisingly.) Vastra doubts this. We know it is true. Simeon also reveals that the Whisper Men are bodies to carry around his great mind. Ew. Gross.
The Doctor and Clara continue on, racing to the others. “Yowzah!” says the Doctor, and I flash back to The Angels Take Manhattan and I am terribly sad. Clara spookily begins to remember her past lives. Their past adventures. The Doctor tries to soothe her, but she is panicky and confused. The Doctor tries to calm her—it doesn’t work. Especially when the Whisper Men predict that she will die again, in the Doctor’s grave.
Finally, everyone is reunited. The Great Intelligence demands that the Doctor open the doors to his final resting place within the tomb, and he can do this by simply speaking his name. The Doctor refuses, despite the death threat to his friends. Amusingly, Strax tells them to assume combat formations, as the Whisper Men are unarmed. “So are we!” cries Jenny. “Do not divulge our military secrets!” hisses Strax. Oh, Strax. Don’t ever change, you giant headed weirdo of joy. The Doctor pleads for his friends’ lives, to no avail. “Doctor…WHO?!” The Great Intelligence demands. “Please!” the Doctor begs—and the doors suddenly open. “The TARDIS can still hear me,” River says, smiling, following up by calling the Doctor useless. She’s allowed. She’s River Friggin’ Song. She has spoken the Doctor’s name, though we never hear it, of course. (MOFFAT!!!!) “Clara are you okay?” the Doctor asks frantically. “That was not nice,” she coughs.
Inside the doors, according to The Great Intelligence, is peace for him and pain for the Doctor. Scared and reluctant, the Doctor pushes the doors apart and they all go inside and see a cluster of glowing threads of light, slowly rotating. “What, were you expecting a body?” asks the Doctor. “Bodies are boring. I’ve had loads of them.” Apparently, the light is the threads of time the Doctor has traveled. It is him—his whole journey. “From Gallifrey to Trenzalore,” he says. He sonics the light and we hear the voices of all of his incantations. It’s kind of thrilling. If by kind of you mean TOTALLY.
Unfortunately, it is too much for the Doctor, who collapses. “The paradox is very bad,” he says. And things are only made worse by The Great Intelligence telling him that he intends to enter the timestream light and thwart the Doctor’s victories. All of them. The Whisper Men disappear as The Great Intelligence enters the light, and the Doctor begins howling in pain. “What’s wrong with him?!” Clara calls, rushing to his side. “He’s being rewritten,” Vastra says, upset. And we see past Doctors experiencing just that. “He’s dying all at once,” Vastra says. She points out some specific instances, including the Dalek asylum, which, of course, triggers Clara’s memory. Clara looks at the light and knows, somehow, it is up to her to prevent the stars of the Universe going dark.
Clara begs the Doctor—how did I save you? How? As the Doctor is undone, things disappear. Jenny vanishes, because the Doctor never saved her. Strax becomes violent towards Vastra, because the Doctor never united them. Everything is falling apart.
Clara knows what to do. She has to enter the light, too. River tries to forbid it, telling her she will fragment into thousands of hers, but the real Clara—the heart of who she is—will be no more. The other Claras will just be copies. “But they’ll be real enough to save him,” Clara says softly, smiling a little. “It’s like my mum said,” she adds. “The soufflé isn’t the soufflé—the soufflé is the recipe.” River admits it is the only way to save him with a sad nod. “Well, how about that?” Clara says, scared but satisfied. “I’m Soufflé girl after all.” The Doctor pleads with her to stop, but she simply says that if it works, to leave quickly and spare her a thought now and then. “In fact, you know what? Run. Run you clever boy. And remember me,” she says, and she steps into the light to do what she was born to do.
Clara is falling again, saving the Doctor over and over again. Living 1,000 times in 1,000 places. “He hardly ever hears me,” she says. “But I have always been there. From the very beginning.” That mistake One was about to make? He almost chose the wrong TARDIS. She guided him to his old girl—the one with the knackered nav system that will show him much more fun.
In the tomb, the Doctor refuses to accept Clara is gone. River tries to warn him to stop, but he can’t hear her. “Clara has one advantage over the Great Intelligence,” he says, determined. “Me.” River pleads with him to listen—to hear her. He tells the trio to leave without him if they must—the TARDIS will take them home. River shouts and shouts, finally demanding that he “Be sensible!” and reaching out to slap his face.
And he reaches out and catches her arm in his hand.
(Yes, I did scream out loud, thank you very much.)
“How are you even doing that?” River whispers, shocked. “I’m not even really here.” “You’re always here to me,” he says, looking at her sadly. “And I always listen. And I can always see you.” “Then why didn’t you speak to me?” she asks. “Because I thought it would hurt too much.” he replies. “I believed I could have coped,” she says. “No,” he says. “I thought it would hurt me,” he says, somber, “And I was right.” (What, me? Crying? Yes. Yes, I am.)
And he reaches out and takes her face in his hands and kisses her. Really kisses her. Making her smile beautifully with her joy. Causing me to be elated and heartbroken at the same time, knowing how deeply he loves her.
Of course, no one else can see her, so the trio thinks that looks weird. Comic relief in a sad, sad moment.
The Doctor, still holding River’s face, tells her there is a time to live and a time to sleep, and she is an echo who should have faded by now. “It’s hard to leave, when you haven’t said goodbye,” she admits, in tears. “Then tell me. Because I don’t know. How do I say it?” he begs her. “There’s only one way I’d accept. If you ever loved me. Say it like you’re going to come back,” she asks. He thinks a moment, screws up his courage, and backs away from her, trying to be nonchalant. “Well, then,” he says, hair flopping into his eye, just the way she likes it. “See you around, Professor River Song.” “‘Til the next time, Doctor” she agrees, smiling, her face lovely and perfect. “Don’t wait up,” he teases. “Oh, there’s one more thing,” she says. The Doctor chuckles. “Isn’t there always?” “I was mentally linked with Clara,” River says. “If she’s really dead, how can I be here?” “Okay, how?” he asks. “Spoilers,” River sing-songs with a grin. “Goodbye…” she whispers. “…Sweetie,” and she fades away, breaking all of our hearts. The Doctor turns, determined, and leaps into his own tangled, beautiful threads.
Clara is still falling. Still lost. She knows the Doctor is safe now, and her story is done. She lands roughly in a foggy, scary, echoey place. All alone. She calls for the Doctor and hears only her own voice, making her break down.
Suddenly, his voice is there. “Clara,” the Doctor says, “You can hear me. I know you can.” She can’t see him, but he assures her he is everywhere. She is in his time stream and everything around her is him. And Doctors—multiple versions of him—run by, one at a time, even Nine, which makes me smile. “Those are my ghosts. My past. Every good day, every bad day,” he tells her.
Lightning flashes, and he tells her it is his doing. He has crossed his own time stream and it is collapsing. “Well, get out then!” she screams, but he won’t. Not without her. He sends her something—the gently falling leaf that blew her into the world. The one that can take her home.
And then he is there, reaching for her, begging her to come to him. “You can do it—I know you can!” he promises. “How?” she wonders, crying. “Because it’s impossible. And you’re my impossible girl. How many times have you saved me, Clara?” he asks, face tense and animated. “Just this once—just for the hell of it—let me save you.” She staggers toward him, and he takes her into his arms, holding her desperately. “Clara,” he calls, kissing her head, devoted. “My Clara.”
Then, suddenly, another man is there, back turned to them. Clara doesn’t know him, and the Doctor tries to get her to leave. Finally, Eleven admits it is him, and it is not one that Clara—or any of us—has ever seen. “I said he was me,” the Doctor says, “I never said he was the Doctor.” He tells her his real name isn’t the point. That the name he chose was a promise, and that version of him is the one who broke that promise. Clara faints, and the Doctor scoops her up. “He is my secret,” the Doctor says softly.
“What I did, I did without choice,” says the other version of him. “I know,” says Eleven, reluctantly. “In the name of peace and sanity,” the stranger continues. “But not in the name of the Doctor,” Eleven hisses, turning away. And an old man, with haunted eyes and a face wrought with devastation, turns to face us as the words blast onto the screen: “Introducing John Hurt. As THE DOCTOR.” To be continued on November 23rd. AAARGGGGHHHH!!!!
Thanks for sharing the second half of the series with me. It was wildly uneven, but a few episodes were truly memorable, and the conclusion was a stunner. Who’d a thunk at the beginning that I would ever, EVER like Clara? But now I do! Moff, you have pulled off the impossible. See you, provided I don’t die from the anticipation, in November.
Barbara Sirois Doyle is a writer for Sweatpants & Coffee. She is waiting for a madman with a box.