“The Doctor has a secret he will take to the grave. It is discovered.”
- Clarence DeMarco
Well now, that certainly was a finale, wasn’t it?
There are so many facets of it to discuss and so many far-reaching implications of what we saw that I’m going to try to take a moment to simply look at the episode as a whole before plunging my hand all the way down into the bottom of this particular can of worms.
This back stretch of series seven has been an uneven one. It hasn’t been bad by any means, but with the first half of the season devoted to the Ponds’ farewell and so much of this stretch being standalone episodes where The Doctor offhandedly wonders about the origin of “Impossible Girl,” it feels like we never really got to know Clara as a person. One thing I think former showrunner Russell T. Davies was better at than Steven Moffat was grounding his characters in the real world and getting the audience to intimately know the worlds they were leaving behind to travel with The Doctor. Rose Tyler, Martha Jones and Donna Noble had rich lives filled with families and friends. With Moffat, most of the screen time is spent inside that little blue box traveling the globe, so the world back home only gets seen in passing.
I think Jenna-Louise Coleman has done a great job injecting a lot of charm and personality into Clara, but I still wish we had a better grasp on who she was. We got the story of how her parents met and we got a few glimpses at her life as a nanny, but not much beyond that. We don’t really know why she was so willing to hop inside the TARDIS and run away with The Doctor. We don’t know how she went from being initially wary of him to trusting him implicitly. So because of that, we don’t really understand why she would be willing to sacrifice herself in order to save him at the end of this episode, outside of the fact that she thinks she’s fated to since other Claras have already popped up. So while I thought her jumping into the time stream worked on a narrative level and worked as an explanation for her mystery, I thought it didn’t have the emotional punch it could have had if we had spent more time with this character and had gotten to know her better as a person.
Outside of that though, I thought it was a damn entertaining hour of television. Moffat knows how to make things seem epic. He also knows how to write quippy dialogue and to give fans entertaining moments. The Whisper Men were suitably creepy. Strax spending his off days in Glasgow fighting the locals made me laugh (especially since Moffat is from Scotland and attended the University of Glasgow). Everything involving River was pure gold, including her sultry smile at revealing that she turned the tea into wine “distastefully.” And the image of the monolithic dead TARDIS as The Doctor’s final resting place was one of my favorite images Moffat has ever given us.
If you didn’t stop too long to dwell on the implications of what you were seeing, I thought it was a fun and entertaining finale. In a vacuum, it’s a solid hour of television. But outside of giving us an explanation for the “Impossible Girl” and giving River some closure, it didn’t resolve things and instead left us with a big ol’ “To be continued …” So a lot of this episode’s success will hinge on what Moffat does with the 50th anniversary special in November.
But between now and then, let’s get into that can of worms, shall we …
Wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey stuff
The Doctor warns that him being in the same room as that beam of time energy (the “scar tissue” of his journey through time and space) is a paradox in and of itself. So I can’t even begin to process what him jumping into that time stream to rescue Clara means. But again, this is probably something we’ll have to wait for the 50th anniversary to see how Moffat handles it.
There was another paradox created though, one that wasn’t address at all. Clara’s entire storyline with The Doctor is one big Predestination Paradox. The Doctor becomes obsessed with Clara after crossing paths with her at the Asylum of the Daleks and in Victorian London at Christmas. Both of those versions of Clara die, uttering the same final words, “Run you clever boy and remember.” Because of this, The Doctor woos modern-day Clara onto the TARDIS in order to get to the bottom of this bizarre mystery. As a result of their travels together, she jumps into the time stream, sending her back across The Doctor’s life, which is why she is there at the asylum and in Victorian London. This is one big causality loop, but it’s a self-correcting paradox since this is all self-contained, meaning we don’t have to worry about the universe exploding or anything since it is all limited to this one chain of events.
And if that isn’t wrinkling your brain at all, consider this – there was actually an even bigger causality loop created as well. When Clara jumps into the time stream and is scattered throughout The Doctor’s life, she goes back to the day he steals the TARDIS and tells him which one to steal. If the first Doctor takes a different TARDIS, that creates a giant butterfly effect and alters countless Who stories, since so many of them revolved around personality quirks in the specific TARDIS he chose. And again, if Clara isn’t there to tell him which one to take, The Doctor might never cross paths with Clara at all.
There was another issue raised by Clara’s leap into the time stream. When John Hurt shows up at the end as The Doctor’s “secret,” Clara says she’s never seen him before. She says that she has only seen 11 Doctors. But the episode clearly states that the time energy that Clara, The Doctor and the Great Intelligence all jump into is from the end of The Doctor’s life. So it extends beyond the eleventh Doctor to any and all future incarnations (which the show has previously stated should include at least a twelfth and thirteenth regeneration). So why did Clara only get scattered back in time and not forward in time? Why couldn’t she and the Great Intelligence affect future events? My best guess is that The Doctor jumping into his own time stream somehow stopped things there and anything that happens from this point on completely changes his future. But that’s just a guess really.
Speaking of John Hurt, let’s take a look at his character for a moment, shall we …
The Doctor’s secret
(Before I get into this, let me give a special shout out to the brilliant Chris Kirkman, who runs the tabletop gaming site Dice Hate Me. It was Chris who put originally offered this theory up to me as a possible explanation for who John Hurt is.)
Here’s what we know about Hurt’s character – he’s a part of The Doctor, but he’s not “The Doctor.” Instead, the eleventh Doctor says: “He’s the one who broke the promise.” He is The Doctor’s “secret,” the incarnation of himself that he is ashamed of.
Earlier in the episode, the Great Intelligence says something very interesting when talking about The Doctor. He says, “The Doctor lives his life in darker hues day upon day. He will have other names before the end. The Storm. The Beast. The Valeyard.”
The Great Intelligence’s words could very well be foreshadowing. The Valeyard was a character introduced in season 23 of the original Doctor Who, way back in 1986. The entire series was one overarcing storyline, broken into four parts, entitled “The Trial of a Time Lord.” As the name suggests, the sixth Doctor was put on trial for crimes he had allegedly committed. On Gallifrey, a valeyard is a prosecutor. So the Valeyard was the man attempting to get The Doctor sentenced to death for his “crimes.” But in a twist ending, it turns out that the Valeyard is actually a future incarnation of The Doctor.
As The Master explains in “The Trial of a Time Lord: The Ultimate Foe”: “There is some evil in all of us, Doctor – even you. The Valeyard is an amalgamation of the darker sides of your nature, somewhere between your twelfth and final incarnation, and I may say you do not improve with age.”
The whole thing turns out to be an attempt at a massive coverup. Certain powerful Gallifreyans wanted The Doctor killed because he was the sole witness to their crimes. In 2,000,000 AD, the High Council of Time Lords moved Earth out of its orbit, killing almost everyone on the planet. They used the Valeyard to drum up charges against The Doctor in order to have him executed. His reward was that they would give all of The Doctor’s remaining regenerations to him, making him the only remaining version of The Doctor. The Valeyard planned to betray the council once he got what he wanted, killing them after going all Highlander on his previous selfs.
The line Hurt utters before turning around for his big dramatic reveal is: “What I did I did without choice in the name of peace and sanity.”
Certainly, betraying the sixth Doctor at the behest of the High Council in order to keep their dark secrets hidden would qualify as making a choice in the name of “peace and sanity.” And the description The Doctor gives of Hurt being his secret and him not truly being The Doctor would fit as well. Moffat enjoys doing the unexpected, so it’s entirely possible that Hurt’s character could be something else entirely, but for now, this is certainly the explanation that makes the most sense given the (extremely limited) amount of information we have.
Update: After having one more night to think about this, I came up with another possible theory – John Hurt is the very last Doctor. He is the one buried at Trenzalore and enshrined inside the dead TARDIS. The Great Intelligence’s statement that “The Doctor lives his life in darker hues day upon day” becomes even more poignant then because this is an incarnation of The Doctor that is even darker than the Valeyard. We know that he died on a battlefield, so the war he fights in and the actions leading to his death could be what Hurt was talking about when he said, “What I did I did without choice in the name of peace and sanity.”
I actually really like this interpretation the more I think about it (and not just because I came up with it and Kirkman didn’t). This way, Hurt’s character is haunted by his actions at Trenzalore and he’s trapped inside the time stream forced to live with the mistakes that he made, aimlessly wandering in a Gallifreyan purgatory. And the eleventh Doctor stumbling across him could lead to some sort of redemption for his character in the anniversary special.
And another thing …
- Trenzalore was first mentioned by Dorium Maldovar (the tubby blue guy) in “The Wedding of River Song.” He said, “On the Fields of Trenzalore, on the fall of the Eleventh, when no living creature can speak falsely or fail to answer, a question will be asked. A question that must never ever be answered.” The entire discussion with Dorium and The Doctor reveals that the Silence are trying to stop the question from getting asked. Dorium’s comments seem to indicate that this is where the eleventh Doctor will die. But, if you pay attention to the episode, when The Doctor enters the console room of the TARDIS and sees his time stream, he collapses. So his “fall” is a literal one.
- Clara being there on Gallifrey to tell The Doctor which TARDIS to take means that, in theory, the Great Intelligence was there in Gallifrey at the beginning as well. What if, while Clara was talking to The Doctor, the Great Intelligence was hacking its way into the Matrix, the database that contains all of Gallifrey’s combined knowledge? Could be a fun avenue to explore during the 50th anniversary special.
- At this point, they don’t even need to put Moffat’s name in the credits. All you have to do is wait for an on-screen character to say “Doctor who?” and you know you are watching a Moffat-penned episode.
- The less you dwell on the whole conference call thing, the better. The entire conceit that people from different time periods could someone merge their consciousnesses is dodgy enough, but when you throw in the fact that the River that appeared was the River trapped in the Library, it gets even more convoluted. Add to that the idea that The Doctor could still somehow see (and kiss) River at the end and logically the entire thing doesn’t make a damn bit of sense. (It also felt a bit like Moffat had just watched Inception on cable.) But, once again, dramatically it was satisfying.
- The Doctor linked Clara’s mind to the TARDIS’ telepathic circuit when getting the coordinates to Trenzalore. Was that link ever broken or is her mind still connected to the TARDIS? I feel like this could end up being a very important plot point going forward.
- In addition to the Glasgow thing, Strax’s continued inability to distinguish men and women and his description of River as “the one with the gigantic head” made me giggle.
- In case you missed it, it has been confirmed that both Steven Moffat and Matt Smith will be returning for an eighth season of Doctor Who. Brian Minchin will join Moffat as executive producer.
See you guys back here in November.
Written by Joel Murphy. If you enjoy his recaps, he also writes a weekly pop culture column called Murphy’s Law, which you can find here. Follow Joel on Twitter @FreeMisterClark or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.