“Fear is a superpower.”
I’ll be the first to admit that I was skeptical this episode would come together.
About halfway through, when the futuristic spaceman Danny Pink doppleganger showed up in the restaurant, only to turn out to be Danny (and presumably Clara)’s great grandson, I rolled my eyes and expected the worst. For one thing, I’m not a big fan of the whole “Back to the Future distant relatives who look exactly like the character for our time” gimmick. But more than that, I just felt the episode going off the rails.
But that ending … that was a thing of beauty. When it turned out that the crying boy was the Doctor, I had the biggest smile on my face. And when Clara grabbed his leg from under the bed, I practically leapt out of my seat.
This episode reminded me what I love about Steven Moffat’s writing. It was clever and fun and did something completely unexpected.
I love the idea that there was no villain. The Doctor created this elaborate theory about invisible monsters and set out on a quest to find them, only to create the very monster he was seeking.
That’s where things also get a bit wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey. The entire loop is one big temporal paradox. As a child, the Doctor has a “dream” where something under the bed grabs his leg. He begins to believe that it was an unseen entity so adept at disguising itself that it’s always with you and you never know it. In looking for this mythical creature, he taps into Clara’s psyche, using the TARDIS to look for key points connected to her time stream. This ultimately sends Clara to Galifrey where she inadvertently encounters a young, crying Doctor and accidentally becomes the very monster he’s been looking for.
This is actually a pretty clever twist on the classic self-consistency scenario. Usually in stories like this, a character travels back in time to try to prevent something bad from happening, only to cause the very thing they are trying to prevent. But that wasn’t the Doctor’s aim. He had no interest in going back to that pivotal moment in his own life. Instead, he was looking for a similar moment in Clara’s life. And it was through that search that he accidentally created the catalyst for the whole adventure.
But that’s not all – Clara gives the young Doctor a pep talk, one that the episode implies may have put him on the path to becoming a proper Time Lord, since at that point he was a scared child incapable of sleeping in the same place as the other children. We don’t know for sure, but it’s implied that this put his life on track to become the Doctor we know and love. He may never have stolen that TARDIS and set out across the galaxy if not for this moment.
Furthermore, Clara and the Doctor also create Danny the soldier when they enter Rupert Pink’s timeline. We still don’t know a lot about Danny, but the one thing that is clear is that he’s haunted by his time in the military. And it is clearly Clara’s toy soldier pep talk (and the Doctor’s subsequent brainwashing) that set him on the path to become Danny Pink the solider.
So the course of two character’s lives are determined by this one mission. And the kicker is that there was never a threat to begin with. They were never after anything. There was no monster.
Really fun stuff. I’ve been a bit frustrated with this season as a whole so far, but I really loved this episode.
And another thing …
- It’s still happening slower than I’d like it to, but I feel like I’m finally getting a sense of Peter Capaldi’s version of the Doctor. He has a bit of a Zen professor vibe to him – thoughtful and calculating. I’d still like to see more from him though.
- Nothing about The Promise Land this week, which is a bit of a surprise. But then again, no one died.
- Moffat is taking a lot of shots at Jenna Coleman’s appearance this season. Strax kept calling her a boy and mocking her appearance in the season premiere. And tonight, there were jokes about her not wearing makeup and her face being too wide. She’s going to develop a complex.
- I feel like Danny should have had more questions for Clara when she showed up at his apartment at the end of the episode. In their last encounter, she had freaked him out by knowing his name used to be Rupert and being cagey about how she had this info. Then she showed up on his doorstep unexpectedly late at night and he just laughed the whole thing off and said he was being difficult. If I were him, I would have still had some questions for her.
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.