What happens when the inevitable happens when you least expect it? I think that was what Steven Moffat was going for in putting together this season. He mixed that in with another of his favourite tropes this week when The Doctor’s past actions came back on him in a way he didn’t expect. This week’s episode was a memorable one but I’m not sure that I’d call it any good until the final ten minutes.
Spoiler Alert: There will be spoilers for this episode in this review. Be warned if you haven’t watched this episode yet.
This week’s episode sees the return of Rigsy from last season’s episode Flatline. If all the previews hadn’t mentioned that Rigsy was a returning character, I wouldn’t have remembered since he was a supporting character from a nothing episode. Also rather inconsequential in this episode was the return of Maisie Williams as Ashilder. Going from Viking child to master thief and now the leader of a secret village of aliens in London.
I’m fairly certain that the episode works because we have familiar characters to draw The Doctor and Clara in. Do either of them really need to be in the episode though? Rigsy is one of the few characters with a direct line to The Doctor so for one person to have a countdown to death tattooed on their neck, it only really makes sense for it to be someone that’s familiar with the TARDIS crew.
As for Ashilder being in this episode, I’m not as sold on that being necessary. I can’t see The Doctor reacting in a different way if the “villain” of the episode was a different character. I don’t even think that the villain has to be a character that The Doctor has already met.
Repeatedly over the course of the season, there have been teasers about Clara’s mortality. Sure, we knew that Jenna Coleman was leaving the show so she was going to have to be written out someone. I think that everyone expected that this would be a season finale event. Personally, I thought that the cliffhanger to next week’s episode would have Clara in danger or dead but they pulled the trigger here.
That Clara died shouldn’t be a surprise. Prior to this episode, we’ve had five stories (four in two-parters and last week’s standalone episode) this season and in all five, Clara’s death has been foreshadowed somehow and someway. The Daleks looked like they exterminated her at the start of the season. The Doctor’s ghost convinced him that Clara was next on the underwater ghosts’ hit list. The Mire abducted her. The Zygons abducted her. And last week, the Morpheus machine put her on the clock in that unresolved story.
The best part of the episode was that they let Clara have a long goodbye. I don’t think that Clara’s death would have had as much impact. If she just made a last-minute grab for the countdown tattoo thing and saved Rigsy with seconds left on the clock, I don’t think there would have been much of an emotional impact. The Doctor raining hell down on Ashilder would have been the payoff from that.
Giving Clara a chance to say goodbye gave her death a little emotional impact, even if you rolled her eyes at her own stupidity. Letting her face death head on rather than trying to avoid it made her seem far more noble and brave in death than a sudden death like Rose or Donna or Amy’s. Okay, none of them died but they effectively were killed.
The impact for me came through sympathy for The Doctor rather than for Clara. The Doctor was trying to find a way to save Clara from death while she just took it without too many complaints. It was The Doctor who was more upset by Clara’s impending demise than she was so I felt worse for The Doctor than I did for Clara. Whatever makes the death have some semblance of impact, I suppose.
And while they’ve been teasing Clara’s death for weeks, Clara taking chances for the sake of a thrill, consequences be damned, is something we’ve been seeing since P.E. died. Clara’s had a death wish since the last Christmas special when she was willing to let her brain be eaten by those facehuggers. How many episodes since then have made passing references to close calls Clara and The Doctor had? Perhaps Clara never cared about facing death. Perhaps death is something she’s wanted all along.
Overall, I think this episode was really down to the final ten minutes. If The Doctor and Clara didn’t have that final goodbye and Clara just up and died, this episode probably would have been just a filler episode to bring us to the season finale. Of course, I’m not sure anyone on the writing staff particularly cared either because we’re already on to the next mystery of who wants The Doctor dead. Maybe it was just a filler episode.
Other random points of note:
- I love that The Doctor gets distracted by the “new human.” You’d think he’d know a bit about this having a granddaughter an all.
- The Doctor also debuted a new outfit this week. I don’t mind it because they’re still keeping if fairly simple in terms of colours and a lack of patterns and accessories. That being said, I’m not as big a fan of that ensemble as I was the last one with the sparkly jumper.
Next week, the two-part season finale begins. The Doctor is on his own on a strange island that’s supposed to be some sort of giant puzzle castle. There is only The Doctor and a strange hooded figure that looked like is was just a strange robe with nothing inside. He has to solve the puzzle to live or something like that. We’ll all figure out what’s happening next week in Heaven Sent.