Sometimes, it doesn’t take new blood to do something different. For the penultimate episode of Doctor Who, The Doctor was locked in a castle with one villain who was seldom on-screen. It was a completely different approach for an episode of Doctor Who but it works because of it.
After Clara’s death at the end of last week’s episode, The Doctor is alone, doesn’t know where he is and is mad as hell. It’s not a good time to be a villain in the Whoniverse but that’s why The Doctor was whisked off to his own personal prison. Of course, while I don’t think that an episode that was just 60 minutes of The Doctor trapped inside his own mind would be a bad thing, they also gave him a new villain this week.
The Doctor was slowly stalked by The Veil, a figure in a white robe that didn’t seem to have much of a body apart from two ugly hands. No matter what The Doctor does or where The Doctor runs, The Veil is always hunting him, moving at a glacial pace but never stopping to rest or eat.
But The Veil never speaks or takes action except to attempt to kill The Doctor. Instead, the episode is carried by Peter Capaldi who is trapped by himself with nothing but his mind. In his mind’s eye, he’s in the TARDIS explaining to Clara how he got out of each close call. I’m not sure that any of the previous three Doctors could have pulled off looking like you still have it together while quite clearly completely mentally broken. The loss of Clara haunts Twelve and he’s just keeping it together well enough to not just give up at the hands of The Veil.
The episode is more of a psychological thriller than anything else. It’s not going to be everyone’s cup of tea, especially if you don’t like Peter Capaldi as The Doctor. There’s very little wibbly-wobbly-timey-wimey involved in the episode so it’s just watching what’s presented to us. It’s a smart episode without asking us to think too hard about what’s in front of us.
The interesting ending twist wasn’t that this whole thing was a setup perpetrated by the Timelords. I’d love to see how that gets explained next week since they’re supposedly in their own little isolated part of space and time. No, it’s that the whole episode took place in The Doctor’s Confession Dial.
We were under the impression that the Confession Dial was something of a last will and testament of a Timelord. Instead, it’s a live-action last will and testament designed in such a way to force a Timelord to reveal his darkest secrets under penalty of torture. We built up the Confession Dial to be something almost human in our heads but it turned out to be other application of Timelord science. Just like the TARDIS, a confession dial is bigger on the inside.
Of course, that doesn’t explain how the Timelords got to Ashilder and got the Confession Dial and brought it to Gallifrey. Those are also important pieces of information that we’ll probably be finding out soon.
Oh, and I guess that everyone wants to talk about The Doctor being the hybrid. As he started talking about it, that was the only logical conclusion. Of course, The Doctor is probably right when saying that the Daleks wouldn’t accept something that is only half-Dalek. Granted, all the teasing of The Doctor being a good Dalek would go to further the theory that the hybrid is part-Dalek. Given how much time that The Doctor spends on Earth and travelling with humans, it would only make sense if the hybrid was half-human.
As I write all this, I do wonder what the point of having a hybrid and this prophecy is all about. A revelation like this, assuming everyone’s theory is correct, is a pretty big deal in the grand scheme of 52 years of Doctor Who. It has to have a bigger consequence than “The Doctor is half-human.” What’s next as a result? I’m sure Moffat has some idea of planning a season out but has he thought years in advance with this character twist?
Overall, I thought this was a good episode even if it doesn’t quite hold up when you start trying to dissect it. It was a well-directed episode at the very least. It was a visual masterclass that didn’t need expensive CGI in order to tell a story and create memorable visual moments. At least this episode is pretty standalone as far as two-parters go. What you think of this episode won’t be affected by whether next week’s is any good or not.
Other random points of note:
- Even when he’s all alone, The Doctor can’t help but show off.
- This week in Moffat making you scared of the everyday: Flies. The Doctor knowing that death was upon him because the flies arrived shortly before The Veil was a nice touch. The Veil moving slowly, relentlessly and escorted by flies adds some tension that we wouldn’t get from a jump scare. You’re going for a psychological horror rather than making you jump out of your chair.
- The whole idea of the castle resetting doesn’t quite work. The Doctor left little hints lying around to help future selves. He also had a lovely change of clothes waiting for him. Where did that come from in the first place? Did an earlier version of himself decide to leave his clothes drying after a swim and never got back to them so he ran around the castle in his underwear?
Next week, The Doctor is back on Gallifrey and he’s mad as hell and he’s not going to take it anymore. He’s returned to Gallifrey where he will reunite with the Timelords, the Sisterhood of Karn and Ashilder. Of course, despite saving their skins repeatedly, The Doctor and his people haven’t always had a lovely relationship. It doesn’t look like that’s about to change soon.