Spoilers are straight ahead. But if you're concerned about spoilers, you probably shouldn't read an article with the word in the title.
If, like me, you read the press about this season before it started, you knew Clara would be making her farewell. And now, we know how. This episode was a lot of things, but mostly it was just right. Just as it should be. I’ve had uneven feelings about Clara since she joined Team TARDIS, but now that her time is over, I can say it ended well. Let’s talk about how.
After some unseen adventure, Clara and the Doctor return to London at the behest of Clara’s friend Rigsy. If you don’t remember him, don’t kick yourself, because I didn’t either. He was a featured character in season 8’s Flatline. But really, it doesn’t matter who he is. All that matters is that he was a good person in need of saving, that makes him serve his purpose in the story. Pay attention here and you’ll notice that the Doctor’s wardrobe changed. When he and Clara dash back into the TARDIS from whatever alien encounter they’ve just escaped, he’s got on a t-shirt and hoodie under his jacket; what my mom used to call “play clothes.” (I only wish there had been a clear enough shot to catch what was on his t-shirt; at one point I thought it might be Marvin the Martian, which, if that’s so, HA). When Clara and the Doctor land on Earth to answer Rigsy’s call, he’s changed into a clean white shirt and vest; all business. Had I the time I’d love to go back and make a study of this Doctor’s fashion choices. Has he always dressed for the occasion?
The Doctor and Clara solve the mystery when they track down Ashildr/Me to a “trap street” in London where refugee aliens can hide and Maisie Williams runs the show. Nice to see a lot of familiar alien faces here, included Judoon fittingly disguised as policemen. It was a clever touch to show Me having too-limited a memory for her extensive lifespan. It begs the unspoken question, what must the Doctor have forgotten, given that he’s in the same relative age-bracket as Me? I wonder if that will end up tying into the resolution of this plot. At any rate, Rigsy’s mysteriously-appearing, constantly-changing tattoo is a countdown to a death sentence and Team TARDIS engage in clearing his name. Clara’s plan to take on his tattoo after gaining the protection of the Mayor felt wrong as soon as she proposed it, but we didn’t quite know why. The recklessness foreshadowed in the opening moment sprung back to mind.
The Janus were a cool species to introduce. The details that only the females are psychic and the victim’s child was concealing her gender seemed unnecessary, but the episode didn’t feel as if anything else had been sacrificed to include it, so it didn’t really bother me. We learn Me’s real motivation that sets up the final episodes for the season and then we hit a big fat giant snag, leading to the climax of the moment.
Everything about this last scene with Clara was gorgeous and perfect. As the series progressed, we’ve seen her become more and more like the Doctor. So, it is only right she should meet her end in much the same way he has and will again, defending humanity. She made a bold move to save an innocent man and assumed it would all work out. She made a deal like the Doctor would without knowing everything the Doctor knows. In that moment, she forgot she wasn’t him and that was her undoing. The Doctor’s immediate reaction of rage and revenge was well-suited. It’s hardly the first time he’s threatened to burn down the world to save his friend. I loved how the conceit of the countdown on the tattoo allowed the time for Clara to witness and respond to his reaction. Whatever you may feel about Clara, she does know the Doctor, who he is and what he needs. As many times as he’s said he has a duty of care for her, she has just as much of one for him. Her farewell instructions are touching and sweet and their hug brought me back to their goodbye in the cafe last season, each hiding their faces with a hug to hide their pain and fear from the other. In the end, she bravely faces the raven and made me love her in her exit like I hadn’t always during her lifetime.
And oh dear, what a bad mistake Me has made. The Doctor’s fury about this fate burned right through my screen and warmed up my living room. If I were Me, I’d be wishing for the universe to expand more quickly, just to put more distance between myself and that glare. The Janus foretold that Me thought she was doing the right thing, by securing the continued safety of her alien refugees in exchange for trapping the Doctor. A smarter plan would have been to loop the Doctor in and get his help in defeating the unknown enemy. I can only hope the writers have a good reason why that wasn’t possible in the coming episodes and that the Doctor can absolve Me when he learns it. I really like that character and it would be a shame for her to go out on a sour note like this.
So Clara died. I did not see that coming. We’ve seen a lot of ways to write companions off the show from the mundane to the outlandish, but this is the first companion death we’ve seen in the new series. Though many of the Doctor’s friends have died, there’s only been one other true companion to die during their time with the Doctor in all 52 years of the show. It’s an incredibly significant moment for the Doctor and its effect on him should be a sight to see. For me, her grave is too fresh to speculate about her replacement, save to reiterate my hope that it’s not another young white woman from 20th century London, but not for the reason you probably think: I just want more aliens. We haven’t seen an alien companion since the end of the classic series. It’s long overdue. It’d be fine with me if the alien took the form of a young white woman from 20th century London (though I think something else would be more interesting), I just want to see how a different species responds to the Doctor when exposed to him in the long term. Wouldn’t that be cool?
Even though Clara’s death was an important, moving moment, what sticks with me about this episode is what is going to happen next. This “To Be Continued” is genuinely warranted and I can’t see any outcome other than this being the first part of a three-part finale. Who wanted the Doctor trapped and what is he going to do about it? The Daleks and Cybermen would be boring. Missy was featured too recently for it to be her. A new enemy would feel too contrived. We haven’t seen the Weeping Angels in a bit, but they took the last companions and, besides, it’s not really their style. Maybe the Silence? Forgive the pun, but time will tell. See you next week!