Spoilers are straight ahead. But if you're concerned about spoilers, you probably shouldn't read an article with the word in the title.
So now we know what the season has been building toward. Moffat and company have some big hairy swinging balls bringing the Doctor back to Gallifrey after all this time. It’s not to say they can’t pull this off, but they have pulled out an awfully big gun and I hope they can handle it responsibly.
I knew something Gallifreyan was up as soon as the Doctor appeared in the castle. Something about the look of the equipment, all those clock gears, it was a little too timey-wimey to be a coincidence. Watching the Doctor figure out how to stop the nightmare hooded figure with a confession was cool, but what I really enjoyed was the insight into the inner workings of his mind as he dived out the window. So often we see the Doctor save the day in an instant, work out what’s going on so apparently fast. It was a real stroke of brilliance to show how he locks himself in a storeroom in his mind, slows down time to give him enough time to think, and works out the answer by bouncing questions off the walls of the storeroom as a way of showing off, which is what he does best. For a while, when we didn’t see Clara or hear her face, I just thought it was a clever way of getting out of paying Jenna Colman to appear in this episode, but it turned out to be an effective strategy of making it mean more when we did see her face and hear her speak at a crucial moment.
One thing I like so much about this show is how it refers back to its own past so frequently, in tiny subtle ways. The Doctor kept referring to the castle as a trap and, as we learned from The Time of Angels, the one thing you should never put in a trap is him. The nightmare creature and the search for Room 12 was reminiscent of the guardian and the hotel from The God Complex. The skulls at the bottom of the lake brought to mind those at the bottom of the pit in the heart of the headless monks fortress where Dorium Maldovar’s head was kept in The Wedding of River Song. It’s little touches like these that give me faith that the writers are paying attention and that they know we are too. Apropos of nothing, just a nice little touch.
I started to figure out the plot a little ahead of when the Doctor did. When we saw the clothes drying by the fire and when we saw all the skulls at the bottom of the water, that’s when I started to suspect this might be a loop. As the Doctor figured out that only a confession he had never admitted to before would stop the nightmare creature, I had a feeling the confession dial would be involved. And I noticed there was something weird about the starfield above the tower far sooner than the Doctor did. This is a good example of an instance where the audience being clued in ahead of the character actually works for the episode. For one thing, it’s believable that we could figure out where this might lead sooner than the Doctor. Being removed from potential danger by being a viewer rather than a participant gives us more time to think; we didn’t have to constantly run from one extreme of the castle to another just to catch 82 minutes to think. In addition, instead of feeling predictable, I found the episode intriguing. I picked up on all these clues, but I had no idea where they would lead. My brain was so tied up in trying to figure it out that the conclusion kind of blindsided me in a fun and cool way.
If you weren’t impressed by Capaldi before, you certainly should be now. He ran the gamut of almost every emotion in this episode. The one that played the strongest with me was his sheer exhaustion when he realized what was happening and what he’d have to do. We’ve all been in a situation like this before. You’re faced with an enormously difficult problem, feeling that if you can just figure out the solution everything will be OK. He perfectly captured that moment when you realize that implementing the solution is going to be a million times harder than figuring out what it is. You can hardly blame him for wanting to give up just this once and it was refreshing to see him admit that sometimes he wants to give up, even if he never does. It makes him just a little more human, which leads me to my next point.
THE HYBRID! I mentioned in an earlier piece that I felt the idea of a hybrid was being brought up a lot this season. I had to look it up but Davros brought up the Time Lord prophecy of a hybrid in the opening 2-parter and the idea came up again when the Doctor saved Ashlidr. The concept has been faintly echoing through this season and now we know "the hybrid is me." Except we don’t. Because, as an astute fellow Whovian pointed out to me, is the hybrid me or is it Me? On the one hand, we have our hero who we have laughingly known is “half-human on my mother’s side” since his 8th incarnation in the FOX TV movie. On the other, we have a recurring character featured all through this season who is a hybrid herself, has given herself the name of Me, and is a malevolent force that is directly tied to the Doctor’s arrival in Gallifrey. And furthermore, who is Me, really? We’ve seen that the Master changed gender and became Missy. Is it also possible that she regenerated into Ashildr, setting the whole thing up in the first place and pretending to be someone else to the Doctor just to get back to Gallifrey and get her revenge? Did I just blow your mind? OK, I don’t think that last scenario is too likely, but it is the kind of wacky nonsensical twist we’ve come to expect from Doctor Who.
Whatever happens, this has been a hell of an enjoyable and exciting season and I am beyond psyched to see how it wraps up next week. I’m definitely going to have to go back and rewatch The Time of the Doctor for Gallifrey’s last appearance so I can catch myself up. See you next week!