Welcome back, lovely readers! Wow, what a hell of an episode. I liked it, I mean I think I did, but there was a lot going on. There were a lot of different parts to it, a lot of different stories all jammed into one episode. It wasn’t bad, just a bit wonky and off-kilter, which, I think, was intentional, given the circumstances of the episode. It was meant to have you feeling just a bit off from a regular Doctor Who episode. So, let’s get into it.
At first, from the preview and then the opening, I kind of thought we were in for a horror story. I was a little disappointed, because I wasn’t really feeling scared, but I thought maybe it was just me being a bit distracted. But, of course, Doctor Who is never quite what you think it’s going to be in the beginning. So then we get to the Anti Zone which just felt like a weird, Terry Gilliam-esque acid trip. The production design in this segment was stellar. It made sense for the story, but it was just a really jarring environment, again I think intentionally. Ribbons was a neat character and the moths were effectively the scariest thing about the episode. However it did feel as if you could lift that whole section out of the story and just have the mirror portal come out on the other side and you wouldn’t have missed much.
I’ll get to the back half of the plot in due course, but I want to pause here and examine the character of Hanne and her relationship with Ryan. First of all, Doctor Who continues to hit it out of the park on diversity casting, using an actual blind actress to play a blind girl. See, rest of the TV and movie universe? It’s Not. That. Hard. And she did a phenomenal job. Cast more differently-abled people. I am not a crackpot. Anyway. I loved how organic both these characters were and how their relationship evolved. They should have got on straight away, both being scared and somewhat damaged young adults. But of course, their pain, as well as Hanne’s fear, caused them to push each other away. Ryan’s naivete about the possible cause of Erik’s disappearance is driven by his rationalization of his own pain; his dad just left, so hers must have too. It’s just the way bad dads are, and if he accepts that, he doesn’t have to deal with any more painful ideas than that. Then, as he relates to her pain and loss more as a human, they come to have a bond. It strikes me as the first we’ve seen of Ryan having a real meaningful connection to another person since Grace’s death. It opens him up to that beautiful moment with Graham at the end, which was just so lovely.
Graham was the total MVP of the episode. In small ways, like his excellent one-liners and his pickle and cheese sandwich (a move I’d totally pull if I were aboard the TARDIS), and in big ones, saving the entire universe in a personally heartbreaking way. The mirror world part of the plot was just straight up mean, to the characters and the audience. It didn’t reach the emotionally manipulative levels of “I’m never watching this one again.” (see the season 1 episode “Father’s Day”), but it was mean to the new characters, mean to the characters we know and love, and mean to the audience. It’s not as if we don’t know the way this is going to end, but we have to experience it anyway and it made me a little mad at the show for putting the Doctor and her friends through it. But of course Graham is wise enough to recognize the difference between the real Grace and this one and let her go in a way I’m not sure the other two would have been able to do. I really feared for a moment that Graham might want to leave the TARDIS, which he would have been justified in doing after such a rough experience. But that newly deepened connection to Ryan brought him back in and it couldn’t have happened any other way.
Holy shit, man, the Solitract. What a mind-bending concept that I completely loved. This last section of the story just blew my mind-grapes. I mean, first of all, the idea of a universal force that causes all other known elements of our universe to not be able to function together is pure genius, and how rare for a sci-fi concept to just be something I’d never even heard of or even considered existing before. And even more special for it not to be an aggressive threat, just one that wants love and connection, not to fight or dominate, just to coexist, which would of course be the tragic flaw of something whose defining trait is that it cannot. Which, of course, could perhaps only be neutralized by the one being in the universe who doesn’t want to fight but wants to help, the Doctor, who is just as upset by having made a new friend and then having to say goodbye. That forlornly blown kiss at the end was perfection. Just an amazing, amazing Doctor Who story.
So, as it turns out, I liked this episode quite a bit more than I was expecting to when it started out and it grows on me the more I think about it. Side note to Moffat, this is how you build a story and layer twist upon twist without raising the stakes to universe-ending proportions every damn time, nudge nudge, wink wink. Next week, is our finale (although we will have the New Year’s episode as cold comfort) and I am BUMMED. I was only just getting to know and love this cast and now we won’t see them for a good long while. So see you next week to make the most of what’s left.