There is nothing I can say that isn’t spoilery. NOTHING. So behind a spoiler cut I go.
When it gets to the end of the year and I’m having to decide which episode, in a fantastic season, was actually the best, this one will be up there in the running. It blew me away.
From the gorgeous set design to the intriguing storyline to that final scene between Clara and the Doctor, it had me. I was predisposed to like it because of the Gothic overtones and the ravens and so forth. I’ve got a real weakness for hidden worlds within familiar cities, so a hidden street in London was absolutely my thing. If someone had tried to propose an episode that contained some of my favourite tropes, it would have been the outline for this episode.
And then I got a high impact emotional story to go with it, and I was in fannish heaven.
I’m a huge fan of Ashildr/Me. I think that was probably evident when I discussed The Woman Who Lived and I haven’t changed my mind on that. Maisie Williams is phenomenal, and her portrayal of a woman who has seen too much for the human mind to cope with gets better each time. In this story, Me isn’t explicitly the villain and I don’t think she ever will be, but she definitely isn’t a white hat. She’s got a mission–to protect the community she’s built–and when her goals clash with the Doctor’s, she’s going to put her goals first. None of her actions are vicious or angry: she’s resigned to what’s happening and trying to make it work with the least collateral damage possible, but she doesn’t shy away from hard choices.
Clara is collateral damage.
It was incredible watching Me’s face as she realised when Clara had done, and then watching Clara as she made the same realisation. You could see that Me wanted to change the outcome, that she’d assumed nobody would be reckless enough to transfer the chrono-lock, and she was as helpless as everyone else. This whole season has been about consequences–very obviously with the Zygons, more subtly elsewhere–and it’s a theme that has its full expression here.
Me and Clara both have to face the consequences of what they’ve done and there’s no easy way out. Me didn’t intend to kill the Doctor’s companion. That wasn’t part of her plan, not least because I suspect she knows how badly that would end. But it’s what happened and that’s going to come back at some point.
Clara didn’t intend to die. She’s been getting more reckless with every episode, always assuming that she and the Doctor will be able to fix everything. That the Doctor can always find the escape clause. The scene where she’s hanging out of the TARDIS was entirely in keeping with the way she’s been behaving: doing something ridiculously dangerous, knowing that something will always catch her, and clearly getting a buzz from it.
The Doctor’s reaction to that shows how worried he was starting to grow over her behaviour, which anyone could see was going to end badly sooner rather than later. I’d been getting the feeling for weeks that Clara’s exit story would be related to her increasing carelessness, but I hadn’t expected it to happen so soon or to be such a final exit.
Jenna Coleman’s acting here was superb. She conveyed so much in those last scenes purely through facial expression. That was what made my heart stutter a little: the dawning understanding that she couldn’t escape this time, there wasn’t a clever Doctor trick coming, all done through eyes and face. Beautiful work.
Did the final goodbye teeter slightly on the edge of overblown? Maybe, but I didn’t actually care by that stage. I was in the moment, still hoping for a reprieve and knowing there wouldn’t be one, and I needed them to say a really heartfelt goodbye. After all, Clara might have started as Eleven’s companion, but she’s really been Twelve’s. And that kind of connection needs a proper acknowledgement.
I didn’t expect the outcome from this episode. I’ve known that Jenna Coleman was leaving for a long time, but I expected it to happen in the season finale or perhaps even the Christmas special. Not here. Not now. Which may be a part of why the episode worked so well for me: death comes when we’re not expecting it. If we had to lose Clara this way, I’m glad that I wasn’t expecting it, because the lack of preparation was a big part of the impact.
It’s hard to believe there are still two episodes to go, and two bumper length ones at that. I’m staying spoiler averse, so I have no idea what’s coming at me, but on the evidence of the season so far I have a feeling that the next episode may destroy me. In the best way possible.