One of the many things that’s made Series 8 of Doctor Who so different from past seasons is the nature of the arc that informs the stories. In past years (especially since Steven Moffat became showrunner), those arcs were plot-driven, grounded in twists and turns and reveals of mixed justification and mixed success.
But this season, the arc is almost entirely character-driven. It’s about relationships. It’s about Clara’s relationship with the Doctor. In a way I’m not sure the show has really attempted before, Doctor Who is exploring what it means to travel with the Doctor. And it’s exploring that relationship from both sides.
And so, it’s not altogether surprising that the last two episodes have effectively changed the status to “It’s Complicated.”
But it’s still great viewing.
From the moment Eleven became Twelve, cracks have developed in the Doctor’s relationship with Clara. She’s realized, maybe for the first time, that he only looks human; underneath that skin is someone who doesn’t really get humanity. And despite their best efforts to understand one another, her best efforts to save him from himself, those cracks haven’t healed.
The cracks widen into fault lines in “Kill the Moon,” another story (like “Robot of Sherwood” and “The Caretaker”) that uses a ridiculous premise as a framework for its exploration of character.
It all starts when the Doctor, worn down by Clara’s rant (it’s kind of amusing to me that with Peter Capaldi, a God of Rants, as the Doctor, most of the ranting this season has come from Clara), takes her and her student to the Moon, whereupon they’re immediately drawn into a suicide mission to save the Earth by destroying the Moon.
Yeah, I know. It really doesn’t make much sense. Little of this episode’s science does – and I won’t even get into the big reveal of the moon’s true nature. But if you’re willing to just go with it, then you’re treated to an emotional powerhouse of an ending.
It’s the moment when Clara has finally had it with the Doctor, and lets him know it. Did he abandon the human race in its hour of greatest need? Or did he allow Earth to decide its own destiny for once? Either way, he believes he’s done the right thing. And either way, it’s not enough for Clara, who reminds him that he has stood with humanity for so long, and yet has shown far less of it since his regeneration.
It seems to be the end for this relationship. But as Danny reminds Clara, you should never make that kind of decision when you’re angry. And so, she’s back for one “last” adventure, chasing one “last” monster, in “Mummy on the Orient Express.”
I’ll admit that I was actually disappointed to see Clara step out of the TARDIS at the beginning of the episode. I knew she’d be back eventually (and she looked wow), but I think the writers should have waited a little longer. Give us a few episodes of the Doctor and Clara learning to live life without each other. Give us a little more struggle. Let us see them come to their epiphanies, instead of hearing about them after the fact.
But though it may have hurt the episode, it didn’t ruin it for me. Because “Mummy on the Orient Express” lives up to its name and offers a fun ride, with terrific guest performances (especially from Frank Skinner), a creepy monster in classic form, a gratuitous Queen cover, and some lovely shout-outs to past stories. I’m entirely serious when I write this: if Capaldi hadn’t said “Are you my mummy?”, THAT would have ruined the episode for me.
Most importantly, it offered some strong character moments, and another wallop of an ending. It’s the moment the Doctor finally finds the words to explain himself to Clara: “Sometimes the only choices you have are bad ones, but you still have to choose.” It’s the moment when Clara realizes and accepts that the Doctor is not weighed down by cruelty, but by centuries of impossible decisions. It’s the moment when she realizes that she can’t let go of their adventures just yet.
And it’s the moment when, to keep on those adventures, she lies to both Danny and the Doctor.
Coming so soon after Twelve’s monologue (and do I even need to rehash how GOOD Capaldi is at those monologues?), Clara’s lies (seemingly motivated by her own self-interest) come across as a VERY bad choice. And I think that’s the point. I have to believe the choice will come back to haunt her. And Danny.
And perhaps the Doctor most of all.
I’m really interested in seeing how these last four episodes play out. There’s so much that could go wrong, and so much that could go right. Either way, it’s been a fun series so far.
So, until next time, thanks again for following along. See you soon…