Doctor Who, Series 9 Episode 11 of 12
By the Tripwire LiveBlog Team, with added trailer fun!
So, presumably you have by now checked out all the previews and realise we are in for a grim 50+ minutes of the Doctor being chased around what looks like a monastery by the Ghost of Christmas yet to Come from A Muppet Christmas Carol. Somewhere in the middle of all this there will be a picture of the late lamented Clara. The Doctor will shout. A lot. There are tasks set up for the Doctor, which will sadly only serve to emphasise his resemblance to Edward Tudorpole, the second presenter of The Crystal Maze. This will either be very, very good, or not. Join us at 20:05 to find out which it is.
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So, whoever set up the trap with Me and Regsy last week is about to meet the Doctor. We have a voice over from Capaldi, burbling about life and stuff… then a hand activates a transport tube and swiftly disintegrates. I don’t mean a disembodied hand, but it seems to be attached to a man who turns into dust. The Doctor is pretty salty about whoever brought him to wherever he is (?) and it’s theme music time. Apparently it’s a Castle not a monastery BTW (thanks, Moffat!) and the Doctor is walking around a curved passageway (which they love in this program). The Doctor is asking his adversary to come out and face him. No response. “My day can’t get any worse. Let’s see what we can do about yours” Good line. Now there are tellys. And a straight passage. And here comes the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come. And the Doctor is running – “I know you! I’ve seen you before!” Now he’s talking to a doorknob in a Scrooge stylee. The Ghost stops and I think we have the first of the Doctor’s tasks.
To join in with last week’s Harry Potter theme, we have a rotating Castle instead of swinging staircases. The Doctor’s in a room with flowers and a picture of Clara. Aaaannd the Ghost is off again. The Doctor has a jeweler’s eyepiece. He stops chucks a table through the window and jumps from it. Doctor is in the Tardis talking to Clara’s back – but really is falling from the Castle. Into water. There was a lot of babbling in there.
While the Doctor is in the water he is simultaneously in the Tardis in his head (I think this is a version of the memory palace from Sherlock). Clara iswriting questions on a blackboard – “Question 1: What is this place?” Doctor: Can’t I just sleep? “Question 2: What did you say that made the Creature stop?” – and such. In the water he sees a seabed of skulls. They seem to motivate him to get out of the water. The Doctor is out of the water and has found clothes (identical to the ones he’s wearing) drying by the fire in a small room. He changes, puts his wet clothes on the drying rack and goes into another room. Invisible Clara is answering the Doctor’s questions “Wherever I go it follow. Why it doing that?” “Wrong question – not why, WHAT?”. He realises that the screens are to show him where it is at all times. “Because it’s trying to scare me. I’m in a fully automated haunted house – a mechanical maze!” Corridor time again. Leading to a misty exterior. I’m guessing graveyard. Paths lead to the centre in a way similar to a detail in the previous room. Clara in his head is still writing on the blackboard. The Doc has a shovel and is digging. Still digging. Now chasing a fly. And the Ghost is back. Doc locks the door with a shovel (no, really) and he can breathe again. There is more or less constant self-talk from Doctor during this… It’s like bloody Sherlock at times. The Ghost makes its way off – the Doctor notices and wonders where it’s going. Back to digging…
It’s a grave he’a digging (again, Muppet Christmas Carol) and at the bottom is a gravestone with “I am in 12” on it. Ghost appears from nowhere. Doctor back in imaginary Tardis figuring out how to escape. Clara writes “Tell No Lies.” The Doctor realizes the whole place is designed to interrogate him – he stopped to Ghost by telling the truth. It’s not just truth it wants – it’s confession. He starts talking to Clara about Truths He Can Never Tell. He’s scared and alone. He confesses, “I didn’t leave Gallifrey because I was bored – I ran because I was scared.” Ghost stops, Castle does the circular thing again, skulls surface from water. Doctor in room with Clara’s portrait, Ghost is back, Doctor’s life is a countdown. He realizes his job is to find room number 12. If he can draw the Ghost to one end of the Castle and run to the other end he has 82 minutes to work it out. He discovers every room resets after a long enough period. The Ghost is on the way – what is the countdown to. Two moments everyone experiences: birth and death. But we don’t remember either. In the transporter room he finds “Bird” written in the dust. “What’s Bird got to do with it? Are there birds here?” Something triggers a wall opening., and he walks up a spiral staircase to the battlements. He notices that the stars are wrong – he’d have to be 7000 years in the future for them to be right. He finds a door with 12 on it – but he can’t get in, there’s a wall? This is a trap for him – someone’s leaving breadcrumbs. But he can’t stop playing. The stars are in the wrong places. The Ghost is behind him. He tells the Ghost about the Hybrid. He confesses that he knows where the Hybrid is, what it is, and that it’s real.
At his confession, the Castle shakes and resets. The Doctor heads for room 12 and enters. No wall this time, but on a shining wall: HOME. The wall is Azbantium – 400 times harder than diamond and 20 foot thick. He sees the word “Bird” in his mind. Back in the mind-Tardis “That’s when I remember – always then! I can’t keep doing this Clara” “How are you going to WIN?” Doctor having a pity party. “It would be easy – so easy – to tell whoever wants to know all about the Hybrid.” Clara “NO!” We all feel that way I think. “Whatever I do you still won’t be here!” Imaginary Clara tells Doc to “Get up off your arse and win!” So The Doctor starts hitting the wall. It hurts, amazingly enough. He’s “going to get our of here and find whoever put me in here in the first place, and whatever they’re trying to do I’m going to stop it!” Whatever “it” is. Here comes the Ghost and envelopes him. He’s dead. That’s that then.
Not really. Apparently Time Lords like to take their time dying. So dying Doc is crawling up a spiral staircase. Down a straight corridor. There will be a curved one around in a minute. Simultaneously in memory-Tardis. Back to the transporter room. Much self-talk. As all the rooms reset to their original state so must the transporter, and there must still be a copy of him in the hard driver – he can use it like a 3D printer. He can reproduce himself when he got there – 7000 years ago. The Doctor sets the transporter machine going again, using himself as fuel, writes “Bird” in the dust. The Doctor who summons a new copy of himself! And made the dust! And it all starts again…
“High in the North in a land called Svithjod there is a mountain. It is a hundred miles long and a hundred miles high and once every thousand years a little bird comes to this mountain to sharpen its beak. When the mountain has thus been worn away a single day of eternity will have passed.”
― Hendrik Willem van Loon,
All the skulls are him. Eventually, he will make his way through the wall. After thousands of rebirths and deaths. A hundred thousands of years. A million years. And now we’re in a loop. A billion, two billion years. and the wall cracks. The Ghost falls to bits. He exits onto a planet. The castle is in a small device on the sand. The Doctor’s confession dial. A child approaches, and the Doctor tells him “Go to the city, find someone important and tell them I’m back. And if they ask you who I am, tell them I went the long way round.”
He says the Hybrid prophecy has been misunderstood: it can’t be half-Dalek, as the Daleks wouldn’t permit such a thing. He knows who the Hybrid is, who will stand in the ruins of Gallifrey: “It’s Me.” But which “Me”? The Doctor or the artist formerly known as Ashildr?
He stands on Gallifrey. Credits.
Well, that was fun. The Castle was a bit Cube-like, and the end a little The Last Centurion” from The Pandorica Opens/Big Bang two-parter – immortal creatures using time. Truthfully, we’d forgotten about the Hybrid McGuffin (for shame!) and so it came as a nice surprise. How enthusiastic we will feel next week remains to be seen, but (and this has rarely happened this season) a good story, with a logical if mysterious mechanism is well told. Clara is making a nice post-death bid for agency, so that’s nice as well.
This episode reminds you of why Moffat became showrunner, how talented a writer he is, and leaves you baffled that he can’t be bothered to fix the obvious faults in other episodes. This episode is an elegant treat that eclipses everything this season so far. Arrggh, snark failing… Mother of mercy, is this the end of Rico?
* I reference Hendrik van Loon’s Story of Mankind, because that’s where I first saw heard the story of the bird and the mountain. For most people the Brothers Grimm story The Shepherd Boy will be more familiar. I have no idea which is first – I’m guessing it’s a folk tale originally.
Here’s what’s happening next week: First the “next time” trailer….
… and then the official trailer: