It might be the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who this year, but it's fair to say this season has been far from vintage. Half of it a farewell tour for Amy and Rory, the other an undeveloped mystery of who is Clara 'Oswin' Oswald. But Steven Moffat's finale managed to finish off the series with great flourish, as old friends and scary villains appeared, the mystery of Clara was resolved and plenty more questions were left about the Doctor.
The finale wasn't just about the Doctor and his companion, as old friends River, Vastra, Jenny and Strax all feature in this action-packed episode. The Victorian Scooby gang have become fan favourites over their three previous appearances, and here hold a conference call to discuss the ramifications of the Doctor's secret being discovered. Inception-inspired, they are all plunged into a dream state so that they can communicate across time and space.
The awkwardness of Clara and River's first meeting is interrupted by the sinister machinations of the Whisper Men, the mysterious top hat-wearing monsters that like the creature in Pan's Labyrinth are terrifyingly rendered without eyes. Moffat's scripts often misdirect the viewer and explore characters existing between life and death. The moment Jenny says, "I think I've been murdered," is gut-wrenchingly horrific, as the helpless group try and wake up in order to fend off the faceless monsters. In the end the Doctor realises that in order to save his friends he must head to Trenzalore to answer the question that must never be asked - Doctor Who?
From Gallifrey to Trenzalore
Whilst hints have previously been dropped about the Doctor's name, what hasn't revealed before was that Tranzalore is the location of the Doctor's grave. The ominous planet is filled with the dead who we are told have fallen in battle, and is dwarfed by a giant Tardis that the Doctor explains is also dying, and so is losing its ability to control its shape on the inside. Discovering that Dr Simeon and the Great Intelligence are now working with the Whisper Men, after River apparently utters the Doctor's name Simeon steps into the Doctor's time stream in order to wipe the Time Lord from history.
It turned out that the impossible woman was not a trick or a trap as the Doctor guessed, but just an ordinary girl showing extraordinary heroism. With all hope lost as Dr Simeon jumps into the Doctor's time stream to rewrite his personal history, she sacrifices herself to save the Doctor and fragment herself across time and space. It's a finale similar to season one, where Rose looked into the heart of the Tardis, consuming its power and fragmenting the warning sign Bad Wolf for the Doctor to find.
We go one better here as Clara is shown across the lives of various incarnations of the Doctors. It's cheesy to see her interact with the archive footage of previous Doctors, especially William Hartnell as the first Doctor stealing the Tardis from Gallifrey, but in the show's half-centenary it is a great way of literally blending the old with the new.
Whilst I was initially worried that as the impossible woman Clara would merely be a cipher for uncovering the Doctor's past, its satisfying to see that their histories are connected through her own heroic actions and that all this time she has been the woman that saves the Doctor.
The One Who Broke the Promise
As opposed to the woman that kills the Doctor, Professor River Song. The archaeologist/assassin returns this time as the computerised consciousness saved by David Tennant's Doctor in Silence in the Library. Though Alex Kingston is given little to do in the episode, we do get a tearful goodbye and romantic kiss between husband and wife, as the Doctor says he will see her around. Whether that will be in the 50th anniversary special remains to be seen, as otherwise this is the not the ending River Song deserves.
It is a neat ending that wraps up the mystery of Clara, as the Doctor manages to rescue her by entering his own time stream. Not having his name revealed is certainly an anti-climax, but then as the Doctor notes, his title is not just a name but also a promise. As the Doctor his role is to remedy the universe, saving civilians from the evils of the galaxy. But in his time stream it is revealed that this promise was once broken, with John hurt introducing himself as a fallen Doctor.
It's a show-stopping final image that will generate fierce excitement ahead of the blockbuster 50th anniversary special come November. With hints of the Doctor's role in the Time War, as well as religious order who tried to kill the Doctor for being too dangerous, is all of Steven Moffat's tenure a careful construction of this reveal leading up to the special later this year?
Regardless it's great to know that Matt Smith and Jenna-Louise Coleman will feature. Smith continues to impress as the 11th incarnation of the Time Lord, and Coleman's bright and determined Clara has really shone in the last couple of episodes. Season seven had a lot of problems. The Christmas break made it feel disjointed, and the lack of two-parters mean that we were deprived of any classic stories. But as an arc that established a new companion and whetted appetites ahead of the 50th anniversary it succeeded on so many levels. If only we could travel in time to November now.