Fair warning now: this is not a summary, just an off-the-top-of-my-head response, and it does contain spoilers. Of course it does – we have to talk about this stuff! So let’s begin, Whovians…
I may never sleep well again.
I thought I’d never be more terrified by an episode of Doctor Who than I was by Blink. And yet here I am, admitting defeat. The hint of a thing is always more terrifying than the thing itself, isn’t it?
So before we begin talking about the details, I’ll just go ahead and say that this is the best episode of the season so far. It will become a classic and if, in the future, it is not viewed as the signature episode of the Peter Capaldi era then I will be one surprised Canadian.
YES, IT WAS THAT GOOD.
Also, creepy. Did I mention creepy? CREEPY.
Here are a few highlights to me:
This episode felt like more of a character study, it was not a “save the day” episode. We got to watch the Doctor learning and developing a theory. I can’t remember a time when we got to see this so clearly – a concentrated effort to learn, to develop a theory, to test, to research, to learn. It’s a good reminder that all of the Doctor’s life isn’t invasions and “42 minutes to save a planet” kind of stuff. It’s a slower pace but I like the slower pace this season.
The Doctor himself in this episode was ruthless and obsessive, probably a bit insane. I feel like this Doctor shows the underside of the previous Doctor’s character/personality that we used to only see in glimpses or unguarded moments as his actual self. And I love him.
There were two major incidents, both of them connected to our Soldier Teacher. First, the incident at the children’s home and then the end of the world with Orson Pink, his descendent.
As soon as they landed in Gloucester, we knew we were there for Danny. The phone rang and Danny flashed into her mind while she was linked to the TARDIS’ telepathic circuit (aside: where has THAT been hiding all of Nu-Who?) and we ended up in the right time but the wrong place and wrong person.
As a total aside, the comic relief of this season has been perfect. Smart, funny, quick, right at the moment. When he’s looking through the book for Wally and then, after Rupert informs him that Wally isn’t actually in EVERY single book, he ruefully admits that he’s lost years of his life to searching for Wally then. And then with Rupert: “Once upon a time, the end. Dad skills.” (I foresee a new hashtag.) Only exception: the ongoing jokes about Clara not being attractive to the Doctor. We get it, you don’t fancy her, you can stop now.
So, the Thing in the bed. THAT THING. That moment when they were under the bed, chatting about how there is nothing behind you but you think there is and then something sits on the bed above them? I couldn’t breathe. Could not breathe. When they crawled out from under the bed and discovered a Thing sitting there in the bed under the covers. Then it began to move – to turn its head(?) to look at them and then rose up to standing(?). I very nearly went and hid behind the couch myself.
After their encounter with The Thing in the Bed, Clara sets up the toy soldiers to “protect” Rupert. Then we meet the gunless toy soldier which is pretty obviously a metaphor for the Doctor himself. That’s when we discover that Rupert has named the soldier Dan the Soldier Man. Clara pales at the realisation that this boy is, in fact, her Danny.
But I can’t quite figure out the toy soldier connection all the way through the timeline – it was Rupert’s toy and it became a family heirloom which meant that Orson Pink brought it to the end of the universe when he was sent too far into the future as a good luck charm. He opens it and shows it to Clara very purposefully – to me, this meant that Orson knew right away and all along exactly who Clara is and who she is to him. Orson lied at the beginning when he met the Doctor about why he wanted to leave right away and then I’m pretty sure he told another couple lies – he knew who Clara was and he – maybe? – saw something when he saved the Doctor.
So then did she take it and hold it when she went into the barn? So now it belongs to the Doctor because of the encounter in the barn and he has carried the image of the gunless soldier throughout his life to guide him. I knew we were going to see the Doctor at the moment of his own dream when Clara linked into the telepathic circuits and then the Doctor took a big breath, distracting her yet again.
The big reveal of the episode is that it’s a cause-and-effect around and around. It wouldn’t have happened in the beginning if the end hadn’t happened. This is the wibby-wobbly-timey-wimey stuff we love, right?
The Theory itself is a circle caused by investigating the Theory. *head explodes*
If the Doctor hadn’t gone looking to figure out why he was scared of that dream as a child, he wouldn’t have had the dream to begin with because it wasn’t a dream – it was Clara under the bed.
I find it interesting that fear was the main theme here. Particularly since, as I’ve remarked a few times, one thing that does really endear Clara to me is that she’s one of the few companions who has seemed afraid. I remember Amy Pond jumping into the heart of the Dalek Asylum and saying, “Who’s scared? Geronimo.” That is NOT normal, Amy Pond. Most of us are good and scared at far less than what one encounters as a companion. And Clara shows that this is an insane world but over and over again, she overcomes her fear and gathers courage. She refuses to answer Half-Face Man in Deep Breath even though she’s terrified, she interrogates Skaldek in the Cold War one even though she’s shaking. So she has courage in the face of fear as part of her very self. It’s an interesting thing to have the girl who conquers her fears over and over again as the origin of the Doctor’s most primal fear.
There are a lot of unanswered questions. We never really find out about the theory – did we just prove it or disprove it? Really, depending on what you believe or doubt, you could go either way. Is it a child in the sheets or was it a Thing that needs to hide? The Doctor saw “listen” on the blackboard and went to get Clara but as she pointed out, it’s his handwriting and it is very plausible that he wrote it and forgot it. When they were rescuing Danny Pink, the Doctor gave Clara reassuring explanations that at the time he clearly didn’t believe but could in fact be true – it doesn’t have to be A Thing out there, it could have been the airlock releasing etc.
Even the reason why the Doctor feels “something” is always there with him – could it be because Clara was always there in his time stream, saving him? It’s always been Clara. When he talks to himself because something in him feels like he is not alone, it’s because fear is his companion. But really that fear was born because of a companion – Clara. She was giving him a clue, perhaps.
Because as we are reminded in this episode, Clara is The Impossible Girl. Over her tenure, we have learned that not only does Clara save the Doctor in all of his incarnations over and over, but she also is the one who redeems him. In the Day of the Doctor, she was the one who stopped the three Doctors from pressing the big red button on The Moment and made them think again about a way to save the Time Lords – and save the Doctor himself from genocide.
Now we have also learned that Clara created the Doctor to begin with, right there in the barn when he was a child. She was the one who grabbed his ankle and then told him this was a dream. Then she sat by him and told him that fear is a superpower, it can make you cruel or cowardly, but it can also make you kind. She gave him his metaphor – the gunless soldier. Even that line is a call back to that same Day of the Doctor episode. When the three Doctors talk about how their name is a promise, she asks what is the promise and they say, “Never cruel or cowardly. Never give up, never give in.” So Clara gave him the language for the promise he makes with his name.
And then he does return to that barn with The Moment and then he – and his 10th and 11th selves (or, depending on how save Gallifrey.
Confused yet? Good. <—- Steven Moffat.
Couple of random observations:
Was that planet at the end of the universe, Gallifrey? It sort of looked it was.
Moffat is at his best when he takes something we all know and experience and then turns it into THE SCARIEST THING EVER. Like the statues in Blink or the dark in Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead. This is another one that will make most of us scared of under the bed. But all of this usually without actually seeing a monster – the fear is more terrifying than the monster. Even the statues we never see actually move (well, until the crash of the Byzantium but even there it was sporadic). Doctor Who: Making You Scared Of Regular Stuff since 1964.
I miss the days when companions just stayed with the Doctor and the timeline wasn’t so wonky. We never know now if we’re seeing the Doctor in order or if hundreds of years have passed or what. I’m a fan of linear story-telling on the regular.
So I talked about the connections to the 50th anniversary special but did anyone else feel like there was a connection to the Tennant-era episode, Midnight – the thing banging outside the door but that possessed people? It made me wonder if perhaps the Thing that was on the planet Midnight was one of the Things that was under the bed/hiding but it had been exiled because it was no longer hiding well, it was stealing voices. Other episodes that jumped to mind: the Silence-infested orphanage in the sixth season where River grew up – anyone else think that off-focus image of The Thing Under the Covers kind of resembled a Silence for a minute? Just me still scared of those guys? Okay, then.
Also, in the episode “Hide” there was a stranded time traveller but it was from far in the future. Yet the connection between the “Empathic” and the Traveller was so strong because there was a family connection. Hello, Orson and Clara.
Another episode with no connection to Missy or to Heaven/The Promised Land. And again, there was no death with an element of sacrifice to it. So there’s that.
EDITED TO ADD (this is what I get for hitting publish and then still thinking…): We know that the names on Doctor Who sometimes mean things – and sometimes not. So Orson. Perhaps Orson Welles connection? Orson Welles is famous for many things but the one that jumped to my head is the radio episode in 1938 “War of the Worlds.” He created a show that was an invasion of Earth from Martians but the problem is that people tuned in and FREAKED OUT. There was a massive panic because people thought it was actually happening. But the fear was unfounded, it was a story. So does that mean our Pink descendent’s name is a clue?
Okay, now what do you think? Did you like the episode? Any theories or ideas or highlights? Have at it – I love your comments and can’t wait to get the conversation going.