In what has been one of the strongest seasons to date for Doctor Who, it is perhaps fitting that the best episode since last year’s “Listen” was reserved for Clara Oswald’s farewell.
Clara: “You. Now, you listen to me. You’re going to be alone now, and you’re very bad at that. You’re going to be furious and you’re going to be sad, but listen to me. Don’t let this change you. No, listen. Whatever happens next… wherever she is sending you, I know what you’re capable of. You don’t be a warrior. Promise me. Be a Doctor.”
But to appreciate just how momentous that statement is, let us rewind back. Back to a clever girl named Oswin Oswald, trapped in a Dalek, and so clever and strong, she could take down an entire prison planet of that species. The roll forward to sharp-witted governess name Clara Oswin, who lived a double life, and also died before her time. And then to Clara Oswald, who found herself flattened into a two-dimensional plot device, and often portrayed as demanding, arrogant and carelessly disrespectful with the Doctor’s time. (That line where Matt Smith snaps at her to just learn how to use the iPlayer already sticks with me.) Even post Series 7, when Capaldi came on board, and Clara’s characterization became noticeably better, that arrogant streak never left. Said arrogance was what drove her to live a double life on Earth and in the TARDIS, lying constantly to Danny, and even at points stepping into the Doctor’s shoes as if she belonged there. The most notable episode where that happened was “Flatline” where Rigsy became the companion to her “Doctor Clara.” It is not surprising, then, that the show chose to bring back Rigsy for Clara’s last episode.
We should also note that this episode opened with the same “The Doctor and Clara were just in the middle of having an Adventure when…” trope that we saw in the episode where Ashildr was first introduced. The show has made a point of playing up how reckless Clara has become this season, with Danny dead, and the adventure we just missed out on made sure to emphasize that. It’s also not an accident that tonight’s episode saw her hanging out of the TARDIS over London the way she once saw the 11th Doctor do in the 50th Anniversary episode. She really does believe herself to be The Doctor’s equal at this point, even though Missy point-blank explained that she is, in fact, just “the puppy.” She thinks she can clever her way out of anything, and that she’s studied and proved her mettle. That arrogance that first arrived with her way back when, and has always been a hallmark of her character tonight proved her downfall.
Rigsy: “She enjoyed that way too much.”
The Doctor: “Tell me about it. It’s an ongoing problem”
But who would have though we would have found ourselves in such a delightful place for it? Trap Street, the Whovian’s version of Diagon Alley, filled with every easter egg and leftover prop from the show’s return in 2005, plus a couple of Torchwood references to boot. (The blowfish character was first introduced in Torchwood, as was the weevil.) No wonder Clara didn’t need to bring all The Doctor’s annoying stuff from the TARDIS, it was all already there on Trap Street. (Also, who loved that “retcon” is an amnesia drug?) One could even argue that the death sentence with which the former Ashidlr, who has now changed her title from Lady Me to Mayor Me, was Potter based, with the Raven taking on a dementor like black smoke quality as it chased its victims down. Of course, one could also argue that the raven, the bird of death, was a hat tip to Ashildr’s former viking life, since they were a symbol of Odin. But I’m more likely to argue what a terrible mayor she is, with her fascist-like “letter of the law without justice” methods of “keeping peace” (and control) of her street.
With Coleman’s departure announced back before the season started, and word that next week’s beginning of the finale would feature the Doctor without his companion, it was suspected that Clara would be gone by the end of tonight. Moffat warned us that Clara wasn’t going to just step off the TARDIS and start her life somewhere, either. What happened would be final, and there would be no return. But even so, I’m not sure I was ready to see the first companion since Adric to die on-screen. Even as Clara took Rigsy’s death sentence on, with some overclever, convoluted reasoning that basically boiled down to “I was told we can’t cheat this, so watch me,” I thought there would be some way out. Even as Clara told Rigsy a pack of rules about the Doctor, none of which were correct (because Rule Number One is The Doctor Lies), and it was obvious there was no way this could turn out well, it was still hard to believe that somehow the Doctor wouldn’t be able to do something, even if it meant he could never see her again.
The Doctor: I’ll show you and all your funny little friends to the whole laughing world. I’ll bring UNIT, I’ll bring the Zygons. Give me a minute, I’ll bring the Daleks and the Cybermen. You will save Clara, and you will do it now, or I will rain hell on you for the rest of time. I can do whatever the hell I like. You’ve read the stories, you know who I am. And in all of that time, did you ever hear anything about anyone who stopped me? The Doctor is no longer here! You are stuck with me. And I will end you, and everything you love.
But it was not to be. In what could be considered the most Un-Moffat moment of his tenure, Clara learned that everything cannot always be fixed. Everything cannot always be undone. The only way to “fix” this was for the Doctor to once again lose his “Doctor’s dispassion” (much like he already did once this season, creating Ashlidr to begin with) and attempted to force the Mayor and her stupid game playing to break her promise of a soul to the Shade with threatening to rain down all the hell fire and brimstone a 2000 year old Timelord can bring. We already saw how badly that “going rogue” behavior of The Doctor’s went the first time. Clara couldn’t allow it again.
That last scene between The Doctor and Clara was some of the best stuff we have seen in the entirety of the Who reboot. Earlier, I compared this episode to “Listen,” and I don’t think that’s an accident. Clara’s final speech to The Doctor before she walks out to face her death felt like a bookend to her speech to the young Doctor in that episode. There is was about fear: So listen. If you listen to anything else, listen to this. You’re always gonna be afraid even if you learn to hide it.” Here it was about loneliness. “You’re going to be alone now, and you’re very bad at that. You’re going to be furious and you’re going to be sad, but listen to me. Don’t let this change you.” Clara, to the end, giving her student orders, a governess, leaving her charge for the last time.
Clara: I’m not asking you for a promise. I’m giving you an order. You will not insult my memory. There will be no revenge. I will die, and no-one else, here or anywhere, will suffer.
And then she stepped out, and bravely faced the raven, walked face first to her own death. She sees it coming, seven feet ahead of her. Earlier, Kabel, the blowfish alien, asked “Why do they always run?” Here Clara makes the choice, not to run, but let it be. Even so, she still tells The Doctor and Rigsy not to follow her. Because she has to face this alone. Why do they always run? Because in the end, everyone faces the raven, and death, alone.
As The Doctor now faces whatever it is he is heading to alone. Even before the “To be Continued” flashed up, it was obvious this was no stand alone, but the prologue to the finale, with The Doctor facing a brand new monster, the one Mayor Me is trying to protect her street from, called “The Veil.” Or are they? Is that also a bit of misdirection from the production, much like telling us this episode was a “stand alone” was? Because there’s only one alien race I can think of that would want The Doctor’s confession, last will and testament. One race he’s been running from all these years: The Timelords.