Last week's episode of Doctor Who was seemingly written by the proverbial room full of monkeys with typewriters. Untalented monkeys, with defective typewriters, mind you. Fortunately this week's episode was much better. It wasn't perfect by any means though, as it was marred by some odd narrative choices, sloppy writing and some of the most blatant plagiarism I've ever seen outside of The Asylum film studio.
It was also the swan song of actress Jenna Coleman as Clara Oswald, Clara's the longest-serving companion of the modern era, appearing in thirty five episodes. She managed to just squeak by Rose Tyler, who clocked in with thirty four (I'm aware that some characters weren't actually considered companions in certain episodes. For the sake of simplicity, I'm listing the number of episodes in which they appeared, companion or not).
As character deaths go, this has to be one of the most bizarre and convoluted to date. Clara gets a magical tattoo on her neck that counts down, and when it reaches zero she'll be killed by the Smoke Monster from LOST, which takes the form of a raven. Oh, and nothing can be done to save her due to ill-conceived and vaguely-explained rules. Oy.
Clara's final episode was originally going to be last year's Christmas Special, but she changed her mind at the eleventh hour and decided to stay on. Supposedly this necessitated hurried rewrites of the ending of the Special, and I have a sneaking suspicion that's also why she hasn't had much to do this year.
SPOILERS, INCLUDING CLARA'S DEATH! WHOOPS!
Inside the TARDIS, the Doctor and Clara discuss their most recent (unseen) adventure. Why do their offscreen adventures always sound so much better (and with a bigger budget) than the ones we actually get to see? Anyway, suddenly the TARDIS phone rings. Clara answers it, and it's Rigsy, the graffiti "artist" from Flatline (one of the few bright spots of Season 8), who absolutely wasn't named after Banksy. He tells Clara he woke up with no memory of the previous day, and a strange tattoo on the back of his neck that seems to be... counting down.
The Doctor and Clara rush to Rigsy's apartment. The Doctor scans him and discovers evidence of Retcon, an alien mind-erasing drug in Rigsy's system. They begin looking for a "trap street" in London, an area where aliens are concealed by a perception-altering field.
They manage to find Diagon Alley, er, I mean the trap street, and enter. Inside they find a secret area of London populated by a variety of aliens, all coexisting peacefully. To the Doctor's surprise, Ashildr/Me ( the Viking girl made immortal back in The Girl Who Died).appears. She's now the Mayor of this city within a city, and is determined to keep the peace.
She tells the Doctor that Rigsy murdered a female Janus (a race of two faced aliens-- literally) and was sentenced to death. She placed a chronolock tattoo on Rigsy, as one does. At the appropriate time will summon a Quantum Shade, in the form of a raven, that will kill him. The Doctor believes Rigsy was set up, and Mayor Me (oy) allows him to investigate, but warms him he'll have to convince the populace of the city, not her.
While the Doctor's off investigating, Clara talks Rigsy, who's now a husband and father, into transferring the chronolock to her. Clara's confident she'll be safe because she has Mayor Me's personal guarantee of protection. Rigsy reluctantly agrees and transfers the chronolock.
Meanwhile the Doctor questions Anahson, the daughter of the Janus who was murdered. She says her mother is alive but trapped in a stasis unit, and the whole thing was an elaborate setup to bring the Doctor to Mayor Me. The Doctor unlocks the stasis unit with his TARDIS key, but in the process an unremovable teleportation band is placed on his arm.
Mayor Me appears and says the teleporter is meant to send the Doctor away to keep the peace. She asks him for his Confession Dial (first seen in The Magician's Apprentice) before she teleports him. He gives it to her. Mayor Me says she'll now deactivate Rigsy's chronolock, but is horrified when she discovers it's been passed on to Clara.
Me says she arranged the chronolock with the Quantum Shade, offering it a soul while assuring no one would die. Clara's transfer broke the terms of that contract, and now she's doomed to die. This makes absolutely no sense, but the episode's almost over, so we're stuck with it.
The Doctor begins threatening Me, but Clara calms him down. She says her own recklessness got her into this mess, and to let her die on her own terms. She makes him promise to not seek revenge against Me or anyone else involved. She then steps out into Diagon Alley, where the Quantum Shade raven flies through her chest, killing her.
The Doctor tells Me that the universe isn't big enough for the two of them, and she activates his teleportation band, sending him... somewhere.
• A lot's happened to Rigsy in the past year. Not only did he get married and father a child, but he also apparently moved from Bristol to London. Last season's Flatline took place in Bristol. Didn't think we'd catch that one, did you Moffat?
• Funny line: Clara (to Rigsy): Look, no matter how bad it is, we can NOT take you back down your timeline just to fix a tattoo."
• When the Doctor and Clara arrive at Rigsy's flat, he's apparently there alone with his baby. The Doctor says to come along with him, and the three leave. Um,.. did Rigsy just leave his newborn daughter alone in his apartment? At no time do we ever see or hear any sign of his wife.
• I liked the Doctor's fascination with Rigsy's infant daughter. And it was hilarious when Clara and Rigsy both sternly shushed the Doctor when he started cluelessly yelling, afraid he'd make the baby cry.
Wonder why the Doctor didn't try and speak "baby" to her?
• Finally, at long last, the Doctor ditched the idiotic hoodie he's been wearing all season, replacing it with a purple jacket much like the one worn by the Third Doctor. He's still got the sonic sunglasses though. I'm going to complain about them every week until they finally disappear.
• When the Doctor scans Rigsy, he says his body's full of Retcon, an amnesia drug. Retcon was first mentioned several years ago in the Doctor Who spinoff series Torchwood.
I'm very surprised to hear a Torchwood reference on the show. Ever since Steven Moffat took over the series, he's seemingly done his best to ignore or erase everything previous showrunner Russell T Davies created.
• We see the return of the Doctor's "empathy cards" as he tries to figure out the best way to tell Rigsy he's doomed. The cards made their first appearance in Under The Lake.
We catch a brief glimpse of one of the cards in this episode, which reads, "I could be wrong. Let's try it your way."
• Rigsy and the Doctor discuss the fact that Clara seems to enjoy risking her life way too much. I'm assuming the point of this episode was to show that her recklessness finally caught up with her, but... when has all this prior risk-taking supposedly taken place? Clara spent the majority of this season separated from the Doctor, chilling inside a Zygon pod, or absent from episodes altogether.
You can't just tell us stuff like this, guys. It's a TV series. You've got to show us.
• The Doctor says they'll find answers inside a secret alien "city within a city" in London. They find the entrance to this city in a narrow alley between two buildings.
Apparently the entrance to this alley wasn't a set, but an actual location in Cardiff, where Doctor Who is filmed. You can see a glimpse of the alley in the image above (sorry about the stupid light pole in the way-- this is the best image Google Maps had).
• Once they pass through the alley, the Doctor, Clara and Rigsy find themselves in a secret city, complete with twisting, angled streets and Dickensian-looking buildings. Holy plagiarism! I defy anyone to watch this and not think of Diagon Alley from the Harry Potter films.
One of the aliens even taps on a particular brick to activate a forcefield that traps the Doctor & Co.! And then there are the Janus aliens, beings with a second face on the back of their heads. This is of course nothing like when Voldemort's face was sticking out of the back of Professor Quirrell's noggin.
All these elements go way past "homage" and firmly into "outright theft" territory. About the only thing missing from this episode was a hairy giant growling, "You're a wizard, Doctor!"
Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling is known for being overly litigious. She's definitely got a case here, and would easily win if she decided to sue.
• Mayor Me sentenced Rigsy to death, but to show she's not heartless, she gave him the countdown tattoo so he could go home and say goodbye to his wife and child. But before he could do so, she erased his memory, because no human can ever leave Diagon Alley with knowledge of its existence.
Um... what the hell? So he's dying, but his mind was wiped so he doesn't know he's doomed. Got it.
Also, if you gave someone a tattoo that counts down to their death, don't you think you might want to put it someplace where they could actually see it, so they'd know how much time they had left? Like maybe on their forearm or hand, instead of the back of their neck? But no, out of sight is good too.
Lucky break that Rigsy apparently likes using two mirrors to gaze at the back of his own neck, or he'd have been really surprised when a raven flew through his chest a few hours later.
Did anyone proofread this script before they filmed it?
• Diagon Alley is populated by dozens of alien refugees, secretly living in London. I get that there's a fragile truce between all the various extraterrestrials there and they'll be punished if they violate the treaty. That said, I find it very hard to believe that a Cyberman would be able to peacefully coexist with all these other species. You know, the Cybermen, whose sole purpose is to "upgrade" all other life forms into Cyberkind?
• Once again the BBC cleans out its storage unit when it needs a crowd of aliens. Diagon Alley was populated with many familiar faces.
There was the aforementioned Cyberman, along with an Ood.
An uncharacteristically tall Sontaran.
A helmet-less Ice Warrior (don't they need to stay inside their armor to survive?).
And of course a couple of ever popular Judoon security guards.
There were a couple of new alien designs, but for the most part they were all recycled.
• I didn't understand why there was a chameleon circuit (or whatever they called it) in DIagon Alley that disguised all the aliens as humans. It's supposed to be a refugee camp, right? A refuge for displaced aliens? So wouldn't it follow they'd all be in their normal forms? Why the disguises? Was it so they weren't reminded they're all from enemy races? Or do the disguises only kick in when intruders are present?
• I really, really don't understand why the chronolock curse couldn't be stopped after being transferred to Clara. It seemed like a totally arbitrary rule, and no one ever explained it satisfactorily. Every time there was an opportunity to adequately spell it out, Mayor Me would just say, "I'm sorry, there's nothing I can do."
According to the vague explanation we got, Me arranged a contract with the Quantum Shade, promising it a soul but reserving the right to break the agreement (I think). When Clara took the chronolock from RIgsy, that violated the contract, and Me couldn't stop the Shade from claiming her soul.
I've gone over it twenty times and it still doesn't make any sense. If there's any logic to that explanation, it's very subtle or I'm just too dense to understand it. How hard would it have been to write some clear, logical rules and spell them out precisely for the audience?
• Clara's death might have been more shocking and had more emotional weight if it hadn't been telegraphed all over ever corner of the bloody internet for the past three or four months.
I remember way back in Season 2, how gobsmacked I was when Rose was sucked into a vortex and into another, unreachable dimension, forever (heh). Back then everyone and their dog wasn't reporting every tiny morsel of Doctor Who news, so Rose's fate came as a complete and total surprise to me. Sometimes I miss those days.
And before someone says, "Well, if you don't like spoilers, why do you read spoiler sites," I don't. But it's hard to avoid them when a headline screaming "JENNA COLEMAN LEAVING DOCTOR WHO!" pops up on Yahoo or Google News, before I have a chance to avert my eyes.
• After Clara's death, the Doctor is teleported to an unknown destination. This is another one of those times when it would come in really handy for the Doctor to have a way to remotely summon the TARDIS.
• In the after credits scene, we see Rigsy painting flowers and a portrait of Clara on the now-abandoned TARDIS. He stands back to admire his work, a can of spray paint in his hand. It's strongly implied that he spray painted all this, which is patently ridiculous. I don't care how good an artist he is, there's no way in hell he painted all those fiddly little details with a can of spray paint.
His memorial also implies that his mind wasn't wiped after leaving Diagon Alley this time. A parting gift from Mayor Me?