‘I DON’T deserve anything, no-one deserves anything but I am owed, better’. – Clara Oswald. This series hasn’t really been the Doctor’s story; it’s definitely been Clara’s. For better or worse this has been a series about the role of the companion, we’ve seen the development of Clara from last series being an uninteresting mystery through unexciting Deus Ex Machina then faintly interesting sounding board to a point where now she’s a fully-fledged character with an equally fully-fledged character boyfriend in Danny Pink. Heck, they even balance each other out with Anderson’s more naturalistic deadpan merging well with Coleman’s more hyperactive stylised near-human acting styles. So with these two working out so well, of course he was going to die.
To Moffatt, Coleman and Rachel Talalay’s credit, the scene in which Pink is mowed down just as Clara tells him unequivocally that she loves him is very well done and made all the better from its painful silences and the way that we once again see a return to that simplest of statements Clara made that travelling with the Doctor is like an addiction; she can’t cope with her reality so she goes to the Doctor.
Here we reach some of the issues of this episode. After a strong opening, we get a lot of scenes that feel like set up for next week’s series finale. The Doctor and Clara standing above a Volcano Clara telling him to save Danny is in itself a well-executed scene but it seems like time killing in the face of our knowledge that they can’t have the next episode and a half take place inside a volcano as they patiently wait for death (if they could do that, I would definitely watch it). This is followed by a long path through the tombs of the Nethersphere as Missy pretends to be a robot (credit to Michelle Gomez, she sells the hell out of maladjusted robot Missy) and the Doctor and Clara speak to Dr. Chang as he fills in all their exposition needs and prepares himself for his inevitable demise at Missy’s hand.
Capaldi doesn’t get much to do once they land in The 3W headquarters beyond going around and asking enough questions. He does get one very lovely moment when Clara points out even in a dream, she betrayed him, his response is ‘do you think I care for you little that betraying me would make a difference?’ His discussions with Missy, sorry, The Mistress, at the end of the episode as the tanks full of Cybermen drain behind is well done and is nicely drenched with the subtext of their long antagonism but it still feels more like scene setting more than an actual scene.
It should be remarked then that despite me starting this saying that this was Clara’s series, this is Danny Pink’s episode. His discussions with Chris Addison’s Seb are full of the confusion and mordant humour you’d expect from the bureaucratic elements of death but what really pushes it forward is the interractions between Pink and a child who it seems to be suggested was killed as a result of Pink’s actions in the army. It never says these things, leaving it to a few evocative, quick-cut flashbacks and some uncomfortable non-dialogue. I also was very fond of the neon-drenched, oddly Bladerunner-esque design of the Nethersphere.
The last ten minutes set up well for next week: the Cybermen are back, as is the Mistress (in her few appearances, Michelle Gomez has already outdone John Simm), Clara is stranded in the labs, The Doctor has to try and face down two of his big three opponents (I hope the Daleks don’t turn up as well, we’ve had them already this series) and Pink is hovering over a life deletion app while the aforementioned ghost child hovers his shoulder. Then it ends. It’s not that was an anti-climax but I’d quite hoped that with the series that has proceeded this (not talking about last week’s disappointing misstep), that from the penultimate episode, we would get more than set-up. But still, if they can pull off all they’ve set up, I’ll be ecstatic. I mean we all remember what happened the first time New Who tried to pull off a Master finale.
So as we head into next week, my expectations haven’t been this high in a long time. Over this series, Moffatt has re-captured the sense of adventure but also (pardon the space pun) the gravity of the series and Capaldi seems to have crafted already a truly iconic figure in his Doctor. Taken on its own, this episode feels like the first act of a story and it probably wouldn’t work for viewing on its own but it has enough going on to be enjoyable. But it sets up a lot of interesting questions: will Pink choose death? What purpose will Clara play in the finale? Will we get a scene in which seb and The Doctor discuss Star Wars? All that remains to be seen is now they’ve made the leap, if they can stick the landing? I hope so, at this point they may not deserve our praise, but they’re certainly owed it.