We have reached the end of the fourth episode of season 8 of the 2005 revival of Doctor Who and we continue on a thematic joy ride that reaches further and further in to the classic nature of Doctor Who. If last episode was shades of The Androids of Tara this is straight up shades of State of Decay during the Doctor’s foray in to E-Space. This is an episode that is so potent with fear and so dripping in terror even as a grown adult I struggled with the heebie-jeebies whilst watching it.
Much is made about how Moffat tries to pair off his characters, this is not untrue, at first it was Amy and the Doctor, then it was Rory and Amy also River and the Doctor (though he had to put that to bed and any longer Alex Kingston would have got too old to reprise her role so I don’t blame him there and you can’t just say that they were married and not deal with that). At first it appeared that Clara would be following the same path as many a previous Doctor this time with Matt Smith’s Doctor but post-regeneration things are a bit different and she’s very much trying to peruse a life of her own with the Doctor popping in from time to time to make a nuisance of himself.
The dialogue would imply that he is spending long stretches of time travelling without her much in the way Smith’s Doctor would take time off to date River and pop in on the Ponds from time to time. The reality is, in our mid-twenties what were many of us doing? Trying to find a partner and figure out where and with whom we were going to spend the rest of our lives. For Clara to be living on her own would be more conspicuous than anything else, no she doesn’t need a man but maybe she wants to figure out if she wants one to begin with.
That awkward handshake/kiss/hug moment let's admit it we've all had that on a date at some time.
The Doctor brings up a recurring dream found throughout history of a “monster under the bed” reaching out and grabbing a person’s leg. Using Clara’s subconscious as a hound dog to track down the moment of a person having this dream the Doctor uses the psychic interface of the TARDIS to draw us back in to Clara’s personal timeline when she herself had that dream though in a key moment she is distracted by a phone call (the Doctor really needs to stop upgrading his companion’s mobiles if he wants their full attention). At this point Clara attempts to disengage from the telepathic circuit when the TARDIS kind of refuses to let go and it’s only with some force she gets away. I kind of enjoy the fact that the TARDIS and Clara don’t entirely get along and it’s only their mutual friendship of the Doctor that keeps Clara from being left by that temperamental blue box on a rock in the ass end of “nowhen”.
The Doctor wanders around the home spooking out a poor attendant in order to steal his coffee while Clara sneaks in to Rupert’s room and chats with the little boy. In an effort to console the boy who’s been having nightmares of something grabbing his foot, crawling under Rupert’s bed she shows him there is nothing to be afraid of when all of a sudden the bed sinks as if someone has sat on it but no one entered the room. Crawling out from under the bed they find something under the comforter but can’t see who or what it is. The Doctor startles both Clara and Rupert by turning on the light and complaining that he can’t find Wally to which Rupert explains it’s not a Wally book. (Canadians and Americans may know Wally by the name Waldo). The Doctor takes this moment to do one of his amazing mental jujitsu tricks and talk the monster out of the room though it is never resolved who or what that creature was. The Doctor then uses his “Dad skills” which makes me think that being Susan’s parent and child of the Doctor must have been pretty miserable. The problem is, during this conversation, it would appear that Clara has sown the seeds of Danny’s future namesake and the Doctor has sown the seeds of Danny’s future emotional distress as a soldier who it appears may be suffering from PTSD.
Dropping Clara back at her date she returns to try attempt two at dating Danny this time she, in a mind numbingly stupid moment and while distracted by a figure she assumes is the Doctor in a space suit at the back of the restaurant, blows the date and he walks off. She storms in to the TARDIS to tell the Doctor to let her have a life, the figure removes the space suit helmet to find that it is not the Doctor but a person who looks like an older version of Danny! After an awkward exchange Clara never opening up as to why this man may be a part of her personal timeline they set off back to where the Doctor found him, at the end of the universe. The Doctor ushers a nervous Orson off to the TARDIS to stay the night, there Orson and Clara have a moment which implies with the subtlety of an Acme anvil in a road runner cartoon that Clara isn’t the only person hiding the nature of her relationship with Orson from the Doctor. Giving her a “family heirloom” that was seen earlier in the episode when Clara used it to help calm the nervous Rupert.
One thing that seems off-putting about this episode is how Clara seems to fear the Doctor and I think this comes to a head during their time waiting in Orson Pink’s time vessel, when the Doctor asks about her date she jokingly asks if he wants to check him out and the Doctor jokingly replies he may want to inspect his prospects. This exchange is all fun and jokey but I think it may uncover the underlying nature of the relationship between Clara and the Doctor. Even at its most flirty between Smith and Clara it was never like Amy’s and Smith’s Doctor. There was always a contentiousness there which has only been exasperated by his regeneration. This comes to a head when in a game of “I’m the biggest man in the universe” the Doctor orders Clara to the TARDIS with the statement “do as you’re told” possibly the most parental statement of all parental statements. After disaster strikes Orson dons his helmet and hauls the Doctor back in to the TARDIS who somehow suffered a bump on the head, it’s never really clearly explained how this happened but it seems to imply that Orson wasn’t above getting rough with the Doctor to keep him from doing something stupid.
At this point the doors of the TARDIS start to shake and the now over used Cloister Bell starts to ring. Things are not all well at the end of the universe and unless it’s Disaster Area doing a sound check they may be in big trouble. Rushing to the telepathic circuits Clara re-engages the telepathic circuits to flee and they find themselves in a barn. Leaving the Doctor in Orson’s care she goes out in to the barn to the sounds of a sobbing child. Calling out to the child she’s unsure if it is Orson or Rupert before the sounds of care givers approach and she hides under the child’s bed. A conversation about “joining the army” is overheard and one of the caregiver’s mentions the Academy and Timelord Clara realizes what barn this is and what child she is hiding under the bed of. At this moment the Doctor back in the TARDIS calls out for Clara the young Gallifreyan swings his legs off the bed to see who is there when Clara reaches out and grabs them to keep him still and prevent a terrible paradox. It is at that moment she realizes, at least for the Doctor she is the thing under the bed! Using her most persuasive voice she convinces the young Gallifreyan to lie back down and close his eyes and that this is all a dream.
In the end, what to make of this episode? There are some great moments of levity and the running gag about Clara's "wide face" was a nice touch of humour to an otherwise tense episode. That said, in some ways this is a Moffat meta-story episode hiding as a monster of the week. There are no apparent links to the larger story but I suspect it’s 100% about that story and Missy. It’s exploring what makes the Doctor who he is which is fear, but reminding him, fear is not bad it’s how we handle that fear that’s important. This is a truly scary episode with moments that would drive a kid behind the couch just like the good old days of Doctor Who but in some ways it’s purely modern in that it also gives a lesson for children that the old Doctor never would have. Don’t stop being afraid, fear is okay, just take it and use it to make you strong. In a world as scary and ugly as the one we have out there right now where kids can’t walk to the corner shop anymore and beheadings on TV and the threat of terrorist attacks in places like London and New York this is something kids can stand to hear and becoming “Dan Dan the Soldier Man” doesn’t only mean killing it means digging wells and saving lives.
Next week it looks like we will be returning to some of what also made the classic Who so much fun, pure adventure. In the "next week" feature though Buffy fans keep your eyes peeled for a nice Easter eggs referring to RTD era Doctor Who/Torchwood, classic Who, and even old Doctor Who comics!