The Doctor found himself trapped in a creepy puzzle-box castle, chased by an unrelenting monster and with no apparent escape in the penultimate story of the season.
By the end of the episode, billions of years had gone by, but (surprise!) he popped out of the trap on his long-lost home world of Gallifrey, ominously heralding this year's much-anticipated season finale.
Join Zach Wilson, host of AfterBuzzTV's Doctor Who after show plus TV Fanatic writers Kathleen Wiedel and Hank Otero as they examine Doctor Who Season 9 Episode 11 and discuss Peter Capaldi's challenging role in the hour, Clara's role in the story, the unrelenting Veil, and more.
Be sure to join in the conversation by adding your thoughts in the comments section below!
This episode rested heavily on Peter Capaldi's shoulders, with only three other actors appearing and only one line not spoken by him. Did this work for you and why?
Zach: It absolutely worked and it does so, by placing the episode like Atlas’ world on Peter Capaldi’s back. Moffat gave us a very interesting world and a unique puzzle to solve in the episode. With multiple characters, this might’ve been enough to carry an audience’s attention for a full hour, but with only one actor to carry the whole story, everything needed to be firing on all cylinders.
Capaldi turned in a powerhouse performance that, at least for me, is one of the highlights of his tenure as the Doctor. Moffat’s use of the mind palace also was a significant help. Taking us into the TARDIS and getting that very fun, interesting look into the Doctor’s psyche, kept the episode from getting stuck on the circular, gray infinity of the Confession Dial’s castle.
Hank: I'm with Zach, Capaldi carried the hour beautifully. Again, this installment reconfirmed why he's The Doctor. While he may not be as fun as Matt Smith, I think the depth of his performance is undeniable. I actually really enjoyed the bit with Clara and the chalkboard. The fact she didn't utter a word most of the episode allowed Capaldi to shine even brighter. Bottom line, not only did this episode work, but it was another standout for Number Twelve.
Kathleen: I haven't really been able to connect with Peter Capaldi as the Doctor so much since he came on last season. This, though... this episode brilliantly demonstrated and made full use of Capaldi's skills as an actor and really helped define the Twelfth Doctor as a character. Capaldi was presented with a definite challenge with this story; he not only rose to the occasion, he carried it away. This will almost certainly be seen as a definitive episode for Capaldi's tenure.
Many fans correctly predicted that Clara would appear again in some form; what did you think of her appearance as a figment in the Doctor's mind?
Zach: If Jenna Coleman was going to appear again, this works. In a couple seasons, I’d be fine seeing an Echo-Clara, but anything else will feel like a cheat. Although I kind of wish she had only done voice-over, and not leaned into the shot, this way worked really well, because it is absolutely how someone like the Doctor would deal with grief. He misses his friend and is trying to go on without her, but he needs his companion. The Doctor is nothing without his friends.
Hank: The interaction here felt much more like a goodbye than Clara's "final" episode. I was worried that if she popped up so soon after her death it would cheapen the character's exit, but man did her appearance work well. I honestly wasn't sure what to expect, but the way things played out was so different that it took me by surprise. Yeah, I can't complain Clara's appearance was great. Hopefully, we don't continue seeing her and they leave good enough alone. Let's meet the new companion already!
Kathleen: I found it profoundly meaningful that the Doctor, even as utterly alone as he was, still narrated everything to Clara, even though she was only a figment of his mind. He's been told time and again how he needs someone to be with him, and even though she was dead, Clara was still with him. I wasn't expecting that moment when she directly addressed the Doctor, but it was very well done.
How would you rate the Veil as a foe?
Zach: I liked the Veil! It was the perfect level of scary for an episode where the “villain” was not the real focus of the plot. The TV’s showing his sights is perfectly creepy, because it’s somehow scarier to know that you will always know that the enemy is coming and how close they are… but you’ll never be able to stop them. I also like the idea of the Veil as something out of the Doctor’s nightmares as a kid. Part of me almost thinks that the Veil could be what the Doctor imagined grabbed his leg during Doctor Who Season 8 Episode 4.
Hank: I also really liked the Veil. Not only did we instantly feel fear because it resembled the grim reaper (with flies), but its movements were genuinely creepy. The entire episode felt like we were trapped in a haunted house and it was fairly scary for Doctor Who. Thinking back, the Veil is probably one of the more memorable baddies of the season. Not counting Davros of course, since we've met him before.
Kathleen: For me, the Veil rates highly because the only thing that the Doctor could do is run away from it. He couldn't outsmart it, he couldn't talk it down, he couldn't banish it to another dimension. No matter what he did, it just kept coming. And, at most, he could only buy himself a little time until it caught him. For those of you who are fans of vocabulary terns: pursuit predation. It's terrifying.
What are your thoughts on the reveal that the Doctor himself is the prophesied Hybrid?
Zach: I’m really not sure. It’s been implied that the Doctor was an orphan, so I suppose anything is possible. But listen to what he says: he doesn’t say “I am the hybrid.” He says, “The Hybrid is me.” Or maybe it should be written Me. It’s doubtful Moffat would introduce a character with such a confusing name if he wasn’t going to use it to mess with us. What if the interpretations are wrong about which two warrior races? What if the two warriors are Vikings and the Mire?
Hank: That's a great point, Zach... Ashildr using the name Me was always such an odd choice to me. There's just got to be more to it than we realize. I honestly have no theories on the Hybrid, but I'm pretty sure we'll get some answers in the season finale.
Kathleen: Eh... I'm pretty sure that Moffat is messing with us again with that very particular phrasing. He's very keen on toying with audience expectations. Assuming for the moment that the Doctor is the Hybrid, it calls to mind the Cartmel Masterplan from the 80s, which hinted at a mysterious past to the Doctor, that he was "far more than just another Time Lord." (It's intriguing stuff, well worth a Google.)
Comment on the Doctor's return to Gallifrey in context as a (very) long term story arc.
Zach: One word: finally. More words: I’m very excited to get Gallifrey back. This is exactly the shift that the show has needed. It’s right at the edge of getting stale. The last-of-his-kind story has been going along for nine seasons. This will re-energize the show and I’m excited to see where the writers plan on taking it.
Hank: I'm sure I'm not the only fan that gets excited at the mere mention of Gallifrey. It has taken a while for the Time Lords and Gallifrey to resurface, but I have no doubt the arc is going to pay off in a big way. I think Zach is right, this will sort of reboot the series and switch things up as the Doctor moves forward without Clara. He needs a fresh start, and that's exactly what's coming.
Kathleen: You're definitely not alone in your excitement, Hank! We know that the Doctor and the Time Lords were not on good terms, even before the Doctor gave Rassilon the Hawaiian good-luck sign back in "The End of Time." While the General may have agreed with the Doctor's plan to save Gallifrey in Doctor Who Season 7 Episode 15, "The Day of the Doctor," the High Council of Time Lords didn't exactly sign off on it. Plus, there's the reason the Doctor left Gallifrey in the first place! There is just so much potential here that I'm about ready to explode!
*Bonus: Share your favorite quote or scene from this episode.
Zach: I’ve got to go with the clothing scene. The second set of clothes basically means that the first version of the Doctor to arrive here went through the motions we watched completely naked. It’s just so ridiculous and flies against the dark nature of this episode in a great way.
Hank: "I'm not scared of Hell. It's just Heaven for bad people." Yeah, that one got a giggle out of me. I loved realizing how many times the Doctor had died and that all those skulls were his. What?!? It's a tie between that and seeing Gallifrey at the very end. I'm easy, that made me pretty stoked for the season finale.
Kathleen: There were so many fantastic quotes and scenes throughout this episode that it's really hard for me to choose just one. I'm going to highlight the point in the story when we see the passage of billions of years as the Doctor beats his way through that seemingly-impassable barrier with nothing more than his fists and sheer force of will. Just wow.