“Get Off My Planet”: Doctor Who Season 9 Finale Review

Did you watch it? Have you seen the Doctor Who finale yet? No? I’ll wait.

doctor who season 9Great. It’s been a few days and spoilers are all but impossible to avoid, but you really need to get caught up on Doctor Who. The finale was chock full of twists, surprises, and tears, but I think Steven Moffat has at long last figured out how to combine character death with time travel and leave me feeling satisfied without the depression. Let me tell you why.

Spoilers abound for the last few episodes of Doctor Who’s ninth season.

Last month I took a look at the first seven episodes of the season. It seemed to me that someone had actually plotted out a story arc for this season. Every pair (or so) of episodes was meant to establish some kind of important idea or plot point, and each is important to keep in mind going into the finale. Episodes one and two reminded us that the Doctor loves Clara deeply, and introduced us to the Doctor’s mysterious confession dial, an object Time Lords use to face their demons while telling the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Three and four reminded us that there are rules to this whole time travel thing, that some events are fixed points that cannot be moved or changed, especially when they happen in your own timeline. Five and six introduced us to Ashildr, a Viking woman whom the Doctor saves so hard she becomes immortal. We’re also shown that the Doctor needs someone like Clara in his life, otherwise he’d grow cold, evil, and likely lose his sanity. Seven and eight gave us the story of the Zygon Invasion/Inversion. With strong parallels to ISIS and terrorism, the pair of episodes reminds us of the horrors of war, and that in it there are no real winners.

Episode nine, “Sleep No More”, is a one-off story of a disappeared crew and mutated sleep dust. The Doctor and Clara travel to an abandoned space station in order to save the crew. The story is told in a “found footage” style, pieced together by the last remaining survivor. People have been using Morpheus pods to reduce the amount of sleep they need to mere minutes, in order to be more productive. The Doctor is horrified by the invention, perceiving it to be a kind of crime against nature. The pods mutate “sleep dust” from your eyes into monstrous Sandmen. Our heroes are unable to save the crew, but escape to the TARDIS with their lives. It’s a good reminder that sometimes, they can’t always save the day.

“Face the Raven” has Clara and the Doctor traveling to a secret London street filled with hidden alien life forms from all across the universe, a sort of space-time DMZ in the heart of London. Ashildr has accused their friend Rigsy of murder and sentenced him to death by Chronolock countdown. While the Doctor works out how to prove Rigsy’s innocence, Clara cleverly convinces Rigsy to pass the Chronolock to her. After all, Ashildr personally guaranteed Clara’s safety, and would never cross the Doctor. It turns out to be a trap: Ashildr made a deal with someone to lure the Doctor into a trap, and never intended to let the Chronolock reach its deathly zero for Rigsy. But because Clara got Rigsy to transfer the countdown to her, Ashildr can’t remove it. Clara’s succeeded in saving Rigsy, but at the cost of her own life. Knowing this is the end, Clara makes the Doctor promise to not seek vengeance and to never stay alone for long. She bravely walks out alone to meet her death.

face the raven doctor who

The manner of Clara’s death feels cheap and silly and frustrating, although her death itself is satisfying. Clara is too clever for her own good, and in the end it’s her Doctor-like cleverness that kills her. It’s thoroughly her own fault, a simple mistake. But Clara meets her death valiantly. She stoically accepts the consequences of her actions and makes peace with bravery. I wanted it to be some big grand showdown between her and some big baddie, but that’s not what we get. And yet, I think it’s true to her character. It would be sheer recklessness that kills Clara, and she gets to die doing what she loved, adventuring with the Doctor. It’s clear that ever since Danny Pink’s death there’s a hole in Clara’s heart, and she’d been trying to fill it by running away from her normal life with the Doctor. It’s a nice contrast from Amy and Rory, who grew tired of traveling and longed for a normal life together (which, in the end, is what they got).

But the Doctor’s still caught in the trap laid by Ashildr, and he’s transported to a mysterious moving castle in “Heaven Sent”. This episode features the Doctor without any major guest stars or companions, and I’d argue that it’s one of the greatest episodes of the entire run of New Who. The Doctor is forced to figure out the mystery of this strange castle, haunted by a ghostly figure straight out of the Doctor’s childhood nightmares. The only way to stop the monster from killing him is for the Doctor to tell it a deep truth, a true confession. Between truths and running throughout the castle, the Doctor pieces together the location of a mysterious room, so he can escape. The only problem? Between it and him is a thick wall of crystal, harder than diamond, with the word “home” written on it. Just when the Doctor starts punching the crystal with his bare hands (making just as much progress as you would think), the monster comes up behind him and kills him. But Time Lords take a while to die, so the Doctor is able to drag himself through the castle to the transport room and us the last of his life force energy to teleport his past self into the room… which he has already been doing for seven thousand years. Fast forward another four and a half billion years of cycling over and over and over again, the Doctor says:

The shepherd’s boy says, “There’s this mountain of pure diamond. It takes an hour to climb it, and an hour to go around it. Every hundred years, a little bird comes. It sharpens its beak on the diamond mountain. And when the entire mountain is chiseled away, the first second of eternity will have passed.” You must think that’s a hell of a long time. Personally, I think that’s a hell of a— {the wall breaks.} Personally, I think that’s a hell of a bird.

The wall breaks through and the Doctor steps onto an orange, desert-y planet. We discover that the Doctor was inside his confession dial the whole time, and in the distance we see the shining capital city of the planet Gallifrey.

heaven sent gallifrey

Yes! The Doctor has finally made it to Gallifrey, the moment heralded by the fiftieth anniversary episode, his great search for his home planet is finally over. And yet the moment isn’t treated with much grandeur. “Hell Bent” picks up right where the previous episode left off, and we’re left to believe that the Doctor holds the Time Lords responsible for Clara’s death. After all, they did turn his confession dial, a sacred Time Lord ritual purification device, into an instrument of four billion years worth of torture. He’s not too pleased with them. Now that the Doctor has made it to Gallifrey “the long way around,” Rassilon intends to kill him. But the Doctor is the greatest war hero of all time, having personally ended the Time War, and as far as pretty much anyone (but Rassilon) is concerned, the Doctor owns the place. After billions of years alone the Doctor is thoroughly warlike and has zero fucks to give. He easily dispatches Rassilon and the High Council and makes his way to the extraction chambers. There he’s able to pluck Clara out of her timestream one heartbeat away from her death, grab a new TARDIS and run away to the end of the universe (in any sense of the word). But there’s a problem: Clara’s heart hasn’t started beating again; her life is still locked in one moment away from her death. He hasn’t really saved her life, her death is still a very fixed point in the universe.

Clara herself is horrified by not only what the Doctor has chosen to do, but at the lengths the Time Lords would go to milk information from him. They thought he knew about the mysterious hybrid; in fact, the Doctor knows no more than they do, but the illusion that he had the knowledge was enough to give him the chance of finding a way to save Clara. It’s in a few private moments between Clara and the Doctor that we really see the damage four billion years has wrought. Not only is the Doctor a great arbitrary warlord who is beholden to no one’s moral code (including any of his own), but he’s so mentally unstable that he can hardly look her in the eye. It’s clear in this moment that Twelve cannot function without Clara. Maybe Clara wouldn’t have been that important to the First Doctor or Four or Ten, but to Twelve she is indispensable, and Clara knows it.

hell bent doctor who

Up until now, every moment foreshadowed by past episodes of the season has come true. The Doctor loves Clara so radically that he will risk tear apart time and space, enduring four billion years of waiting and torment to have the merest chance of saving her life, and yet because of the way timestreams work, there’s still nothing he can do. At the end of the universe he meets Ashildr again, and he confesses that he plans to wipe Clara’s memory of him, basically pulling another Donna Noble, in a final attempt to save her. Clara overhears the conversation before the Doctor returns with Ashildr to the stolen TARDIS. Clara refuses to have her memories wiped:

These have been the best years of my life, and they are mine. Tomorrow’s promised to no one, Doctor, but I insist upon my past. I am entitled to that. It’s mine.

Clara insists that she’s reversed the polarity of the device, but the Doctor isn’t so sure he believes her, or that she’s done it correctly. The two agree to push the button together, like flipping a coin. But I suspect they both knew the way the device was configured. After a few moments, the Doctor faints, waking up in the Nevada desert with merely a shadow of Clara’s memory.

I absolutely adore this choice: Twelve has shown us time and time again that he can’t function without Clara, that he just can’t accept her death even when she’s made peace with it. He’ll even go so far as to disrespect Clara’s own wishes in order to hang onto her. The only real solution for either of them to move forward is for the Doctor to lose his memory of her. This way, Clara still gets to keep her past, and the narrative gives her true agency.

As a sort of epilogue, plot-wise, we see the Doctor get up and walk into a 1950s-style diner, holding his electric guitar. Clara is at the counter, but he doesn’t recognize her. The Doctor remembers bits and pieces from his relationship with Clara, but has no idea what she looks like or sounds like. Clara encourages him to keep traveling, and walks through a door to the back room. The back room turns out to be the stolen TARDIS’s console room, with Ashildr inside. Clara knows she has to eventually return to Gallifrey so she can be put back in her proper timestream and face her death. But in the meantime, she can’t age, and has a TARDIS at her disposal, so why not take the long way around? Clara throws her TARDIS in gear, and the two fly off to see the universe, leaving the Doctor’s own TARDIS in its wake.

In any other way, this kind of ending should have seemed like it took away the finality of Clara’s death. But it didn’t, not really. Clara still knows she has to face her own death, and has in fact already decided to do so. This episode gives Clara the proper send off that was missing in “Face the Raven”, but doesn’t negate the fact that that’s when she dies. Ashildr, who has always desperately wanted to see the universe beyond Earth, finally gets her wish, too. A few seasons ago Clara says that she realizes she was born to save the Doctor, and in the moment it felt cheap and unjustified. But now after all this time, it feels like Clara really is saving the Doctor from himself. By wiping most of his memory of her and returning him to his TARDIS, she’s taken on the burden of his care. She leaves him with a message that hearkens back to Jenna Coleman’s very first episode: “Run, you clever boy, and be a Doctor.” After having spent season after season with ramshackle characterization and multiple personalities, I finally feel like I know who Clara is and what her story was. And now I’m truly ready for the next companion.

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2 thoughts on ““Get Off My Planet”: Doctor Who Season 9 Finale Review

  1. Front to back, my all-time best New Who series. It’s amazing what a cohesive storyline and actors/actress in the top of their game will do for you.

  2. Pingback: Top 20 Romantic Couples in Geekdom (10 Canon/10 Fanon): 2016 Edition | Lady Geek Girl and Friends

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