‘Hell. In high heels.’ So, here it is, the grand finale to the series-long arc. Focusing on the positives: the idea of history collapsing into a single minute is neatly done, making the most of returning cameos and existing CGI (the Torchwood pterodactyl, presumably), plus including references to Rose Tyler, Captain Jack and the Brigadier to make this feel genuinely big tent. Some of the other big ideas are equally audacious, particularly the Silence referring specifically to the Doctor’s silence. Steampunk London looks great. Amy’s final confrontation with Kovarian is overdue but needed. ‘Pond, Amelia Pond’ is superb.
But… This is a mess. Part of the problem is the rules of this broken universe are baffling. Moffat’s never been very specific on the details of timey wimey (Rory sort of remembers thousands of years of plastic, but is flesh and blood), but this just seems to invent new bits of bafflegab as it goes. I think the Doctor touching River shorting out the time differential is because he’s from one timeline and she’s from another. Or is it? How is any of this supposed to work? Is Time now a sentient, malevolent force, like in Sapphire and Steel, that can be fooled by the Doctor in a Doctor suit? Or are the Silence, as the ‘sentinels of history’, the only ones who need to be convinced? The script doesn’t clarify, hoping Matt Smith’s performance and all of history happening are adequate distractions.
Sadly, though, they aren’t. The script seeks to repurpose bits of earlier Moffat episodes like Marge Simpson butchering her Chanel suit. The sky full of spaceships there to help the Doctor might charitably be seen as a counterpoint to the alliance against him at Stonehenge. But time collapsing smells too much like the Pandorica opening for me, and the reset is Big Bang Two without the bells and whistles. It even finishes with River popping up to see her parents in the Doctor’s absence.
The plan to fake a Fixed Point in Time feels like such a cheat (that most definitely was not the Doctor and he most definitely isn’t dead, Canton) that the whole series retrospectively becomes a shaggy dog story. “It was all a lie” could work, Moffat has made it work, in a Sherlock style sleight of hand denouement, but here it lands flat. Even some of the production looks a bit threadbare. The essential scene of the Doctor and River meeting at Lake Silencio all looks like greenscreen on different days, which robs it of any dynamism.
At least this starts to resolve some of the hanging plot threads. Apparently, the Silence blowing up the TARDIS (and thereby causing the cracks which led to an alliance of monsters imprisoning the Doctor in the Pandorica to prevent him from destroying the universe) was an incompetent competing plan to Kovarian organising his fixed-point death at Lake Silencio. These plans both exist to prevent the Doctor from going to Trenzalore and answering, ‘Doctor who?’ (I’m not sure who this has been hidden in plain sight from, or why it’s the oldest question within the realms of the story – but all will be revealed). And River didn’t say anything at Lake Silencio because she knows the truth but pretended she didn’t in case Time finds out it’s all a hoax. Which means the series ends with a fake Doctor at a fake wedding faking his own death in front of a false witness.
It’s an underwhelming pay off to an often-underwhelming series – one that, in retrospect, feels like a turning point. Clearly the show’s huge popularity at the tail-end of Tennant’s run wasn’t going to last forever, but this feels like the moment where the decline started to feel tangible. It also feels like maybe Moffat was a bit burnt by it and never tried anything quite so ambitious again – the “impossible girl” story is positively straightforward in comparison. Pinning so much of the series on an over-arching story revolving around a baby being kidnapped and hurt was a mistake – but after the Key of Time, the Trial of a Time Lord and then this, perhaps the truth is, complex story arcs aren’t a great fit for the show.
Next Time: Death is the Only Answer