Synopsis 9×04: The Doctor and Clara are separated as ghosts threaten the Drum. In the past, Twelve faces off with the Fisher King. In the future, Clara deals with the Doctor’s impending death.
Paradox (noun): Previously, a self-contradictory event that could rip apart the very fabric of space and time; a time traveler’s worst nightmare. Now, a laughable conceit that the Doctor encounters on the regular.
A staple of Steven Moffat’s “Gottcha!” style storytelling, paradoxes no longer herald the arrival of season 1’s murderous Reapers. Instead, they serve as a way for the series’ eponymous hero to exercise his big brain; a chance for writers to show off just how cleaver they can be. Sadly, “Before the Flood” was riddled with such cheap twists.
We were suitably impressed by “Under the Lake,” and had high hopes for the second half of Toby Whithouse’s two-parter. Unfortunately, the well-developed characters and intriguing plot of episode 3 quickly devolved into another confusing whirlwind of canonical discontinuities and ill-advised decisions that would have caused Nine to wonder how his future regenerations could act so stupidly.
The episode starts of with Twelve in the TARDIS as he works to explain the Bootstrap Paradox to his unseen passengers. There once was a time traveler – not the Doctor, by the way – who was a huge Beethoven groupie. Clutching his reams of sheet music, the classical super fan went back in time to get ol’ Ludwig’s autograph. But, lo and behold, once he makes it to 18th century Germany, no one has even heard the name Beethoven, let alone his music. The time traveler doesn’t want to deprive the world of the composer’s genius, so he transcribes the works and leaves them behind.
But that begs the question – who wrote Beethoven’s 5th in the first place?
That mystery, however, has to be shelved for the moment. Team TARDIS has bigger problems. While Clara stares at Twelve’s watery ghost in the 22nd century, the Doctor, O’Donnell, and Bennett are alive and well in 1980’s Scotland. The trio has arrived just in time to see the spaceship, which is really a hearse piloted by the Tivolian ghost. Currently alive and going by the named of Prentis, the funeral director is transporting the body of the Fisher King – a particularly warlike creature that once conquered the easily enslaved Tivoli.
Plot Twist – the Fisher King is NOT dead. Before poor Prentis knows it, his former overlord is up and killing (and leaving cryptic, soul stealing messages in his wake).
Twelve, meanwhile, has placed a long distance phone call to a rather upset Clara. The schoolteacher is not at all pleased that Twelve’s ghost has arrived in the future, but the Doctor himself resigns himself to his deadly fate as soon as his companion gives him the unfortunate news. After all, he can’t change what’s already happened.
Well, that’s complete BS. If the Moffat era has proved anything, problems with rules and time streams no longer apply. There’s really nothing the Doctor can’t – or won’t – do.
Twelve, however, is interested in his ghost’s message. Unlike the other phantasms, the Ghost Doctor isn’t mouthing coordinates. Like a broken record, Twelve is listing his comrades’ names.
“Moran, Pritchard, Prentis, O’Donnell, Clara, Doctor, Bennett, Cass.”
While Clara and Twelve chat, the Dead Doctor causes a panic as he floats through the window and manipulates the computer to open the Faraday cage. With the rest of the murderous apparitions on the loose, the living must take shelter in the cage instead. Unfortunately, that means no cell connection. Even the iPhone can’t conquer the electromagnetic powers of the cage, and Clara must monitor it through the window as she awaits the Doc’s next call.
Back in the ’80s, Twelve and Co. have bigger problems than the global hair band/legwarmer disaster. The Fisher King is on the move, and no one is safe from his psychopathic plot to transmit his location via disembodied souls. He’s about to take a nap in that nice little stasis chamber, and he’s hoping an armada will eventually arrive to save him and conquer the Earth. Such a warm and fuzzy creature, that Fisher King.
Anyway, O’Donnell has an absolutely brilliant idea. “Let’s split up,” she says. You used to work for military intelligence, lady, and you didn’t get demoted because of your lack of brains. (She dangled a coworker out a window. In all fairness, he did piss her off.) So why now, of all times, are you acting like the dumb cheerleader from a horror film? You just uttered your own death sentence.
Sure enough, O’Donnell’s ghost – sorry, O’Donnell’s electromagnetic projection – suddenly appears outside the Faraday cage and makes off with Clara’s phone in an effort to lure the living out of their hidey hole. Not to worry, though. Clara’s just figured out why Pritchard didn’t kill Lunn back in “Under the Lake.” It’s because he never went on the ship, he never saw the actual symbols. He is the only member of the crew who is not a potential transmitter. Essentially, Lunn is the only one who can move freely about the base while it’s in Night Mode.
Cass thinks this is a terrible plan. She believes traveling with the Doctor has made Clara cold and uncaring, ready to throw away another’s life without a second thought. Nevertheless, Lunn goes along with Clara’s plan. After all, the seasoned companion claims her time in the TARDIS has taught her to do what is necessary.
It appears Twelve shares a similar mindset. After O’Donnell’s death, Bennett realized the list Ghost Doctor was rattling off was a list of the dead in the order of their demise. What’s worse, Bennett knows the Doctor was well aware of this before he let O’Donnell come chase the Fisher King despite his seemingly unfounded warning that she should stay safe in the TARDIS. Twelve was attempting to keep future events from unfolding as they should, but now that Clara’s life is clearly on the line, the Time Lord is ready to throw caution to the winds.
Bennett is ticked, and rightfully so. Why can’t Twelve break the rules to save O’Donnell? What happened to the Doctor that believed everyone was equally important? When the great minds of Gallifrey decided to grant the Doc an extra regeneration cycle, it appears they stripped him of everything that made him the hero we once loved.
Plot Twist Numero Dos: the TARDIS won’t leave the 1980s. Instead, it’s only managed to transport Bennett and Twelve back a half an hour. It won’t let them leave because they are stuck in the Doctor’s time stream. In all sci-fi reality, however, the TARDIS shouldn’t have allowed this to happen at all. Instead of trapping the travelers, it should have never allowed to let them land a second time.
But, you know, whatever, Moffat. You do you.
Back in the future (forward in the future?), the ghosts have trapped Lunn in an effort to lure out Cass and Clara. The dead are successful, and soon the trio has inadvertently locked themselves in with the stasis chamber. A stasis chamber, mind you, that Ghost Twelve recently intimated would open that very night. Cue the ominous music.
In the past, the Doctor has concocted a plan. Instead of using this time to save O’Donnell and Prentis – the Doctor is really selective about who he will and won’t break the rules for – Twelve steals the ship’s power cell (so that’s where it disappeared to), uses it to explode the damn and drown the Fisher King. The TARDIS’s emergency protocols, meanwhile, transports Bennett to his own time while the Doctor takes a two-century nap in the stasis chamber in order to, surprise, pop up and save Clara!
As is turns out, Ghost Doctor was really Hologram Doctor, designed to activate after the stasis chamber was brought upon the Drum. Now that Twelve is awake, his holographic self rounds up the ghosts/projections/doomed souls and leads them to the Faraday cage, to be dealt with by UNIT.
It seems all is well once more. Or it is for everyone who isn’t Bennett. Since he never had the chance to tell O’Donnell that he loved her, he advises Lunn to finally confess his feelings to Cass, an announcement that results in a little lip locking between the deaf scientist and her dedicated translator.
Plot Twist The Third: The Doctor has a confession to make. He only programmed the hologram to do and say what it said because they turned out to be clues – Clara’s death to force him to survive and the clues about the chamber’s opening to teach him how to do so. But who originally thought up those ideas? It’s the Bootstrap Paradox all over again.
What’s next for the Doc? Find out when “The Girl Who Died” airs Saturday on the BBC and BBC America.