Timestamp #250: The Day of the Doctor

Doctor Who: The Day of the Doctor
(1 episode, 50th Anniversary Special, 2013)

Timestamp 250 Day of the Doctor

The big event in a cup-a-soup.

The Last Day

A soldier opens his eyes to find someone standing over him. The soldier is part of the army on Gallifrey and has been fitted with a headcam. The man explains the headcam’s use and function, including how the frightening images that keep popping up are hallucinations, not premonitions. The headcams are installed into the brain and record everything for the official record. The recording is censored, with violence and language deemed unsuitable for the soldiers’ families cut out, and anything particularly graphic gets tinted red.

These soldiers proceed to Arcadia, the safest place on Gallifrey due to the impenetrable sky trenches. If even one Dalek did get through, the city could be destroyed, so the soldier has to remain vigilant in his scans. As he is trained on the scanner’s use, he detects a Dalek.

That Dalek leads to many more. As the Daleks open fire, the soldier’s headcam goes blank. The last sound heard in the background is a chilling death cry of anguish.

Thus begins the Fall of Arcadia.

The Day of the Doctor

After opening on a familiar theme, we see a police constable patrolling near I. M. Foreman’s scrap yard and Coal Hill School. Inside the school, Clara finishes a lesson for her class as the bell rings. She gets a note to meet “her doctor” at an address on an open patch of road. There she spots the TARDIS and races toward it on her motorcycle.

The TARDIS lets her in without complaint and she snaps her fingers to close the doors. After a cheerful reunion with the Doctor, she jumps as the TARDIS shudders. A helicopter hauls the box away. The Doctor calls Kate Stewart at UNIT headquarters only to find out that she’s bringing the TARDIS. She had no idea that he was still inside.

She has the TARDIS taken directly to the National Gallery where she presents instructions directly from Queen Elizabeth I. The Doctor and Clara meet UNIT scientist Petronella Osgood – she has a nice scarf – and proceed into the gallery. There they find a Time Lord painting known as both No More and Gallifrey Falls. It depicts the Fall of Arcadia and appears in three dimensions. The Doctor is shaken by what he remembers upon seeing the painting, recounting the day that the previously unknown Doctor ended the Time War.

Inside the image, we find the last day of the Last Great Time War. As the Daleks rage and innocents die, the War Doctor takes a gun from a lone soldier. With that weapon, he carves a message into a wall near the TARDIS.

It reads “NO MORE”.

The Doctor escapes by plowing the TARDIS through a wall and a gathering of Daleks. As he flees, the High Commanders gather in the War Room to plan their next move. The Eleventh General dismisses the High Council’s plans since “they have already failed” and ponders the Doctor’s message. He also learns that there has been a breach in the Omega Arsenal of the Time Vaults. Among all of the forbidden weapons – many of which have already been used in vain against the Daleks – the Moment has been taken.

The Moment was the final work of the ancients of Gallifrey. It is a weapon so advanced that it developed a conscience to stand in judgment of the user. The General muses that only the Doctor would be mad enough to use such a weapon.

Sure enough, the Doctor issues a final warning as he walks the empty desert toward an abandoned farmhouse: “Time Lords of Gallifrey, Daleks of Skaro, I serve notice on you all. Too long I have stayed my hand. No more. Today you leave me no choice. Today, this war will end. No more. No more…” He uncovers a complex box that ticks and whirs, lamenting the lack of a big red button to activate it. He hears a rustling sound and investigates, returning to find a woman sitting on the box.

This woman appears to be Rose Tyler, a face that this incarnation does not recognize, but she eventually identifies as Bad Wolf, an avatar of the Moment. She mocks the Doctor in her judgment, wondering why he left the TARDIS so far away. Perhaps so the TARDIS couldn’t witness what he’s about to do. Meanwhile, the Time Lord refuses the right to be called Doctor. Even though the name resides in his head, he no longer feels worthy of it. The suffering of the universe is too great, and he must end it even though it means his death. The Moment decides that his fate and punishment will be to survive the holocaust and live with the consequences, counting the dead for the rest of his lives.

They are interrupted by a fissure that opens overhead. A fez falls out.

In the 21st century, the Eleventh Doctor opens the queen’s letter.

“My dearest love: I hope the painting known as Gallifrey Falls will serve as proof that it is your Elizabeth that writes to you now. You will recall that you pledged yourself to the safety of my kingdom. In that capacity, I have appointed you Curator of the Under Gallery, where deadly danger to England is locked away. Should any disturbance occur within its walls, it is my wish that you should be summoned. Godspeed, gentle husband.”

Kate leads the Doctor and Clara away to show them the next piece of the puzzle. As they leave, UNIT scientist McGillop takes a mysterious phone call and questions why he should move the painting.

The Doctor, Clara, and Kate arrive at a painting of Queen Elizabeth I and the Tenth Doctor, leading the scene to England, 1562. There, the Tenth Doctor and Queen Elizabeth I ride a horse out of the TARDIS where he presumably just gave her a tour of the time capsule. They later share a picnic, and after she remarks on the face that has seen war, he proposes marriage.

It’s a ruse to uncover a Zygon invasion of Earth. Unfortunately, even with his tracking device that goes ding, he misidentifies the queen as a Zygon. When the horse changes shape, the duo runs from the threat. They end up separated, and while the queen gets attacked, the Doctor threatens a rabbit before realizing that it is truly just a rabbit.

The Doctor finds the queen once again, as well as a doppelgänger. While he tries to figure out which queen is the real one, a time fissure opens and a fez falls out.

In the 21t century, Kate leads her group into the Under Gallery where the Eleventh Doctor is fascinated by stone dust. Kate orders Osgood to analyze it while they proceed deeper. The Doctor pulls a fez from a display case before coming to the reason why Kate called him here. Several 3-D paintings that used to show figures have had their glass broken out from the inside. The figures are missing.

The time fissure opens and the Eleventh Doctor faintly recalls seeing it before. He tosses the fez through before jumping across, landing at the Tenth Doctor’s feet. The two Time Lords realize who each other are, compare sonic screwdrivers, and bicker a bit before the time fissure crackles.

The Tenth Doctor sends the queens away with a pair of kisses as Clara communicates with the Doctors through the fissure. The Eleventh Doctor tries to send the fez back, but it never arrives in the Under Gallery. Instead, it lands at the War Doctor’s feet.

Kate leaves Clara in the Under Gallery as she calls her office to request the Cromier file – invoking a nod toward the “UNIT dating controversy” – unaware of the Zygon lurking behind her.

The Tenth and Eleventh Doctors attempt to analyze the fissure, canceling each other’s reversal of the polarity with their sonics. After a moment, the War Doctor jumps through and meets his successors, mistaking them at first for companions instead of Time Lords.

He also chastises them for pointing their sonic screwdrivers like water pistols.

The meeting is interrupted by the queen’s royal guard. The Eleventh Doctor tries to get Clara to pose as a witch through the fissure, but the guards and the War Doctor are not impressed. The Queen arrives and threatens to toss the Doctors in the Tower of London, which serves as Kate’s office in the future.

Once there, the Eleventh Doctor sets to work scratching at a pillar while the Tenth Doctor questions the War Doctor. Meanwhile, in the future, Osgood puts the pieces together and realizes that the statues are Zygons. She’s too late, however, and both she and McGillop are copied. Osgood is able to escape in short order.

Kate leads Clara to the Black Archive, a space where the deepest secrets are kept and everyone’s memories of visiting it are wiped. The archive is TARDIS-proofed to keep the Doctor out since he wouldn’t approve of the collection within. Kate shows Clara a vortex manipulator gifted to the archive by Captain Jack Harkness. The access code has been carved into a pillar.

Clara also finds out that Kate, Osgood, and McGillop are Zygons. In that confusion, Clara steals Kate’s phone and uses the access code to teleport away with the vortex manipulator.

In 1562, the War Doctor muses that he could program his sonic screwdriver to disintegrate the door, but the calculations would take centuries. He suggests starting on them while questioning the dread on the faces of his future selves. They discuss the Last Day of the Great Time War, and the Moment – only visible to the War Doctor – prompts him to ask about the children.

The Eleventh Doctor can’t remember the number of children on Gallifrey, but the Tenth Doctor can. There were 2.47 billion children, and the fact that the Eleventh Doctor doesn’t want to remember angers – no, infuriates – the Tenth Doctor.

The Moment fills in the blanks for the War Doctor: The Tenth Doctor is the man who regrets and the Eleventh Doctor is the man who forgets. She also points out that they all have the same sonic screwdriver at heart with different cases.

If the War Doctor can scan the door, then the Eleventh Doctor’s screwdriver could calculate the method of breaking the door. They confirm it but are amazed when Clara bursts through the door and claims that it wasn’t locked. The queen is right behind her, confirming that she was curious about what they would do.

In the modern day, the real Osgood skulks about the Under Gallery and finds Kate in Zygon stasis. In 1562, the queen shows her visitors what is going on, including how she implanted the Zygons in the Gallifreyan paintings using stasis cubes. They also learn that the woman is the real Queen Elizabeth I and that she killed her impostor in the forest.

After the Tenth Doctor and Queen Elizabeth I are married, the three Time Lords and Clara board the Tenth Doctor’s TARDIS. Detecting a potential paradox, the TARDIS compensates by shifting the desktops around a bit before Clara notifies the trio that they should head for the Black Archive.

The Zygons in the Black Archive are joined by their human counterparts, and Kate informs them that the Archive’s self-destruct mechanism has been activated. In five minutes, the nuclear warhead beneath them will detonate. The Doctors try to land the TARDIS in the Archive and fail, so the War Doctor suggests using the stasis cube instead.

When McGillop takes his call near the first painting, he gets an order to take the painting to the Black Archive. Once there, the Doctors emerge from the Fall of Arcadia and enter the Black Archive. They then use the memory modifiers to confuse everybody as to whether they are human or Zygon. If the participants stop the detonation and create a peace treaty – which is sure to be incredibly fair since the negotiators can’t remember which side they’re on – they will have their memories restored.

The countdown is stopped and the negotiations begin. The Osgoods figure each other out only by the nature of asthma. Meanwhile, Clara talks to the War Doctor about the Last Day, discovering that he hasn’t used the Moment. She expresses the Doctor’s regret about what he did that day, and the War Doctor makes his decision.

The Moment takes him back to the barn in the desert and presents him with a big red button.

He knows now that his successors are extraordinary men, but that they will only become so if he follows through. The Moment talks to him about the wheezing and groaning of the TARDIS, a sound that brings hope wherever it goes. At the same time, two TARDISes materialize behind him and his successors arrive.

They were able to arrive in this time-locked space because the Moment allowed it.

The two Time Lords talk about how they’ve treated their memory of the War Doctor. They explain that he was the Doctor on the day that it was impossible to get things right, and they offer to help him push the button today. Not out of fear or hatred, but because there is no other way. In the name of the lives that they cannot save.

The Eleventh Doctor stays his hand at Clara’s face. She could never imagine him destroying his own people. The Moment shows them the Fall of Arcadia, adding a moment of conscience to the act. Clara judges them: The Warrior, the Hero, and… what is the Eleventh?

She reminds him of the promise of the Doctor – “Never cowardly or cruel. Never give up; never give in.” – and tells her Doctor what to do. They have enough warriors, and any old idiot can be a hero. He should be a Doctor.

The Eleventh Doctor disarms the Moment and explains. He’s had lifetimes to think about this, and these three have a stasis cube. While the War Doctor thanks the “Bad Wolf girl” – the Tenth Doctor is taken aback – the Time Lords put their plan into action.

On the Last Day of the Great Time War, the Doctors send a message to Gallifrey High Command: GALLIFREY STANDS. They explain their plan to the Eleventh General, and even though the general finds the idea absurd, the Doctors explain that they’ve been working on it all their lives.

In an extraordinary moment, the three Doctors are joined by their other ten incarnations, including the one they will eventually become. The thirteen TARDISes take position as the Daleks intensify their firepower. The general tells the Doctor to go ahead. The planet Gallifrey disappears into a pocket dimension and the Daleks destroy each other in the crossfire. A single Dalek pod spins off into the void, foreshadowing their eventual return as the Cult of Skaro.

Gallifrey stands.

Back in the National Gallery, the Doctors muse on whether or not they succeeded. The mysterious painting remains an enigma, but they agree that it was better to have failed having done the right thing than succeeding in doing the wrong. The War Doctor bids farewell to his successors with a special nod to Clara, and they address him as Doctor, fully worthy of the title. He won’t remember this adventure, however, because the timestreams are a mess, but the Eleventh Doctor and Clara will. His legacy is safe with them.

As the War Doctor departs, he begins to regenerate after surviving the Time War. He hopes that the ears will be less conspicuous before transforming into the Ninth Doctor.

The Tenth Doctor takes his leave, asking the Eleventh Doctor where he’s going next. The Eleventh Doctor relents and reveals that they are destined to die in battle on Trenzalore. The Tenth Doctor is glad that his future is in safe hands, but expresses a desire to change their final destination. After all, he doesn’t want to go.

Clara leaves the Eleventh Doctor to sit and look at the painting for a little while. As she steps into the TARDIS, she mentions that the gallery’s curator was looking for him. He muses that he would be a great curator, and a deep voice agrees with him. The Doctor is astonished to see a very familiar face as the Curator arrives, looking very much like the Fourth Doctor.

The Curator suggests that the Doctor may revisit a few of his old faces before turning to the painting. He points out that everyone screws up the title of the painting: It is neither Gallifrey Falls nor No More, but rather Gallifrey Falls No More.

Gallifrey survived, and now the Doctor is tasked with finding it. The mission is now returning it and all its people to the universe.

Later on, the Doctor speaks of his dreams. In a vision, he walks through the TARDIS doors to join his previous incarnations as they stare at the planet Gallifrey above. He is destined to go home, even if it takes him the long way around.

First and foremost, I adore this episode. It is littered with nods to the franchise’s mythology, but more salient, it tackles some important concepts with the Doctor’s character.

During the revival era, the Last Great Time War has hung over the Doctor’s head. The Ninth Doctor was fresh from that conflict and obviously suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder from the magnitude of his choices. The Tenth Doctor and the Eleventh Doctor carried this weight as shown in this story.

The beauty of this story is that it retains the show’s history – the Doctor’s incarnations before now do not remember saving Gallifrey, so none of the motivations or choices made have changed – but absolution and redemption are offered for everyone involved, especially the Eleventh Doctor. Even though it is temporary, the senses of forgiveness and relief are important for the War Doctor and the Tenth Doctor and definitely shed a different light on the episodes we’ve seen to this point.

I love how the destruction of Gallifrey was driven by Clara, thus allowing a sense of humanity to temper the decisions of the Time Lord. This has been a constant over Doctor Who‘s history and was used to great effect here.

I do question how every incarnation of the Doctor knew to calculate the salvation of Gallifrey. Earlier, the sonic screwdrivers drove the point that the shell may change but the software remains the same, but those calculations were started by the War Doctor and matured with the Eleventh Doctor. In reverse, the idea to save Gallifrey seems to propagate from Eleven to War to Ten, a path that is far from linear. In fact, it’s wibbly-wobbly, which describes the Doctor to a tee.

Speaking of, I am so glad that the writers were able to give the War Doctor such brilliant insights into the revival era’s use of sonic screwdrivers. They’re not magic wands or water pistols, and the Doctor’s not going to assemble a cabinet at an enemy. I love his view on these scientific instruments.

Shifting gears, as much as I love the War Doctor and John Hurt, I really wish that Steven Moffat hadn’t needed to introduce him.

I get the reasons why: Christopher Eccleston did not want to return after how he was treated in the role, and he was less than impressed with the script when it was sent to him. What I don’t understand is why Paul McGann couldn’t have filled the same role.

Yes, I also love The Night of the Doctor, but it was developed as part of this whole story arc. Realistically, the Eighth Doctor could have been the incarnation that engaged in the Time War after seeing how Cass Fermazzi was willing to sacrifice her own life to avoid traveling with a Time Lord. This would effectively avoid the Stuffed into the Fridge trope (since Cass isn’t a loved one being used to motivate the hero) and could give us far more screen time for Paul McGann than just a TV movie and a webcast short.

It would have avoided the thirteen lives complications that developed from introducing another Doctor (which we’ll obviously cover during The Time of the Doctor) and would have still avoided the need for Christopher Eccelston’s involvement.

Everything else in The Day of the Doctor could have remained the same.

As much as I adore John Hurt and his performance here, the War Doctor needlessly complicated things, which apparently stemmed from Steven Moffat’s desire to have a “complete set” of regenerations before his departure. From what I can tell, that’s a rumor, but… yeah.

No look at the fiftieth anniversary special would be complete without a look at the mythology.

I have linked a good number of the mythological callbacks, but there are still quite a few favorites that jumped out in the course of this celebration. One of them is the set design, particularly the roundels (“the round things”) in the War Doctor’s TARDIS and in the Curator’s gallery. The War Doctor’s TARDIS design is a fun mix between the classic era (not counting the TV movie) and the coral motif that kicked off the revival era. The Curator’s gallery adds the hexagons to the roundels, tying the classic and revival eras together.

The Brigadier’s space-time telegraph made a notable appearance in the Black Archive. It was prominently featured in Revenge of the Cybermen and Terror of the Zygons, the latter of which was our last meeting with the Zygons. That portion of the story also showcased one of my favorite Osgood moments as she and her doppelgänger share their identities over her asthma inhaler.

The Day of the Doctor marks the last salvo fired in the Last Great Time War, a confrontation that began in Genesis of the Daleks. Russell T Davies stated in an episode of Doctor Who Confidential that the origins of the war that he envisioned began when the Time Lords struck first – the attempted genocide of the Daleks – in the Fourth Doctor’s era. This idea was repeated by RTD in Doctor Who Annual 2006, and was adapted in Hunters of the Burning Stone, a 2013 comic story published in Doctor Who Magazine as part of the 50th-anniversary celebration. The comic was written by Scott Gray and served as a sequel to An Unearthly Child, though it was the Eleventh Doctor in the lead with Ian and Barbara.

The Black Archive pinboards hold tons of photo references to the franchise’s history, including: Susan Foreman; Barbara Wright & Ian Chesterton; Vicki Pallister; Katarina & Sara Kingdom; Steven Taylor; Dodo Chaplet; Ben Jackson & Polly Wright; Victoria Waterfield; Zoe Heriot; Liz Shaw; Captain Mike Yates; Harry Sullivan & Warrant Officer John Benton; Leela; Romana I; Romana II; Adric; Nyssa; Tegan Jovanka; Kamelion & Vislor Turlough; Jamie McCrimmon; Peri Brown; Melanie Bush; Brigadier Winifred Bambera; Ace McShane; Grace Holloway; Adam Mitchell (why?); K-9 Mark III; Lieutenant General Sanchez; Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart; UNIT Captain Erisa Magambo; Donna Noble, Martha Jones, Mickey Smith, Rose Tyler, & Wilfred Mott; Jo Grant; Jack Harkness; Craig Owens (again, why?); Sarah Jane Smith;
Amy Pond & Rory Williams; River Song; Kate Stewart; and Clara Oswald.

Finally, that moment. The all thirteen moment. The moment that made me jump out of my seat and cheer. The moment that makes me grin from ear to ear every time I see it.

It was amazing to see all of the Doctors on screen, interacting with each other to save their home. Since many of them are no longer with us, it was also fun to see exactly where the producers sourced the footage to bring this moment together.

  • The First Doctor’s footage came from The Daleks (specifically “The Dead Planet”), and his voice was newly recorded audio by John Guilor (who also voiced the First Doctor in the reconstruction of Planet of Giants).
  • The Second Doctor’s footage came from The Tomb of the Cybermen and The Mind Robber, and his audio came from The Seeds of Death.
  • The Third Doctor’s footage came from Colony in Space – the re-used footage was flipped from the original – and the audio came from The Green Death.
  • The Fourth Doctor’s footage came from Planet of Evil – again, the re-used footage was flipped – but the audio (“Ready.”) has yet to be identified.
  • The Fifth Doctor’s footage was sourced from Frontios and the audio came from The Five Doctors.
  • The Sixth Doctor’s footage and audio were sourced from the same story: Attack of the Cybermen.
  • The Seventh Doctor’s (flipped) footage and audio came from Battlefield, but the producers also used some footage from the TV movie.
  • The Eighth Doctor’s footage came from the TV movie. The audio (“Commencing calculations.”) hasn’t been identified.
  • Finally, the Ninth Doctor’s footage came from Rose and The Parting of the Ways (“And for my next trick…”), along with some footage from Aliens of London.

The sheer amount of work and research required to make this climactic scene come to life amazes me.

Finally, I want to take a look at three smaller items before closing this out.

First, The Last Day: It was a quick and easy prequel story. The biggest thing that came from it was a desire to know more about the soldiers and the headcams.

Second, the visual salute to Christopher Eccleston’s legacy in the regeneration. Steven Moffat didn’t want to include an image of Eccleston in the regeneration sequence because it would have been “crossing the line” by implying that he had been on set. So, there are hints as John Hurt morphs into Christopher Eccleston, but the camera cuts away just in time to give us the impression of what comes next. Of course, as implied by the novelization of this story, the Ninth Doctor broke every mirror in the TARDIS just after regeneration because he couldn’t face himself. That adds a new dimension to his first glance in the mirror in Rose.

The last is the novelization of The Day of the Doctor. If you haven’t had a chance to read it, pick it up. It tells the story of the TV episode but breaks the chapters into narratives by the War Doctor, the Tenth Doctor, the Eleventh Doctor, Petronella Osgood and the Zygons, the Twelfth Doctor, and even the Thirteenth Doctor. It expands a lot of the characters and scenes, and it also adds a few additional insights and inside gags, including some time with Peter Cushing’s Dr. Who. While I don’t generally lean on the expanded media for information, this is written by Steven Moffat so I consider it a bit more authoritative. Chapter 9 (“The Truth of the Doctor”) is a hoot.

It’s a quick read and well worth the time.

Rating: 5/5 – “Fantastic!”

UP NEXT – The Five(ish) Doctors Reboot


The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.

Timestamp #249: Clara and the TARDIS & Rain Gods & The Inforarium

Doctor Who: Clara and the TARDIS
Doctor Who: Rain Gods
Doctor Who: The Inforarium

(3 episodes, Blu-Ray Specials, 2013)

Timestamp 249 Clara TARDIS Rain Gods Inforarium

Tying off loose threads before the anniversary party.

Clara and the TARDIS

Clara Oswald gets into an argument with the TARDIS. It seems that the TARDIS is playing practical jokes on her in the shower and making her bedroom disappear. The time capsule compares Clara to his various female companions, and despite them coming to somewhat of a truce, the TARDIS can’t help but pull one more trick.

Clara can’t find her bedroom, and neither can Clara from the next day. Or the next. Or the next.

The console room fills with copies of sleep-deprived Claras.

Rain Gods

The Doctor and River Song are being marched by spearpoint to be sacrificed by natives to their Rain Gods. The couple banter back and forth until the Doctor demands that the Rain Gods strike him dead if they aren’t rubbish.

A lightning strike forces their guards to cower, and the couple runs off in the ensuring rainstorm to the safety of the TARDIS.

The Inforarium

The Inforarium is the greatest source of illicit information in recorded history… and it has been compromised. The Doctor has broken in, upset that the operatives have been selling that information to his enemies. He tells the guard that he will be erasing all traces of himself from their database, making everyone forget what they’ve heard through means he’d adapted from the Silence.

The Doctor, truly a holographic recording, continues to dismiss the guard’s complacency and suggests that he check the data drives. The guard turns away, completely forgetting the whole interaction, unaware that he’s trapped in a memory loop.

So, the message begins again.

These three home media shorts present some fun slices of life for this season. One of them actually has some meat on the bone as far as the series mythology is concerned.

The first two are frivolous throwaway stories: Clara and the TARDIS plays with the belief that the TARDIS doesn’t like Clara, a story element that was resolved with her mystery. Rain Gods adapts an unused opening sequence from The Doctor’s Wife, replacing the Ponds with River Song.

Of note, the opening for Rain Gods credits Steven Moffat as the writer, but it was actually Neil Gaiman, making this the first on-screen story featuring River to not be penned by Moffat. It’s also one of the shortest Doctor Who stories ever.

The short with the most bearing on this season’s events is The Inforarium, an adventure that shows how the Doctor was able to erase his existence leading to the events at Trenzalore. It is equal parts hilarious and chilling, and I feel a little bit sorry for the guard who is trapped in an endless loop.

These stories fill a few gaps that didn’t need sealing. They are presented here as the last bit of story material leading into the fiftieth-anniversary celebration and the Eleventh Doctor’s regeneration.

Rating: 3/5 – “Reverse the polarity of the neutron flow.”

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: The Day of the Doctor


The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.

Timestamp #248: The Name of the Doctor

Doctor Who: The Name of the Doctor
(1 episode, s07e13, 2013)

Timestamp 248 The Name of the Doctor

The prophecy of Trenzalore comes to call.

Clarence and the Whispermen

Locked away in a jail, serial killer Clarence DeMarco shouts at whispering inhuman creatures. He insists that they are nothing more than voices in his head and asks them to stop. The Whisper Men vanish, then reappear inside the cell, demanding to find the Doctor.

The Whisper Men project Gallifreyan symbols in the air, forcibly impressing them into his mind with an instruction to bring the message to the reptile detective. They are part of the Intelligence and promise that if Clarence cooperates, he will be pardoned and will live a good long life only troubled by dreams.

He cries to be left alone. The creatures pass by him.

She Said, He Said

The story is divided into two parts: “Clara” and “The Doctor”.

Clara’s monologue walks down memory lane about her adventures with the Doctor and what it has done to her. She’s forgotten to ask who he is and why he runs. Then she found out at Trenzalore.

The Doctor’s monologue focuses on Clara’s impossibility and his meetings with her, from the Dalek Asylum and Victorian London to his current run with her.

Each part acts as a tribute to the other… as well as a warning about the darkness in the relationship and its secrets.

The Name of the Doctor

In a workshop, two engineers respond to an alarm. A supposed idiot, the First Doctor, is trying to steal a faulty TARDIS from the capital city of Gallifrey, and Clara Oswald tells him that he is making a big mistake.

Clara falls through a golden vortex. She does not know where she is but remembers one thing: The Doctor. She has appeared at various points in his life but few of those incarnations ever notice her. The Eleventh Doctor is an exception when she calls to him in Victorian London.

She blew into this world on a leaf and doesn’t believe she’ll ever land. She’s the Impossible Girl and she was born to save the Doctor.

In Victorian London, Madame Vastra visits Clarence DeMarco at his jail cell. He murdered fourteen women and is sentenced to death, but he bargains for his life with information about the Doctor. The Doctor has a secret that he will take to the grave, and it is discovered.

Later on, Vastra consults with Jenny, explaining that Clarence will live until she understands what he told her. They make preparations for a conference call to investigate further. Jenny hears a strange whisper from outside as Vastra wonders where Strax has gone. The Sontaran has the weekend off, much to Vastra’s displeasure at his chosen locale.

In Glasgow, a familiar Sontar-Ha is heard as Strax fights a large Scottish man. They are interrupted by a boy carrying a telegram, summoning Strax to the conference call. Strax apologizes to Archie, his opponent, for not being able to finish the match, then asks to be rendered unconscious. He drops into the trance-like conference call, an astral projection of sorts, of which Jenny complements the new desktop.

While working on a soufflé on April 10, 2013, Clara gets an invitation to the conference call. The letter has come from Vastra and drugs her so she enters the dream state. The final participant, River Song, pops in soon afterward, and the meeting commences with introductions of the Doctor’s wife to his current companion.

Vastra presents Clarence’s message, a grouping of Gallifreyan symbols, which River identifies as space-time coordinates. They are the location of the Doctor’s greatest secret, his name, which River knows. Vastra shares the single word from Clarence: Trenzalore.

Outside of the conference call, someone skulks around Jenny. Unfortunately, her form fades away as she is murdered by the Whisper Men. River forces everyone to wake up as the face of Dr. Simeon appears, stating that the Doctor’s friends are lost forever more unless he goes to Trenzalore.

When Clara awakens, she finds the Doctor blindfolded, playing Blind Man’s Bluff so they could sneak away to the cinema. The Doctor is annoyed but then realizes that Clara is troubled. They discuss the call over tea and the Doctor is brought to tears over Trenzalore. He runs to the TARDIS where Clara finds him under the console. The Doctor connects Clara to the TARDIS so she can telepathically transmit the coordinates she saw to the time capsule.

“When you are a time traveler, there is one place you must never go. One place in all of space and time you must never — ever — find yourself.” Trenzalore is the Doctor’s grave, and it is the one place he must never go, however, he owes his friends and they must be saved.

The Doctor sets the course but the TARDIS rebels, fighting the transit while he forces her onward. The TARDIS refuses to land on the actual site, so it parks in orbit and the travelers take a look upon the torn and battered planet. The Doctor shuts everything else down and forces the TARDIS to plummet to the surface, cracking the exterior glass in the process.

They find a battlefield graveyard. Some headstones are larger than others, based on the importance of the warrior. On the summit ahead rests the TARDIS, abnormally outsized as the “bigger on the inside” qualities start to break down and leak beyond the shell.

The TARDIS is the Doctor’s tomb.

River contacts Clara as the Doctor climbs on, an echo of the conference call which River left open. The Doctor cannot see her but spots her gravestone among the others. As he ponders how it can possibly be here, they are approached by the Whisper Men as River and Clara work out that the gravestone is the entrance to the tomb.

Inside the TARDIS monument, the Paternosters awaken and Strax revives Jenny from death. They are approached by the Great Intelligence and the Whisper Men, who welcome them to the final resting place of the great tyrant known as the Doctor.

Clara and the Doctor navigate the catacombs as River explains her death to Clara. The duo is pursued by Whisper Men. They are driven to the Paternoster Gang where the Intelligence proclaims that the Doctor’s final battle was not as large as the Time War but he has blood on his hands. He also remarks that the Doctor will be known by names such as the Beast and the Valeyard.

Clara has flashbacks to climbing through a wrecked TARDIS, an adventure that she shouldn’t remember. The Great Intelligence demands the key that will open the Doctor’s tomb, hissing that it is the Doctor’s real name. He threatens the Doctor’s friends with death if the Time Lord does not comply. The Great Intelligence keeps asking The First Question until the tomb opens.

The TARDIS can still hear River’s projection, so she supplied his name to keep the secret safe.

Inside the doors lies an overgrown control room. Where the time rotor would normally rest is a flowing beam of blue-white light. That is the Doctor’s mark on the universe. Rather than his body, his travels in time have left a scar representing his personal timeline, past and future, and everything that resulted from it.

The Doctor collapses from his proximity to it. When he points his sonic screwdriver at it, the voices of his previous incarnations flow from it. The Great Intelligence approaches the light, intent on rewriting the Doctor’s history and turning all of his victories into failures. The act will scatter him across the Doctor’s timeline.

As the Intelligence steps into the light, the Doctor writhes in pain as his very existence is rewritten. Vastra declares that a universe without the Doctor will have consequences. She flees outside in terror and sees the stars go dark as entire star systems are erased from history. Jenny, once saved by the Doctor, is erased as Strax turns hostile and must be vaporized.

Despite protests from River and the Doctor, Clara decides to act. With the phrase that has pursued her since the Doctor met her – “Run, you clever boy, and remember me.” – she jumps into the light and is split into millions of copies throughout history, each one setting right what the Great Intelligence has put wrong.

She even tells the First Doctor which TARDIS to steal. After all, a broken navigation system will be much more fun.

With Clara’s influence fixing the timeline, the Doctor decides to rescue her, using himself as Clara’s advantage. River protests, but the Doctor tells her that he can always see her even when no one else can. There is a time to live and a time to sleep, and while he has a hard time saying goodbye, it’s only because he doesn’t know how.

With her help, he tells her goodbye with the promise that they’ll see each other again. She also reminds him that, since she was telepathically linked to Clara, then she cannot truly be dead. To tell him the details, however, would be a spoiler.

As River dissipates, the Doctor enters his own timestream.

Clara falls to the ground inside the timestream and she wonders what’s left for her to accomplish in the Doctor’s timeline. The Eleventh Doctor’s voice guides her through the figures of his previous incarnations, telling her to focus on the sight of a leaf as her guide. Using it, she is reunited with the Doctor.

Beyond their embrace, Clara sees a shadowy figure. The Doctor shows intense fear at the sight, explaining that the figure is him, but Clara doesn’t understand.

The name Doctor is a promise, but this figure broke the promise. He is the Doctor’s secret. The figure defends his actions as Clara collapses, but the Eleventh Doctor turns away.

This new man is the Doctor… but not one we were expecting.

Clara’s mystery finally comes to a head here as her various incarnations are explained. All three of them were her, just in different splintered ways. This is the big part of Clara’s run that I really enjoy. The other is her initiative, which has been highlighted over her run.

This relationship proves to be an ontological paradox – a causal loop – since the Doctor might not have invited the modern-day Clara Oswald to travel as his companion had he not encountered Oswin and Victorian Clara, however, if she had not traveled with him, those echoes would have never existed.

She’s been with the Doctor since the beginning of his travels – key dialogue here was taken from The Web Planet providing some degree of influence at key moments. Of those moments, we get callbacks to The Five Doctors (Second and Third Doctors), The Invasion of Time (Fourth Doctor), The Arc of Infinity (Fifth Doctor), and Dragonfire (Seventh Doctor). Clara also seems to have influenced The Aztecs and The Web of Fear in her removal of the Great Intelligence’s interference.

This also marks the end of the Great Intelligence from the perspective of the show itself. The entity was splintered into infinite pieces across the Doctor’s timeline but then was systematically eradicated by Clara. The difference is that no one came to guide the Great Intelligence out of the Doctor’s timestream, so we have no reason to believe that it survived.

Clara’s adventure reveals the continuation of events from The Night of the Doctor, establishing a previously unknown incarnation between the Eighth and Ninth Doctors. It perpetuates a continuity re-write – far from the first in the franchise – based around the unfortunate behind-the-scenes drama of the Christopher Eccleston era. This change in continuity will come to a head in Day of the Doctor.

There’s certainly a lot of world-building in this single story, both in terms of resolutions and groundwork for the future. I found it all quite enjoyable, and remember it to be quite shocking when I first saw it.

With the rest of the Timestamps Project for context, I certainly appreciate the attention to detail in portraying the Doctors. Not only do we have twelve incarnations sharing the same airtime (a record number to this point), but we also got to see both versions (to this point) of the First Doctor in William Hartnell and Richard Hurndall.

Rating: 5/5 – “Fantastic!”

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: Clara and the TARDIS & Doctor Who: Rain Gods & Doctor Who: The Inforarium


The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.

Timestamp #247: Nightmare in Silver

Doctor Who: Nightmare in Silver
(1 episode, s07e12, 2013)

Timestamp 247 Nightmare in Silver

Planet’s closed. Moose out front should have told you.

The TARDIS lands on Hedgewick’s World of Wonders, which looks suspiciously like Earth’s moon. Clara, Angie, and Artie are unimpressed, but the mystery of a man waiting for a ride and the appearance of armed troops adds a little interest. The Doctor poses as the Imperial Consul (courtesy of the psychic paper) before the group follows the mystery man, Impresario Webley, into the depths of the abandoned amusement park.

It is there that the group meets a Cyberman.

Webley claims that it is no threat – the living Cybermen were apparently destroyed a thousand years before – and only exists to play chess for fun. Artie offers a sandwich as the entry fee to play the Cyberman but ends up losing in no time. The Doctor investigates below the table and finds a man named Porridge, the brain behind the machine.

Webley shows off the rest of his Cyberman collection. He also shows them a wax figure of Emperor Ludens Nimrod Kendrick Cord Longstaff XLI, Defender of Humanity and Imperator of Known Space. The group returns to the mock lunar surface for a bit of fun with an anti-gravity ride, after which Clara wants to take the kids home but the Doctor decides to investigate the area. Clara and the Doctor put the kids down for a nap and start poking around.

Meanwhile, Webley resets his chessboard and finds out that his dead Cyberman is far from inert. In fact, the area is swarming with Cybermites, which also infest the kids’ mobile phones. It’s really hard to kill off the Cybermen.

Clara walks with Porridge and learns about the Cybermen. He tells her of the Tiberian spiral galaxy, which had to be destroyed to eliminate the entire race. Porridge comments that he feels like a monster since, instead of mourning a billion trillion deaths, he feels sorry for the person who had to press the button.

Clara realizes that Angie has wandered off, and she has indeed, ending up in the barracks. The captain has a little talk with her while Artie is abducted by a Cyberman. The Cybermen attack the barracks as Clara and the Doctor arrive, showing off skills we haven’t seen before as it takes Angie. The silver menace seems to have leveled up recently.

The captain tells the Doctor that she’s commanding a punishment platoon, exiled to this place to prevent them from getting into trouble. The Doctor promotes Clara to platoon commander and goes in search of the kids. Clara begins rallying the platoon to find a defensible position, which ends up being Natty Longshoe’s Comical Castle.

The Doctor searches for the kids, leaving a message with one of the Cybermites that they are under his protection. He uses the device to transmat to the kids where he finds a partially converted Webley who honors him as the savior of the Cybermen. Webley uses Cybermites to infect the Doctor, who then becomes the new Cyber-Planner.

Or, rather, Mr. Clever. Ugh.

Inside the Doctor’s mind, the Time Lord competes with Mr. Clever as the new Cyber-Planner begins strengthening the collective Cyberiad. The Doctor threatens to regenerate and burn out the cyber components, but the Cyber-Planner declares a stalemate. Each entity controls 49.881% of the brain, leaving 0.238% unclaimed. They decide to play a winner-take-all game of chess to determine who will control it all.

Meanwhile, the Cybermen begin their assault on the platoon, starting with a guard named Missy. Clara takes stock of the army’s inventory, noting that they have only one firearm and a device to destroy the planet which only the captain can arm with her voice. Clara orders that the device will not be used under any circumstances.

As the Doctor and Mr. Clever play their one-man game, the Cyber-Planner notes that the Doctor has been erasing himself from history. The Doctor replies with his knowledge that cleaning fluid and gold can scramble the Cyberman coding, and uses his admission ticket to the park to do so. The Doctor takes temporary control and collects the chessboard, leaving with the kids and Webley.

Back at the castle, the captain and Porridge discuss a small secret. Clara interrupts with the question of why they would blow up an entire planet to eliminate a single Cyberman. The captain decides to arm the planetary bomb but is stopped by a Cyberman. Clara goes on the offensive and mobilizes the platoon with hand pulses and their single firearm.

The assault has limited success since the Cybermen have their Cybermites acting as spies.

The Doctor and his associates arrive at the castle where he briefs Clara on his situation. He also notes that the Cyber-Planner is working on a patch for the gold weakness. He sets up the chessboard again before Mr. Clever returns. While the Cyber-Planner jousts with Clara, the Doctor passes notes to her, working around the pathways that the Cyberiad is assimilating.

Clara has her troops electrify the moat and raise the drawbridge as Mr. Clever awakens the legion of Cybermen hiding beneath the planet’s surface. When called to the Doctor’s side, she’s skeptical that she’s talking to the Time Lord. It snatches the remote trigger for the planet-bomb and shatters it as the Cybermen arrive.

The Cybermen wade into the moat, upgrading themselves to bypass the electrical shock, and storm the castle while the Doctor continues his match. Mr. Clever offers the children in exchange for his queen with the knowledge that he’ll beat the Doctor in five moves. The Doctor accepts, but the Cyberiad tries to betray him by ordering Webley to kill the kids. Luckily, Porridge arrives and disables Webley with a hand pulse.

The battle rages on and the humans are losing. The Doctor taunts Mr. Clever with a strategic trap, forcing the Cyber-Planner to spend more processing power on the chess game and less on the battle. The Cybermen freeze in place as the Doctor outlines his three-move plan to defeat the Cyber-Planner.

Move One: Turn on sonic screwdriver. Move Two: Activate pulse. Move Three: Apply pulse.

The Doctor slaps himself with a hand pulse and distributes the Cyber-Planner into the Cyberman army. Now free, he consults with Clara about the planetary bomb, and Angie suggests that they ask Porridge about the codes. After all, according to the coins and the statue, he is the Emperor.

Sure enough, Porridge is the leader. He debates activating the bomb, reluctantly doing so. Luckily, the bomb’s activation signals the Imperial Flagship which arrives and transmats everyone and the TARDIS to orbit. The assembled group watches as Hedgwick’s World of Wonders (and, presumably, all of the Cybermen) is destroyed.

Porridge remarks that he liked being normal, but offers Clara a marriage proposal in order to have company while he rules again. Clara replies that she doesn’t want to rule a thousand galaxies, to which Angie declares that she’d love the opportunity to be Queen of the Universe. The Emperor smiles and sends his visitors on their way.

The Doctor returns Clara and the children to their home, pondering Clara’s identity once again. Meanwhile, the Emperor ponders if any Cyberman technology remains. As he flies toward home, a single Cybermite floats through the cold of space.

While I give Neil Gaiman credit for trying something new with the Cybermen, this one falls flat.

Since The Tenth Planet, the Cybermen have been a simple silver horde devoid of emotion that march and destroy. Those Cybermen were the Mondasian models (which we haven’t seen since Silver Nemesis), and the revival era added the extra layer of assimilating people upon the introduction of the Cybus Cybermen in Rise of the Cybermen, which have been the standard until this effective reboot.

Here, we get a new vision of the menace with the Cyberiad, which draws the Cybermen that much closer to the Borg Collective of the Star Trek universe. It pretty much makes a third line of Cybermen, ignoring the Pete’s World parallel universe while conveniently sidestepping the Mondas origins with all new over-the-top superpowers like super-speed and the ability to convert different species.

It’s something unique to Doctor Who but it hews far too closely to the vastly overused Borg. The same holds true for the Cybermats evolving into the Cybermites, critters that easily parallel the nanoprobes used to assimilate pretty much anything in Star Trek.

Similarly, the return of the Cyber-Planner – last seen in The Invasion – is a great touch, as is the back-and-forth battle inside the Doctor’s mind, but the Collective-esque Cyberiad consciousness reduces this villain to a Doctor Who version of the Borg Queen. The story also takes away their gold weakness – another Borg parallel as the collective adapts – leaving guns as the only efficient way to destroy them. I liked the creative way of attacking the Cybermen with electrified moats and such, but in the end, our heroes were left with guns and bombs to end the threat.

It might be that the Borg were so overused (and effectively neutered) in the latter days of the Berman/Braga era of Star Trek, but the “Mr. Clever” appellation threw it over the top for me. Too much of the Steven Moffat era focuses on clever this and clever that and clever everything else, and this was putting a clever flag on the annoying mountaintop.

Steven freaking clever Moffat, man…

Now, this story wasn’t all terrible. As I mentioned earlier, I enjoyed Matt Smith’s back-and-forth acting battle. It adds another title to the list of times when the actor playing the current Doctor also played a different character in the same story. (The Chase, The Massacre, The Enemy of the World, The Android Invasion, Meglos, Arc of Infinity, The Caves of Androzani, Journey’s End, The Almost People, and The Wedding of River Song came before this one.)

I also was quite pleased with Clara taking a larger role with the Doctor’s blessing and trust, which was refreshing after a long run of not fully trusting his companion. It was a neat development to have one of the kids being observant enough to solve the puzzle, and marked one of the few times that children have traveled in the TARDIS. Finally, I loved seeing the Emperor hiding (taking a break?) among the ranks of a troubled army unit.

Warwick Davis is a fantastic actor – The Star Wars universe (canon and Legends at this point), Willow, the Harry Potter franchise, Merlin, and so on – and it was great to see someone other than the standard boring regal fare as a respected and adored emperor.

But the unnecessary evolution of the Cybermen into the Borg was a step too far for me.

Rating: 2/5 – “Mm? What’s that, my boy?”

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: The Name of the Doctor


The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.

Timestamp #246: The Crimson Horror

Doctor Who: The Crimson Horror
(1 episode, s07e11, 2013)

Timestamp 246 The Crimson Horror

Pulpy sci-fi disease horror fun.

Yorkshire, 1893, is the source of a mysterious condition that leaves victims preserved like statues with red skin. The incidents – the Crimson Horror – are occurring with a startling degree of foretelling by Mrs. Winifred Gillyflower, and one of the mysterious deaths leads to an investigation by the Paternoster Gang.

Madame Strax is particularly interested in the case upon learning that the Doctor’s image is visible in the victim’s eye, presumably as the last thing he saw before death.

The investigation leads the Paternosters to Sweetville, the idyllic community run by Mrs. Gillyflower and her silent partner Mr. Sweet. Gillyflower lectures on the decay of modern society and treats the community as a home for the chosen few who will survive the coming apocalypse.

Jenny goes undercover as a convert in this puritanical cult and gains access to Sweetville, which is where she finds the Doctor chained in a cell but only partially afflicted by the Crimson Horror since he’s not human. The Time Lord was saved as a reject by Gillyflower’s blind daughter Ada who treats him as her pet monster.

Meanwhile, Madame Vastra continues her investigation from the outside and realizes that she’s seen symptoms similar to the Crimson Horror in the past. Sixty-three million years in the past.

Jenny is able to rescue the Doctor and take him to a strange rinsing cabinet. He activates the device with his sonic screwdriver and emerges in manic joy, thanking Jenny profusely for her help. He also tells her that they need to find Clara Oswald, which confuses Jenny since she saw Clara die months earlier.

The Doctor and Clara arrived sometime earlier. They had intended to visit London but landed in Yorkshire instead just in time to investigate the Crimson Horror (with a slight jab at Tegan along the way). The Doctor and Clara posed as a married couple in order to infiltrate Sweetville, but Mrs. Gillyflower eventually found them out. The process worked on Clara but not on the Doctor. The victim who saw the Doctor before death broke into his cell and died at his feet.

The Doctor and Jenny locate Clara and reverse the process, during which the Paternoster Gang infiltrates the community. Clara is introduced to Jenny and Vastra, after which Vastra tells everyone about a red leech that the Silurians considered a threat in their era. The Crimson Horror is a derivative of that leech’s poison, which Mrs. Gillyflower plans to spread over England with a rocket. The source is Mr. Sweet, a red leech attached to Mrs. Gillyflower’s chest.

The Doctor locates Ada and consoles her after Mrs. Gillyflower rejects her. We also learn that Gillyflower used Ada as a guinea pig to perfect the recipe. Ada and the Doctor confront her mother while Clara disables the rocket launch controls. Gillyflower takes her daughter hostage at gunpoint and activates secondary launch controls, but is defeated since Vastra and Jenny have removed the poisonous payload.

Gillyflower tries to shoot the Doctor, but Strax shoots at her and forces her to fall to her death. The leech abandons its dying host and Ada brutally kills it with her cane. The Doctor, of course, had wanted to return the creature to the Jurassic era. Ada decides to make the best of her life while the Paternoster Gang locks the venom away in their vault.

The Doctor returns Clara to the 21st century where she discovers that the children she cares for, Angie and Artie Maitland, have been doing a little research. They have found photos of her and the Doctor throughout history, including one of her in Victorian London, and threaten to tell their father that their nanny is a time traveler.

That is, of course, unless she takes them for a ride in her time machine.

Despite the simple plot, I love this story for its pulpy sci-fi nature. This is pure creature-feature disease horror and you can tell that the production team had a ball playing with all of those tropes, especially the pseudo-scientific trope of optography, which we last saw on Doctor Who when the Fourth Doctor mentioned it in The Ark in Space.

I love seeing the Paternoster Gang in action – I’m still holding out hope for a future spin-off series for them – and adored seeing Jenny take the wheel for this investigation. I’m also happy to see some continued evolution of Silurian history.

I will say that the Thomas Thomas (Tom Tom) GPS gag hasn’t aged well. Tom Tom still exists, but Apple and Google certainly have that market cornered for everyday utility. While watching this episode for the first time since it aired nearly a decade ago, it took me a minute to put those pieces together.

Among the nods to Doctor Who mythology, this story was brimming with classic era callbacks including Tegan’s quest to get to Heathrow, “Brave heart”, and the John Smith alias. I’m also quite engaged with the prospect of Clara’s charges finding her throughout history, courtesy of the internet of course, which calls back to the whole “whoisdoctorwho” found in Eccleston’s run.

Last, but certainly not least, we have the guest stars. Real-life mother and daughter Dame Diana Rigg and Rachael Stirling were magnificent in their roles. I’m not as familiar with Rachael Stirling’s work, though a glance at her IMDb entry tells me that I have seen her around. Dame Diana Rigg’s work is more familiar – On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, The Avengers, Victoria, and Game of Thrones, just to scratch the surface – and it was painful to lose her in September of 2020.

Rating: 5/5 – “Fantastic!”

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: Nightmare in Silver


The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.

Timestamp #245: Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS

Doctor Who: Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS
(1 episode, s07e10, 2013)

Timestamp 245 Journey Centre TARDIS

If the TARDIS gets illegally salvaged but no one remembers, did it actually happen?

In the depths of space, a Van Baalen Bros. salvage ship cruises as brothers Bram and Gregor sleep and android Tricky works. The proximity alert sounds as the ship detects nearby salvage, and after a brief debate over the salvage’s value, they decide to suit up and check it out.

Meanwhile, the Doctor and Clara argue over her bonding with the TARDIS. The Doctor decides to put the time capsule in basic mode to make it easier on her, but the TARDIS loses power and shields just as the salvage crew latches onto her. Sparks fly and Clara burns herself on a rolling metal object before the capsule is pulled into the salvage bay.

The salvage crew attempt to break into the TARDIS but fail. Tricky realizes that the ship is potentially alive and crewed, and as the crew attempts to cover their tracks, the Doctor pops up and greets them. He presents them with the metal object, an illegal Magno-grab remote, and then realizes that Clara is still inside the TARDIS.


Clara awakens to the sound of the Cloister Bell in the middle of a debris-strewn corridor. She comes to a door with a red light and decides to open it. She then runs from the fireball behind it. She hears a growling noise and continues on, looking for the console room but eventually taking refuge in a storage room with a baby’s cot, a small model of the TARDIS, and the Seventh Doctor‘s umbrella. She soon runs when the creature appears.

The Doctor leads the salvage crew into the TARDIS. While they marvel at the space within, the Doctor evacuates the toxic atmosphere from a fuel leak and gives them one hour to find Clara. Why one hour? Because he’s just set the self-destruct sequence.

When the salvagers protest, he adjusts the timer to thirty minutes. He is that dead set on finding Clara.

Clara runs past the observatory and the swimming pool as she tries to avoid the growling, eventually finding the expansive library. Meanwhile, Bram returns to the console room and starts stripping the place, but stops when he hears a cacophony of voices. Gregor scouts and finds the architectural reconfiguration system. The Doctor prevents him from tearing it apart, but when Gregor steals one of the circuits, the TARDIS begins to rebel.

Clara investigates a tome called The History of the Time War, marveling over the mention of someone before hiding from the growling creature once again. She knocks over a bottle/volume of the Encyclopedia Gallifreya, releasing a cloud of spoken words, before running into the corridor once again.

The Doctor, Gregor, and Tricky continue their search but the TARDIS keeps running them in circles. Meanwhile, Bram descends into the console as Clara enters the console room but determines that it is a fake. Bram burns himself on the time rotor and falls to the deck below before being attacked by the creature. The Doctor and the remaining salvagers evade the creature as Gregor splits off on his own.

Clara continues looking for the real console room and gets frustrated. The Doctor and Tricky enter one of the console room echoes – the TARDIS rewarded Tricky for trying to get her circuit back – and determine that they are in the same space as Clara but are just out of phase. Clara inadvertently allows the creature into the echo room as Gregor returns, and the Doctor uses Gregor’s scanner to isolate and rescue Clara.

The Doctor reveals that there is no self-destruct sequence, so they’re safe except for the monster and the TARDIS realigning the internal geometry. Well, that and the pending engine overload from previously undetected damage.

To fix it, they must descend into the center of the TARDIS. And there’s the title!

The team runs through the corridors and Clara is separated. She sees echoes throughout her travels and words appearing in the burns on her hand, but eventually reunites with the Doctor. He tells her that there is a time leak due to the engine damage, so recent past and future are flowing around them. They run from the creature and the rods from the overloading engine.

When Tricky is impaled by one of these engine rods, Gregor is forced to reveal that Tricky is really a human – his own brother – that they modified to look like an android as a cruel joke. After rescuing Tricky, the group arrives at the Eye of Harmony, an exploding star on the verge of becoming a black hole. The Doctor rushes in while the humans wait and the brothers hash things out. The brothers almost come to blows before the Doctor reminds Tricky that Gregor has at least one shred of decency left.

They all try to navigate the chamber containing the Eye of Harmony but end up trapped by the creatures. Gregor scans them and discovers that the creatures are burned, future versions of them. The Doctor confesses his remorse about Clara’s pending death and her previous deaths, confusing her as he lets the creatures invade the chamber in an attempt to break the temporal loop. The brothers succeed in knocking the creatures into the Eye of Harmony, but when Gregor saves Tricky from falling, time reasserts itself and the brothers become a new creature.

Clara and the Doctor rush into the engine room, which presents a vast canyon, and the Doctor confronts Clara over her nature. Clara has no idea what he’s talking about, a concept that relieves the Doctor. He then realizes the image of a canyon is a defense mechanism and convinces Clara to jump over the side with him. They land in a stark white chamber filled with the engine explosion in progress. When he glances at Clara’s hand – it says “BIG FRIENDLY BUTTON” – he realizes what he needs to do.

They return to the console room where the Doctor inscribes the message on the Magno-grab remote. The Doctor tells Clara that she won’t remember any of this adventure if he’s successful, including finding his name in the big book, and launches into the rift in the console room wall. He throws the remote to his past self, who laughs as he smacks the big friendly button.

Time resets to the moment before the salvagers caught the TARDIS, but this time they ignore it. Their family relations are also significantly better. Meanwhile, the Doctor is concerned about Clara’s feeling of safety. She tells him that everything is fine and urges him to push the button and take them to their next stop.

The birth of this story is what happens when fans take control of production. Steven Moffat was disappointed in how the TARDIS interiors looked when he saw The Invasion of Time as a child, so he challenge this episode’s writer, Steve Thompson, to make it better. Mission accomplished on so many levels, taking viewers on a whirlwind tour of the library, the observatory, the swimming pool, the Arch-Recon (architectural reconfiguration system), and the Eye of Harmony. We also get to see just how many treasures the Doctor holds in his time capsule, including knowledge in liquid form and the history of the Time War.

I’d really love a copy of that prop. It appears to be based around a late 19th-century leather-bound Bible with brass clasps. Copies of that book run into the hundreds of dollars as of this writing.

I really liked how the TARDIS wounds translated into time leaks, creating bubbles of tangible potential timelines that could only interact with each other in very special circumstances. The TARDIS’s memories that flooded her control room came from An Unearthly Child (twice), Colony in SpaceThe Doctor’s WifeThe Robots of DeathRoseSmith and JonesThe Beast Below, and Time Crash.

This leakage also played into another core Doctor Who trope: Being kind reaches across time and space. The “joke” that the brothers played on Tricky was cruel and unnecessary, but the Doctor’s admonishment of Gregor that questioned the human’s decency stuck with the family through the time reset.

Oh, and that self-destruct hoax? If a good gag works, why change? (See Attack of the Cybermen and Victory of the Daleks.)

In the end, the Doctor finally puts the mystery of Clara being a bad agent of some sort to bed. Even if Clara doesn’t remember the discussion, it’s good to know that the Doctor can finally move on from the who to the why.

Rating: 4/5 – “Would you care for a jelly baby?”

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: The Crimson Horror


The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.

Timestamp #244: Hide

Doctor Who: Hide
(1 episode, s07e09, 2013)

Timestamp 244 Hide

A ghost story?

The mystery begins at Caliburn House. It is November 25, 1974, and is the fourth night of Professor Alec Palmer’s attempt to contact an apparition with his psychic assistant Emma Grayling. As they make another attempt, they are interrupted by a knocking at the door. When they answer, they find the Doctor and Clara who claim to be Ghostbusters.

The Doctor poses as an agent of “the Ministry” and claims to know who Alec (a secret war veteran) and Emma are. Photographs by the professor show the same figure in the same pose throughout the history of Caliburn House. The travelers tour the house and get to know the investigators. They also examine the history of the “Witch of the Well” and encounter the ghost.

The Doctor talks with Alec while Clara and Emma share a drink. Alec researches ghosts to avoid the horrors he experienced in wartime, while Clara suggests that Emma and Alec could have a relationship.

After the encounter, the Doctor and Clara return to the TARDIS – She’s like a cat: A bit slow to trust – and take a series of photographs of the ghost throughout Earth’s timeline. Clara laments that she is nothing more than a ghost herself in the Doctor’s eyes, asking what humans are to him. He tells Clara that human beings (or maybe Clara herself?) are the only mystery worth solving.

The Doctor returns them to 1974 and analyzes the series of photographs and Emma consoles Clara, who is disturbed by seeing the end of the world. The Doctor speculates that the ghost is really a time traveler – Hila Tacorien – who is trapped in a pocket universe. Unfortunately, the pocket universe is collapsing and Hila is being chased by an unknown creature.

The Doctor tells Emma that she is the beacon that will lead Hila home. He uses a crystal from Metebelis III connected to a subset of the Eye of Harmony to enhance Emma’s abilities and create a doorway to the pocket universe. The Doctor dives into the pocket universe and locates Hila. He’s able to send her home but ends up trapped himself.

Alec has been apprehensive about Emma’s role in this affair, but to rescue the Doctor he encourages her to try one more time, finally admitting that he loves her. Emma tries to open the portal as Clara rushes to the TARDIS – the time machine sounds the Cloister Bell in alarm – and argues with the voice interface.

She’s annoyed that the voice interface looks just like her, but she soon convinces the TARDIS to break into the pocket universe and rescue the Doctor.

With the crisis abated, the Doctor reveals that he brought Clara to Caliburn House to see Emma, curious about what the psychic senses about his companion. Emma can’t detect anything strange about Clara. The Doctor doesn’t seem entirely pleased with the answer, but he decides that it’s time to move on.

As he and Clara are about to depart, the Doctor reveals that Hila is Emma and Alec’s future descendant. Hila can’t return home since history says that she’s gone missing, but she can remain with Emma and Alec. When he suggests that the two lovebirds hold hands and never let go, he realizes that the creature in the pocket dimension has been trying to reunite with another creature in the house.

After another brief trip to the pocket dimension, the Doctor reunites the creatures and promises to take them to a safe place. It seems, in the end, this was not a ghost story.

It was a love story.

I really like the story overall. We get another discussion of jumping from one universe to another, as well as a refresher on entropy draining the TARDIS power supply. Circle back to the Pete’s World trip for that connection. I also liked the twist, making us think once again about whether or not every creature is an enemy.

The parallels to Ghost Light, The Eternity Trap, and The Talons of Weng-Chiang were a nice touch, as was the decorative headgear: The device used to connect Emma to the Eye of Harmony is very close in design to the one that the Second Doctor used to show his thoughts to Zoe in The Wheel in Space.

We get another dose of star power with Dougray Scott, a man who has been all over the place and was fantastic here, even if I didn’t recognize him at first. It must be the Clark Kent effect with the glasses.

Hila’s fate was a fun bit of timey-wimey business, but it ends up as an after-thought when the true reason for the Doctor’s stop is revealed. This is where this story falls down in my opinion. The Doctor tricks Clara into being a Caliburn House so that he can use Emma’s skills to divine Clara’s secrets, the plot of which feels squicky. It couldn’t be a simple ghost/love story, but instead had to be another chapter in the Doctor’s quest to unravel the Impossible Girl.

That part of the twist just doesn’t sit right with me.

Rating: 3/5 – “Reverse the polarity of the neutron flow.”

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS


The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.

Timestamp #243: Cold War

Doctor Who: Cold War
(1 episode, s07e08, 2013)

Timestamp 243 Cold War

Hungry like a wolf.

North Pole, 1983: In the frigid depths, a Soviet submarine conducts an ICBM launch drill. They are interrupted by Professor Grisenko, a man who has secured a certain specimen during this voyage. Captain Zhukov and Lieutenant Stepashin face pressure from NATO exercises on the military front, but thanks to a crewman below decks, they now face a new threat as something emerges from the ice.

Havoc erupts on the submarine as the green armored figure rampages through the boat. As the submarine flails, the TARDIS materializes and the Doctor and Clara rush into the control room looking for Las Vegas. The crew decide to trust the newcomers for the moment as the submarine grounds out on the ocean floor, 700 meters below the surface.

The crew then apprehend the travelers and search the Doctor’s pockets, unveiling all sorts of artifacts. The submarine takes another jolt, knocking Clara unconscious as the TARDIS spontaneously dematerializes. When Clara comes to, the Doctor and the captain are arguing. They stop when the being appears in the control room.

Welcome back, Ice Warriors!

The Doctor informs them that the Ice Warriors are soldiers that demand respect, pleading with the Soviets to stop attacking it. He wagers that the Ice Warrior is confused due to being frozen for 5,000 years and asks its name. The Doctor is shocked to hear that this Ice Warrior is the legendary Grand Marshall Skaldak.

The exchange is stopped when Stepashin knocks the grand marshall down with an electrical charge. After chastizing the lieutenant, the Doctor recommends that Skaldak be locked up. He then explains who the Ice Warriors are to the captain, unaware that Skaldak is signaling his people to save him.

Stepashin wonders if the travelers are western spies, prompting Clara to learn about the TARDIS translation circuits. Captain Zhukov dismisses the lieutenant’s concerns and tasks him to lead damage control efforts. He then talks with the Doctor about the war his lieutenant just declared on the Ice Warriors. In the end, Clara volunteers to act as ambassador to negotiate peace.

The Doctor coaches her through an audio link as Clara talks with the general, but Clara soon discovers that the armor is empty. Skaldak is free and wandering the ship, swearing to retaliate against his enemies. The Doctor recognizes that leaving its armor is one of the most dishonorable things an Ice Warrior can do, therefore the general is now incredibly dangerous. The Doctor retrieves Clara – she is ecstatic over this encounter – and then tries to impress the pressure of the situation on the captain.

The submarine slips on the seamount, adding even more danger to the situation. Meanwhile, the Ice Warrior finds Stepashin and extracts knowledge of the Cold War and the theory of mutually assured destruction from his mind.

Captain Zhukov gives the heroic speech to his crew: The reactor is down, they only have battery power, and they’re running out of air. All of that aside, they still have a mission to stop the Grand Marshall before he gains control of any of the nuclear missiles. They are all that stands between him and the destruction of the world.

Clara and the Doctor talk about the nature of time, realizing that history can be changed and rewritten, so world destruction is still a possibility. The Doctor agrees to help the captain search for Skaldak, happy to have his sonic screwdriver returned. Clara teams up with Professor Grisenko – the professor has a cattle prod to ward off polar bears and a wants to sing Hungry Like the Wolf – as the Doctor tinkers ahead of them. This team rushes when they hear screaming, coming across the bodies of two crewmen who were dismembered as Skaldak tests human weaknesses.

The Doctor gets a fix on Skaldak and orders Clara to stay put. He’s surprised that she doesn’t argue, leaving her to chat with the professor as he moves on. Clara admits that she was bothered by the bodies and the deaths.

The chase continues through the submarine. As the professor and Clara exchange small talk, Skaldak doubles back and grabs Clara. When Grisenko shoots the Ice Warrior, he shifts to the professor and declares his intent to destroy humanity. Since they fired on him first, he has every right under Martian law to obliterate them.

As Skaldak signals his armor through sonic signal, the Doctor attempts to negotiate. The grand marshall enters his armor when it arrives and heads for the control room. There he begins the launch sequence for the warheads, but the Doctor pleads with him, appealing in the name of mercy. When Skaldak doesn’t yield, the Doctor threatens to destroy the submarine in order to stop him.

In the face of mutually assured destruction, Skaldak faces the Doctor and opens his helmet, wondering who will blink first. Clara steps in and pleads for compassion. Her case is won when the submarine is snared by a spaceship that raises it to the surface. The Doctor asks him to leave in peace, but is worried when the Ice Warrior is transported away while the warheads are still armed.

The situation ends when the launch systems are remotely disarmed, prompting a celebratory hug from Clara to the Doctor.

The Doctor, Captain Zhukov, the professor, and Clara go to the bridge to gaze upon the Martian ship. Clara asks the Doctor what happened to the TARDIS, of which the Doctor confesses that he reactivated the Hostile Action Displacement System (HADS). Even though he hasn’t used it for a while, he knows that it will pop up eventually. On cue, the sonic reports that the TARDIS has fled to the South Pole.

Embarrassed, he asks the captain for a lift and they all laugh. The Doctor offers a salutes the Ice Warrior ship as it flies away.

As a former submariner, I tend to keep an eye on certain things while watching submarine-based works like this. I was pretty impressed with the technical accuracy in this one with one exception.

The Firebird initially looked like a Typhoon-class ballistic missile sub, which is usually what one thinks of with respect to Cold War Soviet boats. I mean, look no further than The Hunt for Red October (both the novel and the film). But the Firebird was actually a Soviet Delta – either a Delta II (Project 667BD Murena-M) or a Delta III (Project 667BDR Kalmar) depending on which source you look at – a class of boats that was introduced in 1973 and are still in service under their third and fourth designs today.

The technical exception was the maximum depth of the Delta hull. The Firebird grounded out at around 700 meters (3000 feet), but the Delta can only go to 400 meters (1300 feet) as far as we know. From experience, the depth in this story is really deep and unrealistic for a nuclear-powered submarine.

(I was also impressed with the crew accuracy. At this point in submarine history, the silent service was still a “boy’s club”, so Clara was rightfully the only woman in the episode. We haven’t seen that in Doctor Who since The Power of Kroll.)

Also, this point in history was a hot one for a cold war. The Able Archer 83 exercises, which simulated a DEFCON 1 status and a coordinated worldwide nuclear attack, terrified the already paranoid Soviet Union. They honestly believed that the simulation was obscuring a real attack so they placed the East German and Polish forces on alert. There were other close calls throughout the year, including one famous incident where the world should have been destroyed except for one cool-headed Soviet radar operator who correctly interpreted a missile on his screen as an equipment malfunction.

The paranoia in the story was reality.

Technical stuff aside, this story played well with that paranoia and was a well-crafted suspense thriller that balanced body count against a very tightly focused plot. Let’s face it: Not much really happened in this story, but it still adequately filled the runtime.

It was also chock full of powerful guest stars. I know Liam Cunningham best from Game of Thrones, David Warner from Star Trek IV: The Undiscovered Country, Star Trek: The Next Generation, Batman: The Animated Series, and TRON (and, of course, Dreamland), and Tobias Menzies from The Crown, Outlander, and Star Wars: Rebels, but all three of these men have extensive histories in film and television.

That’s not even mentioning Spencer Wilding (The God Complex and The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe) and Nicholas Briggs (pretty much every revival era Dalek, Judoon, Cyberman, and Zygon, as well as various creatures, having been around since Rose).

That powerhouse cast really propelled this story beyond its thin plot to a fun time overall.

It’s good to see the Ice Warriors back. At this point, they’d been absent for 39 years. Amusingly, theplot device of thawing out a Martian was also used in the debut of the Ice Warriors. It was fun to expand on them a bit with the armor mythology, which also served to boost Clara’s character as she negotiated with Skaldak.

I also really liked the threat of extermination in this story. Time is not concrete and this incident was not a fixed point in time, so if the Doctor and Clara had failed then the Earth would have been destroyed. I dig the fact that they have worldwide stakes to deal with.

I just hope that someone told the Doctor that he and Clara are sailing for another 10 to 20 days. They’re definitely going to need fresh clothes and a shower when they get where they’re going.

Rating: 4/5 – “Would you care for a jelly baby?”

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: Hide


The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.

Timestamp #242: The Rings of Akhaten

Doctor Who: The Rings of Akhaten
(1 episode, s07e07, 2013)

Timestamp 242 The Rings of Akhaten

Dining on infinity.

A brisk wind blows the autumn leaves, particularly one large red leaf that flies into a man’s face. As the man stumbles into the street, a woman saves him from being run over. The pair begin a relationship around that leaf — the most important leaf in human history — and eventually have a child named Clara Oswald.

That girl later mourns her mother who died on March 5, 2005. The Doctor, who has been watching Clara through all of these events, laments that she cannot be possible.

Back in 2013, Clara is sitting with her book and waits for the Doctor. When he arrives, she rushes to meet him and asks about the nature of time, space, and travel in both. When asked, she decides that she wants to see something awesome.

So, he takes her to the rings of Akhaten. Among those rings is a pyramid, a holy site for the Sun-singers of Akhet, a people of this seven-world system that believe that all life in the universe originated on Akhaten. The Doctor tells Clara that it’s a nice story they believe, but indulges her wish to take a closer look.

In the market near the pyramid, the Doctor introduces Clara to Pan-Babylonians, a Lugalirakush, some Eukanians, a Hooloovoo, and an Ultramanta. He does a ritual greeting with a Terraberserker of the Cadonian Belt, then mentions that he forgot how much he liked it there. After all, he’s been there once before while traveling with his granddaughter.

Clara is shocked. She runs after him and samples a glowing blue fruit, but isn’t impressed with the flavor. She also encounters Dor’een, a being that barks to communicate. It’s odd that the TARDIS translation circuits haven’t kicked in fully for Clara, but the Doctor helps by translating that Dor’een wants to rent Clara a moped. The cost is a sentimental object, using payment through psychometry. Clara doesn’t like the idea of giving up something important in trade, but it’s not much different than exchanging valuable bits of paper.

Clara turns her back for a moment, losing the Doctor but running into a little girl in crimson robes. When the girl runs off, two men in similar attire approach and ask if she’s seen the Queen of Years. Clara is confused and pursues the girl to a junkyard. After a spell, the two cross paths again. The girl says that she’s hiding but Clara just wants to help. She offers to take Merry Galel to the TARDIS as masked creatures continue to search for her.

The TARDIS refuse to open for Clara, prompting her to think that the box doesn’t like her. The duo take refuge behind the TARDIS and Merry explains that she is the Queen of Years. She was chosen for the role as a baby when the previous Queen died. She knows every story, poem, legend, and song of their culture. She’s scared because she has to sing a special song to their god to keep him from waking. Clara consoles her about fear, telling the queen that she’ll get the song right before taking her back to the men in red robes that were looking for her.

The Doctor finally finds Clara, asking what she’s been up to while munching on one of the blue fruits. Clara tells him that she’s been exploring. They then go see Merry sing her song, a duet with a man in red robes at the pyramid who sings before a mummy-like being. The Doctor reads the program and tells her that it is the Long Song, a song to keep the Old God, also known as the Grandfather, asleep. Members of the audience hold up offerings of sentimental value to feed the Old God, and the Doctor joins in the song.

The Chorister in the pyramid falters and a golden energy seizes Merry, pulling her toward the pyramid. The Doctor leaves the scene, which Clara interprets as running away before the Doctor corrects her, and rents a moped with Clara’s mother’s ring. Together, they race into the rings to save Merry, but they barely miss her before touching down at the pyramid.

The Doctor is unable to unlock the doorway right away. Inside the pyramid, the Old God begins to awaken, but the Doctor finally breaks the lock’s code and raises the door. Merry refuses to leave, believing that her failure is her fault. The Old God feeds on souls, and Merry believes that it wants hers.

The Doctor releases the door and enters the pyramid. The Chorister flees, claiming that the Long Song ended with him, and the Old God awakens. The Doctor tells Merry that they didn’t wake him. Instead, the being woke because it was time to wake up. Merry is as a sacrifice, and if she’s going to be so voluntarily, he wants her to know why: Every time the Old God threatens to waken, the Queen of Years is offered as a sacrifice to put him back to sleep as it feeds on her story.

He explains: “Souls are made up of stories. People we lost. People we found against all odds.” He calms Merry by telling a story that she doesn’t know. She is unique in the universe and there won’t be another person like her. If Merry doesn’t offer herself, everything will be fine.

The Old God begins to crack the glass case around it and the masked beings arrive to secure Merry for the sacrifice. The Doctor is able to use his sonic screwdriver to overcome the guards while Clara asks Merry to sing the door open. Merry and Clara run for the moped as the Doctor holds the guards at bay, but as the being breaks the glass, the Doctor realizes that he’s made an error.

The beast was an alarm clock. The real Old God Akhaten is inside the star, and now that it’s awake it is hungry. Very hungry.

The Doctor decides to fight Akhaten as Clara returns Merry to the platform. He faces down the star as Merry sings and he begins to tell it a new story. The story of his own experiences over all of his known lives.

“I walked away from the last great time war. I marked the passing of the Time Lords. I saw the birth of the universe and I watched as time ran out. Moment by moment until nothing remained, no time, no space, just me! I walked in universes where the laws of physics were devised by the mind of a mad man! And I watched universes freeze and creations burn! I have seen things you wouldn’t believe! I have lost things you will never understand! And I know things, secrets that must never be told, knowledge that must never be spoken! Knowledge that would make parasite gods blaze! SO COME ON THEN! TAKE IT! TAKE IT ALL, BABY! HAVE IT! YOU HAVE IT ALL!

Akhaten feeds on these experiences, and as the beast appears to return to slumber, the Doctor collapses. Unfortuantely, Akhaten isn’t quite sated. Clara recalls her mother’s words and returns to the Doctor’s side, offering the red leaf. The most important leaf in human history, full of her mother’s lost life and a future that never happened. Akhaten feeds on the infinite potential of that leaf, eventually falling asleep for good.

The Doctor returns Clara to her home, at which point Clara realizes that she saw the Doctor at her mother’s funeral. He tells her that she reminds him of someone he knew who died, but Clara tells him that she shouldn’t see her as a replacement.

The Doctor agrees, returning her mother’s ring. The people she saved wanted her to have it back. As Clara returns home, the Doctor looks on after her with a grim expression.

During this first adventure in the TARDIS to an alien planet, we find out that Clara’s mother died on March 5, 2005, the same day as the Auton invasion of Earth. It’s possible that she was a victim of that invasion, but not established.

What I really like about this story centers on the costume and set design, which exemplify this era of wonder and exploration in Doctor Who. Just look at all of the alien creatures in the bazaar! I also enjoy Clara’s sincerity, empathy, and innocence at this point in her journeys.

This is the first time in a while (either The Girl Who Waited or Asylum of the Daleks, depending on how you count the undercover Dalek puppets) that a story didn’t include an extensive cast of human characters and didn’t really link back to Earth. Clara is pretty much the only human in the story, and Earth only appears in establishing bookends instead of being the story’s setting. It’s refreshing.

I also like the Long Song – Emilia Jones has a beautiful singing voice – and the solution to feeding the beast of Ahkaten. The story falls apart though in Clara’s sacrifice: I’m not a big fan of her having to give up something so incredibly precious to travel with the Doctor, despite the obvious callback to the beginning of the tale. It’s almost like she’s being required to give up the core of who she is for the privilege.

That said, it can also be looked at as being pushed to grow beyond her self-established boundaries.

Either way, I guess that’s what gives the story so much power. It’s inducing strong emotions in the telling and the analysis, which is one measure of good storytelling.

Rating: 4/5 – “Would you care for a jelly baby?”

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: Cold War


The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.

Timestamp #241: The Bells of Saint John

Doctor Who: The Bells of Saint John
(1 episode, s07e06, 2013)

Timestamp 241 The Bells of Saint John

The clever boy rides.


A little girl finds the Doctor sitting on a swing in a playground. The Doctor is sad because he can’t find his “friend”, but the girl is friendly despite her mother’s warning not to talk to strange men. The little girl offers some advice about finding lost items before returning to her mother.

The girl’s mother scolds her for talking to a stranger. It turns out that the little girl is none other than Clara Oswald.

The Bells of Saint John

A man warns the world against attaching to strange public wifi networks. Which, you know, is wise advice under any circumstance. But this warning also adds a little bit of The Ring to the story: Within 24 hours of connecting to the strange network, a user’s soul is extracted into the internet where it screams in the cybernetic void.

The man knows what he speaks. He is one of the lost souls.

Shifting to Cumbria in 1207, a monk sends warning that the bells of Saint John are ringing. The Abbot informs the “mad monk”, the man known as the Doctor who asks for a horse. As the Doctor prepares, the Abbot looks upon a painting of “the woman twice dead”, remarking that if the Doctor is mad, the mystery around the woman is his madness.

In London, circa 2013, Clara Oswald has trouble connecting to the internet. George is leaving with a boy named Artie while Clara keeps track of Angie. She also remarks on Artie’s choice of reading material – Summer Falls by Amelia Williams – noting that Chapter Eleven is the best because it makes the reader cry.

Back in Cumbria, the Doctor and the monks arrive in a cave where the TARDIS is parked. The exterior phone is ringing, which isn’t supposed to happen, and it connects the Doctor to Clara through the help line that a “woman in the shop” gave her. The help line is supposed to be the best in the universe, after all. When Clara tries to connect to the Maitland family wifi, she asks Angie for the password. It is “RYCBAR123”, remembered by the mnemonic “Run you clever boy and remember.”

Of course, the Doctor remembers the phrase and startles Clara. Clara inadvertently connects to the strange network, starting her twenty-four hour clock before running to answer the door. There she finds the Doctor, dressed in monk robes, pounding on the door and excited to meet her.

On the other side of the strange network, an analyst named Alexei remarks that Clara is “borderline,” being clever without much computer skill. His boss, Rosemary Kizlet, his superior, orders him to upload Clara anyway and supplement her with a computer skills package. With the promise that Alexei will activate the “Spoonheads”, Kizlet returns to her office and discusses Alexei with a man named Mahler. They agree to kill the analyst after he returns from holiday, then discuss Mahler’s worry that they’re uploading too many people too quickly. Kizlet tries to comfort him while manipulating his senses of conscience, paranoia, obedience, and IQ. After Mahler leaves to carry out Kizlet’s orders, she raises his obedience level to the maxmum.

At the house, Clara is unconvinced to let the robe-clad stranger in. As she turns to go back upstairs, a little girl comes down to meet her. This strange girl is the same girl from the Summer Falls book cover, and she also has a spoon-shaded indent in the back of her head. Clara backs away in fear.

The Doctor returns to the TARDIS for a change of clothes, donning a purple cashmere coat and matching bow tie. He rushes back to the house to find Clara unconscious with her screaming voice trapped in the Spoonhead. The Doctor uses his sonic screwdriver to analyze the robotic base station before using Clara’s laptop to reverse the connection and restore Clara’s consciousness.

He also leaves a message for Alexei, Mahler, and Kizlet: “UNDER MY PROTECTION – The Doctor”. Kizlet immediately contacts her client with news that the Doctor has arrived.

The Doctor tidies up while Clara rests, even adding a plate of Jammie Dodgers nearby. He flips through a book of hers and finds a dried red maple leaf, then steps outside to guard her while she sleeps. Clara joins him some time later and the Doctor recounts everything that she missed: Angie is staying with her friend Nina, Clara’s father called to complain about the government, he fixed the washing machine, optimized the photosynthesises of the plants, organized the food pantry, and reassembled a broken Quadricycle. Okay, that last one? He invented the Quadricycle.

He also promises to stand watch while Clara sleeps, but she decides to come downstairs to him. While she gathers a cup of tea and a folding chair, Kizlet’s team watches them and plots. The Doctor explains the internet eating souls to Clara, which she equates to Twitter – she’s not wrong – and the pair realize that Clara has gained a greater knowledge of computers from being partially uploaded. The Doctor spots a Spoonhead and the lights around the neighborhood switching on. There’s also an airplane plummeting down on their position. Kizlet is intent on removing the Doctor and Clara from the equation.

Against her wishes, the Doctor rushes Clara into the TARDIS. She’s amazed as the Doctor makes a short hop through space into the falling airplane. The passengers and crew are switched off through the wifi, so the Doctor manages to pull the plane out of the nosedive and revive the people onboard. As the Doctor and Clara return to the TARDIS, Kizlet demands that her team locate the blue box.

The Doctor promises to explain everything over breakfast, dropping the TARDIS into a group of people who cheer the materialization as performance art while the Doctor retrieves his motorcycle from the garage. The pair ride to a café for breakfast as Kizlet’s team processes cell phone photos for the TARDIS, the Doctor, and Clara.

The Doctor and Clara use the laptop to hack the webcams at Kizlet’s office and cross-reference the imagery through various social networks to find their adversary’s location: They work at the Shard.

The Doctor leaves to get more coffee, talking to several people who are being controlled remotely along the way. Kizlet explains that her client feeds of the neural energy of humanity, similar to a farmer slaughtering cattle for harvest. She notes that Clara is not as safe as he thinks, and he soon discovers that Clara has been uploaded by a Spoonhead duplicate of the Doctor.

Furious, the Doctor rides his motorcycle to the Shard, using an anti-gravity feature to ride up the side of the Shard and literally break into Kizlet’s office. He demands that Kizlet restore Clara and the entire data cloud into their bodies. For those who no longer have a body, their deaths would ensure release from the living virtual hell.

Oh, and the Doctor? He’s still at the café. He sent his Spoonhead duplicate which has now uploaded Kizlet as motivation to restore everyone to the living world. The Spoonhead uses Kizlet’s tablet to boost Mahler’s obedience and he follows her demand to be released by emptying the entire cloud.

Clara wakes up at the café, but the Doctor has gone. Meanwhile, as UNIT storms the Shard, Kizlet reports her failure to her client. As the Great Intelligence bids her farewell, it orders Kizlet to reset herself and every one of her co-workers to their “factory settings”. Everyone is restored to who they were before the Great Intelligence’s plot began, including Kizlet who is now a scared child.

This plot has been going on for some time.

Back at the Maitland residence, Clara sees the TARDIS outside and goes to see the Doctor. He invites her to travel with him. She declines, telling him to come back the next day and ask her again because she might say yes. After she leaves, the Doctor returns to the console, dialing up the next day as he declares that it’s time to find out who she is.

As mid-season returns go, this one is a great season premiere. It pushes a soft-reset while giving the new companion a bright spotlight in which to play. This version of Clara is a bit less flirty than her predecessors (wibbly-wobbly-timey-wimey) but still definitely herself in the end. You know, despite the fact that she has no idea who Oswin or Clara Oswin are.

The return of the Great Intelligence was a neat trick, as was the allusion that this plot was long-reaching.  I especially liked the story and its connection to modern technology and our obsession with it. The plot itself is reminiscent of The Idiot’s Lantern. It’s also quite fun when real-life landmarks like the Shard are used in the plot.

The rapid-fire introduction of Clara to the TARDIS as they saved the nosediving airplane was a heart-pounding ride. Of course, I have to ignore the basic logisitics of that save since there is no place neither wide nor tall enough to park the TARDIS on a Boeing 737.

The switcheroo with the Doctor and the Spoonhead was a nice nod to The Android Invasion. The “short hop” discussion was a fun callback to the other times that such trips were difficult, such as The Seeds of DeathState of DecayArmy of Ghosts, and (most recently) Dinosaurs on a Spaceship

Overall, a good time and a fun start to the next run of adventures.

Rating: 5/5 – “Fantastic!”

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: The Rings of Akhaten


The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.