Doctor Who Series 8, Episode 11
In Greek Mythology, the story of Orpheus and Eurydice ranks among its most tragic tales. When Orpheus loses his beloved wife, he journeys to the underworld to bring her back. Through his gift of song, he pleads with Hades to release her, and he does…on one condition. Eurydice must follow Orpheus on the journey, but Orpheus must never look back at her until they are both in the land of the living. If he does look back at her, he loses her forever. Their journey is successful, and the minute Orpheus crosses back into his plane, he looks back at his wife, overjoyed that they can be reunited. In his joy, however, he forgets that they BOTH had to be out of the underworld, and Eurydice, being behind him, is still in the underworld. She is lost forever. Baz Luhrmann based his masterpiece Moulin Rouge on this myth, and I saw allusions to it in this week’s episode of Doctor Who.
Danny Pink is dead.
Out of all the worst case scenarios I had imagined for the season finale, Danny dying certainly wasn’t one of them. After all…”Listen” essentially established that Danny and Clara got married, lived happily ever after, and had lost of time-traveling babies, did it not? I had comforted myself with that thought all season, even as Clara’s lies about her life continued to escalate. WE MET HER FREAKING GRANDCHILD (or so it seemed) DID WE NOT? So how can this happen? MOFFAT!
Danny died in the most ordinary of ways. It’s incredibly tragic that after surviving the war in Afghanistan, after begrudgingly fighting aliens with the Doctor, that Danny Pink was just struck by a car while he was on the phone with Clara. The terrible thing is, it was probably because Clara’s declaration of love (“Danny, I love you and you’re the last person who is ever going to hear me say that. These words are yours now.”) distracted him. Gone in an instant. (This was the first instance of many over the course of the episode of me yelling at my TV and texting Sage in a panic, by the way.)
Understandably, Danny’s death rocks Clara to her very core. After all, she is the Impossible Girl. She has seen and done extraordinary things over the course of her life. How can she lose someone in such a mundane way? “It wasn’t terrible. It was boring. It was ordinary,” she says, dead-eyed. Doesn’t she deserve better? As her gran tries to comfort her, she tells Clara that she didn’t deserve this. “I didn’t deserve anything, nobody deserves anything,” she counters. “But I am OWED better.”
As we are also seeing on Arrow this season, deep grief can cause people to act irrationally. In Laurel Lance’s case, it involves trying to become a vigilante with zero training. In Clara Oswald’s case, it involves betraying the one person who has always been there for her…The Doctor. Unaware of Danny’s death (or is he?), The Doctor picks up Clara for a trip and she requests to see a volcano. As The Doctor rants about volcanos, Clara wanders around the console room, picking up The Doctor’s seven TARDIS keys. (One for every New Companion? Rose, Martha, Donna, Amy, Rory, River, and Clara? Discuss.) She then asks the Doctor about his sleep patches, after which, she slaps one on his neck. The next thing we see is Clara on the edge of a Volcano, looking VERY much like Frodo on Mount Doom as he wrestles whether or not to toss the One Ring into the fire, as the Doctor looks on in horror (which I suppose makes him Samwise Gamgee).
Turns out, like the One Ring, a TARDIS key can only be destroyed in fire. Clara holds up the seven keys, and tosses one in the fire, just to get the doctor’s attention. “Do I have your attention?” “Yes.” “Good.” “Not good, Clara.” She then demands that The Doctor rewrite time and bring Danny back. When he refuses, she tosses another one into the fire and says that every subsequent time he tells her “NO” that she will throw away an additional key, until there are none left and they will be stranded forever. Peter and especially Jenna are MAGNIFICENT in this scene as they hold their ground against each other in this scene. Clara’s rage and determination are palpable as is The Doctor’s astonishment that his Clara is behaving this way. Clara is so certain that The Doctor will bend to her will, that she tosses 5 keys into the lava at once, leaving him with only one chance to save them both. Then the Doctor essentially goads her into tossing the final key, which she does. And what I loved so much about this scene is Clara’s horror at HERSELF as soon as she realizes what she has done. She crumples to the ground sobbing…both out of her pain over losing Danny AND her betrayal of The Doctor, especially since The Doctor is strangely not despairing as well. He’s almost…tender as he watches Clara sob on the volcano rim after she tosses the final key. Because while HE knows that this entire scenario is just a waking dream (as he knew that the “sleep patches” were none of the sort ), he knows that SHE thinks that it’s real.
Two of the biggest criticisms I’ve read about this episode revolved around the actions in this scene. The first is that Clara thought she had the right to demand that The Doctor bring back Danny from the dead. After all, Amy Pond never demanded it when she lost Rory (and he was her FIANCE), so why does Clara Oswald get to do so, when she clearly doesn’t love Danny as much as Amy Loved Rory? First of all, Clara knows nothing of Amy and Rory, so how would she know their story? Secondly, who are we to measure what the loss of Danny means to Clara? It’s been firmly established that she’s in love with him, even if we’ve spent less time seeing their relationship unfold. Third and finally, The Doctor literally had to drag Amy away from Rory the first time he died fighting the Silurians. Amy fought against him and demanded that The Doctor fix it…and then the crack in time caused her to forget that Rory even existed. It’s completely ridiculous to try to parallel those stories.
Secondly, I saw a lot of people complaining about how The Doctor “manipulated” Clara in this scene. I didn’t see it that way. When it became clear that the entire Volcano scene was a set-up, I saw it as The Doctor definitely knowing that Clara was in an immense amount pain (so he knew about Danny, head canon accepted) and she was a bit of a danger to herself. The Doctor used the waking dream as a way to help her start to work through her pain and also because he was curious about just how far she would go to get Danny back. Twelve may not be as touchy feely as Eleven, but he still cares VERY deeply, even if he has a super awkward way of showing it. Tricking her was the very best thing he could have done in the moment because not only did it reveal to him the depth of Clara’s feelings, but it showed him exactly what he had to do in order to help her. So when Clara says “What now?”, he simply says, “Go to Hell.” “Fair enough,” Clara says, completely resigned and knowing that she deserved that response. BUT THEN the Doctor stops her (and his FACE when he does so!) because he realizes how she’s interpreted his response. No…they are literally going to go to Hell and bring Danny back if they can.
The scene in the TARDIS following the volcano scene just about killed me. Twelve has come SO far since “Deep Breath” as far as his character growth and his relationship with Clara. Think about it. In “Deep Breath” he could barely remember her name and he kept confusing her with Strax. In “Dark Water” he looks at her, utterly broken before him and crying over her betrayal of their friendship and says “Do you think I care for you so little that betraying me would make a difference?” My HEART. Clara reacted much in the way that I did watching on my couch…with a mixture of relief, gratitude, and overwhelming LOVE (“Stop it with the eyes!”). The Doctor may not be the biggest fan of Danny, but you know who he IS a fan of? Clara Oswald. And he’s an even bigger fan of Clara Oswald’s happiness. So if Clara needs Danny, then it’s Danny that he’s going to get for her. “Let’s see what we’re made of, you and I.” God help me, I ship it just a bit, and not just because Sage has been sending me fan videos trying to convince me to join her on this (ill fated) ship. As in “Listen”, The Doctor plugs Clara into the TARDIS’ brain so they can lock onto Clara’s timeline. “I don’t deserve a friend like you,” she says through her tears. “Clara, I’m terribly sorry…but I’m exactly what you deserve.” Thus, to the Underworld (aka The Nethersphere aka The Promised Land) they go to save Danny Pink…if they can.
I do wonder if Orpheus had had a companion the Doctor with him on HIS trip to the Underworld that he would have been able to save Eurydice. Twelve is the PERFECT Doctor to make this trip BECAUSE he is not as easily swayed by emotion and Clara needs him to remind her to shut it down. Hell is no place for tears. “We’re here to get your boyfriend back from the dead, so buck up. Give me some attitude. I need skeptical, I need clever.” He needs Clara to see past her grief and become the BAMF that she was in “Flatline” (“Be strong. Even if it breaks you heart.”). The Underworld is a predictably creepy Masoleum with skeletons suspended in water. “Dark Water” to be specific (hey Episode title!). The Dark Water masks all inorganic material, and The Doctor and Clara are told that all of the skeletons are actually encased in something to hold them down…ominous. Also ominous? All the Cybermen Eyes carved into the wall. You can see where this is going from a mile away (also thanks internet and filming pictures). Clara and the Doctor finally meet the mysterious Missy, who claims to be a Droid who maintains all the dead. She is VERY delighted to see the Doctor, as she kisses him full on the mouth. Several times. Well. He IS her boyfriend after all. Even if he doesn’t know it.
Down in the bowels of the Nethersphere, Danny is told that the dead remain conscious of everything going on around them. Donate your body to science? Yeah, you’re gonna feel that. Getting cremated? Prepare to feel the burn. The obvious solution is to feel NOTHING right? Danny’s situation is heightened once Clara gets in touch with him. Danny, having accepted that he is dead, is completely dismayed to find out Clara has come for him. Not because he doesn’t love her, but because he DOES. He knows that she shouldn’t be there, and he knows that, barring a miracle, there is only way for them to be together again…and that’s an option he refuses to consider. Especially once he hears the desperation in her pleas. “Wherever you are, whatever it takes, I will be with you again, I swear!” “There is only one way to come here and you are not doing that. Clara, you have your whole life to live, you have to stay there.” Say what you want about Danny Pink. You can say that he’s patronizing. You can say that he doesn’t understand Clara’s need to travel with the Doctor. But what you CAN’t say about Danny Pink is that he doesn’t always try to put Clara’s safety first. Danny wants her ALIVE, which is why he refuses to give into Clara’s pleas for him to tell her something only he could. He simply tells her he loves her and then lets her go. A+ acting by Samuel Anderson in this scene (and Jenna, but that goes without saying. Might she win a BAFTA for this series?), as you truly felt Danny’s anguish…and you understand WHY that “Delete” button he’s being offered feels so tempting. Of course, if he presses that button, he’ll be lost forever. But HE doesn’t know that.
Wait. Did I bury the lead in this recap? MISSY IS THE MASTER AND SHE HAS TURNED THE DEAD INTO AN ARMY OF CYBERMEN. BYE.
- One of the TARDIS Keys was in The Time Traveler’s Wife. Canon would dictate that it was River’s key, but my shipper goggles say it was Rose’s.
- I know it was impossible to keep the Cybermen a secret, given that they filmed on location and there was zero way to prevent pictures, but I wish that had not been spoiled. All of the subtle clues in all the decoration in the masoleum were wonderful and the reveal when the water started to drain away would have blown my mind.
- Fan theory is circulating that Clara may be pregnant, based on the Doctor saying “You’re quite a mess of chemicals, aren’t you?”
- I had long suspected that Danny was responsible for the death of some children, so it was nice/horrible to see those suspicions confirmed.
- 12’s Psychic Paper likes to swear.
- “My Heart is maintained by The Doctor.” “Doctor Who?” HE SAID THE THING.
Sorry this is light on gifs! I am writing this from the press room at Long Lsland Who, where I’ve just interviewed Paul McGann, Nicola Bryant, and Emma Campbell Jones. Stay tuned for those interviews next week! Sage will be your guide through the finale. Pray for her.