Having faced the Raven, Clara is now dead. Before the Doctor can digest this, he has been teleported away. Where to? When to? How to? That last question can be answered, by Ashildr and the teleportation bracelet but who is she working on behalf of? Who has arranged this? And can Moffat cause the haters to self-implode with sheer fury? I can answer that question as well: yes.
My first guess as to what may happen came at the end of Face the Raven, I suspected that he would be facing his double, the Valeyard (google this yourselves because the answer may be more tedious than this unreview). This will be great, I thought, the Doctor versus the Valeyard and both played by Peter Capaldi. This did not happen. Which is alright because what we did get was probably better than what I guessed.
The Doctor arrives in a glass transmat chamber. This chamber is located in a minimalist version of Hogwarts (which is truer than you think: the Doctor plays Quidditch on a flying shovel at the end of the story). He is alone but that is not where the story starts.
The first scene is this, a bloodied hand operates the transmat and the owner of said hand collapses and turns into dust…except for their skull which survives. The Doctor appears in the transmat chamber.
Newbies, transmat is what Doctor Who refers to when teleportation happens. Again, google it if you really want to be bored.
Exploring out from the transmat room, the Doctor finds himself in stone corridor with a shovel resting against a wall. There are also flat-screen televisions lining the walls. They are all playing endless repeats of The Dalek Buds of May, Peter Davison’s Regeneration Game and The Ood Couple. The Doctor is disturbed by this but at least he isn’t being forced to watch Dimensions in Time.
The despair of having to watch these banal shows ends when the screens suddenly show the point-of-view of somebody walking slowly. This somebody is the Veil, a veiled creature with long spindly hands. And like all great monsters that walk really slow, it always catches up with whomever it chases. Eventually.
The Doctor realises that the Veil and Hogwarts have been created specifically to give him a woody and…what? Oh, do I mean the willies? Really? No wonder people keep giving me a strange look whenever I vocalise my fear when I see a spider or a ghost.
Remember all those scenes in the Scooby-Doo cartoons where the monster of the week chases Shaggy and Scooby around really quickly? So not the case here. Slowly wins the race and the Veil does win, it traps the Doctor who having telepathically seduced a wooden door finds himself facing a blank stone wall.
“Crivens, I am scared tae die,” says the Doctor and the Veil stands still and behind the Doctor the building spins around, bridges connecting to doorways and the Doctor is free!
This freedom would be better if the Doctor wasn’t then trapped in a dusty bedroom. There are flowers which seems fairly fresh in the bedroom. There is also a portrait of Clara, not a painting but a photograph, which looks incredibly old and knackered.
The Veil comes into the room, unfrozen once more, and the Doctor talks to it. Nothing he says has much effect though. But during this talking, he is testing the gravity of where he is by dropping petals and an eye-glass. When backed up against the window, he smirks at it and says, “Ye didnae see this comin’!” Then he jumps out of the window, shattering the glass, and drops to his doom.
Or does he?
No, not quite. As he falls, his mind slows down and allows him to create a replica of the TARDIS interior in his mind. He is talking to himself, or rather a a version of himself that looks like Clara. This Clara has her back turned to him and answers him only by writing on a blackboard. The Doctor knows he is falling towards water and that even this could kill him. But he remembers dropping the petals and eye glass earlier, this tells him about the gravity of the world he is on. He knows that he could just survive the splashdown. Maybe.
Unconscious, the Doctor drifts above the seabed. A seabed covered with thousands of skulls. Has this castle played host to countless other prisoners? Textbook enigmatic.
Swimming back to the castle, he finds a room with a nice burning fire and, oddly, a dry set of his clothes waiting for him. Whoever is keeping him trapped is not a bad host. He dresses himself in the new clothes and leaves his old clothes to dry by the fire exactly how they new clothes were arranged.
The Doctor sets off once again but keeps an eye on the monitor for the Veil. After finding himself in a hall of mirrors, a chip shop and the insides of his own colon, the Doctor opens up a door and discovers a garden. Well, I call it a garden but if this garden was human, it would be Miss Havisham. Ooh, the Veil could be a monstrous version of Miss Havisham and the garden is where it doesn’t do much gardening. Um. Scratch that.
In the middle of this ‘garden’ is a fresh grave and a handy shovel. From this, the Doctor figures that he needs to dig up what has been buried. Me and you would assume the grave was freshly dug because someone was buried there but no, the Doctor decides to go all Burke and Hare. Of course. This is why Clara dreaded taking the Doctor to the cemetery. “Jings! A fresh grave! I must dig it up!”
As he digs and digs and digs, the day turns to dusk and night. The Doctor looks up but does not recognise the stars. The constellations are all wrong. The transmat could only send him through space not time but the range of the transmat does not account for the night sky being wrong.
There is no corpse at the bottom of the grave only a piece of stone which has the words “I am in 12” carved into it. What does this mean? Like I said earlier, textbook enigmatic.
Not so textbook enigmatic is what happens next. The Veil suddenly comes crashing through the wall of the grave and is about to seize the Doctor when he drops back into the Memory TARDIS. He goes over what he knows, what he assumes he knows and how delightful he finds the sound of two Daleks colliding. From this he now knows that the Veil is after his confessions, the truth. Me and you might try to fob the creature off with things like “I am allergic to celery” or “I peed myself all the way through high school” but nope, the Doctor confesses to a biggie. “I didnae git bored o’ Gallifrey. I ran awa’ because I was scared they would dress me up as a lassie.” Something like that.
And then the Anti-Moffateers all combusted with fury and tried to break the internet with their outcries of how this goes against everything that is sacred. Ahem. Oh, and the Veil stopped moving again. Which was nice.
The Doctor escapes and looks for a Room 12 but no doors have the number 12 on them or any other numbers for that matter. While he is looking around, he notices that the rooms are rebooting, whatever the Doctor does in a room doesn’t matter because when he next visits, any changes made will have reverted back to how it was when he first entered. Just like being in a high-class hotel room.
Our hero returns back to the transmat room and looks around, something he should have done when he arrived. Sloppy, Doctor, you are getting sloppy.
He discovers a skull connected by wires to the transmat. Nearby on the ground, the word ‘bird’ is written in the dust/sand. This makes him curious. Hasn’t he heard of the bird?
The Doctor takes the skull with him because any company is good company when you are locked up in a castle with a veiled Veil. Even an inanimate skull. This friendship isn’t to last though because the skull, sick of the Doctor’s prattling, jumps into the sea to join his skull friends on the seabed.
The Doctor is too busy realising that the night skies are only accurate if it was 7,000 years later than 2015. But the transmat can’t teleport through time. Just what is going on here? Is it possible that the Doctor has been in Hogwarts longer than he thinks?
When the Doctor eventually manages to find Room 12, the way forward is blocked. He will need to confess again to the Veil if he wants any chance of finding out just what the hell is going on? When he confesses, the castle will trundle and swap around the corridors and layout.
So the Doctor allows the Veil to get close before confessing again. “Crivens! I like wearin’ question-mark panties! I secretly love being suckered by the Daleks! I shot JR! Och, an’ I ken the identity o’ the Hybrid, the wee beastie that the Time Lairds made a prophecy aboot! A hybrid o’ two warrior races. Aye, an’ I ken where it be!”
His confession opens up the way forward to a room with a sheer crystalline wall. This wall is Madeitupium, a substance that is a squillion times harder than custard (and diamond).
The Doctor, very quickly finally realises what he has to do. He has to get through the wall to whatever is on the other side. The word ‘bird’ that he saw earlier refers to a story by the Brothers Grimm which involves a bird wearing away a diamond mountain with only its beak. This is a story I know a little better from The Story of Mankind by Hendrik Willem Van Loon which also involves a bird wearing away a mountain.
The Veil moves again, slowly like a snail falling off a log, and the Doctor ducks back into his Memory TARDIS where he can stretch out the seconds in order to come up with a plan. Or rather, to give up. This Hogwarts puzzle-castle has taxed the Doctor to his limits and he is getting tired of all this running around. Instead of having her back to him, the ersatz Clara talks to him and we see her face. She tells him to never give up, to follow his dream, to reach for the stars, to infinity and beyond.
The Doctor awakens and starts punching the wall. And then the Veil touches him and with its touch burns him to a crisp. But he isn’t out for the count just yet. Nuh-uh! Despite having his regeneration capabilities taken away by the burning, a Time Lord doesn’t die that easily.
He drags himself back to the transmat room. He knows that each room reboots when he leaves, right? Therefore the transmat must also be reset to how it was before he arrived. Which means that the transmat has a fresh copy of himself. Knowing this, the Doctor at last realises that he has been in a cycle of arrival and death for seven thousand years or so. He arrives and then he dies when his makes the sacrifice of his life energy to power up the transmat to make a brand new version of himself. That bloodied hand at the beginning? That was the Doctor bringing himself back.
The Doctor powers up the transmat and then collapses with just enough time to write the word ‘bird’ before turning to dust. His skull being the only part of him to survive…
This process of arrival and departure goes on and on and on and on for two billion years. Each Doctor wears away the crystal wall bit by bit before being turned into a crispy-fried Time Lord by the Veil. And all that time, it never occurs to him to use the shovel on the wall, not once. Silly Doctor.
If the Doctor spent a year each time before he gets to the crystal wall, this means that there are at least two billion skulls on the seabed. If half a year, four billion. Three months, eight billion. Six weeks, sixteen billion. Three weeks, thirty-two billion. Ten days and twelve hours, sixty-four billion. Five days and six hours, 128 billion skulls and so on. This is a staggering amount of deaths if my mathematical abilities are right.
Let me try it another way, there are 365 days in a normal year, yes? If the Doctor spends only three days before dying that would be 121 billion skulls, each belonging to the Doctor. I have probably made a mistake with my calculations but it is a staggering concept to get your head around, isn’t it? Makes Rory Williams look like an amateur in the dying stakes.
Incidentally, why is Room 12 the only room that does not reboot? Also, why doesn’t the Doctor make anew confession, duck out of Room 12, make copies of himself with his regenerational energy before he arriving back and tying up the Veil so it can’t burn him?
When he finally punches his way through, daylight hits him and the Veil collapses in on itself. All that is lost are the veil and a few cogs. The Doctor leaves the minimalist Hogwarts and finds himself on Gallifrey. Home at last, jiggerty jig!
The hole seals up and we finally see the mystery of the castle. The castle was inside the Confession Dial, that maguffin that Missy has in The Magician’s Apprentice and that he gave to Ashildr in Face the Raven. The thing with the Doctor’s last will and testament, remember that?
Just how did the Dial get to Gallifrey? If the castle was in the Dial, then why was the Doctor able to see the night sky relevant to the teleportation bracelet’s range? Need I draw your attention to all the confessing that the Doctor did in the Confession Dial or is that an obvious point?
A little child cautiously comes up to the Doctor and the Doctor tells, “Och, tell the bigjobs in yon Citadel. I came the long way, ye ken?” And for the benefit of whoever imprisoned him he says, “The Hybrid, destined to conquer Gallifrey an’ stand inna ruins, is me.”
And that is your lot. Next week, the conclusion!
What do I make of this story? I don’t know. I loved it, yes. And I can imagine how the haters were reacting when the Doctor confessed to things which we thought we knew. A part of me felt it went too far but it worked out pretty well though.
Peter Capaldi was phenomenal in this. Having nobody to bounce off must have been a real challenge and I cannot think of any other show that has kept one character alone for the best part of an hour. Yes, the Veil was there but it was more like a shambling animate piece of furniture than another actor. This is Peter’s best episode so far and since each episode is better than the last (well, with his acting at least), I cannot wait for the next episode.
Gallifrey is back, baby!
So what are you waiting for? Go and get watching. You are in for a visual treat.