Well, now, that was pretty epic, wasn’t it?
I will say there were a lot of expectations going into this episode: would it successfully tie up threads from the season? Would it answer questions, or just raise new ones? And more than anything, would it be a puzzle, or provide some sort of emotional climax? Happily, the answer was yes across the board, as Steven Moffat and company presented one of the best Who episodes, maybe ever.
We start off in a strange new world, where time is frozen at 5:02pm on April 22, 2011 – the exact date and time the Doctor is supposed to die. Here, everything in time is happening at once, from pterodactyls pestering children in the park, to the War of the Roses, to Winston Churchill presiding as Caesar of all creation. Churchill, in fact, is the one who breaks the cycle, noticing that time never progresses, and summoning his soothsayer. Who is that soothsayer? Why, the Doctor of course, with the worst looking beard I’ve ever seen.
Demanding an explanation, The Doctor flashes back to the time between the last episode, and the start of this one, showing how he worked on tracking down a reason for WHY The Silence want him dead, from re-encountering the Meet Dave-esque spaceship from earlier in the season, to a deadly chess match, to finally discovering the severed head of Dorium Maldovar, the blue fat guy who, you know, got his head cut off at mid-season. He explains to the Doctor that which we already knew: the silence will fall when the question is answered, the oldest, most obvious question in the universe – the one hiding in plain sight. And he even goes as far as to tell the Doctor the question, albeit off screen.
I want to mention at this point that we’ve seen Moffat end his seasons with these sorts of thread tying bits before, revisiting old characters… And this was easily the best, least forced iteration of this. There were visual shout outs, references, and returns, but it didn’t feel like we HAD to tie everything up with a neat bow; so therefore, it kind of did. Which was nice.
Anyway, back to the story. The Doctor, now knowing The Question, decides to continue his farewell tour, so calls up Brigadier Stewart – a major recurring character from several seasons of Who… Only to find that he’s passed away. So The Doctor mans up, heads to Lake Silencio, and tries to die. Except River cheats. Of course. And fractures time.
And a second note: NOW we know what was up with all the dual imagery throughout the season. It was to set up two concurrent timelines – one where all time is occurring simultaneously, and one correct timeline where The Doctor dies. As he shortly discovers, setting things right won’t be that easy, since there’s forces – or force – working against him.
Back in Winston Churchill’s Roman Empire, the truth of their predicament revealed, they also realize they’ve been surrounded by Silence the whole time, and once they realize what’s going on… Commando Amy attacks. And is wearing an eyepatch. And stuns the Doctor.
He wakes up in her train office (which he thinks is cool), and discovers that Amy, of course, remembers both timelines. This is actually a neat little bit that clarifies what Amy can do, and why she’s special, something I’ve had trouble getting a handle on for the past two seasons. However, what isn’t dealt with yet is why she has this power. Put a pin in that one.
They take the train directly into Area 52, which is, of course, in the center of The Great Pyramids. There, Amy and her team have imprisoned hundreds of Silence, as well as Kovarian, the head of the religious order who’s created this whole plan to kill The Doctor. She designed the eyepatches, which contain little drives allowing the users to actually remember The Silence. Also there? River Song, who also remembers everything, and refuses to set things right because she loves The Doctor.
Then The Silence attack. Turns out, they were just biding their time, and also? Control the eyepatches, so they start killing everybody… Kovarian included. River grabs Amy, Rory (who doesn’t remember anything), and The Doctor, and they all head to the top of the pyramid, where she’s set up a beacon to ask for help. She doesn’t do this even necessarily to actually get help, but to let the Doctor know that he’s loved.
So The Doctor takes the next logical step. He marries River, and tells her his true name, then asks her to let time return to normal… Which she does, flashing back to the first episode. That’s it, no more Doctor, right?
Wrong, of course. River returns years later, right after she first met Amy in an episode last season, and they share a bottle of wine. At which point she tells her the truth: The Doctor didn’t tell her his name, she asked her to look into his eyes. What did she see? Why a tiny Doctor right inside a Meet Dave-esque starship that just LOOKED like The Doctor.
So technically, The Doctor DID die at Lake Silencio, but it was a robot version of the Doctor with the actual Doctor inside of it. And because the robot was powered by time energy, that would explain the “regeneration effect” that came off The Doctor when he was shot.
The last scene, though, is the doozy. The Doctor returns Dorium to his Head Museum, reveals the truth to him, and tells the blue head that the Timelord has gotten too big. He has to go all Batman and become an urban legend again. As he returns to the TARDIS, Dorium shouts after him that the fall of The Doctor is still coming, and there’s still the obvious question that needs answering, the one hiding in plain sight. The one that, when answered, will cause silence to fall. And that question of course, is...
It’s going to be a looooong wait until next year, even with a Christmas Special to tide us over. We’ll see you then.