13 December 2021: not really a review of Flux added.
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FACE THE RAVEN
Yay, another woman writing for Doctor Who! That's a whole, ooh, more than five but less than ten (it's complicated) against more than eighty male writers. And to imagine that some people think we still need feminism. Pah!
Sarah Dollard might be new to Who, but she's no novice in SF TV writing. And it shows, because Face The Raven is a considerable step up.
The beginning of Face The Raven dazzles us. It's really quite exceptional: in fact, it feels like proper Who in a way episodes haven't in quite a while. It's all find a problem, investigate the problem, zipzipzip no messing, and we love it.
We liked Rigsy in Flatline, and he's just as appealing here. The TARDIS flight over London with Clara dangling out the door is both visually arresting and chilling, as her utter lack of fear makes us suspect, not for the first time, that either she has a bit of a death wish or she's relying far too heavily on the Doctor's ability to get her out of trouble. Maybe both. The trap street thing is a well-worn concept but it's nicely done, even if the street itself veers a little too far in the direction of Diagon Alley.
The TARDIS crew find themselves in an alien refugee camp. The topical allegory instantly broke us out in hives, but that's the fault of the tidal wave of allegory in The Zygon Invasion/The Zygon Inversion. We got such a massive dose there that even the tiniest re-exposure brings all our symptoms back. On its own in this episode, it's probably perfectly fine (we honestly can't tell).
Then to the utter surprise of nobody Ashildr appears. She's pretty different from the last time we saw her. Maisie Williams gives her the same kind of smartarse/world-weary cynical tone as before (and fair enough, she has to get the thousands of years old thing over somehow), but now she's found something she actually cares about: the street. So much so that she tells the Doctor she doesn't want his TARDIS: quite a contrast from the way she was begging the Doctor to take her away through time and space on her last appearance.
The chunk that follows is sheer joy. Apparently this was initially written as a standalone episode, and Sarah Dollard sets up a wonderfully complex and layered situation here. The paranoia, the idea of people turning on each other and thus destroying the delicately balanced haven they've found, the question of whether killing an innocent to keep the peace is worth the peace - all gripping issues we would have loved to have seen fully developed. Simon Paisley Day as Rump is absolutely killer at not only delivering the infodump without making it look like one but doing it with utter conviction and a truckload of nuance.
And the murder mystery's no slouch, either: the unpeeling of the layers to find out that it was Ashildr all along is fantastic. It's a delightful change from the situation we've seen in too many episodes where once they set things up you know exactly what will happen for the rest of the episode and just have to watch them going through the motions. It's a shame, however, that this episode was chosen to graft Clara's death onto, because it means they had to squeeze one and half stories into a space only big enough for one. The issues raised are strangled in their infancy as we switch our attention to Clara. It's such a waste. What's more, we are unthrilled by the wearisome discovery that, like practically every other recent episode, the answer to the mystery is All About The Doctor, although we're not blaming the writer for that. It does, however, make us really really want to see another episode from Sarah Dollard, and we hope she gets one. In fact, we hope she gets many.
And then there's the death. We'll get the detracty bits out of the way first: there are a few things that take the edge off its impact. One is Jenna Coleman's late decision to stay on at the end of the previous season: Last Christmas (the clue's in the title) was so clearly meant to be her death episode and feels like it all the way through. What's more, with its original ending the entire thing was an incredibly beautiful and bittersweet ending to Clara's story. The fast rewrite of the end in no way fixed this, to the extent that part of us is convinced we actually saw Clara die in that episode. As a result, we realise we've been thinking of Clara as a dead girl walking ever since.
The other problems are entirely Steven Moffat's fault. First of all, he's been telegraphing Clara's death this season with such heavy-handed doominess that when it finally arrived part of what we felt was relief that all the hinting was finally over. And second, he's pulled the rug out from under his important plot points far too many times. Virtually nobody is ever dead dead. We were astonished to discover that many people were reduced to weeping heaps by Clara's death, because even though we knew Jenna Coleman was leaving the series we were utterly unmoved by her expiring on the cobbles. We were dead sure (ha!), all through Clara's death and after, that it would turn out to be one more emotion-destroying clever-clever Moffat trick. We only wish we were wrong.
Apart from that, Mrs Lincoln, how was the play? Staggeringly good, as it happens. Yes, there are the drawbacks we've listed, plus the further one that the explanation for why Ashildr can't save Clara does lose itself in a welter of dusty and excusy-sounding contract law. But thanks to the performances of both Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman, the raw emotion utterly triumphs. Saying Peter Capaldi has now hit his stride as the Doctor is a hilarious understatement, but in his Malcolm Tucker-inflected threats to rain down seven shades of shit on Ashildr, he takes it up a further notch to breathtaking. And Jenna Coleman deftly avoids what could have been a corn- and/or mushfest, despite the best efforts of Murray Gold and the editors (three shots in a row of her silent screaming?) to deliver an utterly affecting scene that punches you hard in the solar plexus. Really, they couldn't have been even a nanosliver better.
One of the things we love about Doctor Who is that the format's so elastic. A time traveller in a flying box, and you can even subtract the box on any given occasion if you're feeling reductionist. Other than that, anything goes.
Or should. What's so often frustrating is that Who writers and showrunners turn their backs on this vast, star-bedecked universe of possibility and instead lock themselves in tiny little cages. Cages full of bases under siege, monsters on repeat and stories you can predict from scene one.
But occasionally, just occasionally, someone dynamites the cage lock and seizes a whole new bunch of possibilities in both fists. Heaven Sent is one of those stories.
We'll try our best, but really, there are no words to convey just how passionately we love this episode.
First, there's the writing. Regular readers may have noticed a few glancing allusions to the fact that we don't necessarily adore every single episode from Moffat's tenure. But when he's on his game he can be a master, and it's no coincidence that our favourite new Who episodes, Blink, The Doctor's Wife and Amy's Choice, are all either written by him or appear on his watch. When Moffat took up the reins, we were hoping for creative new writing that wasn't afraid to frighten either the horses or the fanboys.
That hasn't happened quite as often as we'd like. A.k.a hardly ever. But Heaven Sent is the business, in, um, spades. Yes, it draws from a number of inspiring sources. Some are outside Who, like Star Trek, Sherlock and Nosferatu. Some are within it, such as Castrovalva and Doctor Who's most moronically-titled episode, The Deadly Assassin. There are even clear references to previous Doctors (we could have sworn Tom Baker actually was speaking a few of the lines, and in one shot in particular, what with the hair and the jacket, Peter Capaldi is lit to look remarkably like Jon Pertwee). But nothing is original: even the Grimm bros nicked the whole bird/mountain thing from Buddhism. And notwithstanding all these callbacks, the writing is fresh and wildly imaginative. It's like nothing we've ever seen on Doctor Who. Our favourite part: it kept us guessing. We're so sick of obvious plots, but here not only were we utterly engrossed, we had absolutely no idea of what was happening a second before Steven Moffat wanted us to. (With maybe half of an exception. More later.)
As well as the freshness, we love, love, love the emotional heft. The Doctor's grief, the pain of his dying, the incredible weight of time's passage, the tragedy of his death multiplied by two billion, all absolutely hit home. Bravo.
It's not just the writing, either. The direction, editing and lighting are stellar. If there isn't a squadron of BAFTAs with the production team's names already engraved, the Academy should have a word with itself.
We've left out something, haven't we? Can you guess what it is? Yep, it's that one-man tornado of actory splendidness Peter Capaldi. One of the agonies of the previous season was watching him struggle with scripts that were clearly written for someone else, failed miserably to make the most of his talents, or both. In this season, it wasn't perfect from the get-go, but more and more he's been wrestling the role to the floor and making it cry uncle, with writing that finally gets his Doctor.
And this? Again, words fail us. "Tour de force" is far too feeble to convey just how astonishing he is here. Every line is mesmerising. Pair his formidable talent with writing that hands him what he's best at and then gets out of the way, and you end up with one of the strongest episodes of the entire series. We'd heard one of the episodes this season was going to be a one-hander, and we were quivering with anticipation, because Capaldi's Doctor is by far - by far - the highlight of this season. And he exceeded even our exalted expectations.
Yeah. That good. But nothing's perfect, not even this, so what's wrong with it? (We know, we don't really care either. But we have to do it, because that's the gig.)
For a start, there's that all-too-Moffatian issue, loose ends. A lot of the plot is worked out very neatly: things appear and disappear at a time that fits the given explanation that rooms reset a while after the Doctor has changed things in them. Assuming, of course, that the resets don't include things the Doctor has himself introduced, like his clothes and his very many bonces (and we think that's a fair assumption that doesn't violate any of the internal logic). However, the azbantium (gah, what a stupid word) is an exception for no good reason that we can see. Why does the damage done by the Doctor's punches remain? Um… This is a pretty large oversight given that the entire plot hinges on it.
And about that bird/mountain/punch thing. We're not going to bother asking why the Doctor didn't hit the diamonique wall with the spade, claw desperately at it with his nails, or even have a little gnaw on it, because the fist thing looks way more rugged and manly and that's obviously why they did it. However. In the original story, both Buddhist and Grimm versions, the bird sharpens its beak on the mountain. It's a very small bird and a very large mountain, but nevertheless, the bird is doing some damage to it every time, no matter how infinitesimal.
The Doctor, on the other hand, is punching (manlily) a super-thick wall made of a substance four hundred times harder than diamond. We think a reasonable inference is that the amount of impact made by one pitiful little Gallifreyan fist (sorry, Doctor) on such a substance is precisely zero. Not a little bit. Not even an eensy-teensy bit. Zero. And zero, no matter how many times you multiply it, is still zero. He should have stuck with the spade (and even then we have our doubts).
What else? Well, we know we said nothing is original, but in one particular area we think that's cutting Moffat too much slack. We're really not happy with how close the device of the Doctor stepping into a mental TARDIS is to the mind palace in Sherlock. Does Steven Moffat really think we won't notice? You can't cut something from one high-profile show, paste it into another and expect to get away with it.
On a more brow-furrowing, beret-wearing philosophical level: why? Why are the Time Lords doing this in the first place? If they're trying to ferret the Doctor's secrets out of him, why put an element in that can kill him? You don't get a lot of data out of a corpse. If it's just to punish him, on the other hand, why does the Doctor get extra credit for confessing things? The Doctor himself concludes he's being interrogated and points out that that makes him irreplaceable. Yet he's still afraid of being killed, and rightly so, because the Veil isn't all flies and Nosferatu hands: he really is lethal. Whuhuh?
There's more why, too. Why, other than to extend the plot, would you go to all the trouble of wrenching up the floor and burying it? Where did the chalk come from to make arrows to the gap in the floor, and why did they stay there? OK, they might not have reset yet, but if you're going to make arrows, why not scribble an explanation instead? It would save a lot of shovelling.
And speaking of chalk, we assumed the Doctor had lost all that pockety stuff he carries around with him in transit, because if he had it all, surely he would have come up with a better plan? A techy plan. Like hacking the transporter beam to reverse it, for example. Or shattering the wall using sonic resonance. Or at the very least finding something pointy to attack the wall with. Well, cover us with flour and butter and bake us for thirty minutes: the Doctor had, at the very least, the sonic sunglasses all along. As we all know far too well, giving the Doctor a sonic anything is like handing a neutron bomb to anyone else. Yet the best he can come up with is hitting something with his hand. Really, Doctor? Really?
And the confession dial. What's the deal? First it's supposed to contain some vital shit or other and open when the Doctor's dead. Then it's a kind of circular will. And here it's a prison/torture device. If it's the latter, why would any Time Lord carry it around?
Then there's the ending. Apparently Steven Moffat said in interviews re the cliffhanger that the audience wouldn't see it coming. He didn't mean the confession dial, did he? That we'll definitely give him - it took us totally by surprise and we were smacking our heads that we didn't get it earlier, given that everything inside was so satisfyingly circular. But we're assuming he meant the Gallifrey thing. We were confused, because they seemed to be all ta-da! about it. Why?
Of course it was Gallifrey. This is a conclusion that does not require any startling insight. As usual with Moffat's mysteries, the field of suspects is dispiritingly thin, making the big reveal about as surprising as a bump on a Dalek. Someone grabs the Doctor up, imprisons him in a devilishly cunning prison thingy and proceeds to squeeze him for info. What's more, they know his boyhood nightmares. Who could do this? And who would want to? It really isn't the Daleks' or Cybermen's style, and no lesser villains with the capability come to mind either. So it's either somebody completely new - and it never is at the end of a season (worse luck) - or it's the Time Lords. Who, we say for the far-too-manyth time about one of Moffat's earth-shattering reveals, the hell else would it be?
So it's not perfect. That's a shame, because a little more care and precision could have made this practically a flawless diamond(ium). But let's not pretend the flaws inflict significant damage points. By our reckoning, this is no less than spectacular Who.
All righty then. What do we know so far?
We know Clara is meant to be dead. We know the Time Lords imprisoned the Doctor in his own confession dial in order to wring the truth out of him about the hybrid. We know the Doctor is on Gallifrey. We know he is a trifle miffed about having dug over the same vege patch for billions of years without ever getting to pick the cucumbers.
What else? Well, we know that lots of this series has looked like it's been about battling monsters and the usual usual, but really it's been endlessly about the Doctor and who he is and how much he depends on Clara.
There's a whole other set of stuff we know, too. Moffat stuff. We wish we didn't, but there's no avoiding it. We know, alas, that Moffat likes popping formerly dead people out like cuckoos on a clock and that he loves clever reversals that look great on paper but end up stripping all emotional meaning out of a story.
So yeah. We knew where this was going even before the titles rolled.
So count us among the unshocked when instead of being in the snowglobe on Gallifrey at the beginning of Hell Bent, instead we're at a suspiciously familiar diner in Utah, sorry, Nevada, with a suspiciously familiar waitress. Why do the British all seem to think American diners got trapped in the 50s? Anyway. The rockin' Doc is back, so he lets loose with Clara's theme on the axe. God, this is such a typical Moffat trick - all meta and tricksy on the surface, but rip off the trappings and it's so on the nose. Clara's theme is sad and he's sad about Clara. Thanks for that update.
Meanwhile, back at the snowglobe. But what's this? He's walking away from it, because it's back to the ol' barn. The barn where we discovered he was afraid. Like wot he admitted in the confession dial.
All right, let's just stop a minute. We really do appreciate that Moffat is trying to do something different here. Instead of the slam-bang all-monster all-army season finale, he's going for something very different. The big guns are not, um, guns, but emotions. Yay! Different is good, right? Ye-ess, but it has to be good as well as novel. Sneak preview: it isn't.
Meanwhile, back at the snowglobe, part II. The current President turns out to be Ashildr's castmate Maester Luwin. He helpfully informs us, in case we couldn’t work it out for ourselves, that the cloister bells ringing means they're in all in grave danger. Also, the Matrix seems to be populated by some lethal mini-hamburgers. And the Sisterhood of Karn have turned up with popcorn.
Personally, we're not all that fussed about the Time Lords, as for all their sparkly neck braces they're usually a rather boring bunch. As with sewers, we're happy they're there but don’t feel any particular compunction to visit. Nevertheless, we know that for very many people a return to Gallifrey is a huge event. And we're guessing that what those people envisaged from the long-delayed return to the Doctor's fabled home planet was not a committee meeting.
Oh yeah, and the big mystery: what happened to Gallifrey, anyway? Millions of fans were poised on the edge of their seats to find out: nothing. Not even handwaving. Nothing. Pathetic.
The Doctor continues to wordlessly revisit his old haunts, which must have been quite a relief to Peter Capaldi after the bumper script he had to learn for the previous episode. He sits at a table attended by a rapturous crowd of fans, kind of like an al fresco Comic-Con. But just as he's about to tuck into his starter, the cops turn up.
Let's just remind ourselves who we're dealing with here. First of all, it's the Time Lords. Bunch of querulous old stick-in-the-muds they may often have been portrayed to be, but you can never forget that they have power out the wazoo. These are the guys who forced the Doctor to regenerate and confined him to Earth, after all.
What's more, the President is Rassilon, one of the most powerful Time Lords since like ever, and source of vital Time Lord artefacts the Sash, Crown, Key, Rod, Coronet, Harp, Ring and T-Shirt Of Rassilon. This guy is the business.
Remembering all that? Right. Rassilon wants the Doctor to meet him in his office. On the other side, the Doctor, armed with a boot, a line in the sand and a clapping entourage (yep, the Doctor is allowing tiny children to defend him these days). The result? Total walkover. Not for Rassilon and the combined might of one of the most powerful races in the universe. For the Doctor.
With a little bit of no-speakies, not only does the Doctor force Rassilon to make a house call, he banishes him, and the rest of the High Council, to the naughty step just by saying so. Rassilon - Rassilon - is reduced to a petulant, impotent and powerless old man.
Well, that sucks.
Not that we're saying Rassilon doesn't deserve it. But come on. This isn't defanging the Time Lords, it's reducing them to the might and power of gerbils.
What's more, what's the point of Rassilon trying to order the Doctor killed, anyway? The whole idea of the confession dial ordeal was that he wanted answers from the Doctor about the hybrid. He didn't get them, therefore he still needs them. Why in God's name would he kill him before he coughs?
Time for a recap about the hybrid. The Doctor asks why if they wanted to know about it they didn't just ask him. We'd really, really like to know that too. Given that it invalidates the entire previous episode, we were unsurprised when they didn't answer. The General then explains what they know thus far about the hybrid, with the Doctor correcting him when he soft-pedals the facts. Makes the Doctor look stern and uncompromising and all, but why the hell would the General not be straightforward in the first place? It's hardly a secret that they're terrified of the hybrid.
The Doctor cunningly wheedles the use of an extraction chamber and snatches Clara out of time. Yes, Clara's back! And while we were 100% certain this was going to happen and thus had been unmoved by her "death", for the very many souls more trusting than us who did sob their way through it we can feel the satisfaction at a sad yet moving and fitting tribute to Clara draining utterly away. Yes, it's that Moffat signature move: pull a reversal at the total expense of the emotion the audience has already invested, leaving it cheated and thoroughly pissed off. Woo!
The General, meanwhile, tells Clara that they only have a very few minutes with her. Why? They're outside of time: what difference does it make? The Doctor tells Clara she's learned not to hear her heartbeat, and we all looked confused, since we can't hear ours either and we're pretty sure we haven't learned not to.
Then the Doctor decides to give Rassilon a run for his money. Not content with shipping off the whole High Council, destination unknown, he kills the General by shooting him point blank.
Yes, we know the idea is that his overwhelming desire to save Clara is driving him, and that he needs Clara's influence to bring him back to his best self. We also know they softened us up for this by downplaying death for Time Lords, comparing it to manflu. Well, fuck that shit, on every level.
Let's start with the easier part. Yes, death isn't final for a Time Lord if they have more regenerations ahead of them. Yes, we know the General wished him luck, thus appearing to collude with the Doctor's actions. We're not buying it, because no matter how much they brush it off, it's scarcely trivial. The Doctor has deprived the General of a significant chunk of his lifespan, and done it, what's more, for very little reason. He could easily have achieved the same effect by merely threatening the General with the gun.
But he didn't. One reason for this is the point/fan trolling (take your pick) that a Time Lord can regenerate into a different gender and race. But the other is to show what a violent, dangerous man he is without Clara's influence and/or in his desperation not to lose her.
We hate this.
Graham Norton memorably asked Peter Capaldi re companions: "Are they like dogs? Put one down, get another one?" Got it in one - or at least, that's how it should be. The Doctor's lived a long time: people come, people go. It's part of the gig. Against the Doctor's lifespan, any one companion is only ever with him for the flicker of an eyelid.
But in the new series, that's not how it's been: the companion's been assuming a greater and greater importance. They're also forging endlessly further into Mary Sue territory: the showrunners can't rebuild the character of the Doctor from the ground up (although God knows they give it their best shot), but the companion is all their very own. Not surprising, then, that their own precious characters have frequently eclipsed the Doctor himself: we're sure that River, for example, is actually secretly the real Doctor in Steven Moffat's mind.
So now, Clara is more important than any other companion. For unknown reasons the Fifth Doctor cared about Adric's death when the rest of us were opening champagne, enough that Adric's name was his last word, but he didn't scare up an extraction chamber and whip outside of time to save Adric. No, just Clara. Clara Clara Clara.
And Clara's character is also horrible in another, slightly different way. Like River, she's been Doctoresque, especially in this season, but they've tried to make the point that she'd taken that too far (in fact, trying to be Doctor-level clever is what killed her). What's worse is how much the Doctor depends on her. First, she was the Impossible Girl, hauling the Doctor's arse out of the fire on the regular. We detested this idea anyway, and it was even worse when it turned out she was the critical factor at several pivotal points of the Doctor's life. Bleargh.
It was bad enough when the Doctor couldn't tie his shoelaces without the assistance of his special little Mary Sue. But in Hell Bent, it's worse again: they're so intertwined they're a hybrid. Ugh ew no no nooooo take it away. The Doctor is the Doctor. Don't tell us he's reliant on a companion for his most important qualities. Don't tell us that without a companion as an ankle bracelet he's a violent, unprincipled killer. And especially don't tell us he would risk the fracturing of time for one companion. We don't care who you are, we don't believe it and we don't accept it.
Down into the Matrix we go. And what a damp squib this is. A few columns and dry ice, some unthreatening enemies ticked off the checklist, and some talked-up sliders that never actually do anything. Instead, we segue into the talky-talky bit.
First, it's Clara. It's full shock and awe as she discovers how long the Doctor was in the confession dial. Cue welling tears, but really, are they deserved? In its totality, yes, sounds bad, but this particular Doctor copy was only in there a few days. It's not as if one person had to suffer the whole thing.
And we discover that the Doctor as a dewy young thing was told by the Matrix about the hybrid. Huh? If it's that big a deal, why did the Matrix tell only the Doctor? And how did the Time Lords get wind of it?
The Doctor scarpers in an agreeably classic TARDIS, as the Karn Sister curls her lip and says the Doctor always runs away. This, we think, is unfair and wrong. All the crap about the Doctor being scared notwithstanding (pfff), that's not who the Doctor is: he's far more about the running towards things. Usually trouble.
And as the cheese said to the mirror: hello, Me. But wait a minute. Didn't she, several billion years ago, say that memory-wise there was no room at the inn? Here, she shows no sign of any problems in this area: in particular, she remembers Clara's death even though it was so long ago. Consistency much? (And did she really say "Because we know summer can't last forever?" Jeez.)
And here, at the death of the universe, we discover one of the dumbest things of all: that the Time Lords assumed that the hybrid was Dalek/Time Lord. Assuming normally makes an ass of you and Me, but here we'd say it makes an ass of Steven Moffat. Of all the warrior races in the universe, why, for God's sake, would they decide it was those two? It could have been absolutely anybody. Cybermen. Movellans. Sontarans. You get the drift.
Stopping only to wedge the door of him being half-human open, the Doctor reveals his cunning plan: he's going to wipe Clara's memories as he did with Donna. We yawned and rolled our eyes. Been there, done that. Clara pulls a swifty and reverses the polarity, wiping the Doctor's memory instead. We yawned and rolled our eyes again. Steven Moffat seems to think this is a devilishly clever twist: he's wrong. It's exactly the same as we've already seen; the fact that it's the other way around makes no difference at all. All the so-called suspense of waiting to find out which one of them's getting the brainsponge is futile, because it's irrelevant. Either way, Clara lives but they're separated. We've done the tragedy of that already, so going though it again falls about as flat as a pancake on a diet.
Clara begs the Doctor not to say goodbye, even though she's engineered things so that's precisely what happens. And remind us again: what difference does the mindwipe make in any case? The Doctor and Clara know about each other right now and time hasn't fractured.
And always, always is the thought: why are we even here? It was so much better when she died before.
Then some tidying up in the diner, with a few inevitable loose threads dangling invitingly, because nothing ever ends ends. And less deliberately, presumably, a few plot holes. Inexplicably, the Doctor can remember virtually everything about Clara except what she looks like. How does that help time again? And somehow, he knows someone's half-inched his TARDIS from London. How did this happen when he passes out in novoTARDIS and wakes up in Arizona?
We've complained at length, this season and before, that the episodes are too much about the Doctor. Entire plots have turned out just to be window dressing around the Doctor angsting about his past, angsting about saving people, etc. And in many ways Hell Bent is no different, given that it's about the Doctor taking the whole Clara thing over the edge then realising he has to take it down a notch.
Ironically, however, there's not enough All About The Doctor here. You want to rest an entire finale on emotion? Go right ahead. We'll jump up and down and cheer. But if you do, you'd better make sure that you have enough of it. The trouble with Hell Bent is that the emotion is too thin and simple. Dramatic tension is quickly tossed away: after a wait to return to Gallifrey of years, the Time Lords are disposed of without visible effort and the Matrix is about as scary as a Halloween pumpkin.
As for the Doctor and Clara, what have we got? We already know the Doctor is deeply attached to Clara. Finding out he's willing to crack time open to save her isn't much of a development. Nor is there much tension. He does stuff, he does stuff, he realises he shouldn't be doing the stuff so he stops. Wow.
And Clara's attitude is hardly a surprise either. Again, there's not exactly a lot of conflict there: she doesn't agree with what the Doctor's doing, says so, does something about it. So not a lot of internal angst there for either of them. Not a lot of anything, really.
And what there is is totally undercut. Moffat did the same thing with the opening two-parter of the season, throwing away the tension and emotion between the Doctor and Davros for a cheap "Fooled you!" reveal. And he's learned nothing from that, because this is even worse. After two episodes predicated on the emotion of Clara's death, bringing her back to life for another round is so tone-deaf that it imperils both this episode and the ones before it.
The last two episodes were so good that we were genuinely excited to see this. Sadly, it turned out to be a hybrid of redundancy and bollocks.
BANDS OF GOLD
The Doctor's ring looks as if it's double-banded, but it's actually a single-banded ring with a stone designed to fit next to Peter Capaldi's wedding ring. (Apparently he was worried about losing his wedding ring on lengthy shoots, which is adorable, even if we're wondering if he realises that taking your ring off doesn't divorce you on the spot.) The problem is that they don't fit together quite as well as they're supposed to: we've spotted many shots this season in which the two rings have quite a gap between them on his finger.
How does Clara avoid being shot out of the TARDIS when she's half-hanging outside over London? The other two are thrown across the TARDIS, yet she's not dislodged even though there's nothing obvious keeping her in place.
WARP FACTOR NINE
"Cloaking device"? Bit Star Trek, isn’t it?
IT'S A…NEVER MIND
Although they call Ashildr's street a trap street, it really isn't. A trap street is a street that doesn't exist, whereas they're looking for an actual street that's hidden.
Clara's plan to save Rigsy doesn't hold water. She says "We get all the aliens on our side in the next half an hour, and then we reveal I've got the chronolock, not you, and boom!" But Ashildr has just said that they only need to convince the aliens, not her, for her to remove the chronolock.
WHAT COULD POSSIBLY GO WRONG?
Why in God's name does the Doctor stick his hand in that trap to open the stasis field? There are a zillion cleverer ways to have solved the problem. We were hoping that it was all a brilliant plan, but nah.
It's a pretty weird teleport technology that drops the bracelet as the person transports. Presumably they did this since the Doctor rejigging the bracelet to transport back is the obvious solution to his problem, but still. You'd need a hell of a lot of bracelets, and woe betide you if you accidentally transported to somewhere that didn't have any.
In Heaven Sent, Murray Gold's derivative muzak (the soundtrack was like a tenth carbon of Barry Lyndon) was way too far forward in the mix. There's zero wrong with our hearing, but for a while we couldn't work out why the Doctor kept talking about shepherd's pie.
So is the real Doctor dead and we're now watching a copy? Or given the fact that they are identical, is he essentially the same person? Cue earnest cogitation, but leave us out of it. This argument is one of the dustiest cliches in SF, and we've already had all the arguments we're going to have about it.
YOU'RE BREAKING UP
Why does the Doctor mug a passing child and give him the message for the Time Lords when the Time Lords could still hear him anyway through the confession dial?
COME HERE OFTEN?
After the mind palace in Heaven Sent, the diner scenes are weird. We think the intent is that we're confused into thinking it's all in the Doctor's mind like those scenes in the TARDIS, thereby cunningly distracting us from Clara actually being alive. But after the mind palace scenes, even though this is different the device seems too repetitive.
PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE
Aren't regenerations supposed to be really difficult? With the post-regeneration instability and all? The General doesn’t seem to have any trouble - she's straight back to work. And weirdly, her old uniform still fits.