"Question: Why do we talk out loud when we're alone? Conjecture: Because we know we're not."
IN THIS ONE... The Doctor hunts a hidden creature that may or may not exist. Clara may have a future with Danny Pink.
REVIEW: An impressive experiment that, like the Doctor's Not-Where's-Wally book, doesn't actually have a monster in it. It's treated like a monster story, but each and every manifestation of the Doctor's "perfect hider" has a reasonable explanation attached (often times, the Doctor is just keeping the myth alive because he so wants to believe it). We could call it the "secret origin of the Doctor", in a sense, exploring the paranoia-inducing nightmare that (perhaps) inspired his escape from Gallifrey, and taught him how to tame his fear. Too much time alone has made the memory resurface in this incarnation of the Doctor and it's become an obsession. The 12th Doctor's metaphorical education proceeds apace; his mission treated as a research project; the TARDIS acting as an open classroom (books, a blackboard, etc.). And of course, Clara is the teacher, evaluating the work and asking the questions, not because she's the dense companion, but because she's testing the Doctor's theories and conclusions.
It may be the origin of the Doctor, but it's really Clara's show. In addition to being the teacher, she's the substitute Doctor (a theme we've been following since the season opener), able to pilot the TARDIS now using a gooey open brain panel on the console (would you be surprised if I told you it's been there since The Snowmen?). When the show surprisingly takes us to the Doctor's childhood - adding more meaning to the events of The Day of the Doctor, no less - she gets to play the Impossible Girl again, having an impact on the Doctor's life (and proving in her dialog that she does have memories of that experience), becoming the "monster under the bed" AND a sort of muse of courage, imprinting values on the young Gallifreyan ("Fear is a constant companion" is a great line). (And if you want to go completely nuts, think about it, there's an echo of her everywhere in time, helping the Doctor, so if he feels like he's being watched, that's ALSO her.) In that touching moment, she literally becomes the mother figure she's been to him since the start of the season, and treats him no differently when she walks back into the TARDIS. "Do as you're told" has never been so lovingly said. Clara is also mother to Danny Pink, another person she visits in his childhood and on whom she imprints herself, possibly creating his whole identity as a soldier. AND it looks like her relationship with the adult Danny is meant to go somewhere, because she meets someone who can only be her own great-grandson, humanity's first time traveler, Orson Pink (I'll keep any spoilers for episodes down the line in the Theories section).
Between the wonderful Galiffrey sequence, the tension and creep factor of every scene in which the "Hidden" are meant to be present, the dialog that swings in and out of nursery rhymes, and the wacky TARDIS stunts (Doc on top, underwater, etc.), the Danny-Clara stuff never really had a chance. The various attempts at this one date are strictly "Coupling awkward", at least until Pink gets angry at Clara and shows his real self. He's stronger than he's seemed, won't be lied to (uh-oh) and won't stand for shenanigans (double uh-oh). And yet, everything points to their being made for each other. Their scenes together are amusing, especially if you like a good double-entendre, and Clara and her smart mouth are always entertaining. If some of these bits are weaker, it's because the rest is so interesting, touching, creepy, funny... I love the Doctor's "dad skills", the toy soldier braver than the rest for lack of a gun, the sound design, the lighting - have I mentioned how I love the way the lights go round and round while the TARDIS is in transit? Well, I do! - the Doctor sipping a stolen coffee cup, fear as a superpower... everything really.
THEORIES: [Spoilers can't be helped in this section] So how can the TARDIS go to Gallifrey 2000 years in its past when it's not even supposed to be in our universe? Unless it is? If Missy is a Time Lord, how did she get out of the timelock? Answer: Gallifrey is already out, just as she will later claim. That means it's accessible to the TARDIS again. But the Doctor can't go back and time to meet himself, and all visits (except in multi-Doctor stories) have been in a "Gallifreyan present". Except the Doctor isn't driving the ship, Clara is, and she isn't bound by his timeline. She can meet Time Lords out of order even if he presumably (still) can't. Since it's established with the visit to Danny's childhood that the TARDIS can follow Clara's timeline and jump tracks into another who's shared her life, it stands to reason it can also jump tracks into the Doctor's. Alternatively, it's Impossible Girl stuff and her timeline actually intersects the Doctor's naturally. She "existed" in the Doctor's childhood and so can bring the TARDIS there. Well, that's as maybe. The other big question this episode poses, in light of later episodes, is whether Orson will ever be born. Or is Clara pregnant by the series finale, and we just don't know it? If she doesn't have kids with Pink, this whole timeline collapses, which would be a real shame. I'm sad to say later events actually damaged my enjoyment of this episode as the Orson elements became "what might have beens".
REWATCHABILITY: High - The season's stand-out episode, offbeat, clever and heartfelt.