"Nothing's sad until it's over, then everything is."
IN THIS ONE... The Doctor goes home and to the very end of the universe for Clara.
REVIEW: Let's get it out of the way, yes, it's a big cheat for Clara to return, and even for her to complete her transformation into a de facto Doctor, getting a kind of immortality, a reason to go to/run from Gallifrey, and her own TARDIS (in original white, wooo!). Especially since Clara could always have returned, at least in extracanonical media, as the Impossible Girl, intersecting the Doctor's timeline as a version of herself. She had such a strong death in Face the Raven, I can sympathize with fans bristling that it wasn't left as such. At the same time, I'm glad she really did finish the season, and that she has the responsibility to return to Gallifrey and get reinserted into her time stream so her death can happen (and, one could argue, must, else the universe would have ended). Thematically, it completes her transformation into a "Doctor", including a reversal of Donna's fate (another faux-Doctor) thanks to "reversal of the polarity", which leaves Doc12 without his memories of her (though one assumes he can at least get the historical details, unless Clara spends part of her travels erasing them, convincing UNIT not to discuss her, etc.). And just as she died and had that moment, so does her, more symbolically, but played as a death scene. An impression of her remains, and is translated into music. No matter how I feel about Clara's last minute reprieve, I did choke up when the Doctor started playing Clara's Theme on the guitar. And you know, not remembering her is a play on the Doctor's facial recognition problems. Perhaps the bigger surprise is that Clara can't be around for the announced Coal Hill School spin-off, which you'd think she would headline, à la Sarah Jane.
Some might say that Clara is a distraction from the main event, the Doctor's return to Gallifrey. It's not. His grief over her death is the context for his return home. His plan - possibly since his time inside the confession dial - is to return to Gallifrey, stage a coup and take control (punishing Rassilon the Resurrected, now played by Donald Sumpter), and make everyone believe he knows what the hybrid is, but needs Clara to help find/explain it. In other words, all he cares about is saving her life with time loop technology. That's not a let down. It's exactly what should be happening. The girl who saved his life countless times, the one he promised Danny he would take care of, versus the planet he was forced to "destroy", home to what has become a hated warrior race. No contest. The Doctor does, perhaps, put his civilization back on track; it seems on the verge of a revolution, and Rassilon an archaic (there's an irony in that) element, a war-time president that should not be in power now (a mirror of Bonnie the Zygon troublemaker). The Doctor armed with only a spoon, if that, tracing a line in the sand, all guns aimed at him, is a great moment, and an agent for change. It's Harriet Jones and six words all over again. And while we get lots of neat little ideas about Gallireyan society, the Matrix, and the Cloisters (plus, another Time Lord changing sex when he regenerates), that's color and background to the real story, the Doctor's desperate attempt to restore Clara.
But Clara isn't the only mirror of the Doctor, and at the very end of the universe, in its final moments, he meets up with Me who knocks four times (a nice reprise, since the episode talked a lot about prophecy and it puts us in the mood for sad endings) and is alone in the universe. All the immortals are gone (that's her word, not "dead", "gone", probably to other dimensions or times). For my money, this is Maisie Williams' best scene in the role, showing a wisdom (in writing and acting) that just wasn't in Me before. Her theories about the hybrid both feel dead on - though if you hate the half-human Doctor theory, you can easily ignore it, just as its fans can embrace it - and when she gets what she's always wanted, it's not because she plotted to get it, and I don't feel as queasy as I thought I'd feel at the idea of her and Clara roaming the universe in their own TARDIS. No earlier version of Me deserved it, but this one might. At the episode's closing moments, it properly feels like the end of an era. The TARDIS reboots. A new sonic screwdriver comes out of the console. And Clara is gone, leaving one last lesson on the black board.
THEORIES: So is the hybrid a self-fulfilling prophecy? As a boy, the Doctor broke into the Cloisters and learned about the prophecy. It apparently scared him so much that he eventually fled the planet to avoid the creature's wrath. If he was half-human, somehow, then he might have realized he was the hybrid, or had the potential to be, which creates a heroic impetus to leave Gallifrey. If he stayed, he would one day stand in its ruins. Which sort of happened already, come to think of it, if you look at the original ending of the Time War. If he's not biologically a hybrid, then he ran out of cowardice - which is fine, it must have been particularly traumatic to have this information imparted personally like that - and it's his leaving that created the hybrid (the Doctor-humans partnership, face it, Clara isn't unique, she just happened to be the companion at the right time). A prophecy that causes itself is, you'll agree, a very Moffaty thing.
REWATCHABILITY: High - Returning to Gallifrey was always going to be special, but the episode is even better for making the stakes, at their core, so small and personal. I can understand its detractors' problems with it, but there's too much good here for them to drain my enthusiasm for it.