Doctor Who: Master of our fate?

Soldier Man

Some characters are too good to live. In Tess of the D’Ubervilles, Thomas Hardy created a character he loved, and mourned that the story he created killed his Tess. Hardy, though, didn’t change the ending. He let it stand. Tess died and he didn’t diminish her sacrifice with her ghost in some saccharine sequel. But then he wasn’t writing SF.

There’s an argument that the dead return too often in Doctor Who and the living not enough. It can devalue the sense of loss, and the wonder of the return. In the case of Rory, his deaths became an in joke and yet it is right both Amy and Rory do not finally, really return. They had their time, and they lived a life (off-screen). They’re done. And we can be sad and sit a cloud and sulk about it.

Then we have Clara and Danny. Clara dies a hero in her first episode and a victim in her Christmas episode, and ever since then she is both hero and victim. She is willing to sacrifice herself to save The Doctor, to argue to save Gallifrey and die along with the rest of Earth. But she has never been tested when one person she loves is on the line. In the end The Doctor’s restorer is also his betrayer. Because Danny.

The arc for Clara this series is to explore questions of what she would do to save lives. She saved the Baby Moon, almost on instinct. She made the decision to stay and die with her students, she lied and led a guest to her potential death on the train, and she destroyed/created herself to save The Doctor’s time line.  Danny’s death is a different order of event. The questions for the finale are what further lines can or will Clara get the opportunity to cross and what will she/won’t do for Danny.

Missy's first experiments with Cybermen were rudimentary at best. It's always comes down to having the parts, as Mickey might say.

Missy’s first experiments with Cybermen were rudimentary at best. It always comes down to having the parts, as Mickey might say.

Danny is Tess. In more ways than one actually. Both are painted in glowing, romantic terms and both have taken a life and must live with this. If you think about it, every single one of his appearances in the series has set him up as an endearing, slightly wistful and quietly heroic type, whose descendants are the same.

So we should have learned right? I’ve read Tess of the D’Ubervilles. Like Tess, Danny too is granted only a little time to find the love of his life. Then it’s over. And this is Steven Moffat people. Of course he was going to die.

Unlike our other companions he doesn’t die a hero. Danny dies like so many of us do – in an utterly mundane everyday situation. Even then after death, in the Nethersphere he refuses to answer Clara’s question – sacrificing himself further to protect her. His season arc is from hero to hero yet I sense the true test of Mr Pink is to come against The Mistress.

Clara vs Rose

Rose was always angling to see her father. The Doctor worked it out eventually. But he let her see him anyway and it ended badly. Like he probably knew it would. Clara, on the other hand, never angles for a way to see her mother. She is dead and Clara really remains in mourning, life on hold, until she starts work at Coal Hill. Neither does The Doctor repeat his mistake. He never offers for Clara to visit her mother. She is taboo. But Dead Mothers in fiction are never really gone. Clara is a nanny and teacher because of her mother. Her need to stay and make a home and her impulsion to run away are symptomatic of a daughter looking for and trying to leave behind her mother.

Amy too, I guess, lost her parents, but she also lost her memory of them. Her entire timeline was infected in a long game to create River in order to kill The Doctor.  River’s childhood disconnection with her parents and her ‘programming’  meant she called herself a ‘psychopath’. But the entire Pond/Williams clan is one of the continual loss and regain of parents and children, futures and pasts.

Clara’s immediate history is much more linear.

But the loss of her mother motivates Clara to decide that children do not want to live knowing their parents have perished. In this kind of mood, she decides Danny should not die or they should be together.


Missy in her youth. She wan't impressed by much. But it does take a lot with Gallifreyans.

Missy in her youth. She wasn’t impressed by much. But it does take a lot with Gallifreyans.

Mastering Mary Poppins 

So Missy is The Master. Can’t say I hadn’t already wondered but cool. Cool that the Master has changed so completely, but still remains diabolical and obsessed with death and playing god. Cool that Missy and The Doctor remain matched or perhaps a better match than ever before.

How it ends?

This episode has thematic resonances with The Bells of St John. Minds are preserved and uploaded but some can be returned and of those, they can be restored to ‘factory settings’. Again with Danny, his personality, his mind, has been uploaded, he too, ‘doesn’t know where he is’, but he is overtly given the opportunity to ‘delete’ his feelings rather than have Miss Kizlet manipulate them. In this episode Missy is the new Miss Kizlet. She is a creation too, like Miss Kizlet, but she doesn’t answer to someone else. Missy is her own boss. And she’s been watching. Watching Clara, watching The Doctor and manipulating the living and the dead.

Of course River and Donna too have been uploaded like Clara and Danny. Does Danny have a happy ever after Library to go to? Will Clara survive or die and go too? How dead is dead for ‘factory settings’ to be restored?

In the end, if Missy is The Master of our fate, is The Doctor up to being the Captain of our souls?

Do Like

– Dark water. Cool idea and better name. Just a pity it was just for concealing cybermen, which we already knew from the previews so the entire idea about concealment is kinda wasted. I wanted a ‘reveal’.

– the art and design of the mausoleum.

– Got a reveal: Missy.

– The Master snogged The Doctor!

– The Master offered to snog Clara!

– Clara in this entire episode. Well played with the grief as this episode has her doing everything she was going to tell Danny in that phone conversation she was going to stop doing. Like lying.

– Seb has been under used up until this episode but very good. More Seb next week please.

– Danny. More stuff about his past, which is good.  More Danny next week please.

– The mention of a government job and swearing. Love call backs to The Thick of It.

– The main idea. Using the dead and storing their minds/identities.

Do not like 

– Cybermen are boring.

– the art and design of the mausoleum, because #obviousenemyisobvious

– Is there a point to looking like Mary Poppins? What’s with the hat? Other than recognition that actually Ms Poppins is a Timelady who visits when she pleases, solves problems and goes away and has a bag that is bigger on the inside.

– Cybermen, still boring. Using the dead is an interesting idea but I want more made of it.

– Danny being dead. Do not like at all. For narrative purposes I understand: it gives Danny his first real challenge as a character and drives Clara to do stuff. But writer be damned, the fan in me says noooo.


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