Gosh but that was good. And in a series that has generally delivered the goods, that's saying something.
Sarah Dollard delivers the first in this three part finale - something the series hasn't tried since the Master trilogy - and this is her first time writing a Doctor Who story. Dollard knocks it out of the park. I can't imagine how it must have been for her to walk into her meeting with Moffat, start pitching ideas, and the get told she has to bring back Riggsy, Ashildr and kill off Clara, as well as set up the remaining two parts of the story. At least for the Master trilogy, Davies wrote the thing himself. Dollard certainly had her work cut out for her, but in spite of that she wrote what was sheer brilliance. A ridiculously simple idea - Riggsy has only a certain time to live, and the Doctor has to save him - was written on a far more emotional level, and moreso, one that continued to develop the character of Clara. This season the Doctor's noted how she is starting to get reckless, but this isn't new. Last season Clara was getting cocky and started to take on the role of the Doctor, but the important lesson all of the Doctor's companions have learnt when they've tried this (and a few have), is that at the end of the day they aren't the Doctor. They can't do what he can and no matter how confident they are, or how prepared they think they are, they can't take the risks that the Doctor does and avoid paying the penalty. For Jack Harkness that meant giving up his grandson, which is probably a more painful punishment than anyone else has had to pay. Donna Noble had to give up the better person she had become. Clara had to give up her life, a tougher penalty than Donna, not as harsh as Jack, but she faced it like Jack...no, she faced it like the Doctor. Ironically, the moment she lived up the Doctor's name came about because she couldn't live up to it earlier.
Justin Molotnikov, fresh from directing the misfire of "Sleep No More", again delivers a well directed episode, though nothing was particularly outstanding. There were some nice shots, and the TARDIS' arrival viewed from the outside of Riggsy's estate was a nice touch, but ultimately Molotnikov has proven himself an efficient director rather than an inspired one. There is, of course, nothing particularly wrong with that, but there are times when you can't help but wonder how an episode such as this one might have been handled in the hands of someone like Hettie MacDonald or Daniel O'Hara. Jovian Wade returns to play Riggsy, fresh from the last season, and in the mean time he's had a child, which is a nice touch to his character, and in some ways grounds him again as a very realistic character, which is perfect because Maisie Williams' return as the immortal Ashildr is as far from realism as you can possibly get. I didn't mind Williams' performance in the last two episodes, but I have to admit this time around I wasn't really blown away by her. Like Molotnikov's direction, Williams is adequate in her part, but she doesn't bring to her part what, say, Matt Smith was able to bring the Doctor - that sense of having lived for a very long time, despite the youth on the face. Slightly annoying as well was the fact that she can never remember her name is Ashildr. She talks frequently about having read her diaries, but did she never actually write her name in those diaries?
One thing that is worth pointing out is how wonderful the effects were for this story. From the flickering of the circuit, allowing us to see the various aliens in disguise in Ashildr's town, to the extremely impressive raven, the effects were top notch. Indeed, alongside Murray Gold's frankly amazing score for the episode, these aspects were pulling out all the stops to deliver the very best they could, and it helped enormously. However, even in spite of how amazing these were, they weren't anything to what made the episode outstanding.
Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman. Their names come up on our scream week in, week out, during that title sequence, and they've been around long enough to feel like they are part of the furniture. Coleman first appeared on our screens in 2012! They've taken the TARDIS and made the series their own, and this year they've never been more confident. Capaldi has found the niche for his Doctor, not something slightly forced like the austere version of last season, but a reflection of Capaldi's own personality, which the character should rightly be; after all, wasn't that really what Hartnell, Troughton, Pertwee and Tom Baker were? Capaldi has never been better this season, delivering flawless performance after flawless performance, regardless of what is going on around him. And he's been complemented by Jenna Coleman who knows exactly what Clara is supposed to be. There's been a bizarre hate in some quarters for Clara, with accusations of a lack of character being bandied around frequently. "Born to save the Doctor" - she's nothing but a title fitted to a archetypal Moffat woman; sexy, feisty and flirty - is the accusation of the character, but of course it's completely wrong. Clara has only once said she was born to save the Doctor, and let's face it, Clara is a bit of a drama queen. By simply stating that, however, we see Clara is not archetypal. She likes a little bit of drama, and that's part of her character. She's inherently good, but she's a bit of a control freak. She's quick to anger, but quick to defend. She rarely ever flirts (indeed, the only time she really was, happened to be in "The Bells Of St John", and that did seem to be an attraction to the eleventh Doctor briefly played out) and she's not really feisty, but she can fight back and she can explode. Curiously, she would appear to be bisexual, but we've only ever seen her fall in love once, and that seemed to hit hard. Her relationship with the Doctor is complicated. Her brief flirtation with the Doctor was thrown when she was at the regeneration, and it's interesting that it was this that hit home. She'd already seen other Doctors - including the War Doctor - so she knew age and appearance could change with the Doctor, but knowing it and experiencing are often two different things. Yet she forced herself to be brave, and realise that perhaps her love for the Doctor was deeper than romance. And clearly, his love for her is as well. The last ten minutes of this episode belong to Coleman and Capaldi as they bring Clara's story to an end. You can moan about Clara all you like, but to say she lacks depth is to bury your head in the sand and ignore what is in front of you. To say Coleman isn't brilliant, however, is to simply lie.
Is this the end of Clara, however? There's a quote in Doctor Who Magazine between the Doctor and Clara from the final episode, so one might wonder if the story hasn't quite ended. If it has, however, it doesn't matter, because Dollard's debut script has closed a story beautifully. For that, I say bravo. And to Ms Coleman...I salute you.