The Weight of Sacrifice: Countdown to the Doctor Who Season Finale


The net is dark and full of spoilers.

This review discusses incidents which occur in the Doctor Who episodes “Face the Raven” and “Heaven Sent.”

Steven Moffat is poised to cap an already excellent season with a terrific three-part finale, two of which have now aired. A lot happened in those two episodes, and a lot more is promised for the final one, “Hell Bent,” scheduled for this Saturday, Dec. 5 on BBC America.

The Consequences of Being a Hero

Is Clara really dead? Moffat has been saying for weeks that she will never return to the show, which isn’t quite the same as saying she will remain dead, but my gut says she’s dead.

Being a hero requires, at a minimum, a risk of sacrifice. The Doctor and companions generally get through things unscathed, so it’s moments like this which remind us how dangerous their lives really are and what they risk on a regular basis to protect the universe.

It’s what made Rose’s exit so powerful in “Doomsday,” when she and the Doctor were forced to live their lives in different universes. Conversely, it was deeply disappointing a couple seasons later when a copy of the Doctor was able to cross the boundary and join Rose, negating the entire noble sacrifice theme.

Adric from Doctor Who
Adric’s final moments, watching his ship speed toward destruction.

Not since 1982 has a companion died. Child prodigy Adric refused to escape a doomed spaceship in the hope of being able to reprogram its trajectory. The BBC was inundated with complaints and demands to bring the character back, but the selfless Adric remained dead.

Clara’s death scene was beautiful in its execution: the powerlessness of the Doctor, Clara’s calm resolve to meet her death head-on, and the stunning effects used to create the Quantum Shade.

There’s just one little problem: Clara thought she would live. She took the countdown from Rigsy precisely because she believed Ashildr was compelled to protect her. Clara ultimately died out of arrogance, not sacrifice, and that leaves a bit of a sour taste in my mouth.  Still, she accepted her fate with poise and had the clarity of mind to ask the Doctor not to avenge her death.

Clara faces the raven.

Also, remember Clara was living on borrowed time. Becoming the Impossible Girl should have torn her into a million unrecoverable pieces, and she knew that when she stepped into the Doctor’s timeline on Trenzalore. So perhaps this is the universe finally balancing the scales, demanding the sacrifice Clara was previously willing to make.

Many More Questions in “Heaven Sent”

“Heaven Sent” is getting well-deserved rave reviews. Peter Capaldi is in fine form as he moves through several of the most emotional moments we’ve seen in a long time: mourning for Clara; despondency, asking himself why can’t lose just this once; considerations of vengeance; and most notably, fear. Not fear for others, but true terror for himself as he slowly understands his situation.

The Doctor at one of his darkest moments in the history of the series.

But what precisely happened? Someone had Ashildr teleport him into a confession disk. Is it the same disk he’s been carrying around all season? Why was it so important for him to carry it? And why does his description of it as being a last will and testament seem miles away with what we’ve witnessed inside the disk?

And who set him up in the first place? The first suspects are the Time Lords, although they would need to explain how the Time Lords managed to sneak out of their little pocket universe to do it. Plotwise, this would certainly be the most streamlined answer.

But the interrogation was all about the Hybrid, and the first person to bring up that topic this season was Davros. Davros saw the prophecy of a hybrid man of two warrior races to mean a creature part Dalek and part Time Lord, but that was his guess, not a part of the prophecy. Stepping out of the confession dial, the Doctor states:

You can probably still hear me, so just between ourselves, you’ve got the prophecy wrong. The Hybrid is not half-Dalek. Nothing is half-Dalek. The Daleks would never allow that. The Hybrid destined to conquer Gallifrey and stand in its ruins… is me.

having emerged on Gallifrey, the Doctor tells a passing boy to tell people in the city that he’s back. If he’s talking through the dial to a Time Lord, that’s rather redundant. If he’s talking to Davros, on the other hand…

But how is the Doctor a hybrid? In 1996, Paul McGann’s Doctor was revealed to be half-human, a fact never addressed again and seemingly rejected as non-canon. Certainly, Moffat could resurrect that plot twist, but it will piss off just about every Whovian in existence. And he just as certainly could come up with some other explanation that allows him to be plausibly described as a hybrid.

Or, it could be someone else entirely. After all, Ashildr identifies herself as “Me.” She also appears in one of the trailers for the final episode.  The trailers give no hint as to the gender or race of the Hybrid, so we’re just going to have to tune in and see how everything resolves.


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