1. Unsurprisingly, the interior of the TARDIS is spectacular.
It was so wonderful to see glimpses of the TARDIS that we had only previously heard of. In the words of Clara, “Now you’re showing off.”
Between the stunning TARDIS operations rooms (the tree of life/room of requirement and the Eye of Harmony as well as the real and fake engine room) and the incredibly sentimental callbacks (the swimming pool, the gorgeous Department of Mystery style library, the Doctor’s companion room and the observatory modelled after the original Torchwood institute), this episode truly showed us the scope of what TARDIS could be.
Unfortunately, the incredible sets were mostly used only as places to run to and from frantically, instead of being used to push this week’s story forward.
4. This week’s story was basically Swiss cheese.
This week’s side story of the Van Baalen brothers felt so shoehorned and forced, it was physically painful to watch these terrible people interact on screen. Two brothers who told their youngest, smartest brother that he was an android after a salvage accident had left him blind, mute, and with a severe case of amnesia, so they could take control of their family salvage business? It might have been a moving story of redemption if they hadn’t seemed so apathetic of each other the entire episode. When the oldest brother dies, the ringleader can’t even be bothered to tear up — let alone think of anything but the salvage. So it makes his sudden about-face when his “android” brother gets injured ring false and fake. Even worse, Tricky, the android brother, ends up being the one who sacrifices himself trying to save his terrible brother in the Eye of Harmony room because his older brother had the “scrap of decency” left to not further mutilate Tricky by cutting off his arm. The weak moment where Tricky’s ringleader brother tries to pull him up off the ledge and away from his impending death is way too little, too late to be anything but soap opera-y and boring.
The other big downfall of the episode was the fact that there was no need to insert a scary monster of the week. There was already a ticking clock, toxic gases (though that really didn’t seem to matter after the first 10 minutes), and an exploding, impossibly complex 12-dimensional being. All of that was already a recipe for a nice, tense, well-paced episode. The further addition of the scary lava men that are the inhabitants of the TARDIS but from the future simply forced dead air and wasted scenes spent running from one room to another. It also didn’t make sense that their future selves turned into scary lava man, because that implies they were somehow able to survive burning up in a dying star in some form.
Finally, though, in enraging moments of the week, was all the rampant hand-waving and use of time travel as magic that is prevalent in all of Moffat’s seasons as showrunner. Moffat, as a showrunner, has never cared much for following through with canon rules set up in prior episodes, but it was heavily abused in this episode in particular. Why is the Doctor thrown outside of the TARDIS when it’s brought into the salvage ship? Why does the Doctor need the salvagers’ help when all he does is waste time trying to stop them from stripping the TARDIS? Why wouldn’t the TARDIS recognize him and let him into the engine room? Why is no one allowed to cross their own time stream except for him? Why is he the only person who’s allowed to change his past by literally hitting a giant reset button when it’s been proven again and again that time will only correct itself (“Water of Mars” being the most terrifying example of that)? Just because. The list goes on and on, and it’s getting to the point where using time travel as the magic fix it is leeching away part of what makes the show so special and clever — and, frankly, insults its audience by saying, “Why can’t you keep up even though we’re changing the rules on you all the time?”
7. The most important mystery of the this season can be answered without even leaving the TARDIS.
His name. Is in a book. That is prominently displayed. In his library. Are the writers seriously telling us that every post–Time War companion the Doctor’s ever had has had access to the most important piece of information in the universe? That seems ridiculously careless, even for a man who constantly throws himself into danger. After all, as the Doctor knows too well, all his companions eventually leave, some simply to move on with their lives. If, say, for example, Martha had happened to take a glance at the book and knows his name, she would have just become the biggest target for the Doctor’s enemies in this universe and several more.
Additionally, WHY CAN CLARA READ IT? The TARDIS doesn’t translate Gallifreyan, so either Clara has more Time Lord in her than we knew or it’s a major red herring that’s being casually hand-waved away. It’s crazy and incredibly frustrating that we’ve been given the key this early in the mystery and told we’re not allowed to use it. Undoubtedly this episode and its fake reveal will play a huge part in dragging down what’s already been a slow and meandering season.
8. The Doctor is keeping a steady distance from Clara.
Clara admits that she’s more terrified of Eleven than anything else on the ship, and rightfully so after a moment of frustration where he terrifyingly and aggressively accuses her of being a trick and a trap. In a moment of desperation, only when it seems to be the dire end does he confess one of his secrets to her, about her past “lives,” and only after she assures him that she doesn’t know anything about them does he melt back into her silly alien friend who somewhat cares for her.
The most tragic part of this entire episode was at the very end when the Doctor told Clara that she’d forget everything that had happened that day, including a breakthrough in their friendship where they started to open up to each other about their fears and concerns. When she plaintively asks if he’ll still keep secrets from her when this timeline is erased, he responds, “It’s better that way.” Literally the most painful and distancing answer he could give her. Perhaps it’s for her own good, perhaps it’s not — but regardless, it breaks my heart that Clara, so far, hasn’t had a fair shot at a real friendship with him. To Eleven, she’s a puzzle with a personality at best and a potential threat to keep an eye on at worst.
9. This should have been the episode where Clara and the TARDIS bonded.
Yes, it was wonderful of the TARDIS to do its best keep Clara safe in an echo control room, but my biggest complaint about this episode was that it was set up in a way that made it seem as if Clara was going to be the one to fix the TARDIS and save the day. She’s certainly smart enough: The very first time we met her, she figured out and hacked Dalek technology to save Eleven’s and Amy’s lives. Theoretically this version of Clara, with her Greater Intelligence souped-up hacker brain, should have been able to do the same thing for the TARDIS, especially with access to the library and the TARDIS itself attempting to steer her in the right direction. However, instead of delivering a wonderful episode where the TARDIS and Clara work together to keep each other from dying (the TARDIS from the exploded engine, Clara from the toxic gases), this episode meandered through flimsy, boring explanations of time paradoxes and again completely ignored the opportunity to use this delightful new companion as anything but a literal message board.