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OK, let’s start:
We begin in a Gallifreyan workshop. There’s an idiot stealing a faulty TARDIS, there’s and old man and a teenage girl, and the old man is THE FIRST DOCTOR! and the girl is SUSAN HIS GRANDDAUGHTER!
As they sneak through the door, Clara Oswald approaches, telling the Doctor he’s about to make a big mistake. Then there’s a montage of all the different Doctors being saved by all the different Claras throughout time. And there are LOTS of different Claras. She’s Clara Oswald, she was born to save the Doctor.
(Does this mean the Doctor is less good at saving the universe than he had appeared until now? Is Clara doing all the work? What’s going on?)
And then we’re back in Victorian London and Madame Vastra is talking to a scary man in a prison, a man who appears to know the Doctor’s secret, and a man who may possibly be Jack The Ripper, were he not Clarence Dimarco. Strax is away fighting in Scotland, but his fun is interrupted by a telegram. Vastra wants a conference call, a meeting on the astral plane, and this will require a knockabout blow.
Meanwhile, Clara is making a souffle. A letter has arrived from the distant past. It’s from Madame Vastra, and it is impregnated with knockout gas, because no one is going to light a candle to knock themselves out in order to meet a stranger in a dream, no matter how well written the invite.
Clara collapses, and wakes up around the conference table, next to River Song, and the meeting gets started. It seems Clarence had bargained for his freedom using the space/time coordinates for the Doctor’s greatest secret. But no one knows what it is. River does know his name, however. And seems rather pleased about it.
Dimarco said “the Doctor has a secret he will take to his grave, and it is discovered,” but we can’t linger on this for long, something’s bothering Jenny. She’s… she’s… dead! Each of them is being attacked by white-faced goons in top hats. The Whispermen. And then Doctor Simeon (or the Great Intelligence) speaks. The Doctor’s friends will only be saved if he goes to Trenzalore. But he can’t go to Trenzalore, can he? There was a very specific prediction about this very thing.
Suddenly Clara is home again, and the Doctor is playing blind man’s buff with the kids. They’ve gone out. Clara explains what has happened and the Doctor takes the news that he has to go to Trenzalore very, very badly. He goes off for a sit down in the TARDIS.
When Clara goes in to find him, he takes the co-ordinates off her, and explains that Trenzalore is the place where he is buried, it’s his grave. And it’s the one place he can never, ever go to. So naturally, that’s exactly what he wants to do, despite the best intentions of the TARDIS, which won’t land. They’re hovering above a volcanic planet. Or at least they are until the Doctor turns off the anti-gravs. One hurtle later, and they’re on the ground.
The Doctor’s grave looks like a broken TARDIS. And that’s because it’s THE TARDIS, only broken. Just as Clara is about to go in, River approaches Clara, she’s still communicating via the psychic conference link, unseen by everyone else. But what is her grave doing on Trenzalore? Oh! It’s a secret entrance to the tomb. The tomb that also contains Vastra, Strax and a dead Jenny. Nothing a Sontaran doctor can’t fix, of course.
Then Doctor Simeon arrives, and confirms that he is now the vessel in which the Great Intelligence is slopping around. He describes the last days of the Doctor, the titles he accrues as he continues to prevent the universe from being destroyed by killing all the creatures that seek to destroy it, refers to him as the Valeyard, and generally paints a dark picture of this Time Lord’s life and work.
Meanwhile, the Doctor and Clara are running away from the Whispermen in the broken remains of the TARDIS. Clara is giddy, overcome by the telepathic circuits and the suddenly-returning memory of running through these exact same corridors recently, and of a conversation about how many times these two have met. But before they can get into all that, the Whispermen escort them to meet the Great Intelligence. And he wants the doors to the Doctor’s tomb opened, and the only way to do that is to say his name.
And of course the only way you can get the Doctor to do anything is to kill his friends, so that’s what the Whispermen set about doing, with the Doctor unable to answer as the Great Intelligence demands “DOCTOR WHO? DOCTOR WHO?”
And then, the doors to the tomb open. River Song did it. And reluctantly, everyone files inside. It’s a version of the console room, with a spinning pillar of spiralling light at the center. The Doctor explains that this is a kind of map of his life as a time traveller, a map of temporal scars. Him being in this place is a horrific paradox, bad enough to cause him to collapse.
But it’s a bad time to lie down, because the Great Intelligence has decided that this temporal scar is a great way to enter the Doctor’s life stream and undo his life’s work. He’s going to ruin everything. And that is what he does. He attacks the Doctor everywhen at once, killing him over and over again, causing the current Doctor unending agony and effectively winking almost all of the universe out of existence.
But that’s not all. A re-written Doctor never saved Jenny’s life, never encouraged Stax and Vastra to become friends. Strax attacks, and Vastra vaporizes him.
And now we get to the secret of Clara. She hatches a plan to save the Doctor. She has to enter his temporal scar too, she has to undo all the things the Great Intelligence has done. The Doctor begs her not to, but before he can stop her, she’s gone. And rather than making the Doctor’s career easier, her job is to undo the ill effects of the Great Intelligence, her job is to allow him to live that reality again, to save the universe over and over again, and to damn well steal the right TARDIS from the start.
Suddenly the stars are back, Strax is back, Jenny is back, and all is well again. Except Clara is lost in the past, and the future. The Doctor pledges to get her back, and explains how the gang can get home, but River is outraged. While she’s shouting at the Doctor, he turns to her, catching her slap in mid-air and giving her a big kiss.
Then, there’s the small matter of the Doctor’s final goodbye to River Song, the one he’s been trying to avoid, before he heads into his own life, to fetch Clara back. She’s finished saving his life, so where is she now?
Somewhere dark and smokey. She can hear the Doctor’s voice, but the time stream is collapsing in on itself, because he’s inside it. The only way to rally her to him is aboard that leaf, the leaf she blew into the world aboard. Suddenly she can see the Doctor, she crosses the abyss into his arms, and all is well… except…
There’s an old man here, in the space beyond the Doctor’s time line, he’s the Doctor, but he’s not “the Doctor,” got it? He’s done something, he couldn’t help doing it, but it wasn’t in the name of the Doctor, even though he is the Doctor.
Confused? Excited? Both? See you on November 23rd to find out more.
See more posts by Fraser McAlpine
Fraser has been writing and broadcasting about music and popular culture for over 15 years, first at the Top of the Pops website, and most recently for the NME, Guardian and MSN. He also wrote BBC Radio 1's Chart Blog and reviews albums for BBC Radio 2.
He is Anglophenia's current resident Brit, blogging about British slang and running around the Mall taking snaps of the crowd at the Royal Wedding, as well as reigniting a childhood passion for classic Doctor Who and cramming as much music in as he can manage.
Fraser invites you to join him on Twitter: @csi_popmusic