I will start out with the bottom line on this one. This was the best season final since (and possibly including) the magnificent trilogy which closed out season 3. That may not seem like much, but when you think it really encompasses season 4, The End of Time and season 5 it shows how well the Moff has really done here. I was not too sure that a one episode final would work, but the story benefits from coming in a concentrated burst, particularly as some of the key arc points were resolved already in A Good Man Goes to War and Let’s Kill Hitler.
There were the usual naysayers who thought the whole thing was either too predicatable or a “cop-out”. Nuts to that I say. Unless this was going to be the final ever episode; the Doctor was always going to survive somehow. If you want to look at it in the most cynical fashion there was always a built in cheat factor. The question was what would the cheat be? There’s nothing here that wasn’t set up earlier in the season, so it is not as if the Moff pulled a hitherto unknown rabbit out of the hat in the finale. The only real question was whether the Doctor would actually be his Ganger counterpart or the Tesalector. The people that “predicted” this were the same people as those who “predicted” who River Song would be. That is to say those fans who spent ages thinking about it and who “worked it out” at precisely the point the Moff intended them to.
To me there is nothing wrong with the explanation of the Doctor’s death being predicable in episode 8 given that the mystery was set up in episode 1. There is a section of the fanbase that just won’t be happy; RTD used to be criticised for Deux et Machina despite the fact that the set ups were always there in ahead of time. The Moff now gets criticised for making the endings to obvious, but that only because he emphasises the set ups far more that RTD did.
In a similar vein the confirmation of River being the Doctor’s wife is “predictable”. But the key is surely the execution which is fascinating. River may be the Doctor’s wife, but she is also his companion’s daughter. There is the obvious point of whether they are really married, River obviously knows that she exchanged vows with a tesalector, but then the tesalector was clearly speaking the Doctor’s words for him. Perhaps a more interesting consideration is what are the Doctor’s motives in all this? He goes into the marriage willingly, but there is a sense that his motive is to take responsibility for River rather than any desperate wish to be married to her per se.
The Doctor’s relationship with River is one of the most fraught of his life (if not the most fraught), her entire existence and being is owed in large part to him and her death will also be on his watch. Does he view the marriage and the relationship itself as being an apology to Amy, Rory and River or even as being akin to granting a dying woman her only wish?
Even ignoring the long running questions arising from the Doctor and River’s relationship, this was still very much a season finale rather than an arc finale. The Silence are has hardly progressed since the season premier. The events that happen in the alternate/aborted timeline are perhaps a clue for the Doctor in what is to come. But it is surely to be expected (and hoped) that Madam Kovorian survives to be a complete bitch another day. One would assume that the next season will have the Doctor consolidating his position and plotting for the culmination of this arc during the 50th anniversary season. The Silence themselves were wonderfully creepy in this one, laying dormant and waiting to spring their trap. The body count emphasises their threat whereas The Impossible Astronaut and The Day of the Moon hinted at it. By this point I think they are better monster than Moffat’s own Weeping Angels and it seems to me that there is more scope for them to be reused in the future too. The suggestion is that they are working for someone else, so that perhaps leaves the door open for them to be general guns for hire in future years.
I found this to be the most visually striking episode of the Moffat era. The mash-up history is constantly interesting and it has a sense of barmy fun that harkens back to the best of the RTD era. And although we did not get a proper return of the Headless Monks, we did get their cannibalistic skulls by way of a gleefully ghoulish compensation.
Overall this has been a very strong season indeed. The Curse of the Black Spot was easily the weakest story for being a lightweight run-around, but it was at least a well-placed palate cleanser between the season openers and The Doctors Wife. Everything else fell into the very good to downright excellent. This season had a proper genuine arc for the first time ever rather than a slight running thread dressed up as an arc. It is a bit too early for me to have a true perspective on whether it has usurped Season 3 as my favourite season of New Who, the highs of season 3 were spectacularly high but the lows were lower. It is most definitely in the running and far superior overall to last season.