I watched this episode not from the comfort of my own armchair, but in a hotel room on a tiny television. I never quite realise how used to HD I am until it is taken away from me! Thankfully, this episode didn’t look like it delivered much on the grand scale of beauty. Rather than gorgeous outer space landscapes, or moody forest settings, we were locked away inside the TARDIS - quite literally going round and round in circles.
There were several parts to this story, and sadly for the actors involved, the scavenger side of things was the least important. It served as a placeholder for the rest of the action, and whilst there was a moral in there - not to play mean tricks on people, or perhaps treat robots as your equals - it was more of convenience than of plot. It did allow for the Doctor to come out with some amusing one-liners, but there was plenty of that throughout.
The more important plot of the story was the TARDIS crash-landing, leaking time and generally causing chaos. I love a good time travel story, particularly the mind-bending ones where something occurs that transpires later to be a warning from the self-same people that have just lived through the adventure themselves. The zombie creatures were rather terrifying, particularly when it was revealed they were the future - if the path was left unchanged. Rather like Marty McFly having a vanishing photograph, this provides the incentive for the Doctor and Clara to hurry things along and do it differently.
There’s plenty about the underlying story here that I didn’t quite get - the frozen engine of the TARDIS, why the zombies were there and why they wanted to get their hands on their future/past selves. But those things are overlooked and overshadowed by the more genius aspects - things like the TARDIS being clever enough to make an infinite loop after judging the scavengers not liable to be held up by walls.
As ever, the bubbling “Who is Clara?” plot continues, although this week we had a reversal of fortune, wherein Clara learned more about the Doctor than I suspect we ever will. After glimpsing a big ol’ dusty book in the TARDIS library, she learned his name. He wouldn’t let her say it, and she soon forgot when time was righted, but was that a significant moment? The memory device was well used here, for a moment it felt like we were making progress on the Clara front - he confessed to her that he’d met her at least twice before, and whilst she had no knowledge of the situation, it almost felt like we were moving forward.
Alas no, and we are back where we started. A Clara who is like the others, and yet not. A Doctor searching for answers. I did feel as though there was a better connection between the two this time. When he reached in and grabbed her from the scary zombies, the punching, the hugging, the relief. For me, they are just starting to show signs that they might gel as a partnership and that being the case… I expect it all to go wrong very shortly.
After all the complications of the Pond family, and now a super-mysterious being such as Clara, I’m starting to yearn for a companion that is just that - someone along for the ride, to provide some light relief, to provide the human element. Gone are the days when the companion wasn’t part of the huge arc-ing story! Okay, yes, I’ll own up, I am just missing Donna. That’s not to say that I’m not intrigued what the story is behind Clara and her many-deaths, and as she is oblivious to her own mystery she does provide a simple-companion-style story once in a while. But it’s always there hanging over her, who is this and what havoc is she going to cause the Doctor this time?
Anyway, next week things go all Victorian, with the return of Strax, Madame Vastra and Jenny, plus a Clara in governness-style outfit. Is that our Clara or the Clara of before?