It’s been a very unusual season season for the Doctor. He was reunited with a dying enemy and one that is probably still alive. One episode was made out of found footage. A girl he met got the power to cheat death, while another lost her life.
Now, after a shocking deal made last week by Ashildr to protect her piece of London, he finds himself in what seems to be his own version of Hell. He winds up making a confession he shouldn’t have said.
It was a classic mostly one-man performance by Peter Capaldi, portraying the Doctor as a man who is scared, yet determined, and later defiant, against whoever is keeping him there. It’s one more reason why this season has been like no other.
*** SPOILERS BELOW ***
The whole episode takes place in a mysterious castle where he has been transported. He’s haunted by a hooded figure with scary hands. He doesn’t know what it is, but he sees fires surrounding it. Turns out the castle is more than a prison. It’s an interrogator, trying to figure out his deepest secrets. It even uses his nightmares against him, because the figure reminds him of a women who died. He admits that he is scared of dying, and that somehow stops the figure. He suddenly decides to break a window and jumps.
He somehow winds up in the TARDIS, but it’s really in his mind. He talks to Clara as if she was still alive, and there is a girl who looks like her but we don’t see her face. A blackboard writes itself, and keeps asking him how he’s going to win.
It becomes apparent that he is in a living nightmare, literally his own Hell. He tries to outsmart it, figuring out if the castle is surrounded by water, but has hundreds of skulls at the bottom. He even finds a room with a fireplace with clothes drying, and they all look just like his. It’s a clue to how long he’s been there.
He later digs in a garden and gets a message, “I am in 12.” The hooded figure is back, and he tells it he didn’t leave Gallifrey because he was bored, but that he was scared.
He also looks at the stars, and thinks they’re placed wrong. They are more clues to how long he’s been there, as if he may have put them before.
Then he talks about the Hybrid, the mysterious figure the Time Lords feared would conquer and destroy their planet, according to prophecy. At the start of the season, it was believed by Davros that the Hybrid is a combination of a Time Lord and a Dalek. The Doctor insists he will not say anything else because there are some secrets that he can never reveal, even if it means escaping from wherever he is.
This is where the Doctor starts to break, saying that maybe this time he should lose. Losing Clara last week has deeply hurt him, and he acts as if she’s beside him. No wonder her face shows up, telling him that he’s not the only person who’s lost someone because everyone has. So, she tells him to go out and win. Maybe he’s telling himself that with Clara as an avatar.
So, he heads back to room 12, facing a thick wall of azbantium. He also finds the word “bird” on the floor. It reminds him of the Brothers Grimm story of the Shepherd Boy and the question “how many seconds in eternity“. The hooded figure grabs the Doctor’s head and scars it.
This is when we learn the start of the episode isn’t the first time he’s been in the castle. He reveals it takes days for a Time Lord to die, and it may be enough time to get the transporter to make a copy of himself. The source of energy would be his own scarred body. He will do this as many times as it takes to break through that wall. It’s not really Hell for him, but a very long Purgatory…about two billion years worth. This is the Doctor, scared of dying, yet always determined to see something through. However, without a Companion to keep him in check, it will lead him to dangerous situations.
Then it all makes sense. He was actually trapped inside his confession dial, where his last will and testament exists. Now, he has escaped to somewhere, and he finds a boy. He tells him to go to the next town and tell them he has returned. It’s not certain if he’s returned to Gallifrey, but he makes his biggest confession: the Hybrid, destined to conquer and destroy Gallifrey, is not part Dalek and part Time Lord.
It is himself, and there’s no Clara to stop him and make him a good man.
So, now what? The trailer here has some clues, and familiar faces. Aside from that, it’ll be an interesting end to an unforgettable season.