DOCTOR WHO (2005) series 8, episode 4
WRITER: STEVEN MOFFAT
DIRECTOR: DOUGLAS MACKINNON
AIR DATE: September 13 2014
Clara (Jenna Coleman) goes on her first date with fellow teacher Danny Pink (Samuel Anderson), but things go wrong when they fall out with each other over the subject of Danny’s earlier career as a soldier. Upset, she returns home to find the Doctor waiting for her. He tells her that he has been vexed by a question of whether everyone has a secret unseen companion, proposing that a common fear of a hand grabbing us at night from under the bed may be a clue to some deeper truth. Clara admits that she experienced that fear as a child and, while rejecting the Doctor’s theory, agrees to return to her childhood to test it. When she attempts to go back to childhood through a telepathic link with the TARDIS, her thoughts stray to Danny. As a result, they end up in the past at a children’s home in Gloucester where Clara, exploring on her own, is shocked to discover Danny’s younger self at a time when he was called Rupert (Remi Gooding).
Seeking to dispel Rupert’s fear of something lurking under his bed, they go under the bed only to hear something sit on the bed above them. On coming out, they see a figure sitting still beneath the blanket. The Doctor suddenly appears and commands them to turn their backs on the entity and not look at it. At this, the entity vanishes. The Doctor accepts that it could have been another child playing a trick, but surmises instead that it was proof of his theory about unseen companions. He calls Rupert’s fear a ‘superpower’ that will help him to overcome the struggles of life. Clara urges Rupert to put his toy soldiers under his bed for protection, but is troubled when Rupert calls the lead soldier Dan. She realises that her actions have set the boy on a course to becoming a soldier called Danny Pink, a prospect reinforced by the Doctor who memory-wipes the boy, leaving him only with a dream of being “Dan the Soldier Man”.
Young Danny Rupert Pink
Returning to the present, Clara has the Doctor take her to the restaurant just after her former self had walked out. Her attempts to make amends fail, however, when she accidentally calls Danny by his childhood name Rupert, raising his suspicions. He storms out of the restaurant just as a figure in a spacesuit beckons her to go back in the TARDIS. Thinking it’s the Doctor, she removes the helmet to find a man with a startling resemblance to Danny. The Doctor introduces him as Orson Pink, one of Earth's earliest time travellers from 100 years in Clara's future. The Doctor had found him marooned and alone at the end of time. Orson tells them that one of his great grandparents told him stories about time travel. Clara is dumbfounded when he gives her a family heirloom, a toy soldier called Dan.
The Doctor and Clara travel with Orson back to the end of time, but Orson is reluctant to go there, fearing that he was not alone. When loud noises are heard in Orson’s ship, the Doctor believes it to be the elusive entity that he is hunting. He orders Clara and Orson back into the TARDIS while he steels himself to confront the entity, but has to be rescued by Orson when the ship's air containment is ruptured. With the Doctor unconscious and the entity seemingly about to break into the TARDIS, Clara uses the telepathic circuit to launch the TARDIS and escape.
The monster under the bed
The TARDIS lands in an unknown location. Clara sets off to explore and finds herself in an old barn, where a boy lies crying in bed. Clara is forced to hide under the bed when two adults come into the barn and try to coax the boy to get out of bed. From what they say, she suddenly realises that the child is the Doctor. The adults leave, unable to change the boy’s mind. Back in the TARDIS, the Doctor awakens and calls out for Clara, causing his younger self to ask who's out there. Clara instinctively grabs the boy’s leg when he climbs out of bed, and realises in that moment that she is the Doctor's secret unseen companion – the ‘monster under the bed’. After persuading the boy that he is only dreaming, she tells him that his fear is a constant companion, a force for good, and that one day he will return to the barn in his time of greatest fear (this is the same barn last seen in The Day of the Doctor). Clara returns to the TARDIS and demands that the Doctor depart without seeing where they landed, leaving him unaware of what happened.
After returning Clara to Earth and Orson to his original time period, the Doctor abandons the idea of the entity's existence. Clara goes to Danny's home where they apologise to one another and share a kiss.
Wow! Just wow! I remember sitting after watching this with my wife and kids and feeling that I had just witnessed something very special. My wife agreed. And for an episode that was fairly cerebral, there had been enough chills to keep my three kids engaged, which is a tall order. I also felt compelled to watch it again later that night, desiring to glean some deeper meaning such was the richness of the storytelling. If I had to place this episode in the larger scheme of things – never mind where it sits in relation to series eight – I would not hesitate to rank this in the top three episodes of Doctor Who ever, alongside Blink and The Day of the Doctor. Yes, it’s that good! There’s a common theme running through those three episodes: Steven Moffat. Mr. Moffat is, in my opinion, the best writer ever to put pen to paper (or finger to keyboard) for Doctor Who. He is without a doubt the master of intricate time travel stories, full of mind expanding ideas involving complex back-and-forth jaunts through time, weaving threads together which leave the viewer marveling at the sheer cleverness of it all. But cleverness on its own would just be a cold dish. It’s his ability to throw heart-warming, and sometimes even heart-breaking, moments into the mix that really satisfies the soul.
The Doctor and Clara
at the end of the universe
Where to start in terms of the specifics? I guess having the Doctor obsessed with a theory that later turns out to have been an idea seeded in his childhood through the accidental actions of Clara was just wonderful. This whole episode was about cause-and-effect, seemingly minor events setting off colossal chain reactions, where the darker consequences of time travel – particularly, altering the course of another person’s life – are explored to subtle and spectacular effect. You really have to have your wits about you to keep up with this story, but pay attention and you will be richly rewarded. Not only is the young Doctor set on a life-trajectory by the actions of Clara grabbing his leg from under the bed, but the actions of both the grown up Doctor and Clara also set young Rupert on a binding path to become Danny Pink the soldier. It is the reactions of Clara in particular when she realises what impacts her unintended actions have had on the two people closest to her that deeply impress here and reveal what a brilliant actress she is. She positively shines in this episode, and it is her best performance yet. It also showed me that, given the right material, she is as much a star as Peter Capaldi who equally shines in this episode.
As good as the ‘timey-wimey’ stuff was, the chills were also outstanding, certainly enough to keep the children amused (for which I was grateful). What was unusual about the scares was that they came from our imagination as opposed to the presence of monster of the week. The power of suggestion was the real boogeyman here, as Moffat played on our basic human fears of things that go bump in the night. Even the entity, when it first appeared (or allegedly appeared), was veiled and left to the imagination. This kept us on tenterhooks, not quite sure what the ‘unseen companion’ was, and whether or not it was hostile or even if it existed at all. The eerie figure in the bedroom and the menacing sounds at the end of time were executed with maximum creepiness, resulting in one scared and very satisfied family.
the last man in the universe
Finally, I need to mention Orson Pink. Who is he? That’s the sixty four million dollar question and one which Steven Moffat still has to answer now that series eight is over. This leads me to think that Orson will be back for series nine, hopefully with some answers. And I for one can’t wait. This, again, is why Moffat is in a league of his own. He’s the world’s worst tease, setting up mysteries and then letting the fans beg him for more. Please, please… just tell me already! Oh well, I’ll just have to wait like everyone else.
In summary, this is an episode not to be missed. It expands the mythology of Doctor Who in wonderful ways that spin the head and move the heart. Magical!