For a man who didn’t believe in ghosts until about an hour ago, the Doctor is terrified of his own. He lets it rule him. When a wide-eyed Clara reveals over the phone that his spector is looming outside the base, the Doctor is quick to accept defeat: Oh well. That’s fate. If the first half of this two parter exposed the risks people will take for the Doctor, this half is more concerned with the risks the Doctor will take on his own behalf — or won’t take, as the case may be. He’s more likely to bend the rules of time to save his friends than to save himself, even when his own ghost is staring him in the face.
This isn’t the first time this season that the Doctor has seemed a little too ready for his own death. (“This regeneration — it’s a bit of a clerical error anyway.”) But if people are willing to die to save him, the least he can do is live. Clara is not letting the Doctor give in to his “bloody survivor’s guilt” on her watch. “If you love me in any way, you’ll come back,” she pleads, giving him enough of a kick in the pants that he promises to try. He asks Clara to let him take a look at his ghost, but it’s just as unresponsive as the rest. It is, however, reciting something different. It starts by listing everyone’s names, then comes inside the base and changes its tune: “The chamber will open tonight.”
That ghost is all about opening chambers. It unlocks the Faraday Cage, releasing the other ghosts and forcing Clara, Cass, and Lunn to hide inside. There’s no cell signal in there, so Clara props her phone outside the door and waits as the Doctor, now in 1980, tries to make sense of the spaceship. He, Bennett, and O’Donnell have already met the Mole, a sniveling Tivolian named Prentiss who’s come to bury his former enslaver, the Fisher King. In the time it takes the Doctor to chat with Clara, the Fisher King rises and kills Prentiss — which, for Prentiss, is honestly a step up. He’s less annoying as a murderous ghost.
As the Doctor points out, Tivolians and the Fisher King are really two sides of the same coin. Whether by surrendering or conquering, they’ll both do anything to survive. The Doctor has lived long enough to know better. He isn’t in this to fight for his own life — he just wants to save Clara, and time is running out. The Fisher King hunts them down, and O’Donnell — who refused to stay behind in the safety of the TARDIS, who just wanted to follow the Doctor’s lead — is his next victim. I was worried when the Doctor asked the only woman in the group to stay inside, but he wasn’t being sexist: He just knew she was next on the list.
It takes Bennett a minute to work it out, but he gets there: The Doctor’s ghost was naming each of them in the order that they died. And as much as the Doctor hoped that O’Donnell had a chance — her ghost wasn’t there in the future — he still used her to test his theory. This Doctor has always been more focused on the big picture than some of his other regenerations. He mourns O’Donnell now in a way he wouldn’t have when we first met him, but he still does what has to be done.
He’s taught Clara that same practicality. Locked in the Faraday Cage with Cass and Lunn, she watches as O’Donnell’s ghost makes a grand entrance and then carries away the cell phone. Clara works out why the ghost let Lunn live — he doesn’t have the words in his head. He can go get her phone. Lunn is willing (though not thrilled), but Cass protests. Lunn translates: “She said to ask you whether traveling with the Doctor changed you, or were you always happy to put other people’s lives at risk?” It’s the former. Clara is becoming more like the Doctor every day, and at this point, there’s no way that ends well.
NEXT: Time is a flat circle