"What happened to time?"
"... a woman... "
In an odd, Steampunk London in 2011, where commuters travel by air-balloon-assisted cars and pterodactyls flock over Hyde Park, Holy Roman Emperor Winston Churchill summons his soothsayer to explain why the time is permanently stuck at 5:02pm. The bearded, unkempt soothsayer is, of course, the Doctor.
It turns out that River Song threw a spanner in the works of Time by refusing to kill the Doctor at the appointed time at Lake Silencio. As this was supposedly a fixed point in time, its undoing causes Time itself to start disintegrating. But first, all of Time is happening at once and the Doctor has to deal with the Silence and Madam Kovarian, fix the relationship between the alternate timeline's Amy and Rory ( again! ), marry River, and ensure that he dies at the right time and place. Oh, and he has to wear an eye patch. Eye patches are cool. Phew! Keeping up with all this?
In a similar vein to A Good Man Goes To War this episode is almost overloaded with incident, characters, locations and revelations; it's a hallucinatory thrill ride through Steven Moffatt's labyrinthine imagination. Although it may not all hang together or provide all the long-awaited answers, it's certainly an action-packed, colourful and emotional trip into the ever-expanding Whoniverse.
There are so many great moments packed into this story: the budget-busting alternate London with Dickens being interviewed on BBC Breakfast and Roman charioteers waiting at traffic lights; Mark Gatiss anonymous under a ton of latex as psychopathic, chess-playing Viking, Gantok; the creepy sight of dozens of Silents, hanging like bats from the Imperial Senate's ceiling; the Doctor growing his hair long in an effort to outdo River ( that bit may only be in my head); the Area 52 pyramid; the poignant mention of the Brigadier - and not before time! - as the Doctor realises that Time runs out for everyone, eventually.
There are, of course, problems too. It seems that the audacious, season-long arc plot has left Steven Moffatt with too much to resolve in the last 45 minutes and there are still outstanding questions. Why did the Silence have their own, fake Tardis? What was Madam Kovarian's grudge against the Doctor? What really happened to River and Rory in those Silence-infested tunnels back in The Impossible Astronaut? Of course, Mr. M should be commended for the ambition of this season - it's certainly given the fans plenty to think about and debate - and that can only be a good thing.
And then, there's the controversy of the "Doctor"'s death. Having the real Doctor replaced by the ( Major Spoiler! ) Teselecta at Lake Silencio seems like a massive cop-out. It was cleverly done and quite funny to see a mini-Doc prancing around inside the lookalike justice droid, but emotionally it felt like a let-down. The sacrifice of the Ganger Doctor or the alternate world Doctor might have been more obvious a get-out clause, but it would have felt better to fans who have invested a lot into this plot. My learned colleague, Steve W, makes the well-argued point here that the "death" of the Teselecta is a cheat, after we have been told repeatedly that the Doctor's death is a fixed point in time which must happen. If The Universe or Time or History or whatever passes for a higher power in the secular Whoniverse had to ensure that the Doctor's death came about, then surely this deception would have fooled no-one but the onlookers at Lake Silencio? Perhaps this higher power was watching All-Star Family Fortunes instead?
For all that, I still enjoyed the episode for all its spectacle, the cracking performances of the leads and the final scenes' attempts to reintroduce a sense of mystery into the series and into the Doctor's own character. So, minus a point for the problems listed above, I'll give this last episode of the season:
4 out of 5 Bow Ties