One of the things that became clear during the Russell T. Davies as showrunner era is that he had an over-reliance on deus ex machina resolutions to series-long arcs, frequently involving someone becoming glowy and more powerful. After two seasons, it appears that the defining trait of the finale’s for the Steven Moffat era is going to be be stories that run in place and never actually resolve anything.
It’s a little frustrating, because there is a lot to like about this episode. I’m a fan of the “throw lots of big, mad ideas at the viewer” approach that Moffat frequently takes on the show. A non-linear story cutting back and forth between a very big universe that contains carnivorous skulls, death by chess, and tiny people inside shape-shifting robots and a very small world in which all of time is happening all at once could be challenging, but Moffat keeps the tone consistent and light and fun. It’s a neat trick, because either thread could have made for a good episode, but blending them together drives what little plot the episode has forward and gives each idea just enough time to breathe without being overwhelming. But then we get to the final act of the episode and it’s time for everything to be explained and it all somewhat crashes down.
There was no way that the resolution to the “Doctor dies” storyline was going to please people. We all knew that the eventual revelation of how the Doctor lives, because we all know he’s going to live, was going to be a cheat. And sure enough, having the Doctor, the real Doctor be there, technically, so that the “fixed point” can be preserved but given a convenient out with a plot point from a previous episode blatantly reintroduced in this one…I can’t really complain, because it’s a fair enough resolution to the mystery, but it still somehow feels arbitrary. The real problem is that the big questions remain unanswered. Who are the Silence? Well, they’re aliens. But, no, really, they’re religious fanatics. But, no, they’re aliens who are also religious fanatics. Why do they hate the Doctor? Well, they don’t, they just don’t want him to do something in the future. So they mess with his past, repeatedly, drawing his attention to them, in what has got to the be worst thought out plan in the history of poorly thought out plans. “The Doctor is a great and terrible force that will utterly destroy those he deems evil. Let’s go out of our way to really fucking annoy him.” And rather than draw a line under all these points, Moffat instead chooses to roll them over into a new story-arc, one where the Doctor is unknown to the universe again and destined to face off with the Silence yet again. The sole bright spot with this plot line is, Cartmel Master Plan-style, a renewed emphasis on the character of the Doctor and his exact nature, instead of constantly trying to impress us with how special and precious the latest companion is.
We’ll see if Moffat manages to follow through with this in the next series…