Voices: As a fan of Doctor Who, the most important twist of the finale didn’t happen on screen

Fans have criticised the episode for being anticlimactic  (BBC)
Fans have criticised the episode for being anticlimactic (BBC)

I grew up with Doctor Who. Since 2005, I’ve been watching “NuWho”, but before that, one of my earliest memories is being a four-year-old in Ealing and watching it with my Uncle Mark. As a 16-year-old, I chased spoilers through the internet before Instagram and WhatsApp. Me and a group of friends would text each other, theorising about what Bad Wolf meant, who Prime Minister Saxon was, and who the Face of Boe could be.

As you can imagine, I was more than a little excited to see how last night’s season finale wrapped up some of the show’s biggest dangling plot threads. How would the Doctor defeat series Big Bad and god of Death, Sutekh, making his first appearance in the show since the classic 1975 serial Pyramids of Mars? How long had the Tardis been harbouring a secret villain? Why does Unit keep employing children?

And then there are the other, smaller mysteries that Russell T Davies has been teasing: who is Ruby’s mother? Who’s her father? Why do we say “mavity” instead of “gravity”? What’s Mrs Flood up to? Who’s the Meep’s boss? Why does it snow? And what the hell happened in 73 yards? It’s a lot to wrap up. Sadly, it doesn’t quite land.

However, despite the disappointments of how things wrapped up, the biggest twist of last night’s finale wasn’t that Ruby’s mum was an ordinary human woman who had to make a tough decision (an apt choice, as the foundling stories Russell drew inspiration from for her introduction are all about down-on-their-lucks giving up their children to churches.)

No, the biggest twist is that TV is embracing serialisation again, allowing us time to gossip and speculate between episodes rather than dropping big box sets all at once. It’s brought back the joy of week-by-week speculation. I feel like I’m in school again.

Russell seems to be using this format as an opportunity to play with us. Throughout this season, Whovians have been obsessed with the secret of Susan Triad, clocking early on that her name (S Triad) was an anagram of “Tardis”. How did Davies respond? By instantly pointing that fact out in the opening to last week’s episode, as if it was the most obvious thing in the world. But it was a misdirect – what we failed to realise as quickly was that the character’s company, Susan Triad Technology, contained the word “Su-Tech” – or “Sutekh”. Get it?

I asked Russell (he gave me a quote – a very direct “read this book” – about my second poetry collection) what his thoughts were on the differences between weekly shows and those that drop all at once:

“Remember the biggest show in the world, Game of Thrones, dropped weekly. And the biggest success I’ve had, It’s A Sin, dropped as a box set all in one night. Who knows what works?” He also included a hands-up-shrug emoji.

Guessing, theorising, and coming up with galaxy-brain what-ifs and whys make my brain tingle. The issue with Modern Who – and this has been the case across all the showrunners’ tenures – is that things usually get fixed with a bit of a deus ex machina, that isn’t anywhere near as interesting as the intricate theories fans have spent all season coming up with. Take the premise of this episode, which started with all life in the universe being wiped out in a cosmos-wide apocalyptic event – it falls a bit flat when you remember that there needs to be a universe in time for the next series to come out, doesn’t it?

Remember when Donna tells the Doctor about Bad Wolf in Turn Left, and the cloister bell starts ringing, leading the Doctor to proclaim, “It’s the end of the universe”? Or when it was revealed that Amy had been a doppelganger all along? Not to mention when Jodie Whittaker regenerated, only to reveal that Tennant had returned to the role?

They were hooks that really set the fanhood buzzing, but their payoffs were inconsistent at best. Perhaps the real truth is that questions are better than answers (though the answer they gave to explain Tennant’s return was pretty brilliant).

In short – we’re never satisfied. Nothing can trump our imagination. And coming up with more and more plot hooks, and links to classic episodes, makes us crave more and more outlandish solutions. Of course, if you’ve spent the best part of six weeks theorising, you’re bound to be disappointed by what happens next.

But is it the fun of the week-by-week watching that’s important, or how well the show lands its finale? I can’t say for sure. Hands-up-shrug emoji.

In the end, Ruby decides to stay with her mum, and the doctor goes off on his adventures again. The enigmatic Mrs Flood appears on a rooftop and addresses the viewer – apparently “terror” is coming to the Doctor. Is she a former companion? Or another classic villain, like the Rani? Who knows. Maybe we’ll find out in this year’s Christmas special. But one thing’s sure: despite the anticlimax, we will spend the next few months talking about it.