It is April 22, 2011, 5:02 pm. Hot air balloons transport cars through the cities, pterodactyls are now the pigeons of public parks, and Holy Roman Emperor Winston Churchill has returned to London after a summit with Cleopatra. And 5:03 pm never comes. Confused? Then keep reading to see what happens…or don’t if you want to avoid spoilers. This is the season finale, and a lot is revealed.
Churchill is having a strange sense that, even though this convergence of history is the only reality that he knows, something is not right. He calls in their special soothsayer, the only man who seems to be talking about this dismaying wrongness of the world. And if you guessed that this soothsayer was the Doctor, then congratulations. Churchill wants the Doctor to tell him the whole story of what went wrong and why all of history is happening at once.
So the Doctor recounts the tale. After leaving Craig, he goes off on a quest not to stop his own demise, but to learn the reasons why he must die. The only way to do that is to infiltrate the Silence and learn their secrets. Beginning by taking down a group of Daleks, the Doctor steals one of their memory cores to get all the information they have on the Silence. He tracks down an envoy to them, and quickly reveals that this man is not, in fact, the actual envoy to the Silence. He is the Teselecta: the history-meddling group of do-gooders who tried to kill Hitler and River. He wants to find the weak link in the Silence to get closer to them.
They point him in the direction of an agent for the Silence named Gantok. He has an affinity for Live Chess: a game of chess that progressively charges the pieces with electricity the more you lose. Not wanting to lose, even though the Doctor is winning, Gantok agrees to help the Doctor learn more about the motives of the Silence. He takes the Doctor to a crypt lined with skulls. These are the still-living skulls of the members of the Order of the Headless Monk. He takes the Doctor to one head in particular: that of Dorium Maldovar. Dorium has been an indepsensible source of information in the past, and due to his own wealth, his head had been preserved in a box by the monks (if you see that image and immediately find yourself chanting “Mekaleka Hi Meka Hiney Ho,” congraulations – you’re one of the cool kids!).
The Doctor wants to know only one thing from Dorium. Why must he die? The Silence is a religious order that believes that “silence will fall” when the Question is asked. The Doctor wants more specifics, and Dorium is willing to tell him. At a certain point in time, at a certain location, when all creatures can no longer speak falsely or fail to answer, the Question will be asked. And the answer will bring about silence. He then cryptically describes it as “The first question, hidden in plain sight.” He then goes further by asking the Doctor if he wants to know what it is, and the Doctor hesitantly agrees.
Of course, we don’t hear the Question, but the Doctor is only too quick to steal Dorium’s head, rush back to the TARDIS, and take off at a sprint across the cosmos. Dorium is insistent that the Doctor cannot escape his own fate, and that even though he may have a time machine, time catches up with everybody. In an attempt to prove Dorium wrong, the Doctor makes a phone call. Fans of classic ‘Doctor Who’ are treated to a very bittersweet callback to Brigadier Lethbridge Stewart, the former commander of UNIT and long-time friend of the Doctor going way back to the John Pertwee years. He is informed that the Brig passed away. Time catches up with all of us, and now the Doctor’s time is up. He goes back to the Teselecta to thank them for their help. The commander of the Teselecta, knowing that the Doctor is going off to his death, asks if there is anything that can be done.
The next time we see the Doctor, he is at Lake Silencio. River, back in her spacesuit, emerges from the lake, and the Doctor knows what has to be done. River, desperate to keep this from happening, begs the Doctor to run. He refuses and tells River that he forgives her for what is about to happen. And then…nothing. Rather than kill the Doctor, River unloads her weapon into the ground. She brazenly declares that even fixed points in time can be rewritten. And suddenly, everything changes. History collapses on itself and the whole of time is compressed into one moment that is stretched through eternity. But the Doctor knows that this is not an eternal condition. Time is breaking down, and it won’t be long before all of time just vanishes. And that brings us up to date (in a manner of speaking) with the Doctor and Churchill.
While the Doctor has been recounting his tale, he’s noticed that he and Churchill have ended up in different parts of the Imperial Palace, mysteriously gaining weapons, and marks are appearing on his arm. The Silence are about. They find the Silence lurking on the ceiling, and try to run. Suddenly, a military strike team rushes in and takes the Silence out. They are led by none other than Amelia Pond. The Doctor thinks he’s saved, but then notices that she is wearing the same eyepatch that Madame Kovarian wears. Has she gone to the other side? That seems to be the case when she coldly shoots the Doctor in the head.
We next find the Doctor waking up in Amy’s office on a train heading to Egypt. Amy is a secret agent with an office on a train, and the Doctor finds that immensely cool. Still possessing an ability to recall events from separate timelines, Amy has drawn pictures and written recounts of her adventures with the Doctor. She is bringing him to Area 52, a base hidden in one of the Great Pyramids of Giza. Inside the Pyramid, Silents are held in tanks of insulating fluid, keeping them from drawing energy and killing people. At the heart of the Pyramid, we find Kovarian. She is being held prisoner by none other than River Song. Everybody is wearing Kovarian’s eyepatch, which actually serves as an “eye drive” that records encounters with the Silence and transmits it back to the brain so that you don’t forget them afterward.
The Doctor is furious with River for what she did. Having not killed him, she has collapsed time itself. River doesn’t care. She would rather have time ripped apart than murder her beloved Doctor. Due to River’s brainwashing, her fixation with the Doctor over the years has transformed from seeing him as a target to seeing him as her one true love. The Doctor won’t have it, and tries to get time moving again by touching River. They are the two opposite poles of this time singularity, and contact between them will cause events to move forward as they should…with the Doctor dying. More than that, knowing the Question has convinced the Doctor that he must die.
As this happens, the Silents begin to break out of their holding pens. Kovarian tells them that they’ve just been waiting for the Doctor to arrive. Their task is still the same: kill the Doctor. She also tells them that, since their eye drives were modeled after hers, there is a bit of sabotage built in. Suddenly, eye drives begin turning on their users, causing either debilitating pain or death. Everybody has to remove them and escape. River takes the Doctor to the top of the Pyramid. Amy stays behind, and Kovarian suddenly finds herself helpless when the Silence also turns her own eye drive against her. Pleading with Amy for help, Amy coldly enacts her revenge for stealing Melody away from her and taking away all the time she could have spent raising her child by placing Kovarian’s eye drive back on her and letting the Silence do the rest.
At the top of the Pyramid, River shows the Doctor that she has been sending out a distress signal through time and space, telling everybody that the Doctor is in danger and needs help. She has been getting responses from everywhere. The universe is only too willing to help in whatever way they can. But the Doctor knows that there is nothing that can be done. He must die. Finally, he convinces River to join him in a quick and dirty wedding ceremony. Amy and Rory, present at the top of the Pyramid with them, consent to give River away. The Doctor whispers something in River’s ear. He says that it is his true name, but River’s attitude has suddenly changed. Rather than adamantly do everything she can to keep time from moving forward, she completes the ceremony with a kiss. Time begins moving, and the Doctor is killed. Everything is back to the way it should be.
We next see Amy in her backyard. River appears to her, and they sit down to have a mother-daughter chat. Amy is despondent over having murdered Kovarian in cold blood and having watched the Doctor die. This River has just come from the incident on the Byzantium, from last season. She tells Amy that the Doctor is very much alive. When the Doctor whispered in River’s ear at the wedding ceremony, he didn’t tell her his name. He told her that he, in fact, wasn’t the Doctor. He was the Teselecta. The Doctor himself was secured nice and neat inside him. This was the Doctor that she killed at Lake Silencio. The true Doctor is still alive and well!
The episode ends with the Doctor returning Dorium’s head to the crypt. He explains to Dorium how he circumvented his own death. Dorium is impressed with his ingenuity, but it has only bought him time and not changed anything. The Question is still out there. There is still that moment when it must be asked, and the silence that falls after it. That one simple question, old as time itself, hidden in plain sight: “Doctor who?”
This was an amazing end to a mystery that has been building all year. It wrapped things up nicely and in a much simpler way than most fans probably thought it would be. Steven Moffat keeps his tradition of bringing all the characters we’ve met throughout the season together for the climax. And while things have been wrapped up for Lake Silencio, there is still a greater mystery surround the Question and its implications. This will no doubt be the central theme for next season, and knowing that it won’t be coming until Autumn of next year is more infuriating than ever now.
It has been one spectacular journey for the Doctor and his companions. Where it will go from here will surely be the subject of a full year’s worth of online speculation and pondering. Fans will have to just be satisfied by the fact that we have a Christmas episode coming in a few months. But the wait for the proper next season is going to be unbearable now. Moffat has established a wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey mythology that is both mind-bending and mind-blowing.