This episode felt like a major change of pace for me from the previous episode’s “thinking man’s ghost story.” Before the Flood, however, advertised that it was going to be different from the very beginning. The first scene, happening entirely in the TARDIS, introduces a concept that is core to many of our favorite episodes of Doctor Who. In fact, it’s core to the very “wibbley wobbly timey wimey” aspect of the show: the bootstrap paradox.
The short version, for anyone who forgot, is that sometimes with time travel, something only happens because the time traveler noticed that it had been done. This happened in Blink with the transcript (he could only do his part because she’s already seen it done), in Time Crash with how the TARDIS is saved “I only knew how because I remembered being you, watching me, doing that,” and in nearly every time travel-related story in existence. Alongside the grandfather paradox, this idea forms one of the central ideas of the genre.
What happens in this episode, however, is that the concept is introduced early and we’re allowed to watch the episode, trying to figure out what the bootstrap paradox is going to be in reference to. I’m not going to spoil it, but it’s a pretty classic NuWho moment when it’s entirely revealed.
Aside from the paradox, whatever your view of Clara is, it has never been more clear that this is her final season. The right buttons are regularly being hit, reminding her of what she’s lost and pointing out that being with the Doctor is basically the only thing going on in her life, to the extent that she almost admitted it in this episode. This, compounded with a line from this episode that, to me, seemed to be the most telling of a future companion-exit arc.
Lunn: She said to ask you whether traveling with the Doctor has changed you, and why you always have to put other people’s lives at risk.
Clara: He taught me to do what has to be done.
This comment, and the internal battle that’s evident in the aftermath, show a substantial change in Clara’s character, and not the kind she’d think was positive. How this will lead to the Impossible Girl’s exit from the TARDIS, we don’t yet know, but I would be shocked if these two things don’t come together at the end of her arc.
Next week’s episode appears to be pretty straightforward, in Doctor Who terms, with Vikings and Robots. If this season’s trend continues, however, I won’t be surprised if there aren’t more revelations leading to this season’s conclusion.
Until next time, let’s try to avoid any bootstrap paradoxes.