Doctor Who recap: The Most Important Leaf in Human History

The Doctor takes his mysterious new companion to a spaced-out religious ceremony which involves a sleeping vampire god. A flying Moped figures prominently.
Ep. 07 | Aired Apr 6, 2013

GRUMPY GRANDFATHER The Doctor stares down an emotion-devouring space-deity

BBC America

Seriously, props to Matt Smith: This episode was weirdly low an action and heavy on the Doctor saying Big Huge Giant Awesome Things -- the equivalent of giving the big speech from Braveheart, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, and Any Given Sunday back-to-back-to-back --  and he nailed every line to the wall. As the parasite ate up his memories, he talked about the things he'd seen. "I was there for the Birth of the Universe, and I was there when time ran out," he said. "No time, no space just me. I've watched universes freeze. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched c-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser Gate. I have lost things you will never understand, and I have knowledge that will make parasite gods blaze."

And yet, it didn't quite seem like enough. Or maybe it was; the episode never quite nailed down the precise psychometric physics powering the parasite god. (Hey, I liked the episode, and even I have to admit that the climax was basically "People Emoting Vanquishingly.") The important thing is, Clara clearly believed the Doctor was in trouble -- and she came Mopedding back. "Still hungry?" she asked. "Well, I brought something for you. The most important leaf in human history." She wasn't just offering the beast memories: She was offering him a whole future that never got lived, the infinite variables awaiting Ellie Ravenwood Oswald before she died too young. The Doctor summed it up for the monster. There's a difference between what was and what could've been: "There's an awful lot of one, but an infinity of the other."

The leaf slowly dissipated into ambient space dust. It was too much for the space-god. The Doctor's near-infinite experience had left it overstuffed; the actual infinite experience of Clara's departed mother was the killing blow. Grandfather went Full Creosote; his tummy ruptured, his psychometry got to psychometricized, and he fell into himself like a dying skull-star.

(It strikes me that something about this climax gets to the heart of the Doctor's relationship with all his companions. He's a guy who can, and has, go anywhere and do anything; but he needs regular people, with all the infinite variables of possibility they bring, in order to truly live life.)

The Doctor brought her back home: Earth, Present Day. Clara had realized something during the showdown with the space-god: The Doctor had been there, at her mother's grave. He told her that he was investigating her: "You remind me of someone." Clara laid down the law: "I'm not gonna compete with a ghost." (ASIDE: It strikes me that this has a double meaning. In the Russell T. Davies era, every new companion always began in the shadow of their predecessor. Martha Jones never really emerged from the shadow of Rose Tyler -- she loved the Doctor, but he didn't love her back. Likewise, when Donna Noble joined the Doctor on his adventures, it was with the explicit promise that they would just be "mates." Clara saying she's "not gonna compete with a ghost" seems like a meta-message to Who viewers: I'm not Amy Pond, so don’t assume I will be. END OF ASIDE.) Clara walked off, perhaps dreaming of more adventures, leaving the doctor in his TARDIS, still pondering the impossibility of Clara.

Fellow viewers, what did you think of the episode? Did you dig the lavish clear-out-the-costume-department array of aliens in the episode? Will you be singing any of those weird lullabies to your children someday? And do you think that we'll see more of Clara's parents in the future, or was that just a bit of history-building? (The fact that her dad was played by a young actor who briefly wore gray hair dye makes me think "no"…but then again, given all the talk about the Importance of the Leaf, maybe we'll be circling back to the moment the parents met.)

Also, quick note: I'll be recapping Doctor Who in this space for the rest of this season/series/whatever they call it in whichever world you're reading from. I'm a latecomer to the series, but I'm a devoted viewer; I've spent the last few months mainlining through the Eccleston/Tennant/Smith episodes, with occasional pauses to mourn a character's departure/put my brain back together after some of Steven Moffat's time-twisty episodes. I'm looking forward to journeying with you into the wild and mysterious Era of the Purple Coat.

Follow Darren on Twitter: @DarrenFranich

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