What scares the Doctor? Ghosts of the past and future crowd into the lives of the Doctor and Clara – a terrified caretaker in a children’s home, the last man standing in the universe and a little boy who doesn’t want to join the army. Listen!
Clara Oswald meets with fellow Coal Hill teacher Danny Pink for their first date. However, things take a turn for the worse when the subject of his time serving in the army comes up, and they each unintentionally offend the other with their lack of understanding. On her return home, she discovers the Doctor waiting for her, needing her help. He has begun to question whether every living being has a constant companion, using the example of the ‘dream’ all people have – showing everyone from young children to an elderly woman – in which a hand grabs them from under the bed at night. Clara initially dismisses this, but agrees to return to her childhood so they can investigate. She uses the TARDIS’ telepathic link to try and lock on to the event, but, when her mind strays to Danny, they end up in a children’s home in Gloucester in the mid 1990s, where Clara is shocked to meet Rupert Pink; Danny, as a child, before he changed his name. The Doctor initially believed that Clara hadn’t faulted with keeping focus, believing the place was a repressed memory from her childhood.
Clara tries to convince Rupert that there is nothing under his bed, as he sits away from it in fear. They crawl underneath, only for something to sit on the bed above them, despite Rupert claiming that no one else has entered the room while they have been talking. On emerging, they discover a figure underneath Rupert’s blankets, and the Doctor, who suddenly appears, demands that they turn away from it and promise that they will not look at it. They do so, and it vanishes out of the door. The Doctor acknowledges the possibility that the figure could be another child playing a prank, but the alternative is that it’s an unidentified entity that is not meant to be seen. He also encourages Rupert to see his fear as a “superpower,” because adrenaline will empower him to overcome obstacles and foes. When Clara urges Rupert to place his toy soldiers underneath his bed as ‘protection’, she unintentionally inspires his later name, Danny, and his career choice, when Rupert names the lead soldier Dan. This is reinforced when, after the Doctor uses his telepathy to send Rupert to sleep, he reveals that he has wiped his memory of the events and left him only with a dream of being “Dan the soldier man”
After this encounter with the young Danny, Clara has the Doctor bring her to the restaurant, moments after her former self left. She bonds with Danny, but he becomes suspicious when she accidentally calls him Rupert; he questions how she knows his former name, and accuses her of deliberately mocking him. He storms out as a figure in a spacesuit beckons Clara back into the TARDIS. Clara thinks it’s the Doctor, but he removes his helmet to reveal a man strongly resembling Danny; the Doctor identifies this man as Orson Pink, one of Earth’s first time travellers, having originally come from 100 years in Clara’s future. The Doctor has picked him up from the end of the universe, where he had become stranded during his travels. It is revealed that one of Orson’s great grandparents told him stories about time travel and that Orson possesses the lead soldier Clara gave young Rupert earlier in the episode; he returns it to her, indicating that she is an appropriate recipient for this ‘family heirloom’.
The Doctor takes Clara and Orson back to Orson’s ship at the end of time, and it is revealed that Orson feared he was not alone there; the Doctor believes that the companion entity is trying to gain access to the ship because it contains the only remaining life in existence, although Orson and the Doctor are also able to offer mundane alternative explanations for the unusual phenomena the group experience. The Doctor orders Clara and Orson back into the TARDIS and attempts to confront the entity, but has to be rescued by Orson when the ship’s air containment is breached. As the Doctor is unconscious and it seems that the entity is trying to enter the TARDIS, the Cloister Bell starts to ring and Clara uses the telepathic circuit to trigger the TARDIS’ departure.
Exiting the TARDIS, which is in an unknown location, Clara finds herself in an old barn, where a child is in bed, crying under the covers. Clara approaches the child, but is forced to hide under the bed when two people enter and try and coax the child out of the room. Overhearing their conversation, she realises that the child is in fact the Doctor, and his guardians believe he’ll have to become a soldier as he lacks the potential of a true Time Lord. Back in the TARDIS, the Doctor wakes up and notices that Clara is gone and calls out for her, causing his younger self to ask who’s out there. Clara accidentally grabs the Doctor’s leg when he tries to get out of bed, and she realises she is the monster under the Doctor’s bed. After convincing the young Doctor that he is dreaming, she comforts him and identifies his fear as a constant companion that can bring out the good in him. She also reveals that one day he will return to the barn (as seen in “The Day of the Doctor”) in his time of greatest fear. Clara then returns to the TARDIS and makes the Doctor promise to leave without seeing where they have just been, leaving him unaware of what she has done.
After returning Clara to Earth and Orson to his original time period, the Doctor seemingly rejects the notion of the entity’s existence. Clara, meanwhile, goes to Danny’s home, where they mutually apologise and share a kiss.