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The Name of the Doctor – Thoughts on the Doctor Who finale

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Doctor Who - Series 7B

Saturday night gave us the finale of series 7 (Steven Moffat’s 3rd season) of Doctor Who.  It promised us the answer to the “Impossible Girl” Clara Oswald and the big cliff hanger to lead us into the 50th year anniversary special.  Prior to it being aired I’d been following news on this with some enthusiasm as -and this is purely personal opinion- I think Steven Moffat is going to turn around one of the worst mistakes Russell T Davies made: The removal of Gallifrey and The Time Lords from the universe by the Doctors hand.

Moffat has been known for teasing the fans and it was pretty much accepted that the “The Name of the Doctor,” couldn’t be the thing Moffat was teasing; that would be too obvious!  Unless, of course, that is what Moffat wanted us to think, and the episode will actually reveal the Doctor’s name.  I can’t be that, can it?

You see what I am getting at?

Spoilers ahead.

tardis-tomb

Anyway, back on topic, I’d been following the build up to this episode with considerable interest.  I knew that there was a new Who monster: the Whisper Men, the return of the Great Intelligence, River Song, the answer to the question of who Clara is and two cliff-hangers.  Charlie Jane Anders (editor of io9) was allowed to see the episode (minus the final minutes) a week before airing and had said that if you liked Moffat’s Who then you’d love the finale, but if you were more of a Who puritan you probably wouldn’t.

I have to say I don’t really agree with that – I consider myself more of a legacy fan, I find I dislike a lot of what has been done to the Whoniverse, mostly by Russell T Davies, but I enjoyed the episode.  Moffat has steadied that ship during his term and I was delighted to see so many references to the past doctors in this episode.  I loved the fact that Clara told the first doctor which TARDIS to steal and that she has little scenes with each Doctor through time.  Seeing Patrick Troughton’s second Doctor run past her in what looked like a park in LA brought a genuine smile to my lips, and having the appearance of all 12 of the doctors with Carla as memory flashbacks was a lovely touch and a fitting tip-of-the-hat to the upcoming 50th anniversary special.

The question I am asking myself though is: Did I enjoy the episode because of the story, or did I enjoy it because of all the interaction with previous Who lore?  If I’m honest it’s probably the second question, the story itself I found to be weak in places and I’m very obsessive-compulsive when it comes to the particulars. That is not to say the story was bad though.

The episode opens with Clara in some sort of freefall, quoting a monologue on how she is the impossible girl and her reason for being is to save the Doctor.  We see her interact with William Hartnell as he steals a TARDIS, chasing Tom Baker and John Pertwee, shouting at Peter Davidson and Sylvester McCoy’s Doctors when they are in peril, Colin Baker’s Doctor running past her back in a corridor and finally Patrick Troughton’s Doctor running and bumping her shoulder as he passes her.  Excellent stuff.

We then open on a criminal in a cell in Victorian times singing a nursery rhyme about the Whisper Men, and then begging Madame Vastra to vouch for him to spare him the death sentence.  In return he’ll share some information on the Doctor and he proves it by giving her one word: Trensalore.  Madame Vastra, freaked by this, calls a ‘conference call’ by entering a dreamlike state through the use of soporific drugs, Jenny and Strax are also attending the call.  Clara, in the present day, received a letter from Madame Vastra that contains the soporific compound and she falls into a slumber to ‘attend’ the call, and the final attendee is none other than River Song herself.

Madame Vastra passes along all the information she found out from the criminal which alarms River Song immediately, but not before the new monsters, the Whisper Men, enter Madame Vastra’s house and kill Jenny while she is in the trance allowing her to attend the call.  She realises what is happening and warns the others prompting River to slap Madame Vastra and throw wine over Strax to wake them.  Both wake in the company of the Whisper Men who then also appear in the call beside River and Clara.  OK.  Pretty spooky so far, the Whisper Men look suitably scary and the conference call was typically ‘Whovian’ in nature so, moving along!

Clara wakes up and finds the Doctor waiting for her and tells him everything she has heard.  She tells him what the prisoner said: “The Doctor has a secret you know.  He has one that he will take to the grave, and it is discovered.”  The Doctor realises that this doesn’t mean his secret has been found, but that his grave has been found, and it can only be one place.  Trensalore.  It turns out though that visiting your own grave is the biggest time traveller no-no and could be very, very bad.  So, off they pop in the TARDIS to Trensalore, the Doctor reasoning that he owes Jenny, Madame Vastra and Strax for looking after him during his dark period when he lost the Ponds to history.

So after a bit of a kafuffle with the TARDIS they make it to Trensalore and find the Doctors grave, which turns out to be, could only be, where else but the TARDIS!  Did anyone notice that the TARDIS that served as the Doctors tomb still had the cracked window that happened when the TARDIS landed on Trensalore during the episode?  If you managed to catch that then it’s a clue that this has already happened, you know, one of those timey-wimey things!  At this point River shows up again telling Carla she is still linked to her via the conference call and through Carla helps the Doctor work out how to get to the grave while escaping the Whisper Men (this is the virtual River Song the Doctor uploaded to the library, he can’t see or hear her).  Meanwhile, Strax, Madame Vastra awake outside the Doctors tomb and Strax uses Sontarin technology to revive Jenny (turns out she had a shock induced heart attack).  When Jenny comes around the Great Intelligence shows himself in the guise of Doctor Simeon (Richard E Grant) along with the Whisper Men.

Killing Jenny and kidnapping the others was a ploy to make the Doctor travel to his grave.  It turns out that to enter the Doctors tomb (The TARDIS) you need a key, the key being the Doctors name.  So, when the Doctor and Clara show up the Great Intelligence demands the Doctor to say his name to open the tomb or the Whisper Men will kill the doctors friends.  During the dialogue between the Doctor and Simeon, as the Whisper Men slowly start to kill the Doctor’s allies, the doors open when River Song says the Doctors name – from inside the tomb of course, the viewer can’t know the Doctors name!

In the TARDIS control room we find the ‘body’ of the Doctor, although as the Doctor mentioned, “bodies are boring.”  What is actually left behind is the legacy of the Doctors travels through time, from Gallifrey, to Trensalore.  It’s represented as what I can only describe looks like a pulsating thorn bush of white light.  Every moment of the Doctors life is encapsulated here and it’s the one place the Doctor can’t be (as a time traveller) as it also contains his future.

The goal of the Great Intelligence is to enter the Doctors timeline, effectively killing itself but allowing it to kill the Doctor over and over and over again.  It does so and, as the Doctor lays dying repeatedly all the way through time, the consequences of a Universe without the Doctor unfold.  Jenny disappears, Strax tries to kill Madame Vastra before disappearing himself, countless planets vanish having never been saved.  It’s at this point Clara realises what she must do, how she becomes the impossible girl; she must enter the Doctors timeline too.

River tells her the consequences of that decision, that she’ll be ripped to shreds, spread over the Doctors life copies, of copies, of copies of herself and the actual Clara, the one here and now, will no longer exist.  Clara argues that this has already happened so it must be what she does and River has to agree, so over the Doctors dying protests Clara enters his timeline and puts right everything the Great Intelligence destroyed.

The Doctor, now himself once more, decides to enter his own timeline to save Clara, after all she’s saved him hundreds of times.  The virtual River tries to stop him at which point the Doctor acknowledges her presence, he could see her all along but chose not to as it was too painful for him.  They have a wee romantic exchange and River tells him that if Clara died entering his timeline then why is the conference call link between them still on.  The Doctor asks why and in typical River Song fashion we get the answer, “Spoilers!”  So into his timeline the Doctor goes.

The Doctor locates Clara inside his timeline and as they prepare to try and leave Clara notices a silhouette she doesn’t recognise whom the Doctor eventually admits is him.  Confused, Clara asks why she hasn’t seen this one before, and the Doctor tells her that this regeneration isn’t the Doctor, that in Gallifrey you take on a moniker and live by that code.  There have been 11 Doctors in time and one additional entity.  At this point the Silhouette states, “What I did, I did in the name of peace and sanity,” to which the Doctor agrees, and adds, “but not in the name of the Doctor!”  The figure turns around and on screen letters read: Introducing John Hurt .. as .. The Doctor.  The end credits then start by stating the 50th anniversary special will air November 23rd.

So all in all it was a pretty decent story, it’s an excellent lead in to the anniversary special that promises a lot and I’ll get to it later.  My one gripe with this episode, well two related gripes actually, are the Great Intelligence and the Whisper Men.  We know that the Great Intelligence is a non-corporeal thing that we have met twice before (The Snowmen and The Bells of St Johns).  Both times defeated by the Doctor, but if it can time travel then why not change that?  Probably due to the standard “fixed point in time” excuse, but is that something we should have known, and, really, would a Who monster care about crossing its own timeline?

Also, what purpose are the Whisper Men, and what exactly are they?  They have the hall marks of a great Who monster even if they are a complete rip off of the Gentlemen from Buffy.  I loved the look of them, I loved the fact that the speak (whisper?) in unison and everything they say is in nursery rhyme form.  Anyone who has seen the original Nightmare on Elm Street will lap that up.  As they work for (are?) the Great Intelligence we now know they can travel throughout time so there is definite repeat potential there, but they seemed more of a plot mechanic in this episode, there was no real substance to the threat of them which seemed to me an opportunity missed.  I really believe this is purely down to the program format, one forty-five minute episode per story just doesn’t cut it.  Oh how wish they would return to the three thirty-minute or two forty-five minute story formats of legacy Doctor Who.  How great would it be to have Doctor Who starting on Saturday and concluding on the Sunday?  The BBC would nail the ratings on two prime time evenings, but I guess the reality is that the production costs would prohibit this.  So, yeah, the Whisper Men: Great potential, poorly executed.

That was the only downside though, in general I thought the episode did exactly what is said on the box.  I knew there was no way Moffat would reveal the Doctor’s name and he didn’t, it was a play on words, cheating the audience perhaps, but it got everyone talking about it.  It was also the first time that the new series truly embraced the old series, there was actual interaction there on a personal level for the Doctor, not just the appearance of an old enemy.  Actually something tangible to link the incarnations of the Doctor.  For people born in the 90’s this probably wouldn’t mean all that much, but to me there was a sense of catharsis there, a real relation between Matt Smith and the 10 preceding Doctors, all sewn together by Jenna Louise Coleman’s impossible girl.  To me this is what made the episode special, almost like the first steps taken in healing, what I perceive as, the rift Russell T Davies caused when he launched the franchise reboot.

john hurt

Then there is John Hurt.  What a cliff-hanger that turned out to be! You can watch it again below. I had heard rumour that he was in the anniversary special as a Doctor, specifically the Doctor from the Time War.  This would make him Doctor number nine, meaning Matt Smith is actually Doctor number twelve.  This is huge.  This means that the next Doctor, as prophesised by the Master in Trial of a Time Lord, would be the Valeyard.  Indeed, the Great Intelligence mentioned this as one of the Doctors names earlier in the episode.  For those who don’t know the Valeyard, this is what the Master told the Doctor: “There is some evil in all of us, Doctor – even you. The Valeyard is an amalgamation of the darker sides of your nature, somewhere between your twelfth and final incarnation, and I may say you do not improve with age.”

I’m intrigued to find out how this now affects the Whoniverse, not that I am in any way wanting Matt Smiths tenure as the Doctor to finish anytime soon, but now I know this I kinda do too.

I wrote an opinion piece on Doctor Who some weeks back.  In it I argued that, despite its success, Russell T Davies sort of destroyed a lot of what I loved about Doctor Who and how I wished that the events ending the Time War, the imprisoning of Gallifrey in time, could be overturned.  It seemed a cheap move to me to say that all the Time Lords, the self professed protectors of space and time, all of a sudden became maddened oligarchs lead by the long dead Time Lord (that discovered time travel and helped the Time Lords evolve into the benefactors of the universe) and were about  to destroy space and time just to kill off the Daleks.  My one wish for the anniversary special was that Moffat would right this wrong.

I’m actually daring to hope this will now be the case…

Below you can also see Matt Smith and David Tennant talking about playing the Doctor.