Yowzah! What a finale! Hope you don’t mind going absolutely bonkers waiting until November 23rd, amirite? For an episode that suffered an awful lot of hype, “The Name of The Doctor” no only withstood it, but completely twisted our expectations. Like a good episode of Steven Moffat-penned Doctor Who should. Moffat has stumbled in the past and I’ll be the first to admit he’s the king of convolution, but in this finale he managed to not only rewrite all of Who history, but at the same time, leave it completely untouched. An impressive feat, indeed. I’m sure most you of sat there, staring at your television screen, mouth agape, just stunned as the credits rolled. And there’s no better compliment than our stunned silence.
But I’ve had time to sit and digest, and I’m not one for keeping quiet. First off, Clara, the “impossible girl.” The mystery surrounding her has hung like a shadow over this entire season. From the moment she appeared in “Asylum of the Daleks” – another absolute shocker that left us all scratching our heads and wondering how and why the new companion was appearing now, before The Ponds had even made their exit – to her role in “The Snowmen”, all the way to this opening montage. What a way to start! It’s a sequence I know Classic Whovians will be picking over again and again. It’s a sequence I made sure to watch more than a few times, because holy shit! There’s Clara and the First Doctor, and the Sixth, and the Fourth, the Fifth, the Second, the Third, and the Seventh! I mean, how is this possible!?
Here’s the even bigger surprise: Moffat tells us how it’s possible and the explanation doesn’t make my brain want to bleed. River Song, The Ponds’ exit, these have explanations that are very messy, but with Clara, I bought it, no questions asked. Sure, once we see her appear to every Doctor and learn The Doctor’s timeline is a portal anyone can enter what’s going to happen is basically telegraphed, but that doesn’t mean I loved it any less. In fact, I applaud its clarity. Jenna-Louise Coleman‘s portrayal of the companion has been so earnest that I never once questioned there was anything sinister or other-worldly about her. And there’s not. She’s a brave and loyal woman who when faced with a situation makes the right choice, and ends up saving The Doctor countless times. She’s an ordinary girl accomplishing extraordinary things, and it’s exactly how we hope we’d be were we to ever travel with The Doctor.
Episodes like this is where Moffat is leaving his mark on Who in a very big way. He wasn’t kidding around when he said this one was going to change everything, and it did, but not by negating everything that came before. We find ourselves at The Doctor’s tomb, the TARDIS – “What else would they bury me in!?” – with its bigger inside leaked outside creating an eerie monolith marking The Doctor’s final resting place, on Trenzalore. And it’s quite fitting because the feel of this episode is very much like a funeral in where we’re remembering those long dead. In this case, The Doctor, and all the lives he’s had and lost. You can see the grief, and pain, and sadness on his face when Clara unknowingly tells him his grave has been discovered. It’s an unexpected and heart-breaking moment, and it may also be Matt Smith‘s finest as The Doctor. For in that moment it’s possible to see all those years, all those lives weigh heavily on him.
And let’s be honest, for a second, we all thought his name was, “Please.” His name is spoken just before the doors to his tomb creak open, but not by him, by River (Alex Kingston). She appears in this episode after the events in The Library, an interesting choice because I’m sure there’s an alive River they could have pulled into the conference call. And how were they able to link up with her if she’s dead? Is it because she’s forever asleep? I don’t know, but see what I mean? Messy. Anyway, the not actually hearing The Doctor’s name could be a bit of a cop out, but it’s another instance of us expecting the wrong thing. When an episode’s got a title like, “The Name of The Doctor” and we’re promised to learn his biggest secret, of course we all jumped to the same conclusion. But we couldn’t have been more wrong.
The secret is his grave, because if there’s one place a time traveler should never go it’s where the traveling stops. And the name, well, the name is a choice, or a promise like The Doctor says, his real name is of a little significance. What’s significant is all the men he’s been, of which there have been many – “Bodies are boring, I’ve had loads of them.” – and the one who disgraced the name of The Doctor: John Hurt. There have been theories upon theories about who Hurt is playing in the 50th anniversary special, and it seems for the most part they’ve been right. He is The Doctor. Or at least, a Doctor, some forgotten regeneration, perhaps? That part isn’t very clear, but it sure makes for one hell of a cliffhanger.
To who he is there’s more than one possibility. Sure, he’s The Doctor, but which Doctor? Is he some forgotten Doctor from The Time War? Is he the man who came between Doctors Eight and Nine? Could he be Eight, aged naturally? You’ll notice the only past Doctor not to make an appearance this episode was the Eighth Doctor. An oversight? I’m not so sure. And what of his name, if he’s so undeserving of the title, The Doctor? Clara learned The Doctor’s name in “Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS” and since she’s now remembered that adventure, does she remember his name? We’ll be debating this from now until November, but what better way to keep us amped for the 50th anniversary.
Lastly, I’m going to include some final thoughts in a list because there’s simply too much to say about this episode and keep it condensed enough that someone would actually take the time to read it,
• Are we tiring of Vastra (Neve McIntosh), Jenny (Catrin Stewart), and Strax (Dan Starkey)? I might be, and this’ll sound cruel but I wished Jenny had stayed dead. It’s somehow cheapened by Strax reviving her so quickly.
• Coleman isn’t given a lot of comedy to work with in this episode, but I did love the bit with the candle.
• It’s interesting to note the crack the TARDIS received while crashing to Trenzalore stays with her till the end.
• And I find it hard to believe The Doctor never again alters the desktop theme of the TARDIS, but I understand they weren’t going to create an entirely new console room for this episode.
• Richard E. Grant is wonderfully menacing, though I did question why no one tried to stop him from stepping into the timeline even after The Doctor specifically said to stop him.
• The Whispermen. Creepy, but forgetable. I enjoyed the weird little rhymes they were repeating more than them. Reminded me of the Big Finish audio adventure, Zagreus.
• Is this the last we’ll see of River? It really felt like a final scene for her, and if so, it’s very sweet. It’s always been hard for me to accept there’s an actual romance between her and The Doctor, but their farewell was beautiful and sad.
I don’t know about you guys, but I’m watching this one again. Though not before watching this adorable little video of Matt Smith and David Tennant they released as a thank you for those who accidentally received their Season 7 DVD/Blu-rays early and somehow managed to keep these major surprises under wraps.
We’ll see you back here for the 50th Anniversary! Until then, stay tuned to Nerd Bastards for all the news, theories, and spoilers on Doctor Who over the coming months.