Doctor Who: The Name of the Doctor (7.2.8)

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The Doctor has a secret he will take to the grave. It is discovered.

A stunning season finale that makes sense of this message, and explains the impossibility of Clara, wrapped up in a dark, complex, emotionally intelligent, and moving episode by Steven Moffat. It also features running glimpses of all the previous Doctors – William Hartnell in colour! – and some of their voices as part of the Doctor’s timeline. And if that’s not all you could wish for, it reveals another Doctor we’ve never seen before. This episode is about echoes in time, space, and the lives of these fascinating characters. Clara is the girl from Asylum of the Daleks, as we know when she tells Artie and Angie, “This time I will be souffle girl…a souffle is not a souffle, a souffle is the recipe.”

You know it’s going to get complicated when the opening scene is Gallifrey in the distant past, and William Hartnell’s Doctor is prevented from nicking a faulty Tardis by Clara. How did she get there? Well, it starts in 1893 London when Madame Vastra and Jenny receive the above message from a murderer. A dream conference call, with Trax, Clara, and River attending in spirit, literally in River’s case, is attacked by the white-faced,vampiric Whispermen, led by the Great Intelligence in the guise of Dr Simeon. They kill Jenny’s sleeping body, and take them to the Fields of Trenzalore, where Trax employs his medical skills to revive Jenny. River and Clara, lead the Doctor to them via a telepathic link with the Tardis.

Trenzalore is not a place the Tardis wishes to visit, since it’s a huge graveyard, site of the Doctor’s last battle and his final death. No wonder she refuses to land, and the Doctor has to make her fall to earth instead. Neither is the Doctor chuffed at the prospect – for a time traveller, it’s a place to be avoided at all costs – but he must rescue his friends.

Pursued by the Whispermen, they enter his tomb – the huge, grotesque ruin of the Tardis in the future – through a secret door in River’s gravestone. It has no business being there, but River knows about it, as she seems to know about so much. She prompts Clara with the information, apparently invisible to the Doctor, though he knows she’s there all along.

They’re re-united with Madame Vastra, Jenny, and Strax outside the control room of the Tardis/Tomb, where they are captured by the Great Intelligence. He wants to open the door, the key to which is the Doctor’s name, and he echoes Dorian the Blue Bloke when he asks, “Doctor Who? Doctor Who?” He tells his Whispermen to stop the hearts of the Doctor’s friends unless he gets an answer. River says the word that opens the door, but we don’t hear it.

There’s no body inside, just a column of raw pulsing energy where the central column of the Tardis would be. Because time travel causes damage, this is “the scar tissue of my journey through the universe, my path through time and space.” It is the Doctor’s time stream, peopled by all his past and future regenerations, singing with their voices.

The supreme prize for the Great Intelligence, who walks into it so he can destroy the Doctor’s work and happiness. (Cue more Doctors). As Madame Vastra says, “Simeon is attacking his entire timeline. He’s dying all at once. Dear Goddess, the universe without the Doctor! There will be be consequences.” And there are: Jenny is once more dead, Strax has reverted to being her enemy, before dying himself, and the stars are going out in a nod to Arthur C. Clarke’s story, The Nine Billion Names of God.

Clara steps into the timeline to rescue the Doctor in all of time and space. This is where she becomes the impossible girl, fragmented into echoes of herself, each one unaware of her past lives. While Dr Simeon is destroyed by his experience within the time stream, Clara is left lost and alone when her job is done.

Time now for the Doctor to enter his own stream and call her back with the leaf that brought her parents together in her current existence. Clara and the Doctor are re-united, just in time for her to see a figure with his back turned to them, also the Doctor

Doctor: The name I chose is the Doctor. The name you choose, it’s like a promise you make. He’s the one who broke the promise. He is my secret.
His Secret: What I did, I did without choice, in the name of peace and sanity.
Doctor: But not in the name of the Doctor.

This opens up endless possibilities. Could he be from the Time War, when Gallifrey was destroyed along with the Daleks? Then he turns round, showing himself as a ravaged old man, and the legend unfurls, “Introducing John Hurt as the Doctor.”

Well wham, bang, thank you ma’am, the Moff knows how to end on a cliff-hanger.

I hope you don’t mind the plot summary. So much is happening that I needed to get the bare bones laid out to think about it properly. Part of the reason for writing these reviews is to get my own thoughts about the series in order. I loved the way it brought so many themes together.

I’m glad the relationship between the Doctor and River has been resolved. It was all a little unsatisfactory that she disappeared from the series after their marriage. The Doctor made a copy of her in the Library after her death, and didn’t say goodbye, because “he doesn’t like endings.” He admits he did not visit her because “I thought it would hurt me, and I was right.” River wanted a proper goodbye and she gets one here, along with a good snog, in the Doctor’s promise to “see you around, Professor River Song.” I don’t think her echo will fade away.

There were other touching moments between Madame Vastra and Jenny. Madame Vastra is distraught at Jenny’s two deaths. Her reply to Strax, when he heals her the first time, is telling.

Strax: The heart is a relatively simple thing.
Madame Vastra: I have not found it so.

As for Strax, I laughed out loud at his idea of a good weekend off – having a brawl in a Glasgow pub – and Madame Vastra’s thoughts on the matter: “I wish he’d never discovered that place.”

The Doctor and Clara are now bound by deep ties of gratitude. While she has saved his life in all of time and space, he has rescued her from fragmentation within the time stream. What’s next for them, and will Clara feel the same way about John Hurt if he shows up as the next Doctor?

It’s a long time to November 23rd.

This post has been powered by Irn-Bru, the beverage of champions. It gets you through.

6 thoughts on “Doctor Who: The Name of the Doctor (7.2.8)

  1. This was another of those episodes that I had to watch twice just to enjoy. Couldn’t enjoy it the first time because there was too much stuff going on. Strax’s dialogues is the best. He says the funniest shit. That final John Hurt title screen was awful. It was just silly. And introducing is a credit for an actor’s first screen appearance, for one. John Hurt ain’t new to acting. I understand what they meant but was there not a way to say that w/ dialogue. Or after the To Be Continued panel. Because it looked out of place.However it makes sense out of the pictures of 10 & 11 together from the 50th since he is in his own timeline.

    My favorite part is when Clara stops the young Doctor from stealing a Tardis that doesn’t work but before the chameleon circuit is fried on it, so it looks so weird. And I liked when he says “They’d never bury my wife out here.” and also his goodbye to River.

    After rewatching the entire season. Journey to the Center of Tardis has become one of my favorite eps. And it’s the only one that foreshadows the finale.

    Good season. Not Moffat’s best but still very good.

    • Yes, it takes several viewings to catch all the nuances and connections. You can’t say that about many TV shows. Not sure what to think about John Hurt, where he fits in and so forth. Presumably he’ll in the 50th anniversary episode, along with Matt Smith and as many other Doctors as they can squeeze in. I hope the companions/assistants get a look in – they’re just as important. There wouldn’t be a story otherwise.

      Talking of companions/assistants my favourite moment was the deeply embarrassing introduction of River and Clara, where they circled each other warily, and Clara seemed miffed at being called an assistant. Madame Vastra was blushing, or the Silurian equivalent thereof. Which Strax, being the sensitive chap he is, pointed out.

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  3. Once again, I’m enlightened! Our download usage doesn’t allow for watching each episode twice, and you need to watch it more than once to understand it, even, as Mel says, just to enjoy it. The Doctor’s and Clara’s regular rapid-fire delivery makes it harder to pick up the dialogue. Here’s another interesting take on the episode: http://www.thenerdcave.com/?p=4700

    • I watch each episode at least 3 times. First to get the general drift, a second time to make notes and write the review, and a third time to sit back and enjoy all the nuances. Often I find things in the third viewing that I wish I’d put in the review. And often a fourth time at the end of week, just before the next one.

      I would hate to have a rationed internet. It’s bad enough that internet service here is crap, adequate at the best of times and often slow as treacle, so it’s sometimes impossible to watch on iPlayer. Thank you for the link. I was surprised to read that Christopher Ecclestone is not going to be in the great 50th Jamboree. He’s one of my favourite Doctors, perhaps because he and Rose brought the series back to life and robust good health.

      I’ve just been watching John Hurt as Caligula in a re-run of I, Claudius.

      • I too was disappointed that Christopher Ecclestone is not taking part in the 50th celebrations. Pity. I’ve always liked him and he was an exceptionally good Doctor. It actually took me a while to accept David Tennant after him, but then Tennant became my favourite. John Hurt was a surprise! But a good choice, I think. Brings gravitas back to the role. Matt Smith made it his own, I know, but I couldn’t help feeling he was Doctor Who Lite. I know you won’t agree!

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