[Review] - Doctor Who, Series 7 Finale Episode 14, "The Name of the Doctor"

It's not usually a good sign when the finale of a show is accompanied by a sigh of relief. Ideally, the end of a series should cause anger and anxious craving for more. But the seventh series of Doctor Who, which because of the screwed up way the episodes are funded and were broken up, dates back all the way to The Doctor, The Widow and the Wardrobe, has left me cold. It lacked a creative focus, which meant the writers weren't working towards any particular goal, leaving the characters to flounder in their stories, which by and large left me wanting.

So I had low expectations for this finale episode, buoyed by some vague comments from the creative team, and a personal belief that things like the Doctor's name and any specific information about him before he first appeared on screen in The Unearthly Child is irrelevant. So it was heartening when what we got was an impressively strong entry, probably the best of the current series, Moffat's best since series five, and one of the strongest finales the show has ever done. Not everything was perfect, mind. But a hell of a lot better then any episode we've had since The God Complex.

Hit the jump for the review, which contains spoilers that once visited their own graves. It was nice.

Moffat has, I hope, learned that the complexity of episodes does not to reflect of the complexity of the ideas the episode presents, and that you can have a linear, orderly and simple plot, which contains intricate, thought provoking and complicated ideas. Name is as simple a plot as we've gotten from Moffat in his time with the Doctor. Which is to say, not simple at all, but it was a definite step backwards from The Wedding of River Song, which was when the event horizon of needless plot pileups, abandoned half ideas and self one-upmanship was reached.

The episode brought together several elements of the show that have been at work since Moffat began writing for the series, and each was working at their best. River appeared, was minor, but effective. Less an instigator and more an emotional trigger. I've never bought the relationship between the two; I've never believed enough was done onscreen for me to believe he loved her any more then he's ever loved any other human. Saying that much happened off screen is a cheat, and it suggests that anything he did feel he only did because he was told he would, and he convinced himself it was true. This was compounded by the fact that River only ever appeared in episodes written by Moffat, and thus tended to focus on the series arcs, rather then slow, emotionally driven character pieces. Here though, I honestly believed he loved her, and she him (the latter was never in doubt though). I just wish that at some point we might have seen this raw sort of emotion from the Doctor towards her, to establish the building of that love rather then just it's final expression.

Vastra, Jenny and Strax finally lived up to what Moffat has simply assumed about the characters to this point, that the concept of them would be enough to carry their appearances. Here, they prove themselves worthy of the fans adoration, and prove why companions are important. Too often of late the Doctor has been required to be everything for the show: the knowledgeable, the feared, the afraid, while the companion just sort of tags along. The Victorian Trio contradicte and compliment each other, filling in the gaps the others leave. None would be the same without the others. And they all a marvelous. If nothing else comes out of this series, let it be the lesbian lizard lady and her potato headed sidekick (I'm going to miss writing that).

The total effectiveness of the episode is diminished due to the fact that the big conclusions of the episodes weren't conclusions to big events. If this series had been whole, or better structured, or had a focused plan rather then a laundry list of references it had to make, there would have been more of a build up to the events of Trenzalore. I'll say what I will about Russell T. Davies' time on the show (and have), but the man knew how to seed an idea. Moffat so wanted Clara to be Bad Wolf, or even the time cracks. He's still using the model that the last two years have been an active attempt to move away from. For Clara's actions, or her mystery, to be emotionally interesting, there has to be more of a build up. We encountered her twice, and spent the rest of the series just wondering aloud why, rather then encountering her more often (as might have been expected) or actually attempting to solve the mystery.

The same can be said of The Great Intelligence, once again played by the utterly wasted Richard E. Grant. I said it at Christmas, why hire someone like Grant to effectively do nothing? And as like Clara, setting the GI's history on the show aside, if we are to take him seriously as a threat to the Doctor, or if we are to believe he has spent untold millennia hunting down the Doctor's tomb, in order to burn him from existence, it would be nice to see some of the times the Doctor defeated him. Instead, we got the Snowman, and we got the wi-fi thing, and nothing else (Yeti's aside). No other appearances, no hints, no manipulations. The presence of this great and all consuming malevolent force just wasn't felt, it was absent, then suddenly he pops up and says "fear me," and our first reaction really ought to be "why?" If the series hadn't been so preoccupied with referencing as many old series bits and characters, they might have found a moment to reference the Yeti, or have Grant's image pop up screen more then once, or have his invisible hand working the machine. Why not the Whisper Men, his agents apparently. Their chilling appearance following the Doctor would have been a well set of bread crumbs.

The Whisper Men were arguably the biggest weakness of the episode, as they only served to remind us that they weren't the Silence. Where were the Silence, anyway? Has Moffat gone off them entirely? I see no reason they couldn't have been substituted in for the Whispers without hardly any difference. And considering the Silence were so intent on preventing the Doctor from getting to Trenzalore in the first place, you'd think they would have been on the scene. And why, exactly, did they not want the question answered (we now know that his name opens the tomb, but why would the Silence not want the tomb opened)? And, while we're on the matter, what took control of the TARDIS back in the Pandorica Opens.

This is where Moffat falls down, I'm afraid. Too many ideas, and not enough keeping track of them. Or, coming up with something that sounds good at the time, and not figuring out a way to follow through on it. Take Clara. Of all the possible explanations for how and why she was the "impossible girl," this one was undoubtedly the best. Those bouncing around the internet were stupid and infuriating and would have left a bad taste in our mouths. This one at least made sense (I use "sense" in a way that means almost exactly what it's meant to, but not quite). Though, Moffat needs to come up with a new way to explain things that doesn't involve crossing time streams. As plot devices go, that one gets one "get out of jail free card," and this was the revival's eighth or ninth go at it, so just stop.

However, this use wasn't consistent. Clara's previous appearances established that she had no idea who the Doctor was or memories of her "real" life, except maybe subconsciously. It is said in this episode that she was fragmented into a billion echoes of herself, reincarnated over and over. Not the souffle, but the recipe. But the various flashes of her encountering the other Doctor's have her knowing who he is, interacting with him, using knowledge she shouldn't have, even being inside the TARDIS. The Seventh Doctor never travelled with a Clara, or Oswin, so how can she be there, and be her. She can't, the show moments ago said she'd be a Clara, not the Clara. I don't care what crazy timey-whimey plot device you use, but at least be consistent about it.

Oh, and as an aside, 17 years ago Deep Space Nine did an episode where modern actors were spliced into the original Star Trek episode The Trouble With Tribbles, and it looked seamless. As much as it was nice to see all the Doctors again (classic anyway), how is it that the effect looked as rubbish as it did, with Jenna Lousie-Coleman so obviously on a green screen, and the original clips so obviously manipulated?

Also, I have a big problem with the revival's constant deification of the companions. Each is apparently the most important person who ever lived, instead of the point of them, in that they are just normal people doing extraordinary things. I refuse to accept the notion that Clara was such a powerful influence on the Doctor's existence from the beginning, for the reasons stated above, but because until just now, we've had no evidence of this. Again, if this series had done a better job seeding this plot, if the Doctor had, over the course of episodes, remembered running into her over and over again, I might have accepted it as anything but an example of fan wank. Fan wank that ruined the poetry of Neil Gaiman's revelation that the TARDIS chose the Doctor.

There was a lot in this episode that didn't make a lot of sense, as happens when you let the idea take control rather then the character, and forget to keep things grounded. How does Clara's presence somehow negate that of the Great Intelligence, without there being an eternal conflict between the two just out of the Doctor's line of sight? Where exactly did Clara drop into at the end? Was it the Doctor's mind, or was it a physical place, because both seem to be suggested. How did the Doctor remember the Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS, when that day never happened? Exactly how many times can characters be killed and brought back before death becomes completely pointless, yet we're still expected to believe there is a sense of danger on the show (even Amy got to live to death). All of that though is just water through the cracks, the price you pay for the really good stuff, and I probably shouldn't let it distract me.

I'm of the sort that believe, after fifty years, any attempt to reveal the Doctor's name is a pointless one. So when Moffat kept saying things like "his greatest secret will be revealed," my response was one of hesitation. I only foresaw any attempt to tackle this subject going badly. Happily, I was only looking at it straight on, and Moffat, showing a shade of himself that he hasn't really since getting the job a few series ago, was looking at it from another angle. That "The Name of the Doctor" wasn't literally his name, but rather more a philosophy, the code by which he has lived by during his time as the Doctor, is a much more satisfying way of exploring a very well known character. Mostly because it has depth and can be analysed, and isn't just "Trevor."

That the Doctor specifically considers one of his incarnations not to be The Doctor, that he so broke this code he regards him as an entirely different being, is a powerful statement of self loathing. And that the Doctor has knowledge of these actions suggests that it is a previous incarnation, and yet he's new to us. It should be reminded that the Doctor experienced the same sort of psychic flash in the control room that Clara did when she remembered the day that didn't happen. Did the Doctor receive a mind load of future knowledge, or is there another answer?

His greatest secret is another matter, and it all depends on what exactly is meant by the reveal that concludes the episode. My first instinct was the implication was that John Hurt (a brilliant choice, no matter how it all turns out) was 12, and thus the reveal of his greatest secret, the one thing the Doctor, and us as viewers, can never know: what comes next. The show has never given us a glimpse of what is to come beforehand without it being a massive cop out. Alternatively, there is an implication that Hurt is actually playing 8, the only Doctor whose fate is still unknown. He don't know how long he lived, and the exact circumstances of his death. All we know is that his actions ended the Time War.

So, the action he took in "the name of peace and sanity" may well refer to the struggle that brought a final end to the Time Lords, the first great addition the revival added to the mythos of the show, and a questions fans have been demanding the answer to ever since. Those actions, which burned Gallifrey from the sky, were certainly enough to make 9 a hardened, battle worn despot, and perhaps enough to make 11 hate himself for what he did so much that he exiled that entire regeneration to the bottom of his memory.As much as I long for Paul McGann to return to the role that he's only been able to explore in audio dramas, I desperately hope that Hurt is playing the aged version of that same regeneration, and that the 50th will take us into the heart of the Time War itself.

We'll find out, I expect, on November 23rd, and what exactly the Zygons have to do with it. See you then.
Share on Google Plus

About MR. Clark

Adopting the descriptor of "successfully unpublished author", MR. Clark began writing things on the internet in 2012, which he believed to be an entirely reputable and civilized place to find and deliver information. He regrets much.


Post a Comment