Doctor Who – The Name of the Doctor

As usual, hastily-written thoughts straight after viewing the episode for the first time…

Spoilers for Doctor Who – The Name of the Doctor

Where to begin? I appreciated it in total, even if parts of it were extremely infodumpy, and the plot was quite short and linear. But the plot was just a means to an end, and the end included some interesting ideas.

I approached this episode with some trepidation about the Impossible Clara. Last season had River Song turn out to be essentially a monomaniac whose entire life has centred on the Doctor, and that diminished her as a (strong, female) character in my view. If it had turned out that Clara had always existed only to save the Doctor I’d have been quite uncomfortable. Thank god therefore that Clara remains (or at least starts to become) a living breathing person who freely chooses to save the Doctor. And thank further gods that she was saved.

My remaining quibble with Clara, and one that undercuts the emotional impact of her sacrifice, is that I still feel like we hardly know her. She’s a collection of broad brush strokes only. The mystery about her, the mixed admiration and distrust with which the Doctor views her, has only distanced her from the viewer. I hope that now that Clara the Enigma is dispensed with we can move on to discover Clara the Person. There are times, Mr Moffat, when it’s okay for a character just to be a normal human being.

And while we’re offering thanks, hurray for Jenny not being dead, both because she’s a likeable character and because of the cliche of killing another gay character. Pitfalls avoided all round.

(Coming back to River for a moment, I liked that this was the ‘saved’ version since that’s both novel and thematically relevant to Clara — but why is it seemingly not possible for the ‘alive’ version of River meet him again? Is it part of the Amy-Rory New York tangle? Or did I misunderstand?)

Structurally this episode is a long, loong chunk of set up and then a series of set pieces: first the ‘name’ standoff outside the Tardis tomb, then Mr G Intelligence’s supervillain moment, Clara’s sacrifice, and the final revelation/cliffhanger. It’s all a bit of a souffle, but fortunately a fairly well cooked one with some hearty ingredients. (I’m not sure that metaphor made a lick of sense so I’ll move on.)

What I love is the fact that the title of the episode doesn’t relate to us learning the Doctor’s name at all. It relates to the meaning of his name. The choice it represents to live up to an ideal. To act in the name of the Doctor. We’ve often seen that the Doctor brings out the best in others. Here we see that he brought out the best in himself. This blog summarises things very cogently. I’ve seen a comment on Twitter that this revelation gives Hartnell a lovely arc as he develops from his initial rather selfish and devious persona to a more rounded and heroic one over time: he’s in the process of ‘becoming’ the Doctor. Pure retcon of course, but it makes a certain amount of sense. And IF the assumption is correct that it was during the Time War that John Hurt’s Doctor failed his ideals (I’m not quite convinced) then we could even see Tennant’s “Time Lord Victorious” speech as a kind of relapse.

All of which gives the 50th anniversary much to play with. If the script lives up to the premise then it could be a story about the very essence of what it means to be the Doctor. I think that sounds promising.

I haven’t even mentioned the flashbacks yet. Just insert the obligatory fanboy squee here. Sure the CGI and colourisation was a bit variable, but the concept. Just knockout. Lovely to see every single Classic Doctor represented (but not the modern incarnations, though to be fair we were treated to impersonations of Eccleston and Tennant last week.)

I’m not entirely convinced that this episode dovetailed perfectly with everything that’s been referenced or foreshadowed before, but I can’t be bothered to go back and check. Silence certainly did (start to) fall when the question was answered. Not quite clear how this relates to Tardis imploding at the end of season 5 though.

What else?

Matt Smith was on superb form throughout, particularly breaking down in tears when he knew his secret was out (a secret that, for once, justified the emotion).

Strax is funny but remains just the wrong side of sitcom for me, where Vastra and Jenny managed to stay the right side.

Almost any continuity flaw or unlikely escape in the old series can now be explained by a combination of the Great Intellligence and Clara working throughout the timeline. Better late than never, I suppose!

In conclusion. A weakish plot but a very strong story, and enough crowd pleasing moments to fill the Tardis.

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