Doctor Who: The Name of the Doctor

Those of you who keep up with my Doctor Who reviews are probably rolling your eyes at this point. “Yeah, we know that this guy has serious issues with the direction Steven Moffat is taking the series. We get it.” Well, that’s the thing. Though I only review the key episodes of the show, there were quite a few parts of the 2013 season I really enjoyed.

“The Rings of Akhaten” had some interesting character stuff in it as well as some nice higher sci-fi concepts, and “Nightmare in Silver” shows us that whatever issues I may have with it, Who is probably the closest modern equivalent we have to those groundbreaking ‘60s shows like Star Trek and The Twilight Zone – a show where respected sci-fi writers can just drop in to write episodes every now and again (John Scalzi, you listening? We know you’re a Whovian who has experience with writing dumb TV shows).

But it’s not that I hate the season finale – an episode which I just can’t help but refer to as “In the Name of the Doctor” – it’s that I feel it just doesn’t need to be there. In stories, things happen and people feel ways about that, but that just doesn’t seem to apply here, and none of it really amounts to anything. Some loose ends are tied up, and some new plot threads are established, but it doesn’t feel like enough to carry an episode. What we get is 45 minutes or so of empty, mildly entertaining television, and I know that the show can do something much better with much fewer resources.

Our episode starts with a big fiftieth anniversary montage – we see that current companion Clara Oswald is in fact “Eternal companion Clara Oswald”, who’s been helping the Doctor out secretly in all of his adventures, though he never notices her. How exactly this accounts for all the times Matt Smith’s Eleventh Doctor met previous versions of Clara is unclear, but I’ll let that slide – They can take this pretty dumb premise in whichever direction they want.

Except this. I’m not letting them take it one inch more in this direction.

Meanwhile in Victorian-era London, we see a crazed and decrepit Abdul Alhazred-type, reciting a creepy nursery rhyme (Moffat cliche! Take a drink!). He’s talking to Encyclopedia Green, the lesbian lizard leader of Shurfine Holmes, the little collection of quirky vigilantes who serve as the Doctor’s West Coast team. I don’t like them because they appear just often enough to count as series regulars…series regulars who never get any depth or development. They’re fine as single joke characters, but I really wish we could learn something serious about any of them.

She gathers Shurfine Holmes (Roll call! Encyclopedia Green! Li’l Miz Submissive! Aaaaand Komedy Klingon!) after she hears a message from a mysterious crazy man, who warns of “The Whisper-Men” before saying that a great secret of the Doctor’s has been discovered. Her group needs to call in more people on this – they knock themselves out to initiate a trans-dimensional conference call, which is exactly the sort of all-out crazy idea that I like seeing in Who.

After a short scene with the present day version of Clara (who this episode establishes as “the real one”), she joins in on this conference call and is introduced to River Song, who’s also there. Now, I like River Song because even though she’s also quirky and meant as a joke or plot device, she’s also given a lot of backstory and development, so we know her very well as a person. She’s a longtime ally of the Doctor, but at the same time she feels protective of him since she usually knows more about a given situation than he or his companions do.

Although she has one of the worst knowing smiles ever.

For instance, she now knows exactly which secret of the Doctor everyone is talking about, and is adamant that they stop investigating the matter. Unfortunately, she’s interrupted – it seems that “Whisper-Men” (Things in Victorian dress with creepy faces [Take a drink!]) have invaded Shurfine Holmes’ hideout, and somehow transport them to a strange, cavernous room.

Meanwhile, real Clara wakes up, to find the Doctor tending to her in his usual idiom. When She tells him the situation, he’s very outraged and scared – because it turns out that his greatest secret is his grave, on the previously-mentioned planet of Trenzalore, which is where Shurfine Holmes has been taken.

Showing your character exactly where they’ll die is an intriguing decision, from both an in-universe and out-of-universe perspective. In this case, I like it even more than usual because it’s a nod to the Hitchhiker’s Guide books. This is one few of the Moffat cliches I enjoy – the references come rarely and subtly enough that they haven’t gotten stale yet, and I like how they’re used to advance the story – in this case, the Doctor’s knowledge of his future death on Trenzalore (Yyyyyeah, he’s not gonna die in this episode) make him dive even further into his current quirky demeanor – which is not shown to be a very good thing, as we’ll see next time on Thanksgiving.

Now, in contrast to last time with Star Trek Into Darkness, my longest review to date (And I was thinking of doing a little “Science Fiction Double Feature” gag, until I remembered that they came out on different days), we’re over a third of the way into this episode and this review isn’t long at all. Now I like most of the events and occurrences in the episode, and all the resolutions to the overarching plots are pretty clever, but they don’t feel right without a plot to hang them on, and that’s something this episode definitely lacks.

The Doctor does some trickery to get the exact location of Trenzalore from Clara’s mind, and has to strong-arm the TARDIS into doing there because of the difficulty in crossing his own time stream. When he arrives at Trenzalore, with Clara, he finds it really atmospheric – the site of an ancient battle which permanently scarred the entire planet, with huge swaths of overgrown graveyards and an eerie orange light coming from…the Doctor’s grave, which is the gigantic and collapsing remains of his TARDIS.

Somewhere there’s one of those Adipose things, hearing the music of Strauss and hitting it with a bone.

This is all really cool stuff, and it’s where it really struck home to me that this episode didn’t have anything going on in it – because for the entirety of the episode this haunting setting will be used for absolutely nothing except background furniture. They could have set it back at the Pointless Abbey from the beginning of “The Bells of St. John” and it would make almost no difference to the episode.

Anyway, we see that Shurfine Holmes have been transported here by the Whisper-Men, who are shown to be the latest batch of goons with creepy faces from the Great Intelligence, who doesn’t even bother pretending he’s the same guy from those old, no-longer-missing episodes. He lectures them for a while about how the Doctor is evil, how he died here centuries from now (or something, tenses are very difficult when time travel is involved) after a long and bloody battle.

Meanwhile, Clara and the Doctor are going through the vast catacombs of the TARDIS (Catacombs? How does that make sense, given the events of “Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS”, when…ah, whatever), when Clara starts to get flashes of her past lives, and her past encounters with the Doctor. This distresses her, but not as much as the Great Intelligence. He flushes out Clara and the Doctor, and threatens to kill all of Shurfine Holmes unless the Doctor opens his own grave…which can only be done by speaking his true name.

I honestly don’t think anyone was expecting to actually hear his name in the episode, but the problem is Moffat doesn’t seem to know that. So there’s a huge dramatic buildup before the cop-out happens, the tomb opens anyway, and everyone investigates the Doctor’s grave.

Less “morbid”, more “unorthodox lighting scheme”, honestly.

Inside, they find something that actually does deserve dramatic buildup like the non-revelation of a secret we know will stay secret – the Doctor’s corpse. Or rather, his remains – a huge glowy tear in spacetime caused by his huge amount of time-traveling. This is pretty cool, and it gets even cooler when the Great Intelligence reveals his master plan – everything he’s done has been to gain access to the tear, so he can enter it and thwart the Doctor at every turn – negating all the good he ever did and destroying the universe several million times over because he just hates the Doctor that much.

It’s too bad this concept was already explored in “Turn Left” a few years ago, or else it would make a great plot for this episode. As it is, the solution becomes obvious relatively quickly: Clara has to jump into the tear as well, which will scatter copies of her all over the Doctor’s lifetime which have to defeat the Great Intelligence at every turn…although this doesn’t make any sense considering the copies of Clara we’ve seen before have no idea who the Doctor or the Great Intelligence is.

Now, I could have overlooked these problems with this resolution to Clara’s character if she had actually exited the show because of it – it would have been a fine way to exit the show, and I might have even forgiven some of her abject blandness – since it turns out she ends up being the average of every companion ever. But no, the Doctor has to rescue her, and so we join the real Clara, who’s hidden in some manner of moodily lit dry ice factory.

At the Doctor’s grave, he prepares to jump into his own timestream to save Clara, despite just going near the rift causing him to become dizzy from all the attendant paradoxes. As Shurfine Holmes all shout at him to stay, and the astral projection of River Song just kisses him, he jumps…


…and then everyone involved pretty much throws out the last 40 minutes of television. It’s almost like they were planning one of those mini-sodes to be released on the BBC’s website, only it was stretched out to full-length and they’re only now getting to the real point of it all. The Doctor joins Clara in the dry ice factory, where they hug and prepare to get out and avoid the universe-ending ramifications of what the Doctor just did…somehow. The episode ends with no clue to the audience on how they plan to escape, and the next one starts with them safe and sound like nothing happened.

Anyway, the Doctor doesn’t really say what the dry ice factory actually is, but since we see shadowy images of all of his incarnations, I assume it’s someone’s action figure collection. But as Clara looks at these collectibles, she spies an extra-rare limited edition. It’s an incarnation of the Doctor that no one has heard about before, who’s the Doctor’s greatest secret…Rowan Atkinson!

Nah, just kidding, it’s actually John Hurt, as the…Doctor we haven’t heard about before, who still doesn’t have a real name. He’s been called “The War Doctor”, “The Other Doctor”, “The Warrior”, “The Renegade”, and “Captain Grumpypants”. Since the first two sort of defeat the premise the Doctor lays down of being an incarnation who broke the Doctor’s own creed and giving up the right to bear his name, and the latter two sound like 70’s cop shows, I guess we’re stuck with the latter name as the closest thing to an official title. Doesn’t sound so funny now that you hear that, does it?

Ah well…this probably has the best ideas of any Who episode I’ve reviewed so far, but I still really don’t like it. Maybe I’ll have mellowed next time, after I see how Peter Capaldi is doing at Doctor-ing.

TWO THUMBS UP: The Doctor’s grave, the weird dream/seance thing

THUMBS UP: The resolution of Clara and the Great Intelligence’s arcs

THUMBS DOWN: The lack of a plot

TWO THUMBS DOWN: Shurfine Holmes, the non-endingUsers


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