What's in a 'Name'?

Review of The Name of the Doctor
Warning: This review contains episode-specific spoilers and wild speculation about future episodes.

So many conflicting emotions. Parts of this finale were brilliant, and I really wanted to love the whole thing. I'm afraid I'm going to have to admit that I'm turning into something of a curmudgeon, though; this show is not entirely for me anymore.

I'm betting there are few Moffat fans (perhaps more specifically "River fans") who didn't adore this episode. For my part, as someone who has been a Doctor/River denialist rather than a shipper, the otherwise lovely bits of the story were somewhat tarnished by the saccharine (Brits would say "twee," I suppose) farewell between them.

I'll admit the way River was used through the rest of the episode was clever, and overall I like her. I've just never bought that there was a strong, romantic love between them (at least, not reciprocated by the Doctor), so while I was completely caught up in the "you can see me?" conversation, as it ground inexorably toward a big, wet smoochie, I found myself thinking, "Oh, no. Please don't. He's gonna - aw, damn!"

One thing that really gets me about this new, post-Library River (who knew that was even possible?) is the fact that we're left to conclude that she has literally been haunting him for years. I'm not sure I care for that idea. Makes him rather a jerk to ignore her that whole time, doesn't it? Is she less "real" - does she "count" less - because she's in the mainframe, and so it's OK for him not to think about her feelings at all? Way to respect the person you supposedly love, Doctor.

I really thought when I started writing that I wouldn't be such a grumpy gus, because I did like the episode quite a lot. The more I stop and think, though, the more points I find I want to make: the Great Intelligence didn't quite cut it as a Big Bad, because it hadn't been utilized enough in that capacity through the rest of the series; Clara's suggestion to the First Doctor that he steal a different TARDIS retcons The Doctor's Wife, and makes no sense because he has no reason to listen to this random stranger; listing the introduction of John Hurt "as the Doctor" at the end contradicts everything Smith's Doctor has just said; oh - and nothing about Dorium Maldovar's recitation about "the Fall of the Eleventh" at Trenzalore has been resolved.

Having put all those out there for further discussion in the comments as you all see fit, I now feel free to move on to the good bits - that is, practically everything else.

Let's start with the appearances of all the other Doctors. I really liked how the whole episode started at the beginning of the Doctor's journey, all those centuries ago on Gallifrey (though the colorization was a bit crap; they really should've gotten BabelColour to do it). Giving glimpses of everyone else up to and including Eight - like a geek treasure hunt - rounded out the opening beautifully.

I liked almost everything with the Paternoster Gang, too - especially the "conference call." The moment where Vastra introduces Clara and River is priceless ("Have you gone a darker green?"), and made for an interesting contrast from the meeting between Rose and Sarah Jane. The moment the peril really begins ("Sorry, ma'am. So sorry... I think I've been murdered.") was well and truly creepy. Perhaps most interestingly, the dynamic between Vastra and Strax changes drastically as Jenny lies dead. No longer a warrior but a grieving lover, Vastra is suddenly powerless at the hands of the warrior-cum-nurse. There's probably a master's thesis in there somewhere...

While I'm still irritated that neither the arc from Series Five nor that from Series Six has been resolved, at least this series is tied up in a relatively neat little bow. The whole idea of the Doctor's grave (thus, his death) was handled in a way I didn't entirely hate. (Wow. For someone who mostly liked this episode, I'm sure bitching about it a lot.) For instance, it's very rare that the Doctor and his TARDIS are so thoroughly at odds that she refuses to take him somewhere. It adds to the wrongness of what he's doing. And when he overrides her, he cracks one of her exterior windows (which looks disturbingly like the crack in the dead TARDIS with the size leak).

The Doctor himself takes a rather philosophical approach to the whole thing, saying, for example, that he always thought he'd retire and take up beekeeping or something (nice Sherlock Holmes reference there). He waltzes in, even knowing the danger, because he has to save his friends. When it comes down to it, though, he's not willing to save them at the cost of spilling the secret of his name. I suppose at this point he was counting on River to take care of business. Quite a risk.

Aside from finding out how our "impossible girl" went all Scaroth on the Doctor's timestream, the main point of the episode was to tie the Doctor's history to his future. His known (on screen) deeds are combined with a new batch of lore to create a larger, richer mythos. He is described as "the cruel tyrant ... the slaughterer of the ten billion ... the vessel of the final darkness," and "other names" are listed: "Storm, the Beast, the Valeyard." While we've heard of the Oncoming Storm and the Valeyard before, Beast is new (correct me if I'm wrong), and his supposed atrocities are almost certainly in his personal future - especially given the final reveal.

I personally think (on a good day) that Moffat's been playing a very long game (think back, for example, to Eleven's second adventure The Beast Below, in which he tells Amy "Look, three options. ... And then I find a new name, because I won't be the Doctor any more."). There are threads from two of the last three series that have demonstrably been left loose (one could argue there are a couple from the current series still flapping in the breeze, too). My bet is that we won't know how it all ties together until Smith leaves (next series?) and we actually get to "the Fall of the Eleventh" - assuming we ever do.

In the meantime, we've been given a wonderful retrospective on the whole fifty-year history of the show (even if it's committed some of the same "sins" as those of which The Movie is often accused; namely, being too self-referential and thus too difficult for casual viewers to latch onto). It might even be enough to spark interest in the pre-Hiatus era among fans who have previously only been exposed to the post-Hiatus stories. At worst, we ended the series with a "normal girl" for a Companion again, and some actual Doctor-driven intrigue to fuel fan theories for the next six months.

I'll keep my fingers crossed.

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Comments

Well, I don't know. I was disappointed in the entire Series 7B in general, and this episode was no exception. This one started out good, with glimpses of the other Doctors, but as you said, the entire idea of the TARDIS choosing the Doctor no longer makes sense. And so much else didn't make sense. Wouldn't the Doctor have remembered her from his other incarnations, even if she was just a peripheral person?

This just doesn't seem like the show that was re-started in 2005. I have been watching those again, and there are so many differences. Not all of those episodes were perfect, but something seems different, overall here, eight years later. Maybe, as you suggested, the show is not entirely for me, either.

Also, enough about the name of the Doctor!!!! Don't build all these episodes around it in varying seasons unless you plan to resolve the thread already. Just sick of it being this big, big secret. They have made it such a huge thing that no name can possibly amaze or shock us, so now there is this conundrum where they can't reveal it.

The Doctor can't have done anything too bad, or he wouldn't remain the hero. The only thing that I think it's about is the Time War, and his guilt over having stopped it (condemning his people to death) and time-locking it so it can't be changed.

Maybe my expectations were too high, but I thought the episode would be better. It seemed anti-climatic and revealed nothing besides Clara's identity. It might seem like I am minimizing that, but I'm really not. I am really having trouble putting into words why I didn't like this episode. At least the ending wasn't bad like so many other eps this series.

Two other things: doesn't this sort of negate a lot of what the Doctor has done, or does it just negate what the Great Intelligence tried to do in the Doctor's time stream? Second: Is this the last we are to see of River Song?

I see Series 8 has been confirmed with Steven Moffat, but not Matt Smith yet.

By Tree (not verified)
mrfranklin's picture

As far as I'm concerned, Moffat has tried to make everything too epic. Yes, there is a lot that didn't get resolved, and it's wearing on me, too. His name has always been in the background, since 1963. No one particularly took note of it until the last couple of years, though (starting with River's introduction), when Moffat started beating on it all the time.

Regarding Clara, I choose to interpret the fact that Eleven was confused about her and didn't recognize her in The Snowmen as proof that he never "saw" her in any other incarnation. (That's my story, and I'm stickin' to it.)

I think we're supposed to conclude that Hurt's "Doctor" is the one who ended The Last Great Time War (god, I hope he's the Valeyard instead, though). We'll see what they do with that; it has at least potential to be really good.

I thought Clara's entrance into his timestream just negated the GI's mischief. And I'm still looking for more of River. After all, we still don't know when she learned his name!

As for Series 8, I've seen Matt and Jenna both listed as confirmed to return.

By mrfranklin

Yes, too epic. And that is how I feel, weary. It seems like viewing is becoming difficult rather than enjoyable. It's just too bad. Some of these episodes this year were painful to watch.

Yes, I'm really hoping River will still be around! I'm still not that excited about Clara. Just feeling disappointed. :-(

By Tree (not verified)
mrfranklin's picture

I got the feeling from several episodes that they were like cotton candy: sweet and delicious at the time, but afterward - there was no "there" there.

I liked Clara fine as a Companion, but loathed her as plot device. Hopefully next series will be better in that respect.

By mrfranklin

...I'm at about the same point as I was at this time in the RTD era. I'm really loving the series under this showrunner, but I'm also really looking forward to the next showrunner because I'm a little too used to the way this one does things.

Moffat is doing clever, breathtaking scripts that are almost so dense, you have to watch them three times just to unpack everything. It's exhausting trying to take it all in. I love it, but I'll be glad to see us to to a slightly more leisurely Doctor. Also, I think it's better to ignore everything Moffat says about the series. He's clearly doing a Stan Lee, promising that every episode will be unbelievable and over the top and like nothing you've ever seen before. Take it all with a bucket of salt and you'll feel much better about the series.

By John Seavey (not verified)
mrfranklin's picture

Yeah, I've learned basically to ignore Moffat's comments. He's always either trying to hype it over much, or making copious use of misdirection. ~shrug~

I can totally see where you're coming from, though. "Good stuff; when do we get something different?" I'm still hoping Moffat ties all his series together by the end of the next one, and then makes way for someone new. Time will tell.

By mrfranklin

I'll agree with you that, if you're not a fan of River, or specifically, her relationship with the Doctor, parts of this episode might irk you. Personally, I've always been a bit of a shipper. A bit. I am of the mind that he's not the "one true love" type. I mean, really. One thousand years of time and space? Relationships come and go. And nobody knows it like the Doctor.

I didn't get the impression that she'd been haunting him for years. Maybe a memory, but not HER. She was a close to Time Lord as he was going to find after the Time War. *shrug* Does/did he love her? In his own way, I think. As I said, he's not, to me, the "one true love" type. If I thought he was, that'd make me no better than the OMG ROSE fangirls. Ugh.

Right after the episode, I got annoyed by a "fan" that seemed to be trying to pit writer against writer when he asked Neil Gaiman if he was angry that Moffat pretty much ret-conned "The Doctor's Wife" in that the TARDIS didn't choose the Doctor. Neil handled the question brilliantly, and in a way that didn't humiliate the asker (though the guy deserved it, in my opinion). He reminded us that The Great Intelligence had already rewritten everything by going into the Doctor's past. This left Clara with no choice but to go and fix it, making sure the Doctor went into the correct TARDIS. Besides, if you were to aske the Old Girl, she'd probably STILL say she chose him.

And the "fall of the Eleventh"? How'd he get down to Trenzalore? He turned off the TARDIS anti-grav. They fell. Really, if you haven't figured out by now that Moffat plays with words and makes small things sound bigger than they really are, you've not been paying attention. "The Bells of Saint John". Remember that?

Also, there are some things about Clara that have NOT been answered. Those two missing years in her book. Why? Who gave Clara the number to call the TARDIS? We always assumed it was River, but she didn't know River, so it wasn't her.... And why doesn't the TARDIS like her? I want to say it's because of the paradoxes....

By unlimitedricepudding
mrfranklin's picture

Let's start with the "haunting" thing. Vastra asked her whether the Doctor had "still" not acknowledged her, and River confirmed he hadn't. That says to me that post-Library-River had been hanging around the Doctor for some significant period. Whatever - up to interpretation.

I think Gaiman's reply makes perfect sense. And from a TARDIS's point of view... well, we don't understand how the mind of such an entity works at all, so there's no telling how she perceived it. :)

Yes, yes... I got the lame-o joke about the "fall." I choose to believe that this wasn't all we'll see of Trenzalore, though. Nothing else about the prophecy works, even with Moffat's dumb play on words. I have been paying attention. I just don't want the resolution to have been this pathetic.

And of course there's more to find out about Clara. I don't believe the missing years are particularly important (she was busy in school and didn't think about it for a long time, or whatever), but I am still curious about who gave her the number. Also, I've been assuming it's the fact that she was "impossible" and split through time that soured the TARDIS, but I wouldn't complain if it turned out to be something else - as long as it was interesting! :)

By mrfranklin
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