Doctor Who #915: The Name of the Doctor

"It's hard to leave when you haven't said goodbye."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired May 18 2013.

The Doctor and Clara visit his tomb on Trenzalore and the mystery of the Impossible Girl is explained.

REVIEW: Well this is a doozy. We learn the secret of the impossible girl, but not, as the title implies, the Doctor's name (collective sigh of relief?), so we might as well start there. The Great Intelligence, working through yet more animated minions (still not Yeti; these ones look like the Trickster in a top hat), forces the Doctor to his grave site to enact what is possible the most epic nihilistic revenge scheme ever, entering the Doctor's time stream and ruining every moment of his life simultaneously. If you think that's nonsense, I'll direct you to several multi-Doctor stories where hurting one of him affects the latest model strangely but doesn't immediately rewrite history. Changes have to navigate a twisted road, I imagine. Clara jumps into the time stream after the Intelligence and, from where I'm standing, replaces its meme entirely (she appears  where it did) which fixes everything. In some cases, she has to interact with the Doctor, for example guiding him to the right TARDIS (I'm thinking the Intelligence made a switch and that he didn't need Clara there originally), but most of the time, he doesn't see her (which certainly alleviates some of the paradoxes; and that's why I think she replaces the G.I. which is enough to save the Doctor). Obviously, these are fun sequences because we get to see classic Doctors integrated into the action. It's not quite Trials and Tribble-ations - the variable image quality would probably make that very difficult - but it's still squee-worthy.

The episode also brings back the Victorian crew, and gives them an intriguing means of communicating with allies from their future. What is especially effective is Jenny's sudden realization that she forgot to lock the doors before they went into their conference trance, and getting murdered while at the table. That's chill-inducing. Unfortunately, they undo it after an almost too-long delay with Strax's nursing skills. It's like they lost their nerve. Thinking about a spin-off perhaps? Clara will survive this and Jenny survives her death as well, and hey, the Doctor's death will be undone too (in a while; though you gotta admit that's an awesome idea for his tomb), so the one goodbye that feels real, even though it isn't really, and yet it is... ok, I got a little lost in the syntax there... is River's. Her appearance in a season finale is no surprise. What IS a surprise is that they put in a call to the River that's already dead, the one "saved" in the Library's computer. I get the feeling this is the very last we see of her. That perhaps the Doctor's used up all her days (he's had time) with great dates and adventures, but that there are no moments he can squeeze into her life anymore. He refers to her as an "ex", and talks about not letting himself talk to her even though he feels her (wi-fi?) presence. He's a widower. And that last goodbye is the first kiss he's actually initiated that didn't have a plot function (transfer of energy or DNA, or sending someone back in time). She wants him to say goodbye, but as much for her as for him, wants him to say it like they'll see each other again momentarily. I found it entirely touching.

We do need to talk about the ending, don't we? Because one of Moffat's great strengths as a showrunner is also a weakness in terms of storytelling. He loves to keep the audience guessing and talking through whatever hiatus we're forced to endure, so the danger is that resolutions will not meet expectations. That's not really a problem here, but we do get one of those ultimate talking point cliffhangers, the appearance of "John Hurt as The Doctor" (has a credit ever been used as a cliffhanger before?). In the real world, we'd have to wait months for a resolution. For people shotgunning episodes on one go, or like me, rewatching after the confetti has settled, do these moments really stand up? The episode could, in fact, have used a couple more minutes at the end to pull us out of that moment, seeing as The Day of the Doctor ignores it completely! I felt lost when the 50th Anniversary special started, which isn't a good starting place. Some kind of pull-out from the Doctor's mindscape (itself inexplicable, though see Theories) might have been in order, but we had to end on the most shocking image possible. However, I'm less confused than I was first time 'round. The Doctor explicitly states that he can use the leaf emblematic of her own time stream to rescue her from his, and it seems entirely possible for them to walk out of there even if his allies aren't too confident. So that's what happened while we were watching the credits roll.

THEORIES: So where does Clara end up at the end of The Name of the Doctor? Is it really the Doctor's mind? It can't possibly be because she couldn't exist there physically to be brought back. It does seem to conform to his memories, however, and contains every good day and every bad day of his life. Past incarnations run around and in the War Doctor's case, can perhaps be interacted with. But we also have to remember we're in the Doctor's time stream. When the Doctor enters his time stream, he doesn't then appear everywhere in his own life, so presumably, he's got more control than that. So maybe he created this nexus from which different parts of his life can be accessed - like a structured version of the vortex Clara falls through - where he can pick up the original Clara after her echoes have split off. If he moved from this nexus to anywhere but his original starting location, he would create a destructive paradox, but whatever he pulls from his timeline and into this space, it's merely an echo. That's what the leaf he uses to focus Clara's mind must be, something pulled from their shared memories (and a handy symbol of what just happened to her) which makes her come to him, so he doesn't have to take a step in any direction. In effect, we're in the time stream's antechamber, just a step away from the tomb of Trenzalore. (And yes, that tomb will be undone, but let's wait for The Time of the Doctor to discuss that thorny issue, ok?)

The DVD features five mini-episodes that act as teasers for this episode, or else use elements from it. She Said, He Said is a rather promotional clip, not to be taken literally, with Clara and then the Doctor speaking their thoughts aloud while walking through the season's prop room. It teases the mysteries about to be revealed, but the only bit that really stands out is Clara saying that traveling with the Doctor, she has to keep herself from falling in love twice a day. She succeeds where other companions have not. In Clarence and the Whispermen, the madman in jail who give Vastra Trenzalore's coordinates is visited by Great Intelligence's faceless men who give it to him in the first place. The Inforarium sees the Doctor take a page from the Silence (not sure I like that, but it's neat) and remove himself from an illicit information dealer's stores, not by wiping the database, which is apparently impossible, but by making people forget the information if they ever come across it. Clara and the TARDIS is a ridiculous piece with the TARDIS beeping at Clara like it's R2-D2 (one Star Wars reference too far, Mr. Moffat) and keeping her from her bedroom. It turns into this insane piece thing with multiple Claras lost in time within the box's corridors, which has only ever happened when time rifts were in play, so... silly. As for Rain Gods, a repurposed scene from Gaiman's The Doctor's Wife which used to feature the Ponds, the Doctor and River are soon to be sacrificed by the natives of a rainy planet when lightning strikes and saves them. It's so slim, I don't know why they even bothered shooting it.

VERSIONS: The original broadcast ended on "To be continued... November 23rd". The DVD omits that second card.

While the references to the past and the solution to the Clara mystery are satisfying, the episode falls short of greatness by never quite committing to its story beats.


Toby'c said...

Now I'm wondering if Clara ended up somehow getting involved in the events of The Angels Take Manhattan (or maybe Invaders From Mars). It would explain that one Clara showing up in 1940s New York (though not why she was calling herself Connie).

Siskoid said...

She was also on the Titanic. No idea if she met the 9th Doctor there.

Anonymous said...

The big reveal about Clara did not justify all the build-up. Again, Rory remains the gold standard for assistants, because he was mostly a normal guy who stepped up again and again.

Now if Matt Smith were in the habit of cuddling with Rory and calling him "my Impossible Boy", and every time Rory showed up there would be a fanfare of trumpets, no thank you.

Remembar Okona from TNG? Of course you do, they made sure you couldn't forget that he was a dashing rogue, by coming right out and telling you every five minutes. You know who was genuinely awesome because they didn't play it up? Miles Edward O'Brien. He was so nonchalantly awesome that even his cooler version from the evil beard universe was just like him. O'Brien was the best of all the space Irishmen (and as you may recall from another painful second season episode, there were a LOT of them).

Freddy said...

The best part of this was definitely the River Song goodbye, which I watch over and over again. I thought the "spoilers" was going to pay off in The Time of the Doctor (I'll comment then).

Oh, and Archie, the guy Strax was fighting in Glasgow at the beginning, my Mother-in-laws cousin, meet him from time to time at family occasions. Was brilliant to point him out to the kids.

Siskoid said...

Haha that's awesome.

I'll wait for your comment in a few days time.

Madeley said...

I LOVED this episode. It was the first time since the RTD era that I felt that Moffat was tapping into the magic of the show. Maybe it is a bit too scattershot to stand on its own, but as a precurser to the 50th Anniversary, it does the job. The parts with the First Doctor, and the way it wholeheartedly plugged into the history of the other incarnations, really got me fired up. To the point that, after a number of years of not really watching any classic Who, I started on a binge that continues even a year later.

I'd avoided any spoilers about who John Hurt was, so it was a COMPLETE shock when he turned up, and the implications of his identity. It was a fantastic mind-blower for me, and made me really excited about the show in a way I hadn't been for a loooooong time. It was a reframing of what we thought we knew, the kind of twist that writers like Mark Waid are so good at in comics, and the first really Moffatty thing I'd seen him do in an age.

LiamKav said...

In a lot of ways the impact of this episode has been dulled by coming just before the 50th anniversary, but it's worth remembering... this episode begins with William freaking Hartnell stealing the Tardis! When did you EVER think we'd see that?

Andrew Gilbertson said...

Glad I wasn't the only one thinking Trickster- I was a bit disappointed by the lack of connection.

I like to think that the stars going out were a result of the Doctor's defeat in Logopolis, but of course that's just head-canon.

Once again, no love for 6. (Or 8/9, but 8 would get his shortly and 9 was being a jerk, which is probably why he got snubbed. ;-) ) No episode, and no actual clip. Poor Colin Baker, continuing to get screwed over in perpetuity. Additionally, as a major Troughton fan, it is disappointing that, thanks to the 5 Doctors, Troughton in fan or official multi-Doctor stories is almost always old, fur-coat wearing Troughton. I understand why (already in color and on film), but it's always disappointing that he's not quite iconic enough to warrant the Hartnell colorization treatment (not being the first), and the existence of this one alternative clip means that all appearences tend to default to it- not the Troughton-in-his-prime that I think of him as.

Speaking of Hartnell, though... this episode could have been that scene followed by 44 minutes of the production crew chatting on a black screen because someone bumped record during a meeting with the lenscap on, and I still would have loved it. It was HARTNELL STEALING THE TARDIS, which is exactly what I wanted for the 50th anniversarry. So, any flaws aside, I will always love this episode merely for that. (The Dragonfire tie-in was also fun).

"guiding him to the right TARDIS (I'm thinking the Intelligence made a switch and that he didn't need Clara there originally),"
A lot of people were bugged by this (that the Doctor- and Susan, nice touch- wouldn't pick the right one in the first place), but I explain it the same way. In essence, Clara isn't quite Sam Beckett, 'putting right what once went wrong,' but rather 'putting right what once went right until someone else put it wrong, so putting it back the way it used to be.'

"and that's why I think she replaces the G.I. which is enough to save the Doctor)"
Though ironically Invasion of Time, with the de-mat gun, is one place he COULD see her, since he's just about to lose all memory of it! :-)

"I get the feeling this is the very last we see of her. That perhaps the Doctor's used up all her days (he's had time) with great dates and adventures, but that there are no moments he can squeeze into her life anymore."
I had wondered about the finality they'd treated her with, and the doctor's apparent romantic philandering here and later... but I hadn't considered that explanation. Used up all her days- like Kazran Sardick. I like it, and it helps to explain his emotional promiscuity later without making him a cheating sleazeball. :-)

I did like their goodbye, and hope they don't bring her back again- it would rather cheapen this moment.

"Some kind of pull-out from the Doctor's mindscape (itself inexplicable, though see Theories) might have been in order,"
Agreed. 'Because it's impossible' wasn't quite enough resolution for this scenario. :-) But thanks for providing more explanation of what happened than I gleaned from several watch-throughs!

It did feel like a bit of a cheat- "If you do this, you'll be gone forever, no coming back"- the kind of consequences such a sacrifice warranted... only then, she came back no problem, with no additional sacrifice to make that happen. But then, that also happened in Big Bang, and every 10th Doctor Dalek story written... so I guess we should be used to it by now. :-)

Wow. A discussion of informed attributes vs. solid writing using Okona and O'brien. See, this is why I've become addicted to your blog, Siskoid- even the comment sections are awesome! :-)

LiamKav said...

"Once again, no love for 6. (Or 8/9, but 8 would get his shortly and 9 was being a jerk, which is probably why he got snubbed. ;-) )"

I think it was more that they wanted to mix up the visuals, rather than just dropping Clara into clips from old episodes. And if there were any costumes they could put on a body double and have blurred and in the background and STILL be recognised, it would be the 6th Doctor's...

Also, the Ninth Doctor is one of the ones that runs past her when she's in the Doctor's timelinescape thingie. As is the 5ths. I wonder if they just popped along to the Doctor Who Exhibition and borrowed their versions.

Siskoid said...

Clara is Sam Beckett in an episode starring the Evil Leaper.

Andrew Gilbertson said...

True, 9 runs past- I meant no love in terms of 'no actual actor seen.'

Siskoid, I was gonna make the Evil Leaper reference, but wasn't sure how into Qunatum Leap you were. Silly me for doubting you. :-)

Siskoid said...

Where I made the two franchises intersect:


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