Sunday, 19 May 2013

DOCTOR WHO, 7.13 – 'The Name of The Doctor'

Sunday, 19 May 2013

written by Steven Moffat / directed by Saul Metzstein

His stories aren't perfect, but Steven Moffat has so much confidence and ostentatiousness as a storyteller I can't resist his tent-pole episodes. A few stretches of "The Name of The Doctor" even made actual sense, until Moffat wanted to wring something extra from a scene and it resulted in the usual sense of illogic.

It's always been the case that Moffat's brain buzzes with big, bold ideas. You can sense the joy of them being realised on television. As big finales go, it doesn't beat "The Big Bang" because series 5's pay-off was tighter and the emotions felt purer, but this certainly a vast improvement over the cluttered and ludicrous "Wedding of River Song". It helped that it was tackling huge issues of mythology, which is like catnip to Whovians—so not only were we being forever teased by the possibility of The Doctor (Matt Smith) revealing his real name, but we also had the mystery of Clara (Jenna-Louise Coleman) to resolve, and a climax taking place in The Doctor's own tomb on the volcanic planet of Trenzalore...

If you were watching this episode expecting to be rewarded with The Doctor's name then you obviously don't understand the joy of that perennial enigma, or realise that any writer would never dare risk ruining a core part of the character. So no, we didn't learn The Doctor's name here, although it was fun to be reminded that he'll be known by future "names" (The Beast, Storm, The Valeyard) over the coming aeons. The way that Moffat teased us with The Doctor's moniker was good fun, because it never felt like a torturous cheat. I especially liked the moment River Song (Alex Kingston) must have said his real name in order to open the antediluvian TARDIS, but we couldn't hear her because she was psychically linked to Clara.

The mystery of Clara was half-explained in the frenzied teaser, before we came to fully understand how this 'Impossible Girl' could have been reincarnated across Time to interact with all incarnations of The Doctor. I even bought into the nature of how this happened, with Clara entering the Doctor's "remains" (a vertical scar across Time & Space, crackling away like a lightning storm in the centre of the ancient TARDIS console room), and erased the damaging efforts of the Dr Simeon (Richard E. Grant) in rewriting The Doctor's entire history for the worse. It's just a shame this whole notion stretched the limits of what the budget could achieve, because there were some rather laughable special effects shots of Jenna-Louise Coleman digitally-inserted into classic Who episodes. Still, the idea itself was rather wonderful in the show's 50th year, and was perhaps worth the chintzy treatment just to see the moment The First Doctor (William Hartnell) stole a defective TARDIS from Gallifrey. Who knew they resembled metal pillar boxes as a default?

The idea of Trenzalore being The Doctor's final resting place also lived up to the location's hype over the past few years, and it was beautifully brought to life as a hair-raising graveyard. Having the TARDIS itself become The Doctor's tomb, enlarged to enormous size on the outside due to a malfunctioning brought about by age, was also a really nice idea. It reminded me of what stars do after billions of years; expanding to enormous size.

However, this episode wasn't entirely successful in all respects. Victorian trio Madame Vastra (Neve MacIntish), Jenny (Catrin Stewart) and Strax (Dan Starkey) get less appealing with every appearance, having peaked in "The Snowmen", and at times it felt like they were only involved because it would help fill time. After all, when you reflect on events, the core storyline was surprisingly straightforward for a Steven Moffat instalment, which was part of the reason it worked so well. Although there were still a few areas that weren't fully explained, or were wilfully incomprehensible. It made a loose sense that River Song could be in psychic contact with Clara after their initial meeting (although she wasn't asleep, which Vastra told us was a requirement), but quite how The Doctor could see River is anyone's guess.

The return of saturnine Dr Simeon, possessed by The Great Intelligence, was a welcome one; mostly because I love Richard E. Grant in this role. Doctor Who has worryingly few villains that are just good actors doing a 'boo-hiss baddie', so it's a treat whenever one gets the chance to lock horns with The Doctor. And speaking of The Doctor, Matt Smith was very good throughout this episode, because it was a story that reduced his clownish antics to a brief scene playing blind man's bluff, and then gave him serious matters to contend with. I wish Smith was being given more storylines like this, where he gets the chance to emote and push himself into some darker areas. It's great he can shift gears, but a pity less writers seem willing to give him reason to.

Finally, the top secret ending was curious. It appears to reveal that an incarnation of The Doctor (the twelfth and final one?) is the "secret" the Time Lord will take to his grave. It's all too hazy to discuss with much authority right now, but will clearly form the linchpin of the 50th anniversary special. My rough prediction is that John Hurt is a future incarnation who make a bad decision in he name of "peace and sanity" that goes against The Doctor's ethics, so November's feature-length adventure will involve The Doctor having to vanquish a future incarnation with the help of a past incarnation (David Tennant). This will likely result in Moffat using the anniversary year to alter Who mythology and give The Doctor a fresh cycle of twelve regenerations, thus securing the show for another half-century, but that's a pure guess on my part.

Overall, "The Name of The Doctor" was a great finale once you accept some baffling aspects that don't withstand scrutiny, and accept that some things will be explained in future stories. (Well, we hope--not everything does.) The core sweep of the story and explanation of Clara's "immortality" worked well—even if it was essentially a better version of the series 1 finale when Rose Tyler was likewise scattered across time and could 'undo' the Daleks. Fans will have loved the many nods to the show's past, and it was clever of Moffat to have nipped some fan objections in the bud by using this penultimate episode to involve all the classic Doctors (through CGI, old footage, and body doubles). Oh, and the eyeless 'Whisper Men' were underused but marvellously scary on a visual level.

18 March 2013 / BBC1
  • There is no 'Next time...' preview this week, but I thought you'd like to read this piece Steven Moffat wrote for The Guardian thanking fans for not spoiling the finale's surprises. If you're not already aware, the series 7 Blu-ray was accidentally sent to a couple hundred US fans a week early, but the international fan-base successful kept spoilers off the internet (unless you really went looking...)
  • As a thank you to fans for keeping the finale's secrets safe, the BBC released footage of Matt Smith and David Tennant talking about Doctor Who's impact on their careers, in-between filming scenes for the 50th special. Enjoy!