The Name of the Doctor

So, firstly, relief. They didn’t actually try to tell us the name of the Doctor. I was reasonably confident that they wouldn’t, after the whole issue last season when they said that the Doctor had definitely died, and it turned out that he’d been wearing a crazy robot costume and no one had died at all.

While ‘The Name of the Doctor’ didn’t really feel like a story, particularly, it did have one or two really nice bits that almost made me feel like I was loving Doctor Who still. Of course, it had some tear-out-your-hair oh-my-god moments too. But I’m going to start positive, because it’s more fun that way. Whinging is fun for a while, but not when you’re always doing it.[1]

I was surprised by the opening, only because starting with the moment the Doctor actually stole the TARDIS seemed like a good way to start an anniversary special, rather than the season finale. But it was a pretty fun bit of cute past-Doctor appearances,[2] which was lucky because we got it a few times. Either it was really expensive, and someone wanted to really wring the value out of it, or this story came in very seriously under-length.

The conference call was a pretty bald way to start the story off with some sexy sexy exposition, but in fairness to it, it did lead into one of the most chilling moments in Who for a while: Jenny’s chilling death. Awkwardly realising that your body is dead, and that when you wake from your dream… well, you won’t. That’s properly frightening. Some people (well, me) say that Moffat doesn’t kill anyone in Who any more, but that death was scary, spooky and affecting. Seeing Vastra’s response to it made me suddenly feel connected to her as a character far more than I ever have before; it’s a lot easier to get into the head of a character when they’re not just endlessly doing a 'smug lizard’ shtick.

That takes me back. Smug Lizard Shtick was the name of my thrash jazz fusion band back in the nineties.

My final favourite moment was the farewell to River Song, and not just because I’m the sort of miserable bastard who feels like he’s been force-fed an unconvincing Doctor romance for three years and is now the sad fan equivalent of fois gras. No, I was impressed because of how moving the scene was, how genuine both actors were, and how tremendously not-annoying River managed to be. Never have I believed in a River-Doctor scene more than when River told him to say goodbye like they’d see each other again. It was a beautiful riff on the Doctor’s hatred of goodbyes, the complicated temporal peculiarities of their relationship, and River’s 'Rule 1’.[3] If they go and spoil this by bringing her back again, I’ll throw something at the television.

Speaking of going back on something awesome, it may not have escaped your attention that one of my favourite moments in the story was subsequently backtracked, when Strax suddenly remembered he was a nurse again and saved Jenny’s life; evidently, she was only mostly dead. I was amused by the dual reaction I had to this: I’ve been desperate for more death in Doctor Who, but also for Strax to actually return to the nurse-soldier dynamic that once made him interesting, as well as funny. And then they went and forced me to choose. All in all, I wish the death had stuck, as I can imagine quite a poignant story where the Doctor comforts a despondent Vastra, inverting 'The Snowmen’. But hey, you can’t kill all of the people all of the time. Or, indeed, anyone. Except bad guys, obviously.

Hang on, wasn’t this story about the Doctor? And his name, and his death, and his tomb? Well, yeah, I guess. I have to confess, I’m pretty much over the Doctor-centric universe. I’m surprised that after a season-long plot about the Doctor’s death, we end the next season with yet another story about the Doctor’s death.

And I hate, with a passion, the idea that the Doctor would cry on hearing that he’s got a grave. Fuck that. That’s not him. I agree that he’s a tricky character to pin down, and maybe sometimes he’ll blow up a planet, and maybe sometimes he’ll hold a gun on someone, but he’s a fucking Time Lord, and he knows everything has its time and everything dies, and while he should and will always resist it, he knows that he has to die SOMETIME. I didn’t much like the whimpy Doctor near-crying that he was going to regenerate in 'The End of Time’, but I despise a mopey Doctor sobbing that at some point in the future he may indeed bite the big one.

Ahem. This issue may well not be universal.

The actual plot, such as it finally revealed itself, was a bit peculiar. The Great Intelligence, with the help of his newly found mystical whisper men, dives into the Doctor’s timeline to stop him at every turn.

STOP THERE: Surely he just has to stop him at the first turn, and take a holiday? Maybe that’s what he does. Maybe he’s just happy to make it sound like a lot more work than it is.

Let’s continue: so, we assume the Great Interchangable Threat With No Particular Distinguishing Character has screwed up the Doctor’s life, and so Clara must jump in and stop him. This makes a kind of sense; the Great Intelligence and Clara, locked in a battle over the Doctor’s fate across time.

STOP THERE: But that’s not what’s happening in Clara’s flashbacks: in fact, the Great Waste Of Richard E Grant never appears, and Clara appears to a) almost never actually impact on the Doctor at all, and b) never save him from anything remotely Great or Intelligent.

But that’s alright. I can fill in the gaps. Let’s just say that as Clara calls out to the Seventh Doctor across Iceworld, she’s saying “I just shot Richard E Grant in the face, and he won’t be able to kill you”.

It was unfortunate that they kept having people jump into the Doctor’s timeline, because I was trying quite hard to ignore the whole nonsensical concept. By the time they had the Doctor himself in there, calling out for Clara, I was really lost. And then, John Hurt. I’ll give you this: it’s a cool cliffhanger. But it’s the sort of cliffhanger that will depend a lot on what they do with it.

In the end, 'The Name of the Doctor’ was some beautiful moments wrapped around a nothing plot. Which is a damn sight better than a lot of this season… but I remain hopeful that November’s anniversary will bring a story that satisfies a little more than this.

I also very much hope that we don’t have every freaking character saying “Doctor Who?” any more. Are we done with that? I know we didn’t actually find out his name, but let’s all pretend like we did. Because that joke really isn’t getting any funnier.

  1. This might be why it’s taken me months to finish this review. ↩︎

  2. I was slightly annoyed that Patrick Troughton and Jon Pertwee were included with footage from when they were in 'The Five Doctors’ and looking kind of old. Why not grab actual bits from their eras, when they looked halfway young? ↩︎

  3. I was confused by the actual justification for her turning up and being seen by the Doctor, but hey. If it gives you a good scene, I’m not fussed. This may explain why I was so much more forgiving of the Davies era than the Moffat one. ↩︎

Tom Charman Mastodon