Starring: Richard E Grant, Neve Mcintosh, Catrin Stewart, Alex Kingston
Written by: Steven Moffat
Directed by: Saul Metzstein
The Doctor’s friends are being kidnapped, and all signs point towards the fields of Trenzalore as their location…but more than friends can be found there. The Doctor’s greatest secret has been uncovered, and the question in plain sight will be asked. Doctor Who?
There seems to be a trend within some areas of the fandom to say that this is the defining element of the show; who is the Doctor? I’m not certain it’s a point of view I agree with, at least in the sense it has often been presented. Who cares what his name is? He’s the madman with a box, the funny alien chap who flits around time and space getting into trouble and sorting it out. Yes, not knowing his actual proper name does wonders for his mystique, but it’s entirely irrelevant to his character. It isn’t a question that needs answering.
Fortunately, Steven Moffat seems to realise that, because actually, the Doctor’s name turns out not to matter squat in this episode, and may never be important at all. What’s important is that he is the Doctor.
It’s been a patchy series at best, even if you factor in the first half pre-Christmas. While I maintain my position that since Moffat took the helm, there has been a much more consistent level of quality on the show than there was under Davies’ direction, it must be admitted that equally, there haven’t been quite as many classic episodes. This series has barely managed one classic, truth be told. Much as I loved ‘Dinosaurs on a Spaceship’, it was an almost entirely throwaway romp, and even ‘The Angels Take Manhatten’ didn’t live up to Moffat’s usual standards; post-Christmas, the best episode, ‘Hide’ was still an over-packed piece, and isn’t going to be mentioned in the same breath as say, ‘Midnight’ (series 4).
We really needed a good showing from Moffat to restore faith in the show. Did he deliver? Well…while I’ve ummed and aahed about whether it was a good episode, it was certainly a thrilling one. And I am far, far more excited about the fiftieth anniversary special than I was a week ago.
It’s hard to judge ‘The Name of the Doctor’ in truth, because it’s so clearly part one of a longer story, and so much of it is set up for the second part. Come November, I might look back and be thinking that actually, it was rubbish. I hope I won’t be, and I don’t think I will be, but it’s always possible. But while there were without question flaws in the episode, I think most of them will be redeemed in the next one. Here’s hoping, anyway.
It was certainly an episode that grabbed you from the very start, with a brief glimpse of Gallifrey – stunning as ever, at least on the external shot – and then Clara telling William Hartnell he was about to make a terrible mistake. And then you saw her with every Doctor. The sound you heard was the sound of a million fans’ heads exploding in confusion. Quite apart from the shock and thrill of this sequence, it was a delight, and a relief, to finally get some closure on Clara. She’s been a strange companion; on the one hand, the driving force of her entire time on the show has been that she’s the Impossible Girl, but on the other there’s been precious little time devoted to what her mystery actually is. Equally, while Coleman is always a pleasure to watch, there hasn’t actually been that much for her to work with. Aside from the mystery surrounding her, there isn’t actually that much to Clara; she’s perky, witty, likes travelling and making soufflés. In the end, that turns out to be rather the point. The mystery of Clara is timey-wimey, brought about by her stepping up and doing something extraordinary to help the Doctor. That’s it; in every other respect, she’s a perfectly normal, dare I say average young woman. And that’s fine, in some ways it’s a good thing, given the fears many had that she was going to be another River, but while normal is good, characterless is not. Hopefully the next series will give her some depth to go with Coleman’s acting.
Elsewhere, the Paternoster Row Gang are good value as always, which is a good thing, given that we spend a fair chunk of the episode with them. The time-travel in dreams is a neat if not terribly convincing idea – and I say not convincing not because it’s unrealistic, because it’s Doctor Who for God’s sake, but because it seems like the kind of thing that might have been really useful in other or later episodes, and you just know it’s never going to crop up again. Hey ho. Neve Mcintosh gets one of the episode’s best moments as she grieves then rejoices over Jenny’s death – on which note, Catrin Stewart sells Jenny’s murder perfectly, and it is without doubt the creepiest, most disturbing moment of the episode. Once the cast are back together though, they do rather fade into the background; fair enough, given that they are side characters and the episode is even more about the Doctor than normal, but disappointing nonetheless, particularly because they just stand around looking blank for the most part.
That is, in fact, my biggest criticism of the episode. It starts with a flashback montage of Clara with previous Doctors, which is repeated at least three times. Vastra gets some information from a random madman, and then the side characters/companions sit around talking about it. There’s a dramatic sequence as the Doctor and Clara head to Trenzalore, then a longer sequence while all the characters in the episode stand around talking. Then more talking, before Clara does her thing, then more talking before the Doctor heads off to save her. For all the drama and suspense, not an awful lot actually happens. As I say above, this is clearly because it’s a story in two parts, of which we’ve only seen one part. That said, it’s the last episode we’re going to see for six months, and while there’s plenty for people to talk about, it isn’t a particularly spectacular finale.
But…those last few minutes. It’s where it all comes together, where you remember that while it might not be obvious every minute of the show, Moffat is a bloody good writer. For nearly two years now, fans have been going back and forth over the Doctor’s name and whether it’s right or sensible to reveal it, and then we find out that he’s been trolling us all along. It’s not about his name, it’s about his character; he calls himself the Doctor for a reason, after all. The idea that there’s a regeneration of him running around that ‘broke the promise’ is just all kinds of interesting and wonderful, and I for one can’t wait to find out the truth. Is he the Valeyard? Or maybe the one that ended the Time War? Those seem to be the most likely conclusions at present, but both have arguments against them; he seems to be an earlier regeneration to Matt Smith, which rules out the Valeyard (assuming they stick to the canon about him, at any rate), but all three post-Time War Doctors have been willing to admit their role in the end of the Time War, which doesn’t fit with breaking the promise. Knowing Moffat, it won’t be either of those conclusions.
It’s been a patchy series, yes. And in all honesty, a somewhat patchy finale, which probably wasn’t anywhere near as good if you’re not totally invested in the show. But Moffat has restored my faith with it, and I can’t wait for November.