The Name of the Doctor reviewed

Clara in TimelinesSo the waiting is over and The Name of the Doctor has been shown. We gasped in wonderment at the delights therein then sat back and thought ‘Hang on, was that actually and good?’ and as seems to be the fashion we take great delight in dissecting everything Steven Moffat does. We also looked at our speculations (see Is Tranzalore Gallifrey? for example) and started some new ones.

Before we dive in and get critical, let’s step back a moment and reflect that there was a lot to enjoy as a piece of TV and I’m sure families everywhere were entertained. That aside I will give my own thoughts and be somewhat liberal with the spoilers…

The Story

Before the credits we see a repair shop and hear and alarm; we learn that an idiot is stealing a faulty TARDIS; cue big effects shot of Gallifrey then cut to two figures in black and white walking up to a cylindrical shaft in which is a door. But wait, is that the First Doctor and Susan? Cut to colourised scene of Hartnell (yes really) being approached by Clara! I a dazzling sequence we get the Sixth Doctor in a corridor, the Fourth Doctor again in a corridor, the Seventh Doctor in that umbrella moment from Dragonfire (the One with the milkshakes), the Third Doctor in Bessie, the Second Doctor (colour from Five Doctors) rushing around outside then the Fifth Doctor. Finally she catches up with the Eleventh Doctor during The Snowmen and finally a reprise of Clara’s life:

I am Clara Oswald. I am the Impossible Girl. I was born to save the Doctor

Cue the credits.

We shift to Victorian London, the Paternoster Square gang of Vastra, Jennie and Strax who hold a spiritual conference with Clara and River Song. The upshot is Clara gets the message to the Doctor to travel to Tranzalore to save his friends, the one place the Doctor must never go.

We learn that Tranzalore is the site of the Doctor’s tomb which is the remnants of the TARDIS made large. The Great Intelligence (GI) has lured them all there to gain access to the tomb to then wipe the Doctor from history. River Song’s grave provides a back door in for the Doctor and Clara and River’s spirit (this is post Library) speaks the Doctor’s name (we don’t hear it) and the TARDIS opens. We travel through scenery similar to the recent Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS (reviewed here) and reach a columns of light in which floats a mad twisted spiral which is the Doctor’s timeline from Gallifrey to Tranzalore. A personal helix summarising the Doctor if you will.

The GI enters the Doctor’s timeline to change the whole of his history (as shown by a version of the opening sequence with the Great Intelligence). The helix changes to red and one by one the stars go out. The only solution is for someone to go in to undo the Great Intelligence’s work – Jennie vanises from history, Strax turns back to normal Sontaran and River is an echo. Enter the Impossible Girl!

Clara goes in, fixes history in a longer version of the opening with a great conversation with the First Doctor telling him which TARDIS to steal! The Doctor bids River farewell then enters to the restored timeline to rescue Clara.

All is well except for a presence unknown to Clara – it is another incarnation of the Doctor who didn’t take the name Doctor – John Hurt is introduced and next stop is the anniversary!

The Storytelling

The concept of the Doctor being dead and entombed in an all but spent TARDIS is a good one as is the journey through the past versions of the Doctor via CGI. Sadly nothing from the Eighth Doctor (due to the way The Movie was produced?) and the Ninth is only a voice over; I didn’t spot the Tenth either. It is a good idea moderately well realised – surely more of each Doctor could have been shown, maybe some more interaction. Did this story need to be only one episode? Could Clara in the Doctor’s past have been the anniversary?

A worrying point is that Clara didn’t see any future Doctors – is Matt Smith to be the last ever? Is Moffat planning to finish off the show? The Tranzalore TARDIS did look very like the current styling.

It fails with the fate of the Paternoster Square Gang being enough to drag the Doctor to Tranzalore – is that really motivation. And what was the Doctor’s plan? He was outclassed completely.

Jennie was killed which I was disappointed with but it did give the GI and edge – she was revived by Strax so what was the point?

In fact what was the point was my take on almost all of it – the Doctor made no contribution to saving the day, the GI commits suicide, interferes in some undescribed way with the Doctor’s past then Clara goes back and either defeats him millions of times or just ‘fixes’ everything. Again not well presented.

Motivations

I enjoyed watching as an experience but I did struggle to make sense of the motivations of those involved.

The Doctor

I wasn’t convinced he would rush to Tranzalore without any preparation or plan. He then had no solution to stop the GI enter the TARDIS and was almost purely a narrator telling the viewer what was going on. Most peculiar.

The Great Intelligence

With the Doctor at his mercy why not kill him and his friends? Why let the Doctor continue? Did he want the changes in the past to make the Doctor suffer?

We have had hardly any glimpse of the GI since its return and too much has happened off stage for my tastes. I am, though, convinced it might find suicide to be an appropriate (and even noble) way to vanquish the Doctor.

River Song

I didn’t understand River at all. This was clearly her farewell in my eyes and some good scenes saying farewell to the Doctor. Why did she open the TARDIS? She had no plan and again it happened off stage. We should have had some debate between her and Clara for example.

The Silence

The Doctor’s past changes and the stars go out. This was a bit fanciful but I accept that it is an analogy for the way the fate of the universe would have changed. I think the Silence didn’t want the Doctor to visit Tranzalore specifically to stop something like the undoing of history. This is analogous to the Doctor’s destruction of Gallifrey – the Silence are protecting the status quo even to the extent of killing off the Doctor as the only one who knew his own name. How ironic that they created River Song!

Clara

I felt it a bit suspect that she dived in to be the Impossible Girl without any real soul searching and I really wanted a long version of the CGI. I assume the old footage can’t be made 3-D which is a reason not to use this device in the anniversary story.

Arcs

The River Arc is over I feel as is the Silence arc. The Impossible Girl made sense and we still have no idea why the TARDIS exploded in Series 5. Who did give her the phone number in Bells of St Johns? It can’t have been River Song as they hadn’t met. Will we ever find out?

I’m a bit bored with arcs now – can we just have some stories next season please?

The Anniversary

Lots of nostalgia and even a name check for the Valeyard! I am prepared to give the John Hurt story a chance though surely a better story is the dark secret of McGann’s Eighth Doctor? Why introduce a new character?

Was the game changed?

I suppose the game has changed to an extent. We know the Doctor dies at some point (and forbid it being at the end of next season) which we could have deduced. The extra Doctor is innovative if maybe scraping around for a story. The game will change for the anniversary story but not really beyond that.

Final Thoughts

I had a huge amount to say and found lots of ragged edges. As a piece of TV entertainment I quite liked it though! If the final episode of season 8 is called Tranzalore be afraid, be very afraid!

What did you think?

12 thoughts on “The Name of the Doctor reviewed

  1. Brilliant episode.
    I think that John Hurts Doctor could be between his 8th and 9th as they mentioned The Valyard. The Moff came up with a cracking story.

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  2. Bit of a wild bit of imagination here. First off, great episode in terms of seeing the old Doctors and getting Clara’s story resolved. Like you I found it hard to see why some characters acted as they did – upon hearing that events were occurring at Trenzalore (the place he knows is his fall) why would he rush there? He’s a time traveller, he could have done a God Complex and gone off like 200 years.

    Nut anyway, the audio series Destiny of the Doctor, I haven’t heard any of them but I am aware Eleven makes cameo appearances throughout them. Although we’re not yet sure where the story is going with this series or where it takes place for Eleven, is it possible these drop-in cameos are when he enters his own timestream in this episode? Just a passing though I had.

    In terms of the John Hurt reveal, I like this idea that the setting for that scene was a battlefield from the Time War where Hurt was looking on in darkness, can’t wait for November!!!

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    • I’ve been following the Destiny of the Doctor (check the topic under Big Finish in the menu); those interventions are more particular and are generally a psychic message or some other concrete thing. Nice idea though which has some merit. Shame it wasn’t Clara in the DotD stories!

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  3. Another though! Remember in ‘The God Complex’ the Doctor opened his door and he said: “Of course. Who else?” then closed the door. I like the idea he saw this John Hurt incarnation in his room! It would be typical Moffat to drop a hint 2 years ago.

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