‘Doctor Who’ Review – ‘The Name of the Doctor’
There may have been a small amount of hype surrounding this episode…
We begin way back in the beginning, untold years ago on the planet of Gallifrey. The Doctor and his grand-daughter Susan are about to steal a malfunctioning TARDIS and begin their long journey through space and time. Suddenly Clara steps out of the shadows to warn him off what he’s about to do. We track Clara through history, revealing that the Doctor and her have crossed paths many times in the past, through all of his incarnations. By the end of the episode we will know how it is that the Doctor has met Clara before – and seen her die. Just don’t expect to find out what his real name is.
The story begins proper in Victorian England with Madame Vastra confronting a serial murderer (possible Jack the Ripper) on death row, where he offers information in exchange for his life. Although dismissive at first, finding out that the information concerns a secret that the Doctor would take to his grave changes her attitude. Along with Jenny and Strax she begins a ‘conference call’ in a dream realm to discuss the matter with Clara and River Song. This is interrupted when faceless (save for a mouth) beings known as the Whispermen break in to their house to murder Jenny and abduct Madame Vastra and Strax. Clara awakens to find the Doctor in her house, where he’d been tricked into letting her charges go to the cinema by playing Blind Man’s Bluff.
Upon learning the news the Doctor reveals that they must travel to Trenzalore, the planet that would eventually house his grave. The Doctor and Clara arrive in the middle of a battlefield graveyard dominated by the giant and decayed remains of the TARDIS, which houses the Doctor’s tomb. Along with them is a projection of River Song, telepathically connected to Clara and invisible to the Doctor. It’s here that they encounter the Great Intelligence (Richard E. Grant returning in the role) along with his Whispermen creations, who want the Doctor to speak his real name in order to open the tomb. Inside is the time energy that remains of the damage done to the space time continuum, the result of the Doctor’s actions over the centuries. The Great Intelligence plans on sacrificing himself by dropping into the energy so that he would be able to rewrite the Doctor’s history and retroactively turn his victories over the Great Intelligence into defeats.
Not only does this action almost kill the Doctor but it begins to rewrite history and Madame Vastra observes the stars of the planets and systems the Doctor has saved going out in the night sky. In order to fight back Clara enters the energy, create an echo of her throughout the Doctor’s history, where she would save him and die time and time again. At the conclusion of the episode the Doctor follows Clara into the time energy to bring her back. He finds her in an empty space occupied by the ghosts of the past Doctor, and he guides her to him using the leaf that started her life. Before they leave they spy a strange figure. The Doctor explains that he is the incarnation of the Doctor who didn’t use the title ‘Doctor’ due to his actions in life. The mysterious incarnation (John Hurt) explains that he had no choice and did what he did in the name of ‘peace and sanity’, and while the Doctor acknowledges this to be true he still dismisses him.
The true name of the Doctor does not get revealed, as teased as a possibility in the lead up to this season finale. This isn’t very surprising as changing the name of the character at this stage would not only fail to meet audience expectation but alter the perception of the character. They get around this by having the invisible River say the name, and that’s just fine. Providing the explanation being the reality of Clara becomes the big reveal of the episode and that certainly did deliver on the promise. It’s a unique explanation to and interesting puzzle which has been getting brought up time and time again during the past year and what was shown in this episode fits in nicely, was interesting to see unfold and opened the doors to a whole new and intriguing notion.
During the episode we get montages of Clara appearing during the timelines of the past versions of the Doctor and the men and women behind the scenes have done a fine job of integrating Jenna-Louise Coleman into the old footage. Especially good is the colourisation of the footage featuring William Hartnell and Patrick Troughton whose episodes and the initial scene where Clara interacts with the First Doctor. Even though this essentially rewrites the past 50 years of television adventures to a small degree it is well handled.
Alex Kingston returns as the Doctor’s wife, Professor River Song, for the first time since the death of Amy and Rory Pond earlier in the season and her story in this episode serves has a farewell to the character. One her timeline this adventure takes place after the events in the library, making this a projection of River after she had died and been stored as data. Before the climatic sequence the Doctor reveals that he can see her and they share a good-bye that is effective and in tune with the characters. The other returning cast member – Richard E. Grant – fills the boots of the Great Intelligence much better than he did in the Christmas special and comes across as a more menacing and interesting villain.
The final reveal of John Hurt as the incarnation of the Time Lord who didn’t carry the title ‘Doctor’ was somewhat marred by photos of him in costume being leaked weeks earlier. It still carries a bit of a punch, the reveal that there’s a missing incarnation of the Doctor that he has tried to repress due to what he did. The promise that we’ll find out more about what atrocity this mysterious incarnation did for ‘peace and sanity’ makes for a great cliff hanger. One assumes that this refers to the Time War between Gallifrey and the Daleks where the Doctor sacrificed his own species for the greater good but we won’t know for sure until November.
Between now and then I have another 25 years of Doctor Who to review…