Doctor Who: 713 “The Name of the Doctor” Review
Reviewed by Adam James Cuthbert
“Welcome to the tomb of the Doctor.” – The Great Intelligence
The Name of the Doctor is replete with recurrent tropes of Moffat’s recent work; in particular, the theme of the Doctor as the fulcrum of the universe, around which characters and events pivot and revolve, attract and repel; a twofold symmetry of the character’s dynamic with his milieu. (This is also evidenced in A Good Man Goes to War and Asylum of the Daleks, wherein there is a pronounced contrast between forces of goodness/virtue and evil/animosity, and their respective interests in the Doctor; that functions as the underlying impetus in their lives.) Indeed, Moffat has sought to pose a question and a dilemma. The question: is a man defined by the shadow of his enemies, by the impression of others, and vice versa; can one exist without the other? The dilemma: you either die a hero, or live long enough to become the villain.
For this reason, I’m given to speculate that John Hurt’s Doctor could be the aged Meta-Crisis Doctor from Journey’s End. Hurt’s Doctor states: “What I did, I did without choice.” The Meta-Crisis Doctor fulfilled Dalek Caan’s prophecy: he acted according to pre-destiny. It’d make sense were the Meta-Crisis Doctor to be the Doctor’s “secret”, as the Meta-Crisis Doctor was, literally, a (distorted) mirror of the Doctor, reflecting the darker side he prefers to veil; harbouring the Doctor’s more tenebrous, reckless, and arguably self-destructive tendencies – were this behaviour to continue. After all, the Meta-Crisis Doctor committed genocide (precipitately) against the New Dalek Empire, an act which the original Doctor condemned, and was mortified by: thus “not in the name of the Doctor”. (Recall his fierce retort to Donna, when she suggests they wait for the Doctor: “I am the Doctor!” Also: Journey’s End’s affinity with Genesis of the Daleks. In Genesis, the Doctor refused to destroy the Daleks at their inception; in Journey, the Meta-Crisis Doctor massacres Davros’ ‘children’, contrary to the Doctor’s scruples.)
The alias doesn’t have to solely imply “the man who makes people better”. He became the Doctor to become a better man, from his original cantankerous, sinister traits (An Unearthly Child), influenced by his human companions, but he can always relapse into darker ways (as numerous stories have conveyed).
Hurt’s Doctor is understood to be “part of the Doctor”: the Meta-Crisis Doctor was partly formed from the Doctor’s DNA. His portrayal could be that of heroism corrupted by age; a compulsion for “peace and sanity”, justice and security, for countless innocent lives, that became overbearing, signifying his descent into darkness. (Having outlived his own Rose, and grown old, bitter, despaired, and disenchanted with humanity from her loss, encountering a younger Rose in the anniversary enables his redemption.) In this way, it subtly connects to Moffat’s earlier theme of “the Great Warrior”, by holding a mirror to the Doctor’s countenance, alluding to the aforementioned dilemma, whilst offering an escape; it would presage an optimistic conclusion to the Doctor’s adventures.
This leads me to discuss Trenzalore, a spooky necropolis, the resting-place of the Doctor, and why I disagree with how the concept’s executed. Firstly, it doesn’t liberate the storytelling so much as confine it by restricting creative possibilities for the future. It also damages the show’s longevity, by explicitly informing us where the Doctor is interred (and his TARDIS dead). There’s a certain joy in the reassurance our hero will have adventures indefinitely; walking off into the sunset of our imaginations (a la Survival) – surely the earnest desire of any stalwart fan? Why Moffat feels it behoves a pessimistic ending for the character is unclear.
Secondly, the “skirmish” invites no contemplation or investment on the viewer’s part. We are neither shown flash-forwards to the conflict, nor informed of any context (what initiated the circumstances? Why did the Doctor participate? By volition; or was he a victim of the vicissitudes of fortune?). A couple of evocative-sounding epithets doesn’t generate the same effect as describing the stakes involved: why was it beyond the Doctor’s ability to endure?
Thirdly, how is this “the Fall of the Eleventh”? It is neither regeneration, nor his downfall; there are no permanent sacrifices. It’s an unsatisfying and infuriating pay-off for “Doctor who?” to be yet-another cliff-hanger. Moffat’s misdirection around the Doctor’s “greatest secret” is a tawdry trick. It feels disjointed with developments of last series; that the Question implied an apocalyptic climax/showdown (thus providing closure) with the Silents, when they attempt to stymie him for the final time (did Moffat look away and forget them?). If the Doctor’s real name was inconsequential from the beginning, then why didn’t Moffat expound on this earlier? It’d be more appropriate were the Whisper Men to be counterparts to the Silents, subscribing to the same religious text, but seeking the Answer for their nefarious ends.
There are numerous issues throughout the story:
- How did Clarence DeMarco know of the Whisper Men, Trenzalore, and the Doctor’s secret? Being attuned to “the babble of the world” is not a sufficient explanation.
- How did the Great Intelligence arrive at Trenzalore, acquire its knowledge of the skirmish, or interfere with the conference call? “I am information” is a cop-out, refusing to elucidate this development further.
- How did the Great Intelligence corrupt the Doctor’s timeline? It’s never seen to actively interact with the past Doctors nor events within the Doctor’s past. Not unless the time-tunnel grants one a form of omnipotence, to ‘nudge’ events down a different course. The same applies when Clara is scattered throughout history, and hurtles down the rabbit-hole herself. How does she reverse the damage caused by the Intelligence, and save the Doctor’s lives? It appears she has no control over when and where she experiences different histories, with no recollection of her personal assignment (Oswin, Victorian Clara), whilst other times she does. At other times, is she merely an apparition? If she was physically present whether the Doctor’s life was in danger, wouldn’t he remember her? Dearth of clarification is to the story’s detriment.
- Vastra later states: “A universe without the Doctor. There will be consequences.” Jenny disappears (because the Doctor wasn’t present to save her life), and Strax is armed to kill Vastra. Why don’t Vastra and Strax disappear as well? If the Doctor never existed, as Vastra implies (so did the Great Intelligence thwart him at Gallifrey in his first incarnation?) why would either she or Strax be present at Trenzalore?
- How does the Doctor see River if River’s mentally linked to Clara through the conference call (an event the Doctor did not attend) – other than maudlin storytelling (“I can always see you”)? For that matter, how did Vastra send an invitation to River (as River now inhabits the virtual reality/afterlife of CAL)?
- There’s confusion over the TARDIS-tomb. It’s either an uncanny resemblance to the Eleventh’s, or Moffat is strongly hinting at the Eleventh Doctor being the last. It’d be unforgivable were Moffat to end the show on his own terms.
Whilst the resolution to Clara’s arc is handled superiorly to River’s, I’m vexed by one particular retcon: Clara, as a Time Lord, who introduces the Doctor to the TARDIS. The prequel She Said, He Said, informed us Clara would learn why the Doctor commenced running, how he began his journey. Why couldn’t it simply be that the TARDIS has left the doors open for the Doctor, and the Doctor was drawn to her – without the need to incorporate Clara’s presence? If Moffat were to have been clever, he’d revealed what the Doctor discerned in the Untempered Schism – whatever nightmarish vision made him flee (“I’ve been running all my life”), perhaps even inspired his journey.
On the subject of River Song: for a man who claims to be looking to the future, Moffat’s firmly latched onto the past, unable to recognise River’s story has concluded. I’d be lenient of her inclusion were she, say, occupying the facility of spiritual advisor/guide to Clara. As it is, Moffat insists on forcing her and the Doctor as a married couple. Theirs is a superficial bond, lacking credibility. I’d expect the post-Library River to be akin to her appearance in series 4. A woman who doesn’t require a farewell from the Doctor, because it’s an event that’s already transpired in her past; a woman who died, magnanimously, for a man who knew nothing about her – a true hero, moving on to her new life.
The story is not without its positives. Richard E Grant was entertaining after a melodramatic, theatrical fashion. Both Catrin Stewart and Neve McIntosh were delightful. While Jenny’s death is only ephemeral, Stewart manages to elicit pathos through her understated performance; a silent tear, begging for forgiveness. It’s horrible for anyone’s final thought to be of their own murder. There’s a touching line of dialogue, that consummates their now-poignant love, when Vastra responds to Strax’s observation of the heart as but a mere organ: “I have not found it to be so.” If he’s improved in one aspect, it’s handling their relationship.
I also enjoyed the conference on the astral plane, and the juxtaposition between realities. I appreciated Jenny’s reaction to the chilling presence of the Whisper Men within the astral plane. The reveal of the Whisper Men as hollow bodies which the Great Intelligence inhabits, subsequently reconstructing Simeon’s physiognomy, is an effective sequence, with impressive CGI.
I’m of the opinion that when Moffat writes at his most conventional, he excels as a writer (see: A Christmas Carol). The Name of the Doctor fails to distinguish itself, because Moffat insists on another tedious and maudlin timey-wimey run-around, with a ‘shocking’ cliff-hanger. (In contrast, A Christmas Carol actually renews the novelty and quality of that storytelling format, as Moffat ingeniously adapts the psychological/spiritual time-travel of Dickens’ original narrative, and makes it literal through the show’s central mechanic of time-travel, showcasing a character-piece with real conviction.) If the conflict at Trenzalore was described as one possible future for the Doctor (and not inescapable doom), that’d been preferable. Ultimately, the few precious moments between Vastra and Jenny, and Richard E Grant’s melodramatic performance, are overshadowed by the story’s flaws.