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Saturday, May 18, 2013

Doctor Who Review: The Name of the Doctor

Doctor Who Who saw THAT coming?? I was literally on the edge of my seat the whole time. Absolutely riveting, first class storytelling, questions answered (and some remaining unanswered), and a build up to the 50th that I could not have foreseen. There were tons of raw emotion, but also a lot of laughs. It was one of the most epic hours ever in television history.

I'm going to warn you now...if you have not seen this episode go watch it and come back, because I'm about to Spoil like week-old milk in the Sahara. 

Whovians didn't have to wait long in this episode for things to geekgasm over. In some repair room an alert goes off. One of the engineers wonders...just who would steal a malfunctioning TARDIS? And then, we see an old man and a young girl about to enter a tube when they are stopped by....Clara. Then, as Clara plunges through a swirling mist we hear her voice over how she is the Impossible Girl, and has always been there for the Doctor. And then....and then!...we see Clara interacting with the First Doctor, screaming after the Third, and the Fifth, and the Fourth, searching for the Sixth in the TARDIS, and watching as the Eighth and the Second run past. So much happened so quickly that it was almost impossible to take it all in! But we knew one thing was for sure: Clara was born to save the Doctor!

The Name of the Doctor
"If only I could find the little bugger..."
With just moments to catch our breath, the opening sequence rolled and the familiar song played. When the TARDIS doors opened we found ourselves in Victorian London, 1893, and in a prison we hear the rhyming mumbles of a crazy man with a heavy accent. Madame Vastra approaches his cell. He has information, something worth sparing his life over after he'd killed 14 women (possibly Jack the Ripper?). The Doctor has a secret, one he will take to the grave....and it is discovered.

Vastra immediately summons Jenny, Strax, and Clara to a metaphyical dream conference call. Strax, having just engaged in a brawl with a Scotsman (vacation for a Sontaran), and Clara just arriving home to find a letter from the past. One more attendee arrives just a tad late, Professor River Song. You know, it wasn't that long ago we saw Melody Pond in "The Angels Take Manhattan", but it was good to see a familiar face. It gave Series 7 a sense of continuity. And so, they discussed what Demarko had said, and they knew that they had to protect the Doctor. But then, Jenny feels something brush past her in reality. She realizes, to her horror, that she's left the door unlocked. She apologizes to Vastra....and dies. Strax is also taken, and River slaps Vastra in order to wake her up. But too late: The Whispermen have come.

Doctor Who
Let me pause to say how much I really enjoyed the Whispermen. An extension of the Great Intelligence, they had style, the creep factor, and that inevitable sense that they would get you in the end. Their soft recitations of impending doom were particularly chilling. And boy, did they have style!

When Clara awakens she finds that the Doctor is already in her house, having been tricked by Angie and Artie into playing Blind Man's Bluff so they could sneak out to the cinema. Clara tells the Doctor about Demarko's news, and he is overcome with emotion. He has to embark on the one mission he should never take on, and go to the one place that he must never go: Trenzalore.

Doctor Who
"I wanted a timeshare in Boca...but noooo"
But, ever the adventurer, the Doctor sets off for the TARDIS to save his friends. While he's using Clara's memories to input the coordinates, the Doctor reveals that there is one, very big reason that he should not go to Trenzalore. Time travelers are forbidden to do one thing, and that's go to the place where they die. When Demarko spoke about "it" being discovered he didn't mean the Doctor's secret....he meant the Doctor's grave. But the Doctor resolved himself to rescuing Jenny, Vastra, and Strax. It was a real poignant moment, the Doctor recalling how the Paternoster Gang had been there for him in his darkest hour, after he lost Amy and Rory. Never questioning, never judging, just...being there. He owed it to them to save them, and Clara was right along for the journey.

But the TARDIS knows better, and the old girl refuses to land on Trenzalore and shuts down. But the Doctor has the upper hand and uses the sonic screwdriver to shut off the anti-grav, sending the blue box plummeting to the surface below. The Doctor and Clara exit the TARDIS and into a giant, dark, and ominous graveyard. When the Doctor described it as a military graveyard, I thought about Gettysburg and how a great battle must have been waged there. The stones get bigger, the Doctor says, according to how high the rank of the solider was. What they see next is a monument so large it barely seems possible. Standing taller than a mountain....was the TARDIS.

The Name of the Doctor
Cue theme from 2001: A Space Odyssey
As the Doctor explains, when a TARDIS dies the thing that keeps it "bigger on the inside" starts to leak out, and the ship becomes massive on the outside. A fitting tomb for the greatest warrior in the cosmos. As they walk they discover River Song's grave, and the projection of River appears to Clara, saying that the Doctor cannot see or hear her. Suddenly, the Whispermen appear, and River, through Clara, tells the Doctor that her grave isn't a grave at all (it would be impossible, since she was uploaded to CAL in The Library), but a secret entrance to the Doctor's tomb. The duo rush into the catacombs, a macabre echo of their race through the bowels of the TARDIS just a few episodes prior.

Meanwhile, Jenny, Vastra, and Strax wake up and are confronted by Dr. Simeon. Vastra correctly surmises that he is but a shell, and that that they are standing before the Great Intelligence. Simeon then demonstrates his terrifying ability to take human form using the blank bodies of the Whispermen. He then declares that Trenzalore will be the place where the Doctor is destroyed, in order to prevent him from causing bloodshed throughout the universe. The Doctor may be a hero to some, but to others he is known by names such as "Storm", "Beast", and "Valeyard". Fans will pick up the reference to the title "The Oncoming Storm" that the Daleks imposed on the Ninth Doctor, and that the Valeyard (from the classic series) is supposedly an evil future version of the Doctor, occurring after his 12th regeneration). What struck me, though, was "the Beast", the name of the Devil-like evil entity that the Tenth Doctor encountered. I suppose, to some, the embodiment of all evil could be the Doctor. Curious...

The Name of the Doctor
"Finally, I'm the best-looking person in a group!"
As the Doctor and Clara search through the catacombs of the TARDIS tomb (TombDIS?), Clara begins to falter as she remembers everything about her time with the Doctor, including his questioning of her before they entered the heart of the TARDIS in "Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS". She remembers now that he said that they had met before, and that she had died twice. But there's no time to explain, as the Doctor must now face Dr. Simeon. The Great Intelligence needs access to the tomb, and the key is the answer to the Question...the name of the Doctor. Of course, the Doctor won't give it to him, so Simeon sicks the Whispermen on the rest of the gang. While the blank-faced monsters move in to murder his friends, the Doctor pleads for mercy as Simeon, echoing Dorium at the end of Season 6, asks three times:

Doctor Who? 

Doctor Who?


The Doctor shouts something, and the doors open. Did it really, finally happen? Did the Doctor reveal his name?

It takes a long moment to realize that, in a bout of sheer genius on Steven Moffat's part, that the doors have opened all by themselves. The Question was answered, but not by the Doctor. It was answered by the one person that nobody could see or hear, not even us. It was answered by the Doctor's wife, River Song.

Simeon invites the Doctor to fully open the doors, and the group step into the Doctor's tomb....which is appropriately the TARDIS console room. The main console is no longer at the center, replaced with a beam of light that seems to be wrapped in glowing barbed wire. The Doctor explains that his extensive time travel has left not a body, but scars in time. Dr. Simeon at last reveals his plan: to step into the Doctor's time stream, destroying him at all points in time, and erasing him from the universe. Unable to stop him, the gang watches as the Great Intelligence sacrifices his mind and body to eliminate all the incarnations of the Doctor. We see the same montage of the Doctors as in the beginning, but with Dr. Simeon watching instead of Clara. As the Eleventh Doctor writhes in pain on the floor, it seems like this is truly the end for the Time Lord.

The Name of the Doctor
"Well then, off to erase you from time and space. Pip, pip, and all that."

Vastra, Jenny, and Strax run outside and watch as the countless worlds and systems that the Doctor has saved blink out of existence. Jenny, too, disappears, and Strax turns on Vastra; none of them having ever been saved by the Doctor. Vastra not only watches her love die, but is forced to kill her friend. 

But Clara, thinking on her rediscovered memories, knows what she has to do, what she was born to do. Despite River's protests, she heads to the beam of light. River says that she won't be "her" anymore, she will be scattered into a million pieces across time and space. But Clara intones her mother's saying, that what makes a souffle is not the souffle, but the recipe. As she approaches the beam, she turns to the Doctor and says, for the last, and yet the first time: "Run You Clever Boy, and Remember Me". Indeed, she becomes the Souffle Girl and steps into the Doctor's time stream, saving him time and time again. As she falls through the vortex, Clara recalls that she has called out to the Doctor, but he never answered back. Except twice, once in Victorian London, and once on Gallifrey. I was beyond riveted as I watched Clara stopping the First Doctor and Susan from making a terrible mistake...choosing to run off in the wrong TARDIS. And then my jaw dropped as a silver cylinder hurtled out of the port on Gallifrey....the TARDIS before it changed into a police box.

As the Doctor regains his strength, he resolves to go after Clara. River tries to stop him, but he amazingly catches her arm. As it turns out, he had always been able to see and hear her, but could not bear to acknowledge her because it hurt too much. They kiss, which, according to the Doctor, must have looked very strange to the Paternoster Gang. River reveals that she and Clara share a link, or else she would have faded right then and there. know....spoilers. The Doctor finally says goodbye to her and she fades (with a fan-pleasing "Goodbye, Sweetie), and the Doctor does what a time traveler must never ever do.

When Clara awakes she is in a roiling, misty, confusing place. Frightened, she calls out to the Doctor and hears his voice in reply. Meanwhile, different incarnations of the Doctor are running past. The First, the Fourth, the Fifth, the Sixth, the Ninth; all racing past as they try to escape the consequences of the Doctor invading his own time stream. The current Doctor sends Clara a way out: the most important leaf in the world, the one that smacked her dad in the face so that he could be saved by her mother. The leaf that represented all the countless possibilities of life. Then, the Doctor appears, begging Clara just for once to let him rescue her as thanks for the infinite times she had rescued him and his incarnations. 

The Name of the Doctor
He also takes the time to yell at Anakin that "He was the Chosen One!"
But one man stands, his back to them, amid the chaos. Clara is confused, she has seen all of his faces, and the man she is clinging to is the Eleventh Doctor. But the Doctor knows the truth. That names matter, that they are a promise to the universe. And the man before them broke that promise. Still without facing them, the man explains that what he did, he did "without choice" and "in the name of peace and sanity". Yes, the Doctor replies, but not "in the name of the Doctor."

The man turns, a grizzled older man with the weight of terrible actions bearing on him. The music swells as, in a very "Kill Bill" fashion titles appear beside him. 

"Introducing John the Doctor."

Doctor Who
Code Name: Gallifreyan Time Snake
The Doctor's greatest secret is revealed, and things will never be the same.

Even now, over two hours later, I am still rocked by this ending. The whole episode was a masterpiece and a great nod to the generations of fans who have loved Doctor Who. The implications of this episode, leading into the 50th anniversary special, are incalculable. According to rumors (pretty damn good ones now), John Hurt's Doctor is the one that ended the Time War, destroying both the Time Lords and the Daleks. Hopefully we get to see that play out, especially if we can see Eight regenerate to Hurt, and Hurt to Nine.

But then, Christopher Eccleston is no longer the Ninth Doctor, is he? Nor David Tennant the Tenth, nor Matt Smith the Eleventh. It's fitting that Dr. Simeon mentioned the Valeyard. As I said, the future Doctor comes after his twelfth regeneration. Now that the numbers align, will we see the evil Doctor emerge?

And, of course, what is the link between Clara and River? Clara told the Doctor that she had seen all his faces, just as River did in the Series 5 episode "Time of the Angels". I'm not saying River is Clara, it was proved tonight that they are not the same person, but perhaps that link between them remained. Maybe that's how she knows the Doctor's real name. 

I could not have been more pleased as a fan. Steven Moffat deserves an incredible amount of credit for weaving such a magnificent tale. The Doctor's name remains hidden, as it should, but we learned so very much in just one episode. And now, we must be patient.....only 188 days to go until the Doctor Who 50th Anniversary Special.

Until then, sweeties,

- Joe

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