Rather than a series split in two, this time it felt like five special stand-alone episodes, followed by a Christmas special, followed by a mini-series of 8. Yet, despite this, it did feel like a coherent, consistent run of 14 episodes. And although there weren’t as many stand out stories as previous seasons, there weren’t that many poor ones either (Cold War is the closest we got to a disappointment, and that wasn’t THAT bad).
And you know what they say about how important a good ending is? And The Name of the Doctor was certainly a good ending.
Before reading on, make sure to watch this week’s episode. Right here.
“WHAT WERE YOU EXPECTING, A BODY? BODIES ARE BORING. I’VE HAD LOADS OF THEM.”
I’ll get my minor gripes about The Name of the Doctor out of the way first. There was an awful lot of standing around talking about things. There were a lot of characters thrashing about on the floor. And a bit too many laboured metaphors about souffles and leaves.
But I am really just nit-picking at things. Because this was an excellent, satisfying, wonderfully acted and beautiful conclusion to season 7 of Doctor Who. A Doctor Who story at the highest level.
And what an opening. Beginning with William Hartnall, Clara was – sometimes clumsily – inserted into scenes featuring all the classic Doctors. It was true fan service that didn’t alienate new Whovians. And it made my Doctor Who geek heart skip a beat. Who is Clara Oswald?
Shortly after this, Clara is called to a ‘conference call’ (Moffat does love to add the fantastic to the otherwise ordinary) with Strax, Vastra, Jenny and River – who isn’t nearly as annoying in this episode as she has been historically. And as the call goes wrong, Clara is forced to tell the Doctor that he must visit the one place in the world he must never go.
“THIS PLANET IS NOW PROPERTY OF THE SONTARAN EMPIRE. SURRENDER YOUR WOMEN AND INTELLECTUALS.”
Fortunately, although the story threatened to descend into timey-wimey nonsense, it didn’t.
Perhaps responding to criticism from the previous season, The Name of the Doctor was – although still ambitious – a lot easier to follow.
I’ve enjoyed the theories firing around the Doctor Who forums about who really is Clara Oswald. Is she really River Song? Could she be the Doctor’s granddaughter Susan? Maybe she’s a reincarnation of the The Master? The true reveal, that she has scattered herself through the Doctor’s timeline in order to ‘save him’, made far more sense, and was quite a satisfying conclusion to that character’s arc.
Jenna Louise Coleman was excellent once again. She, along with the comedy Sontaran (although I am not sure I can ever take these villains seriously every again), have been revelations this season. I could watch the pair of them all day. And Vastra’s heartbreak as she loses Jenny (a few times. The new Rory?) was also touching to watch.
But the real star of this show remains Matt Smith. His emotional reaction to the news that he would have to save his friends in the one place in the world he should not go, was surprising. And Clara’s caring reaction was genuinely touching. Smith’s Doctor isn’t quite the cry-baby that Tennant’s Doctor was. He is far more emotionally complex – sometimes dark, often awkward and regularly child-like. But in The Name of the Doctor he showed an emotional depth. The greatest moment was his ‘farewell’ (hopefully not) to River Song. This isn’t the awkward teenager in love we’d grown accustomed to. But a heartbroken man who misses his wife. It was the most emotional Doctor Who moment I’ve experienced since Rose was so cruelly taken from him in 2006. Superb scene. I hope it’s not over for them yet.
And I hope those rumours that Matt Smith will return for an eighth season are true. He may have done 42 episodes, but I’ve not finished with him yet.
YOU’RE ALWAYS HERE TO ME. AND I ALWAYS LISTEN. AND I CAN ALWAYS SEE YOU.
The episode was beautiful in its darkness. A TARDIS crypt, a ruined graveyard, catacombs. The tomb of the Doctor was such a great idea, that I always wished that was the name of the episode.
Almost as beautifully dark are the villains, The Whispermen. These monsters are the same, faceless, intimate murderers that have become Steven Moffat’s signature (gas mask kids, angels, snowmen, clockwork monsters, The Silence). The idea of ‘killing with a whisper’ is decidedly creepy and unnerving. I expect a few more letters of complaint from parents to be sent Moffat’s way before the week is over.
Of course the true baddie of the season is The Great Intelligence, an actual adversary for the Doctor to face (as opposed to fate or cracks in time). Richard E. Grant’s malicious evil had a campness to it, although he wasn’t a particularly convincing nemesis. His plan to manipulate the Doctor’s history seemed a bit overzealous. What did he have against all those planets and people The Doctor had saved?
Also, the impact of this didn’t make sense. In one scene Strax begins to attack Vastra because he no-longer recognises her. But, if Strax no-longers know who Vastra is, then how come he is even there at all?
“BUT NOT IN THE NAME OF THE DOCTOR!”
But that’s also a minor quibble. Because the actual conclusion, the final scene, was fantastic.
I had hoped that the title ‘The Name of the Doctor’ wasn’t as literal as it sounded. Who really wants to know his name? So when his ultimate secret was revealed to be a forgotten Doctor, well… that’s just excellent. And John Hurt, too.
Who is he? Where does he fit into the timeline? What did he do? Some fans suggest he is the Valeyard (an evil version of the Doctor from the dodgy Colin Baker serial Trial of the Time Lord, and actually named by The Great Intelligence in this episode) but I somehow doubt it.
The 50th anniversary special cannot come soon enough.