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Review–Doctor Who: The Name of the Doctor Spoilers!

The TARDIS nears TrenzeloreBefore you read any further, I will note right now, this is a proper review and not a glancing fan gushing intent on telling you how The Name of the Doctor is without getting into details, so if you’re not wanting spoilers on the episode, please feel free to send your browser somewhere else that suits your fancy. Okay?

Spoilers!

Since taking over as Doctor Who’s showrunner and head writer from Russell T. Davies in 2010, Steven Moffat has, slowly but surely, been evolving Doctor Who into a very different entity than the one Davies had overseen in its first five years. While the Davies era was a successful revival, his personal vision of the show tended toward either ridiculously goofy humor or massive emotional melodrama, and he rarely spent the effort to craft a truly coherent story. With Moffat’s arrival – and with “11th” Doctor Matt Smith replacing David Tennant’s immensely popular “10th” incarnation – the tone began darkening, the ridiculous goofiness began ebbing, and elements of the original series began creeping back into the show. Clips and photos of previous Doctors began turning up every now and again. The Doctor’s TARDIS ceased to be a giant conglomeration of organic coral with a central console of poorly fit together junk, first becoming a beautiful, eclectic machine, and then, with the second half of series 7, the control room actually was remodeled to look like the sort of thing that really would have evolved from the old series TARDIS control room – a control room that, for the first time since the cancellation of the original series in 1989, looked as if it were actually designed that way, rather than a junkpile making do.

Moffat hasn’t just spent the last three years incorporating classic series visual elements into the show, either. The Doctor’s TARDIS is once more referred to as a Type 40. Updated versions of classic series races such as the Silurians and the Ice Warriors have served as friends and foes. The Cybermen ceased to be clomping art deco alt-universe threats, becoming Borg-esque Cronenbergian body horror monstrosities that once more hibernate in the sort of tombs we’ve seen from so long ago in the Second Doctor story Tombs of the Cybermen. The Great Intelligence has become a major villain in no less than three series 7 stories, foregoing the robot yetis of the Troughton years and peculiar animated snowmen of the 2012 Christmas Special to take advantage of the ever-present wi-fi networks worldwide.<

Even the character of The Doctor himself has evolved. Whereas Christopher Eccleston’s “Ninth” Doctor was a nearly eccentricity-free post traumatic stress disorder case and David Tennant’s “Tenth” Doctor alternated between manic excitement and heavy sorrow while wrapped in appealing geek chic packaging, Matt Smith’s “Eleventh” Doctor, with his professorial attire, gangly appearance, and eclectic, boyish eccentricity, easily felt like a Doctor of old. At first he seemed a sort of taller reinterpretation of Patrick Troughton’s “Second” Doctor – a brilliant, whimsical cosmic hobo with heavy comedic qualities. As series 5 proceeded through 7 an increasing darkness in the interpretation began to recall another well-regarded interpretation of the character, namely late-run “Seventh” Doctor Sylvester McCoy’s cold, cosmic manipulator we saw in excellent serials such as Remembrance of the Daleks,, Silver Nemesis, Battlefield, The Curse of Fenric, and Ghost Light. It almost seems as if Moffat has been aiming the show to eventually become the Season 27 that could have been if the BBC had been actually willing to really invest serious money and development time into the dying original series.

Plus, as had been happening toward the end of the McCoy era when the original series was sputtering toward an inevitable cancellation, Moffat has slowly brought back to the limelight the central, obvious, easily-forgotten original question of the series… Doctor Who?

The Doctor's friends in the Name of the DoctorNow, with Series 7 finale The Name of The Doctor, Moffat brings his incorporation of old and new Doctor Who to fevered crescendo in an episode so excellent and so staggering it may well go on to be remembered as the best single episode of Doctor Who ever.

When the Doctor’s loyal friends – the Silurian Lady Vastra, Vastra’s human wife Jenny, and their friend and investigating partner Strax the Sontaran – are kidnapped and held hostage by The Great Intelligence and his army of Whispermen, Clara must not only inform the Doctor of what the stakes are but where he must go to pursue resolution. The answer: Trenzalore

In the Series Six finale The Wedding of River Song, the seemingly-knowledgable character Dorian had more or less warned the Doctor there would be some sort of unpleasantness in his future at a place he referred to as “The Fields of Trenzalore.” Upon the news that he must travel there, The Doctor openly weeps… for Trenzalore is the homeworld of his grave.

Forcing the TARDIS to break one of its cardinal rules and cross his own timeline, The Doctor travels to Trenzalore with Clara – who, seemingly unknown to The Doctor, is in telepathic contact with River Song. Once more, though, this is a different era’s Professor Song, namely the consciousness living on in the library computers we saw back in the “Tenth” Doctor story Silence in the Library. Song tells Clara how she and the distraught Doctor can enter The Doctor’s own tomb, and therein we discover that The Great Intelligence itself has readied a plot that could not only destroy The Doctor as he stands now, but every event The Doctor’s ever triumphed in throughout the entirety of time and space,and The Doctor’s salvation may lie only in the hands of Clara the impossible girl who won’t learn why she’s impossible until the ultimate moment of truth.

While Moffat might have been slowly connecting “New Who” with “Old Who” for quite a while now, The Name of the Doctor finally creates the firm link that merges both series into one. The episode literally begins with “First” Doctor William Hartnell stealing the TARDIS, and the episode presents us a web out of continuity which ultimately features all of the Doctors that have ever been. For the first time since the series revival an episode finally throws the weight of its fifty year pedigree around which, combined with a story involving the very mortality of The Doctor, supplies a massively resonant tension that’ll have any Whovian of any era intensely affixed to their television screen. It is apparent quite quickly that this episode is the biggest thing in Doctor Who. ever.

Performance-wise, everyone is at maximum, with Smith, as the series’ bedrock, staggeringly effective as a character who, after the weight of nearly a millennia of time and space, has to face not only his own mortality but a threat to everything he’s ever stood for and everything he’s ever been.

The Name of the Doctor End TitleThe episode ultimately becomes an examination and exploration of the phrase it’s titled with, though not in a literal sense. When one sees the title is The Name of The Doctor, one tends to think automatically that the episode will be about the name of The Doctor – as in, what that true name actually is. In fact, the title is a bit of a misleading play on words. If it were presented literally in terms of how it’s applied in the episode, the proper title would be, The Name of “the Doctor.” It ends up being about the self-assumed title of “Doctor,” an examination of what that title means – what the implications and expectations are of a person who adopts it. Why did he choose to go by “Doctor?” This becomes the key issue before episode’s end, and before it’s all over the viewer receives one final lightning bolt out of the blue (or the vortex if you like) that has already sent Whovian speculation and examination off the charts.

The Name of the Doctor is pivotal, extraordinary Doctor Who. Finally, we have a monumental moment in the current show’s history that will send shockwaves not just through new series fans but also through people who have loyally sought to experience the series through all its incarnations.

After The Name of the Doctor, the November 23rd 50th anniversary special can’t come fast enough.

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One Comment

  1. so, any theories? You must have theories …

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