Reviews The Name of the Doctor - feat 3

Published on July 17th, 2013 | by Philip Bates

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Review: The Name of the Doctor

There’s an elephant in the room.

Surely every review of The Name of the Doctor starts at the end with that cliffhanger. And this one isn’t any different. The reveal of John Hurt’s Not-Quite-Doctor has the danger of overshadowing the other 40-odd minutes. It’s understandable: he could change all we know about Doctor Who since its return in 2005. Alternatively, he may have no lasting effect come Christmas. Showrunner, Steven Moffat, has to be careful. Doctor Who is precious to so many; to tamper with the lead character is dangerous.

John Hurt IS the Doctor!

That’s why the episode’s name caused so much controversy. That’s why he did it. He knows what he’s doing.

And what’s important to remember is that Steven Moffat is as much a fan as you or I; perhaps – and this may hurt – even more so.

Those suggesting that ‘The Grave of the Doctor’ or similar would’ve made as much an impact as the episode’s actual title are, I think, missing the point. The Doctor’s real name isn’t what’s important here: instead, it’s what is done in the name of the Doctor. I’m sure in my assertion that Hurt’s inclusion will not make Eccleston the Tenth Doctor, Tennant the Eleventh and Smith the Twelfth. Clara even says, “You’re the Eleventh Doctor” to that bow-tie-wearing alien with the silly hair.

But enough pondering over John Hurt for now. This episode boasts so much to explore and enjoy.

The First Doctor

We should, instead, focus on those goosebumps you got when you saw the Citadel on Gallifrey. Then the First Doctor and Susan scrambling into that faulty TARDIS. And then Clara and all those Doctors…!

Because you did, didn’t you? The hairs on your arms stood up, your eyes widened and a chill ran up your spine. The whole episode was worth it for those few moments of pure fan pleasure. The Doctor’s first foray into 2013 might’ve been the brilliant Bells of Saint John, but this is where the 50th anniversary really starts.

This is brave and innovative. This is what no other show ever can do. This is a celebration.

The Name of the Doctor showcases a lot of what’s maintained Doctor Who’s longevity: astonishing ideas, sinister monsters, shocking revelations and deaths, clever red herrings, a helping of continuity references, brilliant visuals, lovable companions, and one hero with many faces. In fact, one of the only things missing was an equal helping of humour to balance out the darkness – something unusual for a Moffat script.

Doctor, what is your name

That’s not to say that comedy has been completely abandoned. I love the Doctor’s reaction to being out-smarted by Angie and Artie (“the little… Daleks”) and Strax’s trip to Glasgow, but they’re somewhat undermined by the seriousness of Trenzalore. It’s a bit of a theme that the show gets a little darker when nearing a regeneration, but The Name of the Doctor was screened in the glorious days before we knew that – and here I stifle a tear – Matt Smith is leaving.

The feel-good factor is present, naturally, but only blatantly in the scenes with Clara in the Doctor’s time stream; fittingly, the tone of the episode is one of a funeral. I don’t like to think of the Doctor’s final resting place being on a battlefield. Trenzalore looks like a gloomy, horrible place to Rest In Peace. It makes Tranquil Repose look heavenly. I don’t like to think of the TARDIS being, essentially, ripped apart either, its dimensions pulling and stretching, its window tragically forever cracked and the cloister bell constantly screaming in pain. This isn’t just the Doctor’s grave: it’s also his TARDIS’.

Trenzalore

Nonetheless, these are brilliant ideas, perhaps not fully explored. But maybe that’s for the best. Once an idea is fully explored, it becomes stale. It’s better that they’re scrutinised by eager fans: that’s why we’ve never seen all the TARDIS interior.

This is also why I’m sure the Whisper Men will return. They are undoubtedly clever but underused. Frankly, they’re a writer’s dream: sinister, intangible, unlimited in potential – and a great receptacle for clever wordplay. They speak in rhymes! That’s so simple but so ingenious!

They’re the fairytale villains, capable of cropping up in the most desolate and dark places. This is probably my favourite of their lines, though all four verses are lovingly crafted:

The man who lies will lie no more/ When this man lies at Trenzalore.

Whisper Men 2

And I really love Clarence DeMarco’s (Michael Jenn) explanation of them: “in the babble of the world, there are whispers – if you know how to listen.”

I can’t help but think, or hope, that Trenzalore isn’t the Doctor’s End. Moffat always finds a way of cheating death – rather wonderfully, in my opinion – and River Song (Alex Kingston) is a great representative of this. It’s a brave move to revisit her death in the Library (all the way back in 2008!), but is there life left in her yet? I really hope so. Many do not like River. An equal amount, perhaps more, love her. She’s appeared in fewer adventures than an ordinary companion and I think there’s still much to explore. She should’ve faded by now, the Doctor argues, but time is a funny old thing. And as Clara learnt earlier this series, not everything dies. Not love – not always.

Conference Call

(This also applies to Richard E. Grant’s the Great Intelligence. Sure, he’s dead for now – but after re-watching The Bells of Saint John, you can figure out a way of bringing him back, easy-peasy.)

River saying the Doctor’s real name is a neat notion, sidestepping all that messy business of the show’s core mystery. Did we really think Moffat would reveal all? The thing about these little red herrings is that no matter how certain you are of something, there’s always a niggle at the back of your head, daring to consider another possibility. And this acted as great cover for Steven’s guerrilla storytelling, openly stating that the Doctor’s greatest secret would be revealed. Many said that this wouldn’t be his real name, but there’s that niggle again, somehow clouding what’s really going on.

If John Hurt hadn’t confessed in an interview in the week prior to transmission, that cliffhanger would’ve been perfect.

The Name of the Doctor - feat 1

But it wasn’t spoilt. This is still top-notch writing.

The episode’s direction was surprisingly understated too. Whereas Nick Hurran’s direction (in episodes like The Girl Who Waited and The God Complex) is glaring in its beauty, Saul Metzstein is confident in the narrative – enough not to pack in as many nuances as he can, whilst still maintaining great visuals. It’s testament to the show’s inventiveness and the production team’s open-mindedness that both work perfectly. Comparing the darkness in The Name of the Doctor to the clean, Sherlock-inspired Bells of Saint John or the innovation of The Crimson Horror (also directed by Metzstein), you can really see why Doctor Who never gets old.

The Paternoster Gang (Neve McIntosh’s Vastra, Catrin Stewart’s Jenny and Dan Starkey’s Strax) are back after their fun-filled jaunt ‘Up Norf,’ and continue to develop well. Jenny’s death was so affecting thanks solely to The Crimson Horror, and whilst many consider her coming back to life a mistake, I’m very glad the Gang hasn’t been split up. Strax shrugging off the ingenuity of the human heart before Vastra corrects him is a lovely touch.

Strax and his spade

What’s less effective is Jenny’s disappearance when the Great Intelligence rewrites the Doctor’s history. It would’ve been better to see Vastra’s heartache reflected in Jenny if the Silurian vanished instead.

Starkey’s Strax is as loveable as ever, but the brief instance where he falls back into his Sontaran conditioning is brilliant. Surely there’s potential to see the nurse-turned-butler’s reaction to a Sontaran invasion of Earth next series?

And we cannot forget the newest member of the Doctor’s gang: Clara Oswald (Jenna-Louise Coleman). She’s rather brilliant, don’t you think? She’s far more subtle than any other ‘nuWho’ companion, and that’s to her credit. She’s scared, but she’ll do what needs to be done for her Time Lord friend. She’s got sass, but she’s restrained and bright. Yes, her mystery could’ve been strung out much longer, but this is Moffat proving that he can wrap up arcs whenever he likes; he knows what he’s doing, especially with the longer ones, like the TARDIS blowing up in Series 5 or the Silence’s makeshift time ship. This has come into great criticism lately, but I think it’s largely unfair. Trust him. He does nothing without good reason.

Clara will always be The Impossible Girl, even if we now know why and how. This has been wrapped up so we can focus on the one person that really matters come the 50th anniversary: the Doctor.

The Name of the Doctor

What’s left to say about the Eleventh Doctor? Every positive word in the English Dictionary has been used about him since The Eleventh Hour – and then some. He just always amazes me.

The Name of the Doctor is clever and shocking, the narrative surprisingly straight-forward and the emotions raw and beautiful. Granted, it’s full of under-explored ideas, but surely that’s the promise of adventures to come. Doctor who? We still don’t know. We’ll never know. But there is one thing I’m certain of: I’m really going to miss my Doctor, Matt Smith.

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About the Author

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When he’s not watching television, reading books ‘n’ Marvel comics, listening to The Killers, and obsessing over script ideas, Philip Bates pretends to be a freelance writer. He enjoys collecting everything.




23 Responses to Review: The Name of the Doctor

  1. avatar yoyosi23 says:

    Lovely review! I agree with every word :)

    • avatar Philip Bates says:

      Thanks very much – greatly appreciate your feedback. :D

  2. avatar Mark Lenton says:

    But there’s no mention of the main niggle, how did the GI destroy the Doctors lives and even more importantly, how did Clara save them by just going in missing all the classic doctors in corridors and stuff…

    You have great faith in the moff that we will eventually get answers to the Tardis explosion and the Silence timeship… I hope you’re right but fear you’re not.

    • avatar Philip Bates says:

      Hey Mark,

      I do have faith in Moffat; these are big plot points, and he’s too good a writer to let them slide. I don’t really understand why anyone would think he’d let these ride permanently. Maybe he’ll wrap them up at Christmas; maybe he’ll wrap them up next series; maybe he’ll wrap them up when he leaves. Nonetheless, I genuinely believe he’ll wrap them up, as he knows the fanbase is too attentive to let him forever forget about them. The TARDIS exploding was a big plot point of the whole of series 5, and in The Big Bang, the Doctor even says it’s a good question for another day.

      The Angels Take Manhattan linking with The Eleventh Hour should prove that he plays the long game. Think of him as the Mighty Jagrafess. ;)

      I presume that the Great Intelligence tries attacking him throughout all his lives – just like Clara, sometimes he’s almost not there at all and doesn’t have an effect on the Doctor’s adventures; other times, again like Clara, he’s there, trying to kill the Doctor (as in The Snowmen, and The Web of Fear etc.). Clara, again I presume, is there to save him, replacing the GI throughout his time stream.

      It feels like something – a bit of exposition – was cut due to time restraints.

      Agreed: it is a niggle. This might even be cleared up in the 50th anniversary special. I certainly don’t think we’ve heard the last of Trenzalore or the Great Intelligence. It’s notable that we leave the Doctor and Clara in this sort of nowhere-place, perhaps at the base of the Doctor’s time stream. I do wonder if this will all be cleared up in November. The Name of the Doctor is, after all, Part 1.

      Thanks for commenting. :)

      • avatar TonyS says:

        The sparkly, wibbly-wobbly effect for the Doctor’s timeline closed just before the Hurt Doctor reveal. I would be surprised if that weren’t relevant

        • avatar Philip Bates says:

          Ooh, excellent point! Hadn’t picked up on that. Maybe Clara fell through his time stream and ended up in Bromwich or something!

          (…Or Gallifrey, where it all began?)

          (…Bromwich is more likely.)

          • avatar TonyS says:

            Will be interesting to see them make South Wales resemble Bromwich :)

  3. avatar Guy Grist says:

    Lovely review.

    • avatar Philip Bates says:

      Thanks, Guy. Glad you like it. :)

  4. avatar Bob James says:

    So nice, so refreshing to see the immensely creative and hard work that Steven Moffat and his people continue to put into Doctor Who appreciated for once. Doctor Who excels most when a creative force like RTD or Moffat is at the helm. They create their creative circle, set the course each series, and then, to their credit and in praise of their integrity, they sail, and they don’t listen to the clamor of dissenting voices, the armchair writers who subsist on passing judgment over, apparently, everything produced. It’s never perfect, nothing ever is, but nor does it have to be. John Nathan Turner tried to be the fan pleasing make the program to order producer, and this ended up, conspiring with other factors, doing him in. This show unlike so many others (especially on the US side of things) isn’t a pandering, made to order product. It brings in views by challenging them while entertaining them. It offers surprise, and not merely more of the same. It’s taken a character and mythology that has endured and thrived for 50 years and continued to make it all revelant, and even more vital than ever before. This is accomplished by the creativity and talent of those put into place to produce the show, not by outside committee. The people that put in that kind of hard work deserve to be respected, not subjected to personal insult, abuse, and most often baseless criticism. If you don’t like it, you don’t like it. That takes nothing away from what’s been and what’s being accomplished. Anyone who doesn’t care for the path Doctor Who is on, is free to hold that opinion. And if they really feel it’s so bad, they don’t have to watch it. All the clever (or not so clever) insults, ravings, rantings, bile and venom loosed on the production team and the program in general are not going to change one single thing. And I’m willing to bet, that if all those people so dissatisfied with and critical of the show were to stop watching, the universe of Doctor Who would not come crashing down in the least. I’ve been watching (and listening, and reading) Doctor Who for over 30 years, through all the peaks and valleys, and I for one am not only glad it’s still with us, but also grateful that it has continued to thrive and move, and grow, to be better than it has ever been before. When you can move and travel through all of Time and Space, why would you ever want to stay in one place?

    • avatar Philip Bates says:

      Wow. Thank YOU, Bob, for a really great comment. If only everyone could have that attitude. I honestly think Doctor Who has never been so consistently strong.

      My favourite argument against Steven Moffat is “he doesn’t even like Doctor Who”, closely followed by the old “he’s sexist and racist” ones. I’ve learnt that naysayers are, thank God, good for a giggle, if nothing else.

  5. avatar Bob James says:

    So, yes, thank you for the wonderful article, Philip. Brevity is the essence of wit, and I guess that’s why I’ve never excelled at witty.

    • avatar Philip Bates says:

      Well, Polonius might’ve believed that, but he’s obviously never been on Twitter, where wit wavers! ;)

      • avatar TonyS says:

        And I would never trust anyone who takes to hiding behind arrasses

  6. avatar Timolsky says:

    Philip, sitting in a delivery room after (ironically) the 11th hour of watching my wife go through labour, and happened ipon your review.

    How refreshing to read such a well structured and celebratory piece. So many sites take potshots at nu-Who, and while the last series had a few low moments, that last episode contained all those bits that make the programme so special – no point repeating them, as you’ve pointed them all out.

    The Internet feels full of haters sometimes, your piece reminds me that there’s still some goodies out there. Keep up the great work.

    • avatar Philip Bates says:

      Thanks very much – and it sounds like congratulations are in order! :) Another Who fan welcomed into the fold, eh? ;)

  7. avatar Anthony says:

    No. no they didn’t. The hairs did not, in fact, stand on end because I am not enamoured of the current direction of the show. Moffat’s cypher, Clara, is now responsible for originating the mythos of the entire show. Somebody’s ego is out of control * sigh *

    • avatar Philip Bates says:

      Hi Anthony,

      Didn’t you even get a thrill from seeing the past Doctors, albeit it briefly?

      And I’m not sure it’s Moffat’s ego; I think he thinks up a good story and runs with it. In another 50 years, people will still think of the First Doctor and Susan stumbling off into the TARDIS; and only a dedicated fanbase will go, ‘actually, it was Clara Oswald who’ blah blah blah. It’ll be a bit of ‘Trivia,’ that’s all.

      Also, she only told him the current TARDIS was the best bet – she didn’t really have a hand in his decision to leave.

      Thanks for commenting. :)

      • avatar Tim says:

        Was watching a fan made Tom Baker tribute video on youtube the other day . The final shot is the closet door opening (the closet he was stuck in in Image Of The Fendahl) . I thought “That was Clara letting him out” I love it ! I love the idea that Clara has always been there helping the Doctor !

  8. avatar anonymous says:

    I’m impressesed! Every letter is true!

  9. avatar Esterath13 says:

    Great review!

  10. avatar Kevin says:

    Don’t forget The Watcher! Way back when, Nyssa said he “was the Doctor all the time”. We know he knew the 4th Doctor’s future, but just how far in the future was his knowledge? Perhaps the Doctor will go through time and find the other Claras so he can defeat the Great Intelligence, leaving some Clarsa to be captured and/or killed, but a few remained. Then there is the Valeyard himself. Since he had taken over the Keeper of the Matrix’s body, it is unknown what happened to him when Gallifrey was stuck in the time loop. If he was able to leave because he wanted to live, he could have been lurking around the universe, or the TARDIS. The 11th Doctor said only 1 person in the universe hates him so much, and I think that could be the Valeyard.

    • avatar TonyS says:

      Interestung points, Kevin. My understanding of the Doctor’s comment to the Dream Lord was that the only person in the universe who hates the Doctor as much as the Dream Lord does is the Doctor himself. As the Valeyard and the Dream Lord are both distillations of all the worst aspects of the Doctor’s personae, then they are both the Doctor. Hmm I wonder…

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