Clara blew into this world on a leaf. But she cooked her way into the Whoniverse in the shell of a Dalek. This made a number of things all sorts of confusing. Which is nothing new during the Moffat era. During the days of Mr. RTD, where Moffat was a guest writer, his episodes were often packed with all kinds of interesting timey wimey-ness. They were almost always the best episodes of their respective seasons as well. Naturally his time as showrunner would expand on his knack for unraveling the yarn ball of time only to tie it into endless knots.
Knowing this there was only one explanation for Clara, the Impossible Girl, the girl who died, and died, and still popped up, that would make any sense.
I’m not saying I was totally right (especially since I never detailed my theory publicly and you would have no reason to trust me) but I was pretty damn close.
More on that later.
The Name of the Doctor is easily the best episode of this entire lackluster season. It is also Moffat’s best work on the show since the Impossible Astronaut/Day of the Moon arc from WAY at the start of season 6. It has visually spooky, if not conceptually creepy, monsters. A small grouping of the Doctor’s friends brought together for mysterious reasons. Revelations about an ambiguous threat. River slapping people. And it challenged our perceptions about the show in a very intriguing way.
As soon as I read the title to the episode I recalled a conversation, from years ago, with an RTD obsessed, David Tennant worshiping, coworker/co-fan. I’d asked her if she liked Steven Moffat. She went off on all the reasons why she did not. Her biggest complaints were that she didn’t think he respected Doctor Who’s legacy and that he doesn’t have the right to give so many definitive answers about the secrets surrounding The Doctor. She wasn’t happy with the Doctor/River marriage thing. I guess she still held out hope for him and Rose.
I couldn’t help wondering if she’d seen the title, or had she given up on the series. Surely the prospect of her despised Mr. Moffat answering the biggest question of all would set her off. Part of me hoped he would do it. I wanted to see him push things that far. Another part of me feared the idea. If we learned The Doctor’s name it would cease to be Doctor Who. Instead we’d be watching Doctor Cliff, or Doctor Tim.
Mostly I knew there was no chance in hell that Moffat would do that. You see, I feel exactly the opposite as my old coworker. Not only do I think Moffat respects the legacy of Doctor Who, I think he worships at the mantle of Who. He knows that there are few things more rewarding in this universe than good Doctor Who. That’s why he does the things he does, because that’s what all the best Who writers did before him. They challenged the character, grew the mythology, took it places it had never been. Her beloved RTD killed all the Time Lords for Tardis sake.
Even if the stories themselves didn’t turn out great, the Whoniverse benefited from those daring choices. They made it richer, fuller, better. Whenever I don’t like an episode, or several of them, it never deters me from coming back the following week because I know at some point it will pay off. There will come a time when this new concept is used to its fullest potential.
That is what happened with The Name of the Doctor.
Look at that staggering opening sequence. Clara appearing with every incarnation of The Doctor. The technology may not have had a great effect but the implications were massive. Within the first minute Moffat had managed to honor and alter the entire history of Doctor Who without really changing anything. All he did was show us what we already knew from a different angle. We knew The Doctor fled Gallifrey with Susan in a stolen Tardis. He just showed us who pointed him in the right direction.
The sequence is so stunning they showed it again, this time with a P.S. here and there. What I love so much about it, besides getting to see all the old Doctor’s again, is the unity it brought to everything. Lots of people have bitched about this. They claim it makes the series too small. I don’t see how that’s possible when really it adds a whole new dimension to all of it. If anything this introduces more possibilities than ever before. You can now go back and watch all those old adventures (maybe by reading my Streaming Who series, which will be making a return soon) with new appreciation.
Because Clara was there, saving The Doctor when he didn’t know it, Classic Who and Current Who no longer exist. It is all Doctor Who now. Everything ties together. So there’s no reason to look back at his first eight incarnations with cynicism because the production quality isn’t up to your standards, or because it isn’t YOUR Doctor. Now you see it is the same man, with different faces, being saved by the same girl again and again.
If I had any issue with this montage (not that I have to, but I do have one) it would be the choice of costume for the Clara of each period. Why does she look like his companions of that time? Why is she dressed like Ace (pictured above)? Or Leela? Or any of them? During this sequence I practically shouted, “Is she every companion ever?!”
This probably is not the case. I assume that she either temporarily occupied the body of the specific companion, or just plain looked like them. While it didn’t take away from the impact of these images, it was the tiniest bit distracting.
While I’m on the subject of Clara I’ll explain what I was talking about before.
If you look at everything I brought up regarding Moffat’s writing, including his respect for Who lore, and maybe do a little digging into The Doctor’s past, you may have noticed a guy named Scaroth.
In 400 million BC, this dude Scaroth, who is actually an alien called a Jagaroth, landed on a primordial Earth, where his ship exploded, sending him through the time vortex and splintering him into 12 different forms. Twelve versions of the same man, scattered through time, all with the same consciousness.
This concept stuck with me because I felt it was pure genius. Classic Who was still a little rough for me to enjoy at the time. It was Scaroth, or Count Carlos Scarlioni, or Captain Tancredi, as he is also known, that made me look beyond the surface of the show and absorb the sharp, witty, genius writing beneath.
My first theory was that Clara had somehow been splintered in time. That was all. I had no idea HOW this had happened. That was what I’d been waiting all this time for. Luckily I was pleasantly surprised. The truth about her, or the why, was not unique to Who, but the how most certainly was. Just another way Moffat has been able to take my expectations and turn them just enough to prove that he’s still in charge.
All that being said, I do still have trouble with Clara. At least in the depiction of her thus far. Every episode in which she has appeared has shown her to be little more than a plot device. She filled the gap left by Amy, so The Doctor still has someone to talk to, and kept him investigating something other than the Silence, or The First Question. This would have been incredibly engaging had they done more with Clara, like give her a character. As I’ve said before, other than the mystery about her, there is nothing compelling in Clara whatsoever. Now that we got all the impossible girl stuff out of the way, we can get to know who she really is.
There is a moment in the episode that others have been glancing over. I might even say dismissing. The reviews I’ve read have hardly made mention of it. This disturbs the hell out of me for some reason.
River Song has fascinated me since her very first appearance. Here is a woman who knows The Doctor. Knows everything about him. especially things he doesn’t know. Things he can’t know. She is a woman who will see The Doctor achieve a greatness he’s never imagined. A woman who knows his name. Also, she’s damn good at putting him in his place.
Like Clara there was mystery surrounding River. The Doctor could not figure her out. And he loved it. He loved her.
Their relationship was riveting, watching their romance unfold out of order. It was tragic and wonderful. River was the first person I ever felt matched The Doctor. If he was going to marry someone, it could only be River. She’s funny, flirty, mysterious, brilliant, and she loved The Doctor with her entire being.
There were subtle moments between them, a glance, a snicker, a touch, that really made them feel like a couple. They bickered, they screamed at each other, they laughed. It was a marriage in every sense and I was truly smitten by it.
I was sad to see her go. And Furious to see so many disregard her departure as if it were nothing. Hearing her say spoilers was enough to get me crying.
The first words she spoke to The Doctor would come back to him again and again. “Hello, Sweetie.” Now her last words, must echo in his hearts, “Goodbye, Sweeties.”
Perhaps they were not her last words. Not as far as the series is concerned anyhow. River may have reached the end of her journey with The Doctor (think of all the adventures they had that we didn’t see), but he may not have reached the end of his with her. They never could get their time streams synced up properly.
All in all this was a fantastic episode. It was a little rushed and a few moments of exposition could have been a bit more dramatic, but what matters is the over all impact. And over all, I enjoyed it intensely. It was everything a great episode of Doctor Who should be. It honored everything that came before while moving forward. There were plenty of laughs (thanks Strax), loads of confusing paradoxes, big ideas, cool characters (the suPERB Jenny and Vastra), and a pretty solid villain.
This time around I found the Great Intelligence to be pretty threatening. Sure the Whisper Men were little more than henchmen, but they still looked awesome and spoke in cryptic rhyme. GI came off as so coldly calculating (without the need of snow) and vengeful that I really felt his menace. This is a being so angry at The Doctor and everything he will become that he’s willing to be shredded to a million pieces to destroy The Doctor all at once. That is scary.
There is another reference to a Classic Who villain in this episode which almost gave me chills.
As GI listed off a number of names by which The Doctor would come to be known, he paused for a hair of a second and said, “The Valeyard.” I had to catch my breath.
Since the time when a mysterious voice inside the Tardis said the words “Silence will fall,” I had been hoping to have mention of The Valeyard. I had no reason for this really. It’s not like The Valeyard had ever mentioned Silence Falling before. But the internet was on fire with speculation about the voice, most of it surrounding lost Time Lord Omega, that I decided to hope for my own Classic Who call back.
One day I will write about what I think is one of the most underrated seasons of Doctor Who. The Trial of a Time Lord.
Conceptually this series of Doctor Who was extraordinary. The Doctor is summoned to Gallifrey to be put on trial for his crimes against time. His accuser is an unknown Time Lord named The Valeyard. He has it out for The Doctor. So much so that he is willing to fabricate evidence by rewriting time to portray The Doctor as an all out villain.
The zinger of the series is that this Valeyard is actually The Doctor. A dark version of himself that exists between his twelfth and thirteenth regeneration. The Doctor is going to go bad.
This is a prime example of a great Doctor Who idea that isn’t exactly exploited to its fullest potential. The Trial of a Time Lord story was so hated by many fans that I think most of them would rather forget it. I can’t blame them really. A lot of it was pretty vague and hard to understand. But the idea of The Valeyard is too strong to sweep under the Tardis carpet. This character, or concept, needs to comeback in a big bad way.
The reason I’ve spent so much time discussing this is because of the ending of the episode. I love this ending. It is so surreal and high concept. Clara in The Doctor’s time stream surrounded by everything The Doctor. She must hold on to her identity by clasping her leaf. She sees every incarnation of The Doctor.
And there is an Other. I phrase it this way for a very specific reason that I will explain in a later post. This review has gone on too long already. Trust me though, it’s important.
This other is The Doctor. It is also “Not” The Doctor. He tells Clara that the name you choose is like a promise you make. “He’s the one who broke the promise.”
Already people are going ape shit with theories of who the shadowy man is. I have two of my own – one I will mention here, and one “OTHER” I will go into in that future post.
I agree with most people that it is probably The Doctor 8.5. The Time War has been referenced recently, and the 50th anniversary is coming up. If you’re going to tell the story of the Time War then the 50th is the perfect time to do it. We know that The Doctor did something during it that he regrets. He ended The Time War by some means he is ashamed of. So it’s possible that Doctor 8 regenerated, then there was John Hurt as Doctor 9, who did something so bad that when he regenerated into Doctor 9 proper, he revoked the title of Doctor from his John Hurt incarnation and went on his adventuring.
But I also like the idea of John Hurt being The Valeyard, or at least another version of him. This would explain why he is not called The Doctor in Trial of a Time Lord. The name Doctor was stripped from him and he chose another. I would simply love to see that play out. The origin of The Valeyard.
Now we look ahead to November where the Legacy of Doctor Who continues to grow and honor itself with the 50th anniversary special. Let the video below hold you over.
Until Next Time…