Saturday, May 18, 2013

Review: "The Name of the Doctor"

And so we come to the finale for "series seven" of "Doctor Who". Yes, today was "The Name of the Doctor".

So I've had more than a few harsh things to say about series seven, especially the second half that has included Clara "Oswin" Oswald. I made no secret that I expected this finale to suck ass.

Perhaps it was that I'd mentally set my bar very, very low (subterranean low) but I have to say I didn't completely loathe this episode. Oh, the story was choppy and poorly-paced. The villains were sadly under-utilized and the grand ideas didn't quite get smoothly delivered. That said... well... spoilers follow:

Still there? You've been warned.

The episode opens on Gallifrey. An old man and a girl are stealing a TARDIS from a maintenance area when Clara warns the old man he is making a mistake. The old man is, of course, the First Doctor. Flash to Victorian England. Madam Vastra meeting up with some creepy guy in a Victorian prison. This guy, a convicted mass murderer, offers Vastra information on the Doctor and Trenzalore in exchange for his life.

Trenzalore, if you don't recall, is a location at which the Doctor will answer the question "Doctor Who?". That's the thing the Silence was all hot and bothered over.

Oh, and just to get it out of the way, the Silence doesn't appear in this episode. They aren't even mentioned. Yeah, I thought that was a ridiculous failed opportunity as well. For all that, color me unsurprised, but moving on...

Vastra, Jenny, and Strax do a "conference call" with Clara and River Song (yeah... what? Don't think too hard on this part) by going into some kind of dream state that allows cross-time face-time psychic conversations.

How did Vastra know how to get a letter to Clara to get her in this loop? It's Moffatt hand-waving. Don't ask logical questions. It'll just make you feel frustrated. Moving on...

They're all chatting about Trenzalore. River Song, as usual, smugly indicates she knows far more than anyone else (including the Doctor's name) despite the fact she's dead (or she isn't dead, I'm really unclear on this bit).

Meanwhile, "the Whisper Men", weird creepy guys in suits without eyes and terrible dental work snag Jenny, then Vastra, then Strax before intruding on the dreamspace to attack River and Clara. Clara awakes in the 21st century to find the Doctor there. She tells him about the convict and the mention of Trenzalore. The Doctor freaks out. So it turns out that Trenzalore is important to his timeline. It's where he dies and his tomb is set.

Following a taunting message from the Great Intelligence (the arc-villain this half-season), the Doctor and Clara head to Trenzalore. The TARDIS is uncooperative, but they still manage to get to the planet. There, the two are beset by Whisper Men while River Song's presence, seeming unnoticed by the Doctor, talks to Clara to advise her ways to avoid their pursuit.

Turns out there's a giant graveyard on Trenzalore, including a HUGE tomb in the form of a Police Box. Yes, the Doctor's tomb is the TARDIS and it's grown a bit.

The Doctor and Clara reunite with a revived Vastra, Jenny, and Strax. The Great Intelligence and his Whisper Men surround the group. The GI threatens to kill the Doctor's companions unless the Doctor opens the tomb. The only way to do so? The Doctor must speak his real name.

Okay, let's be clear here: we don't hear his real name spoken. The whole thing is a giant red herring. The ghost of River Song somehow opens the door, even though nobody can see or hear her and we never hear the Doctor's name spoken. Turns out the GI wants to find the maker of the Doctor's death: a time rift that connects to all of his past. The GI wants to go back in time and kill the Doctor simultaneously in every incarnation while disrupting his life. This act will obliterate the Great Intelligence, but it's a comic-book villain and it's okay with this. So it pops back and the Doctor starts convulsing in pain. While Jenny vanishes from time and Vastra fights with Strax (vaporizing him), Clara reasons with River that someone can go back in time and try to stop the GI. Clara, obviously, chooses to do this. This act will fracture her across time-and-space. She won't be her but she'll be echoes of her. Thanks to the TARDIS-tomb, she's already recalling the mind-numbing bad-writing from "Journey to the Center of the TARDIS" and realizes the mystery around her. As she jumps into the Doctor's timeline, this obviously solves that little mystery. Everyone is magically healed by timey-whimey bullshit and the Doctor, anxious to save Clara, says his final good-byes to River Song's ghost (he always knew she was there, but ignored her 'cause he's a giant asshole). He then jumps into his timeline and retrieves Clara, but not before meeting someone.

You see, Clara has crossed paths with every incarnation of the Doctor. All the ones we know about. Pretty much every incarnation gets a little cameo except the 8th and the 10th. At the very end, there's another there in the Doctor's timeline. Clara doesn't recognize him, but the Doctor does. This one is yet another incarnation of the being who holds the name of "the Doctor".

Here's where this actually gets kind of clever. Canon is that there's been eleven Doctors. Eleven incarnations of the Time Lord known as "the Doctor". That does not necessarily mean that this Time Lord has had eleven incarnations. Apparently there's been another incarnation that has held a different name. One that the 11th Doctor rejects as not having had the name, 'cause he's done terrible, horrible things. And this incarnation is played by John Hurt. He will presumably be the central character in the 50th anniversary episode airing on Nov 23, 'cause the episode ends on that note.

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