Doctor Who: The Name of the Doctor

River: 'Goodbye, Sweetie.'

I don't think I made it past the cold open before I was blubbing. In fact, I spent a great deal of this episode in tears. It was the absolute antithesis of what I was expecting—and was all the better for it. If this is what Moffat can produce for a season finale, imagine what he has planned for the 50th anniversary.

What an amazing opening montage! The way they inserted Clara into old show footage, and the way Moffat threaded her character through the show's history, was simply inspired. For a moment I thought I was watching the show's 50th anniversary—there were Doctors all over the place. Best of all, Clara's place among them made sense. This wasn't a typical Moffat finale, where you're left scratching your head, wondering how it all fits together—apart from the cliff hanger, it was all perfectly logical. It also gave Jenna an excuse to dress up in period costume, tszuj up her Barnet, and start rocking the Ace look. (Thank goodness the Mel look was nowhere to be seen.)

Moffat's clearly been engaging in a campaign of double-speak and misinformation this season. He started off by fibbing about when Jenna would appear in the show (he promised 'The Snowmen'... it was actually 'Asylum of the Daleks'), and these past few months he's been adamant that we'd learn the Doctor's biggest secret in the finale. Of course, we did—but in an episode entitled 'The Name of the Doctor', we can surely be forgiven for thinking that the secret was going to be his actual name? They telegraphed it enough throughout. But, no—the Doctor's biggest secret is apparently that he's the elephant man. Annoyance at being gypped aside, what a boon for the show! Hurt must be the biggest name to ever play the Doctor. (Save Mr Bean, but that was totally non-canonical.)

My favourite episodes this season have all featured the Paternoster Gang. The show sadly lacks genuinely likeable returning characters, and Strax, Jenny and Vastra are always value for money. Strax was the perfect antidote to the pathos. Every time something dramatic happened, he said something which made me laugh: when Jenny was murdered he called her Boy, when we first saw the Doctor's glowing time line, he threatened to destroy it. But losing Jenny twice was more than my wobbling bottom lip could take. Thank goodness they brought her back. If I wasn't so caught up in shipping Jenastra, I'd be championing Jenny as the Doctor's next companion. The gang have really made this season for me. Here's hoping they're back with aplomb next year.

I love it when the show's significant women get to meet. Rose meeting Sarah Jane was a classic, Amy meeting River was a blast, and Clara meeting River didn't disappoint. There were the usual dubious stares and icy banter. I'm glad they brought River back for one last hurrah. She had a relatively minor part to play in tonight's story, but her final scenes with the Doctor provided the perfect bookend for her character. Beautiful dialogue. I liked that there were no goodbyes. The Doctor, after all, hates endings—so what better way to part than with an impossible promise? It was hopeful, moving, and their last kiss provoked just the right amount of awkwardness from the watching Paternoster trio. Again, pathos followed by humour. Perfect.

Props to Jenna and Matt tonight, they were simply superb. I've always said that emotional, character driven stories trump overblown, world ending romps, and tonight's episode proved my point. Seeing beloved characters die has more of an emotional kick than the suffering of generic millions. Matt's tears had me welling up, and him risking everything to save his friends was the perfect note on which to end the season. Jenna was also stellar. I don't think her character has been best served by some of this season's scripts, but when the moment came for her to shine, she blazed. Risking life and limb to save the Doctor is what companions do, but Clara's sacrifice went far beyond the call of duty. Not only did she save Eleven, she saved them all.

The weakest part of the episode was probably the Great Intelligence, not because it was rubbish, but because it was secondary to the Doctor and Clara's story, and didn't get as much room to breathe. Richard E. Grant did his best with some fairly stiff dialogue, but his purpose for being there was simply to provide a problem for the impossible girl to solve. I did like the Whispermen, however; they were creepy, well designed, but ultimately a little underused. Here's hoping Moffat brings them back next season. If the farting Slitheen can return, then those guys certainly can.

Of course, Steven Moffat just wouldn't be Steven Moffat without dumping another mystery in our laps. Who is John Hurt's character? The closing credits identified him as the Doctor, yet Eleven seemed adamant that he wasn't. He was 'him' but not 'the Doctor'. Which, I'm assuming, is simply semantics. Because 'doctor' is a word synonymous with healing and care, and Hurt's Doctor broke that promise, is he simply refusing to allow him the name? Presumably this means he must be an earlier incarnation, but where does he fit in? Between two and three? Between eight and nine? Has Moffat decided to exploit the unseen regeneration loophole? All questions for the 50th, no doubt, but jolly exciting nevertheless.

Other Thoughts:

—River seemed to do more than her fair share of face slapping tonight. I'd be reluctant to slap Vastra. She has a big sword.

—I'm surprised the cloister bell didn't ring clean off its support. I doubt the TARDIS has seen a paradox that big in a while.

—I'm glad the TARDIS' telepathic circuits reawakened Clara's memories. At least the reset button in 'Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS' didn't wipe everything away.

—Loved the returning leaf/soufflĂ© metaphors.

—Yes, the CGI was occasionally clunky, but it succeeded in bringing back every Doctor, so who am I to complain? And Trenzalore looked wonderful.

—What was River's parting shot about being mentally linked with Clara about? A future ticket back, perhaps?


—Nice referencing of the Valeyard. At first, I thought that's who John Hurt's character was going to be. Not that he's much of a secret.

—Hands up if when you first saw Clara on Gallifrey, you thought she was a Time Lord.


Strax: 'Oh no, not the one with the gigantic head.'

Jenny: 'Sorry, so sorry... I think I've been murdered.'

Strax: 'Unhand me, ridiculous reptile!'

Strax: 'The heart is a relatively simply thing.'
Vastra: 'I have not found it to be so.'

Vastra: 'But what is the light?'
Jenny: 'It's beautiful!'
Strax: 'Should I destroy it?'

Clara: 'Don't steal that one, steal this one. The navigation system's knackered, but you'll have much more fun.'

Doctor: 'Since no one else in this room can see you, God knows how that looked.'

Four moor peaces eye rote, sea hear.


Billie Doux said...

BBC just renewed Doctor Who for an eighth season. Silly me, I thought they already had.

It was a strong finale. I liked their explanation for Clara, and I loved seeing River the way we did. Paul, I'm sort of relieved that you didn't know who John Hurt was, or at least, where he fits in, because I was totally lost.

Terrific review, Paul.

Juliette said...

I'd guess John Hurt is either an aged-up version of 8, or the Valeyard. But I'm almost never right :)

I can tell you exactly what it looked like, Doc - go watch Red Dwarf series 6, episode 3 (Gunmen of the Apocalypse).

Anonymous said...

Great review! I'm so relieved that they managed a stunning, moving finale after such a wobbly, uneven season. There were some gems like Hide and The Crimson Horror, but nothing to compare to the brilliant Series six... before this episode. Loved it.

Initially I too thought John Hurt would turn out to be The Valeyard, but just to hazard a silly guess, maybe he's the aged-up Doctor/Donna clone from Journey's End? Wasn't it quite heartless of Ten to just dump his clone with all his memories and wanderlust in that parallel world, Rose or not. Guess he'd be pretty angry about it by now.

a.m. said...

I really loved this episode. It had me from the opening lines right through to the introduction of John Hurt. I can't believe we have to wait until November for more answers!

I thought that 11 was insinuating that the John Hurt character was the Original--not the first doctor but the first incarnation of whatever the doctor's name is. He never got to be the Doctor because he came before that name was selected. I could be way off. At first I was thinking we were about to see #12 before the regeneration (after all we were in the doctor's whole timeline) but then something 11 said made me think that John Hurt was from before he selected the name "Doctor." Of course, that was all thrown up in the air after he was then introduced as "The Doctor" so who knows... I have a feeling I'll be watching this episode many times before November so maybe I'll get a better idea.

Did you really see all of the doctors? I don't know a lot of the older ones (though I can pick out a few) and I was glad to see 9 back--he doesn't get enough respect sometimes--but I looked for 10 and didn't see him.

I thought River's comment about "spoilers" was referring to how the Doctor was going to rescue Clair not that she (River) would be able to come back. I really felt like this was her swan song and I loved it! I'm still confused about her timeline and all of the information she has, but this seemed like a fitting ending, especially the hilarious kiss. Again, I could be wrong, especially with Moffat around!

This episode was great, as was your review Paul! See you in November!

The Dark Shape said...

Hurt's going to be the regeneration between McGann and Eccleston. He's the Doctor who fought the Time War.

It's the first episode since The Angels Take Manhattan that I've outright loved, and it may be the best of the season. I got the same thrill out of it as I did from The Big Bang.

Patrick said...

LOVED this finale! I was so worried we were going to have to wait until the 50th to actually learn the secret to Clara, so thank goodness Moffat didn't wait. And I thought the secret to the Impossible Girl was very well done. In a way, she sort of BadWolfed herself in order to save the Doctor, when you think about it. And I don't really care how her core being was able to somehow survive inside there for the Doctor to rescue, because Matt & Jenna played that scene SO beautifully. In fact, Matt & Jenna acted the hell out of this entire episode. They really are my favorite pairing of the modern Who. Seriously, BBC. Do whatever you have to do, but keep these two on the show as long as you can.

The Paternoster gang was wonderful, and proved once again that Jenny is my favorite of the bunch. I was genuinely afraid that she wasn't going to survive this episode, and I'm thrilled she's still around. I liked that little moment when the Doctor talked about how they looked after him before "The Snowmen", it was very sweet.

And of course, there was the big reveal at the end, John Hurt as "The Doctor", though according to Eleven, he's not worthy of the name somehow. I've heard a theory about who he is, and it sorta fits with what we saw, except that if that's what his big secret is, then we already know at least part of it. So unless there's even more to it(and knowing Moffat, there very well could be), I dunno. Either way, I can't wait to find out!

Mark Greig said...

How I managed to survive the geekgasm I had watching the cold open I'll never know.

While I've enjoyed season 7 overall, it has never managed to reach the same dizzying heights as seasons 5 and 6. Its been consistently good, the exception being last week's Cybermen disaster, but rarely great. But Moffat really delivered the goods with this one. I can't even imagine what he's got planned for the 50th.

The Dark Shape said...

I wish Moffat could write all the episodes. Odd exception aside, his stuff is generally much higher quality than everything else.

Mark Greig said...

Quick, someone scatter Moffat in time so he can write all the episodes.

And do the same for Neil Gaiman.

Nick said...

Am I the only one who was slightly let down by this episode? Don't get me wrong, just about all the ideas packed into it were spectacular - the Doctor's tomb, the wounds in time, the explanation behind Clara, the Paternoster Gang - but I still feel like Moffat's leaving too many loose ends dangling. I'm still here wondering if this was what the Silence were trying to prevent - the name shouldn't be spoken, so the tomb can't be opened, so no one can corrupt the Doctor's timeline? Or will the prophecy only come into play at the actual battle at Trenzalore, the aftermath of which we saw? Overall I feel like they seemed to rush through things, so stuff didn't breathe - suddenly the Great Intelligence is there, he seems to very conveniently know all about Trenzalore, all so the standoff can happen. And so on.

I did still really like it. But it left me slightly torn. I like the new direction they're taking, and the new questions and mysteries they've left us with - I just wish they could've quickly settled the older ones too. Even stuff like how Clara was able to phone the Doctor in The Bells of St John wasn't explained - or did I miss something?

But so as to not dampen the mood, I have to say that everything you pointed out in your review is exactly what I loved about the episode, Paul. So great job!

I do have one question though... is this the last we'll see of River? Or rather, pre-Library River? Since the River we saw (post-Library) doesn't know who Clara is, I assume the Doctor won't be meeting a younger River anymore - at least, not with Clara. Although her little hint at the end does imply she might meet them again in the future - she's still there in the Library, after all.

If nothing else, the episode was a fantastic lead-in to the 50th anniversary. Kudos to the team for keeping John Hurt's appearance here a secret - blew my mind!

a.m. said...

I thought this was post-Library River...isn't she wearing the same clothes? I thought that was what their final conversation was about--the Doctor was saying that the River in the computer shouldn't still be hanging on and she acknowledged that she was only hanging on for a goodbye. Once she got a proper one, she was gone, forever. Did I totally misinterpret it? Is there a possibility she could come back?

Now I'm definitely going to have to go back and watch it again...

PS It's been driving my type-A brain crazy all day that I misspelled Clara's name in my previous comment so I'm fixing it here: Clara Clara Clara Clara Clara!

Paul Kelly said...

a.m., if by ten you mean Tennant -- and let's face it, who really knows any more -- then he appears around the 35 minute mark. Clara's stood in front of a window looking out and Eleven is stood looking across a cityscape.

Wait ten=TENnant, so eleven=ELEphant man=John Hurt. There. Mathematics! You're welcome.

P.S. I'm not in the least bit interested that this doesn't work for any of the other Doctors. STOP BOTHERING ME WITH FACTS! ;)

a.m. said...

Thanks, Paul. I'll look when I re-watch it...

And if we have to re-order/number all of the Doctors, I am really going to be screaming "MOFFAT!!!!" ;)

TheShadowKnows said...

I really don't care about the Doctor's name. It's just going to be some gibberish like "Romanadvoratrelundar", right? The only shocking reveal I can see would be for the Doctor's real name to be either Omega or Rassilon, and neither of those makes any sense at all.

I agree that John Hurt is probably the "original" Doctor - or rather, the Time Lord who became "The Doctor" the first time he regenerated (into William Hartnell). It won't be necessary to renumber the Doctors, because he doesn't really count (he's a pre-Doctor, as it were). I assume he was a war criminal or worse.

Patrick said...

I don't think John Hurt is the "original" Doctor, before he took the name "Doctor". When 11(gotta keep them straight somehow) and Jenna saw him in that time-pit, he said the name he chose, Doctor, represented a promise, and that one(Hurt) is the one who broke the promise. That suggests Hurt's incarnation existed AFTER he originally took the name "Doctor", and committed some act so egregious, that he's somehow managed to purge/banish/whatever that incarnation of himself. Could it have something to do with the Doctor's actions during the Time War?

Anonymous said...

Apologies for hijacking the thread but are you guys watching Orphan Black? Its turned out to be a great little scifi show with a charasmatic performance at the centre by Tatiana Maslany. WOuld love to see it covered on the site

TheShadowKnows said...

"I don't think John Hurt is the "original" Doctor, before he took the name "Doctor". When 11(gotta keep them straight somehow) and Jenna saw him in that time-pit, he said the name he chose, Doctor, represented a promise, and that one(Hurt) is the one who broke the promise. That suggests Hurt's incarnation existed AFTER he originally took the name "Doctor", and committed some act so egregious, that he's somehow managed to purge/banish/whatever that incarnation of himself."

My hearing is so crummy that I missed most of that. I concede your interpretation is likely correct. But...

"Could it have something to do with the Doctor's actions during the Time War?"

The problem I have with that is: the Doctor freely admitted that he committed atrocities during the Time War. It's not really much of a dark secret, is it? But I admit that's probably what it will be.

Paul Kelly said...

I sometimes hope that the Doctor's real name is actually John Smith, and that Jamie stumbling across the name on a piece of medical equipment was all a big set up.

Sooze said...

For a "new Who" fan who doesn't know all the Who-lore...can someone fill me in on the Valeyard and the battle of Trenzalore?
And I have stopped trying to figure out River Song's timeline and how she fits in where...

Mark Greig said...

Sooze, everything you need to know about the Valeyard is here:

As for the battle of Trenzalore, you'll have to hold Moffat's family hostage to get any details on that.

Sooze said...

Thanks Mark...Silly me, I should have known all I had to do was look it up.

Lisianpeia said...

If the Time Lords were thinking about destroying the whole Time (as its said by Ten in the The End of Time), which would kill all creature, preveting them from doing it so would be caring for others, wouldn't it? That's what makes me think Hurt isn't "the Doctor" from the Time War. Moffat might creat a whole different history for this new "version' of the Doctor. I didn't know who the Valeyard was, but it seems possible that Hurt would be him.

Also, from the comments I got confused... this was the last of River? This was after the Library in her timeline. But she said 'spoilers" at the ending, I thought maybe this was a way of letting us know she would be back.

"I sometimes hope that the Doctor's real name is actually John Smith, and that Jamie stumbling across the name on a piece of medical equipment was all a big set up." Now, THIS would be funny.

I loved this ending, the whole episode was incredible for me.

I liked the episodes from this season. With Clara (I liked her a lot - maybe even better then Amy) we have Asylum of the Daleks, The Rings of Akhaten, Hide and The Crimson Horror, that were great to me! And The The Angels Take Manhattan was amzing.

Great review!!!

Kenneth Serenyi said...

There's no way River Song could have influenced that door to open in the form she was in. Therefore, the Doctor's name is "Please".

Bea said...

God, I'm su frustrated by this show. I'm sorry, but I just don't - can't, and honestly, I've tried - like what Moffat brings to the table as showrunner. I think he's had some beautiful stand-alone episodes, but I'm not getting the love from these past seasons.

He abuses the reset button so much that there's never any emotional stakes left, and I feel like he knows how to produce over-emotional moments that feel soap-opery but that lack any actual substante.

Oh yes, look at how cool Clara's journey through time is! And yes, it is, except for the part that this is yet another character brought to the table that lives and breathes through and for the Doctor, and therefore eliminates any actual independant character arc for her. And I'm sad, because I like her as a character, and I hated this resolution. I would have liked her just as much if she'd been just a girl that had met the Doctor at random, honestly.

Also, River Song. Oh, River Song, what a beautiful goodbye you got. And indeed she did... I mean, Moffat's good at pre-fabricated emotions, and Matt and Alex sell it, but, I'm sorry, what do we actually know about the River/Doctor relationship that makes it so great and touching? All we've been given is a few stories here and there with the "big moments", in some incomprehensible order and with no real depth. We've been constantly told about the big long date-like adventures of River and the Doctor, but we haven't actually seen them. It's like I have to believe their love without actually witnesing it! Last time we saw River the Doctor didn't even seem to like her all that much, honestly.

Look, say what you will about RTD's nonsense and overblown endings (I won't deny them; the whole Tinkerbell Jesus plot from season 3 still makes me cringe) but at least the man knew how to create a meaningful character arc.

Look, I've stayed, and I've actually enjoyed some of the stories from the past seasons (mostly the stand-alones to tell you the truth), but I've been consistently left cold by some of the suposedly great emotional moments. Moffat's writing doesn't get to me, something gets lost in translation, and it frustrates me to end.

I kind of wish I could enjoy as much as you guys seem to.