Doctor Who 7.13 “The Name Of The Doctor” TV REVIEW
Episode 7.13 Writer: Steven Moffat Director: Saul Metzstein
THE ONE WHERE The Doctor visits his own grave at Trenzalore.
VERDICT “No more two-parters!” said Moffat. But what else is “The Name Of The Doctor” except “The 50 Doctors, Part One” (or “Doctor Who? Part One” or whatever the 50th anniversary episode will be called, Part One)? A prelude? An overture?
Arguably this story started last autumn with “The Asylum Of The Daleks” (arguably, because you could say it started in winter 1963) and it’ll (probably) end this autumn with the 50th anniversary. So, “The Name Of The Doctor” is just a lot of middle. A stepping stone. A mere cog in a massive continuity machine.
To be honest, who care? Who cares when the cog is so gorgeously crafted it transcends mere function and dazzles in its own right? It may make no sense outside of the machine but that doesn’t make it any less striking. Viewers without a degree in Who-ology might miss out on some of the more esoteric references, and certain plot beats may not make a lot of sense to them, but they’re still going to love the broad strokes. Those of us who can spot a line from “Castrovalva” or a sound bite from the First Doctor or a reference to the Doctor’s penultimate incarnation, well… we’re simply being rewarded that little bit more.
Apologies for gushing. “The Name Of The Doctor” isn’t perfect. And maybe the outpouring of love for it comes slightly from a position of relief after the iffy run of episodes that preceded it. But in so many ways, “The Name Of The Doctor” delivers big time.
The kaleidoscope of nostalgia in the pre-credit teaser is a touch of genius. Sure, some of the archive clips marry less well with the new material than others, but the sheer thrill of what you’re seeing means that the cheer-goggles blur the joins (though you do want to tell Jenna-Louise Coleman to slow down at the end of her monologue – she sounds like she’s just realized the theme tune is about to start).
It’s a long while then before we see the Doctor again, as the slow-burn build-up begins. The gathering of team Doctor in the light of the information Vastra has learnt is fun, full of great characters moments and written with Moffat’s usual economic ability to combine wit with infodumping. The dream-time-machine is another of those handy Who plot devices that it’s difficult to believe we’ve never heard of before in 50 years, but hey, it beats relying on vortex manipulators yet again. Some of Strax’s comedy moments feel a little forced (and by the end of the episode you really do wonder if the episode may have benefited from two or three fewer Strax quips, especially at moments of high drama) but you can forgive him anything for that request to be hit with a spade (“This may take a while.”). Brilliant.
When the Doctor finally does reappear, he does something very unexpected – he looks genuinely upset and worried. It’s a very powerful moment from Matt Smith, pitched perfectly; neither underplayed nor overplayed. You suddenly realize how few moments like this Smith has had to work with in the second half of season seven. Even since Clara arrived he’s been in almost constant whacky mode, and his characterization of the Doctor has missed something because of it (especially as Clara is also, to an extent, a bit of a cartoon character).
Equally interesting is the way he snaps out of his sadness very quickly, and reverts to kooky Doctor for a few moments, but then seems to be lapsing back into introspection by the time he’s back in the TARDIS. It reinforces the idea that his recent wackiness has been a form of shield that he’s been using to keep Clara at a distance. It’s a good piece of rationalization, but sadly it doesn’t excuse the fact that a certain chemistry and fizz has been lacking from their interactions until now. On the other hand, now that Cara has seen the chinks in the Doctor’s amour, the pair do seem closer in ensuing scenes. Or maybe Moffat just has a better handle on Clara than the other writers.
Then the action moves to Trenzalore, which we’ve heard so much about. But we don’t get to see the big battle; instead we’re there to visit the Doctor’s tomb – which happens to be a very impressive-looking giant TARDIS. The Great Intelligence is back, still looking like Richard E Grant, because Richard E Grant is too good an actor to waste. Hell, there are few thesps who can utter the arch, super villain lines he has to deliver with any kind of conviction. Grant not only gives conviction, but chills.
The Whispermen are decent enough henchmen with some great gimmicks, though a little generic (Sarah Jane Adventures The Trickster meets Buffy’s The Gentlemen). We don’t actually learn much about them here – they’re pretty much just the heavies – but presumably they’ll come into their own in the anniversary special.
River’s also surprisingly underplayed this time around as well, but that makes sense; she knows what happened at Trenzalore, so she’s hardly going to be happy-happy-joy-joy. Her final “Spoiler” is one hell of a tease, though – you try not coming up with theories!
The showdown within the TARDIS tomb console room is electric, helped by even more flashbacks, and some very pretty special effects. Sure, the timey-whimey stuff seems to be adhering to some whole new set of temporal rules which means that the Great Intelligence can defeat/kill the Doctor at all points in his history when surely all he need do is kill him before he enters the TARDIS. But honestly, if you’re enjoying the episode so little by this point you want to quibble about that then you’re watching the wrong show. It’s a great conceit and you just have to accept that the Great Intelligence has found a way of doing whatever the goddam Hell he likes. Because he’s Great. And Intelligent. And Pissed-Off.
And then we get THAT twist after the Doctor vanished into his own time line… John Hurt is the firggin’ Doctor! If that doesn’t ensure the whole world is watching the 50th anniversary special, we don’t know what will.
There are some missteps. The rewritten history with Jenny vanishing and Strax reverting to type is a little half-hearted. Clara still feels too new a companion (and an underdeveloped one) to really care about her sacrifice. The Doctor’s reason for being able to see River is pure fairytale rather than anything approaching science fiction (though it does mean we get the killer line, “Since no one else in this room can see you, God knows how that looked”).
But overall, this was a cracking piece of Doctor Who, and beautifully shot with some stunning visuals. An unashamed fan-pleaser that wouldn’t have alienated the not-we, either because it was all kinds of fun.
Roll on 23 November…
SOUNDS FAMILIAR? Aside from overlapping soundbites from past episodes coming out of the Doctor’s life-map-through-time (or whatever it’s called – the glowy, spinny web-thing, anyway) a couple of other lines sounded familiar. “The dimensioning forces this deep in the TARDIS can make you a bit dizzy,” is a paraphrase of the Fifth Doctor’s line from “Castrovalva”: “There are strong dimensioning forces this deep in the TARDIS. Tend to make one a bit giddy.” Meanwhile, “The stars are going out,” which is paraphrased hers by Vastra, is the line Wilf said in “Turn Left.” Did you spot any more?
LOOKS FAMILIAR Was the idea of “Dr Simeon” being a hollow shell (a fantastic FX sequence, by the way) a deliberate nod to similarly bodiless Omega in the tenth anniversary special, “The Three Doctor”? We’d like to think so.
THE NAME GAME Dr Simeon says, “He will have other names before the end. Storm. The Beast. The Valeyard.” Well, two of those are obvious. As first stated in “The Parting Of The Ways” (2005) the Doctor is known as “The Oncoming Storm” in the ancient legends of the Dalek Homeworld. The Valeyard, meanwhile, was, according to The Master in “The Trial Of A Time Lord” (1986), “an amalgamation of the darker side of the Doctor’s nature… your penultimate reincarnation… Somewhere between your twelfth and thirteenth regeneration.” He presented the case for the prosecution during the trail of the story’s title.
But, “the Beast”? Hmmm, this doesn’t refer to any known aliases of the Doctor, so excuse us while we go on a flight of fancy. The “devil” in “The Satan Pit” was referred to as “The Beast”. Another future version of the Doctor, maybe? He was the right size to use the doors to the “giant” TARDIS seen in this episode.
MISSING DOCTORS No flashbacks of any of the post-classic series Doctors? (Though we did hear Eccleston, and we think we saw his face floating around the Doctor’s life-map-through-time thingy… it was difficult to be sure on the pixilated preview version the BBC gave us to watch).
BEST MOMENTS Those Zelig-style flashbacks, of course (first with Clara, then with The Great Intelligence). Odd that we never get to see Colin Baker’s face though…
DOUBLE TROUBLE In the clip where the Second Doctor bumps into Clara, the difference between Patrick Troughton’s running style and his double’s running style is painfully obvious, and you don’t need to be a picky Who fan to notice: between cuts he transforms from someone frantically scurrying to someone having a gentle jog.
CRACKED Why does this simple shot of a broken window feel so ominous?
AS IF BY MAGIC! Is River sending herself up, appearing in a puff of smoke!?
RECYCLING Were the sconces supposed to look like Dalek eye stalks?
BEST LINES The Doctor: “I don’t mean it looks like the TARDIS, I mean it actually is the TARDIS. My TARDIS from the future. What else would they bury me in?”
River: “Professor River Song. The Doctor might have mentioned me.” Clara: “Oh yeah. Yeah. Of course he has. Professor song. Sorry, it’s just that I never realised you were a woman.” Strax: “Well, neither did I.” The Doctor: “What did you expect. A body? Bodies are boring. I’ve had lots of them.”