“The Name of the Doctor”…finally, we get some answers


Remember that Simpsons episode where Bart and Lisa go to complain to a famous director/writer about ruining one of their favorite science fiction series? How they complained he had ruined their childhood? Well, that’s about how Whovians have felt this season.

Betrayed, unsatisfied, and disappointed. But like the fan in the clip below, we keep coming back for more. I know I did. While I don’t like the term, I have to admit that I was really close to hate-watching Doctor Who this series.

I had a long conversation today with a friend where we discussed our wonderment that Moffat could get so much so right with Sherlock, and yet make so many missteps with Doctor Who this season, many of which I discuss here.

But after watching tonight’s series 7 finale, “The Name of the Doctor”, I just have one thing to say-

Damn you, Moffat.

Because you did it again. You managed to tie the entire messy series up in a bright red bow. And this is why I keep watching. Because again and again, Moffat paints himself into a corner, he irritates fans, he riles up the fan base, and then he managed to write a story that rocks us all back on our heels.

With “The Name of the Doctor”, we journey to the fields of Trenzalore, where we know the Doctor must never go. We get to see his grave. Once again we get to see the wonderful Madame Vastra, Jenny, and Strax, some of my all time favorite reoccurring characters. And we learn what happens if the Doctor had never existed.

I have to tell you, that when I first watched the opening scene before the credits, when Clara says “I was made to save the Doctor” I rolled my eyes and thought, oh great, more Moffat and his God complex. But by the end of the episode I was sold.

River Song was what I latched onto in this episode. This episode takes place after River has died, and been placed in the Library. She exists as a sort of mental hologram throughout the entire episode, and by the end, we realize that part of the reason why she exists is because the Doctor carries her with him, always has, and I admit, I was teary eyed. There’s no way to tell in the Doctor Who universe whether or not characters are ever really gone (I’m still waiting for the reappearance of his daughter, Jenny). I for one would be sad to see River Song go, if she’s truly gone. In part, because I think she’s a phenomenal counter point to the Doctor, but also because getting rid of her feels a bit like unfinished business. As though Moffat seeks to get rid of any remnant of Amy and Rory, and so wrote her off. I hope we’ll see her again. But if not, if this was the last goodbye, it was a fitting one.

With complete simplicity, Madame Vastra conveys what the universe would be like without the Doctor, not just what would happen if he died, but what would happen if he never existed. Whole star systems would die. Strax reverts to the beast he was. Jenny dies. This is not a universe where the Doctor has erased his name and mention, this is truly a universe that would not survive without the Doctor. And it’s a dark place.

The answer to averting this horrible possibility ends up, of course, being the Impossible Girl. Dr. Simian (our boring, seemingly useless baddie from the Christmas episode) appears again, although this time he is the Great Intelligence, inhabiting the very creepy Whisper Men- shells that house him. When Dr. Simian enters the Doctor’s timestream, he is able to rewrite it, creating the dark universe Madame Vastra comments on. But our Impossible Girl realizes that if Dr. Simian can enter the timestream and fracture himself to cover every event in the Doctor’s life, then so can she, thus providing infinite possibilities to save the Doctor at every turn.

And she does. But the Doctor saves her right back. And the episode ends with the Doctor confronting himself within the timestream, the future self who our current Doctor accuses of betraying his name, of NOT acting like the Doctor. One can only assume that it is this Doctor that causes, or fights in, or leads, the bloody war on Trenzalore. He is revealed to be John Hurt, and the end credits introduce him as The Doctor.

So ends series 7.

Moffat stated that this episode would change Doctor Who forever. I’m not so sure about that. Yes, it’s interesting to foreshadow a future incarnation. Yes, everyone loves John Hurt. Yes, it’s intriguing that the Doctor turns dark, darker than we saw him in “A Good Man Goes to War”. But I don’t know if it changes everything. We’ll have to wait and see.

I did have some issues with this episode, as happy as I was to get some answers:

  • Moffat still thinks he’s so clever. And, as I’ve written before, this trick he pulls of dragging things out until the end, and then wrapping it all up, gets old. It results in fan fatigue. I know a lot of Whovians who are still disappointed and saddened by Moffat’s tricks this season. He also tends to be very disparaging of these fans, and that’s just not cool. It’d be nice if he showed some respect, and he could easily do it by not assuming fans will stick around for his nonsense indefinitely.
  • Dr. Simian is a boring plot device. Just like with the Christmas episode, he is a McGuffin- he’s here so he can model what Clara needs to do, he serves no purpose. There’s no other reason for him. And it’s sloppy storytelling.
  • The Whisper Men were ALMOST cool. But they just weren’t around enough. They were rushed, and like Dr. Simian, were a very in-your-face plot device.
  • I understand that they were pulling from 50 years of footage, but was there really no better (read, not cheesy and visually yucky) way to integrate Clara into the footage of the other Doctors? I mean, Forrest Gump can be seamlessly shown with JFK but we can’t put Clara into old tv footage?

So, don’t get me wrong, I liked tonight’s finale. And I anxiously await the 50th anniversary. But unfortunately, people like me are what allow Moffat to keep doing this. Because we love Doctor Who, we keep watching (and ranting). Because we don’t want it to go away. We want it to be as great as it can be. And we’ve seen it.   But I fear, that as long as Moffat retains control, we’ll continue to be stuck in this time loop- so so seasons, with some bright spots, but overall uneven, and then one all-too-clever finale that is just a little bit TOO tidy.

But like I said, I’ll keep watching. And hoping that if the Doctor can survive 50 years, and cancellations, and horrible tv movies, he can survive life under Moffat.

About Karra Shimabukuro

I am a PhD student at University of New Mexico, my research focuses on medieval literature, folklore, and popular culture. My writing tends to focus on television and movies, but usually with a focus on how things are all connected. I'm a reference snob. I often consider myself a Geek by Proxy- the coolest people I ever met were geeks, and at a young age found myself devouring all the cool things they knew/saw/did. In my days off I can be found on the Interweb spreading joy and enlightenment. And I can always be found in the company of my bebe puppy Nehi. @khkshimabukuro http://scholarlymedievalmadness.blogspot.com/
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One Comment

  1. I can’t wait until Moffat is gone! I think this entire season was lackluster, including the finale. I feel like the Clara explanation is fine, but I wasn’t blown away by it. It seemed like an easy fix. And I’m not sure if I’m excited for the 50th anniversary or dreading it. I really miss RTD.

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