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cultural vandal | by maryann johanson

Doctor Who blogging: “The Name of the Doctor”

Doctor Who The Name of the Doctor Richard E Grant Matt Smith

(all spoilers! don’t read till you’ve seen the episode… or unless you don’t care if it’s spoiled for you. this is a love fest only — all complaints and bitching must come from a place of love / previous: “Nightmare in Silver”)

Get my downloadable discussion guide to “The Name of the Doctor” for teachers, librarians, and everyone else who needs to keep kids amused, engaged, and educated at DoctorWhoTeachersGuides.co.uk.

Doctor? Doctor… who?

Moffat just keeps kicking that can down the road, don’t he?

Now, just to be clear, I do not want to know the Doctor’s name. It doesn’t matter, and revealing it cannot be anything but anticlimactic. Especially after such a tremendous deal is made here about how the Doctor’s name is his most tremendous secret ever. For the Doctor’s name to have any signficant impact for us puny planetbound Earthlings, his real name would have to be one that looms large without any explanation — Genghis Khan; Adolf Hitler; Steve Jobs — which would be preposterous, even given that Earth is the Doctor’s favorite planet. Even if he were the Gallifreyan Hitler or Jobs, it would require too much explanation to get to the point at which it has the effect of smacking us in the face. Unless the Doctor is really Rassilon… which makes so little sense that let’s just quash that notion now.

Also: It’s much more interesting if the Doctor’s name is the Gallifreyan equivalent of the “John Smith” he has often used when a name beyond “the Doctor” is required. It’s way cooler if he’s just some guy who got fed up with hidebound Gallifrey and decided to skip out. Way cooler.

But clearly, we have been led to believe that this entire series has been leading to revealing the Doctor’s name. “Doctor who?” was the cliffhanger finale line of last season, and here we come to “The Name of the Doctor.” Except… the name of the Doctor is but a MacGuffin in the end. “The name of the Doctor” could just as easily have been his IQ number, or his birthdate, or his Social Security/NHS number (or whatever the equivalent is on Gallifrey), or his shoe size. Or his favorite color. It’s the key that opens his tomb. That’s it. It’s not about who he is or who he was.

That’s been kicked down the road — again — to the 50th anniversary special.

Doctor Who The Name of the Doctor John Hurt

Doctor Who The Name of the Doctor

John Hurt is great. I have no doubt it’s gonna be fun to watch him chew up the scenery as some version of the Doctor come autumn. And I’ve got lots of ideas about what Moffat is gonna do with John Hurt-as-the-Doctor. Like how maybe he’s not a future Doctor but a past Doctor, because how else could Matt Smith say things like “He is my secret” that he had to take the name of “the Doctor” as a promise to be different from, because how could his secret be in his own future? Is it possible that Matt Smith isn’t actually the Eleventh Doctor but the Twelfth (or even beyond), running from something his past self “did without choice, in the name of peace and sanity”? (This can’t be a Time War thing, because while that would be awesome, it would also have to mean Paul McGann. And John Hurt is not Paul McGann. Or is he? dum dum DUM) Because how could Matt Smith-the-Doctor know anything about his future selves?

But I kinda don’t want to be thinking about that. I just want a really satisfying Doctor Who story. I don’t want to be thinking about what might happen in the future, and certainly not at the expense of what’s happening right now.

One thing that’s good: River Song. With her no-thanks to the tea, I’ll-have-champagne, for one:

Doctor Who The Name of the Doctor Alex Kingston

It’s like Alex Kingston simply cannot help but be awesome beyond the confines of the script she has been given to work with. (And what is with the slights against her hair? Her hair is amazing. I wish I had hair like that.) Her character has not been treated kindly by Moffat since “Silence in the Library”/”Forest of the Dead,” as she has become increasingly diminished as a person in her own right and as the Doctor has increasingly reacted to her as if he were a terrified virginal child. But at least here, he kissed her like he really means it:

Doctor Who The Name of the Doctor Alex Kingston Matt Smith

and looked at her like he really sees her:

Doctor Who The Name of the Doctor Alex Kingston Matt Smith

It’s nice to see Matt Smith getting the chance to act like the Doctor is a man instead of a boy.

And that whole “say good-bye like you’re going to come back” stuff? That’s great. But it says that Moffat gets it, he’s just been ignoring it all this time.

But… how can the same guy who wrote that line also have created Clara and her “See you next Wednesday”… and have the girl who can say that be the same girl who is so readily willing to sacrifice herself for the Doctor? The idea that Clara understands how important the Doctor has been to the entirety of spacetime is simply not something that we have seen. At all. Or that even if she has seen it, that his impact on her has been important enough for her to sacrifice herself on his behalf. We just have not seen that.

Clara has been almost literally a cipher: she has been present in the meta sense as a character in Doctor Who — and, in the contextual sense, as a person in the Doctor’s life — for no reason other than that she has needed to be there in order to resolve a plot neither she nor the Doctor were aware of. If she had turned out to be an actual cipher, like maybe a creation of the TARDIS’s (say) to save the Doctor, that could have been sad and poignant and brilliant and devastating (if written properly). But no. She was “born to save the Doctor.” That’s it. She was created to save the Doctor — by Moffat and, apparently, by the universe. She believes she is the souffle recipe for rescuing the Doctor from the latest baddie who is out to get him, and that, now, her “story is done.”

And that’s kind of… ugh. Clara cannot possibly really believe this about herself, can she? I mean, I can imagine sacrificing myself to save someone I loved — not that we have any sense that Clara feels so strongly about the Doctor, and no, “How could anyone not be madly in love with the Doctor” isn’t enough; we need to see it — but I cannot imagine thinking my life has meant nothing at all apart from that sacrifice. Maybe if Clara had been really directionless and fucked up and confused and a serious goddamn mess from the moment we met her… but no, we didn’t see that. She has seemed happy and cheerful in all three incarnations we’ve seen. And now, all of a sudden, she was “born to save the Doctor”? I’d say there’s about three seasons worth of adventure and heartache and unrequited passion and disconnect from the life she has clearly carefully fostered on Earth with her surrogate family before she’s willing to throw herself into the timewinds on the Doctor’s behalf.

I’ve been hard on Moffat. I have. I know it. And I mean this sincerely: it really is out of love. I love Doctor Who, and I love the Doctor. I wouldn’t keep watching if I didn’t. I’m hard on the show because I expect a lot from it. But I can’t help but feel that Moffat has a lot of great ideas for moments that are powerful and moving but that he doesn’t know how to string them together in a meaningful way. It’s in small stuff, such as the creepy teethy guys who are apparently called the Whisper Men, though it’s not like we’ve ever seen them before, ever. Why is there a rhyme about them?

Doctor Who The Name of the Doctor

Do you hear the Whisper Men, the Whisper Men are near
If you hear the Whisper Men, then turn away your ear
Do not hear the Whisper Men, whatever else you do
For once you’ve heard the Whisper Men, they’ll stop and look at you

The power behind that that Moffat clearly wants us to feel? It has to be earned. There’s no power there unless it has been earned. You cannot just throw it in there and expect it to work all by itself.

It’s in big stuff, like: Why is the Doctor’s name so important, anyway? We have no clue. If the Doctor’s tomb is so dangerous, why make a tomb at all? Because. If “Time travel is damage. It’s like a tear in the fabric of reality,” then does that mean the Doctor knows just how irresponsible he has been for the past thousand years… and if so, why isn’t that something to explore?

It’s in stuff like this: Surely the Doctor has tons of secrets, and lots of place names would be associated with him, so why did Trenzalore make Vastra freak out in particular? Why does the Doctor suddenly see Clara in his Eleventh incarnation when he obviously clearly missed seeing her all along?

I so get Sad Doctor:

Doctor Who The Name of the Doctor Matt Smith

I don’t really get, however, why he’s sad because he has suspected that the word Trenzalore refers to his grave. Why would he even think that it’s likely that he’d have a grave, instead of his atoms just being anonymously smashed across the universe in some horrific incident that no one ever knows about? Isn’t that far more likely than him being feted with a grave?

I think, in some way, I’m exactly the sort of person Moffat is aiming at with all this stuff. Because I have so much invested in the Doctor. Like crazy amounts of stuff that exists so much within my own head that it’s almost impossible for me to delineate where the actual canonical stuff ends and where the stuff I invented for myself because I so much want the Doctor to come for me starts. And I have no trouble rewriting the stuff in my head to fit with the canonical stuff as the canonical stuff evolves. (To wit: See below about Susan, the Doctor’s granddaughter.) And even I cannot feel the power he wants me to feel.

One of the things I’ve liked about the rebooted Doctor Who is that is has been actually about the Doctor in a way that the old show never was. Everything that was subtext in the old show has become the overt text here. But it’s gone too far over to that other extreme: there’s no subtext left, and so there’s no room for anything other than what we’re seeing. That doesn’t remove just the mystery but the fun, too.

Random thoughts on “The Name of the Doctor”:

• Fine. So, Moffat has now made it canon that “Susan Foreman” left Gallifrey with the Doctor:

Doctor Who The Name of the Doctor

Fine. It doesn’t fit in with how I’ve been seeing the Doctor’s past, but I’m retconning in my head and can make it work the way I need it to work…

• Wait. The TARDIS didn’t actually choose the Doctor, but Clara pointed him toward the “right” TARDIS?

Doctor Who The Name of the Doctor Jenna-Louise Coleman

I guess we can still make that work by figuring that the TARDIS just invented a rationale for itself as to why this crazy-ass renegade Time Lord ended up in this particular Type 40… but it’s not as poignant or interesting.

Way to negate one of the best episodes of your tenure, Moffat…

• So Strax enjoys beating up Scotsmen for fun? I guess everyone has to have a hobby…

• Oooo, Vastra and Jenny’s table looks kinda like the TARDIS console, don’t it?

Doctor Who The Name of the Doctor

You know what? Vastra and Jenny would have been better companions for the Doctor than Clara, wouldn’t they?

• Ha! I totally called the “Nine Billion Names of God” connection… and here we have stars going out, just like at the end of that Asimov Clarke story.

• I’m sorry, but all I could think when everyone was standing in front of the Doctor’s tomb was “Speak, friend, and enter.” </gandalf>

• Wait. So who placed the false grave for River Song that’s actually a secret entrance to the Doctor’s tomb, knowing this would someday willen have been needed?

Doctor Who The Name of the Doctor

And, like, if it willen on haven been absolutely imperative that no one can get into the Doctor’s tomb because it’s the most dangerous place in the universe, why is there a back door? C’mon, people! Smarten up.

• Wait. So, the TARDIS suffers a broken window pane in the hard landing on Trenzalore.

Doctor Who The Name of the Doctor

And this same broken pane exists on the dead swollen TARDIS that is serving as the future Doctor’s tomb?

Doctor Who The Name of the Doctor

Doctor Who The Name of the Doctor

So does that mean that the future battle of Trenzalore, whatever that would have been, will now never happen because the Doctor died here — killed by the Great Intelligence stepping into his timestream and wiping him out everywhen — and so it’s this damaged TARDIS that will become his grave? (It’s hard to imagine the Doctor not repairing that broken window for however long till the “actual” battle and his future death.)

• The “conference call” invitations. Ahem.

Doctor Who The Name of the Doctor

How did Clara get her invitation? It can only have come the long way around, right? Vastra left a letter in someone’s — a series of someones’ — safekeeping for 120 years, from 1893 to 2013, right? Like how Doc Brown sent a letter from 1885 to 1955 to Marty, no? For that matter, Vastra needed to have done something even more spectacular to get an invite to River Song, living in a computer virtual reality in the 51st century.

We have no indication that Vastra has any high-tech means of time-travel or time-communication… if she did, she wouldn’t have needed to resort to the “conference call.” So… why didn’t she just send a letter to the Doctor — or to anyone else who could have gotten word to the Doctor — at some point in his own personal timeline prior to this where he could have taken preemptive action to prevent the whole Trenzalore mess?

There’s timey-whimey, and then there’s just makes-no-damn-sense-y.

Any hey, for that matter, if the Great Intelligence can simply transport himself and others to another planet (and maybe to another time), why didn’t he just get someone who could open the Doctor’s tomb directly? He seems to know so much about the Doctor, so why not just kidnap River Song from somewhere in her timeline after she has learned the Doctor’s name… and if she won’t reveal it, use her to draw the Doctor in?

I can’t help but feel that this episode was so convoluted because there simply isn’t much there there.

• Great quotes:

“Sorry. So sorry. I think I’ve been murdered.” –Jenny, to Vastra

“I always thought, maybe I’d retire, take up watercolors or beekeeping or something.” –the Doctor (haha, he so could not have really believed this, could he?) (haha, beekeeping, like Sherlock Holmes)

“I’m a time-traveler. I’ve probably time-traveled more than anyone else.” –the Doctor

“Left me like a book on a shelf. Didn’t even say good-bye. He doesn’t like endings.” –River, about the Doctor

“He will have other names before the end: the Storm, the Beast, the Valeyard.” –the Great Intelligence

“The dimensioning forces this deep in the TARDIS, they can make you a bit giddy.” –the Doctor (notable because this is almost precisely a word-for-word repetition of something the Fifth Doctor says in “Castrovalva”)

“Bodies are boring. I’ve had loads of ’em.” –the Doctor

“A universe without the Doctor. There will be consequences.” –Vastra

(next: “The Day of the Doctor”)


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