Sunday, August 04, 2013

Doctor Who: The Name of the Doctor

Apologies for the long wait for this one ... it's just been such a hectic year and time to sit and pen thoughts has been limited. But here we are with some thoughts about the Doctor Who season finale for this year, 'The Name of the Doctor'.

There was so much hype around this episode, from the unexpected early release of the episode in America, to people discussing and wondering what the title meant ... and as usual these days I was pretty unexcited by it all. As I said in some blog post or Facebook status, the show for me has never been about the Doctor, and his name is monumentally unimportant in the wider scheme of the show ... so I couldn't see what all the fuss was about. Of course, as it turned out, the title is misleading anyway and isn't about what the Doctor's name is in the first place (and I guessed this too - too many years of Steven Moffat's blindsiding to be honest).

So I came to the episode not really knowing what to expect. I had my own theory that Clara was the TARDIS as that sort of seemed to explain a lot of things ... but I was wrong on that too.

The opening sequence was excellent, very fannish, and very suitable for a fiftieth anniversary show ... Clara is integrated into old footage, and interacts with the first Doctor as he steals the TARDIS ... lots of clips of other Doctors too ... and we learn that she is the impossible girl, born to save the Doctor. This really is a magnificent sequence - so good that it's repeated - with some variations - later on in the episode.

This leads into the story proper, but as usual it's a bit of a mishmash of ideas and things which aren't explained and don't make much sense ... but you just have to go with them. There's a prisoner - Clarence DeMarco - killer of 14 women, locked in a prison on Earth in 1893. But somehow he knows of the Doctor, of his secret, and the space-time coordinates to the planet Trenzalore which is where the Doctor's grave is. There's much made of this ... the Doctor even breaks down and cries at one point - this is the place he must never, ever visit (why he should never visit is not explained, nothing really seems to happen when he does).

Madame Vastra and Jenny decide to set up a 'conference call' through time and space and bring themselves, Strax (who is in Glasgow on a fighting holiday or something), Clara (by means of a letter sent to her containing a sleeping potion) and River Song (yawn) together to discuss the problem. While they are all sleeping, the Great Intelligence in the form of Dr Simeon arrives at their Victorian house with some creepy suited monster things (Whispermen) and kill Jenny. He tells them that the Doctor must go to Trenzalore.

The Doctor finds Clara and realises that he has to go to Trenzalore to save his friends ...by breaking into his own tomb. How he knows this I have no idea ... but it's all good drama. The TARDIS doesn't want to go though and so the Doctor forces it down to the planet, which is all a creepy graveyard place for some reason. The Doctor's tomb has the TARDIS over it ... very impressive ... Then there's a pile of stuff with River Song's ghost which the Doctor can't see but Clara can ... and a fake tombstone for River there (which can't exist). The Whispermen attack so the Doctor and Clara fall through the grave into some underground tunnels.

Meanwhile Vastra, Jenny and Strax arrive by the tomb and Strax brings Jenny back to life with an electro cardio restart ... and then the Great Intelligence and the Whispermen attack again ...

This is all a little bit like 'The Five Doctors' now ... with various parties approaching the Doctor's Tomb/Dark Tower from below and above ... and they have to break in to get something undetermined.

But to open the tomb, the Doctor's name must be spoken ... and despite that Clara and the Doctor ascended through the basement areas of the TARDIS, they arrive outside it ... not sure about that. But anyway, the ghost of River speaks the Doctor's name and the doors open.

Inside the TARDIS, instead of the console, there's a flicker light thing which is apparently the tracks of all the Doctor's travels ... again not sure why. If the Doctor is dead and this is his tomb, then why is this light thing there?  Is it there for all Time Lords in their tombs? In which case why aren't more evil monsters and villains tracking down the tombs of dead Time Lords and then infiltrating their timelines like the Great Intelligence wants to do with the Doctor's

The Doctor collapses as the paradox of his being there is too much, or that he doesn't understand the script.  The Great Intelligence intends to infiltrate the Doctor's timestream and rewrite history so that he loses all his battles - the Doctor dies in all his incarnations ... but Clara realises that she can stop the GI ... time changes and Jenny vanishes, Strax is no longer friendly ... so Clara steps into the Doctor's timeline and starts to correct it all back again - everyone is restored ... except Clara.

Now these are all very nice ideas, but really make no sense at all! If none of this happened until Clara entered the Doctor's timestream, then why was she in 'Asylym of the Daleks'?  That hadn't happened yet!  And if she was in the Doctor's timestream all along, then why didn't he remember her as the strange girl who told him which TARDIS to steal from Gallifrey in the first place?  That's the problem with timey wimey stuff ... it needs to make a little more sense to really work ... and leaving it all hanging like this tends not to be too satisfying.

As I said, though, you have to just go with it.

The Doctor then decides he has to save Clara ... but before that he explains that he has always been able to see River - he was afraid that admitting that she was there would hurt him too much ... and she was a ghost because he had never said goodbye properly. What rot. And to cap it all he snogs her ... Oh dear.  This all makes no sense at all ...and so, probably to escape all the confusion in the plot, the Doctor steps into his own timestream. Not sure to do what though? To help Clara put right all the GI's meddling? To stop the GI? Or just to rescue Clara? How would he even know where she was? She was splintered throughout his timeline ... so who is the 'real' one anyway?

He finds Clara on the set of an episode of 'Lost in Space', smoky and surrounded by fake rocks. Echoes of the Doctor run past her (no idea why but it's a nice image). The Doctor sends her a leaf - her memory leaf - and she lets him save her.

Up to this point, despite all the incongruities in the plot, the sappish snogging and silly angst, the non-plots of the Whispermen (Who or what are they? Why are they there?), Jenny's death only to be resurrected by a Sontaran with a portable electro shock machine, and the whole Doctor must never go to Trenzalore thing, not to mention how this prisoner at the start was the only one who knew all about it ... despite all this, it's been a good, exciting watch. It rattles along, the visuals are great, and it does all sort of make some sort of sense as long as you don't think about it too long.

But we're all scratching our heads and wondering what 'The Name of the Doctor' has to do with anything ... but wait ... there's another man on the set of 'Lost in Space' with Clara and the 11th Doctor, someone that she has not seen before ... but everyone there is the Doctor ... so who is this? And why isn't he one of the incarnations that she recognises (given that she was integrated into the Doctor's entire timeline - and thus presumably knows all the future incarnations of the Doctor as well as the 11th and the previous 10 - I guess this means she knows all about the Valeyard too)?

Ah ... this is the one who broke the promise. What promise? He is the Doctor's secret. How can you have a secret from someone who has just accessed your entire timeline? In the name of peace and sanctity - but not in the name of the Doctor ...  apparently, as some captions on the screen inform us ... John Hurt as The Doctor ...

And we scratch our heads and say 'What?'

Indeed.

The last minutes or so really let the whole thing down. It makes no sense.  Obviously I appreciate that it's a lead in to the 50th anniversary special (or whatever they are doing) but it's so ham fisted (bun vendor) and awkward. It's meant to be all oooh and aaah but ends up being just rubbish and puzzling.

And now we have to wait until November to learn what on earth it is all about.

1 comment:

davecw said...

While I disagree with many of your observations, I'd prefer to comment on a point you didn't raise and which troubled me the most about the story as a whole.

That of all the Doctor's companions over the past fifty years, it's difficult to think of a companion who would be less likely than Clara to want to sacrifice herself or himself in order to save the Doctor. She barely knew him and had hardly travelled with him. Why would she want to?