Well folks, after much anticipation, the time has come (and past) for us Whovians who have been waiting for an answer to the overarching Series 7b question: Who or what is Clara Oswin Oswald? Also, and most likely of greater importance, was the other question on the Who-table, a question that has spanned 50 years of television: Doctor Who?
All that came to a head last night in the Doctor Who Series 7 Finale: “The Name of the Doctor”.
Going into last night’s episode, I was a jumble of emotions. Did I really want to know the Doctor’s name? Not really I guess. If they did make the call to actually reveal it, however, I would have been excited to see where they would have gone with it. How was I going to like the explanation of the Clara, the Impossible Girl? Would I be fine if it was what some online have speculated? Susan? Rani? I don’t know. In the end, I think I was willing to accept whatever Stephen Moffat and crew came up for the series capper/lead-in to the 50th anniversary. I really just wanted to know what was going to happen. That being said, I think I was in the best state of mind to accept the craziness that ensued right from the episode’s cold opening.
I’m going to say this, and feel free to hate me if you must, but The Name of the Doctor was not only the best episode this season, it was probably the best series finale we’ve yet seen in NuWho. As Jenna Louise Coleman had mentioned in her episode of the Nerdist, there was definite payoff as to the mystery of Clara, as well as payoff to the question that Doriam seeded in our tiny Whovian brains all the way back in the Series 6 Finale, “The Wedding of River Song.” “The Name of the Doctor” was great in that it was a small, personal story for the Doctor, that had massive, universe-spanning implications. I feel that’s what some of the best Who stories really have been: The Doctor dealing with the relationships he’s made or broken over his millenia-long lifespan, and the decisions he makes that ultimately affect the fate of all existence. It really doesn’t seem fair to the guy, does it? It’s okay, he’s clever.
Anyway, right from the cold open the episode smacks you right in the gob, as we are shown Clara peppered throughout different moments in the Doctor’s life, in all his incarnations…or so we are led to believe. It truly was a treat watching Clara superimposed into archived Who footage, interacting with the First Doctor at a defining point in his story. We aren’t told how she ends up there quite yet, but by the end of the episode it all makes simple, perfect sense.
Also, we get to check back in with the Paternoster Gang. I really do never get tired of this trio. Every time we see them, I’m treated to just a little bit more of what makes them tick. It’s just so much fun to watch them interact with each other, especially when there’s a task at hand, which is usually trying to help or save the Doctor in some way. Noble bunch, those three. Also, Strax in Glasgow? Yes please. It’s at this junction, too, that we finally get to spend some more screen time with our other favorite doctor, River Song. Truthfully, I miss the character a lot, especially since I feel like we never really got a proper sendoff after rebooting the universe at the end of Series 6, and having to say goodbye to the Ponds…er Williams. Plus, the tension when she meets the Clara? Great.
Of course, what would a Doctor Who episode be without a good monster. For the finale, they’ve whipped up a new one: The Whispermen, the lackeys/clones/surrogate bodies for the Great Intelligence. While their concept isn’t as scary as say, the Silence or the Weeping Angels, they’re still quite striking visually. Moffat sure likes his faceless creatures. It works well though, as they’re all sort of corruptions of the human image, which I think makes for the creepiest looking monsters. I can’t wait to see a roving pack of these guys at ComicCon.
When we finally get to Trenzalore, the episode really takes off. Trenzalore itself looks great. It’s creepy as all hell, as it’s covered by countless headstones, countless reminders of a great battle that claimed the life of the Doctor. The Doctor explains that the higher the rank of the soldier, the bigger the tombstone, and that makes all the more sense once we see his own tomb, the dying remains of the TARDIS. With it’s circuitry failing, the dying TARDIS begins to “Size Leak,” and its “bigger on the inside-ness” starts failing. It grows, large enough to rival the surrounding hills. What an image.
When we reach the eponymous moment of the episode, the Great Intelligence attempts to gain access to the tomb by commanding the Whispermen to attack the Doctor’s companions in an effort to force the Doctor to reveal his name, which happens to be the key to the tomb entrance. (Speak ‘friend’ and enter! Mellon!) The tension builds and we almost question whether the Doctor will let his friends die. This becomes a moot point, however, when the door is opened by post-”Forest of the Dead”, River Song. No name is heard. And you know what? I’m all for this. I’m fine with this. In fact, I’m glad we didn’t hear the Doctor’ name. There’s part of me that likes to imagine the worst possible outcomes, that imagines that the name was revealed, that the first question was answered, and the name was something stupid, like Dave. Or Archimedes. Or Nebulark. Whatever it would have been, it would have changed the very nature of the show, because at that point, we’d no longer be following the adventures of the Doctor, we’d be following the adventures of Dave. Dave and Clara. It’s like Lois and Clark. At that point, we’d no longer be following the symbol that is “The Doctor.”
Upon reaching the ruined control room, Dr. Simeon/Great Intelligence throws himself into the Doctor’s timestream, which happens to be there, instead of a regular old, boring body. As a result, he is ripped into millions of pieces, inserting himself at every point of the Doctor’s timeline in an attempt to undo the Doctor’s good work. The consequences are apparent quite instantly, as stars and people are re-written out of existence. Here it becomes readily apparent what’s about to happen. Clara jumps into the time stream to right every wrong caused by the Great Intelligence. The same happens to her; she is fragmented into infinite shades of herself, inserted at every point of the Doctor’s life. And so, the episode’s cold opening is thoroughly explained, as is the Modus Operandi of the Impossible Girl. The Souffle Girl. The Barmaid.
I love this explanation. I wholeheartedly endorse this over a convoluted story that somehow attempts to make us believe that she is a Dalek spy or the Doctor’s granddaughter. This is simple. This makes sense. In an effort to save the Doctor, she allows herself to be torn apart by his time stream, so she can be there at all points in his life to avert any wrongs appropriated by the Great Intelligence. Easy. Relatively clean. I’d be extremely saddened by the loss of Clara, but we all know the Doctor can’t let this fly. We know, that despite the fact that jumping into his own time stream might do something awful to all of existence, that he’s going to do it, because he just has to save Clara. What does make me sad, is that somehow, it feels like after his goodbye to River, that it might be the last we see of the Doctor’s gun-toting, frizzy-haired wife. Closure has been brought. If that’s the case, I will totally miss seeing Alex Kingston interact with Matt on screen. They were just oodles of fun to watch.
Only one thing really needs to be said of the happenings inside the time stream. OMG, John Hurt, amirite!? The possibilities, they make my insides dance.
All in all. Bang up episode. Great pacing. It doesn’t try to overreach or stuff as much plot as possible into the episode, which I felt was the problem with some of the earlier episodes of Series 7B. They suffered from “The Dark Knight Returns” syndrome, where it felt like there was so much to do, so much to see, we don’t have time to sit and languish in a moment! This episode, however, had two very clear objectives. First, get to Trenzalore and second, what happened at Trenzalore. No crazy time-traveling webs or pouring over paradoxes. Two goals, two questions to answer, and they took a straight line approach to the resolution. While that’s not exactly what I’d look for in every episode of Doctor Who, I think it works perfectly in this particular instance. What really worked, I felt, was that “The Name of the Doctor” wrapped up most of the questions I had about the season, in a relatively nice bow. But also brought up good, grounded questions about the future of the series.
As with much science fiction, things start breaking if you think about it too much. That’s just something I do, though, so I suppose there’s lots of broken sci-fi in my head. And of course, there are the questions. How exactly does River’s consciousness transcend the confines of what is essentially a giant hard drive that is, in all probability a galaxy away? Is that what happens to all Time Lords when they die? They become reduced to their time stream? If that’s the case, why did River and the Ponds have to burn the Doctor’s body at Lake Silencio? Speaking of Lake Silencio and the Silence, since their entire existence was geared toward making sure that the First/Final Question was never answered, that silence would fall on the Plains of Trenzalore, does that mean that they are an opposing force to the Great Intelligence? And what exactly is the nature of the Great Intelligence? Are we going to see Ian McKellan duke it out with John Hurt? Please. Why is the broken pane of glass on the TARDIS still there in the monolithic tomb-future version? The Eleventh Doctor sure has a thing for “impossible” things. The Impossible Girl, the Impossible Astronaut. I’m sure these will all be in answered in due time. I, seriously, cannot wait for autumn.
As you can tell, I’m pretty happy with what the final offered, and the possibile futures for the Doctor that it has set up. And that, I can say, is a pretty darn awesome job well done to everyone involved. I love your silly faces all to bits.
Any theories as to the identity of the John Hurt version of the Doctor? Let us know in the comments section!