Monday, 20 May 2013

The big finale to Doctor Who series 7 coincided with the Eurovision Song Contest this Saturday. This was very good timing, as Doctor Who finales and Eurovision are both things best watched drunk, in the mood to cheer and applaud but not to think too hard. So I cracked open a bottle of red and settled down for an evening of camp, incomprehensible delight.

And wow, The Name of the Doctor was excellent fun. I cheered and applauded and squeed out loud throughout.

On Sunday, I rewatched it while sober. This time, I noticed a couple of loose ends that failed to be tied up and that I’m not optimistic about the show returning to –  the motivations of the Silence to stop the Doctor reaching Trenzalore, the “Fall of the Eleventh”, the “woman in the shop”, who exactly Clarence was. OK, more than a couple. But despite this, I once again really enjoyed the episode. Not quite as much, but I did. Honest.

The Great Intelligence and its servants the Whisper Men had kidnapped the Paternoster gang and taken them to Trenzalore, leading the Doctor to take Clara to the one place a time traveller should never go – his own grave. With River Song joining them in the form of a psychic time ghost projected across the universe from the Library’s backup database (did you know Doctor Who once aimed to educate kids about real science?), the stage was set for a confrontation that could reveal the Doctor’s greatest secret, which may or may not have been his name.

Unlike some other recent Moffat episodes, it didn't feel too rushed. I’m not a fan of the ditching of two-parters, but this finale worked well in the 45 minute format. As it wasn’t packed to a ‘kitchen sink’ degree, all the characters involved had nice character moments, particularly Vastra, Jenny and Strax, who were for once compelling characters rather than caricatures. Jenny’s “I think I’ve been murdered” was a chilling moment and Vastra’s panic at the prospect of losing Jenny added not-before-seen believability to their relationship. River Song, meanwhile, was a welcome presence without being overly focused upon in a manner reminiscent of the more dire moments of series 6.

Another welcome return was Richard E. Grant as the human form of the Great Intelligence. While it wasn’t entirely clear where this story fits into Mr. GI’s chronology or why it chose to reuse the body of Dr. Simeon, Grant’s performance had an excellently sinister gusto. The Whisper Men were great villains, too – their combination of posh Victorian garb, rhyming couplets and uncanny facelessness was a great recipe for the stuff of nightmares. It would have been nice to explore these villains a little more, but I can understand sidelining them – after all, the GI and co. were mere pawns in the mystery of Clara Oswald.

It was this mystery that had been threading throughout the series and came to a culmination in the final act of The Name of the Doctor. Clara threw herself into the Doctor’s time stream to save him throughout all his past from the paradoxes caused by the Great Intelligence jumping into his time stream to kill him throughout his past. Which, by Doctor Who standards, makes sense. Much more than The Angels Take Manhattan did, anyway. Clara wasn’t, as she insists she was, “born to save the Doctor” – rather, she was born and then later saved the Doctor, as well as the entire universe – creating many alternate incarnations of herself which kind of were “born to save the Doctor (and the universe)”. This decision to put herself at great risk in order to save the Doctor reminds me of Rose Tyler’s similar sacrifice from the end of series 1. I think, if anyone looks back upon these years on the hundredth anniversary of Who, Rose looking into the heart of the TARDIS will be looked upon as by far the better ending – perhaps because The Parting of the Ways was as much Rose’s story as the Doctor’s, and we really got the feeling of a difficult decision between her devotion to her family and her escapist adventures, whereas The Name of the Doctor is primarily the Doctor’s story, with Clara as a plot element to explore the mythos of the Doctor himself.

This brings back my initial criticisms of Clara – in The Bells of Saint John, I was unimpressed by Moffat’s presentation of her as a mystery rather than a character. In the hands of series 7’s other writers, I did grow to like her, and it did feel like she was growing stronger, from the girl rendered horrified by the Ice Warrior’s massacre to the more hardened (perhaps too hardened) companion of Nightmare in Silver. However, she doesn’t seem to have been changed by her experiences as much as Rose, Donna, or Amy, and in the end, her sacrifice feels less personal and less deserved than Rose’s.

The conclusion to the other great mystery of the series – Doctor Who? – well, that wasn’t concluded. We didn’t actually discover the Doctor’s name. Another “My name is Rose Tyler, and this is the story of how I died” style cop-out, you say? Well, it’s not a bad thing – any possible name would have been arbitrary and underwhelming. But the issue did seem underplayed given the massive build up that’s typical of Who these days and the fact that the episode was called 'The Name of the Doctor'. Still, this allowed for that great final line, and that old cheer/drinking game rule of "he said the title!" as if we're watching a Bond film.

This was the scene in which John Hurt’s incarnation of the Doctor was revealed. Yes, John Hurt. At this point I clapped manically and jumped around the house fanboying, before pouring a fourth glass of wine. Who is he? A pre-Hartnell Doctor? An incarnation from the Time War, wiped from the memory of the Doctor due to the necessary brutalities? My money’s on that theory, but I can’t wait for November 23rd to find out for sure.

And I haven't even mentioned the past Doctors yet. Appearing in the pre-titles sequence and when Clara fell through the Doctor’s past, every Doctor from Hartnell to Tennant had some form of appearance, which was madly exciting for this wine-addled fan. There are some ardent classic series fans who’ll burn down Steven Moffat’s house if he does any less than give each classic Doctor, even the dead ones, equal billing with Matt Smith in the fiftieth anniversary special, but for those of us with the most basic of narrative sense, this great Trouble with Tribbles-eque homage was enough to allow the special to focus on Ten and Eleven only. Not that I'm not hoping for some more lovely classic references...

Yes, there are lots of loose ends hanging in Moffat Who. I’d like the fiftieth anniversary special to tie one or two up, but I’m also looking forward to seeing how Moffat decides to celebrate the show’s past, present, and future. The Name of the Doctor is an enjoyable conclusion to the, perhaps overall unsatisfying, mystery of Clara Oswald, and, with good character moments and a great deal of fanboy-pleasing references, stands on its own two feet as a better finale than 2011’s The Wedding of River Song or 2012’s The Angels Take Manhattan.

1 comment:

  1. My issue with Moffat-era episodes is how overly complicated they are. When I first started watching when the reboot took place it really felt like a family show. Kids understood what was happening but there was something there for adults too.

    The recent series has confused me entirely, how is my 8 year old brother supposed to keep up? Kids are struggling, adults lose interest. The stories aren't strong enough, The Rings of Akhwhatever it was, was absolutely dreadful.

    I feel like its the real core fandom that's even bothering to watch these days. Viewing figures are dropping to a dangerously low level. I loved Blink and the 'Are you my mummy' episodes and I love Sherlock. I just don't think Moffat is up to being showrunner.