Sunday, May 19, 2013

The Name of the Doctor - "Steal this one. The navigation system’s knackered but you’ll have much more fun."

The Name of the Doctor - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Series 7, Story 13 (Overall Series Story #239) | Previous - Next | Index

O! be some other name:
What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;
So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call’d,
Retain that dear perfection which he owes
Without that title.
-- Romeo and Juliet

The one that was leaked. But, science (allegedly) has shown that spoilers don't actually spoil anything, so you won't hear any "It was ruined!" wailing out of me. Also because I resisted the urge to find a torrent or peek at a board where it was discussed, so I managed to keep myself in the dark to watch it live.

This is also the first time I was able to meet up with the Raleigh/Durham Doctor Who Meet Up group for a screening. It definitely adds to the experience to be in a room full of people who are really excited (Simon Pegg's words to heart) about the show and to hear all the different threads of conversations from different tables as the story of the Valeyard is explained in one corner, clarification of what we know about how River learned the Doctor's name in another, etc.

Each of the Moffat/Matt Smith seasons has been called, somewhere by someone, the most divisive of the new series yet. Of the blogs I read and communities I belong to, I find popular opinion to be generally approving and full of squee, but with an undercurrent of frustration and outright derisiveness from some of the more the critically (in the sense of being a critic as well as a fan) inclined. Whether attributed to the retrograde gender politics (a subject I've been too lax in criticizing myself), or the inconsistencies (e.g., the Doctor can save a falling River by catching her in the TARDIS, doesn't even bother to try to save falling Clara), or a lack of satisfaction with the season-long puzzles, with clues being doled out in dribs and drabs, winding through the otherwise one-off stories, it's not hard to see why there's a vocal minority of dissatisfied viewers. Many times, too, the complaints are along the lines of "there's too much being crammed in to one episode," but the two-parters have often been the most problematic of any season, with a few notable exceptions. We want them all to be as good as the "The Empty Child", "Silence in the Library", and "Human Nature" two-parters, but those were the exceptions to the rule of mediocrity for the format. I'm not sure we'd want two-parters to be the solution to the cramming problem.

"The Name of the Doctor," has a lot riding on it to, in a sense, be the alchemical agent that transmutes the leaden series of episodes leading up to it into a season of gold. (Or, we can be more scientific than alchemical and say we are expecting NotD to be the seed that crystallizes the supersaturated solution that this season has been to this point.) Now, I want to be clear, that I've enjoyed the season as a whole, while I've been critical of certain lapses in logic and judgment, I think it has functioned successfully as a piece of entertainment despite those flaws. It will take a true bit of magic to wave away the Doctor's wildly inappropriate, borderline sexual assault on (married, lesbian) Jenny, or to undo the let's-stand-around-the-launch-pad-and-watch-this-rocket-take-off silliness, but the solution to the Clara mystery could redeem the bulk of the clue dropping and red herring waving. (I've been grading out the season assuming a satisfying answer; so, were it not, all the Clara episodes would drop a letter grade.) But, those complaints aside, I want to be clear that I don't love the show any less for being disappointed with elements of it.1

The Great Intelligence prepares to take his sweet revenge. 
So, this most recent, 'most divisive' series yet draws to an end. The mystery of Clara is solved and we learned that she was ... exactly what she seemed, a girl splintered across time, not a great-granddaughter, not anything to do with Rose's Bad Wolf ... just what the Doctor had learned and nothing more. It wasn't her identity that was the mystery, it was just the how she got to be all over time. The answer as presented makes a certain amount of sense, but something was missing: she went into the scar of the Doctor's travels to counteract the Great Intelligence's attempt to thwart the Doctor at every point in his timeline. We saw Clara and GI go in, but how she actually helped undo the damage of the GI all those times was unclear to me. For example, we know how she helped in "Asylum of the Daleks," but where was the GI in that? The flashing back to all those times she tried to get each iteration of The Doctor's attention never made it clear what she actually did vs. the GI? Maybe I missed something a re-watch will turn up?

William Hartnell's Doctor gets advice from Clara.
With one giant, glaring exception, I loved how this show continued and upped the ante on the trend of embracing and celebrating the Classic series. Hartnell's Doctor talking to a Clara, Troughton's Doctor bumping into her while he does his iconic bow-legged sprint, we saw all except 8 and 10 -- I think, and will revise here if I need to be corrected -- and not just as pictures flashed in the background, but archival footage and body doubles integrated into Clara's flashing through time and ending up in the collapsing time stream, her work done. The glaring exception? At least twice we saw that McCoy cliffhanger, the one I fumed about in my "Dragonfire" post. Burned off a ton of good will each time I was forced to remember that mess.

Moffat put one over on us good in this one. The mystery we thought was the big mystery was wrapped up fairly cleanly. But along comes a bigger, more mysterious mystery in the formidably grizzled visage of John Hurt, a mystery for which we'll have to wait at least six months to see the resolution. Since The Valeyard was mentioned in this episode, I think it's safe to assume that's not who this new/old/alternate Doctor is. Or not. I've heard numerous other theories: he's a splinter, a regeneration somehow cast off to do a job the Doctor couldn't do, presumably his role in ending the Time War; or, he's a regeneration between 8 and what we thought was 9; or, he's the original, from before the Doctor chose his name, so all the Doctors would need their numbers +1ed; or, he's just 8 gotten old. (But Clara said she saw all 11, so even though I didn't see the McGann Doctor, maybe I just missed it?)

As for the name, I think we all breathed easier once it was clear we weren't going to hear it. The one that was chosen represents the promise made, the other wasn't his choosing and really could only have been something like the Gallifreyan equivalent of Robert or Juan or Bertram or something and would have been had to played for laughs. (I mean, come on, if it were something like Thor or Loki that we'd attach some meaning to, that's a muddy rabbit hole to go down. Or if it were something with some of kind of power to describe or assign a role, He Who Will Rule or Dances With Time Wolves, that would have been unbearably hokey.)

But what Moffat has done by taking the "Not in the name of The Doctor" tack is open up the story to an examination of the Doctor's duty, his chosen purpose, and what exactly he had no choice to do to preserve peace and sanity. What's our madman with a box done, we wonder? That's a fundamentally more interesting question, I think, and one I'm eager to see the answer to unfold ...

Critical reaction round up:

The A.V. Club gave it a C+ and has the same issue I did with the nature of the conflict between the GI and Clara after she goes into the timestream.

The RadioTimes is, per usual, generous with its praise, focusing on Vastra's explanation that the time travel has always been possible in dreams. I purposely avoided talking about the conference call because, well, it was plot device I was willing to live with, but I wouldn't want it to be regular thing.

The Guardian calls it the best of the season, and we agree it is the best finale. Look, I like River, too, but there's no mention here of how all these women are suffering and, sort of, dying for the Doctor. I thought it was about time Matt Smith showed some genuine affection and distress over River. But, in so doing, he also made it all about it him. River is supposed to just suffer and forgive the Doctor for his callousness because ... his suffering is so much more meaningful?

IGN's review is sloppily edited with a repeated paragraph at the end which I trust they'll catch and clean soon -- glass-housed stone thrower, here. But it does acknowledge some of the issues with GI as the season's big bad while also calling it the best of the finales.

And, finally, here's the always interesting Philip Sandifer discussing the finale over at Slate.

1. But ... I'm ready for a new show runner and a new Doctor. I'm reading that season 8 is already being written and Matt Smith has confirmed he's on board. Disappointment isn't exactly the word that encompasses my feeling about that, but I think Moffat needs to step up in at least one way: he's got to make the Doctor less of a creepy stalker and have the show overall be less weird about women. So two things, really, but they're closely related. Strax, consistently reliable to provide comic relief, even has one of his moments undercut by that weird tension. "Surrender your women and intellectuals!" he orders upon arriving on Trenzalore. First of all, what does he want with either of those groups? But more importantly, did we really need a joke that implies they are separate groups?

I'll consider potential show runners and actors to the play the Doctor as a post, or posts, to fill the time between the finale and the 50th Anniversary Special.

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