Doctor Who: The Name of the Doctor

If you’re expecting the episode “The Name of the Doctor” to make perfect logical sense, you must be new to Doctor Who. As it has from the beginning, Doctor Who skirts the boundary between science fiction and fantasy, and so some of the “science” is always little different from “magic.” But on a storytelling and an emotional level, I think it worked, and makes a nice set up for the 50th anniversary special coming in November. Spoilers ahead!

So in this episode we do learn the Doctor’s secret, possibly his biggest. And it is much more satisfying than if we had simply had a bit of dialogue that said,

Great Intelligence: What is your name? Doctor Who?

The Doctor: OK, my name is Christoreslvdespovratorcovor De Lungbarrow.

Early on, we hear from someone who says that “the Doctor has many secrets, but one he will take to his grave. It is discovered.” It turns out that what has been discovered is the Doctor’s grave. Its location is Trenzalore.

The one place a time traveler must never go is their own grave, apparently. Too many paradoxes. I would have thought that the moment of their conception would be even more risky and paradoxical, but whatever.

The best part of the episode for me was the resolution to a longstanding question about River Song. River appears in the episode, but at long last it is River from the library, the “backup copy” that the Doctor had saved – and then apparently never went back to visit, because it would be too painful for him and he hates goodbyes. The Doctor says, in words that echo Ecclesiastes, “There is a time to live, and there is a time to sleep.” But there is a hint that River may be able to live on – with one more great reference to “spoilers.” And the Doctor’s words about always seeing her were deeply moving.

The resolution to the mystery of the Impossible Girl was wonderfully done, I thought. And even if they only managed to get the other Doctors into the story by using old footage, it was still fitting that in this year of the 50th anniversary, there should be an episode that is as close to “The Twelve Doctors” as one could have hoped for.

Twelve? Ah yes, that’s the Doctor’s dirty secret. There is another instance of him, one who did things that the Doctor is ashamed of. “What I did, I did without choice…in the name of peace and sanity” he says. And the eleventh – or is it the twelfth? – replies, “But not in the name of the Doctor.” And so apparently the big secret is not the Doctor’s name, but his identity, and a past – or is it a future? that he has tried to forget along with his name. Kind of like Darth Vader in relation to Anakin Skywalker, only in reverse.

I am curious whether that Doctor is one who did unspeakable things in the time war, or before even the “first” Doctor. Or is it in the future – is he the Valeyard? The Great Intelligence makes a reference to the Doctor’s “bloodsoaked” history, and says he has gone by other names: “Storm, the Beast, the Valeyard.” That was a nice touch.

We can’t not talk about religion. Was it just me, or does Vashtra blurt out “Dear goddess” at one point?

What did you think of “The Name of the Doctor”? Satisfying revelations? Sufficient mysteries preserved and presented, to keep us going for another 50 years?

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Anthony-Lawson/100002721639251 Anthony Lawson

    I loved the episode. Like you I really thought the way they resolved the mystery of Clara was very well done, none of the speculations that I read came even close. I would have loved to have seen them work out at least a full season or two with Clara to deepen the mystery before revealing the resolution. Also was thrilled with them bringing back River Song and giving us at least a partial explanation.

    All in all, very enjoyable and fulfilling episode. Can’t wait for the 50th anniversary special and next years season.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1311895327 Becky Lowery

    I watched most of Clara’s episodes today and loved all of them. This episode was especially wonderful as a set up to the 50th anniversary special. I also loved how they explained Clara and the reprise her monologue at the beginning of the episode at the end. I will admit that I have yet to watch the last episode with Amy, Rory and River, but can’t wait to see if River shows up again later. I loved that scene between her and the Doctor–it was touching. Yes, you did hear Vashtra correctly. I really wasn’t surprised that she said that, and I think for her to say otherwise would be out of character for her.

  • Evan Hershman

    I thought it was one of the best episodes so far. The answer to the mystery of who Clara is was expertly handled. And I thought Matt Smith gave us some of his best acting to date. The look on his face when he realizes he has to go to Trenzalore was absolutely haunting.

    And the big reveal of the Doctor’s secret… blew me away. I was not expecting that at all.

  • GakuseiDon

    My guess: if Clara is always the one running to save the Doctor, and she has been shattered into innumerable people across the Doctor’s time-line, then we will find out that she is also Rose Tyler, Martha Jones, Sarah Jane Smith, etc. She is all the companions that have saved the Doctor over the years; and in some way River Song is a manifestation of them all.

  • beau_quilter

    I should know better than to try to make logical sense of every episode, but I’m still trying to figure out how Vashtra got a telegram to River Song telling her to join the psychic link. Did she send the telegram to some alien that she knew would in the future pick up the telegram on earth, then later deliver it to the library computer that held a digital version of River Song?

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

      I wonder whether being in the library computer is like being asleep, and so she is always reachable for conference calls?

      • beau_quilter

        That would explain how the Doctor “always sees her” (sort of).

  • Just Sayin’

    Can they please keep John Hurt and get rid of the silly kid who’s just discovered sex?

    • beau_quilter

      The Doctor has always been a bit silly in every regeneration. I don’t mind that he’s a kid, but if John Hurt started kissing his companions, I think we’d be really freaked out (unless, perhaps, he started choosing companions who were all senior citizens).

      • Straw Man

        The reason the first doctor’s companion was his “granddaughter” was that executives were afraid everyone would assume intergenerational hanky-panky if she weren’t related. True story.

  • cameronhorsburgh

    That episode caused me problems. Not so much to do with story, but the effect the reveal had on my fifteen year old daughter. Her blood pressure did things it jwas never designed to do… It’s a good thing we immediately followed this episode with the Eurovision finals.

    Anyways, nothing to add to what’s already been said, except I wasn’t disappointed. I couldn’t figure out how they were going to tie up everything that had been promised in a satisfying way. Heck, even fifteen minutes from the end I was checking to see if it was a double episode because it didn’t look like they could wrap things up properly.

    Sometimes I love being wrong.

  • Straw Man

    Yep–satisfied customer here. All around no complaints about anything, although I agree with other reviewers that the “Whispermen” were lame henchmen.

    That the “other” Doctor was the doctor of the time war seems to make the most sense of the theories I’ve seen so far. Except for one thing. Doctors 9-11 have all been frank enough in admitting that they committed genocide, and were responsible for the “time lock” sealing Gallifrey and the time war off from the rest of time and space. It would seem as if his “greatest secret” isn’t THAT secret, and his shame wasn’t enough to preclude his talking about it. So there must be something else that we don’t already know about.

    Also, “in the name of peace and sanity” doesn’t seem to be a good description of genocide against the Daleks and time-locking the whole mess away. Where is the peace and sanity? I would assume that inside the time-lock, the world has become a sort of hell. And outside the time lock, everyone is blissfully unaware that the universe was nearly destroyed–so their various conflicts and insanities continue unabated. “In the name of not letting the universe be destroyed,” sure. That was achieved. But peace and sanity? Not that I can see.

    Note, though, that “peace and sanity” sounds like the stated aim of pretty much every totalitarian dictator. It’s a fantasy, but it justifies all the little atrocities along the way. “Sure, we’re exterminating the Jews today, but tomorrow there will be peace and sanity!” If the producers’ logic is anything like mine, the “other doctor” must turn out to be some sort of despot. Perhaps he was given dictatorial power by Gallifreyan “enabling acts” in order to lead the time war, and is to blame (or at least blames himself) for things reaching the point that no solution was possible but genocide and a time lock.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

      I was a bit disappointed that they simply used archival footage of the first Doctor and Susan to depict the Doctor’s theft of the TARDIS. It seemed to me to close some possible doors for telling stories about the first Doctor (if he was the first) when he was younger. I often assumed that the Doctor and Susan had been on the run for quite some time before we first encountered them on Earth. Indeed, they could have had some interesting back story about the Doctor’s wife and children initially traveling with him, with Susan born while they were on the run. So many possibilities now closed…


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