Doctor Who: The Name of the Doctor

Doctor Who: The Name of the Doctor May 18, 2013

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?

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