Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Who's In A Name?


At long last, the Doctor's true identity will be revealed after nearly a half-century...or will it?  As is the case with all big Steven Moffat episodes, The Name of The Doctor is a misnomer.  We were never going to get the actual name of the Last of the Time Lords (and frankly I really don't care what it is). Anyone who went into The Name of the Doctor thinking that by the end of the episode we were going to hear, "My name is...." is frankly an idiot.   

As a digression, there is something to be said for failing pens.  The pen I was using to taken notes for The Name of the Doctor kept failing to where I just dumped it.  As a result, I was forced to re-watch The Name of the Doctor to give it as fair a viewing as I could.

I'm of two minds when it comes to The Name of the Doctor.  On the one hand, it did something that no other Season/Series Seven episode has done...actually be not-so-bad.  In what it wanted to do (make a season finale that left one in a cliffhanger and answered questions about the season, regardless of the logic of the answer), it did its job.  However, after two viewings I still can't say it was as thrilling as I imagine NuWhovians would imagine it to be, especially if they don't know the history of the series and their point of reference is Rose onwards.  I didn't hate The Name of the Doctor, and I'm too honest an individual to say so merely because I think Moffat, Eleventh Doctor (for now) Matt Smith or Alex Kingston's revolting character River Song are contributing to a free-fall decline of the series.

However, I can't embrace it because it leaves us with more minuses than pluses.

We get an astonishing sequence: current Companion Clara Oswald (Jenna-Louise Coleman) falling through a time vortex of some kind, then interacting in some way with previous Doctors (including one where Clara advises the late William Hartnell's First Doctor about which TARDIS to 'borrow' when he and his granddaughter Susan Foreman run away from Gallifrey).  From there we learn who The Impossible Girl really is...a girl born to save the Doctor!

We then sweep into 1893 London, where we find a way to have Silurian Madame Vastra (Neve McIntosh), her lesbian Cockney lover/maid Jenny (Catrin Stewart) and their manservant, the Sontaran Strax (Dan Starkey) in the story.  Here, Madame Vastra is about to ensure that a serial killer be executed when said killer, Clarence DiMarco (Michael Jenn) tells Vastra about 'the Doctor' and his 'greatest secret, one he (the Doctor) will take to the grave'. 

DiMarco (what we in the trades call 'a plot device' since exactly HOW he came to this knowledge we will never learn or really need to...he's just a trigger to set the plot into motion AND a way to shoehorn Vastra & Company into The Name of the Doctor) has valuable information.  With that in mind, Vastra has a conference call via telepathic dream time travel with two other humans (and sadly, recalling Strax from the fun time he was having getting into fights in Glasgow).  The two others are the current Companion Clara (who got a letter mailed to her one hundred and twenty years later...come again?) and the one Strax calls the one with the big head...that would be River Song (who comes in via the TARDIS' memory bank as she is dead at this moment...I think).

Darling, on this show I'M
the center of attention...
In any case, Clarence has given them the coordinates to a specific place, but it isn't until the Great Intelligence/Dr. Simeon from The Snowmen (Richard E. Grant) crashes the conference (having his Whisper Men minions kill Jenny in the process) that we know where the coordinates lead to: Trenzalore.  This is the ONE place the Doctor cannot go, and River slaps everyone back from their sleep.  With  Jenny dead both Vastra and Strax are swept to Trenzalore as bait for the Doctor.

Meanwhile, poor Doctor has been hoodwinked into playing Blind Man's Bluff unaware the kids used this to sneak off.  Clara tells the Doctor all she can remember and he realizes he must go to Trenzalore, where he knows he cannot go.  He cannot go there because that is where his greatest secret is located...it is the location of his tomb.

Well, it's off to Trenzalore to rescue his 'friends'.  He and Clara look upon Trenzalore, which was a sight of a battle where the Doctor met his end, his tomb being the TARDIS grown massive due to its dying.  A telepathic River tells Clara that A.) she is the Doctor's wife (not to be confused with Idris from a similar titled episode), B.) the Doctor can't see or hear her, and C.) that the gravestone marked with her name is really a secret entrance to the tomb.  Just in time to avoid the Whisper Men coming at them.

Within the tomb Strax brings Jenny to life (and I though, 'too bad...I liked her dead') but the Great Intelligence is holding them until the Doctor speaks his name, which will open the tomb.  Clara, meanwhile, starts having all her memories return, including the events of Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS (all except, of course, the Doctor's name which she read in The History of the Time War).  The Great Intelligence and his Whisper Men minions try so hard to force the Doctor to speak his name, but he will not.  The Whisper Men slowly start killing the others, until the door magically opens. 

River Song, whom no one save Clara can see or hear (we are told), comes to the rescue (as she usually does).  This woman, the only person who knows the Doctor's name (since she made him tell her, probably during some perverse sex act that would have made the Duchess of Windsor blush), spoke it, conveniently off-screen.  Within the TARDIS tomb is what the Doctor calls 'the tracks of my tears' (didn't know the Doctor was a Motown fan).  This is really the Doctor's time-stream: his past/present/future all in one.  What perfect way to destroy the Doctor permanently: just jump into his time-stream and erase all the good work he's done...

...one can read that to be almost symbolic of what Steven Moffat has done to Doctor Who itself, but I digress...

She's 50.  He's 30.
Remember that...

...even if it means destroying yourself.  With that the Great Intelligence goes in and turns every Doctor victory into defeat.  With nothing left for it, Clara herself goes in herself even if it means she will die a million times (but it does offer an explanation as to how she can be in so many places at once).  With the Companion sacrificing herself to save the Doctor (something we've never seen on Doctor Who before...) the Doctor must go into the time-stream itself: a paradox of epic proportions.  River tries to talk him out of it but despite being a hologram he stops her from slapping him, then confesses love and gives her a big kiss.  River asks him to say goodbye like he means it, and then points out that since she's still around, the connection to Clara is still on and thus, Clara is still alive. 

She would tell him how this is possible, but you know..."Spoilers..."

The Doctor jumps in and while Clara recognizes all Eleven of his forms she at first doesn't believe HER Doctor is there.  He is, and then we get the Doctor's real secret, his Great Secret...a shadowy figure whom he says, "I said he was Me.  I never said he was The Doctor."  We end The Name of the Doctor with John Hurt appearing on screen with the title "Introducing John Hurt as The Doctor."

The Name of the Doctor I predict will be the most divisive episode in Doctor Who history.  Not necessarily in terms of quality (those who love NuWho and Moffat's version will worship it as the ultimate in television history, those who despise NuWho and Moffat's version will curse it as the ultimate bastardization of a program in television history).  I think it will forever be the point where Classic Who fans will say the show called Doctor Who is no longer what they know of as Doctor Who, and those who have little to no notion of what came before Rose (such as the NuWho fan I met at the Star Trek Into Darkness midnight showing who had never heard of Romana) will probably use to show that NuWho IS indeed connected to Classic Who.

We got to see the First Doctor guided by Clara as to which TARDIS to take as he began his epic journey to space, they will argue.  Of COURSE NuWho is Doctor Who.  Didn't you see Clara interact somewhat will past Doctors (such as calling out to the Third while he's driving)?

Quick...from what story was that clip taken?

If you can't answer that, then you are a NuWhovian and as far as you're concerned all that came before 2005 is borderline irrelevant.

If you can answer that, then it will make you wonder about continuity. 

I could be nitpicky and argue as to how Clara knows which TARDIS to advise the First Doctor to take (especially since the TARDIS does not like her) or how 'someone' conveniently put in the River Song grave to open up this hereto permanently sealed Tomb of the Doctor (frankly, I think that would be a better title than The Name of the Doctor, but I digress).

I could ask how the Eleventh Doctor never remembered Clara even if he actually met her on Gallifrey and/or other points in time, or how River could be both a hologram and fully flesh at the same time (then again, given that Song is this quasi-divine figure in NuWho lore, I guess anyone conceived by the power of the Holy TARDIS can do anything). 

Did anyone else, like me, wonder if Clara remembered everything, why she could not remember the Doctor's name since she read it already?

Can we not ponder as to how Trenzalore failed to live up to expectations?  I thought this was where "the fall of the Eleventh" would take place, and it was a place where one HAD to answer truthfully any question asked and you could not refuse to answer.  We didn't really have much of a fall for the Eleventh if A.) Matt Smith actually IS the Eleventh, and B.) being within his time-stream is much of a fall.   He also didn't keep to Trenzalore's claims since he constantly refused to give his name, until Deus Ex Machina River comes in to speak it off-camera.

Now that I think on it, how exactly DID River Song open up The Tomb of the Doctor when no one else save Clara could hear her (allegedly)? 

I figure asking exactly why Jenny had to die and die again when everyone can be brought back to life is a silly question, or that the whole 'dead/not dead' thing now has gotten tiresome (what tension is there if they are only temporarily dead).

I could even wonder why the production team opted to use a cliffhanger from Dragonfire where the Seventh Doctor was literally 'hanging over a cliff', given that that particular ending is one of the most derided and mocked in the entire Doctor Who canon.  Then again, I doubt NuWho would even know what I was talking about.

OK, so The Name of the Doctor never bothers to answer anything relevant.  It does what all Moffat/Smith Era stories do: rush through things and give you a lot of spectacle without substance.  Perhaps by now I'm so used to this that even I don't even bother questioning things.

Therefore, in terms of actual story, once we get past other elements, The Name of the Doctor is pretty weak.  In terms of those other elements, The Name of the Doctor is bad.

Grant's performance should be held up as an example of what happens when an actor needs a paycheck and a chance to appear at future Comic-Cons.  He was hamming it up to the Nth power as the Great Intelligence, completing an embarrassing run he started in The Snowmen and throwing his cameo in The Bells of Saint John to boot. 

As a side note, when the Doctor refers to the Time-Stream as 'the tracks of my tears,' the Great Intelligence snapped that we could do with less poetry.  Given that the Whisper Men and the Great Intelligence spoke almost exclusively in rhyme, I find his request for a less poetic turn of phrase highly ironic. 

The Whisper Men are also a flop.  They don't look menacing and they don't do anything scary (unless you count making faces scary).  I've seen pepper pots with plungers that are scarier.  Furthermore, they didn't play much if any role in The Name of the Doctor

The comedy from Starkey's Strax never fits into what is suppose to be the serious nature of the story (it never is funny no matter how Moffat is determined to prove otherwise) and I now realize that I don't hate Alex Kingston...I just hate River Song. 

Really, this you call
Here, she is up to her old tricks, confusing being uppity with being alluring.   Kingston has these mannerisms when playing River Song.  She has a haughty, arrogant tone in her voice when answering anything (even as to how she came to have champagne at the conference call when everyone else was drinking tea), as if answering a simple question was an invitation to screw her. Her eyebrows go up, her body movements become more balletic, as if she is attempting to flirt with her whole figure (rather odd for a character who is suppose to be the Doctor's intellectual equal).  In her efforts to make River Song sexual and desirable, Kingston makes her look almost desperate to find ANYONE to bang her.

River Song may be the only 'intelligent' woman whose whole mannerisms revolve around getting laid.

She makes the character this know-it-all who hides information that might help others because she won't give away 'spoilers'.  Curious that for a character that goes on about how her 'husband' doesn't like endings, she never gives away any of those either.

The character is just so arrogant, snotty, obnoxious, and full of herself.  How do people think she's brilliant and the symbol of the 'strong, independent woman' when her whole existence seems to revolve around a man? 

However, having said all that, if that is how the character is suppose to be then Kingston has done her job and played her accordingly.  Perhaps I've grown softer with age, but by now Kingston's old tricks no longer jar me like they used to.  I'm used to seeing her idea of 'flirtatious' (which are similar to a drunk person hitting on you at Closing Time).  It is what it is, and nothing more.  Moffat wants us to think of the Doctor and River as this great love story, and he will force the issue.  As of now, I'm tired of fighting against this tsunami.  I'll never believe the Doctor would choose River when he could have had Romana or Leela or Sarah Jane, but there it is.         

As I said, many things in The Name of the Doctor didn't work.  However, some did.  It's fortunate though that some of those other elements do save it from being a total disaster and actually perhaps the best Series/Season Seven Doctor Who story.

Chief among them is Matt Smith's performance.  Here, his tears at having to go to Trenzalore were part of a believable and beautiful performance.  He even made me think the Doctor might be passionate about River (an Emmy-winning performance in and of itself to convince people that a 30-year-old man passionately kissing a 50-year-old woman doesn't look almost incestuous).  If anything, it was nice to see Smith not be the aggravatingly idiotic figure his Doctor has been.  You still have the goofy, clueless Doctor around, but fortunately that was in one scene.  Smith was also serious and even heartbreaking, showing somewhere deep, deep, deep inside there may be an actual actor. 

Perhaps for me, The Name of the Doctor didn't have this great appeal because it built itself so much only to fall so far.  For a season/series finale, especially one that leads up to the 50th Anniversary, the episode did not live up to its own hype.

For NuWhovians, The Name of the Doctor must have been a brilliant homage to the series and a great entrance to the Half-Century Special.  Classic Whovians might wonder what the fuss is all about.   I personally can't blame The Name of the Doctor for being what it ended up being: a season/series finale aimed to answer questions (quibble if you must as to the logic of Clara breaking into a million Claras spread through time and space, it IS an answer), throw in some nods to the Original Series (the cameos from other Doctors via archive footage whose context NuWhovians won't figure out and Classic Whovians might object to), and throw in some thrilling moments (the Doctor dying!  Companions dying!  Big Sets!).  I get it, The Name of the Doctor was suppose to be a big epic. 

That it was...whether it was as good as it could have been is another matter. 

The best description about The Name of the Doctor I can give is that it will be the demarcation line for fans: for most NuWhovians it will be among the greatest episodes ever made; for those who tie the Classic series with the NuWho it will be among the worst episodes ever made.  Me, I find myself falling somewhere in the middle: understanding what it wanted to do, but frustrated, endlessly frustrated, about what it IS doing and HOW it is doing it. 

If the "50th" or "8th" Anniversary Special (depending on your viewpoint) makes a mess of a half-century's continuity in one hour, then Doctor Who will be officially dead to me...


Next Story: The Day of The Doctor

Is this the 'Before' or 'After' picture?

OK, OK, one more...

Certainly no slave to fashion...

1 comment:

  1. Chanced across your blog. You seemingly don't enjoy more recent Doctor Who so your reviews are rather harsh. I think it irritates you that newer fans lack knowledge of the 1963-1989 run but there's no need to be so condescending about it.
    Anyway, know that you don't speak for all "Classic fans" with regard to this episode. I found the War Doctor reveal , an excellent twist to Who-lore. I've been watching since 1977 and know full well who Romanadvoratrelundar is.
    Regardless, nice blog.


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