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New Who 7.13 The Name of the Doctor

And so at last we get to the season finale! New Who Season 7 has been pretty patchy all told, but I really enjoyed this closing episode. It was well-paced, well-scripted, exciting and most importantly has given me lots to talk about! I'll work through the bits which most struck me in roughly the order in which they occurred. You can assume I thought anything which I don't discuss explicitly below was generally jolly good.

Companions and assistants

Maybe it's nothing, but earlier this season in Hide there was some establishing dialogue which played around with the issue of companions vs. assistants, and which I noted at the time. Specifically, it went thus:
EMMA: Professor Palmer spent most of the war as a POW.
DOCTOR: Actually, that's a lie told by a very brave man involved in very secret operations. The type of man who keeps a Victoria Cross in a box in the attic, eh? But you know that, because you're Emma Grayling, the Professor's companion.
EMMA: Assistant.
DOCTOR: It's 1974. You're the assistant and non-objective equipment. Meaning psychic.
Here, too, the same issue came up. At the conference call, Madame Vastra first introduced Clara to River Song by as the Doctor's companion, but then, apparently embarrassed at making River feel as though she has been replaced, corrected this to 'assistant'. Twice in one season seems a lot for this basically fannish issue to crop up, and it may simply be more in this season's obvious campaign to get us thinking about the programme's past. But by the end of this story Clara had become very literally the Doctor's assistant, there to help and save him over and over again throughout his timeline. So maybe the dialogue was also placed in both stories quite deliberately to get us thinking about exactly what her role is in relation to him.

Trenzalore

Trenzalore itself looks like a Time Lord graveyard, since all the grave-stones have heads shaped like the massive winged collars of Time Lord robes. But it is also a battle-field graveyard. That should mean it relates to the Time War, because the whole point of Time Lords before that happened was that they did not get involved in the affairs of other beings, still less go to war with them. But my understanding of the Time War was that it didn't just destroy the Time Lords - it wiped them out of time, so that it was as though they had never existed. So how can their graveyard still exist? Unless I'm completely misunderstanding, and they aren't Time Lord graves at all. (Annoyingly, none of them have legible names on apart from River's, which isn't real, so there are no clues there.) Perhaps they are the graves of mercenaries who fought on behalf of the Time Lords? Although even then, wouldn't their deaths also be annulled when the Time Lords ceased to ever have existed?

In short, I would have liked a little more explanation as to exactly whose graveyard this is, and how the Doctor came to be buried there. For that matter, we might ask who buried him, given that his own people are long gone. But I rather hope we never reach the point in his story when that question is answered, and besides many of the people he has travelled with or helped could readily take on that job for him.

The TARDIS

The TARDIS rebelling against going to Trenzalore, the ominous crack on the window, the super-sized dying version (still with the same crack) and Clara telling the First Doctor which one to steal - all of that, yes, yes, yes. But I was a little disappointed to find that the future-TARDIS's console room had the same design as the one currently in use (give or take a little ivy). I get why it would be a mistake to make it look like something we'd never seen before - a) it would use up part of the budget which could otherwise be spent on something else, b) it might cause confusion amongst casual viewers about where the events set in the console room are meant to be taking place and c) it would be taken by fandom as proof positive that it won't be the Eleventh Doctor who ends up buried there, but some future incarnation with a different TARDIS interior. But by the same logic, using the current design effectively amounts to a declaration that it definitely will be Eleven who ends up buried at Trenzalore, which I think is highly unlikely to be the case. The most satisfying choice here would probably have been to mock up a set which looked as close as possible to the original TARDIS interior from An Unearthly Child. After all, at that time the Doctor is obviously still pretty clueless about how to operate it, so it makes perfect sense to suggest that his version is the default 'skin', and that the TARDIS will revert to this one as it dies.

Prophecies and their fulfilment

At the beginning of The Wedding of River Song, Dorium's decapitated head told the Doctor:
"On the fields of Trenzalore, at the fall of the Eleventh, when no living creature could speak falsely, or fail to answer, a question will be asked. A question that must never, ever be answered."
This seems half-resolved now. Eleven had to make the TARDIS fall onto the surface of Trenzalore in order to land there, which in cheaty-Moffat-land is probably enough to fulfil that part of the prophecy. (I had assumed it would mean a metaphorical fall from grace - although it does seem we are to explore that sort of theme with the John Hurt Doctor as well.) The living creatures present when the Great Intelligence asked the Doctor his name either couldn't speak at all because they were having their hearts squeezed by the Whispermen, or couldn't speak falsely because they were the Doctor faced with a choice between answering truthfully or his friends being murdered. But in practice of course it was River who answered, and she is not a living creature any more, but an echo stored in a database. I'm not sure that quite fits with the prophecy, since River clearly didn't speak falsely either - she answered truthfully (to save the Doctor from revealing his true name) and the doors opened. But it seems likely to be what that part of the prophecy was about.

The dialogue in Wedding then continues:
THE DOCTOR: "Silence will fall when the question is asked..."
DORIUM: "Silence must fall" would be a better translation. The Silence are determined that the question must never be answered. The Doctor must never reach Trenzalore.
Which ought to mean that they have fallen now. Why it was so important to them specifically to stop him getting there and the prophecy being fulfilled, of course, we still don't fully understand. It could mean that their existence depended on not allowing the Great Intelligence to get into the tomb and interfere with the Doctor's timeline, in which case in a strange way they were on his side all along. But if they knew all along that that was a danger, didn't they also know that Clara would follow him in and sort it all out - in which case, they might as well have relaxed about it and gone and had a cup of tea instead? Again, more explanation is needed here.

Clara's decision

Clara's decision to jump into the Doctor's timeline is on one level no decision at all. She (believes she) has already seen the outcome of her doing so, making it an act of predestination. But in character terms, I could have wished that she had had a bit longer to develop a really strong bond with the Doctor before taking the decision to sacrifice her life for him. This version of Clara has only had eight stories (including this one) to get to know him (because she doesn't (yet) share the memories of the Claras we saw in Asylum of the Daleks or The Snowmen), and she and he have not really shared any big emotional moments together in that time. Russell T Davies would have put in half a dozen by now, of course, but that's not Moffat's style, and as a result I found her decision emotionally implausible when it came.

Good Doctor, bad Doctor

But the big theme of this story is the balance between the Doctor's achievements and his misdeeds. Moffat has been flirting with this for a long time, and indeed it carries on directly from the previous episode's examination of the same issue via emperor Porridge - can wiping out one planet, including its innocent inhabitants, in order to save a whole galaxy, ever be justified? The Great Intelligence confronts the Doctor directly with a list of his crimes, including the death of Solomon the trader - something which caused fannish concern at the time, and was generally felt ought to be worked through properly. So it's nice to see that being explicitly addressed on screen. But his reference to the leader of the Sycorax is already rather unfair. It was Harriet Jones who ordered Torchwood to fire on them, against the Tenth Doctor's will - though from the Sycorax's point of view the distinction may appear like a nicety, and they could argue that the Doctor shouldn't have allowed his sentimental trust in humanity to lead to a situation where she was able to do that in the first plcae. Nonetheless, the dilemma is answered clearly here by the glimpse of the universe without the Doctor in it, which basically doesn't exist.

Meanwhile, the big reveal is the bad Doctor shamefully hidden in the good Doctor's past - or is it his future? The most obvious reading of John Hurt's Doctor is that he fits between the Doctor's Eighth and Ninth incarnations (as we know them), and is the one who pressed the button and ended the Time War by destroying both sides, including his own people. That fits pretty well with his own statement that he did what he did 'in the name of Peace and Sanity'. But if so, I find the idea that the Doctor has completely disowned that person, and therefore that act, emotionally unsatisfying. It was my understanding all through the Ninth, Tenth and (up to now) Eleventh Doctor's stories that the great sadness which he carried with him was the fact that he had found himself in a situation where that was the only possible choice - an evil, but a lesser evil than the possible alternatives - and that he acted on that choice and now has to live with the consequences. If, in fact, we now find that that wasn't a Doctorish choice at all, it rather changes everything. I like the idea of the Doctor carrying the weight of a right-but-painful decision a lot better than I do him carrying the guilt of an outright wrong decision (even if he has disowned it) - and I really hope Moffat has made sure his moral compass is properly calibrated if he is seriously going to delve into the latter territory.

In any case, we don't know the Hurt!Doctor's full story yet, and it is also possible that the obvious reading is entirely incorrect. He could be a far-past Doctor, from a time before William Hartnell and before he took the name 'the Doctor'. That doesn't entirely make sense, though, because the Eleventh Doctor explicitly says that the name 'the Doctor' was a promise which the Hurt!Doctor broke, and that doesn't work if the Hurt!Doctor belongs to a time before he made the promise and took the name. Or he could be a far-future Doctor - particularly the Valeyard, whose name was carefully scripted into the Great Intelligence's dialogue. This is perfectly workable on internal story grounds and for the fannish audience, since 'our' Doctor has already known about the Valeyard since his Sixth incarnation. But from a production perspective, and with casual audiences more firmly in mind, it would seem unwise to resurrect a character from the least popular period in the programme's history and build a major storyline around him - and therefore rather unlikely that Moffat has done so. We must wait and see (dammit!).

Minor trivia

I note that beekeeping is one of two things (along with watercolours) which the Doctor ruefully says he thought might retire and take up when gazing down at his final resting-place on Trenzalore. Which is of course a Sherlock Holmes reference, since that is what he famously does in His Last Bow, and thus Moffat playing on the connections between his two big shows once again.

Also, and possibly related to the issue of where the Hurt!Doctor fits into known canon, where on earth is poor old Eighty? Clara's direct interactions were with the seven Classic Doctors only, and Nine and Ten were both briefly visible running past her through the mist, but Eight seemed to be entirely missing. He's been recognised on-screen before as part of the official canon, appearing several times in sequential montages of past Doctors, so it seems odd for him to be missing this time. Is it Significant, or just a reflection of his rather low profile in the programme's on-screen history? If the latter, I am sad about it and demand more Eight-ness, pronto!

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Comments

( 10 comments — Leave a comment )
myfirstkitchen
Jun. 23rd, 2013 07:14 pm (UTC)
You missed Eight - Eight, Nine and Ten ALL ran past her. There are GIFs of this, but they're on Tumblr. See:
strange_complex
Jun. 23rd, 2013 07:16 pm (UTC)
Oh, good! I'm glad he was there after all.
daniel_saunders
Jun. 23rd, 2013 07:53 pm (UTC)
Re: dead Time Lords, there doesn't seem to be a consistent line on this. I assumed they were all dead, probably erased from time*, but then The End of Time seemed to imply they were somehow put in a bubble of time separate from the universe (so why is the Doctor so guilt-laden?). But then the Moffat era seemed to go back to the 'all dead' thesis. That said, I completely missed the implication of this being a Time Lord graveyard and I also assumed that it was in the Doctor's future. So not the Time War, especially as the Great Intelligence said it was a minor skirmish by the Doctor's usual standards.

* I'm not sure if this has ever been explicitly stated or if it's fanon to explain why the Doctor can't go back to the Gallifrey of The Deadly Assassin, for example, although that would break existing laws of time anyway.

I suspect that we may well go back to Trenzalore sooner rather than later, and that the Doctor won't really end up dead. I really hope this isn't the end of the Trenzalore arc, because if it is, it's been handled really badly with lots of questions (especially about the Silence) left dangling.

I'm trying not to speculate too much about Hurt Doctor, as Moffat has a habit of subverting expectations (for better or worse). The idea that he is the eighth Doctor is perhaps undermined by the presence of the eighth Doctor elsewhere in the episode (albeit played by a body double). The Valeyard might be fannish, but he is name-checked in the same episode, the idea has been homaged in the Dream Lord Amy's Choice (and then there's the Doctor's unseen greatest fear in The God Complex, which seems to be a person not a thing). The Valeyard is actually a good, solid idea and not too complex or fannish for the general audience to grasp; it was just handled really, really badly. The question is whether it is considered too tainted, as new Who seems to have been avoiding mentioning mid-to-late eighties Who. But the more I think about this, the more my intuition tells me it will be something else entirely.
strange_complex
Jun. 23rd, 2013 09:33 pm (UTC)
Yes, true, The End of Time rather changed things. I got the impression from it that the Time Lords were somehow trapped eternally in that bubble at a point shortly before being destroyed in the Time War - much like the balloon universe we saw in Hide. So I think the guilt would still apply anyway, in that they weren't living happy, fulfilled lives in a separate universe (which e.g. Rose in Pete's World eventually might hope to), but were trapped eternally at a single, and rather unpleasant, point in their past.

But you're right that it's all very confusing and has never been fully explained. And you are of course also right that Trenzalore may relate to a future battle. Maybe even still one which Time Lords will be involved in (having been resurrected properly somehow), hence the shape of the grave-stones. Although that said, it's interesting that the Doctor was able to explain to Clara the system with the size of the grave-stones relating to the ranks of the warriors. He's definitely seen grave-yards like Trenzalore before, if not that exact one.

And I think you are right not to get too caught up in speculation about the Hurt Doctor, too. I just want Matt Smith's replacement to be an actor with the surname of Comfort now, so that ficcers can have endless fun writing Hurt / Comfort...
daniel_saunders
Jun. 23rd, 2013 09:38 pm (UTC)
I agree trapping the Time Lords could still lead to guilt, but not, I feel, the extreme guilt-for-genocide he shows in some stories!
djm4
Jun. 24th, 2013 06:38 am (UTC)
Harriet Jones destroyed the Sycorax ship, true, but it was the Doctor who sent the Sycorax leader to a long, terrifying fall to his death with a comment about 'no second chances'.
strange_complex
Jun. 24th, 2013 09:51 am (UTC)
Oh, of course, yes. "No second chances - I'm that sort of a man." Can't believe I had forgotten about that.
steer
Jun. 24th, 2013 11:35 am (UTC)
I like some of your ideas here but I think non-canon and canon hints that Hartnell doctor is the first incarnation -- and certainly the first to travel in the tardis. The influential Lungbarrow novel is consistent with "The Name of the Doctor" in that incarnation being the one that steals the TARDIS. Not to mention that much stuff is "branded" fourth, fifth... doctor (but then that could be argued in slotting between McGann and Eccleston. I like the Valeyard idea which was the one which first came to me as we already know that there is an "evil" incarnation and I was thrilled to hear the Valeyard name.
strange_complex
Jun. 24th, 2013 05:33 pm (UTC)
I think that wherever John Hurt's character fits, he doesn't count as an ordinal-numbered Doctor, because the 'other' Doctors don't view him as a Doctor at all. So he may have used up one of the regenerations of the Time Lord who usually calls himself the Doctor, but if he is the body that person had before he looked like William Hartnell, that still wouldn't stop William Hartnell being the First Doctor. Similarly, if he fits in between Eight and Nine, he doesn't stop Nine being the Ninth Doctor - if you see what I mean.
steer
Jun. 24th, 2013 05:47 pm (UTC)
That is a fair point. However, quite aside from the numbering, it would be hard to fit him before Hartnell as the implication is that the Hartnell doctor stole the TARDIS ("Don't take that one" advice). Lungbarrow while in books not TV (and hence not necessarily canon) is quite well-known and considered pivotal (Cartmel Masterplan etc) and that has the Hartnell incarnation as the "birth" (well, "loomed") incarnation. They could retcon that or make it non-canon.

You probably know this but the Valeyard is stated as being betwen the "penultimate... somewhere between twelfth and final incarnation" on TV but in novelisation stated as being between "twelfth and thirteenth *regeneration*" which goes with your "unnumbered" theory (it's a bit unclear if your first regeneration is your second incarnation).
( 10 comments — Leave a comment )

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