The things that initially attracted me to Doctor Who were its grandiosity, its epicness, its dark imagination, and the heart-wrenchingness of time travel with an ancient alien. Series 7 has delivered these qualities in fits and starts—giving us a gorgeous new world but not fully realizing it; asking a fascinating question and then distracting us rather than answering it; showing us intense quandaries and then solving them in under three minutes.
I am happy to say that the Series 7 finale—the last we'll see of Doctor Who until the show's 50th anniversary special this fall—restored my faith in the magic of the Whoniverse, and somewhat restored my faith in this entire series. Though I don't love the idea that the previous 12 episodes have been used merely to set up a finale, or worse, as filler between the aforementioned relevant set-up episodes, I do love the way Moffat ties things together and makes you rethink what you've already seen. This is me making excuses, yes—I wouldn't allow any other show to get by on this much treading water and setup—but Doctor Who has earned some cachet with me. For a show that often rushes its endings, this finale has been in the making for almost two series now.
Before I get into "The Name of the Doctor," I need to first mention that my press screener was missing the last three minutes of the episode entirely—this was true of every early screener of the finale. The Doctor Who camp has been extremely tight-lipped about this episode (which could perhaps be a reaction to the news that, earlier this week, some Series 7 DVD sets were incorrectly shipped early, with the finale included—oopsie!).
Was all the over-protectiveness worth it? Was there anything in this episode so insane that it would blow the internet's mind? Having not seen the last three minutes (spoilers!), I can only say that if the opening scene of this episode had been spoiled for me, I would have been pretty bummed.
You see, Clara is an impossible girl, and that goes way deeper than meeting Matt Smith's Doctor several times. We were treated to a few moments of Clara, in respectively styled clothing and varying video quality, interacting with several incarnations of the Doctor: warning William Hartnell, chasing the Tom Baker, yelling at the Sylvester McCoy. "He always looks different, but I always know it's him." She informed us that she was born to save the Doctor. We still didn't know how, but finally, we knew who SHE was, and it was delightful. While we let that bit of info sink in, and basked in the magic of technology for inserting her into old episodes, this particular one began in earnest.
A seance of sorts was called between the Doctor's best mates—Vastra, Jenny, Strax, Clara, and River Song. It was absolutely wonderful to see River again, and she was in full saucy River mode. River and Clara had some initial moments of friendly jealousy with each other (it had to sting River when she found out that Clara never realized she was a female, based on the way the Doctor described her), but it was time to get down to business: An insane murderer Vastra caught in 1893 overheard some ominous whispers. "The Doctor has a secret, you know, one he will take to the grave, and it is discovered." He also said one other word: Trenzalore.
Let's talk about Trenzalore real quick: In Series 6, "The Wedding of River Song," a large, blue, man-like creature named Dorium Maldovar mentioned Trenzalore when discussing a prophecy. Dorium's line: "On the Fields of Trenzalore, at the fall of the Eleventh, when no creature can speak falsely or fail to answer, a question will be asked—a question that must never ever be answered: 'Doctor Who?'"
The seance was interrupted because the horrifying Whisper Men (some of my favorite new Doctor Who monsters, although I can't exactly tell what their powers are) broke into Vastra's house and murdered Jenny. Clara came to in the present and explained everything to the Doctor, and of course he wanted to go to Trenzalore to try to save Jenny. It wasn't the secret that was discovered, he explained, but the Doctor's grave. (Moffat loves sentences that can be interpreted in multiple ways.)
The Doctor and Clara arrived on Trenzalore and found a battle graveyard. There was an enormous, monument-like TARDIS there, but it was no monument—it was the real thing, and it was enormous because when a TARDIS is dying, the "bigger on the inside" energy starts leaking out. This huge TARDIS was now the Doctor's tomb. River appeared, basically by not hanging up from the seance conference call, but only Clara could see her. River's appearance was a data ghost, basically—but it was still her, thank goodness. As they ran through the wrecked TARDIS, Clara started remembering being there before, started remembering the events of "Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS," started remembering that she'd met the Doctor several times... and also that she'd died several times.
Meanwhile, Vastra, Jenny (reanimated by Strax), and Strax woke up inside the embiggened TARDIS to find Dr. Simeon, the face of Great Intelligence, and the Whisper Men surrounding them. He was still furious with the Doctor for ruining his plans and wanted to ruin the Doctor. (In another Moffat-esque shortcut, I'm not sure why they woke up there, but the story was moving along snappily enough that I didn't think about it until hours later.)
As a quick aside, I did enjoy the over-the-top performance of Richard E. Grant as Dr. Simeon, and perhaps I'm not steeped enough in the deep history of Doctor Who to properly fear Great Intelligence, but I don't know that Simeon's arrival rocked me to my core—even though it was the most logical choice for a supervillain. Perhaps if it had been Ian McKellen who showed up (he voiced Great Intelligence in "The Snowmen"), I would have been more wowed.
Simeon's demand: that the Doctor open his tomb the only way he could—by saying his own name—or else Simeon would kill his friends. The Doctor refused, but data ghost River did it for him, and then they were all inside. The twisting, pulsating, vinelike collection of light they found inside, we were told, was the damage from time travel. It was the Doctor's own personal time tunnel. It was an open wound, Simeon added, and one that Simeon could enter. To wreak revenge, Simeon's plan was to enter The Doctor's timeline and rewrite every single moment. Victories turned to defeat, friendships poisoned. And then he did just that.
We didn't get to see how this rewriting changed the universe too much, which felt like a bit of a cop-out, because it would have been horrifyingly fun to see Cybermen running the show, or the races of aliens The Doctor had saved over the years now gone. It would have been nice to see this catastrophic damage, but no dice. What we did see was that Jenny was now dead, and Strax went back to his Sontaran ways and tried to attack Vastra. Clara realized at that moment why she's the impossible girl, and decided to go into the Doctor's time tunnel herself in order to save him. Yes, it would scatter her into a million pieces, like confetti, each one a copy of the real version of her, but as she'd said before, "the soufflé isn't the soufflé, the soufflé is the recipe." Clara was convinced that her recipe would remain intact even as it spread through the Doctor's timeline, saving him from Great Intelligence's plan over and over, advising him. She seemed at peace with her decision but said one thing to the Doctor before she scattered herself, one thing we've heard several times over the last two seasons: Run you clever boy, and remember... me.
Once she was in, the Doctor was able to sit up and feel normal again, and his first order of business was to jump into his own time tunnel to save Clara. This would be a huge paradox, and ghost River yelled at him not to do it, but he couldn't hear her—until he heartbreakingly revealed that he'd been able to see and hear her the entire time. He didn't want to acknowledge River because he thought it would hurt too much, and it did. He then pulled her in for one hell of a kiss before saying a final goodbye to her ghost, a ghost who'd hung around for far too long, waiting for closure with the Doctor—a man who hates closure.
Then he walked into his own time tunnel... and that, my friends, is where MY episode ended.
In a show that mostly hinges on the Doctor's brave sacrifices to save the ones he loves, as well as his absolute inability to cope with loss or the way relationships change over time, it was lovely to see a few changes to the status quo. Let's face it, the Doctor is kind of like a little boy who throws a tantrum when Mom takes him to pre-school for the first time. He's angry, he's scared, and he ends up angrily ignoring his mom as she tries to kiss him goodbye.
This Doctor, who faced the pain he was feeling about River rather than joking about it and running away, seemed more grown up, a bit more evolved. Perhaps that's Clara already at work inside of him, or perhaps he's learning. I also loved that it was Clara who ultimately saved the day by sacrificing herself after coming to the realization that her fate was somewhat inevitable. She was the impossible girl because the situation demanded that she become the impossible girl. The idea that you can be a copy of yourself and still be yourself is an interesting one, but the real test will be what Clara and the Doctor do with this knowledge going forward. Now that Clara knows her role, and knows that there are many of her scattered throughout time, will it change her? Will it abate her existential wonderings about time travel? Will it speed up the romance between her and the Doctor, or will she feel somewhat weird that her only purpose, throughout all of time, is to save him?
I cannot wait to find out.
UPDATE: I have now seen the final three minutes of "The Name of the Doctor," and wow. The Doctor rescued Clara inside his own time stream, and then they both noticed a man standing there, a man Clara hadn't seen before in all of her splintered companioning. Everyone in the time stream was the Doctor, right? So what gives? "I said he was me," the Doctor replied, "I never said he was the Doctor."
"John Hurt as the Doctor" flashed on screen, and now we're left with over five months to wonder who the hell he really is. The two biggest theories at this point are as follows:
1) He's the Time Lord who stole the TARDIS and re-christened himself the Doctor. I like this theory, because it implies that he was escaping something by renaming himself, making promises to be a different creature from then on. But this theory is probably not right, as the Doctor says, "The name you choose is a promise you make. He's the one who broke the promise."
2) The Sun reported a while ago that John Hurt had signed on to play the ninth Doctor, which would mean that Eccleston was the tenth, Tennant the eleventh, and Smith the twelfth. A Time Lord can only regenerate 12 times, so this would be a really interesting new twist on things, and what on earth could have happened in John Hurt's tenure as the Doctor that needed to be wiped out entirely? Hurt has confirmed that he is playing "part of the Doctor" alongside Tennant and Smith, so this is clearly setting us up for one heck of a 50th anniversary special.
I am intrigued and also very grateful that the last three minutes didn't actually reveal the name of the Doctor. I've never thought that his name was important—it's what he does that's important. Any name would have been a letdown. What theories have you heard about John Hurt?
– What did you guys think of Clara being inserted into older episodes? Did you think it was done well? I'm normally not a fan of such things (that one commercial where Fred Astaire dances with a vacuum bummed me out), but I actually liked how this was done.
– I kinda love that Clara's bratty babysitting charges get one over on the Doctor.
– It was somewhat jarring to see the tiny crack in the TARDIS window when they landed on Trenzalore. All the things the old girl has been through, and yet, it was that crack that made me gasp.
– I always love the companions' reactions to finding out that River is the Doctor's wife, but I especially enjoyed Clara's screech of "YOUR WIFE?!"
– I tried to catch what the Whisper Men were saying as much as I could; the most interesting thing I heard was, "The man who lies will lie no more when this man lies at Trenzalore."
– Great bit of special effects with Dr. Simian revealing himself to be a hollow creature, and then reforming as himself.
– Strax had so many great lines in this episode!
– Vastra: We're waiting for one more. Strax: The one with the big head? Jenny: It's hair.
– Strax, to Vastra, while he was bringing Jenny back to life: "Unhand me, ridiculous reptile!"
– Strax, awkwardly, after coming back from trying to kill Vastra: It was an unprovoked and violent attack, that's all that matters.
– Holy shit, that KISS.
What'd you think of "The Name of the Doctor" and Series 7 overall?