Sunday 2 June 2013

Doctor Who: The Name Of The Doctor review... and some thoughts on departing Time Lords

Typical. Just as I was finally getting round to my splintered-in-time, two-weeks'-late Series 7 finale review... Matt Smith only goes and drops the bombshell that he will be leaving the show after this year's Christmas Special. I had anticipated him leaving after the 50th Anniversary Special because it would have seemed an appropriate time to go, but he was talking in interviews about coming back at Christmas... so it seemed like he was in for the long haul. But maybe not...

With two Specials yet to come to mark the end of the Eleventh Doctor's tenure, this isn't the time to get all maudlin about his departure. ( Unlike Matt in the photo above! ) I'll just say for now that I've loved his take on the Doctor ( with only a few minor reservations ) and the way he brought a lightness and eccentricity back to the part after the intensity of Eccleston and the Mockneyisms of Tennant. It's been obvious for some time that Smith's star has been in the ascendant ( heading to Hollywood to work with Ryan Gosling being the most obvious sign ) and the show obviously couldn't contain him much longer. I wish him all the best and I'm confident that the Who production team will find a suitably dazzling replacement. They haven't let us down so far.
( All this also begs the question  -  Will Steven Moffatt leave with "his" Doctor? It's obviously a possibility and again leaves the showrunner's role open for speculation. Not that I particularly want The Moff to leave  -  even though his time on the show hasn't been as groundbreaking as I'd hoped  -  but the thought of fresh blood in the Whoniverse is always exciting. )

So... The Name Of The Doctor : was it worth the wait / hype?
Actually, I'd say yes. Although the Doctor's name turned out to be a plot point and was not eventually revealed ( did we really think it would be? ) I didn't mind Moffatt's misdirection... although maybe the episode should have been titled In The Name Of The Doctor, which would have been more appropriate.
The whole episode had a suitably funereal feel as the Great Intelligence and his blank-faced Whispermen spirited the Doctor and his friends away to Trenzalore, the one place in the universe the Doctor must never go. Here, in a landscape devastated by conflict, we discovered the Doctor's final resting place and also his greatest secret.

Although, as with many of The Moff's scripts, the story didn't make huge amounts of sense it was heavily atmospheric with fine performances and some lovely nods to the show's past. The idea that the Doctor's tomb was his own deceased Tardis was a fitting, if grim, concept and Matt Smith totally sold the idea of the Doctor facing his own mortality with fear and bravery. The supporting cast all did sterling work, especially Alex Kingston ( in her final appearance? ) as a ghostly, computer-generated River Song. Strax, of course, got the few laughs in a necessarily sombre script. ( "Conference call...!")
The mystery of how Clara keeps popping up in the Doctor's life was finally solved, although this "closed-loop" kind of time paradox is one of those aforementioned moments that don't bear much scrutiny beyond the emotional impact.
Of course, the BIG moment was the appearance of John Hurt ( "as the Doctor" ) in the closing seconds of the episode. This was a hugely exciting moment, paving the way for the 50th Anniversary Special in November. Are we to expect that Hurt's Doctor is some kind of interim regeneration, maybe between the Eighth and the Ninth... and the one that pressed the button to end the Time War? Or is there more to him than that? Maybe he's the Valeyard? There are sure to be many twists and turns to come. However it pans out, November can't come soon enough...

Four Out Of Five Bow Ties. ( Or Impossible Girls )


Kid said...

I wouldn't mind at all if John Hurt was going to be the new Doctor. Unlikely I know, as they probably couldn't afford him for a series, but they really need to get back to a more mysterious, reserved, slightly ambiguous (morally, not sexually) character, as opposed to a babbling child who seems to be having heaps of jolly fun.

Richard said...

We'll probably never know, but based on everything that's known about his approach to plotting, I'd be willing to bet that when he came up with that closing shot of the episode Moffat himself had no idea who the John Hurt Doctor was going to be. That is to say, I believe the image came to him and he used it on the assumption that he would figure something out when he had to write the next script. He does the "not knowing what the ending will be" trick often, and always ends up with extra pieces left over on the floor...

The most elegant solution would be for the Hurt Doctor to be a possible future self. Then the anniversary special would unite a past Doctor, the present Doctor, and a future incarnation. A time traveller could very well learn of something his future self was going to do. It would be elegant, as I say, but Moffat doesn't tend to do elegant solutions.

Richard said...

And seconding Kid's comments: that's definitely a change the show needs to make.

Simon B ( formerly cerebus660 ) said...

You're right that they probably couldn't afford John Hurt as a regular but, equally, I'm afraid he'd be too old for the demographic-chasing BBC. It's a sad fact but I doubt we'll ever see a Doctor much over 40 years old again. Too much running down corridors ;-)

Hurt's Doctor could indeed be a potential future incarnation. It was interesting to hear the Great Intelligence mentioning the Valeyard as one of the Doctor's alternate names. The Valeyard, as played by Michael Jayston back in 1986, was meant to be an amalgamation of the darker sides of the Doctor's character, "somewhere between" his final two incarnations. Could it be...?


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