Overall, the back half of Doctor Who series seven wasn’t nearly as strong as the first half. One might chalk this up to adjustmenting to new characters, including a fresh companion. But I think it’s more than that. The stakes and the fun just aren’t quite there.
However, the series seven finale, “The Name of the Doctor,” is the exception. It doesn’t have a lot of signature Doctor Who whimsy, but it does have some top notch acting by Matt Smith (the Doctor), the involvement of the always lovely River Song (Alex Kingston), amazing special effects, and a deep dive into some very heavy Doctor Who mythology.
The primary mystery of the past nine episodes has been how Clara (Jenna Louise-Coleman) can exist. Dubbed “The Impossible Girl,” the Doctor has seen her die multiple times in multiple places. Now, we know how this happens, as Clara jumps headlong into the Doctor’s scar, a singularity that rips her apart and delivers her to many points within the Doctor’s life.
The concept of the scar, which exists in the Doctor’s tomb, at the place where he finally dies, is an interesting one. He talks about tearing the universe apart by his travels, and yet it doesn’t seem to have harmed the universe all that much. Yet, it provides a vulnerability that the Great Intelligence (Richard E. Grant) is able to exploit, ruining everything good that the Doctor has done in his travels.
I am a little confused as to how the Great Intelligence stays aware enough, after entering the scar, to carry out his mission, and yet Clara, in the two encounters we witness her with the Doctor this series, seems to not know what is going on. Perhaps she is confused, or isn’t prepared to handle the time stream the way the Great Intelligence is. Or maybe Clara is just a very good actress. Either way, though it doesn’t quite seem to add up exactly right, it’s an intriguing idea with which to explain her story.
In “The Name of the Doctor,” we see Clara running through the timelines of previous doctors, mostly those who graced the television screen in the 1960s, ’70s, and ’80s. The production team does a pretty solid job of matching her to the film styles, not just in clothing, but in overall appearance. It’s still obviously computer-enhanced, but those very cool sequences are such a treat for long-time fans, to see those familiar faces again!
The other slightly weak spot in the story is that the Great Intelligence kidnaps only Vastra (Neve McIntosh), Jenny (Catrin Stewart), and Strax (Dan Starkey) to lure the Doctor to his grave at Trenzalore. The Doctor has had many friends over the years, and the Great Intelligence has been waiting for a very long time to strike against him. Surely, others would have been targeted save these three, who all live in the same time and place? I enjoy seeing them again, and it’s heartbreaking to watch Jenny and Strax die, even if it’s not permanent. But it does feel a little convenient, even if one can make the argument that the Doctor spends a lot of time with them in the recent past.
River’s involvement is also convenient, but in a very different way that feels more authentic. She is the Doctor’s wife, so she is strongly tied to him. We see a chapter of her story here that we haven’t glimpsed before, a woman lonely after the long absence of her spouse. This is a reflection of her, rather than her physical presence, but it still serves the purpose. She gives us some very emotional stuff, which is quite welcome, and does save the writers from having to reveal “The Name of the Doctor” yet, though it still feels like that will be coming.
Also, the scenes between River and Clara, who clearly don’t know much about one another, are funny, even if it makes the Doctor look a bit like a lousy cheater.
The end of “The Name of the Doctor” is quite a cliffhanger! Inside the depth of the Doctor, the Eleventh Doctor and Clara encounter the Doctor that isn’t the Doctor (John Hurt, Merlin, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy). This is the very dark persona who turns his back on everything the Doctor stands for. What is he?
Presumably, he is the version that the TV show skipped. When Doctor Who reboots in 2005, we are introduced to Christopher Eccleston’s Ninth Doctor. But what if Eccleston is the 10th? What if another version committed genocide against the Daleks and fought in the war? The smart money is that Hurt is this real, forgotten about Ninth Doctor.
Which would make Smith the Twelfth Doctor. Since the Doctor can only regenerate twelve times, Smith could be the penultimate actor, chronologically in the story, to bear the name. Going back and using Hurt as the Ninth, perhaps even in next year’s eighth series, could forestall the end of Doctor Who. But the finish line definitely feels near.
Whatever way the series decides to go, we’ll find out in November who Hurt’s incarnation is, a lot about the iconic character himself, and which version will be continuing in 2014. How exciting!