Thursday, 30 May 2013

A Doze By Any Other Name

Doctor Who
The Name Of The Doctor
Series Seven, Episode Thirteen

Oh.  Is it finale-time already?

One of the downsides of the "Movie Of The Week" approach is that this series, stretched painfully over two years (which also hasn't helped), hasn't really built up to anything.  Now, I'm not at all nostalgic for the torturous arc-plotting of Series Six, but the sense of momentum was nice; a gathering head of steam that meant you needed to see the finale.  (That it turned out to be a steaming pile of cow product is another matter entirely.)

This year, most of us are curious about Clara and what her deal is, but is it important?  Does anything, besides the Doctor's own nagging curiosity, hinge on finding out the answers?  Not really; she's barely aware of anything unusual going on, so why should we care?  I'm still trying to get a handle on who Clara is generally, never mind how and why she died in two previous episodes.  (And anyway, big deal: Rory used to die every other week.)  But, if that is the over-arcing mystery for this year, then let's get on with it.  Oh, and we're chucking in the fabled Trenzalore and the Doctor's name as well.  This sounds ambitious...

Ohmygod ohmygod
We meet the "ambitious" quota before the opening credits, in a montage you'll love to death.  Past Doctors!  William Hartnell in colour!  The First Doctor and Susan leaving Gallifrey!  What TARDISes actually look like!  It's two minutes of sheer gold dust, and granted, it gives away a pretty major plot development for later oh, so that's what Clara's up to but who cares?  William Hartnell and chums, in modern Doctor Who!  I nearly had a little happy cry.  (It is advisable to overlook the sometimes dodgy picture quality, as it wasn't always shot in Hi-Def, and the bizarre editing choices, because shut up, at least you got to see Patrick Troughton.  The occasional body-double-instead-of-actual-footage is a little galling, though; I know there's not that much footage of Colin Baker or Paul McGann, but that's taking the piss.)

Like The Wedding Of River Song and The Big Bang, after an initial exciting flutter, it forgoes massiveness for the small and the quirky.  Stand back from the episode and not much actually seems to happen.  That's not necessarily a bad thing Russell T Davies's finales were characterised by an increasing sense of "epicness" that became meaningless.  Trouble is, that's still sort of true.  Moffat's finales deal with the same kind of large-scale nonsense, but they keep it specifically tied to the Doctor.  He's been erased!  He's been shot!  Now he's had all his victories reversed!  So much drama has been spun around the Doctor's death(s), but it's all fruitless.  He's the show's only permanently invincible character.  You can change his face, but that's about it.  Everything else is reversed in the end.

So what's at stake?  The Doctor's friends (Vastra, Jenny, Strax and Clara) are being captured by the Whispermen (cronies of the Great Intelligence) and brought to Trenzalore – as it turns out, this is the Doctor's grave.  The aim is to lure the Doctor as well.  The mechanics of this don't add up to much.  Vastra gets a bunch of space-time co-ordinates from a prisoner on Death Row, and how he came by them we'll never know.  We never see him again.  (It's rather like The Angels Take Manhattan: minor characters are invented and dismissed just to get things going, only to give way to a plot that barely moves.)  She holds a "conference call", i.e. an unconscious psychic chat with the Paternosters, Clara and River Song.  It's a fun idea, but I wouldn't bet on seeing it again.  (It's probably just an excuse to get River, who is at this point actually dead, in on the action.  No, we can't leave her out, no matter how much you want to.)

Why you'd bother capturing them when they're already in the process of passing on the co-ordinates, I don't know, but then I'm no Great Intelligence.  Jenny is murdered during the call – a moment of genuine shock and pathos – but that, too, is sort of pointless.  What good's a dead hostage?  In any case, Strax revives her immediately.  So much for pathos.  And so much for the Doctor being the only invincible one.  Can anyone die in modern Who?  (This, incidentally, makes Jenny's reaction to Dr. Simeon, who died the last time she saw him, rather unusual.  You were dead too, Jenny dear, five minutes ago!)

Hmm... nope.  I'm still thinking about the montage.
The good stuff here, apart from Strax being his usual chucklesome self, and the Whispermen being transparently creepy, is Matt Smith.  After a clutch of episodes that haven't given him a lot to work with, we get a gift of a scene where the Doctor struggles against tears, knowing where he has to go, facing his own mortality.  It's great to see him take stuff seriously; his reaction to his own tomb ("what else would they bury me in?"), and especially his remains ("What were you expecting?  A body?") is top notch Matt Smith Doctoring.  It's his best performance this year, even if it is a variation on both previous finales in which he also went willingly to his death.

He's also excellent in the goodbye scene with River Song, and in case you missed any of those key words, here they are one more time: River.  Song.  Goodbye.  I've got nothing new to say about her character, except that even in this very limited capacity she's still horrendously, overridingly smug.  She calls the Doctor "useless".  And apparently she made him disclose his name.  Urgh.  Fortunately Matt Smith's beautifully understated acting, mixed with the very real possibility that she's going, she's really going, this might really be it... all rather drowns her out.  Thank goodness.  Don't let the door hit you, sweetie.

Sorry, I drifted off to a happy place: now back to the Doctor's grave.  Burying him in the TARDIS seems suitable enough, and the on-screen realisation of the Doctor's remains a mess of lights and tendrils that represents his journey through time is genuinely creative.  What the Great Intelligence intends to do with it, however, is less so.

The plan: whiz through the Doctor's timeline changing every victory to a defeat.  It makes a surface kind of sense, although we've have had this sort of thing before – the Doctor's influence was erased in Turn Left and The Big Bang, both of which also involved the stars going out.  But it seems like a legitimate Evil Scheme, even if it's been done before.  As usual, though, place it under the slightest bit of scrutiny and it all falls apart.  Are you sitting comfortably?

Skipping wincefully over the fact that the Intelligence can clearly already time travel (being in Victorian London and at Trenzalore), uh, hello, cause and effect?  Why doesn't the ironically-named Great Intelligence simply muck up the earliest battle in the Doctor's life and skip the rest?  If you change any event in the sequence, isn't that going to affect all the subsequent ones and whether the Doctor is still alive to take part in them?  Won't this affect whether the Doctor gets buried on Trenzalore, which made all of this possible in the first place?  How is the Doctor (miraculously still in his Eleventh incarnation and not, y'know, a corpse) still here to put a stop to it?

I'm no expert, but shouldn't at least some of this occur to a writer obsessed with time travel and paradoxes?  For goodness sake, he wrote an episode this series about why paradoxes are bad.  If two people in a row can bugger about with the Doctor's entire life, I'm pretty sure a certain someone can pop back and rescue Amy and Rory.  What's the point of rules if you're going to continually and absent-mindedly change them?

Behold: phase one of the masterplan!
Okay, enough about the, ahem, Intelligence.  What about Clara?  She heroically scatters herself through the Doctor's timeline, presumably (we can only presume) replacing the Great Intelligence, somehow.  Cue the Past Doctors montage again.  (Yay!)  But... apart from the two recent examples, why haven't we seen her before?  Why doesn't the Doctor remember her?  What, besides occasionally yelling "Doctor", is she actually doing that the Doctor couldn't do himself?  (Come to think of it, what was the Great Intelligence doing, besides glaring in corridors?)  If he tends not to notice her her exact words are "He hardly ever hears me" then how is she helping?  How is Clara still alive at the end of this?  And how come the Claras we met in Asylum Of The Daleks and The Snowmen had no idea they'd been sent to help the Doctor, when the ones we see in the montage seem fully aware?  Clara, once again in her own words: "He always looks different, but I always know it's him."  Oops.

Brace yourself: it looks as if our old friend, Mr Made It Up As He Went Along, is in attendance.  One might think it was foolish to expect anything else, but Series Seven took a whole extra year to make.  What was the extra time in aid of?  I guess we can rule out "making sure the scripts make sense and tally with one another".

Does Doctor Who make more sense now that we know who, or at least what Clara is?  Ehh, yes and no.  It's a sweet idea, but it doesn't really explain what's come before, and anyway, finding out Clara was "born to save the Doctor" doesn't tell me anything important about her at all.  If anything, it whittles down what remains of her personality to nothing more than a walking plot device.  (As for "I blew into the world on a leaf, and I'm still blowing", er... pardon?)  She can't even keep her triumphant sacrifice, because she's an Impossible Girl and the Doctor's an unstoppable guy, so he's able to save her from certain death, just because.  Which is all very nice, but that leaves the grand total of her sacrifice as... millions of other Claras spending miserable lives waiting to bump into the Doctor?  What has she lost, and what has she learned?  Much like that bit in The Rings Of Akhaten (blurgh!), where the Doctor sacrifices his memories to stop a monster, it doesn't quite work if he gets to keep them afterwards.

Characterisation is evidently not Steven Moffat's strongpoint.  Since he's not too hot on the rules of time travel, or any sense of dramatic consequence, I may need reminding what his strongpoint actually is.

Ho hum.  Despite the way-cool montage (montage, montage, montage!) and some delightfully Anniversary-ey references (hands up if you know who the Valeyard is, my hand's up 'cos I know!), this episode – and Series Seven as a whole falls a bit flat.  Stories about the Doctor's impending death usually do.  The rest of it's the same old Moffaty windowdressing.  Monsters that are sort of frightening, but don't really do anything (apart from speaking in rhyme, which is terrifying and absolutely not hilarious, shut up!).  The Paternoster Gang, who are fun and funny in their usual one-dimensional way, meaning Strax is funny, meaning Dan Starkey is.  Characters performing great sacrifices that don't cost anything.  And hey, big surprise, they didn't disclose the Doctor's name after all.  So far, so obvious.  But then there's the ending, where we meet the Doctor that got away.  It's the bit people will talk about.  Shame it's got so little to do with the actual episode.

I've got mixed thoughts on this, and not just because of the dumbfoundingly stupid "Introducing John Hurt As The Doctor" caption.  Who is this guy?  We won't know until the 23rd of November, but all I can say is: I really hope it's not what it looks like.  (The obvious answer here is that he's the one who killed the Time Lords, but the Doctor, our one, the proper one, has owned up to this many times.  He is, in a very real sense, defined by his sense of guilt and responsibility over it.  Passing the buck to a "bad" regeneration would be the coward's way out, instantly nullifying most of the character development he's had since 2005.)  So please, no.  No, no, no.  But we'll just have to wait and see.  And, quite possibly, duck and cover.


  1. Maybe he is the 12th Doctor. And the new guy will be the 13th Doctor.

    So anyway, this all sounds rubbish (the episode) glad I quit watching this horrible show. How can they possibly gather the Doctor's friends without Amy and Rory? They're his only friends.

    And who wishes that montage was the entire plot of the Anniversary Special? Me, that's who. The going back in time to old episodes, not the Clara being in it stuff.

  2. People who aren't Steven Moffat in Having Superior Ideas shocker.

    When I saw that this episode was about "the Doctor's friends" being kidnapped, I did envisage something grander than the Paternoster guys and River (fucking) Song. Alas.

    At this point, it's not entirely unreasonable to think the Anniversay Special is going to be shit. Let's face it, if it was *really* good, Matt might have dilly-dallied about jumping ship. He's clearly hopped it before hitting the iceberg, for which - despite being depressed at the show's bleak future - I can't help but respect him.

    1. If he was going to hop before the iceberg, he'd have to have left the year he joined.

      Also, I dreamt that my 'I hope when he regenerates, he's with Amy and Rory' wish came true. Now I am awake and am sad.

  3. River Song is awesomeness incarnate.

    1. Then I'm happy for you that she was in this.