That got my attention, but it really shouldn’t have.
“The Name of The Doctor” is not a good episode. It came as a disappointing episode at the end of a half-season that never really hit its full potential. A lot of individual episodes had great moments and a few had some plots that involved The Doctor to a lesser extent and still worked very well, but overall it never really came together. Oddly, given that Doctor Who only had half a season to resolve what appeared to be a rather sweeping plot, this wasn’t the result of rushing, it just seemed that the whole thing never really came together.
“The Name of The Doctor” decided to do something about this by solving half the show’s mysteries, throwing in a hundred different references to the rest of the series, and then introducing a whole bunch more mysteries, all in forty-five minutes. To its credit, this never seems rushed, either. The episode is quite well paced, considering. It’s just very silly.
Since there are a lot of elements to its silliness, I’ll start out with a smaller one: this week’s villain, Dr. “Great Intelligence” Simeon. The Great Intelligence, as far as I know, is an original series villain who showed up in “The Snowmen” to be a largely uninteresting threat in order to galvanise some lovely character interaction and some of the best Clara material of the series. Like all original series villains, that unfortunately gave him (it?) the opportunity to overstay his welcome, which was highly evident in this episode. G. Intelligence didn’t present a credible threat. A severe Victorian gentleman in dapper clothing does not work against a backdrop of The Doctor’s tomb and his near death. He’s too small to seem dangerous, even as a vessel for a greater (and more boring) evil, and you could detect the show reaching to make him seem intimidating.
His menace should have been helped along by the Whisper Men, who I was very excited about last week given that they looked like an actually credible cross between Slenderman(s) and The Gentlemen from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Most of the episode they were frightening monsters of the seemingly invincible sort, and their rhyming introduction by Evil Prison Man was very unsettling in a way that only nursery rhymes about monsters can be. I’d love to see an entire episode about the Whisper Men, but they’d have to be legitimised as threats again, because “The Name of The Doctor” did them a terrible disservice. As soon as Simeon McGreatIntelligence steps into the portal, they disappear. I know there’s a timey-wimey story reason for it, but it’s also the show blatantly going “these guys aren’t relevant to the plot any more. Stop thinking about them.” They just…fuck off, unsatisfactorily to say the least.
In this episode, River Song says that The Doctor never came to see her because “he doesn’t like endings,” and the same can certainly be said of the show’s writers. River did not need to be in this episode. Her entire role in the plot could easily have been re-written, and it took screentime away from a plot that was very thin to begin with. The problem with River’s appearances, especially in the current season, is that it makes every scene with her in it about her relationship to The Doctor. This wasn’t such a problem in the fifth and sixth seasons, and her two-parter from the fourth was much improved by her presence, but as of “The Wedding of River Song,” her character is essentially finished. Her mystery is solved, and as much as she wants to hang around being flirty, it won’t induce the audience to care.
Oh yes, I’d nearly forgotten what the episode was about, which is never a good sign. So, I suppose this week the secret of The Impossible Girl was revealed. And I’ll be honest, I liked the setup. I liked The Doctor going to the one place he can never go to save three people that aren’t very important in the grand scheme of things, because that’s what The Doctor does. Trenzalore itself was fairly interesting, and an enormous TARDIS is exactly what The Doctor’s tomb would be. The setting details were quite nice, but the Big Secret left me entirely nonplussed. That is not a good sign for a revelation that retroactively alters the show’s entire timeline. It simply left no impression. So Clara has saved The Doctor thousands of times in the past. That’s…good? I guess? And the day was saved by The Doctor going “I am way too amazing for the rules to apply to, so I’m going to break all of them without consequence.” I mean, yes, there are usually consequences, but they never stick, and The Doctor usually fixes them by going even bigger and more impossible. Doctor Who constantly breaks its own rules, and I’m mostly fine with that, but in this instance the plot wasn’t interesting enough to compel me to go along with it.
Excuse me for a moment, while I take leave of my critical faculties:
OH FUCK YES
OH FUCK YES
FUCKING CALIGULA IS THE DOCTOR
All right, now that that’s finished, I’ve read a few theories on who he actually is, some based on “sources,” others blatant conjecture. I think it would be both fantastic and fantastically unlikely if he was to be The Doctor’s next incarnation, but that “introducing” sub-title seems meaningful. More likely he’ll be around for the 50th Anniversary Special, and then wander off back into time, but I can dream. Oh, I can dream.
In Memoriam: my interest in Clara as a character, which has suddenly and unaccountably dried up. I’m hoping the next season will do something that develops her as a character rather than a plot event or curiosity, but I’m not hoping too much.
That’s it for Doctor Who reviews until November, when Matt Smith and David Tennant return in what will hopefully not be a clusterfuck, or at least not a boring clusterfuck.
JOHN HURT I LOVE YOU