Sunday, May 19, 2013

The Idiot Box: Doctor Who 7x13 - “The Name Of The Doctor” Review

When this season started, producer and head writer Steven Moffet made a conscious decision to scale back on the arc heavy connections between episodes seen in previous seasons to do more stand-alone adventure stories. As a result, we've had what is easily the worst season in the history of the show. This latest episode, the finale and last Who installment until November's 50th Anniversary special, followed the trend of the last few in being markedly better than the majority of this year's efforts, and yet the arc averse formula that gave birth to it made what could have been an amazing hour of television much less than what it by all rights should have been given the collective talent behind it.

The Name Of The Doctor begins with the most fanservice-y opening sequence in recent memory, including clips from the whole history of the show Forrest Gumped into our current narrative in such a way as to promise a final revelation as to the mystery of the Impossible Girl. This we get, and it is more than a bit underwhelming, though not entirely disappointing. When we finally learn how and why Clara has been appearing and dying in so many places throughout history, it comes off like a last minute cap to be clever without actually adding anything to the character or the larger mythology. It's interesting, but I'm forced to admit that it doesn't really change anything, and considering this was a moment that has been effectively three seasons in the making, I can't help but view it as a bit of a broken promise.

I wonder if the general malaise I'm feeling is a result of coming down from the season as a whole, or if I honestly expected more, but either way, in retrospect I wonder if the hype surrounding this might have been bigger than it should have been. It took us two seasons to learn what The Silence was, all of which was apparently just to set us up for the monumental events due to happen on Trenzalore, and yet once we get to Trenzalore, I don't really see what all the fuss was about. Yeah, I know the universe is at stake, but it always is, and in retrospect, unless I missed something, their whole goal of killing the Doctor apparently to prevent this outcomes doesn't strike me as particularly effective, since we now know his death was actually a precipitating factor. Wouldn't it have been in their best interests to keep him alive so none of this could have happened?

And because of the emphasis on stand-alone episodes, the villain leaves much to be desired. The Great Intelligence, an old school Who villain brought back in the Christmas special and briefly in The Bells Of St. John apparently taking on the role of The Doctor's Braniac is revealed to be the driving force behind this years threat to the universe, but because we saw so little of him up to this point, his quest for vengeance never really appears to be as profound as this episode wants to me to think it is. His henchmen, the new monsters known as the Whispermen, were no less lackluster, their powers and nature too ill-defined, and lacking the typical fantastic Moffet twist like The Angel's time locking or the Silence's mind wiping.

The resolution is a bit muddled even once you acquiesce to the fact that we won't actually be learning what The Doctor's name is despite the title of the episode. More than that, now that I think about it, the way they handle this might be a mistake. They get around him having to reveal his name by having River Song do it off screen, but if I remember correctly, The Doctor never told it to her. It was implied in Forest of the Dead, but in The Wedding of River Song, wasn't the part where he told her his name a trick? Wasn't he actually whispering to her the fact that he faked his death? I could be wrong, and I'll have to go back to the old episodes to check, but I'm pretty sure this either means we haven't gotten to the point where she actually learns this information, or the writers forgot that she didn't actually know it.

Still, as always the acting is top notch and saves the episode during moments when it clearly needs saving, and we get another appearance by my favorite trio of Victorian alien sleuths, who really need to be spun off into their own show already. Smith and Coleman try their best to come across as having the same sort of close personal connection to each other as Smith and Gillian did, even if the writing up to this point hasn't quite earned it yet. The final moments serve to cement this relationship, then give way to a significant teaser for the Anniversary show that is legitimately exciting, and possibly an allusion to another classic Who villain I've been waiting to see come back for a long time, if an off hand mention of the character earlier in the episode is any indication. Overall, I'd say it was just enough to keep me interested and give me faith that maybe they finally know what they're doing, but it remains to be seen whether any of it is paid off down the road.

Going forward, I think I might go back to the first few seasons of the new series to fill in the gaps where I wasn't reviewing, so stay tuned for that, assuming I don't give up on the idea. Either way, see you in November. And also, you know, tomorrow when I post other stuff. 

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