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The Name of the Doctor

Review by Paul Bowler

[Contains Spoilers]

Dr Who The Name of the Doctor

He is revered and feared in equal measure, this Time Lord who has worn so many faces, gathering friends and enemies after centuries of adventures that have shaped the destiny of the universe. From the majestic splendour of Gallifrey, to a junkyard in 76 Totter‘s Lane, the Doctor’s exploits have touched countless lives and planets. When the Time Lords perished in the Time War the Doctor endured the torment of the carnage he had witnessed, he came back from the edge of destruction, finding hope with new companions and even greater adventures.

But like any time-traveller ever journey the Doctor takes has caused ripples throughout time and space. These gaping wounds in the fabric of the cosmos now threaten to undermine everything that the Doctor stands for. The mystery of the impossible girl, Clara Oswald, has somehow become linked with paradox upon paradox to filter back through every moment of the Doctor’s life. All paths now lead to Trenzalore, the one place that the Doctor should never visit, where legend foretells of the fall of the eleventh.

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Someone is kidnapping the Doctor’s friends to bring him to Trenzalore. The impossible girl may hold the key to his salvation, but with his past, present, and future selves in danger, Clara will need the help of Professor River Song if she is to save the Doctor from the Whispermen and the old adversary who has returned to witness the Doctor’s downfall. The end is nigh, this is the Doctor’s darkest hour, and his greatest secret will be revealed at last…

Matt Smith’s Doctor faces his greatest challenge yet as the enigma of Clara Oswald begins to unravel in this incredible season finale. Jenna-Louise Coleman is as outstanding as ever as new companion Clara Oswald, the impossible girl, who keeps bumping into the Doctor across numerous time zones. The Name of the Doctor finally reveals that Clara is the girl who was born to save him, meeting him throughout all his incarnations, reaching right back to the very moment where the legacy of Doctor Who began on Gallifrey itself.

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The eleventh Doctor has never faced a threat quite like what he must confront in The Name of the Doctor.  From the moment the Doctor is bound for Trenzalore the bleak tone of this episode turns jet black as the Time Lord faces the threat of the Great Intelligence and the Whispermen. Nothing really comes close to what Steven Moffat has orchestrated here, it provides one of Matt Smith’s most defining moment as this eleventh incarnation makes his stand at Trenzalore.

Several familiar faces also return for the season finale to help the Doctor in his hour of need. The Paternoster Row gang are back: Silurian warrior Madam Vastra (Neve McIntosh), her companion Jenny (Catrin Stewart) and their Sontaran butler Strax (Dan Starky) are drawn together for a psychic conference call with River Song and Clara also in attendance – but they receive some unexpected visitors. The vivacious Professor River Song (Alex Kingston) returns with a dire warning, her involvement brings her story full circle at last; her fate having becomes inexorably linked with he fall of the eleventh and Clara’s ultimate destiny.

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The entity behind the insidious plot to destroy the Doctor is the Great Intelligence, played once again by Richard E Grant, with his incorporeal from assuming the physical manifestation of Doctor Simeon. Having suffered a crippling defeat in The Snowmen (2012), the Great Intelligence returned in The Bells of St John (2013) to feast on the minds of people it absorbed through the Wi-Fi networks. When the Doctor found the base in the Shard, the Great Intelligence ordered his servant Miss Kislet (Celia Imrie) to sacrifice herself to prevent it being discovered. Now the grand design orchestrated by the Great Intelligence is revealed, to discover the name of the Doctor and use it to destroy him.

The Great Intelligence also has some new allies to do his bidding, the terrifying Whispermen. Clad in black, wearing top hats, these featureless creatures with their rotten teeth are like ghoulish undertakers. Their powers are hauntingly effective, stalking their victims with rhyming chants, before their heart-stopping touch transports people to Trenzalore. The Whispermen are in fact just another extension of the Great Intelligence, faceless pawns in his grand design. Richard E Grant makes a superb foil for Matt Smith’s eleventh Doctor, their epic showdown brings together many of Steven Moffat’s long running storylines, leading to one of the most emotional acts of self sacrifice ever seen in Doctor Who’s 50 year history.

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The Name of the Doctor is like a love letter to the series past. With the assured direction of Saul Metzstein (The Snowmen, Dinosaurs on a Spaceship, A Town Called Mercy, The Crimson Horror), the finale of Season Seven heralds a voyage through the life of the Doctor quite unlike anything we have ever experienced before. Steven Moffat has crafted a momentous epic which manages to encompass every era of the show. Each incarnation of the Doctor makes their presence felt in The Name of the Doctor as the barriers of time are swept aside by the events unfolding at Trenzalore.

After the Whispermen capture Vastra, Jenny, and Strax, the Doctor resolves to rescue them from Trenzalore, the place where his body is buried on a planet in the future. He forces the TARDIS to land on the desolate planet, which turns out to be a huge graveyard where the Doctor’s final resting place dominates the horizon. This gigantic tomb is a future version of the Doctor’s own TARDIS, now a dying shell with its internal dimensions leaking; the Police Box exterior has grown into a huge monolith that towers over everything.

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Professor River Song is waiting for them by her own gravestone, but only Clara can see her. She explains how she kept the line to the conference call open so she could help. This version of River is like an echo that should have faded long ago; she says that the Doctor cannot see her, so it is up to Clara to help him. Using the hidden entrance concealed beneath River’s grave, the Doctor and Clara enter the TARDIS tomb, braving the warped interior, where Clara begins to remember what the Doctor told her in Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS.

On reaching the tomb the Doctor and Clara are reunited with Vastra, Jenny, and Strax. Together they make a valiant stand against Doctor Simeon but the Whispermen overpower them as the Great Intelligence demands that the Doctor speaks his name to open the tomb. River steps in and opens the tomb to reveal the console room, overgrown with vines, the central console now just a gleaming wound of energy caused by the Doctor’s adventures. The Great Intelligence enters the energy beam and begins to rewrite the Doctor’s lives, undoing all his victories.

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Clara instinctively knows there is only one way to save the Doctor. She steps into the scar in time and becomes splintered across the Doctor’s time line, encountering his previous incarnations, becoming the paradox that will ultimately provides the Doctor’s salvation. After a touching farewell to River Song, where the Doctor reveals that he could always see her, he steps back across time to save Clara from oblivion, but one last incarnation of the Doctor is waiting in the shadows…

The Name of the Doctor offers some tantalising glimpses from the past as Clara encounters the Doctor’s previous incarnations in her attempt to save the Doctor. These sequences are superbly shot, with  Jenna-Louise Coleman being superimposed with images of the classic Doctor’s, it’s a technological and nostalgic marvel, spliced with snippets of dialogue, that helps complete this spellbinding adventure as the Doctor’s best kept secret threatens to bring all of creation to its knees. There is a sublime moment where the impossible girl meets the first Doctor on Gallifrey, where she advises him on which TARDIS to take, that is wonderful to behold.

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Alex Kingston gives a lovely understated performance as River Song; her final scenes with the Doctor were incredibly moving. The Paternoster Row gang are placed in mortal danger when the Whispermen hijack their conference call. There is a real sense of creeping dread as the Whispermen attack, which quickly turns to horror when Jenny realises she’s just been murdered. After she is revived by Strax on Trenzalore, the damage inflicted to the Doctor’s timeline by the Great Intelligence causes Jenny to fade away and Strax to turn on Vastra. Neve McIntosh is brilliant as Vastra, her Silurian make up conveys every moment of heartbreak as she watches her comrades being altered by the paradoxes. Catrin Stewart is also really good as Jenny, and Dan Starky continues to impress as Strax. Here’s hoping these characters get a spin off series of their own.

The cliff-hanger ending to The Name of the Doctor, where John Hurt is revealed as another incarnation of Doctor, is sure to send rippled thought the cosmos as Steven Moffat sets the scene for the 50th Anniversary Special. This fantastic revelation will no doubt play a significant role in the Anniversary Special and may have far reaching implications for the future.

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John Hurt is a brilliant actor and I’m sure he will make a fantastic Doctor. Ironically for an episode all about the Doctor’s greatest secret it is the identity of John Hurt’s incarnation of the Doctor that holds the key. He could be any version of the Doctor, past, present, or future. Perhaps he is a dark shadow lurking at the end of the Doctor’s lifespan, like the Valeyard was, or even an older version of the 8th Doctor from the Time War that was responsible for the demise of the Time Lords.

The Name of the Doctor provides a rousing climax to the Seventh Season of Doctor Who. Overall I think it’s been a terrific season. While it was sad to say goodbye to Amy and Rory, I’ve really enjoyed the mystery of the impossible girl, Clara Oswald, and have been impressed by diverse array of episodes and themes present in the second half of this season. I’m looking forward to the 50th Anniversary in November, where this story will continue, and to the eighth season and beyond.