Like my fellow Verities, I was blown away by the first few scenes of The Name of the Doctor and never quite recovered from the blatant squee of all those lovely Classic Who teases. I had been avoiding previews, etc. so had managed not to be tipped off about the extent to which they were doing the Old Doctor thing.
First Thought: I want to address the common criticism that The Hurt Doctor (I love that fandom is calling him this) gets his ‘Introducing as the Doctor’ billboard immediately after the Eleventh Doctor specifically saying this is the incarnation that doesn’t get to call himself the Doctor.
I assumed from this that Eleven is kind of judgy and unreliable about these things (possible) but in retrospect I think it’s more likely that the ‘introducing’ line means we are going to get the whole John Hurt Doctor story (not necessarily in the right order because, Moffat) including his progression from being the actual Doctor (of whatever number) towards No Longer Deserving That Name. So he will be the Doctor at first, or at the very least, at some stage of the story.
Thought Halfway Between the First Thought and the Second Thought (see what I did there): Tumblr is currently freaking out that John Hurt is somehow here to erase Paul McGann or render him invisible, either by being 8’s older self or wearing his vest, but I think that’s absolute balderdash because if they wanted an older Eighth Doctor they would have just hired current Paul McGann (still very dashing thank you very much and noticeably older) PLUS Clara made it very clear she saw all Eleven Doctors in the time stream, not this one. Hurty wasn’t in the time stream. WHY? Whatever is going on with him, I don’t think it’s that thing at all. He’s either a Next Version or a Past Version Between Other Versions Who Retrospectively Doesn’t Count, or possible a SIDEWAYS version.
OMG. What if he’s what Peter Cushing regenerated into? That is now my personal canon until November.
Second Thought: I adore that the big reveal of this episode is in fact that the Name of the Doctor is… The Doctor. It was beautifully set up, and even more elegantly knocked down. Well trolled, that Moffat.
It wasn’t a cheat, though, because the title of the episode was distinctly relevant not only to the main storyline but also to the final narrative beat, the secret reveal we didn’t even see coming.
While watching, I did completely rename the episode ‘The Tomb of the Doctor’ in my head, because reasons.
Third Thought: Is the entire Eleventh Doctor arc entirely about him learning and developing his skills re: kissing and if that’s the case where can he possibly go from here? BTW that was the only point in the episode that my 8 year old screamed with horror, despite hiding from the Whispermen in our corridor. Afterwards she said, in a huffy voice, “the only thing that was horrible in that episode was the kissing!”
Fourth Thought: If the Eleventh Doctor has truly run out of River encounters in his storyline, maybe that is the reason he was in such deep and dejected mourning in The Snowmen, and not just because he missed Rory and Amy?
Okay those were the minor points, now let’s take on the majors:
I really liked what you all had to say about the River arc and her role in this story – including a lot of thoughts I’d never really put together about her previous “final” appearance in the Library. I agree with Lynne that River being saved was actually a dark/tragic ending for the character, even though she herself was reasonably forgiving (if eye-rolly at the Doctor) in the story itself.
The tragedy , from the Doctor’s point of view, is surely that having made the ending ‘happy’ for River and getting away scot free with a clear conscience, his own feelings about her fate would have changed pretty dramatically as he got to know her, and they forged this strange screwed up relationship of theirs. The more he loved her (and I do believe their marriage includes a love story even if all the bits were in the wrong order and they both had different and unbalanced amounts of love for each other at various times), the more he would have SEEN that what he did was appalling, and the more that the lack of a goodbye would have weighed on him.
I like very much that he admits straight out in this one that this relationship with River has hurt him, and that we see the emotional wear and tear on him.
I really, really enjoyed getting to see post-saved River in this, the older and more wise version of herself, and her friendship with Madam Vastra. I like that she has managed to escape the ‘prison’ the Doctor left her in, and that she continues to turn situations to suit her – adventuring outside the library is the equivalent of the dream champagne she provides for herself rather than drinking tea.
Not only has The Name of the Doctor given us an out for all past continuity issues (such as, obviously after yelling about what a pillock the Seventh Doctor was, Clara pulled a lever that severely shortened the drop of the cliff he was hanging off, allowing Glitz to reach him safely), but it’s also fixed a lot of the queries/worries of Series 7 so far.
The death of Solomon is namechecked here as one of the Doctor’s darker and less forgivable acts – frankly it’s nice to see him being called on that. Ditto the murder of the leader of the Sycorax with a satsuma, though I would not have looked askance at the Doctor’s meanness to Harriet Jones also being finger-wagged at this point too. Sadly I am assuming feminist commentary is not the Great Intelligence’s most substantial priority.
Clara remembers the conversation from Journey Into the Centre of the TARDIS which reverses that horrible bit of patronising wank where the Doctor got to remember it and she didn’t – adding a touch more equality to the relationship and just as importantly, not wasting that awesome scene.
We now know why Clara jumped on the carriage in The Snowmen which seemed a touch surprising for a lady of that period! The big question of course is – did she know she was Our Clara in that incarnation, and was she playing up two separate identities specifically to investigate Richard E Grant and the Great Intelligence? I rewatched that episode today and I maintain that the story is better if she mostly doesn’t know why she’s helping the Doctor but oh, she did say “Pond,” didn’t she? IT’S NOT ENTIRELY CLEAR!
That leads us directly to…
CLARA THOUGHTS OF CLARANESS
I think they made it clear in the episode that the various Clara copies have slightly different experiences – sometimes they know who they are, sometimes not, sometimes the Doctor sees them, mostly not, and while they all have a primal urge to save/help the Doctor at the core of their being, a lot of other things are up for grabs.
What we don’t know is whether she has whole lives or fragments of lives which begin and end at not-quite-random-moments, or whether they are in any way in communication with each other or share memories across time beyond the memories that come directly from Clara Prime, or…
OMG IT JUST OCCURRED TO ME MAYBE THERE ARE TWO SEPARATE CLARAS IN THE SNOWMEN. If it wasn’t for that scene where she gets changed in the carriage…
I now want to watch the Asylum of the Daleks again to see at what point it becomes explicit to her that the Doctor is the Doctor and whether you can read the episode as her knowing/recognising him or not.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the sacrifice of women in stories lately, and the massive difference between a female character who is killed off or chooses to die to push forward the narrative or emotional arc of a male character (i.e.: women in refrigerators) and a female character who dies and/or sacrifices herself at the end of her own story, in service to her own narrative.
Clara’s a bit tricky to look at in relation to this tradition because for all that the companions are billed as our POV characters and often play the part of protagonist in Doctor Who, they are not the continuity character whose narrative ultimately is being addressed on a massive scale. So, you know, supporting the Doctor’s narrative and helping him do his job is basically what they are, well, BORN FOR.
Still, some companions get more satisfying narratives than others. Amy’s end was most definitely about the end of her story rather than JUST being there to make the Doctor sad, Donna’s was… far less so.
I’m choosing to see Clara’s sacrifice as a positive narrative choice from a gender perspective – you could go either way on this, but in the context of Doctor Who (rather than other pop culture generally), I think I can justify my argument.
One of the issues that many feminist fans has with the portrayal of the Doctor is that despite him being an outsider, a geek boy, and a rebel, his Sheer Specialness (and age and experience) does rather lead to him taking on a patriarchal/patronising role over his companions at times. We see several instances in the RTD era in which he makes decisions FOR his companions which are directly against what they want – sending Rose home and later ditching Jack in The Parting of the Ways, convincing Rose to stay in the parallel world with Handy Doctor, and so on. Hell, let’s look at Classic Who and “I can’t take Sarah to Gallifrey” or “Susan found a boyfriend now, I’ll slam TARDIS the doors on her and leave her shoeless in a dystopian war field so she doesn’t make the wrong choice about her love.”
The really big examples of this in recent years are the Doctor erasing Donna’s memories rather than letting her die (as she begs him to do) in Journey’s End and “saving” River in the Library two parter.
So actually, even though he doesn’t WANT Clara to sacrifice to save him in The Name of the Doctor, I see it as a much improved narrative that the girl in the centre of this story gets to make that choice regardless of his wishes – she does so knowing the consequences and I think it really serves her character arc. We’ve seen her stop and think about consequences before, and challenge some of the Doctor’s most common tropes (like – do we REALLY want to pursue a ghost in a haunted house, is that the sensible choice?) and so we know we can trust her to have thought about this.
Sure, the Doctor doesn’t actually let her die, but for once he is allowed to just plain rescues her instead of making some horrible moral choice over her head – and I love his line “How many times have you saved me, Clara? Just this once, let me save you.”
There’s an equality between them after this story, which didn’t exist in the season up until this point, but which I would love to see explored further.
THOUGHTS ON THE REVOLVING DOOR OF DEATH IN DOCTOR WHO
Death is not automatically the worst thing that can happen to a person, in a story or in real life. The Doctor might not believe that, but I think he is wrong. Jack Harkness might ALSO have something to say about that.
So the idea that there’s no tension about the Doctor’s story because we know he doesn’t die yet (which I’ve seen discussed in other media coverage of the episode) is ridiculous, because a) that was already the case, let’s face it, in what past Doctor Who stories have we ever believed he was likely to die for real that day, and b) that doesn’t mean he can’t HURT LIKE HELL.
It doesn’t mean there is no tension, because the Doctor can lose people and planets he cares about, he can lose his mind or part of his innocence, there is stuff for him to lose. Likewise, there is plenty at stake for the people around him, plenty of potential sources of drama and angst without feeling the need to kill them off to shock the viewers into, what, feeling a bit more crappy about the universe?
Characters are killed off (and stay dead) in pop culture all the time, and it’s so often awful and wasteful. I didn’t cry over Jenny because I was busy using all my wish powers to bring her back to life (YOU’RE WELCOME, JENNY FANS) but that didn’t make the story less powerful or effective to me.
Sad stories are not harder to write than stories that make you smile, or laugh. They’re not automatically BETTER if they make your stomach hurt, or if they make you cry. The Oscars and literary awards might prefer depressing misery guts material to happy fun times, but I’m not quite sure why those standards are anything we should apply to Doctor Who.
COMPANION DEATHS SUCK. I was quite stressed over Amy’s potential death, and Moffat constantly crowing about how much we were all going to cry. I didn’t want to cry, I wanted a good and hopeful ending for a character I love (and that my youngest daughter loves), and I didn’t want her added to the heap of female corpses that science fiction and fantasy are particularly horrible about adding to on a regular basis.
Plus, you know, children are watching. I don’t think the show should talk down to the younger portion of the audience but I also think they need to be aware of the responsibility that comes from providing young people with heroes. If friends are constantly dying young around the Doctor (apart from dying of old age which is the ongoing quiet tragedy that is essential to his character portrait and I feel has more resonance) then all we would get is a lot more angsty, miserable Doctor refusing to make friends ever again, and really who needs that in their Doctor Who?
Sure they pull the fakeout death too often, but I maintain that is still better than so called ‘real’ deaths which sacrifice whole characters to artificially amplify the situation. In the case of this story, having Jenny and Strax die and disappear as the stars started going out added to the stakes for Clara – she wasn’t just dying for that bloke in the bow tie, she was saving the universe, and her friends, and everything she cared about.
Vastra’s grief helped Clara consider the consequences of choosing or not choosing to hurl herself into the voice. She made the right choice, and brought them back. So Clara Oswald FOR THE WIN, thank you very much.
I think that’s all for now. But I have more thoughts on this one, and possibly a whole essay planned on how this episode has brought Clara up to being more ‘equal’ with the Doctor than any other companion since Romana. Stay tuned!