So, eight weeks on from the Spoonheads and the killer Wi-Fi, and a full eight months since the Dalek Asylum and Souffle Girl, we’re at the end of Doctor Who series seven. It’s been a strong series, if not the best – crackers like Asylum of the Daleks, The Bells of Saint John, Cold War and Hide interspersed with bog-standard episodes like Dinosaurs on a Spaceship and Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS – and of course, The Rings of Akhaten. But can the finale, titled The Name of the Doctor, top them all and earn that elusive five-star rating?
Doctor Who has a history of somewhat fudging its finales. Last of the Time Lords rendered the great previous episode inert with a mighty cop-out ending, Journey’s End had its cake and mashed it all around its mouth while laughing, and The Wedding of River Song substituted answers for more questions. The Name of the Doctor, however, avoids all these pitfalls, by heading down a route uncovered by modern Who (the universe has been at stake on two occasions in the revived series): a small-scale series finale.
The Name of the Doctor began with a spine-tingling little montage, seeing Clara Oswald interact with the first seven Doctors. There’s the First Doctor, leaving Gallifrey for the first time, the Second Doctor sprinting across a field, the Third Doctor driving Bessie, the Fourth and Sixth Doctors in a corridor, the Fifth Doctor trapped, and the Seventh Doctor dangling from a cliff. The quality difference between now and then is noticeable – but when you’ve got such a superb, fan-pleasing montage like this, it’s hard to complain. Openings are a tricky thing to pull off – but if you weren’t sucked in by the pre-credits sequence, there’s very little that can excite you.
But after that montage, it’s back off to Victorian London, where everyone’s favourite lizard/potato/maid combo Vastra, Jenny and Strax have come across a very nasty piece of news – that the Doctor’s greatest secret will be discovered at Trenzalore, the place first mentioned at the end of The Wedding of River Song. Armed with that knowledge, they ring up Clara and River Song via handy dream call. Yes, River Song. She suffered from a bit of overzealous character development in Series 6 and seemed a little pointless in The Angels Take Manhattan, but thankfully it’s River’s best appearance for a while – it’s an excellent, but understated performance from Alex Kingston… but more on River later.
But at the conference call, there’s an unfortunate intruder – the Great Intelligence, and his army of Whispermen (creepy, but mildly underwhelming aliens) intrude on the conference call, kill Jenny, and kidnap Vastra and Strax, blackmailing the Doctor with the promise that the Intelligence will free them if the Doctor goes to Trenzalore.The episode feels fairly tension-free up until this point – but Jenny’s death (even if it’s temporary) shows that The Name of the Doctor is not hesitant to go to some fairly dark places. In a light, adventure-y series, The Name of the Doctor feels much more serious – the Deathly Hallows of Steven Moffat’s era. And rightly so – the episode spends most of its runtime on a graveyard planet…
… And speaking of that graveyard planet – the Doctor’s not too happy about visiting Trenzalore – because it’s where he’s buried. The Doctor’s ‘death’ was shown in The Impossible Astronaut, but the time traveller’s death has never felt more real than here. Arriving on Trenzalore after a bout of TARDIS shenanigans, the Doctor and Clara break into the Doctor’s tomb… which is a massive TARDIS. Steven Moffat clearly knows his stuff – it’s the only thing the Doctor’s tomb could be, and it looks suitably epic. The production values have never been higher for the show – and considering it’s the 50th anniversary, it’s good to see an almost movie-like Doctor Who.
The Great Intelligence showed up in The Snowmen and made a brief cameo in The Bells of Saint John – so it’s no wonder that the Intelligence is a big part here. He’s cornered the Doctor and friends at the entrance to the centre of his tomb – and orders the Doctor to speak the key: his name. There’s been a fair bit of fan ire at the idea of revealing the Doctor’s name – but thankfully, we’re spared by River Song, who speaks his name… but luckily for us, we don’t hear it. So a breathe a sigh of a relief, and wait until the 100th anniversary, where it’s revealed as Keith.
Appropriately enough, there’s not a body in the Doctor’s tomb – instead, there’s a time web – everything the Doctor’s ever done and will do. It’s an ingenuous idea… but proves to be a bit of a bugger when the Great Intelligence hops into the web, reversing all the Doctor’s victories throughout time. It also kills Jenny (again), and reverses Strax’s fairly docile (for a Sontaran) demeanor, attempting to kill Vastra – who instead kills him in self-defence. The idea of reversing the Doctor’s victories is a really great idea – screaming ‘why didn’t someone think of this before’…
… But finally, we get the reveal of Clara, the Impossible Girl’s identity. It’s been hinted at since Asylum of the Daleks – but now we know that Clara is a normal girl, who splintered herself across the Doctor’s timeline to reverse the Great Intelligence’s reversal of the Doctor’s timeline, saving him at multiple points in his timeline… hence the fan-pleasing little cameos from Doctors One to Seven, and the Dalek and Victorian governess But the original Clara is lost in the Doctor’s timeline… so the only thing that’s left to do is for the Doctor to save the original Clara. Yes, there’s an awful lot of timeline hopping, and no, I do not care.
But beforehand, there’s a touching little farewell to River Song. The River we see is dead – the uploaded version seen at the end of Forest of the Dead, but that doesn’t stop the Doctor from giving River an almighty smooch. It’s a lovely coda to River Song’s story, and while she’ll certainly be back – that cryptic hint at the end certainly hinted at a series eight return – it’s still a nice ending to her story, and a far better River than we’ve seen in previous stories… even if it does look like the Doctor’s snogging air.
And at last, that ending. It was snipped from press previews and mostly kept secret (only on spoiler forums was the secret divulged) – but there’s no doubt that it’s an almighty shock. The Doctor finds Clara in his own timeline (where old incarnations of the Doctor are whooshing by) and rescues her – but there’s one Doctor who Clara didn’t see. The Doctor’s greatest secret is that there’s a secret incarnation of him, one that broke the promise made by the Doctor, in the name of sanity, one that the Doctor prefers to forget… and it’s only played by John Hurt.
It’s a superb climax – a game-changer on the level of Utopia‘s Master reveal – and an amazing tease for November’s 50th anniversary special. God knows how Hurt will slot in – but one thing’s for certain: it’s gonna be a long six months.
Overall, The Name of the Doctor is an immensely satisfying finale, giving us the answers we’d been looking for, alongside some superb performances and clever, innovative writing. Sure, the Whispermen are a little wasted, but when you’ve got classic series footage of the first seven Doctors and a butt-clenchingly good cliffhanger, that’s not too much of a big deal. Overall, I give The Name of the Doctor a score of:
That’s until The Three More Doctors (titled not confirmed) – but we’ll be keeping you updated with news on the 50th anniversary special right up until the big day itself. Next stop, November 23!