The Name of the Doctor – it’s all about him

This post contains spoilers. You’ve been warned.

Doctor Who: The Name of the Doctor

Well. That was a ride and a half. And it was Moffatt at his very best. I got the feeling that he’s been wanting to write that finale ever since he got the DW job, and he’s found it really difficult to care all that much about anything that didn’t feed into it. Hence the uneven quality of the last series.

It was ambitious, it was scary, it had some great one-liners. Fan service galore, and a lovely intellectual conundrum at its heart – what time traveller hasn’t had to deal with the temptation to find out about his own death? The production values and direction were top-notch. It was, genuinely, the best finale since POTW, possibly even better. I have to hand it to Moffatt, that was one heck of a piece of TV.

And yet….

I’ve been trying to put my finger on what bothered me, what didn’t feel quite right. At first I thought it was the impossibility of Clara, of trying to stitch her into canon. I kept thinking of things like, why wasn’t she there in Waters of Mars? How could she bear to see the state he was in after Doomsday and offer him no comfort? (Ditto the Time War, of course, but more of that anon).

So, saving the Doctor. Well, that’s a nice way to spend your eternal life. Certainly makes the universe a safer place. What does saving the Doctor actually mean? Is it just something you do, or does it come from a real relationship, a place of love? Are you doing it for the world, the universe, yourself, the Doctor, or just because you are a piece in a puzzle that has to be slotted in for everything to work properly?

If it’s about a relationship, actually being there for him and making him a better person, then to single out Clara’s specialness seems like a kind of insult to all the other people, from Susan, through Jo, Sarah Jane, Tegan, Rose, Donna…who did exactly that. If it’s a force, something like Bad Wolf (and I think maybe this is the way Moffatt would have written that concept), then it’s rally hard to start putting it into the story at this stage when it’s never been there before.

All the time she’s been there, never intruding, just quietly in the background making sure the Doctor gets out of things okay. Not demanding anything in the way of emotional growth or character development, so he doesn’t go on making the same mistakes. Just there, not making any demands, even though to carry out this role she has to die over and over, in an unimaginable number of different ways.

Just a piece in the puzzle
Just a piece in the puzzle

We saw that happening to the Doctor, just the first few deaths, and it wasn’t pretty. There he was rolling around on the floor, in agony, and everybody was worried about him. But if we follow the storyline through to its logical conclusion, that’s nothing to what Clara will have to endure. Dying and being reborn, over and over, and over, and nobody even notices.

I hope somebody writes the fic where Clara meets Jack. I think they’d have a lot in common, and they’d probably have some hot sex as well.

So she’s the impossible girl, a kind of Metacrisis Donna on steroids, but no ancient Romans are making monuments to her, nobody is singing songs about her. OTOH, she seems to get to keep her memories, which isn’t necessarily desirable, considering some of the places she must have got to see.

Come to think of it, she could have an interesting talk with Martha Jones sometime.

Anyway, so much for the Impossible Ultimate Companion Clara, who seems to be better at symbolising the Companion role than actually embodying it. Moffatt is big on that.

Doctor Who - Series 7B
Elegant martydom – discretion becomes you, Professor Song

And then there’s River Song. Again, what a model of discretion she is, as she meekly begs the Doctor for some kind of acknowledgement of all she has been to him (or so we, and she, like to think). Again, functioning best when she isn’t even noticed, just whispering in the ear of the Doctor’s latest hottie, the two of them collaborating rather like the two wives of the ghastly man in Khaled Hosseini’s A Thousand Splendid Suns. You know what? I think I’d have liked River’s ghost to slap him across the face, push him into his timeline and say he got what was coming to him.  But of course she wouldn’t, because for all the badass and designer shoes, River knows that when push comes to shove a woman should stay in the background, never intrude on the Big Damn Hero’s hangups, take what she can get and save the world in some act of cosmic sacrifice.

That kind of thing has been going on in religions since time immemorial.

I cant imagine Jackie Tyler doing it, though. But she was a real person, not an icon.

It was a day or two before all this started to percolate through, and this brilliant piece of meta definitely helped  (thanks to green_maia on LJ for that link). In SM’s Doctor Who, it’s all about the Doctor. We look after him, and if we’re lucky, he’ll look after us.

Everybody is obsessed with the Doctor, and he’s obsessed with himself. Nobody else really gets a look in. Yes, he cried in this episode (bring it, Matt!) Contemplating his own death. Not Clara’s sacrifice, or River’s hollow martyrdom, or yet more of his friends lying dead and broken on the floor, but he cried because he had to go to Trenzalore. Which admittedly wasn’t a very nice place. But still.

It was an intimate kind of a finale, and I kind of liked that. But that meant that it didn’t focus on any Big Bad – frankly Richard E Grant was a sideshow compared to the Doctor’s demons. And now, like anyone who gets in too deep with an abusive, controlling man, Clara is lost inside his head, trying to figure out how to change him, and she’s seen something that he really, really, didn’t want her to see.

Okay, I’m only human, and the John Hurt character fascinates me. He fascinates me a lot more than Eleven (or is it Twelve now?) because etched on that face is unbearable suffering and the evidence that it’s actually affected him. Yes, he’s the shadow, the Bad Doctor, the Valeyard perhaps, the elephant in the room…but he’s real. Eleven is never real like that; he comes over as a narcissistic creep.

I really will have a problem seeing Matt as Good Doctor to this character’s Bad Doctor. The edges are pretty blurred these days. I’ll go on watching, but it’s John Hurt I’ll be watching it for.

john-hurt-doctor-who-name-of-the-doctor-back
…because every modern hero needs a shadow self.
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8 thoughts on “The Name of the Doctor – it’s all about him

  1. I remember Moffat being quoted in 2010 or 2011 as saying that Doctor Who is really the companion’s story because you can’t make a dynamic* character of the Doctor. It’s looking less and less as he goes on like he believes that.

    * In the technical sense, as I learned it in theater studies.

  2. Yeah. You know, there is a lot I liked about this episode, but the idea of Clara “being made to help The Doctor,” just really sounds … bad. If they phrased it as Clara creating herself to consciously help The Doctor–really emphasizing her choice to do so and to make herself and even beyond him (I mean, if she can access all of her alternate selves, she has quite a bit of knowledge and experience on her side there)–then it might have sounded a whole lot less chauvinist? I don’t know. That phrase just really didn’t sit well with me.

    And as for The Unknown Doctor, even knowing as little as anyone does about him I would say he is still very much a Doctor because, after all, if he is from where I think he is from who else other than a true Doctor knows the value of euthanasia?

    So here is a question for you Miranda: who is your favourite Doctor?

  3. I really will have a problem seeing Matt as Good Doctor to this character’s Bad Doctor.

    And, yet, we won’t see this. I don’t think Moff has any idea how shallow his characters are. That, for me, was the central problem with this episode. I thought, as you know, that as a finale, it could well be the next best to PotW. Certainly, I like it better than any of Moff’s previous ones and better than JE and End of Time. So, what does that leave us? Last of the Time Lords (horrid reset) and Doomsday (which…well…is pretty amazing, even if it made me weep buckets).

    When all is said and done, Clara is a cipher. I think most of your questions are answered by her saving him from the Great Intelligence. If you go back and look you will see that the GI was there in the same places as Clara, trying to stop the Doctor at key points in his time stream. So, Clara wouldn’t be at points where other people saved him….like Rose or Sarah Jane or Donna. But, apparently, she was born into each life and lived until she saved him. It is, as you say, all about him.

    And his crying made me so angry. Because, yes, this was similar to that childish meltdown that Ten has after Wilf knocks 4 times. That was an embarrassment. I didn’t get the great nobility that David and RTD tried to sell me out of that tantrum. I just got childish, self-involved Doctor…on the wrong path. I have even wondered, as you know, if Moff had some hand in End of Time, due to that tantrum…and the “I don’t want to go” and…well…the Woman in White…who could well be Clara, still.

    I can see, on the rewatch, how people are thinking John Hurt is the regeneration that pulled the trigger on Gallifrey. But, to say that wasn’t done in the Doctor’s name is to belie what we have seen for the last seven years. The Doctor has taken full credit for pushing the button, even claimed that he would do it again, in End of Time, because it was the right thing to do. Clara said she saw Eleven faces and he’s the Eleventh Doctor. But the Doctor claimed, and rightfully it seems to me, that all of his personas are in the time-tunnel tomb. So, I would think that John Hurt is the one that STOPPED being the Doctor. That would be Twelve. After that he becomes the Valeyard or the Beast or whatever.

    The time to defeat the Valeyard is now. Because once Twelve arrives it is too late to change. Something horrid happened, something far worse than the Time War…and it spawned the Valeyard…who was so horrified that he went back in time and tried to take over his remaining regenerations from Six onward. Seven…called back to Gallifrey…then Eight…who fought…and Ten who split into another being…and Eleven…who is so self-centered he only cries for himself.

  4. GAH! I mean…we WILL see this…and on…

    And what I really mean is, we have a situation now where it is okay to cheer on the Valeyard in his attempt to destroy this Doctor. But…does Moff know that? I doubt it. I would imagine that Moff finishes writing this drivel and thinks…”My Doctor is truly cool.” Because Moff, sorry to say, finds emotional scenes with girls (or women) icky and doesn’t see the “blood soaked” Doctor as a true abomination.

  5. I’d like you to be right about the Valeyard but I don’t credit Moff with that much subtlety. I think he’ll stomp all over RTD’s Time War canon the way he’s twisted the idea of Bad Wolf and so much else. And that might well be why CE decided not to be involved.

    There’s a fan manip going around that basically puts John H into the Star Trek: Into Darkness poster instead of BC, and that speaks volumes. Moff is just making the show into a formulaic movie franchise with its formulaic twisted hero. And I think it survives on the quality of the actors it attracts rather than the writing.

    I find that with the RTD finales, even the ones I disliked, I’d be emotionally exhausted by the end, and then uncover deeper and deeper layers of meaning as I reflected on them. With Moff’s I tend to be dazzled straight after watching, but then spot multiple problems as I think about them.

    What I would love to see come of all this is some understanding that you cannot keep rewriting time, that it corrupts the Doctor (as it did his people) and damages the fabric of the universe. I don’t think that will happen though, because RTD seriously explores the dangers of becoming a God whereas Moff rather likes to think he is one.

  6. raealaine said, “Clara said she saw Eleven faces and he’s the Eleventh Doctor. But the Doctor claimed, and rightfully it seems to me, that all of his personas are in the time-tunnel tomb. So, I would think that John Hurt is the one that STOPPED being the Doctor. That would be Twelve. After that he becomes the Valeyard or the Beast or whatever.”

    It is stated in “The Deadly Assassin” that a Time Lord has twelve regenerations and thirteen physical bodies. Therefore, although Clara says she only saw eleven faces when she jumped into the Doctor’s timestream, she should have seen at least twelve, if we’re not including John Hurt.

    This is further confused by the fact that in the “The Sarah Jane Adventures” episode “Death of the Doctor,” the Doctor tells Clyde he can regenerate “507” times, and in “The Brain of Morbius” we see the faces of twelve Doctors, making Tom Baker number twelve, and William Hartnell number nine, even though, in “The Three Doctors” the President of the Time Lords calls the Hartnell version “the earliest Doctor”.

    As for the Valeyard, according to “The Trial of a Time Lord,” he is “an amalgamation of the darker sides” of the Doctor’s nature, and appears somewhere between his “twelfth and final incarnation.”

    For Moffat’s story to make any sense at all, the Doctor has to die on Trenzalore having had only eleven regenerations, and twelve physical bodies, which make either Matt Smith or John Hurt the final Doctor.

    However, I don’t think Maffat’s story is going to make any sense, because none of Moffat’s stories make any sense on close analysis. I also think there’s going to be a lot of disappointed people on 23rd November, because they will have put a great deal more thought into the issue than Moffat will have done.

  7. Here’s an idea.

    The Doctor tells us in “Journey’s End” that “a fully-fledged Dalek Empire, at the height of its power” are “experts at fighting Tardises,” and “can do anything,” and to them the door of the Doctor’s Tardis “is just wood.”

    So:-

    Why don’t the Daleks go to Trenzalore, blow open the doors of the Doctor’s tomb and ram six billion Daleks down his timeline? Everywhere the Doctor goes, there are six billion Daleks waiting for him. How’s he going to win that one? How is one Clara times infinity going to cope with six billion Daleks times infinity? The Doctor and Clara aren’t going to win, are they? They’re going to get f*****g murdered. So why don’t the Daleks do it? Are the Daleks cleverer that me? Yes, they’re all geniuses. So how come I thought of it and the Daleks didn’t?

    Answer:-

    Because Steven Moffat didn’t think of it.

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