So, that’s a bit of a tease, isn’t it? Lots to think about in the season 7 finale of Doctor Who, but first, as River might say, Spoilers! (There’s a recap available at tv.com.)
The episode title is a bit of a sly dodge. Clearly they’ve cranked up the importance of the Doctor’s name to where it can, realistically, never be revealed now, as anything the show tells us will fall short of what the show has promised. Given that, I think the way they used it was pretty clever: “In the name of the Doctor” meaning “in his stead, in the shape of his life”. It’s not the name the Doctor had before; it’s the name he’s chosen for himself. The name of the Doctor is The Doctor. So bonus points for that.
They made good use of this season’s companions (and yes, plural). I don’t know why but I absolutely love Strax the semi-reformed Sontaran. He is a much-needed dose of genuine humor whenever he’s on screen. I sort of think of him like that Vogon guard from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. “Resistance is futile! Resistance is futile! Resistance is futile!” Madame Vastra performs well her role of Holmes expy. Jenny is, well, passable though a bit too much of a damsel in distress. (At least it’s Vastra saving her, not The Doctor.) And Clara…
Well, Clara continues to leave me flat, even now, when we know her secret. She seems a bit like a retread of the Amy Pond character, minus Rory and the character development that he engendered. Clara exists for a purpose — in-Universe, to save The Doctor from the Great Intelligence, but also narratively — and that limits her. She isn’t really much more than a cog. If you’re optimistic, you can decide that, now that Clara has fulfilled her purpose, she can become more compelling. How does one cope with knowing (a) you were born for a very specific task; (b) you fulfilled that task; but (c) you persist? There’s room for real existential angst there, if the writers are willing to visit it. It would dovetail nicely with the existential angst the Doctor wrestles.
Matt Smith does a good turn as the Doctor facing his own mortality. He brings out the terror and the despair. Although it divides the fan base, the Doctor/River pairing works well too. I think it’s important that he has someone he’s committed to — and it’s entirely appropriate that it’s someone he knows he cannot save, not for real, not forever. Alex Kingston is the perfect foil to him. I think there’s real chemistry between Smith and Kingston, in a way that was lacking between she and David Tennant.
As for the plot itself… meh, we’ve been here. Each of the Matt Smith finales (which means, really, each of the Steve Moffat ones) has involved rewriting reality. First, Amy has to reboot the Universe. Next, River scrambles history in a way that will eventually undo time itself. And here, the GI overwrites all of the Doctor’s moments. Curiously, the scope seems to be decreasing steadily. Also, it’s a bit worrisome that the fabric of reality is so easily frayed — although maybe that’s due to the Doctor himself, an open wound in the side of Time. “Time travel is damage” indeed.
(It might be a coincidence, but I like that the Doctor’s timeline looks a lot like what one might imagine the Time Vortex to be. Perhaps the Time Vortex inside every TARDIS is really just the contained timeline of its operator. That would explain why they bond to their user. Take out the Doctor, and the TARDIS dies too.)
My overarching feeling of the second half of Season 7 is this: It feels rushed and small-bore. Russell T. Davies did a better sense of a natural progression in a season leading to a monumental but natural-feeling conclusion. Moffat has done better himself, but this one was half-lustre. Maybe Clara just isn’t as compelling a mystery as cracks in the Universe.
Aside: The impact of the GI overwriting the Doctor was clearly ominous: Once again, the stars were going out. (Because the Doctor wasn’t there to stop Davros?) Everything was being undone. This means that, from their point of view, The Silence was entirely correct in their fear. The Doctor traveling to Trenzalore and answering the question (well, having it answered) did lead to the end of the Universe. So, in a sense, they are actually the good guys.
Two last thoughts: For fifteen seconds of work, John Hurt does an amazing job. Who is this Doctor-not-Doctor? Is he something that comes after? Personally, I think he might be the Doctor who ended the Time War — although that might not jibe with Clara’s statement that she saw all 11 faces of the Doctor. (You can also read her statement as implying that the 11th incarnation is the last one.)
Finally, as has been true all season, where the storytelling falls short, the music has been absolutely phenomenal — and in this episode even more than the earlier ones. Murray Gold is simply outdoing himself with his arrangements. It makes me almost salivate in anticipation of the music in the 50th Anniversary special … which is a depressing half-year away. Oh, if only I had a TARDIS and could skip ahead…