In the Series 7 finale of Doctor Who, the Great Intelligence finally returns to take his revenge on everyone’s favorite time lord, the Doctor is forced to reveal some of his greatest secrets to his friends, and Clara Oswald flies off to meet her destiny on Trenzalore. Like several of Steven Moffat’s previous stories, “The Name Of The Doctor” starts in media res: Clara Oswald is tumbling down a swirling, orange vortex, trying to spread her influence as far across the universe as she can with a singular, pressing goal in mind. As the cold open continues to unfold and the audience finally starts to receive some answers about the mystery of her existence, we’re treated to lots and lots of fanservice as Clara encounters all of the Doctor’s previous faces – from William Hartnell to Matt Smith. She keeps trying and failing to get his attention, because she’s on a mission to save his life. It’s one hell of a way to start an episode, and it certainly signifies that the Series 7 finale will be a game-changer: thankfully the rest of this episode delivers on that opening promise.
The latter half of Series 7 has had a pretty solid run of episodes from “The Snowmen” to “The Name Of The Doctor”, and now that another season of Doctor Who has come to an end, it’s time for Steven Moffat to start tying up the various plot threads of Series 7B. I generally like Series 6 more than Series 7 (it’s a lot more cohesive as a whole), but I will say that “The Name Of The Doctor” pulls off being a single-episode finale in a much more satisfying way than “The Wedding Of River Song” did. Much like “The Angels Take Manhattan” earlier this year, the script for this episode is very tightly written. Not a single moment is wasted, and the plot is always moving forward, so it never drags. However, Moffat still makes time for some nice character-building moments in-between the drama, so this finale still has a heart to it along with plenty of spectacle.
As a prelude to the show’s fiftieth anniversary special and the Eleventh Doctor’s regeneration story (“The Time Of The Doctor“), “The Name Of The Doctor” is a very Doctor-centric episode. However, much like in “The Crimson Horror“, the Doctor doesn’t actually appear until the second act, and the focus is initially kept upon his friends stumbling upon some horrible news before he does. Thanks to the Great Intelligence kidnapping his friends, the Doctor is forced to go to Trenzalore, a place of great importance in his own personal future that was previously teased in the last season finale. The ‘Silence will fall’ arc dominated Series 5 and 6 at every twist and turn, but it’s noticeably been put on the backburner for almost the entirety of Series 7. Here it starts advancing again, because Steven Moffat is ready to wrap it up.
Trenzalore is revealed to be the Doctor’s gravesite, a post-apocalyptic world where he’s finally killed as one more causality in a great, galactic war. It’s an impressive feat that this revelation doesn’t feel like a boring rethread of the Lake Silencio arc from last season, and a large part of that is due to Matt Smith, who does a great job of selling the material. The Doctor, being a genius, figured out Trenzalore’s true significance a while ago, and he grows very distraught when he realizes it’s finally time for him to face it – the place his life has always been heading to, ever since his time in this body began in “The Eleventh Hour“. The Eleventh Doctor notoriously hates endings, so it’s very fitting the last thing he should have to face in his final stretch of episodes is his own potential end once more, and this time, there isn’t a handy Teselecta around to save him. Eleven spends a lot of his final three episodes putting his affairs in order: whether it’s undoing the greatest regret of his life, saying goodbye to his deceased wife, or preventing another horrific war from breaking out across the universe.
As you’ll recall from “The Angels Take Manhattan”, the one place in the universe where a time traveler should never, ever go is their own grave, because doing that is the best way to set that potential future in stone. The TARDIS (who’s as loyal as ever) is still protecting the Doctor’s final resting place on Trenzalore, and the Great Intelligence tries to take advantage of that to rewrite the Doctor’s entire life, but Clara steps in to stop him. After he had already suspected as much in “Journey To The Centre Of The TARDIS“, the Doctor is given full confirmation here that he completely misjudged Clara, and his personal estimation of her grows massively after this adventure. Thanks to Clara, the Great Intelligence is defeated, and the Doctor’s secrets stay within his small inner circle of friends.
At the last minute, Moffat pulls off his usual bait-and-switch style of plotting. The title of this episode teases that the show will reveal the Doctor’s original name, when of course it does no such thing. Moffat knows that nothing he could come up with could live up to fifty years of fan speculation, so he leaves it as an eternal mystery. Instead, he decides to focus on how insignificant the Doctor’s birth name is to him compared to his chosen title (a mindset that Moffat has been alluding to ever since “The Beast Below“) and tie that into a different secret he’s keeping. A long time ago, the Doctor did something so terrible, so fundamentally opposed to who he is as a person that he temporarily renounced his name and completely buried that part of his life. In the episode’s final minutes, we discover the Doctor used to be John Hurt in a past life, a reveal so angsty that it makes Clara pass out (she had had a very long day). We’re introduced to the Doctor who ended the time war in a fire, by destroying Daleks and Time Lords alike, which sets the stage for “The Day Of The Doctor“, the climax of the time war arc that’s been running for seven seasons.
In “The Name Of The Doctor”, the Doctor’s friends receive a message that one of his greatest secrets has been uncovered, so they gather together to formulate a plan, and Clara Oswald (Jenna Coleman) is swept along for the ride. Clara meets Professor River Song in this episode, and after the initial awkwardness you would expect between two women who both love the same man, they work together quite well. It’s always a special treat to see a former companion meet a current companion and start swapping stories, and it happens a lot less often in the Moffat era than it did in the Davies era. After feeling curious about him a few times in Series 7B, Clara is given an opportunity to learn more about the Doctor and his life before her: his past, his future, his loves and some of his secrets.
Clara proves herself to be a true friend in the latter half of this episode. As the Great Intelligence forces the Doctor’s hand, Clara shows her full support and goes with him into the belly of the beast, to face monsters and certain death, so he won’t have to save his other friends alone. During their rescue mission, Clara finally regains her memories of everything she experienced in “Journey To The Centre Of The TARDIS”, including their talk about her past lives. She confronts the Doctor about it once again, but they don’t have much time to dwell on it, because they have much more pressing matters to deal with. The Great Intelligence decides to scatter himself along the Doctor’s timeline and utterly destroy his life, by changing all the most significant events in his past for the worst. Since the Doctor has been sorting out the world’s problems for centuries, if his life was destroyed, there would be massive repercussions for the rest of the universe as well. We saw what happened when a few years of his life were undone in “Turn Left“: the consequences of his entire life unraveling, ever since he left Gallifrey, would be unfathomable.
So Clara decides to jump into the Doctor’s time-stream as well, to save her friend and the universe. She’s reincarnated throughout history, creating countless doppelgangers of herself on many of the worlds the Doctor has been to, to try to undo the damage the Great Intelligence did and put the timeline back the way it ought to be. Her echoes only become directly involved with the Doctor’s past a few times, like in “Asylum Of The Daleks” and “The Snowmen”. This revelation about who she is is incredibly heartwarming. Throughout Series 7B, a big mistake that the Doctor has kept making is that he’s been so focused on what Clara might be, that he’s frequently overlooked who she is as a person. In the end, Clara saved the world and became the Impossible Girl because she’s a very brave and selfless person, which is something we’ve known about her ever since she earned her stripes as a companion in “The Rings Of Akhaten“.
She did what many of the Doctor’s friends would have done in her place, because the companions are more than just audience surrogates in this show: they often represent some of the best traits humanity has to offer. The Doctor and River claim her decision will be fatal, but luckily Clara has something the Great Intelligence didn’t have: main character plot armor. The Doctor goes in after her to repay the favor she did him, by risking his existence to save her life. Afterwards, Clara becomes one of the more knowledgeable companions in the series who’s gotten a glimpse of all the Doctor’s past faces, which feels fitting for a character who was introduced during the franchise’s fiftieth anniversary. The Doctor and Clara have shared a very special experience, and their friendship only grows stronger after this. Clara goes from being a friend to a confidante, who the Doctor knows with full certainty he can trust, and his respect for her continues to grow as well.
Throughout the Matt Smith era of Doctor Who, it’s become traditional for Steven Moffat to bring River Song (Alex Kingston) back a few times per season, to flesh out her character, advance her love story with the Doctor, and spice up the usual character dynamics in the Doctor’s team – and you know I always love to see more of her. However, “The Name Of The Doctor” officially brings that tradition to an end, since this episode is River’s second-to-last appearance in the series (to date). Over the last three seasons, we’ve been journeying further and further back into River’s timeline, learning more about her history and her core principles that shaped her personality. But in this adventure, we revisit her ultimate fate from “Forest Of The Dead“, to see how she’s faring.
From River’s perspective, “The Name Of The Doctor” is set after her final, fateful expedition to the Library, where she gave her life to save thousands of people. The Doctor saved her soul and uploaded it to the Library’s data-core, as a final gift of love from him, but “The Name Of The Doctor” draws attention to the fact that he never actually considered if she would want him to do that. He didn’t want to let her go entirely, and he felt he owed her a good eternal afterlife, so he tampered with her death, which is the sort of the thing the show will go on to scold the Twelfth Doctor for (several times) in Series 9. As we saw in “Forest Of The Dead”, River has made peace with the fact that her mortal life is over, but there’s still one last thing she needs to do before she can be ready to move on completely. Ever since she died, the Doctor hasn’t tried to visit her in the Library, even if such a thing were possible (with the Vashta Nerada still swarming around). Instead, he’s kept on having adventures with younger and younger versions of her, that are still flesh and blood and alive, because he doesn’t want to face the fact that his wife is currently gone.
This sad and sobering discovery is completely in line with how Steven Moffat characterized the Doctor in “The Angels Take Manhattan”, along with how he’ll later characterize him in Series 9. The Doctor is a man who hates endings, so he’s been stubbornly avoiding loss in his past and his future. Throughout this episode, the Doctor is being haunted by his unfinished business that he can no longer avoid, so River’s appearance here among the mix is very fitting as well, if depressing. River is effectively a ghost now, and for once she can’t physically help our heroes: she can only aid them indirectly, by whispering advice into the Doctor and Clara’s ears from the sidelines, which has to be incredibly frustrating for her, but she still manages to make a big difference. She develops a short-lived bond with Clara, due to a psychic link they wind up sharing, and we get the traditional passing of the torch between a former companion and a current companion, when River returns to her final resting place in the Library while Clara continues to travel onwards with the man they both care for.
This whole experience with Trenzalore makes the Doctor realize it’s time for him to face the cold, hard truth of River’s demise and give her the closure she deserves. He does something he rarely ever does, say goodbye to one of the great loves of his life, and the two of them share one final kiss in a beautiful scene that tugs on your heartstrings (especially if you’re a Doctor / River shipper, like I am). Moffat has decided to put a bow on the Doctor’s relationship with River Song, since Matt Smith is on his way out from the series and the Eleventh Doctor’s era is about to come to an end. However, this isn’t the Doctor and River’s final farewell: Moffat will revisit their love story again one last time in another two seasons, and in the meantime, River’s departure is left just open-ended enough to allow for another potential return of her data ghost in the future.
“The Name Of The Doctor” is also the second-to-last appearance of the Paternoster Gang, who have been a charming group of supporting characters throughout Series 7B. We’re given a quick update of how they’re faring in Victorian era England, where we discover that Strax likes to get his kicks by fighting Scotsmen for fun in Glasgow (it seems Moffat can never resist a good dig at his homeland). The mystery-solving trio puts together an emergency meeting of the Doctor’s friends to discuss a looming threat, because even now they’re still watching his back. The conference call scene is very weird and trippy, but it’s also a bit heartwarming. Here you have a group of vastly different people, who all come from many different walks of life, but they all have one thing in common: they’ve all had their lives touched by the Doctor somehow, and now Clara is a part of that inner circle as well.
Compared to their last couple of appearances, Vastra, Jenny and Strax are rendered a lot more powerless than usual in this episode, when a madman decides to use them as live bait in his trap for the Doctor, and things rapidly go downhill for the trio from there. Madam Vastra in particular is really put through the wringer in this episode, when she loses her wife, Jenny, twice in two incredibly messed-up ways, and she’s forced to shoot Strax to stop Strax from shooting her because of the Great Intelligence. The trio’s friendship with the Doctor is a major component of this episode’s plot, and it’s shown to be completely reciprocated on his end. They helped him cope during a dark period of his life, when he lost the Ponds and he was deeply depressed. And even if it didn’t seem like it at the time in “The Snowmen”, he feels immense gratitude towards them and is very loyal to them: the idea of not going to save them from their horrible fate on Trenzalore is never even an option to him in his head, which is also heartwarming to see.
It’s been a while since the Great Intelligence made his big return to Doctor Who in “The Snowmen”. Ever since his initial defeat, he’s been building his strength back up in the shadows of Series 7B (particularly in “The Bells Of Saint John“), and now he’s ready to strike back again. He’s accompanied by a group of faceless ghouls called the Whispermen, who spend all their time reciting creepy nursery rhymes about death to unnerve people (your standard Moffat tropes). He doesn’t waste any time kidnapping Vastra, Jenny and Strax so he can use them as hostages and force the Doctor to bend to his will. He was already a vengeful and vindictive creature beforehand, but now he’s gone completely insane. He’s given up on conquering the world: the only thing he wants is to destroy the people who have repeatedly destroyed him, even if he has to commit suicide to do it.
The Doctor crossed paths with the Great Intelligence a few times in the classic series, and defeated him there too. However, if you’ve only seen NuWho, his obsessive vendetta against the Doctor seems weirdly underdeveloped, since he’s only encountered Eleven twice before now and he’s willing to kill himself in the most permanent way possible just to ruin the Doctor’s life. Imagine if every member of the Doctor’s rogues gallery was that petty and extreme. Compared to the Master, the Cult of Skaro, the Silence and the Alliance, the Great Intelligence is probably the least interesting endgame villain we’ve had so far in Doctor Who. There’s not that much to him, and he mainly acts as a plot device to set the rest of this episode in motion. In that regard, he serves his purpose well, and I do like the irony of why his scheme ultimately fails. He focused all of his wrath towards the Doctor and disregarded his friends as nothing more than useful tools, when he really should have been gunning for Clara just as much as the Doc (who has played a role in all three of his losses).
“The Name Of The Doctor” is directed by Saul Metzstein, and out of the five stories he’s helmed in Series 7, “The Name Of The Doctor” is definitely the most dazzling one. For the most part, Series 7 has been a very visually lively season when it comes to the lighting and color-grading. Stories like “Dinosaurs On A Spaceship“, “A Town Called Mercy“, “The Bells Of Saint John”, “Cold War“, “Journey To The Centre Of The TARDIS” and “Nightmare In Silver” have been filled with bold, striking colors everywhere, contrasting each other to a beautiful effect. So by comparison, the dull, muted color scheme and rusty grey atmosphere that’s constantly lurking around in this episode really sticks out, and it does a great job of setting the ominous, morbid tone of this finale: a lot like the two horror-themed episodes of Series 7A, “Asylum Of The Daleks” and “The Angels Take Manhattan”.
The special effects work from The Mill is pretty superb, just like it has been all season: with some gorgeously crafted shots of Clara plummeting down the Doctor’s time-stream, some equally beautiful establishing shots of both Gallifrey and Trenzalore, and some clever green-screen trickery to create the illusion of Clara interacting with some of the classic Doctors. With Murray Gold’s score, the series’ composer brings back the bombastic “This Is Gallifrey” in his opening cue, “To Save The Doctor“, and gives it a more subdued presentation in “A Secret He Will Take To His Grave“. He writes a lot of gloomy and depressing pieces for this episode like “Trenzalore“, “I Am Information” and “Pain Everlasting“, to underscore just how bleak the war-torn world of Trenzalore is. Clara’s theme is reprised again in “A Letter For Clara” and “Remember Me“, the latter of which takes a triumphant turn during the climax when Clara steps up to save the day. Murray also brings back “The Wedding Of River Song“, one of the main themes of Series 6, for the Doctor and River’s farewell in the last act.
The Impossible Girl arc has honestly been a pretty average story arc for Doctor Who, but the way it wraps up in “The Name Of The Doctor” certainly sends out Series 7B with a bang. As its own standalone story, “The Name Of The Doctor” is quite a ride, and as the first act of a three-part saga, it builds up a lot of excitement for everything else that will follow it, as the Eleventh Doctor’s era draws to a close.
* “I don’t know where I am. It’s like I’m breaking into a million pieces and there’s only one thing I remember: I have to save the Doctor. He always looks different, but I always know it’s him. Sometimes I think I’m everywhere at once, running every second just to find him, just to save him. But he never hears me… almost never. I blew into this world on a leaf. I’m still blowing. I don’t think I’ll ever land. I’m Clara Oswald, I’m the Impossible Girl, I was born to save the Doctor“.
* “One word from you could save me from the rope!” “Then you may rely on my silence”.
* “Where’s Strax got to?” “The usual. It’s his weekend off” “Ugh, I wish he’d never discovered that place”.
* “Was your mom deep on puddings?” “She was a great woman”.
* “Professor River Song. The Doctor might have mentioned me?” “Oh, yeah, of course he has. Sorry, it’s just I never realized you were a woman” “….” “Well, neither did I” Hot damn, Strax.
* “The Doctor does not discuss his secrets with anyone, my dear. If you’re still entertaining the idea that you are an exception to this rule, ask yourself one question. What is his name?”
* “You didn’t listen, did you? You lot never do. That’s the problem. ‘The Doctor has a secret he will take to the grave: it is discovered‘, He wasn’t talking about my secret. No, no, no, that’s not what’s been found. He was talking about my grave. Trenzalore is where I’m buried“.
* “Doctor, you just said it’s the one place you must never go” “I have to save Vastra and Strax. Jenny too, if it’s still possible. They cared for me during the dark times. Never questioned me, never judged me, they were just kind. I owe them, I have a duty”.
* “So, how do we get down there? Do we jump?” “Don’t be silly. We fall. She’s turned off practically everything, except the anti-gravs. Guess what I’m turning off?”
* “Yes, makes sense! They’d never bury my wife out here!” “YOUR WHAT?!” You can imagine Clara’s shock, when she realized she’d been flirting with a married man for ages.
* “The man who lies will lie no more, when this man lies at Trenzalore!”
* “The girl who died he tries to save, she’ll die again inside his grave!”
* “Heh, the TARDIS can still hear me. Lucky thing, since him indoors is being so useless”.
* “If this works, get out of here as fast as you can, and spare me a thought now and then. In fact, you know what? Run. Run, you clever boy, and remember me” Clara is in no hurry to reach the end of her life, but if her time is up, she will try to be brave and face her death with dignity, which is something we’ll see from her again in “Face The Raven”, a few seasons down the line.
* “I don’t know where I am, I just know I’m running. Sometimes it’s like I’ve lived a thousand lives in a thousand places. I’m born, I live, I die. And always, there’s the Doctor. Always I’m running to save the Doctor again and again and again. And he hardly ever hears me. But I’ve always been there. Right from the very beginning. Right from the day he started running” Attagirl.
* “How are you even doing that? I’m not really here” “You are always here to me, and I always listen, and I can always see you”.
* “Then tell me, River, because I don’t know. How do I say it?” “There’s only one way I’d accept. If you ever loved me, say it like you’re going to come back”.
* ” I don’t understand” “Look, my name, my real name, that is not the point. The name I chose is the Doctor. The name you choose, it’s like a promise you make. He’s the one who broke the promise!”
* “What I did, I did without choice” “I know” “In the name of peace and sanity” “But not in the name of the Doctor!”