Office Whovian Darren Sykes gives his take on the Time Lord’s series finale...and ‘that’ ending.
Doctor Who reached its season finale on Saturday with the much-anticipated episode: The Name of the Doctor. Answers were promised as the Time Lord set course to the one place he must never go – The Fields of Trenzalore – where at ‘Fall of the Eleventh’, ‘The First Question, the oldest question in the Universe, that must never be answered, hidden in plain sight’, will be asked, but must never be answered: Doctor, who?
So with all this riding on this episode – did it deliver?
Well, if you expected writer Steve Moffat to finally reveal the real name of the Doctor after nearly 50 years of time-travel, you’re obviously not familiar with the tantalising run-arounds the series show runner leads us viewers on. We were teased, but when the name was finally uttered it was off-screen and unheard by us viewers.
However, despite this, by the end of the episode Moffat had well and truly succeeded in lobbing a grenade into the past, present and future of Doctor Who, leaving the issue of his name rather inconsequential, as the stunning conclusion introduced to a unknown incarnation of ‘The Doctor’ played by no less an actor than John Hurt.
Yes the actor who brought John Merrick to life in ‘The Elephant Man’ and also played ‘Voice of the Dragon’ in ‘Merlin’ is revealed to be the Doctor’s greatest secret.
The six-month speculation can now begin until the 50th anniversary episode in November, as to whether Hurt is a future version of the Doctor, an unknown previous incarnation that maybe fought and disgraced himself in the often-mentioned Time War or maybe somebody else?
If this wasn’t intriguing enough, the whole of the Doctor’s life was on show. Not just the physical manifestation of his time-stream, which apparently resides in his dying TARDIS on the Fields of Trenzalore.
But, in perhaps the best ever prelude to an episode in the show’s history. A lovely sequence showing Clara interacting with earlier incarnations of the Doctor.
Done by inserting images of Jenna-Louise Coleman’s character within old footage, some of these shots were more successful than others, but the sentiment was there.
Best of all, was the scene where Clara encounters the First Doctor (William Hartnell), just as he and his grandaughter Susan are about to leave Gallifrey for the very first time, whereupon she advises him to steal a different TARDIS: “You’ll have much more fun!”
However, you always want more and having gone to the lengths of creating these scenes with the first seven Doctors, I was slightly disappointed there were no scenes with Clara interacting with the Eighth (Paul McGann), Ninth (Christopher Ecclestone) and Tenth (David Tennant) Doctors.
After all, it was stated she’d been helping the Doctor throughout all his lives, but these three didn’t feature.
You would suspect these potential scenes, with the more recent Doctors and hence more recent footage, would’ve been easier to achieve. Is there a reason for these absences, which we don’t yet know about?
The return of The Great Intelligence was largely expected. Re-introduced in last year’s Christmas special and revelled to be the villain of the piece in the series-opener The Bells of Saint John, his continued survival was obviously leading somewhere.
And so it was he, in corporeal form (Richard E. Grant) who devised the trap to bring the Doctor to the one place he must not go – his tomb.
His evil henchmen, the undertaker-like, Whispermen were an effective ‘monster of the week’, if slightly underused.
However, The Great Intelligence’s plan, to literally step in to the Doctor’s life and wrong all the rights the Doctor has done, was pretty despicable and also saved the bother of building loads of robotic Yetis to get your way!
But, fortunately, as the Doctor’s time-stream was being re-written; victories being turned in to defeats, his friends becoming enemies and star systems disappearing - Clara Oswald was at hand.
And making a rather large leap of faith she jumped into the Doctor’s time stream and started undoing all the Great Intelligence’s handy work; apparently putting things back on their original course.
However, I do confess to being a little perplexed at how a human with a little experience of time travel was, at every turn, going to outwit a great cosmic intelligence.
Are they now constantly wrestling each other at key points in the Doctor’s history? If so, my money would be on the Great Intelligence every time.
That aside we also had the return of the Paternoster Gang. Always a welcome addition. During the Ecclestone and Tennant eras we had contemporary families which the Doctor became de facto members of, i.e. the Tylers and Nobles. But it seems Smith’s Doctor is carving out an unlikely niche with this oddball Victorian ensemble.
It has to be said this was not perhaps their best outing, seeming there purely to provide the jeopardy which brought the Doctor to Trenzalore.
However, once Vastra had been tipped off by a vagabond about the Great Intelligence’s plan, their psychic conference did provide an ideal opportunity for some exposition on the plot.
But locked away in his dungeon, I’m not sure how this prisoner knew just what the Intelligence was up to?
Less successful was the appearance of River Song (Alex Kingston). For me this was a story too far for her character. When she first burst on to our screens, she was a fun-yet-mysterious character.
However, her complex storyline has become so intrinsically linked with the baffling timey-wimey plots of Steve Moffat, I know by the end of her episodes, I’ll feel frustrated as more complexities are added and no real resolutions forthcoming.
The departure of her parents – Amy and Rory (if you’d forgotten) – largely means her role in the show has run its course. Quite why the River summoned to the conference was the conscious-only version, uploaded by the Tenth Doctor after her death in the Library (see what I mean about complex story lines), I don’t know?
Her presence here was only justified, since other than the Doctor, she’s the one person to know his name.
Hence, when the Great intelligence threatens the Doctor’s friends, unless the Time Lord reveals the name which will open his tomb, River can chip in with his proper name off-screen and save the Doctor the bother.
However, my final reservations about this episode were we still did not get all the answers and resolutions we were after.
I was hoping the recent episode, when the Doctor ventures in to the centre of his exploding TARDIS only to hit the re-set button, may have some significant come the series finale. However, no.
No reference was made to this, which really underlines to me what a mistake that episode was.
Secondly, from Matt Smith’s first series, we still don’t know what caused the TARDIS to explode and hence create the cracks in the universe, which threatened to wipe everything out of existence until Amy remembers.
We’re led to believe it was the Silence, but how?
And finally - just who are the Silence? They came up with the ridiculously complicated plot of kidnapping Amy’s baby (River Song) and spending years indoctrinating the child to hate the Doctor. Then having broken free of her conditioning, they shoved River into a space suit and stuck her under a lake until for a while until the Doctor shows up, whereupon they force her to kill him against her will. Of course thanks to an audacious use of a body-copying robot, the Doctor was able to avoid this fate and sort out the timelines, but for the life of me, I still wonder why they didn’t just get a gun and shoot him themselves, especially as they had the gift of no one being able to remember them!
Which leads me on to my final point. The reason The Silence wanted to kill the Doctor was because they didn’t want the question of Doctor, who? To be answered.
Therefore, just where were they on Saturday, when the question was being asked on the Fields of Trenzalore?
Hopefully, some of these points will be answered in the forthcoming anniversary special.
However, these points aside, this was a stylish and very satisfying conclusion to this latest series of Doctor Who.
A great beginning to the episode and a jaw-dropping cliffhanger. And personally this Whovian can’t wait until November!
Next Episode: 50th Anniversary Special (Sat Nov 23)