[Note: Given the topic of this list, please use comments here as your spoiler thread to discuss Doctor Who’s season finale. For other weekend shows, including the season finales of Saturday Night Live and The Simpsons, there’ll be a thread in two hours for that – LYT]
Back in April, I offered some ways that Doctor Who showrunner Steven Moffat would annoy me yet somehow make it all OK in Series 7 with his timey-wimey, TMI-revealing, monster-rehashing ways. Now that series finale “The Name of the Doctor” has aired, let’s see how well he did. (SPOILERS! But mostly after the jump)
9. The Unexpected Annoyance
After “The Bells of Saint John,” the series’ second half felt hugely uneven and largely unsatisfying, though it was saved by the always delightful chemistry between the Doctor (Matt Smith) and companion Clara Oswald (Jenna-Louise Coleman), not to mention the return of the Victorian-era Paternoster Gang, a.k.a. Silurian detective Madame Vastra and her human wife Jenny Flint (Neve McIntosh and Catrin Stewart, pictured) plus their Sontaran valet Strax (Dan Starkey). The episodes were also larded with fun references to the entire history of the show, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year.
So one way I didn’t predict the Moff would bug me was by coming up with a pretty dazzling finale that made me not really want to think too much about anything but what’s about to happen next. (That is, six months from now, when the anniversary special airs on November 23.)
That’s not to say he didn’t leave us with some big new questions (not to mention one big shock) … which is pretty freakin’ irritating, considering he’s left some big old questions still unanswered.
8. TMI? NP!
Though I was definitely worried that Moffat would be arrogant enough to reveal the Doctor’s true name, thankfully he punted – as I predicted.
In “The Name of the Doctor,” the Doctor’s old nemesis the Great Intelligence (or, as I prefer to think of it, the Great Big Stupid Intelligence) returns as Dr. Simeon (Richard E. Grant), the form it took in “The Snowmen.” He forces the Doctor to cross his own timeline in the most forbidden possible way – by visiting his own tomb. Which turns out to be the ruined TARDIS, supersized due to physicsy-whisicsy hoo-ha, towering above the remains of the oft-mentioned battlefield on the planet Trenzalore, where the Doctor’s greatest secret is hidden. (Matt Smith’s grief-stricken reaction upon learning where he must go was a nice moment for him, and one of the most poignant Doctor moments ever.)
Simeon asks The Question – “Doctor Who?” – and uses his creepy, eyeless Whisper Men to threaten the lives of Clara, Vastra, Strax and Jenny, hoping the Doctor will say his own name, opening the TARDIS tomb and allowing Simeon to carry out his dumb plan to enter the Doctor’s timeline and rewrite it, undoing all the good he’s ever done. The Doctor blurts out a word, and the tomb opens! For a second I really thought his name was “Please”…but instead that crafty River Song (Alex Kingston) spoke his name…out of our earshot, but not out of the TARDIS’. I was so relieved by this cheat that I forgot to be annoyed.
7. Timey-Wimey? Okey-Dokey!
Despite how much I thought I loathed Moffat’s dependence on complicated back-and-forth-through-time stuff, I seem to have become immune to its irritating effects. I wasn’t even bothered by the latest River Song wrinkle in “Name.” First summoned as part of a psychic “conference call” convened by Vastra, she never assumes corporeal form but later appears on Trenzalore as some kind of astral projection that only Clara should be able to see…until the Doctor can see her too. He proclaims that she’s dead, which indicates that this is the River whose consciousness was saved into the database at the Library by the 10th Doctor (David Tennant). But then they have a big heart-to-hearts about how he hates saying goodbye, and he gives her a great big farewell kiss. Whatever, Moffat! Let’s just hope that was the last goodbye.
6. Fumbled Fake Firsts
Moffat bragged in the U.K. magazine Radio Times about how we’d finally get to see the inside of the Doctor’s time machine in “Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS.” Never mind that we’d already seen a fair amount of it in the classic series. I thought he’d make that annoying boast OK by, well, giving us an amazing romp through incredible, never-before-seen parts of the TARDIS. And we did see some cool things, including the Eye of Harmony and the wildly sprawling library, complete with a book with the intriguing title The History of the Time War.
But, surprisingly, this turned out to be one of the less-OK things for me, because most of the episode featured the Doctor, Clara and some random salvage crew with serious family issues rambling around endless corridors. Which could be construed as a clever nod-wink to the days of the classic series, when corridors were a staple of interior scenes like quarries were the meat-and-potatoes of exterior ones. But mainly it was just a lot of buildup for not much payoff.
5. The Good and Bad of the Old
It’s annoying enough that Moffat scoffs at nostalgia yet consistently rehashes his own old tricks as well as reviving monsters from the classic series. However, Series 7 has been full of delightful little homages that are like love letters to the past, which is totally appropriate for the 50th-anniversary year.
Still, the hypocrisy of Moffat’s “out with the old” stance was especially irritating when “Cold War,” the episode so massively hyped as featuring the return of the Ice Warriors, gave us exactly one Ice Warrior. One. And – since we haven’t had enough reminders of how the Doctor is connected to everything and everyone in the universe – it was an Ice Warrior the Doctor actually knew. Which was very much not OK. Especially since the attempts to show us how fast an Ice Warrior can move once liberated from its cumbersome spacesuit only made me wonder why the heck an advanced race like theirs would build suits that put them at such a clumsy disadvantage in the first place.
Neil Gaiman’s reimagined Cybermen from “Nightmare in Silver” proved more satisfying. While harking back to such classic tales as “The Tomb of the Cybermen,” Gaiman made the metal monsters thoroughly modern – and much scarier – by allowing the new breed to perform instant self-upgrades. The Cybermites were a clever, miniaturized take on the old-school Cybermats. And the Doctor himself played into Gaiman’s revamped idea of the Cyber-Planner, allowing Matt Smith to do some of his most dizzying physical shtick to date. Locutus of Borg’s got nothing on Mr. Clever!
4. A Marvelous Mysterious Companion
I said that the charming Jenna-Louise Coleman made me pretty likely to feel OK about Moffat trotting out yet another annoying ooo-mysterious-companion arc, and I was right. Which didn’t keep me from being bugged by how much time the Doctor spent trying to figure out the “impossible girl,” who died twice while helping him (in “Asylum of the Daleks” and “The Snowmen”), although her modern-day incarnation doesn’t remember any of that.
In one of the second half’s best episodes, the ghost story “Hide,” he even seeks out clairvoyant Emma Grayling (Jessica Raine), not because of the mysterious haunted house at the center of the tale, but to see if Emma can tell him what Clara really is.
Anyway, although I thought the companion mystery would be one of the series’ biggest headaches, it turned out to be pretty cool. We learn in “The Name of the Doctor” why Clara keeps popping up in the Doctor’s life, and the answer cleverly spans the show’s entire history. She’s a person who embodies a central aspect of all companions that I especially like – which is that, eventually, almost everyone who travels with the Doctor saves him. Moffat has a real gift for turning the show’s tropes around and making them feel fresh, and he really delivered on this one.
3. But Really, What’s in a Name?
It turns out that the Doctor’s true name is not his greatest secret (more on that in a minute). But it’s kind of annoying that Moffat made such a big deal out of it, only to possibly discard the whole brouhaha as a red herring. On the other hand, it seems like Clara now knows everything about who she is and what she’s done – including having read the Doctor’s true name in that Time War book in “Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS.” Is the name game over…or is it just beginning?
2. After All We’ve Learned, We Still Don’t Know Some Stuff
Remember back in Series 5, when the TARDIS exploded due to some unknown reason? We still don’t know why, right? Is Moffat ever going to explain that? It’s not like we’ve forgotten. And he’s certainly had enough time to come up with a reason.
Also, in an interview recorded at Dublin’s Trinity College, Moffat led us to believe that we’d learn more about “…Trenzalore and the battle in the Doctor’s future that led to the attempts on his life in the past.” But we actually didn’t learn anything about the battle itself, like, for example, what it was all about or why the Doctor was leading it in the first place. Grrr.
1. About That Big Shock…
Moffat told us in Radio Times that, in the finale, we would “learn something about the Doctor that you never knew before. And I think you’re in for a shock.”
Boy, was he right! And for once he managed to intrigue rather than annoy. The Doctor has figured out the meaning of Clara, but at the expense of her knowing his greatest secret. Which is apparently not his name, but some previously unknown version of himself (played by John Hurt), who has done something so seemingly terrible that he isn’t even allowed to assume the name “The Doctor.”
When I said in April that “any revelation about the Doctor threatens to be a drag on some level,” I certainly wasn’t thinking it would be some dark secret self that 11 is clearly very nervous about revealing. He’s introduced on-screen as “The Doctor.” But Smith’s Doctor seems adamant that Hurt’s character is not one of him. Could Hurt be playing a physical incarnation of the Time Lord known as the Doctor, who doesn’t go by the name “The Doctor”? (Like, perhaps, the Valeyard in the classic series?) Is he the Doctor from another dimension? Is he, perchance, the Master?
Not even Clara – who now recalls seeing every version of the Doctor (a la River Song before her) – knows who this new guy is. But the Doctor sure does. The question is, how’s Moffat going to explain this? And how annoying will the answer be?