Review: Doctor Who Season Finale–“The Name Of The Doctor”.
The back half of this season of Doctor Who, everything after The Angels Take Manhattan (starting with The Snowmen Christmas special) has been awful.
Sure there were some nice moments, like the next to last episode–Neil Gaiman’s “Nightmare in Silver”– but even that was but a shadow of what it could have been. It needed more Ewok, in the form of Warwick Davies (who played Wickett in Return of the Jedi) as but on the whole…it’s been an awful run.
Last night was supposed to be the big payoff of the first 7 episodes of the Clara Oswald companion era. We’d learn who this “impossible girl” really was and how she fit into the Doctor’s life.
First of all, the set-up of an “impossible girl” is hard to buy in the Whoverse. The show is 50 years old and even if, like me, you’ve only paid attention to last incarnation of the series starting back in 2005, you know it’s impossible for anything to be truly impossible. The Doctor and his friends rebooted the entire universe from the big bang on for goodness sake. Now you want me to believe one girl is “impossible”? No sale.
In drama you want to continually raise the stakes and put ever great obstacles in your hero’s way. Clara is at best a curiosity, an adorable one to be sure (more about that in a moment) but it’s something you’d expect the Doctor to take in stride. Recall how David Tennant’s Tenth Doctor described his own existence, “Not impossible. Just… a bit unlikely”.
Or consider this exchange with Rory Williams, who was erased from history but shows up as a Roman soldier in The Pandorica Opens.
Rory: But I don’t understand. Why am I here?
The Doctor: Because you are. The Universe is big. It’s vast and complicated and ridiculous. And sometimes—very rarely—impossible things just happen and we call them miracles. And that’s the theory. Nine hundred years, never seen one yet. But this would do me. Now get upstairs. She’s Amy and she’s surrounded by Romans. I’m not sure history could take it.
Yet somehow The Doctor is suddenly undone to the point of near madness because he ran into Clara at the Dalek Asylum and in Victorian England?
As I said, meh.
Which brings us to the big moment…Clara it turns out (there be spoilers beyond here)
entered the Doctor’s time-stream to undo the damage the Great Intelligence was doing to him and the history of the Universe as they knew it. Or something.
Here’s where my big problem with this episode comes in….why did Clara sacrifice herself for The Doctor? In the episodes leading up to this dramatic bit of self-sacrifice Clara is never given a reason why she’s so connected to The Doctor. Sure she’s spunky (grabbing the space moped to retrieve him in “The Rings of Akhaten” was bold) but willing to walk to what she thinks is sure death? Not really.
We could have believed it from Rose because it was clear by the end of the first season they were in love with each other.
We could have believed it from Martha because she loved him but he didn’t love her back. She was desperate to win his approval, respect and affection.
Donna would have done it because he rescued her from the smallness of the life she was living. She would have wanted to prove she was worthy of the gifts he had given her.
Amy would have sacrificed herself for The Doctor because in many ways he raised her. She was The Girl Who Waited, he was her “raggedy man” who kept her company as a child. She would have done anything for him (anything short of hurting her true love, Rory).
Clara? Yeah, she’s game for sure; she seems to enjoy the adventures and all. And as someone who always wanted to travel, he’s certainly given her that in spades. But beyond that what exactly does she know or care about The Doctor? We’re sort of told it but we never actually see it. We’re just supposed to accept there’s a great bond between them because it’s a necessary element of the story.
In fact, why does the audience care if she lives or dies? We don’t know that much about her. She’s rather disposable at this point. She’s more a plot device than a character. It’s just too soon to put her in existential danger or to ask her to believably make the kind of sacrifice this episode called for. Clara hasn’t seen enough of The Doctor in action to develop an understanding of his importance to the Universe. She hasn’t been with him when he faced any real moral dilemmas (say what you want about Spaceship UK but Amy got an early look at the power and arrogance of the last of the Time Lords). So why is she so willing to sacrifice herself for him?
Had she died my main reaction would have been, “Oh too bad, she’s a great looking girl. Hopefully the next one will be just as good looking”.
Mostly this is a criticism of the timing. The number and kinds of episodes Clara has been simply didn’t lay sufficient groundwork for her to rise to this kind of occasion or for me to care if she succeeded or failed. Unlike previous companions who started off in one place (a goofy party girl, a love struck young professional, a woman who wouldn’t take a risk or “the girl who waited”) and developed into a hero not just because the situations The Doctor placed her in but what he brought out in them. I’m not even sure how I’d describe her in those terms. The Clara of The Bells of Saint Johns is the Clara in The Name Of The Doctor. Sure she’s been a few places, seen a few things but mostly the same woman.
Head producer/writer Steven Moffat probably should have gotten rid of Amy and Rory at the end of the previous season and given The Doctor and Clara more time to develop a relationship that would have given depth to the season long (well, half-season long in this case) arc. Instead we have a primary character we don’t really know or care about put in a position to do things we haven’t seen her prepared for. It’s just feels faked and rushed and simply designed to feed the lead up to the 50th anniversary episode in November.
Like with so much of the backend of this season, there were moments that were fun and interesting in this episode but not enough cohesion to make it really good, let alone great.