Clarence And The Whispermen
Minisode without which the opening of The Name Of The Doctor makes slightly less sense. It's also something of a remake of that US-only prequel to season opener Asylum Of The Daleks, featuring as it does a patsy who has been given co-ordinates to get to the Doctor. Well, okay then.
Doctor Who: The Name Of The Doctor
(doesn't appear to contain the name of the Doctor anywhere, just sayin'…)
Once again, author Steven Moffat lets go of any interest in ratings, and the result is the sort of creative journey that Doctor Who really should be every week.
However there can also be little doubt that said author's single biggest failing in his writing of Doctor Who is that, just like his predecessor, he doesn't invest in a proof-reader.
Although, on the basis of instalments like this one, what he really needs is a pool of them.
This episode is thrilling. This episode is exciting. This episode is full of awesome ideas, great lines, and returning characters. This episode has a plot that, as usual for his season finales, spends the entire 40 minutes slowly collapsing in a whole variety of different ways.
See how much that last sentence spoils everything? So just imagine how awesome this episode would have been if only the story had functioned too…
As with The Impossible Astronaut, this was initially the show as I love to see it - much more about life with a TARDIS than the places that can be visited with it.
The Doctor's future catches up with him as his final resting place - his tomb - is communicated to him. There's a time-travelling conference call between several of his recent acquaintances. The subsequent coercion of the TARDIS to approach this planet, followed by his and Clara's exploration of its graveyard, is chilling, in a good way. What ultimately becomes of the TARDIS is so good that it's the sort of stuff that I would expect to find in a spin-off novel.
Ultimately though, as is often the way in this series, it all boils down to an argument with a man wearing a big hat. Oh well. Inside the TARDIS' corpse they discover some sort of a vortexy thing of the Doctor's life, not that anyone explains how it came to be there, or indeed how it can also be used to produce umpteen clones of a person throughout his timeline. I suppose it must use locally sourced atoms to build each of the bodies. Do all time-travellers leave behind one of these then, in which case didn't the Time Lords routinely take some advantage of this?
The man in the big hat (the Great Intelligence) conveniently steps into the swirly vortexy thing, in full knowledge that it will kill him. He's cool about that though. Wow, always a big relief when the villain decides to save everyone the trouble by just killing himself. If only all baddies were this considerate.
After he has propagated himself along the Doctor's timeline, nonsensically killing the Time Lord at multiple points along it (uh, I think only the earliest one might succeed), Clara goes after him to stop him. Yes, little Clara is going to stop the Big Giant Intelligence. Having just threatened to stop her heart a moment ago, we can only hope that he has since suddenly forgotten how.
Clara then also gets cloned multiple times at all the same moments, which is supposed to explain how the Doctor met her duplicates twice this series before meeting her properly. Unfortunately, every single version of her somehow acquires parents called Oswald, who choose to name her Clara Oswin. Free will, people!
By reverse forming her other selves, did she replace other babies? Was she born to any parents who, um, weren't getting along with each other nine months earlier? Does her Gallifreyan self have two hearts, and if so how?
Worse, Clara's presence throughout the Doctor's whole life makes nonsense of his not recognising her until a mere seven episodes ago. I'd like to think that her Gallifreyan self at the start grows up into that nameless woman who helps him in The End Of Time, but this isn't made explicit.
And surely the Doctor would have actually met her several times in his life, going right back to his childhood on Gallifrey? And wouldn't his longer-term companions like Jamie and the Brigadier have repeatedly run into her and recognised her? In fact, wouldn't she have met herself by now, eg. wouldn't all the different Claras on Gallifrey (at least two of whom are shown here near the first and fifth Doctors) have noticed each other, or at least been noticed by someone else? (unless they're the same one)
Like Torchwood a few years ago, this retcon doesn't even work slightly. Retcons can be fantastic when worked out and done well, but when not, are universally awful.
River is stated to be an electronic computer copy of River, so can hardly take part in a conference call on the astral plane. She's data, not a spirit. Glad she's dead again though.
As in Journey To The Centre Of The TARDIS, the Doctor manages to exit his tomb (ship last time) unseen between scenes.
Strax's history changes, yet he remains on Trenzilor, despite the absence of either cause or means in his past to bring him there now.
Strax's history changes, but Vastra's does not. Please, Mr Author, kindly pick one.
The Doctor collapses as his history is rewritten (despite his presence there being the result of its restoration), but his and Clara's memories don't, and they are the results of the changes that Clara is about to make anyway. In other words, nothing actually changes here. So the Doctor shouldn't collapse, nor should anyone forget him.
To rephrase: If the Great Intelligence (GI) and Clara's actions change the Doctor's history, then their actions cannot already be a part of that history. From the other angle, if the Great Intelligence and Clara's actions are already a part of the Doctor's history, then they can cause no changes by making those same actions. Which is it? You cannot have both. You can't just label it a 'paradox' either, because that's just using the word as a synonym for 'plot-hole'.
And Amy, sorry, Clara (I thought I'd dealt with that) cannot possibly defeat the Great Intelligence every single time. Most at best.
And exactly what great evil does the Great intelligence do in the Doctor's past? Stand at a distance watching him drive away? Well, good luck with stopping him get away with that act of intergalactic terrorism Clara. What we really needed to see here was the GI / his whispermen plunging their fists into each of the earlier Doctors' chests to stop their twin hearts. Once again, good luck Clara, especially since you're powerless to stop him doing that to you.
Mostly however these shots just amount to Clara spotting the Doctor. For example, she merely watches the seventh Doctor hanging from his umbrella (in Dragonfire), rather than perhaps assisting the medics after he got shot (in the 1996 TV movie). Were it not for the fact they are all different Claras, she might as well be filling out her I-Spy Doctor Who book.
The actual shots from earlier episodes that have been selected for doctoring - or perhaps I should say Claraing - are ideal. William Hartnell's movements, expressions and dialogue are flawless, which some might tease isn't exactly consistent with his earlier appearances in the role! Also on his side is the marvellous conjuring that has colourised a film telerecording of a 405-line monochrome videotape into something that matches the new footage of Clara. It's notable that Clara's voice has been narrowed to match his, and that this too has the effect of making her really appear to have traveled into the world of his past. (or be on that CCTV screen at the start) What a shame that they threw some of the wonder of this new first Doctor scene away, and indeed all the other Doctors', by nonsensically showing it at the start. This should have been the episode's spectacular finale.
However, for what should be the thrilling return of the earlier Doctors in preparation for the fiftieth anniversary, the footage of all the other Doctors is muddy at best. I've no idea why this should be. If memory serves, high-definition footage exists of most if not all the Doctors, including the very shots used here of the second and third Doctors.
Also, all that is skipping the obvious situation that with the fiftieth anniversary upon us, many of the surviving earlier actors are presumably returning to the show to shoot new material as the character anyway!
Shouldn't the GI have been one of those two Time Lord engineers at the start? Exceptionally dull opening shot by the way. I just think the first image should hook the casual viewer in, that's all.
The other problem here is that it's all going over the same old ground yet again. The Doctor and a gathering of his friends learn of his future death, again. He chooses to head straight towards it to save his loved ones, again. He forgets that other aspects of his future that he has already witnessed make this impossible, again. (eg. the Valeyard) His "impossible" young female companion's identity is the solution to the mystery, again. There are zombies, again, who breath menacingly at people, again, through jagged teeth, again. I watched them genuinely unsure whether or not these monsters were new or returning ones.
I could go on and on pointing at this disastrous tangle of good intentions, but that's not really the taste that this episode left me with. Having learnt over the previous couple of years to expect such an absence of objectivity, I accordingly made sure that I sat back with low expectations, and was completely enthralled for 40 minutes.
Overall, I was glued to the telly for the whole of this, and I'll wave by my problems with it simply because I enjoyed it anyway. I wish that Doctor Who was a lot more like this on a regular basis, fleshing out the bigger picture, and more about the man and his machine than the places and times that he goes to. But what it really needs is the guy who's writing it to know where and when he's going, and get some objective proof-readers pushing back against it.
So, a great episode then, even despite so many characters who do nothing, and a plot that would succeed better if it did likewise.
That final shot was one of the stupidest in years though. Until he turned around, I was convinced he was Michael Jayston as the Valeyard. He even then proceeded to turn around to camera to reveal his identity in the same way as when we last saw the Valeyard at the end of episode 14 of The Trial Of A Time Lord. Now that would have been cool!
Only adding to the disappointment of yet another dark version of the Doctor, after so much effort to create a world that we can believe in, they actually go and shatter the illusion by flashing an upcoming guest actor's name over it. No thank you, I really don't want the spell to be broken. Because it's fiction, and therefore supposed to be believed in. They might as well have told us what programme was coming up next on BBC1.
And nobody believes that John Hurt, hardly an unusual name to find in a drama programme on BBC1, is really going to take over the role, just like noone thought David Morrissey would in The Next Doctor. And anyway, I don't want to see a new actor in the anniversary special, I want to see all the old ones. So, I think, do most people.
Then firing a third bullet in rapid succession at us, the revelation that there is to be no more Doctor Who for another six months is a big let down too. We waited so long for this run that I thought they had completed the next season by now? Apparently the huge fiftieth anniversary special, far from having a whole fiftieth anniversary season to build up to it, has nothing to come before.
Talk about throwing away the most enormous opportunity in the show's entire history.
Well, maybe, just maybe, the next episode will actually start the year-long blockbuster anniversary. Maybe Doctor Who will be on every Saturday for the whole 53 weeks. With all this stopping and starting they've certainly had enough time to accrue most of those episodes in the can by now.
Until I see this happen, I gotta say, I'm feeling majorly disappointed.
Doctor Who: She Said, He Said
Minisode broadcast literally straight after Nightmare In Silver to publicise The Name Of The Doctor, and which makes really very little sense there. Where are the Doctor and Clara? Who are they addressing all this to? Does this take place before, after, during, or somehow outside of The Name Of The Doctor?
Of course, we were supposed to be asking all of these questions before that episode. I don't think we were supposed to still be asking them after the episode though, although inside the trippy realm of the Doctor's life is where this minisode makes more sense.
I personally was rather hoping that we would get to Trenzilor in the fiftieth anniversary special. Well, maybe we still will.
Or maybe we will still be there.
The Doctor, Vastra, Jenny and an Amy are all forming a tableau around Strax as he has a go at Whose Line Is It Anyway? type completions of famous Christmas carol titles, and everyone gets the giggles.
The way the 50th year's transmission schedule is going, by the time we get the next episode, it might just be Christmas again.