Doctor Who: Series 7
“The Name of The Doctor”
Aired: November 23, 2013
Writer: Steven Moffat
Director: Saul Metzstein
“Great men are forged in fire. It is the privilege of lesser men to light the flame.”
– The War Doctor
That was an impressive hour of television. For a number of reasons.
First and foremost, it was a fun and solidly entertaining episode of Doctor Who. Throw out the fact that its the 50th anniversary special and that it featured the return of David Tennant and Billie Piper. Taking it all out of the greater context, this was still one of the best episodes of Doctor Who Steven Moffat has ever written. It was funny and clever and emotional. The villains were memorable, it felt suitably epic and the funny lines were actually funny. In short, it was everything that you want from a television show (or a movie, for those of you who ventured out to theaters to see the simulcast in 3D). It was one of the best modern era Doctor Who episodes to date.
All of that becomes even more impressive when you consider the greater context. It’s the 50th anniversary special, so it requires a certain amount of fan service. People want to see the fez, they want old Doctors to make cameos, they want to hear David Tennant say some of his trademark lines like “Allons-y!” And Moffat delivered on all of that. But he managed to do it in a way that felt natural, not pandering. You could tell the story came first and the callbacks to history came from the story in a very organic way.
Even Billie Piper’s role in the episode was a testament to that. It would have been easy to have Tennant’s Doctor traveling with Rose and to have them both interact with Matt Smith’s Doctor and Clara. But that also would have felt clunky. And it would have gotten in the way of a lot of the great Queen Elizabeth I stuff. It was a much more daring move to have Piper play The Moment and to never have her interact with David Tennant. But the story was so much better for it.
The one moment that stuck out as stretching things a bit was the cameo from Tom Baker, but I think it can be forgiven because it gave us a scene with Tom Baker. The whole “revisiting old faces” notion seems a bit out of what’s been established about Time Lord regeneration, but at least Moffat offered some kind of explanation for why a much older Baker was appearing. And also, I like that even that scene, which was clearly just something extra put there for the fans, advanced the plot by setting up The Doctor’s quest to find Gallifrey.
And ultimately, that’s what was so impressive about the episode. It honored the past in a really nice way, it filled in the gap between the old Doctor Who and the reboot, it told a great story in the present day and it set up the future of the show, giving it a really interesting direction to go in once Peter Capaldi comes aboard.
Plus, it gave us a lot of new wrinkles to consider …
Wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey stuff
Much like “The Doctor’s Wife,” this is an episode that is going to retroactively change how you think about every single episode of Doctor Who you’ve seen thus far. I just recently rewatched the two-part Christopher Ecceclston season finale where Rose becomes Bad Wolf to help him defeat the Daleks. In that episode, The Doctor constructs a delta wave that will wipe out all of the Daleks, but it will also kill all of the humans on the planet below. And ultimately, he can’t do it. This episode takes place before we know any real details about the Time War. But watching it now gave it a whole new light.
The War Doctor says to The Moment, “How many worlds has his regret saved?” Clearly that was one instant where his regret saved the day. Now that we have seen this episode, rewatching all of these old episodes is going to continue to reveal moments like that. And I really love Moffat for doing that.
Of course, it will also be interesting to see if The Doctor changes his approach at all now that he knows Gallifrey did survive. Will it change him at all? Will he handle crises differently?
While I do enjoy that new wrinkle, there’s another one that this episode created that is much messier – it confuses the numbering of Doctors. Matt Smith has always been referred to as the 11th Doctor. David Tennant is number 10 and Christopher Eccelston is 9. But John Hurt’s War Doctor should actually be 9 and the other three should now be shifted. We possibly could have gotten away with not counting him as a Doctor since he himself claimed he wasn’t worthy of being The Doctor, but changing history at the end redeems him (even if he doesn’t remember that’s the case), so he should be counted as number 9.
Of course, that creates another problem outside of the confusing chronology, which is that The Doctor is out of regenerations. It’s been established in the show that Time Lords can only regenerate 12 times. We know that Matt Smith is leaving the show and the Peter Capaldi will be taking over as The Doctor. So how will The Doctor regenerate again? A source from the show reportedly told England’s The Daily Mirror: “The riddle of the regeneration problem, something fans have talked about for decades, will be faced head on at Christmas.”
I have to assume that a big part of Capaldi’s storyline once he takes over will be The Doctor’s search for the painting that contains Gallifrey. And when he does find his old home, that creates a whole new can of worms. I’m interested to see how that all plays out.
And another thing …
- Maybe I’m an easy mark, but every single time Tennant said horrible things to Queen Elizabeth thinking she was a Zygon, I laughed hysterically.
- Having Tennant marry Queen Elizabeth was actually a really brilliant callback to his last episode, in case you missed the nod. In “The End of Time,” The Doctor tells Ood Sigma that he married “Good Queen Bess” and implied that she could no longer be called “The Virgin Queen.” It was a funny joke in that episode that could have ended there, but I love that Moffat used the wedding as a central plot point in this episode and came up with a clever explanation for why it happened.
- Did anyone else notice that the credits said “Jenna Coleman”? Did she drop the Louise? Either way, it was a great episode for Ms. Coleman, who feels like such a natural fit in that companion role.
- One last thing, in case you missed it: earlier today we posted a special Hobo Radio podcast with me, Lars and Fontina Turner talking in-depth about this episode. You can hear it here.
Written by Joel Murphy. If you enjoy his recaps, he also writes a weekly pop culture column called Murphy’s Law, which you can find here. Follow Joel on Twitter @FreeMisterClark or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.