Thursday, November 28, 2013

"The Name of the Doctor"

"So you're my replacements? A clown, a dandy, a different clown,
a cricketer, a third clown, a fourth clown, a Scouser,
a man from the North, a bell end and a fifth clown?"
'The Shame of the Doctor.' Did anyone seriously think in the lead up to this that Moffat was going to reveal the Doctor's actual name? Of course not. Besides, wouldn't it just be Gallifreyan gobbledegook? The hype-manufacturing is utterly shameless with a title like this, and perhaps unsurprisingly we begin with some astonishing fan service. Two techies on Gallifrey observe body doubles of Billy Hartnell and Carole Ann Ford walking into a big metal portaloo. "What kind of idiot would try to steal a faulty TARDIS?" asks one techie. I really think he should sound more overtly 'classic series', speaking in a Received Pronunciation accent and saying something like "What kind of fool would try to steal a decommissioned time unit?" or something to that effect. Anyway, in a few seconds of repurposed stock footage from "The Aztecs" Billy Hartnell upstages everyone who's ever been on the show for the last eight years despite having died nearly four decades ago. This is insane fan service. We're actually seeing the First Doctor stealing the TARDIS with Susan. I'm surprised he doesn't have the Hand of Omega float in too. Susan's too tall and they're both already wearing human clothes but this still boggles my mind. I often complain about the New Series rejecting its origins, but this is almost going too far the other way. The thing is it's fan service without being fan service. It's not like a Classic Doctor is actually appearing in new footage. Suddenly Clara shows up and spouts some shitty dialogue at Billy, who stares at her with disapproval from the mid 60s.
"Even the sonic screwdriver won't get me out of this one."
It seems Clara is falling through golden light rattling off purple prose like a champion, appearing throughout the Doctor's life, including standing in front of an extra wearing Colin's costume and a blonde wig and being awkwardly inserted into shonky-looking 20th century video footage. Thus she almost encounters Tom about to blow some mothers away with the D-Mat gun in "The Invasion of Time", Sylv hanging from his umbrella in "Dragonfire", Pert driving Bessie from "The Five Doctors", half a second of someone dressed as Paul McGann, some more repurposed footage from "The Five Doctors", this time of Trout running away before cutting to a body double who can't be bothered to run at the same speed completely ruining the illusion, and Davo floating from "Arc of Infinity." So that's all of the post-Hartnell Doctors. Colin and P McG are just stand-ins, Tom, Davo and Sylv appear through the use of footage from what are generally considered to be some of their weakest serials, and Pertwee and Trout are sourced not only from another infamously weak serial but also one which shows neither of them in their prime. It's utterly bizarre. Why do a tribute to Classic Doctors in this way? You could say that only a fan would recognise the serials, but only a fan would give a shit about seeing the Classic Doctors anyway. It baffles me. Clara mentions that she was "born to save the Doctor." Well that's that mystery done away with in the first minutes of the episode. Why is this bit here? Was Moffat embarrassed by the quality of the old video, the poor colourisation work on Billy and the awkward insertion of Jenna Coleman into the footage and decided to just rush through it quickly at the beginning? Clara talks about a blown leaf being the source of her birth, and "I'm still blowing." Good grief. Roll titles.
"So how do you find your careers are going these days?"
Oh for heaven's sake, we're back in Victorian London again. Some crazy guy is speaking in rhymes about the 'Whispermen', this week's arbitrary Moffat spooky goons. To my immense frustration the tedious New-Silurian Madam Vastra returns, crazy guy claiming to have info about some secret of the Doctor's being discovered. Vastra decides to have a 'conference call.' For some reason Strax needs to come along from where he's having a dust-up with some big Scottish dude. Is this supposed to be funny? Why does Strax need to be involved? Incidentally, why is Vastra married to her own servant? Isn't that a bit weird? The 'conference call' is pure camp nonsense with tea-memories and the like. We cut to Clara. Isn't she sweet. Angie and Artie are back too, but mercifully it's only temporary. Angie actually gets a half-decent line when she asks if Clara's mother was "deep on puddings." Vastra's sent Clara a letter Doc Brown style with a soporific candle to let her in on the 'conference call' but she drugged the paper anyway. Why bother sending the candle? She shows up at the table with the Victorian characters because "time travel has always been possible in dreams." It's true that dream time travel is a recurring motif of early science fiction, but this is just pure magic and feels totally out of place in Doctor Who. Then again this isn't really Doctor Who when you get down to brass tacks. Oh god no, it's River Song. She smugs it up and they chat about space time coordinates and how only River knows the Doctor's name. Apparently the crazy guy in the jail, besides these coordinates, also told Vastra one word: 'Trenzalore.' That's not a word.
The Guild of Last-minute Rorschach Cosplayers.
"I think I've been murdered," Jenny utters. Oh shit! This is genuinely the one perhaps halfway effective bit in the episode. It turns out that a bunch of top-hatted Victorian gents with stockings on their heads have invaded Vastra's house. They also manage to find Strax too and even enter the trance. How did they do that? Then the floating disembodied head of Richard E. Grant appears and gives them their marching orders: the Doctor must go to 'Trenzalore' if he wants to save his friends. Back in the land of the living Matt Smith is bumbling around with a blindfold on, having been tricked by the two kids. "The little Daleks!" he complains in what is one of the lamest and most leaden non-jokes of recent scripts. Hearing Clara's story, the Doctor pisses off to the TARDIS without drinking the tea she just nicely prepared for him and has a big cry under the console. Trenzalore, as mentioned by the big fat blue head of Dorium Maldovar in a box the year before last, is the Doctor's grave. It kind of reminds me of the cliffhanger of the first episode of "Revelation of the Daleks", except that was good. The Doctor's reluctant but he has to save Vastra, Jenny and Strax because they looked after him between the one where Amy and Rory got bumped off and the one with the killer snow. The TARDIS isn't having any of it and starts chucking a fit with sparks flying everywhere like Classic series laser weaponry. Observing the hellish landscape of Trenzalore below them, the Doctor laments not being able to retire and "take up watercolours or beekeeping or something", the latter being a Sherlock Holmes reference for those keeping score. The TARDIS won't land but is happy to float in orbit, so the Doctor turns off the antigravity and they drop like stones but ultimately harmlessly to the surface.
Cardiff in the future.
"My grave is potentially the most dangerous place in the universe," the Doctor declares. What? How? It's not explained. It turns out the grave is the TARDIS, which in a somewhat interesting fashion has grown massive as the "dimension dams start breaking down." Once again it's a handful of halfway decent ideas in a sea of dross. To my misfortune River is still around, chatting to Clara before the men with the stockings on their heads, the Whispermen, show up speaking weak rhymes. Apparently it makes sense that a nearby grave on it bearing River's name is a secret entrance to the main tomb and the Doctor and Clara escape. Up in the TARDIS, Strax instantly brings Jenny back to life with some kind of remote defibrillator. How did she suffer no damage from being dead so long? Why does everyone always come back to life in Moffat Who? To distract us from these questions Richard E. Grant enters as the Great Intelligence. I'm led to believe that his presence in this half of the series is almost solely because they knew that "The Web of Fear" had (largely) been recovered and they thought this would encourage more sales. Hamming it up like a demented showman with about as much genuine enthusiasm as if he was reading the shipping forecast the Intelligence reveals that they're outside the Tomb of the Doctor. We already know that.
"Doctor, tell me your name or you will be watching
The Scream of the Shalka for all eternity!"
Down in the tunnel River Song's suddenly started complaining about the Doctor abandoning her in the Library. But it's not even really her, is it? It's like a hologram. Honestly, how much does this show really owe to Red Dwarf? Back upstairs, the Intelligence goes on to declare that the Doctor eventually dies in some big battle, and that he deserves to be thought of as a killer due to killing that fake Klingon dude back in the first RTD Christmas Special, leaving David Bradley to get blown up in Chibnall's dinosaur punisher, and for visiting so much destruction upon the Cybermen and Daleks. What, the two worst factions in the universe? He also name drops the Valeyard as a figure in the Doctor's future. I was not expecting that. It's not a bad bit of fan service, but given that it's recently been revealed that Smithy is actually the thirteenth incarnation and not the eleventh it's slightly redundant. Richard E. Grant reveals that he's still disembodied by ripping his own face off before another Whisperman turns into him. Did he just waste a Whisperman? What's the point of showing us this bit? It has no payoff later in the episode. The Whispermen are completely lame stooges. The Silence have no mouths, the Whispermen have no eyes. What's next? Is Capaldi going to have to fight a race of evil clowns who live under beds and have no noses or ears?
"I have to, Doctor ! The budget is in there!"
Elsewhere in the TARDIS Clara flashes back to earlier episodes, remembering "memories you shouldn't have." It's more magic thinking like Amy magically recalling everything back into existence at the end of Series 5. All of a sudden they show up where everyone else is and Richard E. Grant reveals that to open the tomb proper the Doctor's name must be spoken. The Smith stands around like a lemon refusing to say it as the invincible Whispermen threaten his friends, but fortunately this projection of River can somehow silently say his name and open the door. It takes an absurdly long time for them to just open the door and go through, after which they find an overgrown console room with a big swirly thing in the middle, which the Doctor obnoxiously describes as "the tracks of my tears." "Less poetry, Doctor," snaps the Intelligence, and I can't help but agree with some enthusiasm, although it seems a bit hypocritical considering some of the guff he was spouting earlier. Apparently the big glowing thing is the Doctor's corpse, a scar in reality caused by time travel. What kind of sense that's supposed to make I can't tell you. The Doctor points the sonic screwdriver at it and we hear some stuff like Hartnell musing on time and Colin chewing out the Gallifreyan Judiciary.
After hearing about some 'creative liberties'
in 'An Adventure in Time and Space.'
"An open wound can be entered," the Intelligence declares, sounding like he has a very peculiar fetish. Do people usually 'enter' open wounds? Apparently he's prepared to sacrifice his own life by stepping into the light which will send him everywhere in the Doctor's life so that he can attack him at every time simultaneously. Smith warns that this will string him out through time "like confetti." That's the best simile he had to hand? The Intelligence doesn't care. He's really keen to get revenge for his two recent defeats and those two times Trout defeated him forty-five years ago. I can't help but feel like there are other villains with more reason to do this. He steps in and the Whispermen vanish, not having to be defeated in any way. The Doctor writhes on the ground, Vastra panicking that he's "being rewritten." How does she know? Apparently the Intelligence managing to "turn every one of your victories into defeats" means Richard E. Grant brooding with his hands behind his back in some stock footage from the Classic Series. How are we supposed to buy this? We're seeing nothing. What's the threat? It's all tell and no show. "He's dying all at once," Vastra notes. What's that supposed to mean? "The Dalek Asylum, Androzani..." Vastra continues, before puttering out into silence. Anywhere else? It's an amusingly tokenistic effort to give a sense of the Doctor's travels - one relatively recent episode and one Classic reference that's already been made in New Who. This makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. Vastra runs outside where all the stars are going out, which seems to happen all the time in New Who finales. How good is her scanner thing that it can read changes to time? Jenny disppears and Strax goes back to full on Sontaran mode. If Jenny disappeared, why doesn't Strax disappear too? Isn't his life completely different? Why would he still be there? It's the typical half-arsed divergent reality approach to time travel that replaces paradoxes with inconsequential bullshit.
"Now, to get into his eye-line..."
Vastra kills Strax and then calls "Strax?" She just disintegrated him, did she expect him to reply? Back in the tomb Clara decides the only thing to do is to jump into the light herself, explaining this series' mystery of multiple Claras. Apparently the real Clara will die and lots of copies will exist throughout time. It makes absolutely no sense. So after gathering her courage, the Doctor's completely uncharacterised companion runs into the light while the Doctor continues to groan on the ground and we get a reprisal of the stock footage fest from earlier. This time we see a little Tennant too. How does she stop the Intelligence? He's just gone now. Where did he go? Did she kick him in the balls? What the hell just happened? If the Claras in the Asylum and Victorian London didn't know who the Doctor was, how do the others manage to save him? We cut back to the footage of Billy Hartnell looking shady upon entering a door from "The Aztecs." It turns out that Gallifrey-Clara didn't tell him it was a mistake to leave Gallifrey but rather to take a different TARDIS because "the navigation system's knackered but you'll have much more fun." Are we supposed to believe a Gallifreyan would say that? Is that Clara a Gallifreyan? How does this work? Also, are we expected to believe that the First Doctor took the TARDIS, as in the proper TARDIS, because some stranger told him it would be fun? Billy would probably tell her to piss off. We now see a silver portaloo flying through the vortex like a grey turd being flushed down bloodied stool water.
Quiet in the Peanut Gallery.
Strax is now back and remembers what happened, so now that everything's more or less fine purely due to Clara running into some old video from the 60s, 70s and 80s the Doctor decides that he'd better go rescue her. River starts having a strop, but the Doctor stops her, revealing that he could see her the whole time. Why should I care about this relationship? The time gimmick means that I've only ever seen everything after the fact. I have absolutely no investment in it. I honestly don't care about River Song's feelings and don't believe in her relationship with the Doctor in a dramatic sense whatsoever. There's nothing here to grasp, to understand or be invested in. Some people thought this bit was heartbreaking. I thought it just showed how absolutely abysmally this entire plot has been handled since the start of Series 6. I've never seen any actual relationship develop between the Doctor and River, only told that it exists. Why should I care? The Doctor pulls her in for an incredibly awkward kiss, which looked to the others like he was tonguing the empty air. River questions how she could still be present, busting out her catchphrase again, suggesting there's more of her to come. Please, no. She then dissipates, and I hope we never see her again.
No Tom! Come back!
So the Doctor steps into the light but fortunately we don't now see him plastered onto pictures of old Doctors. Instead Clara lands in some smoke machine set with more extras in costumes nabbed from the Cardiff Doctor Who Exhibition charging past in the background. We see a Billy stand in that bizarrely looks more like Richard Hurndall from "The Five Doctors" as well as pretend versions of Colin, Davo, Eccly and finally a Tom who charges off into the distance. The Doctor reveals that in this place he's "everywhere" but that it's "collapsing in on itself." What? How? What is this place? What's going on? The 'answers' are all just meaningless babble, and the Doctor nonsensically sends Clara the leaf from "The Rings of Akhaten." She stumbles around a bit and the Doctor gives her a big hug. How is he saving her? Isn't she meant to have died? What's going on? Then we see a spooky silhouette, someone Clara doesn't know. Everyone in this place is the Doctor, apparently, but this guy's the Doctor but not the Doctor, as it were, an incarnation of the Time Lord otherwise known as the Doctor who isn't, in this particular incarnation, the Doctor. Get your head around that one. He utters some lines about necessity in a distinctive croaky voice, and Smith reveals the title's twist by declaring that this incarnation's deeds were not done "in the name of the Doctor." Apparently the name 'Doctor' is some kind of promise. Is it? Smith and Clara piss off and the silhouette turns around to reveal none other than John Hurt, as the words "Introducing John Hurt as the Doctor" manifest absurdly in the air next to him, thus setting us up for the 50th Anniversary Special.
What the hell was that utter nonsense? I don't even know what to say about this episode. It's just stock footage and horseshit. Absolutely nothing happens. Jenny dies and comes back to life twice. The Great Intelligence defeats itself, essentially. Clara's sacrifice is immediately negated. Strax is dead for about a minute. It's just a forty-four minute leadup to Moffat's big twist of the day, that there's some secret incarnation of the Doctor played by John Hurt. So Trenzalore's the Doctor's grave. Big deal. It's not capitalised upon, it's just an excuse for more magic. The plot occurs completely arbitrarily, events occurring without causes purely at the whim of the set pieces. The usual suspects acclaimed this episode purely for showing footage of the old Doctors, but in actual fact it's entirely meaningless. It's not like we haven't seen old footage before. What's so great about this? I didn't realise this at the time but this is completely empty and hollow, relying on shock value to disguise the fact that it doesn't really exist. We're supposed to applaud seeing Billy and Susan depart in the TARDIS and wonder at the identity of John Hurt's Doctor, but it's all so predictable right now. The answer is always "the Doctor." It's become so commonplace that in fact the answer to the question "What's the Doctor's greatest secret?" is "the Doctor." This episode isn't exactly offensive, but it's totally brainless and in actual fact completely inconsequential. Time and money was wasted producing this episode-length overture to the Anniversary Special. With both the Special and Matt Smith's imminent departure forthcoming it seems that of all the significant episodes it was this one that had the wind completely taken out of its sails. There are interesting ideas here, I suppose, but they're strung together in such an arbitrary way that it achieves nothing. It has never been more clear that what should have been found in the tomb of the Doctor is a single CRT screen playing episode three of "Survival."

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