John Hurt is the Doctor.
This is what we were told in the closing moments of The Name of the Doctor, the final instalment of Doctor Who’s underwhelming seventh season. It was a moment of pure excess that seemed more like fanfiction than the televised product we’ve become accustomed to over the last eight years. It was also a moment that nicely demonstrated Steven Moffat’s poor approach to writing. The revelation of a secret Doctor (which seems to be what we’re meant to assume Hurt’s character is) should have been left as something hinted at by a character rather than slapped on to the screen in such a blunt manner.
It’s possible that the reason Moffat’s taken this route is because Christopher Eccleston declined the offer to reprise his role as the Ninth Doctor. Moffat being a man more concerned with big ideas than characters could very possibly have come up with this idea (whatever it turns out to be) as a means of writing the multi-Doctor story he’d had planned before Ecclescake knocked him back. We’ll know more on this when November rolls around.
The entire episode smacked of fanfiction. Moffat drew liberally from a number of fan sources. First and most obviously the concept of the Doctor’s dead body from the end of his timeline being a plot point was borrowed (stolen, call it what you will) from Lawrence Miles’s book Alien Bodies. The use of the body (or time rift…) is different in both but the general idea is an obvious lift.
It’s a good idea. To a point I can understand why Moffat borrowed it. As good an idea as it is it’s still something from a Doctor Who novel produced during the sixteen year gap between the 1989 cancellation and the 2005 revival. It was an officially produced book which just elevates it above fanfiction, but to all intents and purposes that’s still what it is. It’s concerning that Moffat has run out of his own ideas for season finales already, after just three seasons in charge.
The other big lift from the old Doctor Who novels that replaced the TV show in the nineties was the implication that past incarnations of the Doctor live on in the current incarnation’s mind (referenced in several novels but most prominently in Timewyrm: Revelation). It wasn’t explicitly stated in The Name of the Doctor but it’s a logical enough conclusion to draw when we see the Doctor leap into his own timestream and witness his own past incarnations galloping about on jaunts to nowhere. Either they’re living memories of some sort or the Doctor and Clara landed in the most tedious multi-Doctor story ever.
Speaking of Clara the big secret regarding her was revealed in this episode. It was a mess and a letdown. Basically she was scattered through time of her own free will in order to protect the Doctor. She didn’t die, because the Doctor saved her. In fact it’s implied she’s lived hundreds or thousands, or hundreds of thousands, of lives, so in actuality she benefited from leaping into the Doctor’s timestream.
I’ve come to expect these sorts of anti-climaxes from Moffat. It’s what he does. The man’s incapable of constructing a meaningful season long story arc. This latest attempt was little more than an excuse for him to write the earliest televised scene in Doctor Who history (creating a reason for the Doctor picking a specific TARDIS has the feel of fanfiction to it too) and inject a thoroughly dodgy CG sequence into the episode numerous times. The clip of Patrick Troughton running was excruciatingly bad. I think part of that is because he and Clara are in a crowded area yet nobody looks at either of them despite the scene they’re so obviously making. It’s awkward to watch.
Why does the Doctor so rarely notice her? Because that’s most convenient to Moffat’s story. There’s literally no greater reason than that.
There were other issues. Why exactly did the Great Intelligence hold such a grudge against the Doctor? Why weren’t the Silence, a religious order based around a scene shown in this episode, nowhere to be seen? Why did Moffat go out of his way to establish that this was River Song after the Library episodes when nothing she did necessitated that? None of these things are catastrophic but they do add to the overall feeling that this episode was rushed, poorly planned and done on the cheap.
I will say that the sets were of the usual high standard. There was nothing truly remarkable, mainly because the major sets were a redecorated TARDIS interior, a graveyard and the tea room used for the conference call but what was shown was very well put together. The Whispermen were visually striking too, which makes it a shame that they didn’t actually have a purpose beyond being creepy.
Overall The Name of the Doctor was the crushing bore I expected it to be. That doesn’t bode too well for the fiftieth anniversary episode, does it?