Doctor Who Recap - The Name of the Doctor
By Edwin Davies
May 21, 2013
Her sacrifice should mean a great deal, and it clearly does to The Doctor, but it ultimately doesn't mean much to the audience because the character has been around for such a short time (part of me wonders if this plotline would have worked better with Amy, who both was on the show for longer and felt like a more complex figure) and because she has only ever been defined as a mystery or a puzzle, rather than as a real person. The show always wanted to make her this centrepiece to a fascinating mystery, but the mystery itself always seemed really incidental to everything else that was happening. Yet it was given enough prominence to squeeze out any room for the sort of character moments that might have made this episode work better as part of a bigger story. Clara's sacrifice, whilst undoubtedly noble in the abstract, kind of felt like it had little to do with the story the show had been telling up to that point.
The Doctor ends up following Clara into his own timeline in order to find and rescue Clara, having said a sweet and sad goodbye to the projection of River Song, who he could see all along but had ignored due to his fear of endings, and the two reunite and prepare to leave. It's at this point that Clara sees a mysterious figure who she - and the audience - has not encountered before. The Doctor addresses him with disdain, declaring him to be the one who broke a "promise", and his darkest secret. This then leads to the moment when the figure turns to the camera and reveals, in an image that seemed to become a meme before the credits had even finished rolling, that he is none other than John Hurt, and that he is playing The Doctor.
That final scene is key to what made this finale so brilliant and so maddening at the same time. It's a wonderfully handled revelation that is built to beautifully, it raises as many questions as it answers (though, in fairness, the number of questions it answers is preciously zero) and it creates that tingly sense of excitement that comes from looking forward to seeing what the show will do with such a loopy twist. At the same time, it becomes pretty clear that this entire run of sub-standard episodes has been little more than place-setting for that one revelation, which in itself is meant to lead in to the 50th anniversary special in November.
That wouldn't be so bad if the episodes were better, but since they weren't either the resolution to the question of Clara needed to be amazing (which it wasn't) or for it to lead to something spectacular, which it sort of did, but it really only lead to the promise of something spectacular, rather than the thing itself. Basically, it feels like we've been watching episodes of okay-to-good television which all served as little more than preamble to something else entirely, which is never going to be all that satisfying an experience. It seems increasingly apparent that Moffat and co. were more focused on the big event in November than making the show itself the big event that it, by rights, should have been all along.