Doctor Who Series 7 Episode 14 Review: The Name of the Doctor

The Name of the Doctor

Directed by Saul Metzstein

Written by Steven Moffat

Starring Matt Smith and Jenna-Louise Coleman

Questions are answered and more questions are asked this week, with The Name of the Doctor, the finale of Series 7 of Doctor Who.

Clara (Jenna-Louise Coleman) has always been the impossible girl to the Doctor (Matt Smith). He has come across her several times in his travels, throughout time and throughout space. The Name of the Doctor begins by revealing that this is not restricted to Smith’s Eleventh Doctor, but to each and every other regeneration of the Doctor. Throughout his eleven incarnations, Clara has been there at some time and space.

And in this episode, we are brought closer to an explanation. 

Written by Steven Moffat, this is the last episode in the lead-up to the 50th anniversary special, and it certainly ramps up the spectacle and celebration of Doctor Who’s lore.

Madame Vastra (Neve McIntosh), Jenny (Catrin Stewart), and Strax (Dan Starkey) all return for another adventure with the Doctor and Clara. Not only that, but so too does River Song (Alex Kingston), the four of them gathering together for a conference call across time, bringing Clara in along the way.

What follows is a series of events that leads the Doctor and company to the one place the Doctor dare not go: Trenzalore, tying together a thread left in the previous series describing the apparent “Fall of the Eleventh”. It is there where the Doctor comes across the Great Intelligence once again in the guise of Dr Simeon (Richard E. Grant) and is forced to confront sights and do things he never particularly wanted to do, lest he do more harm than good.

The problem with this episode though, is that it doesn’t really have much. Maybe Moffat is holding off for the 50th anniversary, but nothing really happens in this week’s episode, other than maybe the last few minutes.

Instead we are given a bunch of exposition, a few comic moments that don’t hit with the general tone of the episode, a love of Who continuity that has been throughout this season, and more confusion and cop-outs.

Vastra, Jenny, and Strax are only really used this episode to set up the plot and then prove a point, while River is so criminally underused, only relevant when the plot needs her and not the characters. Not even the Doctor at times, and they’re supposed to be married. 

Once again, the focus is on the Doctor (and rightfully so with an episode title such as that), but it is disappointing to gather so many great characters and give hardly anything. There are better ways the plot could have been set up and there are better ways the characters could have been used. Smith, as always, shines as the Doctor, and there are emotional moments he nails in a heartbeat. As for everyone else, they really don’t have any moments. Except perhaps only one other character towards the end.

This is no discredit on the actors or Saul Metzstein’s directing. Metzstein does a great job adapting the story to screen and draw out what performances he could, it is all just on Moffat’s writing.

Some moments are clever. The king is on the small details and the continuity nods and concepts being twisted on their head. But the negatives outweigh the positives. It’s a finale that doesn’t scream finale but part one of a two-part story. There are no real stakes being raised, there is no real peril, the antagonists are laughable and essentially non-existent. It didn’t even boast enough paradoxes or time being wibbly-wobbly this time around. Even for a Moffat-written episode, things were lacking. 

The Name of the Doctor isn’t so much a bad episode as it is just a big disappointment. The lead-in from Gaiman’s Nightmare in Silver episode last week raised the bar too high. Hopefully the 50th anniversary will take everything to eleven (no pun intended) and make up for it. There are certainly hints of that direction in the final scenes of this episode, but it just isn’t enough.

Steven Moffat is certainly losing a bit of shine (which some might argue has been fading for a while now), but he’s thrown a curveball that leads into the 50th anniversary, one annoying enough that one just has to tune in again to see where it leads.

Overall, Series 7 has been a bit of a disappointment, but the finale sealed that deal. Which is a shame, because there is so much potential for Doctor Who and its characters. There have been a few highs, the majority of which written by Neil Gaiman and Mark Gatiss, but there have been many lows. A big problem has been the sheer lack of good antagonists and peril. For every episode being designed to be like a movie, Series 7 has been more lacklustre than blockbuster.

There is only so much time and space to complain however, and one shall just have to hope that the 50th anniversary will save things. For one thing… David Tennant and Billie Piper are returning. Not to mention one or two other surprises to come.

Until then… to days to come, and all my love to long ago.  

The Name of the Doctor premiered on BBC One on Saturday 18th May 2013. It is available on BBC iPlayer, and Doctor Who will return on Saturday 23rd November with the 50th anniversary special.

 

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