Friday, May 31, 2013

The Name of the Doctor (7.14)

There's something forgotten I want you to know
The freckles of rain are telling me so
Oh it's the old forgotten question
What is that we are part of?
What is it that we are?

The Half Remarkable Question

It didn't have to be like this.

I think that before 2005, most of us imagined that New Who would be Doctor Who: the Next Generation, or Ultimate Doctor Who. We imagined that it would be be like the Paul McGann movie or the infinite number of New Adventure. We expected someone to take all those years and years of disconnected storylines and build a modern TV SF universe out of them. We thought it would be like Firefly, only with jelly babies.

Some fans believe that that is what we got. But then some fans believe that is what we already had. Give a fan three wildly inconsistent dots and he will always be able to draw a line between them; and believe that the line he has drawn was there all along; and that the line is good deal more interesting than the dots themselves.[*] If you are one of those fans -- if you don't quite see why I think Star Trek: The Next Generation and New Who have radically different relationships to their source material (and that Star Trek and Doctor Who were very different beasts to begin with) then you'll probably be happier ignoring what I have to say here and remaining lost in miasma of your self-created universe. 

And I really do mean happier. I really do wish I could take the blue pill, or possibly the red pill, and rejoin you inside the collective hallucination. But I can't. I can only watch what's been put in front of me.

"You could have taken you hand out of the cuff at any time?"
"No, not at any time. Only when it was funny."

Who Framed Roger Rabbit?

I began this series of digressions by claiming that people ask three questions about Doctor Who: "What does this mean to me?" "What does this mean?" and "What is this like?" None of them can ever really be answered. That's why they are such good questions. 

People who ask "What does Doctor Who mean to me?" may very well embrace "The Name of the Doctor" as a validation, as the fulfilment of a promise, as proof that there really is some continuity between this show and the one which their ten or twelve year old self fell in love with. But they may just as well denounce it as a horrible violation of all their childhood memories; a trivial piece of graffiti scrawled across a sacred text. Clara -- Clara, who we only met last Christmas! -- watches the Doctor and Susan -- the Doctor and Susan! -- leave Gallifrey and cracks a joke. What next? Children's entertainers at the Last Supper? Lawrence Miles response to the episode was to post a colour photograph of a man's bottom on his website. You sort of see his point.

People who ask "What does Doctor Who mean?" will certainly be fascinated by "The Name of the Doctor". It's about as meta-textual as you can get, and it gives us dozens of hermeneutic knots to unravel. It reaches back to a point before Doctor Who started and forward to a point after Doctor Who has ended and sideways to a part of Doctor Who we have never seen before. It contains the whole of Doctor Who, including itself. At the same time, it undermines and destabilizes and changes everything which has gone before. God knows how much "canon" is left when you have had a Time War which changed history, a crack in time though which bad ideas like the giant Victorian Cyberman seem to have leaked out, and the literal, story-internal "rebooting" of the entire universe. But whatever canon is left has been overwritten. All the Doctor's victories are retrospectively revealed to have been caused by the self-sacrifice of Wonderful Clara. The Doctor has always had plot immunity -- we know that he can't ever be killed off 'cos he's the good guy and the programme's got his name on it. But that plot immunity is now part of the fictional meta-story: he can't be killed because Wonderful Clara will always and has always been there to save him. (The whole premise of Doctor Who, that the Doctor ran away from Gallifrey in a malfunctioning TARDIS, is revealed to be the result of a last minute whim of Wonderful Clara's.) The last 50 years are now to be understood as a manichean conflict, like Blake's angels struggling over a new-born child, where the Angel of Light is a Victorian baddie in a frock coat, and the Angel of Light is a Victorian nanny with a liking for egg products. 

"I was born to save the Doctor" says the Ultimate Final Archetypal Companion to End All Companions. To save the him? Isn't that getting everything a little bit back to front? 

These are relatively easy questions. It's the third one I have the problems with. "What is the 'Name of the Doctor'? What is it like?"

I think "Name of the Doctor" is like one of those playground puzzles in which the convict rubs his hands together until they are sore; uses the saw to cut the table in half; puts the two halves together to make a whole; jumps through the hole and shouts until he is hoarse and then jumps on the horse and rides away. Like that Salman Rushdie story where the car breaks down and everyone has to stand round it being really really quiet because it goes without saying. It is driven by the logic of language, the logic of puns, the logic of dreams, not the logic of science or the logic of logic. It is a world where things work if they sound as if they ought to work. Clara's Mum's leaf brought Clara into existence, in a manner of speaking, because if not for the leaf her Mum would never have met her Dad. Presumably, the world is full of magic bunches of flowers and magic banana skins and magical delays due to scheduled engineering works outside Didcot. But we are inside a dream and once you have spoken in that manner, it becomes somehow literally true and the Doctor can use that leaf to magically call Clara back from the wibbly wobbly time-world. 

I think that "Name of the Doctor" is like a cubist painting. where you can see the shape of the woman and the colour of her dress, but where any suggestion that a portrait might resemble its subject has been abandoned in favour of a celebration of pure form. There is no cause and effect in "Name of the Doctor", nothing resembling a normal narrative. It's just scenes and images. Condemned men bargain for their lives; there is seance in a dream world; there is a gothic graveyard in no particular place. Richard E Grant is allegedly playing the Great Intelligence, who is tangentially connected to a villain who appeared in two lost, or at any rate mislaid, black and white episodes. But he isn't really playing the Great Intelligence, or Dr Simeon, or anyone else. He stands at the Doctor's grave in his Victorian costume and demands the Doctor tells him his greatest secret. It's not a beat in a story. It's a scene that stands by itself, like a piece of fan art: the Doctor facing down a sort of generic universal spirit of our impression of what a Doctor Who villain should probably be like. The final moments of the episode are pure, abstract mindscape. 

It looks great. Many of us have imagined the Doctor's flight from Gallifrey in our heads, and the little scene looks exactly how we imagined it. If the Doctor has a final resting place then the weird graveyard stretching to infinity is what it ought to be. The Great Big Scene, in which we see the Mysterious Man and a caption confirms his identity, is undeniably powerful. But nothing leads up to it or follows from it. It just is. [**]

"My name is Slartibartfast."
"I beg your pardon?"
"I said it wasn't important."
      The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy

"But Andrew," you ask "What about the people who don't ask questions about Doctor Who? What about the ones who, you know, just watch it. What will they have to say about this episode?" 

Well, they are mainly saying that they didn't understand it. But then, that is what they always mainly say about episodes of this kind. I don't understand what they mean when they say they don't understand it.  

Are they complaining that there is too much sci-fi jargon: that when someone says "crossing my own time-line" their brain switches off, in the same way my brain switches off when someone says "but first, sport"?

Are they complaining that too much is left unexplained at the end of the episode? Soap operas have questions in them too, I suppose, but I imagine that the questions are more clearly signposted. When a character you thought was dead walks into the Rovers Return in Ambridge someone says "Oh my god! It is Bruce, former lover of Sheila who we all believed died in a bizarre sheep shearing accident five years ago but who's body was never found! How can he possibly be here?” Mysteries and loose ends and unexpected twists there can certainly be, but they must all come with neat, safe, friendly labels marked "mystery", "loose end" and "unexpected twist". [***] Doctor Who, bless it's hearts, still expects the audience to do some work.

We know -- because Joseph Campbell told us -- that all moviefilms must begin at the very beginning and go though to the very end and leave no unresolved issues. This is the reason that we keep getting reboots and prequels. The Origin of Spider-Man fits, and the Origin of Batman can be made to fit, into the Journey of the Hero. We see Spider-Man before he was a crime fighter, we see the point of crisis which made him decide to become a crime fighter, and then we see him actually fighting some crime. If there was a scene in which he decided that he was finished with crime fighting, we would have the perfect circular narrative. That is why the Spider-Man franchise ended, which is to says started all over again, after only three movies. Spider-Man becomes a crime fighter is a Story. Spider-Man fights some crime is not a story. (The latest Batman series had to be presented as a limited three part trilogy, with instalments that were very nearly called Batman Begins, Batman in the Middle and Batman Ends.) There were, depending on how you count them, twelve Tarzan movies in the 1930s and 1940s. They never "rebooted". Even when Johnny Wiessmuller got too old to swing around the jungle in his knickers, they just wheeled on a younger man whose name escapes me and everyone else and carried on as before. They didn't feel any need to perpetually revisit the shipwreck and that landed little Lord Greystoke in the jungle. A fresh adaptation of Edgar Rice Burroughs book is on the cards, but a new series is unthinkable. Modern audiences would claim not to understand it. "We don't care about these sinister Nazi ivory hunters who are trying to rob the pretty lady of her inheritance" they would say "We want to know why there is a white man living in the jungle, how he learned to talk to the animals, if he will ever leave, and what it says about the human condition." [****]

But I think it is most likely that when the ordinary viewer complains that he doesn't understand "Name of the Doctor", he is making the same complaint that I am making when I talk about "magical realist" construction. 

Why can some of the Doctor's friends sniff a magic candle and meet up in a dream world; and if they can do this, why have they never mentioned it before? There isn't an answer, of course, any more than there is a physiological or genetic reason why Peter Pan never grows up. I don't think that the ordinary viewer can accept this. I think that the question occurs to him, and he assumes that there must be answer, but that the writer is withholding it from them for some reason. That's what a question without an answer usually means, isn't it? That someone is hiding something from you? 

"Why don't Mummy and Daddy love each other any more?"

"Why does God allow suffering?"

"Why was it necessary to invade Iraq?"  

Hush child. Just because.

"After all, you were with him from the beginning"
"From before the beginning, young fellow. And now, it's after the end."

Citizen Kane

"Just because" is used far too much in New Who, and far, far too much in "The Name of the Doctor". But, compared with the narrative-free "Hide" and "Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS", "Name of the Doctor" is actually relatively easy to "understand". As a public service, I shall therefore spend a few moments explicating it: 

The Doctor's Enemy knows that the means to destroy the Doctor is hidden in his tomb. 

The Doctor knows this too, but also knows that his own tomb is the one place he must never go.

Why? Well, if the Doctor could keep meeting up with himself then Doctor Who would get very complicated and very silly, so there is a rule that says that the Doctor can never meet himself, except in special anniversary stories. "Crossing my own time line" is a rather more sciencey way of saying "being in two places at once". We've all spent 50 years convincing ourselves that "being in two places at one is taboo" so it makes a kind of sense to say that "being at the place of my own death" is super dooper taboo. 

The Doctor's Enemy kidnaps the Doctor's friends and takes them to the place he mustn't go, so of course he goes there. 

It turns out that the Doctor's tomb is the TARDIS itself, grown to massive size.

Why? Well, the TARDIS has always been the biggest "just because" in the whole programme. 

"Why is it bigger on the inside than the outside." 
"Because it's dimensionally transcendental."
"What does dimensionally transcendental mean?" 
"It means it's bigger on the inside that the outside."

Inside the dream-world, it makes perfect sense that when the TARDIS dies, the magic should leak out and make it bigger on the outside as well. 

It turns out that it -- the tomb, the TARDIS -- can only be opened when someone says the Doctor's name.

Why? Up to now the Doctor has always opened the TARDIS with a yale key, or a strange alien key, or occasionally with a snap of the fingers or a magic ring. Just as the series increasingly fetishizes the Doctor himself, so it is starting to fetishize his name. It isn't just a thing which we don't know, or even a thing that we can't know. It's a thing which no-one knows, the biggest secret in the Universe. When Ace asked the Doctor "who are you" she was presumably asking what is identity was, what is role was in the universe, expecting an answer like "Omega", "The Other", or "Time's Champion". But it isn't the Doctor's identity which we are supposed to be worrying about. The name itself has become a Word of Power. Granted that, it makes dream-sense for it to be the magic word that opens the TARDIS.

Now it gets complicated. Several seasons ago the Doctor met a lady called River Bloody Song, who knew his true name, almost definitely. From this, we were supposed to infer that she was his wife, even more almost definitely. He didn't know her at all: they would meet in his future, but her past. (There is a book called The Time Traveller's Wife, which I have never read.) She apparently died, but the Doctor kept a sort of a copy of her in the computer in the Biggest Library in the Universe. He has met her several more times since then, always in the wrong order, and at the end of the last season, he married her, sort of. She also turns out to be the daughter of one of his companions, but that's not important right now, probably. She is one of the friends who is summonsed to the dream world, and it's the version of her from the after-life in the library computer which has arrived at the Doctor's tomb. At first it seems that only Clara can see her (Why? Because they are "telepathically linked".) Then it turns out that the Doctor can see her as well. (Why? This is a classic example of what I'm calling "magical realism". The Doctor says that "you are always here to me...I can always see you" which is, of course, the sort of thing which lovers say to each other, but it's only true in a manner of speaking. But in the dream world which is Doctor Who "you are always here because I am always thinking of you" becomes literally true..)

In order to save everyone's life, River Bloody Song says that Doctor's name and opens up the TARDIS. However, the Doctor's body is not in the tomb: instead we find a wiggly line representing all his journeys through time and space. But at some level this line actually is the journey itself, or the Doctor himself ("my own personal time tunnel"). So the Doctor's Enemy can physically jump into the line and appear in every place the Doctor has ever been, and either tempt him to do bad things or just interfere so he loses. This changes history (again) so the Doctor never existed (again) and the universe starts changing (again) — planets he would have saved blink out of existence, the good Sontaran turns back into a bad Sontaran, and so on. (Which is, being interpreted "Look after the universe for me, I've put a lot of work into it"; and in another place, it is written "Maybe the universe itself can't bare to be without the Doctor.")

But Clara realizes that she can save the day by throwing herself into the timey wimey line as well, so she will also appear at every place the Doctor has ever been, but to help him, not harm him. Copies of her appear all through history: the original is destroyed. It isn't exactly clear if she counteracts the bad things the Doctor's enemy did and returns things to the status quo, or whether she retrospectively changes things for the better.

So, Clara gives her life to save the Doctor and becomes a sort of a godlike being, the lynchpin of history, in the same way that Rose and Donna and sort of Amy did. (Never mention Martha Jones, who only became the most important person on earth, and an alternate earth, at that.) However, she isn't really dead as long as we remember her, so the Doctor steps into his own Timeline (whatever that means) and uses the magic leaf to stop her from dying (whatever that means.) The timeline now appears as a sort of wibbly wobbly dimension, populated by force-ghosts of all the Doctor's previous selves. Through the magic of TV we see Hartnell, Troughton, Pertwee, Davison, Colin Baker's clothes, a little bit of Eccleston, lots of Tennant, but no McGann. Then we see another person who Amy Clara doesn't recognize. The Doctor says that his name isn't important, because the Doctor is the name he chose, but this is a version of himself who disgraced that name -- the Doctors worst secret. We are left knowing that there is a twelfth version of the Doctor who will someday do a bad thing, but not when or what or why.

This is a cliffhanger, like "Who killed Laura Palmer" or "Will Dick Barton arrive in time to save Jock and Snowy from the bomb."

I honestly don’t see why anyone would find any of that hard to understand. 

Clyde: "Can you change color or are you always white?
The Doctor: "No
Clyde: "And is there a limit? How many times can you change?
The Doctor: "Five hundred and seven"
Clyde: "Oh."

The Sarah-Jane Adventures

Who is the Bad Doctor?

I see three options.

1: He is the 12th Doctor -- Smith's potential replacement.

At some point after he regenerates, the Doctor will do a Terbil Thing. We have been warned many times that the Doctor is only a slither away from turning into his enemy: well, it's finally going to happen. This could provide a recurrent bad guy to replace the Master. More likely, it could provide a running theme for season 8 (particular if Smith expects to have had enough by 2015) — the Eleventh Doctor trying to avoid taking the steps which turned him into the Twelfth. The Evil Twelfth Doctor will not be specifically identified with the Valyard, because only Doctor Who fans remember Trial of a Time Lord, and they think it was shit. On the other hand, and I realize that tenses are vague when you travel in time, the Doctor seemed to be talking about the Terbil Thing as something which he Has Done, not something which he Will Do.

2: He is the 8.5th Doctor — the one in between McGann and Eccleston.

We never saw the regeneration, after all, and we already know that the Doctor did Terbil, Terbil Things during the Time War. The trouble is, we know what he did -- he ended the war by destroying the Daleks and the Time Lords all at once. And although he regrets having dones this, it isn't a secret: he told Rose and Martha (at least) what he did, and and even boasted about it in "The Doctor's Wife."  I can't believe that the Big Secret That The Doctor Will Take To His Grave And It Is Discovered is something we already know.

3: He is the 0th Doctor: the person the Doctor was before we met him in 1963.

In which case the  Terbil Terbil thing he did was done on Gallifrey, and very possibly it was the reason that he ran away to start with. (His explanation "because I was bored" has always lacked a certain...gravitas.) Hints were dropped in the last days of Old Who that the Doctor had a dark secret related to the dark times and ages of chaos on Gallifrey, and indeed from the Baker era onwards the whole point of the Time Lords was that they had closets full of skeletons. I don't know how a Minus Oneth Doctor can be made to fit in with all the other things we have pieced together over the years about his pre-TARDIS life — his mysterious Mentor, his relationship with the Master, his not especially stellar academic career — and with the fact that the Time Lords themselves have referred to "Hartnell" as "the First". I imagine that the answer will be "by cheating". 

"Good. One more thing. Your name."
"What about my name?"
"It's too long. By the time I've called 'Look out...what's your name?'" 
"By the time I've called that out, you could be dead. I'll call you Romana." 
"I don't like Romana." 
"It's either Romana or Fred." 
"All right, call me Fred." 
"Good. Come on, Romana."

The Ribos Operation

What would have happened if Doctor Who had not been cancelled in 1989?

Well, it would have been cancelled in 1990 or 1991. 1993 would have been the best time to cancel it, on the 30th anniversary. But if, somehow, it had limped on, as fixed a point on the BBC schedules as The Archers and Blue Peter and very little else, you can be pretty sure that Season 49 would have been as unlike Season 26 as Season 26 was unlike season 2. If Doctor Who had not been cancelled, it is quite likely that we Very Old Fans might be sitting around lamenting those almost forgotten days when the TARDIS was still shaped like a Police Box, and smiling at the young whipper snappers who assume that the Doctor had always been a lady.

I suppose those changes would have been incremental; I suppose that successive producers would have put their stamp on the show, one deciding that it was too scary and the next deciding that it was too silly. We would have been unable to pin-point the moment when it stopped being as good as it used to be. It would -- like Superman or Bond or Catholicism -- have carried on being a process, a tradition, a tree which gives out new shoots from time to time. But the seventeen off-air years gave it a chance to freeze and harden in everybody's memory, to become something more than a television programme. It's a holy icon; the lovingly embalmed body of the Dear Leader. You can genuflect to it; you can get whip up a cheap sensation by desecrating it; but you can't bring it back to life. 

People will pay good money to hear good musicians doing good recreations of Beatles songs. If the musicians look and dress like the Beatles, so much the better. I think that being a tribute act is probably an honourable trade. But it doesn't leave much space for artistic development. I suppose that some clever musicians could try to imagine what John Lennon and George Harrison would look like if they were alive today, and dress like that; try to imagine what a group of elderly Beatles might have sounded like if the were headlining Glastonbury 2013; try to write a pastiche of what the Lennon and McCartney partnership might come up with it if it came back together. It might be an interesting thing to do. It might produce some clever tunes, or an interesting contribution to Beatles scholarship. But it obviously wouldn't be the same thing as a Beatles reunion. It is impossible to step into the same river twice. 

What is Doctor Who like

It isn't a programme in it's own right. It isn't a continuation of Old Who. It isn't a conjecture about what Doctor Who would have been like if it had never been cancelled. It isn't a critical comment on the old show. It isn't even a tribute act. 

What, in the end, is it? 

And why is it so very full of questions which cannot be answered?

[*] Where the dots are Dead Planet and Genesis of the Daleks and the lines are War of the Daleks and Legacy of the Daleks, obviously.

[**] It may very well go somewhere in the anniversary special, of course, and it may even go somewhere as interesting as some of the constructs which fans are building up in their heads. More likely, it will be a huge let down, like that-was-most-definitely-the-Doctor-and-he-is-most-definitlely-dead

[***] I have no idea if this is how soap opera are actually written. It is certainly how Harry Potter is written, and I think it is how Dan Brown writes.

[****] Did I mention Solomon Kane? Good movie, actually, based on a set of Bob Howard pulps that are rather better than Conan, probably because Kane was never as popular as Conan so Howard never had a chance to get bored with him. Like Conan, Kane is something of an existentialist, always look for the heroic acte gratuit, always in media res, always referring to previous, unseen adventures. Where Conan loves fighting for its own sake and is a mercenary, Kane is a Boy Scout, always in the middle of saving a lady he hardly knows from pirates or dusky skinned natives or devil worshippers or indeed dusky skinned devil worshipping pirates. We don't know why; we don't know how he comes to be a Puritan holy man and a magician, but when he claims to have helped Francis Drake sink the Armada and been at Flores in the Azores with  Sir Richard Grenville we are inclined to believe him. (There is a poem in which he quits adventuring and goes home to Devon.) The unique selling point of the character is his mysteriousness. The movie concluded that cinema audience would not understand a character who did not have a motivation or an origin, and gave him one. The whole film was his origin. He only turns into Robert E Howard's Kane in the final frame. Nice movie, actually, if what you felt the world most needed was Pirates of the Caribbean with sex and demons in it. I believe there is an American TV series about what Sinbad was doing before he became a sailor. 


Mike Taylor said...

Very interesting. When you wrote "Then we see another person who Amy doesn't recognize" was that a simple mistake, or were you making a point that I missed?

Andrew Rilstone said...


Andrew Rilstone said...

Both. Definitely both.

Anonymous said...

Excellent essay, though a quick addendum: we do actually see McGann, albeit in a literally blink-and-you'll-miss-it moment; he's the figure who walks in front of Clara right before Troughton runs past her.

Graham MF Greene said...

It increasingly strikes me that the New Who (and bear in my I loved whole series of the New Who) *is* the US relaunch that fandom spent a chunk of the hiatus fretting about. The rapping TARDIS just turned out to be metaphorical.

Danny M said...

Enjoyed this very much, thank you. I want to especially thank you for "Romanadvoratnelundar," the pronunciation that got retconned away. Cheers.

Gavin Burrows said...

"The trouble is, we know what he did -- he ended the war by destroying the Daleks and the Time Lords all at once. And although he regrets having dones this, it isn't a secret"

This is a reason why it isn't a particularly good idea, rather than why it won't be their idea. I think it's what we're going to get.

Anonymous said...

Meh. It makes sense. Not literal sense, sure, but who cares? The TARDIS is like a television set. William Hartnell told us so, in 1963. It fits, it works, it's okay. A celebration, not a desecration. The wounds no sooner inflicted than begun to heal, but the shape changes. Clara never was, before now. Clara always was, after now.

we know what he did -- he ended the war by destroying the Daleks and the Time Lords all at once.
We know how he ended the war, true. We know nothing else. Nothing.

Andrew Rilstone said...

So, you are an adherent of the First Approach, yes?

Tom R said...

> "The Doctor has always had plot immunity -- we know that he can't ever be killed off 'cos [...] the programme's got his name on it."

Err, there's a certain other series with Terry Nation/ Robert Holmes/ Chris Boucher scripts but the name of it escapes me.

Michael Cule said...

My objection to THE NAME OF THE DOCTOR is simpler than that. It boils down to the whole episode being a violation of the Law of Checkov's Gun or perhaps the Trades Description Act.

You cannot build up the importance of the Doctor's Name for several series and then in the episode called after it, dismiss it as a side issue, resolved off screen.

You may have become horribly aware that none of the ideas you could have used to justify the use of this schtick would be in the least bit good enough. You may have become horribly aware that whatever you do will cause a large group of fans to hate you.

Tough. You should have thought of that going in. It doesn't allow you to pull this sort of flim-flam.

Ah, well: I'm an eternal optimist. I will look forward to whatever they do with John Hurt and maintain my idiot hope that it will be Awesome or at least Not Embarrassing.

My money is on him being 8.5 and the secret being how he brought the Time Lords into the Time War and then had to trap his own people outside time to compensate for the evil he had caused. But Doctor 0 is a good idea too.

Mike Taylor said...

Actually, I completely disagree with Michael on this. I thought the resolution of the Name McGuffin was tremendous: the revelation that the given name was really not of much significance and that the chosen name Doctor was what counts. That ties in very well with the general Whovian philosophy that the decisions we make matter more than the raw material we're working with.

Michael Cule said...

I think Mike that you are so desperate for a resolution you see one where it is not intended. If the idea of the role being the important thing rather than the name is there it's deeply implicit rather than openly stated. Perhaps it will be there in the 30th anniversary show. But it isn't in the show that we've just seen.

I may be mistaken but I think not. I still feel cheated.

Mike Taylor said...

I don't think so. At least, I'm not so committed to the idea that Moffat always knows what he's doing as to have been satisfied by The Wedding of River Song, so I do have at least a modicum of perspective.

I just thought it was really good reading of what a "name" really is: an identity, not a label.

Gavin Burrows said...

Mike, I very much agree with your point that it “ties in very well with the general Whovian philosophy.” But I find it hard to treat it as the right answer to the wrong question when it was only Moffat who was asking the question in the first place.

Casual viewers would assume the main character was called Doctor Who, for the same reason they assumed Flash Gordon was called Flash Gordon or Jim Hacker a Minister who people sometimes said “yes” to. Fans would consider themselves clever for knowing he was really ‘The Doctor’. (Which never really answered the question of who the show was supposed to be named after, but never mind.) A whole lot of people didn’t care about any of that. (For example, I didn’t.)

I shouldn’t imagine anybody was imagining they’d be sitting in front of the closing credits saying “who would have thought it? Archibald Henderson!”

Michael Cule said...

Looking back I may have been unfair to Mike T.

It is entirely possible that Moffat thinks that the last minute bit about the Doctor's name is supposed to be what the episode was leading up to.

But this still won't do. By that point the episode is over and done with and the fans are pissed at not being serviced. The final appearance of John Hurt is about what happens next, what happens in the anniversary episode which will not be called THE NAME OF THE DOCTOR.

Oh dear, I just realised how much I'm dreading learning what it will be called...

I think I must go and lie down and try to recover my bubbling optimism...

Mike Taylor said...

You think it might be called "The Actual Name Of The Doctor"? :-)

Andrew Rilstone said...

But we have has a set up in which the Doctor's name is so important that he's surprised that River knows it; that Clara is at least somewhat surprised when she finds out what it is; and that a whole alien religious cult is dedicated to finding it out. Or at any rate answering the question "doctor who?", which is "the first question". So there does have to be answer within the universe (even though I'm sure it won't actually be spoken on screen) which tells us why it is so important.

Interestingly, back in the day, everyone kind of accepted that the mathematical formula from Making of Doctor Who was his name, and didn't seem to feel that it was that big a deal. Niether a travesty against the series nor an earthshaking revelation. Just, like, his name.

Has Spock's first name ever been revealed, by the way?

Gavin Burrows said...

I think it's going to be called 'The National Insurance Number of the Doctor.'

Andrew Stevens said...

Spock said his first name was unpronounceable in This Side of Paradise and his mother said that her married name (i.e. Sarek's family name) was unpronounceable in Journey to Babel. So presumably, Spock's first name is also his family name (which makes sense since his father is called something other than Spock) and they actually made it impossible to reveal, since the actors can't pronounce it. (Spock's mother does say she can pronounce it "after a fashion and after many years of practice." But no name anyone can come up with could live up to that billing.