A quick thought on The Name of the Doctor

[A revised and improved version of this essay appears in my book The Eleventh Doctor: a critical ramble through Matt Smith’s tenure in Doctor Who.]

I’ve fallen well behind in reviewing this series of Doctor Who. My plan now is that, rather than rush to catch up on Cold War, Hide, Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS, The Crimson Horror, Nightmare in Silver and The Name of the Doctor, I’ll let them digest for a month or two, then watch them all again and write my reviews then.

But I did just want to get my thoughts down on the climactic moment of The Name of the Doctor before I read anyone else’s. So read on if you’ve seen the episode; and if not, then be aware that SPOILERS FOLLOW!

“Introducing John Hurt as The Doctor”, says the caption.

But our Doctor (Matt Smith) says that what that Doctor (John Hurt) did was in the name of peace, yes, and in the name of sanity, yes, but not in the name of the Doctor.

So what did he do, and when?

First of all, I think it has to be something that he has done, rather than something that he will do. The grammar alone invites that conclusion — the past-tense references to what the Doctor did.

So the obvious guess is that this refers to the Doctor’s bringing the Time War to an end by destroying Gallifrey. It’s something that we already know he did, and it seems a bit much to multiply entities by assuming he has two atrocities in his past.

We’ve always assumed that this was the work of the eighth Doctor, and that the ninth was his post-Time War incarnation — hence some of the more erratic aspects of his behaviour, especially in S01E06, Dalek. My take is that there was another regeneration in between — that Paul McGann regenerated into John Hurt, and it was this Doctor (the eight-and-a-halfth, if you like) that destroyed Gallifrey. When he regenerated in Christopher Eccleston, the new Doctor disowned the previous one, did not allow him the title “Doctor”, and took the number nine for himself. So Matt Smith is really the twelfth body that the character has had, but only the 11th the bear the name Doctor.

Is all this terribly obvious? (I don’t know because I’ve not yet read what anyone else has said about it.)


12 responses to “A quick thought on The Name of the Doctor

  1. I think it very well may be what you say (obvious guess), but I’ll drop a couple more ideas…

    – John Hurt is actually the FIRST incarnation of the entity-to-be-later-known-as-The-Doctor. He did something awful (which could very well be Time War related, though), and disguised himself as a new Gallifreyan under the name of The Doctor. I guess that the idea he looks old makes me think that he’s one of the first incarnations, as typically the Doctor has been looking younger on each regeneration. I like the idea that the older he is, the younger he looks, but of course, that hasn’t been established as a rule.

    – Or maybe he is his future self. A sort of “the last Doctor” (instead of the next one, to keep the series open), that has changed, and somehow The Doctor has knowledge of him due some time travel (as the Doctor has seen himself a couple of times over time) or the Timey Wimey of the Scar in Time of the episode. Again, that doesn’t necessarily exclude his actions to be Time War related, due Time Travel nature.

    I felt that it was otherwise a quite weak show, specially for a season finale, with The Impossible Girl thingy resolved in a very unsatisfactory way, River Song storyline not making much sense and a monster-of-the-week accomplishing a much greater threat that make sense dramatically (really? the Ultimate Evil Guy is Invisible Man meets Richard E. Grant? worse than The Master? than the Daleks?)
    Also, the old shows inserts with Clara were quite bad from the point of view of FX. Which feels quite weird, they should have totally nail those.

  2. Thing to note: lots of old doctors. All of them in fact. Except…

    McGann. There was an audio clip of Tennant from Voyage of the Damned, Eccles saying “fantastic” and visuals of the others but I didn’t notice anything McGann -elated at all. Which is odd, really. Unless I missed it.

  3. Hmmm… I’m not about the whole Time War thing. The Doctor seems to know that he did it and that he did it for a greater good. As this’ll be the anniversary special we’re talking about, my guess is that this is very early on in his existence and possibly linked to why he left Gallifrey in the first place. IIRC was actually on the run from the Time Lords up until “The War Games”. Next to that, this surely was the event the Silence were attempting to prevent. Could this be some blood-soaked Doctor from a different dimension, perchance the one that Rose and her copy of the tenth doctor now find themselves on? Just guessing, of course. I’ve seen the ep a couple of times now and kept a look out for McGann. Not a sight of him. Possible copyright problems.

    In general I liked the episode. If it was weak, then it was a weakness that was endemic to the current story arc, which basically, was just one simple question: who is Clara? The most frustrating thing about it, for me at least, is that’s been a very long time since the Doctor has had a companion who was less likely to make that kind of sacrifice for him (Tegan, Nyssa?)

  4. I think it would be much harder to place the unspeakable act of the Doctor-who-doesn’t-bear-the-name early in his life, because of the retconning problems. There’s no hint of that past in any of the first few Doctors. Whereas everything Chris, David and Matt have done has, to some extent, been affected by the Time War.

    For what it’s worth, I thought the resolution of the Clara mystery was pretty satisfying. It made sense within the rules of the show.

  5. About the Clara mystery resolution, yes, it make sense, but I think that the Clara story arc hasn’t been dramatically developed like it should. After a very promising start, most of the episodes in this “mini season” have not advanced dramatically the story, so I was convinced that it will get some details, but the mystery won’t be solved until the next season… Compare that with the cracks of reality on the first Matt Smith season. It was building the expectation slowly and setting the expectation, until it reaches the climax at the end of the series. In this case, we have a compelling idea, then we forget about it, and suddenly (too soon and too quickly, IMHO) gets solved.
    I think the idea was great, but the execution of that idea hasn’t been as good as it deserved. But maybe it’s because I’m being quite demanding, as in previous seasons they have been doing a fantastic job with these kind of situations…

  6. To be fair, I think there were additional constraints this ‘series’ — there were two halves, and each got short-changed as a result? The Clara arc could have gone on a full season and been made tastier, I think.

    I really liked some of the imagery pulled off — the giant Tardis as a monument; but given there was a crack in the window in the tombstone-Tardis, and one as a result of the crash landing in the real Tardis (are they going to keep that crack going forward?..), the implication and flow of the ep were that _this_ was it for the Doctor; and battlefield, remains of combatants were hinted at etc… and yet, there was no battle, no forces present really.. it was very much the few whispermen and GI and thats it. Didn’t quite work, that bit.

    A good intro for the Whispermen, but over too soon. A lot of things to like in the episode, but perhaps too ambitious for the time constraints .. often a problem since the show was reborn.

  7. I think the GI referred to the battle of Trenzalore – presumably the one which took the Doctor’s life – as being a minor skirmish in comparison to his other victories. So its an event, the last event in the Doctor’s life, at some unspecified point in the future.
    I’ve come to the conclusion that Moffat being Moffat, then whatever John Hurt’s Doctor has done that is so bad is, he’s not likely to tell us! Chances are, the upcoming story will something of a redemption for him. And then we’ll see him being welcomed back into the timestream like Anakin and the Force at the end of SW:VI (everybody say, “Ahhhhhhh”).

  8. Thanks, Andrew Ducker, for that link, which nicely expands on my hypothesis. I also particualrly liked this comment on that thread.

  9. Christopher Brown

    The thing is if John Hurt’s Doctor is supposed to be the Doctor’s greatest secret, then there’s no way he can be from the Time War because the Doctor had such a secret during the Classic Series, as highlighted in the McCoy era. I hope this doesn’t turn out to be more NuWho Time War crud or else the whole thing will make no sense.

  10. I’m very much with you on this one, Christopher Brown. Two reasons: the first is that the Time War itself, as a concept or story idea, is very much part of RTD’s period; Moffat has barely referenced it all. My guess here is that he really doesn’t have that much interest in it. The second reason is that nigh on every discussion or speculation I’ve seen on Hurt’s Doctor, including Cavalorn’s much vaunted exercise, have all forgotten one important thing: who else do we know is in the anniversary special? The Zygons. Where do they fit into all these Ninth Doctor Time War hypotheses?

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