Doctor Who: plenty, but nothing, going on
The latest season of Doctor Who finished last night on Prime, with a final episode titled The Name of the Doctor - and I have a few thoughts, right after I spend the next 20 minutes figuring out exactly what the heck I just watched.
(Warning: spoilers from Doctor Who's Season 7 finale follow.)
You know, the latest season of Doctor Who has stretched out for so long that you could be forgiven if you had forgotten that the first episode aired in September last year.
Over the course of 14 episodes, if you include Christmas special The Snowmen (which I do; too many of its events played into the rest of the season to discount it), we've hung out with the Daleks, the Cybermen, the Weeping Angels and the Great Intelligence, as well as spending five episodes bidding adieu to Amy Pond (Karen Gillan) and Rory Williams (Arthur Darvill), and meeting their replacement companion, the "impossible girl" Clara Oswald.
Starting around Christmas, we spent the next nine episodes getting to know Clara (Jenna-Louise Coleman), a bubbly companion who enjoyed an easy chemistry with the Doctor (Matt Smith), and who proved an enigma for our hero to solve. Coleman technically starred in 10 episodes, playing three incarnations of the same character, and much of the latter half of the season was spent figuring out exactly how that could possibly be.
Last night's finale provided an answer. Well, kind of. As I understand it (and, please, correct me if I'm wrong), Clara and the Doctor travelled to Trenzalore, to the tomb of the Doctor, where he crossed his own timeline; the Great Intelligence took the opportunity to erase the Doctor by undoing all the work he had done, forcing Clara to jump in and correct everything (hence why she kept showing up).
The Doctor then enters his own timeline in an effort to save Clara, which results in the timeline collapsing on itself, and Clara seeing all the previous incarnations of the Doctor, as well as meeting a mysterious new one (played by John Hurt).
As fun as the final scenes of the episode might have been, you just have to read those last two paragraphs to get a sense of how nonsensical everything was by the end of the season. I left the episode feeling like it was all just an excuse to work in old footage from throughout the series' 50-year run.
Worse, even though plenty happened in the final episode - we find out how Clara could be an "impossible girl" - River Song (Alex Kingston) gets some well-deserved closure, we meet an unidentified incarnation of the Doctor (credited as "The Doctor") - and even though some of it was pretty cool (the monstrous TARDIS was fun), I'm thinking back on what I've watched and feeling as though nothing really happened at all.
As other critics have pointed out, that might be because so much hinged on characters we don't really know very well, characters we aren't invested in. Woefully underdeveloped villain The Great Intelligence showed up for only his second episode, but he doesn't command the same kind of fear and respect as well-known villains like the Cybermen. Vastra and Strax are fun, but they're really only useful for padding out the cast with familiar faces. Even Clara is something of an unknown entity; we've spent far longer on the Doctor trying to figure her out, than in actually getting to know her.
The Name of The Doctor didn't really work as a finale. It really only gave us more questions in an effort to set things up for the next episode; hell, it even had a "To Be Continued" title card at the end. It also didn't really work as an episode, either. I thought last week's Nightmare in Silver was a far better episode (and that isn't the Gaiman fanboy talking).
The whole thing just felt rather bogged down by Steven Moffat's (increasing) habit of overwriting things. We don't need every companion to be a mysterious figure the Doctor needs to try to figure out. We especially didn't need him obsessing over Clara, not after everything that happened with Amy Pond.
In truth, I think this was a nice place to end up eventually. I just wonder if the show would have been better served by spending a season or two hanging out with the Doctor and Clara. Take us to Trenzalore one day, sure. But do it after we're really invested in these characters and their friendship. This was a missed opportunity for the show, and a waste of what should have been a far more emotionally charged story
As far as the whole season goes, I thought it was okay. There were a few great moments - Nightmare in Silver and Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS were highlight episodes for me. But I can't help feeling that it rushed through to its conclusion, packing two (or more) seasons' worth of story into the last half-dozen episodes. And, for maybe the first time, I'm dubious about heading into a new season with the current crew at the helm.
What did you make of The Name of the Doctor? Did you enjoy the seventh season?