With a perfect blend of creepy villains, fan favorite characters, philosophical choices and tributes paid to the established mythology, Saturday night's season ender was the strong finale that Doctor Who is known for and deserves.
So much happened, it is astounding that people with the DVDs early could keep the details to themselves. And if you haven't watched the episode, why are you reading this already?
First, can we acknowledge the amazing job Steven Moffat did of including and paying tribute to the Doctors that have traveled through time and space before Matt Smith's number 11. During Clara's stroll along the Doctor's timeline, which we'll get into in a minute, we saw video of the classic Doctors. Fans that have been with the show since the classic series must have been having a fangasm, since I, who has been almost exclusively a modern series watcher, was losing my mind over the cool factor of it. Then of course we had sound bytes from all of the past Doctors coming out of his timeline scar. Loved it.
And being able to pinpoint that this episode takes place after the David Tennant era episodes about the Library since the River we got here was only the saved copy was refreshingly helpful. When your characters can travel in time and space, sometimes a road sign comes in very handy. Especially in an episode that looks not only to the past but also is steeped in the present and future like this finale.
After the lovely reminiscing intro, the episode really opens with Madame Vastra getting a prophetic warning from a condemned man that "the Doctor has a secret he will take to the grave" and that "it is discovered." The "it" is Trenzalore. We learn that for every time traveler there is one place they must never go, their grave, and for the Doctor that place is Trenzalore. Using a conference call through time and space (which would totally be useful except for the whole having to be unconscious thing) the message is passed through Clara to the Doctor who crosses his own timeline risking giant paradoxes to save his friends from creepy, faceless, toothy monsters with even creepier poetry.
No ordinary grave stone suffices for the Doctor. His memorial, his tomb, is the broken shell of his TARDIS. A TARDIS whose bigger-on-the-inside quality has leaked out to make it the size of a mountain. So too is leaving a withered husk of a body not cool enough for Timelords. Instead an open wound in time is left, a scar created by the Doctor's journeys through time and space that he calls the "tracks of his tears." Let it not be said the Doctor shies away from melodrama. The overarching Big Bad of this season, the Great Intelligence, enters the scar knowing it will be destroyed but still willing since it can undo all the victories the Doctor has won in his long life.
And so we come to Clara.
Oh the impossible Clara. The girl who started with a falling leaf. The governess. The converted Dalek. She is all of these things and now we know why. To save the Doctor, and by extension most of the people of the universe, Clara walked into the Doctor's timeline and scattered copies of herself to live and die all throughout his life to save him. Just as "the souffle isn't the souffle, the souffle is the recipe," each Clara is not a new entity; she is the source made again. She is the recipe. She is the impossible made possible by her faith and loyalty, and these traits are rewarded by the Doctor saving the original Clara from being torn apart inside his timeline.
All great season finales pack an emotional punch to the gut (season two's "Doomsday" soaked through a lot of tissues) and "The Name of the Doctor" did not disappoint. We learn that the shade of River's saved copy has been hanging around talking to the Doctor ever since the Library. When he reveals he has been listening to her the entire time, River asks why he never spoke to her. "I thought it would hurt too much," he says, "I mean I thought it would hurt me too much and I was right." The Doctor literally kisses the copy goodbye, but it's River Song so that still doesn't rule out her popping up again sometime.
One giant question loomed over this episode: Doctor Who? If you were hoping to be let into the club with River of people who know the Doctor's name you were out of luck, but is learning that really important? Is the Doctor's original name his real name or is the title he created for himself his real one? The Doctor told us in the finale that the name you choose is a promise you make, so perhaps that's the lesson. No matter how you came into the world, whatever world that may be, the person you make yourself into is who matters. Where you start matters little compared to where and how you end up.
At the end of the episode we are left with new questions. Where does John Hurt's iteration of the Doctor fit into the timeline? What action was Hurt's Doctor and Smith's Doctor talking about that was done "without choice in the name of peace and sanity" but "not in the name of the Doctor"? What repuscussions will result from these dives into the Doctor's past? We'll have to wait and see if any of them are answered on November 23 in the 50th anniversary special. If only we had a TARDIS to make the wait fly by.