I’ve gone on record saying this year’s eight-episode mini-season has been patchy – from the glorious The Crimson Horror to the wretched Nightmare in Silver. What the casual/general viewer will make of the extraordinary finale, The Name of the Doctor, I cannot begin to gauge. But die-hard fans may well think their anniversary special has arrived six months early – for reasons I won’t elaborate upon before transmission. (And for some fans, the finale has arrived early, as Season Seven DVD box sets were dispatched in advance in America!)
This is a truly momentous episode in the history of Doctor Who, which will surely have Steven Moffat’s fellow writers shrivelling with jealousy – he can make and break the rules of the game and always deals himself the best hand. Fans, meanwhile, will be blinking with astonishment and hastily rewinding their recordings.
Moffat pulls off the feat of presenting a drama that is both dazzling and sombre. Although there are funny lines (“Oh no, not the one with the gigantic head” is probably my favourite), fun is for once in limited supply. A funereal air pervades from the moment the Great Intelligence, embodied in the dead shell of Dr Simeon (Richard E Grant), and his undertaker-like Whisper Men intrude upon a conference call across the centuries between the Doctor’s allies: Vastra, Jenny, Strax, Clara and River Song.
At last we gaze upon the fabled “fields” of Trenzalore – and they ain’t pretty – and for some of our heroes, life will never be the same again. Moffat has written one of his most audacious and moving episodes to date. There’s always lots of teasing in his brand of Doctor Who, mystery upon mystery, some of which he’s neglected to answer fully in the past. But, be assured, there are revelations this time.
We will find out the answer to the Impossible Girl, Clara, and why she seems to have lived and died numerous times. We will find out what the Doctor really feels for River Song. We will find out the Doctor’s greatest secret. In a clever way, this finale answers some questions but poses more.
“You’re about to learn something about the Doctor that you never knew before,” teased Steven Moffat in RT back in March. “And I think you’re in for a shock.” That moment has arrived. Keep watching the exciting series finale to the end. The Doctor’s greatest secret is about to be revealed and there’ll be a cliffhanger that leaves us gagging for the 50th anniversary in November…
The Doctor’s name so far
Let’s come back to that title, The Name of the Doctor. This has been the mystery at the heart of the programme (on and off) since it began. In episode two, in 1963, abducted schoolteacher Ian Chesterton worded it succinctly: “Who is he? Doctor who? Perhaps if we knew his name, we might have a clue to all this.”
But will Steven Moffat have the nerve to reveal the name once and for all, or will he have the wisdom not to? He’s gone on record with his intention to put the Who? back into Doctor Who. It’s “the question that must never be answered” according to lardy blue alien Dorium Maldovar in The Wedding of River Song.
Our hero has had aliases over the centuries – “Doctor”, of course, his preferred title and increasingly a description of his role in the cosmos. But when did he first assume it? There’s a suggestion in the finale that it happened much earlier than imagined.
Other aliases have proved useful such as “John Smith”. His companion Jamie first came up with that one in The Wheel in Space (1968), although many years later in The Vampires of Venice (2010), the attentive may have spotted that the first Doctor called himself that on a library card during his spell in London before his televised adventures began.
In The Armageddon Factor (1979), Drax, an old chum from the Time Lord Academy, addressed Tom Baker’s Doctor as Theta Sigma. That name seemed plausible to me. If, in The Three Doctors, we’d accepted Omega as the name of a Time Lord villain, why not another Greek-letter formulation for the Doctor? However, ten years later, in The Happiness Patrol, Sylvester McCoy’s Doctor revealed that Theta Sigma had only been his nickname.
The first authoritative evidence we have for the Doctor’s real name appeared in The Making of Doctor Who, published by Pan Books in 1972, where it was said to be a mathematical formula (see below). This, the earliest fan bible, was written by Malcolm Hulke and Terrance Dicks, who had also scripted The War Games, the key Time Lord revelation story three years earlier. If that name was good enough for Dicks and Hulke, who am I to argue? Just don’t ask me how to pronounce it!
As a subtle in-joke, the Doctor’s name/formula also appeared as an inscription on a block of stone on Gallifrey in the 20th anniversary tale, The Five Doctors.
So wait for Saturday 18 May to see how Moffat spins it…