Showrunner Steven Moffat returns as writer of the Doctor Who season 7 finale, “The Name of the Doctor”, where 50 years of mythology and mystery is used to craft one of the most ambitious episodes of television ever written. Now that all is finally revealed, has the wait been worth it? As River Song would say, “Spoilers!”
When a prisoner from 1893 attempts to trade information about the Doctor’s “secret” for his freedom, Strax, Madame Vasta and Jenny convene with River Song and Clara in an attempt to figure out what it could be. And when an old foe returns as deadly whispers in the night, the Doctor finds himself going where he should never, ever go: across his own timeline, to his grave on Trenzalore. But when the lives of the Doctor’s friends lay in the balance, the first question, the oldest question in the Universe is answered, and the Impossible Girl is created.
It may have been a long time coming, but “The Name of the Doctor” finally delivers on this season’s mystery of the Impossible Girl, revealing how – and why – a girl named Clara continues to appear in the Doctor’s timeline. This, surprisingly enough, is the least significant event to occur, though, as the series’ vast mythology is tapped to deliver an exceedingly compelling and successful finale tale that will delight fans, old and new.
As if it were, in part, a love-letter to fans from the series’ origin, the Doctor Who season 7 finale begins at, well, the beginning, with William Hartnell, the first Doctor, brought back to life through digital manipulation, escaping from Gallifrey on a TARDIS with a “knackered” navigation system, a TARDIS that will soon become and forever be known as a beacon of hope in the Universe. Other past Doctors appear as well, through the same means as Hartnell. And though their return by digital effects is only as successful as a television budget would allow it to be, the triumphs of the finale, which absolutely include the brief returns of former Doctors, are never once lessened because of it.
The story that follows is, as one would hope from Moffat, as inspired and fulfilling as any (now) frustrated fan would demand it to be. This past season of Doctor Who has been a bit hit-or-miss for the revered scribe, with Clara’s story being a continuous miss, so it only makes sense that the man who helmed this turbulent seasonal story-arc returns to (as some would say) make things right. But because of everything that has previously occurred, as well as the announcement of a new executive producer for season 8, there are reasons to have doubts about Moffat reaching into the depths of the series’ mythology for a resolution.
At times, there are triggers from past episodes, like Strax, Madame Vastra and Jenny taking lead at the start, or the return of the Great Intelligence, which will (albeit briefly) cause fans to remember when underwhelming conclusions were the result of such character inclusions; however, everything that’s included, from its characters to its far-reaching legacy elementals, wholeheartedly compliments the story at hand, and is instrumental in evolving the series and its mythology in many new and exciting ways.
By reaching so far into the series' past, and by attempting to provide answers to questions that many fans agree should never be answered, Moffat is asking viewers to put their trust in him that the show, and any stories that may come in the (far distant) future, will be able to remain true to the series after his exploration into the mythology has concluded. And since Moffat has yet to truly undermine the canon, why not give him the latitude to reach for the stars, so to speak? After all, it may have been Russell T. Davies who wholly rejuvenated the show through his exuberant storytelling, but it was Moffat’s episodic gems throughout which helped the series reach new heights, by showing viewers how beautiful and tragic and romantic and awe-inspiring a journey across time and space can be.
But in the end, was the wait for Clara’s mystery to be explained, or the “name” of the Doctor worth it? Absolutely, especially for longtime fans - but it took an incredibly bumpy ride to get here. The explanation of the Impossible Girl is as magical as any companion’s tale could hope to be, yet, still, there are many aspects of the finale’s resolution that feel like a slight diversion from what’s expected - as if they were but a way to entice fans to do what they would have done already, which is to watch the Doctor Who 50th Anniversary special. And though this element may lead viewers to think about the poorly-laid seasonal story-arcs which may have, at times, been frustrating the episodes themselves, they were still enjoyable as inclusive adventures of their own.
Moffat is, for all intents and purposes, a storyteller, first and foremost, and any rocky paths this season may have taken does not change that; what it does show, however, is that even a great storyteller can fall prey to the unrelenting expectations of an ongoing television series. But when you put such sidesteps aside, Moffat is still able to single-handedly, with his own written words, have a strong, powerful and wonderful hold on the imaginations and emotions of all those watching, and this episode is a perfect example of him doing just that.
Doctor Who returns on November 23 for the 50th Anniversary Special, starring Matt Smith, David Tennant and John Hurt as the Doctor. Doctor Who? You'll have to wait and see for yourself (maybe).