Doctor Who: The Man Between Heaven and Hell, the Roses in The Tardis
I have watched hundreds of episodes of Doctor Who, both classic and new. I have read dozens of books and comics, heard a similar number of audio stories, and pored over Tardis Wiki daily. I have engrossed myself in this show so deep that I can honestly say I have occasionally lost the divide between fiction and reality.
But never, never in the years have I ever watched an episode before where I turned to my wife and said, "We're watching that again... right now." Never, until "The Name of the Doctor."
By now I will assume that everyone has seen the episode, and if not then please stop reading and go do so. I cannot in anyway comment on the depth and genius of Steven Moffat's masterpiece without mentioning the revelations it puts forth. So past this point, as River would say, spoilers.
Flashback Review: Nightmare in Silver
Literally everything that has been hinted at since the birth of the Eleventh Doctor comes to its head, answering so many questions but leaving so many more. The Great Intelligence returns for its, presumably final outing, with Richard E. Grant turning in one of those rare villainous performances as The Doctor's equal. Only John Simms and Anthony Head have been able to hold their own as menacing intellectual equals to the mad genius of the Lord of Time, and I am very sad to see him go.
The plot of the Great Intelligence is to lure The Doctor to the one place no time traveler (Save apparently Doc Brown) is supposed to go, the home of his grave. At some point throughout all the universe is the singularity at which you cease to exist, even for such as The Doctor. The fields of Trenzalore, apparently an Arlington Cemetery for the soldiers that fall in The Doctor's last battle, is where the endless story finally ends.
Clara, Jenny, Vastra, and Strax all accompany The Doctor to the ruined hulk of the Tardis, now a rotting giant police box as the transdimensional circuits decay. The Great Intelligence seeks the body of The Doctor, the giant tear in the hole of existence that his journeys have caused, in order to end his horrible disembodied life. He leaps into The Doctor's time stream and subsequently rewrites every victory as a defeat, torturing his old foe with a million, billion deaths across his own existence.
That story of The Doctor, the hero we have followed for 50 years, is the main focus of the episode. Bar none, no opening in any entertainment medium ever has had the pull and grip of the first five minutes of "The Name of the Doctor" save perhaps the opening credits of Watchmen.
We see Clara, scattered across the timeline of The Doctor. She stands on Gallifrey, cautioning the First Doctor to steal the correct Tardis. She calls for the Seventh Doctor as he dangles precariously above a ledge, hails the Third Doctor as he drives by in Bessie, and desperately seeks him when his Sixth and Second incarnations meet. She is scattered throughout all of time and space with one mission, one purpose; save The Doctor. Flashback Did Doc Brown and The Doctor Ever Meet?
The giant multi-Doctor spectacle that everyone is calling for in the 50th anniversary? Here it is, in all it's splendor. Instead of trying to shoehorn the past into the present, Steven Moffat implanted Clara into the past using footage of all our past heroes. Her story finally comes clear when she dives after the Great Intelligence to save The Doctor from being rewritten. The Impossible Girl willingly allows herself to become a million pieces of infinity protecting her friend when he needs her, always dying in the process but always, always there in the corners and shadows.
If you played The Eternity Clock, you know that this makes her very akin to River Song, who also has checked in on her husband in his various incarnations over time. Is that a connection between the two characters? Unfortunately, that's one spoiler that will have to wait until November.
Also, did I say Clara sees all the Doctors? That was a mistake. She sees all but two... and someone else.
In all of the flashbacks and glimpses of The Doctor, two alone are never show. Eight and Ten. One is destined to return in the 50th, but the other...
Even though Eight has more than 70 novels and more than a dozen audio stories, he remains in a sense the most mysterious of the Doctors. It has always been somewhat assumed that it was he that fought the Last Great Time War, dying in the process and becoming Nine. The ending of "Name of the Doctor" throws that into the trash heap.
Somewhere... sometime... there was a version of The Doctor that rejected that name and went by the name of his birth. A man that rejected all that The Doctor stood for and who did terrible, terrible things. Somewhere, between the painfully romantic and dashing Doctor played by Paul McGann and the troubled and damaged soldier portrayed by Christopher Eccleston was a Time Lord who wasn't the Doctor, the greatest and terrible secret villain in the universe.
And we saw him, in a ruined Tardis overgrown with roses and played by John Hurt, the man that survived whatever killed the Eighth Doctor. And in November he is coming.
This was, in all honesty the best episode I have ever seen of Doctor Who. It was a testament to all that makes the show so very much better than any other show ever. It frightens, it inspires, it confuses, and it's wonderful. Series 7 has had some grave disappointments, but who could possibly care in the aftermath of its finale? It's only flaw was to make the wait for November 23 unbearable.
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