Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Phantom Who: The Name of the Doctor or The Name of Clara, Which is Mary Sue

Before I start this review of the final episode of Doctor Who until the 50th Anniversary Special on November 23, I need to notify you of the conditions that surrounded my viewing of the episode. I don’t think they affected my opinion of “The Name of the Doctor”, but they might have. I am writing this after only one viewing on the morning after I watched.
I was cautiously optimistic about “The Name of the Doctor”. Series 7 has had high highs and low lows – some of my least favorite stories since Colin Baker’s run, as a matter of fact. And the wildest thing is how widely varied opinions seem to be on individual stories. But it occurs to me that I can get a whole other post out of that subject (and that it’s going to be the subject on Earth Station Who in two weeks) so I’m just going to say that my faith that Moffat had a brilliant plan for Clara and the Doctor wavered but was never entirely lost.
           I knew that I was going to have to stay up a little late Saturday night to watch this one. I had to get up at 3:30 Sunday morning for work, so I’m usually in bed by 9 PM. Normally that would be just perfect for watching Doctor Who on Saturday night, but my parents were in town and insisted on taking us out for dinner. I didn’t get home until 6:30 and we went to Roadhouse on a Saturday night, so the earliest we’d get home was going to be 8:30. I’d get to bed later than I like, but there was no way I was going to put off watching this episode and chance getting something spoiled for me. Spoilers are bad enough under normal circumstances; when the culmination of (possibly) three years of storylines is happening a spoiler could suck away a massive portion of the potential nerd satisfaction. And with the weekend I’m having I needed some nerd satisfaction.
We got back to the house between 8:30 and 9:00. It was just past 9:00 when we got settled and were ready to watch Doctor Who. I pulled up the menu of recorded shows and it wasn’t there. For some reason the DVR had just decided not to record the most important hour of television so far this year (I have since discovered that the Troublemaker household was not alone in this problem). And yes – BBC America replays Doctor Who at 11 PM. But that would mean I’d be getting to bed after midnight and getting about three hours of sleep. I didn’t care. I wasn’t going to have this thing spoiled, so I stayed up and watched it. I’m having a little trouble focusing this morning, but avoiding possible spoilers made it worthwhile.
Actually, part of watching it last night was to avoid opinions, as well. Even spoiler-free opinions can taint a viewing experience. I usually don’t want to know what other people think about something before I see it. Actually, more often than not I don’t care what other people think after I’ve seen something. I hold my opinions in the highest regard.
Side Note: I just spoke to Mrs. Troublemaker and she loved the episode. We had a twenty minute conversation about it and we do not have twenty minute conversations about dorkery. She loves Clara and feels like all of the past plot points have been wrapped up and is intrigued with what happened at the end, which I’ll get to in a minute.
Okay, I just decided I am going to watch “The Name of the Doctor” again before I finish writing this. Right now I am not satisfied with a number of things. I loved the opening with all of the Classic Doctors (though I didn’t notice Eight or Ten – doesn’t mean they weren’t there). I had a feeling I knew what was going on and I didn’t like that, but it was a thrill actually seeing them running around.
This was another episode that started off with a distinct lack of Doctor. Let’s keep that to a minimum in the future.
I feel like Clara is a Mary Sue for Stephen Moffat. I think he is fulfilling a need to make his own mark on the franchise and has done it by inserting a character that is retroactively the most important character in the history of the show. She literally saves all of the Doctors. This initially came off to me as fan fiction of the worst kind, but I’m in a nasty mood lately and may not be in a fair state of mind.
I loved Richard E. Grant returning as The Great Intelligence. But here’s part of my issue with the whole story, and I think it may well be my issue – this is clearly meant to feel like an epic story that was centuries in the making. The Great Intelligence’s feud with the Doctor goes back that long in storylines and literally goes back to the beginnings of the franchise. But I don’t feel like the narrative has imparted that weight. For some reason – and this may be me – it just felt like it was wrapping up six or seven episodes worth of story. As has often been the case with Moffat’s run, I love the idea, but find the execution lacking.
I don’t feel like Clara was developed properly. Much like River Song, the only reason we as the audience had to value her was the Doctor telling us to value her. She started off very strong in “Asylum of the Daleks” and “The Snowmen”. But aside from brief moments of awesome, Clara hasn’t really been important or worthwhile – aside from the Doctor telling us she is – until “Nightmare in Silver” and last Saturday’s finale. I think if we could have spent a whole season with her it would have made a huge difference. And it is a credit to Jenna Louise Coleman’s charm and abilities that I do like Clara because the writers for the most part have not given me much reason to.
So given that last point I did not react well to Clara being inserted into the Doctor’s history. If Lil’ Troublemaker hadn’t been sitting there with me (he liked the episode too) I would have cursed.
I also felt like we watched the introductory scene about thrity-seven times. I do not, however, care that the scenes with Clara and the Doctors looked kind of shitty because they were awesome. And I guess that’s a good thing – I actually don’t even have a problem with the idea of a companion saving the Doctor through time. I just don’t feel like Clara has earned the right, narrative and character development-wise, to be that companion.
I loved the giant TARDIS and the Doctor’s timelines/soul.
I did not like the rhyming of the Whispering Gentlemen. Initially I didn’t like their outfits either because I am a little tired of the anachronistic suit-wearing monsters thing (The Gentlemen from Buffy owned it – everybody else should avoid it), but we got a totally acceptable reason for it at the end of the episode. The rhyming was still stupid, though. I’m just glad Richard E. Grant wasn’t doing it too.
Totally stoked that River Song seems to be permanently gone and I was even a little touched by her last interaction with the Doctor, even though we were never shown a good reason why he would love her. I will say that Alex Kingston always effectively emoted love for the Doctor.
Why did Madame Vastra, Strax, and Jenny just stand there and watch while The Great Intelligence jumped into the Doctor’s timeline? They had quite a bit of time to try and grab him or something. Why didn’t the folks in charge just have the Whispering Gentlemen hold them? Instead their characters came off looking slightly dumb or cowardly.
Strax turning on Vastra due to the absence of the Doctor’s influence was a very nice touch. I enjoyed that.
The final scene was absolutely mind-blowing. Well done, Moffat. But I hated the credit hanging there in the air beside John Hurt. That’s the kind of stuff that’s been bugging me this season – they need to cut out the cutesy little graphics that take me out of the story and remind me I’m watching television. They should have shown Hurt and then cut to black and then popped up that credit.
I will say that this episode was one hundred percent successful at increasing my anticipation for the Anniversary episode. And that’s no small task. I feel like Moffat sort of cheaply and artificially tied up (or cut off) all of the loose ends from his run thus far with the whole “Clara fixed everything” deal, but if it leads to a fresh start and new, exciting stories I’ll just go ahead and accept it.
I’m going to stop right there, go home and watch “The Name of the Doctor” again, and write some more tomorrow. So I’ll give Moffat credit for that, too – he’s making me think about what he’s done.
Post-Second Viewing Thoughts
I watched it again last night with the whole family. Lil’ Troublemaker sat through it a second time and still liked it. And the pacing wasn’t nearly as slow as I thought the first time. I realized while watching that this was because I had no time shift for the initial viewing. Watching commercials is absolute torture now that I am used to not having to.
It was nice being able to discuss the episode with the family while watching. Mrs. Troublemaker had some good insights about Moffat’s run and I found out that Lil’ Troublemaker really liked and misses Amy and Rory.
Mrs. Troublemaker feels like Moffat handles women perfectly, which completely goes against many of the theories that Moffat is a misogynist. Well, it doesn’t actually contradict those theories so much as clarify that he might present a somewhat unflattering view of females from time to time; but that he is right. She says that every female that has been on the show since Moffat took over has been portrayed very realistically as far as their behavior and actions. It’s one of the reasons why she loves the show. They aren’t idealized or the typical “strong women” that are seen on TV. They are flawed and sometimes petty or moody. If you want to discuss that more, head over to her Mrs.Troublemaker Facebook page. I can’t really speak for her beyond that.
Lil’ Troublemaker kept asking where Amy and Rory were. He remembered that the Angel got them, but has already been trained by TV and comics that characters tend to not go away.
For my part I enjoyed the episode a lot more the second time. The things that bugged me the first time still bugged me, but the things I liked resonated much more strongly and overshadowed the bad. I was also more able to relate this story to the rest of the season and even the franchise as a whole the second time. I think a lot of Moffat era episodes improve on the second viewing when you have a little perspective. Once I knew the outcome of the finale I was able to relate what came before it to the past a bit more.
Also – still no Eight or Ten. I looked very carefully and there was no visual trace of those two. Clara did mention that she had seen the faces of all eleven Doctors, but only One through Seven and Nine were actually shown during her flashbacks (or whatever). And since that sequence was replayed two or three times I had ample opportunity to investigate. I have no idea what this means, but I will have a violently happy nerd reaction if Paul McGann shows up on my TV screen on November 23rd.
On its own “The Name of the Doctor” isn’t the best episode in the world. But held up against the televised history of Doctor Who in its entirety it is fantastic. I still feel like there are fanboy/Mary Sue elements, but I can overlook them in favor of the sheer scale of what is promised.
Weird wrestling metaphor time.
Back in the day, WrestleMania used to be the conclusion of all that had gone before and the beginning of a new set of storylines, possibilities, and characters. For a very long time this was masterfully done. All of the existing feuds and angles were tied up in a satisfying manner. New potential stories might be suggested. And on top of all that it was the biggest spectacle of the year. WWF would pull out all the stops to make sure that it was the one production that everybody was talking about both before and after it happened. But the stage was always set for a fresh start and that’s the bottom line (because Stone Cold said so).
I sure hope Moffat is looking at the 50th Anniversary special as his WrestleMania.
I could go on and compare “The Name of the Doctor” to the Royal Rumble (no, I really could), but I don’t want to leave you with a headache or belabor my metaphor.
So I suppose it’s score time. On its own this episode would probably garner a 3 out of 5. But I simply can’t view it as a single story unto itself because it is the precursor to the culmination of fifty years of storytelling. And its effectiveness on that front overshadows every single flaw I perceived. The job of “The Name of the Doctor” was to get me hyped up for the 50th Anniversary Special and it did that amazingly well.
5 out of 5
If you want to hear me discuss this and many other Doctor Who stories with a bunch of fellow Whovians (and you do), be sure and check out
-Phantom




4 comments:

  1. Great review Phantom really enjoyed reading it.
    I got to watch the show yesterday 22.5.13 due to been away in Spain and enjoyed the episode, and I will share my thoughts with you and and rest of the ESW guys after my second watch. I also want to listen to the thoughts on the ESW show as I have a theory on John Hurts Doctor, but im interested if any of you guys are thinking on the same lines as I am?

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    1. Definitely looking forward to hearing what you think. I don't comment on the ESW page as much as I should, but I love reading what you, Lucas, and Mark post.

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  2. when clara sees the second doctor run by, just before that you see a figure running the other was, for a second.
    it' the 8th doctor.
    almost to fast to cacth, you have to pause, and frame advance

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    1. I've had a couple of folks point that out. I still think it's weird that Eight got such a small spot when everybody else was so thoroughly represented.

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