Doctor Who's seventh series was arguably the show's finest yet, but there's no arguing how absolutely fantastic its finale was. "The Name of the Doctor" had considerable hype to live up to -- would they actually reveal the Doctor's name? Would we get a satisfying explanation for Clara? -- and somewhat surprisingly, it didn't disappoint in any regard, providing the perfect synthesis of character development and plot twists.
Don't read this review if you don't want to be spoiled for "The Name of the Doctor."
I'll get to that major, MAJOR plot twist in a bit -- but first, how about Matt Smith's performance in this episode? This series we've repeatedly seen his Doctor incapacitated or rendered the victim -- "The Crimson Horror" and "Nightmare in Silver," most recently -- but the Doctor never looked so vulnerable as when he was sitting on Clara's couch, weeping over the mention of the name "Trenzalore." Smith's Doctor so often uses his zaniness as an emotional shield that when he actually lets that shield down for a moment, it's profoundly affecting. The Doctor didn't get to do much of his usual over-the-top antics this week; most of his humor was rather subtle and underplayed (his final scene with River, for instance). This was the Doctor with his back against the wall, and for the story to be resolved without some of his giddy cleverness was a welcome bit of variety.
In fact, it was Clara's cleverness that saved him. Though I'm not sure I see the point of having Clara forget the events of "Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS" only to remember them later (other than pure story convenience), the answer to her character's overarching mystery felt very earned, even it if played into writer Steven Moffat's tendency to create grandfather paradoxes. It was via Clara that "The Name of the Doctor" became a bit of a retrospective episode. The rather ingenious insertion of Clara into stock footage of older Doctor Who episodes is probably the closest we'll get to having all eleven Doctors in a single episode. It set a retrospective mood for November's 50th Anniversary special, but also made room for a very significant change to the Doctor's mythology.
That change comes in the form of John Hurt, who was rather dramatically introduced in the final seconds of the episode as "The Doctor" -- but, according to the Eleventh Doctor, he's the one who broke the rules. He's the black sheep of the Doctor's incarnations, even more so than the Valeyard (who was gratifyingly name-dropped just minutes before). Hurt's incarnation of the Doctor seems to have committed some of the atrocities that the Great Intelligence declared the Doctor responsible for -- but what exactly those atrocities are remains to be seen (we'll probably find out in the 50th Anniversary).
So who is this new incarnation of the Doctor? The fact that the Eleventh Doctor knows a lot about his history seems to indicate that he's an older incarnation of the Doctor. The obvious guess is that he was the incarnation of the Doctor that existed during the Time War (between Paul McGann and Christopher Eccleston). The Doctor's actions during the Time War -- which doomed both the Daleks and the Time Lords -- are the ones he appears to regret the most, and it seems logical that he'd apply that blame to an actual aspect of his personality.
But this new incarnation of the Doctor, whoever he is, is absolutely intriguing. Why haven't we heard about him before? What sort of personality does he have? And how awesome is it that John Hurt himself is playing the character? (He's most recognizable for his roles in films like Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, V for Vendetta, and Nineteen Eighty-Four, but of all his films I most highly recommend The Hit, a fantastic little gangster drama.)
What did you think of "The Name of the Doctor"? Can you handle waiting until November 23 for the 50th Anniversary Special?