A few months ago I was forcibly egging on my Masters class to give a breakdown of the different types of television that there can be. Breaking down the basics of the goggle box shows into various categories: serialized, procedural, mini-series, anthology, series anthology (rare shows such as American Horror Story which switch tack once a year, rather than once an episode). The list went on.
We never really got around to Doctor Who. How do you describe a show that builds a different world and a different characters every week, yet retains two or more recurring players? And what happens when one of these players is, from time-to-time, re-cast and re-imagined as a different type of person with the same name and the same history? What is the genre of a show that tips from horror, to sci-fi, to comedy, to fairytale, often within the same episode? One that, no matter what is happening in anyone’s lives at the time, has a mandatory Christmas episode? How do you even operate a monster like that while keeping all the plates spinning?
The truth is, you don’t. There is no such thing as the perfect way to run Doctor Who, and there is no such thing as the perfect show-runner for Doctor Who, because so many of the elements that make the show what it is are in direct conflict with each other.
I’ve realized this more and more lately, talking to friends who long for more Daleks, or despise River Song, or even the blessed souls at the Guardian who claim that every episode of this season has been the “BEST EVER!!!!1111″. I spent so much timing judging these people in my head, unable to fathom how they could simultaneously be so passionate and so wrong.
But perhaps they aren’t wrong. Perhaps they do love the annoying, possessed salt shakers. Or hate the kick-ass lady with the big hair. Maybe they think the Cybermen are genuinely scary, or that half the cast driving the TARDIS together in “Journey’s End” wasn’t the most hilariously saccharine moment in the history of television.
Maybe Doctor Who can truly never please everyone, because everyone comes at it with a different set of wants. The die-hard fact-checker who loathes timey-wimey hand waves, the ancient fan who desperately hopes for the return of the Rani, the anthology obsessive who wishes for a pure creature-of-the-week structure or the dark-hearted folks who wish to see the Doctor just go crazy and explore his evil side.
With that in mind, I can only approach “The Name Of The Doctor” by looking at how it works in the given tenets and rules of good fiction, and not the internal machinations of the show itself — because, as this episode proves time and again, Doctor Who has about as much internal consistency as the Bible.
The episode opens with a very unexpected moment in a very unexpected place: old Gallifrey, where an alarm is alerting a group of weary workers that someone is in the midst of attempting to steal a TARDIS. The Doctor, in fact, the First Doctor — and he’s being advised on his choice of bounty, like some TARDIS car saleswoman, by Clara Oswin.
Cue Clara falling through space, time, and the lives of every Doctor we’ve ever known, talking about being the impossible girl, her lives with the Doctor, and her on-going and multiple-lived quest to save his life.
All that Clara-ness explained in the first few minutes? Now that’s what I call dispensing with a mystery. Continue reading