Who is Clara Oswin Oswald?  What is the Doctor’s greatest secret?  Why must the Doctor never go to Trenzalore?  How is the Great Intelligence involved?  Will we get a cliffhanger that leads into the 50th anniversary?  Will The Name of the Doctor be everything it has been promised to be?
4198785-low-doctor-who-series-7bWell, the episode begins on Gallifrey!  And who do we see but the First Doctor… and Clara!  We see Clara flashing through scenes where she briefly encounters every Classic Doctor here or there throughout Classic footage, but more importantly, throughout the Doctor’s entire life.  Each time she is apparently trying to save him, or warn him of something.  She even says outright that Clara Oswald was born to save the Doctor!  Seeing Classic Doctor’s in NuWho is always thrilling, but to see them like this with Clara inserted into actual footage from that time is absolutely brilliant.  And as far as the story goes, knowing that she’s been in contact with every Doctor is literally astonishing. Fantastic opening!
Meanwhile in a dank prison a raving murderer chatters to himself, warning of the Whisper Men.  Madam Vastra arrives to get some information from the man; information about the Doctor.  She is warned that the Doctor has a secret, one in particular he will take to the grave.  The prisoner tells Vastra that it has been discovered.  Vastra believes what the prisoner said is so important that she orders Jenny has to set up a “conference call”. 
4198824-low-doctor-who-series-7bBack at home Clara is chatting with the Children and notices a letter addressed to her.  It is a note from Vastra with instructions and the means for Clara to “join the conference call”.  The “conference call” is some sort of séance-like mental projection into a virtual conference room that looks suspiciously TARDIS-like.  When Clara arrives she meets the Paternoster Gang…and River Song!  Vastra introduces Clara and River to each other and after some uncomfortably brilliant dialogue between the two the conference commences. 
They discuss the information the murderer provided, information that leads to a place that houses the Doctor’s greatest secret; the Doctor’s Name!  River says she already knows his name.  What is interesting is that we learn that this River is post-library.  This is the River whom the Tenth Doctor saved by uploading her into a supercomputer.   I thought this was an excellent touch by not simply having the usual River show up.  It is somehow both charming and heartbreaking. And really, that is the theme of this entire episode. 
The conference is interrupted by the Whisper Men who manage to disconnect the Paternoster Gang, leaving only River and Clara.  The Great Intelligence (using the guise of Doctor Simeon) reveals himself and gives Clara a message for the Doctor; it is time to go to Trenzalore!  Suddenly Clara awakes and finds the Doctor puttering about the house.  The next scene is one of Matt Smith’s finest performances, perhaps one of the most powerful performances in all of Doctor Who.  Clara tells the Doctor that he must go to Trenzalore and he absolutely breaks down.  The profound sadness and despair he feels is heart-wrenching.    He runs to the TARDIS and of course Clara follows. 
4198434-low-doctor-who-series-7bHere he explains to her what Trenzalore means.  He tells her that Trenzalore is where he is buried; the one place a time traveler should never ever visit.  Unfortunate he can’t resist as he must try to save Vastra, Jenny, and Strax because they were so kind to him during his dark times after the Pond’s died.  So off they go and, upon landing, they find themselves amidst an endless cemetery.  The Doctor explains that Trenzalore is a graveyard for soldiers, where the size of the monument denotes the rank of the soldier.  The Doctor’s monument is a massive TARDIS that dwarfs every other grave.  It is the actual TARDIS, a perfect place to bury him, so says the Doctor.  This revelation is pretty much the culmination of the ongoing theme since Doctor Who’s return in 2005, that the Doctor, who is so fundamentally kind, is also the greatest warrior that ever lived.  This “completing the circle”  moment is wonderfully poignant. 
Here we see that Clara can still see River, who is somehow linked to Clara’s consciousness.  Sadly, River can see and hear the Doctor but he can’t reciprocate.  The Whisper Men show up but luckily River lets Clara in on a secret escape route that Clara relays to the Doctor.  Meanwhile the Gang awakens inside the TARDIS tomb and come face to face with the Great Intelligence.  The GI condemns the Doctor as a mass murder, even going on to name but a few of all those he has slain. 
4198460-low-doctor-who-series-7bThe Doctor and Clara (with invisible River in tow) find their way to where the GI is holding the Gang.   The GI tells the Doctor that he must open the tomb using the password or the Gang will die.  The password is the Doctor’s name, of course, but when the Doctor doesn’t comply the GI orders the Doctor’s friends killed.  The Doctor watches on in horror as Strax’s hear is being stopped, but he won’t budge.  Suddenly the tomb opens.  The password, the Doctor’s name, is cleverly not revealed as it is River who speaks it!  A little bit of unstable plot mechanics going on here, but I can overlook it for the sake of an excellent story.  It may be unfortunate, but it is important to overlook minor plot inconsistencies in the Moffat era for the sake of the narrative, and mostly it isn’t a problem, just like here. 
The GI wants what is inside the tomb, what he says is his ultimate peace but also the Doctor’s ultimate suffering.  Inside is the TARDIS console room from far in the future, where the time rotor and console are gone.  In their place is some sort of rippling energy vortex.  The Doctor explains how all time travel damages the universe, causing small tears and scars.  The energy vortex is made up of his accumulated scars, all the damage he has done to the universe because he has traveled through time more than anyone.  It is the ultimate paradox, his entire existence right in front of him.  The GI reveals his ultimate plan to walk into the wound the Doctor has created and gain victory by destroying every moment in the Doctor’s timeline.  Admirably audacious to say the least. 
4198629-low-doctor-who-series-7b1The GI enters the rift and The Doctor begins writing in agony.   We see a few more clips of all the Doctor’s incarnations as the GI is completely re-writing the Doctor’s history.  But, as a result of this, he is also rewriting much of the history of the universe.  Vastra explains that as a result of the GI’s actions the entire universe is being negatively altered, as without the Doctor all the good he did will never have happened.  Jenny disappears, and even Strax goes evil, attacking Vastra. To see the Gang be ripped apart after having thoroughly enjoyed getting to know them is quite jarring, and more emotional than I wold have expected. 
As this is going on Clara is finally able to piece together her mystery; who she is and what she has always been.  She sees the only way she can save the Doctor is by going into the rift.   River warns her against doing so because it will kill her by scattering her into fragments across the Doctor’s timeline.  Clara isn’t deterred.  In fact this is what she wants.  She believes she will be able to be everywhere the GI went throughout the Doctor’s timeline. 
4198239-low-doctor-who-series-7b1Before she steps into the rift she utters the same phrase as when we met her in Asylum of the Daleks, “Run.  Run you clever boy, and remember me!”  We see glimpses of her throughout the Doctor’s life just like the opening montage where she is always there to save the Doctor.  We even learn that Clara is the one who directed the Doctor to take the TARDIS.  This sort of contradicts what the TARDIS says in The Doctor’s Wife, and this plot inconsistency is by far the most difficult for me to justify, but again, I’m not that upset… just a little.   
Clara’s sacrifice restores balance to the Doctor’s timeline but he is not satisfied. While the Gang is back, Clara is gone.  He decides his only option is to jump into the rift—into his own timeline—to save her.  We get a touching scene where we find out that the Doctor actually can see River.  He kisses her properly for the first time which felt a little strange, but it was genuinely touching.  He promises he will be back, and steps into the rift.
4198564-low-doctor-who-series-7bThis is when the episode completely explodes into spectacular Whovian awesomeness.  The next scene finds Clara in some scary foreboding place.  She calls out for the Doctor and he responds.  As they’re talking all his various incarnations are running by her.  He eventually finds her, but unfortunately there is someone else with them…someone the Doctor is afraid of: himself!  At least a dark version of himself.  A Doctor from another time.   A Doctor he says did not act in the name of the Doctor.  The mystery Doctor turns and we are introduced to actor John Hurt, who I splaying an incarnation of the Doctor in the 50thanniversary.  There is a short exchange where the mystery Doctor says “What I did, I did without choice.  For the name of peace and sanity”.  This can only mean that this is the Doctor that ended the Time war!  Holy crap…HOLY CRAP!!!
The Name of the Doctor was an excellent season finale.  It was an excellent story that brought together the entire span of Steven Moffat’s era, connecting every story arch he created and bringing it all to a powerful climax.  Each scene moved the story forward and never felt unnecessary.  There was an air of gravitas throughout that really made me feel as though everything I was seeing was important, and that it was all going to lead to something even more important.   Well, I’d say the bridging of the entirety of Doctor Who’s 50 years was certainly important, and it was done in a way that feels like all those 50 years were building to this singular point.   This episode was basically an early anniversary celebration.    
4198759-low-doctor-who-series-7bI think this season has been the best of Matt Smith and Stephen Moffat’s era to date, and I also think each episode has, for the most part, been better than the one before it.  But leading into the season finale with so many questions and so much anticipation, it almost seemed too tall an order to fill.  Leading up to The Name of the Doctor we were promised a story that would forever change the landscape of Doctor Who, both Classic, as well as the new run. Well we certainly got that, and more!

The way this episode—this whole season—dovetailed into the 50th anniversary, and knowing that the anniversary will have something to do with the Time War, is just absolutely startling.  This is exactly what I was hoping the 50th anniversary would be about.  I have absolutely no idea what we’re in store for, but I can say that I am consumed with anticipation. The Name of the Doctor was a brilliant season finale and a ingenious starting point for an amazing future!

image source: [kasterborous] [denofgeek]