So now a couple of hints from Matt Smith, plus a few recent headlines means Mr Smith is leaving Dr Who. We’ll see. I took a while to warm to Smith’s interpretation, he was a bit too…slapstick for me. The Doctor is an alien, sure, but he doesn’t need added layers of weird. He is not meant to be Mork. But the role – or Moffat’s writing – has grown a bit (or I have) and I appreciate the light and shade now. He plays old and universe-weary startlingly well, while still mustering enough energy and enthusiasm to, well, just keep going.
But before anyone bids adieu or jumps the Planet Ork, I want to write a bit about Dr Who and death. In the last couple of season’s Doctor Who has had a bit to say about it. Of course the entire regeneration sequence from 10 to 11 was a meditation on death and time. It was melodramatic and angry and painful. Good. I mean it is a kind of a death after all. But since then, there’s been Rory – the man who dies and dies again. Personally, I think Rory is a great character. He is smart, a nurse and a 2000 year old formerly plastic Roman soldier and he has the best come backs in times of crisis. Like ‘it’s ok. We’re nice’. He is the epitome of loyalty. Amy also kills herself and the Doctor in order to see Rory again after he had been killed. Ah love.
Anyhoo. Then there was Older Amy. Her death was a poignant illustration of the meaning of could have been as well as sacrifice. And then the death of the Minotaur was a clear pointer to the Doctor’s impending demise and a call back to all those who have laid down their lives for their belief in him, from Adric to Lorna. Then there’s the Doctor himself, spending an entire year running from his carved-in-stone-fixed-point-in-time-official death. A year being pursued by Madam Kovarian, a religious order and a bespoke psychopath with memory and timeline issues, all out to ensure he meets his, ahem, deadline. And then after all of this is cleared up, Dorium, a newly undead prophetic head in the box, a bit like an Arthurian legend throwback predicting the return of the king, in the closing minutes, mentions not his death date, but his fall.
DORIUM: On the fields of Trenzalore, at the fall of the Eleventh, when no living creature may speak falsely or fail to give answer, a question will be asked. A question that must never, ever be answered.
The important bit in this dialogue is not the question. It is indeed the question everyone has been asking for as long as the Doctor has been getting around in that blue box (1963). No, the question is obvious, but the important bit is the Silents know at Trenzalore the Doctor will be there and someone will ask his name and ONLY at that time and location he MUST answer correctly. At other times he has refused (like on the Diamond planet) or given his false name, the rather lame John Smith, if a name is needed (in hospital). But there is no confusion here. The Silents believe his name, spoken at that moment is some kind of weapon, or trigger or incantation that brings on massive badness called the Silence, probably the end of history or something. The thing is our Doctor knows this too and knows he will get there and knows River will be there, since she told him his name waaay back in the Library. He even told River, then, about what he believes about himself and revealing his name:
DOCTOR: River, you know my name. You whispered my name in my ear. There’s only one reason I would ever tell anyone my name. There’s only one time I could.
Of course our Doctor knows names are powerful – he spent his entire time in Shakespeare’s England talking about the science of words – what we call magic and how ‘naming’ is ‘old magic’. So it makes sense he knows naming himself is not only going to be psychologically big but also that this event is likely universe ending or some-such.
So thanks to Mr Moffat, we know where that one time is and what is believed about it, and how bigger deal it is. Maybe it is the end game Mr Moffat mentioned for Amy, Rory and River. Maybe it will be the foreseen fall of Matt Smith’s 11th Doctor? It might not even be for next season, since Mr Moffat has hinted he wants less arcs and more one-off adventures. Who knows? Although to be sure the Doctor’s name was ALWAYS going to be a big deal. But I bet, 100%, it’s not gonna turn out how any of us imagine.
An Arthurian Aside
Of course looking at it now, it all seems a bit Arthurian. River is clearly Guinevere but also the Lady of the Lake (Silencio). Madam Kovarian is Morgan Le Fay. Rory is one of those knights of the round table, full of duty, nobility and loyalty and Amy is the damsel who waited in a castle. Yeah ok. And the Doctor? Sometimes he’s Merlin and sometimes he’s Arthur: a wise otherworldly, perhaps immortal magician tempted off course by a woman, or an old king, bewitched, yet strong and a figure of courage and leadership, not royal except through amazing means. Or whatever. Writers can and do cherry pick what they want from history or myth or science or…. The good Doctor also reminds me of Gandalf (death-defying old wise person) and is also a bit Aragorn (being the lord without a kingdom with inheritance issues). But big mythic shadowy characters like the Doctor are like that aren’t they? It’s why they endure, and even when they die, there are always stories of their return. So while this big next plot has me all wondering and excited, a part of me doesn’t want to know his name. Ever. It seems too, private a bit too special. Like we should be told, and then all mind wiped so we should forget, lest our minds burn up or life seems too bleak, just like in the best myths, fairy tales and sci-fi stories (and Wind in the Willows).
Uh ho ho. Now standing by for the Christmas episode.