It’s been 26-and-a-half years since the name The Valeyard has been mentioned in an episode of Doctor Who. Not only does the final episode of the 50th Anniversary season mention him by name, but it strongly foreshadows his imminent return. Of course that’s far from all “The Name of The Doctor” offers. We finally learn the secret of Clara (Jenna-Louise Coleman), see The Doctor‘s (Matt Smith) final battle with The Great Intelligence (Richard E. Grant), and take a trip to the one place no Time Lord should ever go – his grave. The second-half of Series Seven has been high on concept, if a little shaky at times in execution, but the season finale sets up some huge stories for the show’s 50th Anniversary Special and beyond.
After a brief introduction of Clara falling through time and being edited into sequences with all the previous Doctors, the show opens with a warning to Madame Vastra (Neve McIntosh) from a condemned man forcing the Silurian detective to create a meeting through dream time with herself, Jenny Flint (Catrin Stewart), Strax (Dan Starkey), and River Song (Alex Kingston). The purpose of the meeting is to warn The Doctor that his greatest secret, the one prophesied that must never be answered, will soon be learned. The immediate effect, however, is for all of them except Clara to be kidnapped by the Whisper Men soldiers of The Great Intelligence to lure The Doctor to the one planet he avoids at all cost – Trenzalore.
Nearly destroying the TARDIS in an attempt to cross his own timeline and arrive at his own tomb, The Doctor and Clara are able to save their friends but the Time Lord can’t stop the villain from entering the tomb (the enlarged dead TARDIS of the future) and thrusting himself into The Doctor’s timeline to rewrite the Time Lord’s history. Knowing that anyone who enters has no chance of coming back, and will be scattered through time like confetti, Clara does what she must and jumps into the stream as versions of herself as shown over time saving The Doctor from The Great Intelligence.
The show ends with a highly questionable paradox as The Doctor, his timeline restored, enters his own timestream and returns with Clara (who should have been destroyed in the same manner as The Great Intelligence). Before the exit, however, Clara sees a version of The Doctor in the shadows, a future version whose dark purposes will force him to cast off the name of The Doctor for a different moniker. As the episode, and season come to a close, writer Steven Moffat re-introduces Who fans to the villain of The Trial of the Time Lord and foreshadows The Valeyard’s return.
Although I think Moffat goes a little overboard (as did Russell T. Davies) in over-emphasizing the importance of a single companion, the scenes of Clara with the different Doctors, although far from seamless, are an awful lot of fun. With every regeneration of the new series I’ve been waiting anxiously to see if the show would tackle The Valeyard, a dark version of The Doctor far more similar to The Master than the fun-loving space adventurer. A week after asking what the Cybermen would do with The Doctor’s knowledge the show asks an even better question, what would a version of the Time Lord himself do unrestrained by conscience or regret? The casting of Hurt suggests we may get an answer.
Although the title of the episode teases the Name of The Doctor being important, Moffat teases us once again by having the location of the grave being discovered, not the man’s darkest secret. We’re (thankfully) cheated out of hearing the name which is used by River Song (the first time we see a version of the character after the events of “The Forests of the Dead”) to open The Doctor’s tomb. The real secret, far more than a name, or even the location of his death, proves be the version of the character even his own timeline was hiding from Clara.
Aside from bringing back The Valeyard and explaining the impossible girl, the episode also changes things by permanently marking The Doctor’s death as not just a possibility but an unavoidable eventuality. It’s an important choice that brings back the idea of finite and limited lifespan for the character despite the show drastically increasing the Time Lord’s number of regenerations a few years back. Aside from one big logic issue (how The Doctor and Clara escape back to the land of the living), the episode is a great success in wrapping up the threads of the season while promising big things in those still to come. Bring on The Valeyard.