It was always going to be a weird season of Doctor Who. Longtime companions were leaving and a new companion was coming in. Showrunner Steven Moffat had turned seasons 5 and 6 of Who into interlocking mythologies, with episodes doubling as puzzle pieces. The bigger picture kept changing, but not Moffat's plan to piece them all together. He erased time, gave the Doctor a wife, and gave the TARDIS a body. If you believe that Moffat's run on the show is maybe the best it's had, as I do, season 7 was always a tall order. Having gone most anywhere, where would he go next?
(A note for our continuity-minded readers: Regular Who recapper Darren Franich is tied up in another dimension.)
The answer, we now know, is nowhere really. Of course yes the season's two halves -- the Amy/Rory half; the Clara half -- went across the stars and fought the good alien fight. But instead of continuing to one-up Moffat's impossible promises (that time-travel was a storyteller's master key, allowing the series to come alive with exploration as an expression of not just humanity but humanness), the show dispatched the Ponds and delivered to us an "Impossible Girl," Clara Oswin, with the impossible ability to come back from the dead, no matter the year, place, or cause of death. Before this week, it was a hook nifty enough to let Clara get away without having a personality. Nothing against Jenna-Louise Coleman, but does Clara want anything? She has preferences but not needs.
All of that and would you believe it? The season finale, "The Name of the Doctor," was good -- good in the way I've come to expect and good in a way I'd hoped Who would be again. Written by Moffat (his first credit since the spring premiere), the finale answered multiple questions, including what's up with Clara, what's happened to River Song, and what would happen if a TARDIS (gulp) died. But the hour's strength was its center, a question: What is the Doctor's name?
But first, the question of Clara -- literally, the episode begins with her questions. In Gallifrey "a very long time ago," we see the First Doctor make off with his TARDIS for the first time before Clara crashes into the archival footage. "Sorry," she says, "but you're about to make a very big mistake." The pattern repeats: Cut-cut-cut, each new sequence is another of the Doctor's regenerations, all coming across Clara. Meanwhile, she appears to be falling into a fiery (or at least hotly-glowing) abyss. "I don't know where I am," she voice-overs. "It's like I'm breaking into a million pieces and there's only one thing I can remember: I have to save the Doctor."
And also: "I blew into this world on a leaf. I’m still blowing. I don’t think I’ll ever land. I’m Clara Oswin, the impossible girl. I was born to save the Doctor.”
NEXT: The Doctor and all his friends