DVD Extras for this story on the 15-episode box sets include:
Whispering Roll CallThe opening immediately demands more attention than the usual Doctor Who story, as it "Forrest Gumps" Clara into a scene with William Hartnell's Doctor and his granddaughter Susan as they are about to make their historic departure from Gallifrey, complete with all the modern CGI you'd want for Gallifrey. Then follows a montage of previous classic Doctors, all having sparse almost-interactions with Clara. It's as though the 50th Anniversary Special has begun one episode too early. Okay, you've got my attention!
As with "The Crimson Horror" (story no. 242), it's the trio of Vastra, Strax, and Jenny that get the early screentime, and this time they actually set the plot in motion through their early interaction with the villain. The date is 1893, again, although since they've met the current version of Clara already, we can assume this story is taking place after their last one. It's very nice to have this trio in yet another adventure. I'll have more of them anytime!
What of the chronology of the villain? The Great Intelligence's latest creation of Whispermen deserve to be his most futuristic expression in minion control yet, having already done Snowmen, Yeti, and digital manipulation (in that order). But it appears that they have since become fully versed in physical time-travel as well, which could complicate their chronology quite a bit now. Are the Whispermen only inserting themselves into other people's dreams, as with Clarence? It must be more than that, because they aren't in Jenny and Vastra and Strax's dreams; they're in their real environments. Or does Simeon only appear in London 2013's digital adventure BECAUSE of what happens here?
In one of his "Nerdist" interviews, Matt Smith seems pretty excited about the Whispermen, feeling that they may go on to become one of Doctor Who's great villains. I'm not so optimistic. Their participation in good action strategies seems compromised by the fact that their abilities and limits seem ill-defined, and they can get away with just about anything that Moffat imagines for no apparent reason, all without actually being able to do much of anything. Hmmph. Even though they're first introduced in this "story", they disappear from it long before it's all over.
The story is also firing obvious blanks when it comes to threatening death, which it does often. Jenny "dies" twice in this one, and comes back each time. Strax is altered and erased and comes back. Clara "dies", but gets saved. One begins to roll one's eyes each time Moffat makes a new threat, as though we're listening to the little boy who cried "Wolf!" once too often. All this doesn't make the Whispermen or the story's "action" very interesting in the end.
Character RevelationThe real power to hold audience attention is based on all the character revelations that we either actually get or are teased with as the story progresses. Back in the TARDIS console room scenes in "Hide" (story no. 240), which were filmed much later than the rest of that story, we were teased with the concept that everyone has a grave out there somewhere in the future that the TARDIS could visit. Clara worries about the potential of visiting her own - and I'm not sure why since she practically walked by a well-labeled version of it at the end of "The Snowmen" (story no. 236) all apparently without noticing her own name on it. We've also apparently seen Amy and Rory's graves back in "The Angels Take Manhattan" (story no. 235), although you'd have to buy into a lot of illogic to believe that those were actually their real ones. Even River Song is participating in this adventure from beyond her own living grave on the library planet. But this story is really about the Doctor discovering and/or confirming his own grave in a place called Trenzalore. Matt Smith has a suitably emotional moment to play as the Doctor learns the news - a "spoiler" he's been trying very hard to avoid, eventually catching up with him.
I'm assuming that the name "Trenzalore" refers to the entire planet that becomes the main setting for the story. This is the kind of setting the show needs more of, the kind I imagine when I hear backstories like Goth's meeting with the Master in the dialogue of "The Deadly Assassin" (story no. 88), or any mention of the time war from New Millennium Who. It's like Hallowe'en night personified, a perfectly coloured autumn dusk, with dry but unsettled weather. Spot on. The few exploration scenes that we get actually work quite well.
It is kind of nice for once to have a more futuristic version of River Song in the adventure than ever before, something one may not have thought possible after the events of "Silence in the Library" (story no. 200), yet it fits in quite logically with what is happening here. It somehow feels appropriate that a story so focused on "the future beyond death" should begin with a teleconference call that resembles a séance. One might almost believe that the Doctor and River have finally synchronized their meetings with each other, until River's final line of the story indicates that she's already aware of further "spoilers" from the Doctor's future. That'll keep us thinking for a while. Ultimately this story is a much better outing for her than her one other appearance earlier this season.
Of course, we are teased with the idea of learning the Doctor's actual hidden name, but this is just a means to an end for the villain, who eventually achieves his end without this means. It is best that we don't get the name. No sense torpedoing the title mystery of this 50-year series. Instead, we settle for a few intriguing hints at WHY the name might be kept secret. Good enough.
Resolving ClaraBack in "Asylum of the Daleks" (story no. 231), one of the points I had initially and quite happily chalked up for that story was that Moffat had kindly refrained from including any kind of clumsy time travel conundrum in the adventure. Well, that might be seen to come crashing down by the time we get answers to some of that story's loose ends here in this tale. The entire season-long mystery of Clara is solved and resolved with.... another clumsy time travel "rewrite"? Can Moffat never do anything else on this series? Technically, since we've never seen "Asylum of the Daleks" play out in any other way, perhaps it is in the clear. Some of the "who-knows-what" inconsistencies of "Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS" (story no. 241) are gone through without making any more real sense. A fairly flimsy explanation is given for how Clara might be becoming aware of some conversations she never really had back then, while no explanation is attempted for how the Doctor became aware of the same. At any rate, this is mostly tiresome rubbish, and it is at the core of the inability for the Great Intelligence and the Whispermen to count as a serious threat here. The Snowmen and the Yeti really did work better.
At least the strange business with Clara appears to have come to a satisfactory end here. Many other threads, including their business on Trenzalore, do not appear to have done so.
Most mysterious of all is the surprise revelation of John Hurt at the end. Which Doctor is he attempting to play? Is this another completely red-herring move, as was the case back in "The Next Doctor" (story no. 204)? Is he the twelfth Doctor, due for a very short 1-episode life? Is he "Doctor number 12.5", also known as the Valeyard, of unclear origin and purpose and state of mind? And if so, will Moffat attempt to give us answers to some of the unanswered questions that fans have been living with since "The Trial of a Time Lord" (season 23) back in 1986, particularly from the revelations during "The Ultimate Foe" (story no. 147)? He has certainly seen fit to have the Great Intelligence drop the name to tease us - actually a nice way of respecting the minutia of the massive continuity of this giant franchise.
"Oh, it's begun. The party's started."A bizarre montage of Doctors and perhaps Doctor impersonators leaves us feeling lost in what one suspects to be the opening moves of a multi-Doctor Anniversary special. It seems that anything could happen here, and any Doctor could make a return appearance, physically or mentally, inexplicably aged or not, interacting fully throughout the episode or just making a cameo. But will the stakes be tangible enough to feel at all important? Will we even need to care about the stakes, so long as we get to see a good reunion party amongst the various Doctors? I guess we'll all find out on November 23, 2013, or shortly thereafter depending on when your local station broadcasts the big 50th special, if it manages a broadcast before the vanilla DVD comes out in early December.
Season 33 Rankings:
This story has become available on DVD and Blu-ray.
This story is also available in an 8-episode volume with minimal extra features.
The U.K. version also includes the episode "The Snowmen"; North American versions do not.
Click on the Amazon symbol for the location nearest you for pricing and availability:
Comments on this article are welcome. You may contact the author from this page: