Pop Culture – The Name of the Doctor Build Up
Please be aware that this post contains spoilers for Season Seven of Doctor Who, earlier episodes of the series, and the recently released prequel short “He said, She said”.
As a fan of Doctor Who, the progression toward the upcoming season seven finale has been nothing short of a roller coaster ride – colourful, confusing, and exhilarating.
To make sense of why Doctor Who is currently building toward this finale, I brought together all the thoughts and ideas I’ve had on the Doctor’s name, and Time Lord mythology.
I think that the Doctor’s name and identity should not be revealed – I have this opinion because when I watch Doctor Who, I see the Time Lords and their history as powerful, at times eldritch, but always transcendental.
To reveal the Doctor’s name would subtract from the mythology built up across the years that Doctor Who has been in popular culture. I think it would make the transcendental Time Lords concrete and mundane. Writing this summary also made me realise that I am a passionate fan, but a sensible one. I’m writing this to come to terms with change, because it seems change is coming, whether I like it or not.
The Start of the Summary
Doctor Who will, by the November 23 this year (2013), have reached 50 years of production, including its entire run at the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), novels, and audio plays.
Throughout the run of the show, the name of the character known only as the Doctor has not once been revealed or described in detail.
Beginnings and Time Lords
Ian Chesterton and Barbara Wright taught science and history respectively at Coal Hill High school, and in the interest of protecting the welfare of a brilliant student named Susan, the decided to follow her home to the address given by her grandfather.
The final result of this bit of amateur detective work was Ian and Barbara flying across time and space in the company of Susan Foreman and her grandfather Doctor Foreman.
But that was not his true name.
It was the name of the Junkyard where the TARDIS had landed in 1963.
Already there is a problem. Susan has a first name, but her grandfather does not.
Later, Time Lords were introduced, and became official canon to the series. The second Doctor, Patrick Troughton, revealed the identity of his people in the epic story arc, The War Games.
Neil Gaiman wrote an informative and excellent blog post on his journal about that story arc. In particular, Gaiman notes his thoughts about the Time Lords. They are “ unknowable – [a] primal force who cannot be named, only described: The Master, The Doctor, and so on.”
The powerful, unknowable nature of Time Lords and Time Lord knowledge is a point I want to discuss later. Other Time Lords – specifically Romana and Susan – however, call from some discussion first.
Time Lord Names
Back when the series started in 1963, Time Lords had not yet been thought of or added to the series canon. It makes sense then that Susan would have a human name, not exotic in the least, considering this origin.
Unfortunately, the character stopped travelling with the Doctor very early on. No more information about whether “Susan” was an assumed name or not was added to the television series (I might be wrong on this point).
The introduction of Romana in the 1970’s episode The Ribos Operation (Classic series – Season 16 Episode 1) offers more information on Time Lord names, since she is a Time Lord who receives a name.
The key information Romana provides about the nature of Time Lord names is in the length of her name:
That’s her full name. It’s long and difficult to pronounce.
This raises the question: would the Doctor’s name be of this length? Or would the fact of long Time Lord names be dropped considering the concept was created in the classic series?
During A Good Man Goes to War, (Season Six Episode 7) however, a name written in ancient Gallifreyan is printed on the side of the cot the Doctor produces from the TARDIS. If this is indeed the Doctor’s name, since it was his cot, it would most likely be lengthy, and difficult to pronounce since the Gallifreyan writing is a complicated string of symbols. What it sounds like is entirely up to the series writers.
Other characters, villains or misanthropes in these examples, have attempted to discover the Doctor’s name through the use of various means. Psychic power, and language science were used with no success in the two instances below:
In The Shakespeare Code. (Season 3 Episode 2) Lilith the Carrionite uses language-based science to find the true name of the Doctor, but fails.
In The Fires of Pompeii. (Season 4 Episode 2) Evelina, with enhanced psychic powers granted by the alien Pyrovile, says “the name is hidden”.
It’s interesting that Lillith notes the power of names in The Shakespeare Code: saying the true name of a person or species can be used as a weapon.
This is another reason why I am opposed to revealing the Doctor’s name. Carionites would be able to easily attack the Doctor with their naming and language based abilities.
Considering the strength and abilities of these characters, the protection and secrecy surrounding the Doctor’s name must be potent, which leads to the next point –Time Lord knowledge is powerful.
The power of Time Lord knowledge
The best example of the power of Time Lord Knowledge is Donna Noble’s story arc:
“If it’s in your head, it’s in mine”
Donna says this to The Doctor after experiencing a Human Time Lord Biological Meta-Crisis (it’s complicated) in Journey’s End (Season 4 episode 13). Donna Noble possessed all the knowledge and skills of a Time Lord. She most likely knew the Doctor’s name, and his secrets.
As her story arc comes to an end, the acquired knowledge proved far too powerful for her to comprehend and understand. The Doctor has no choice but to alter her memory – any references to Time Lords and TARDISs could cause her death – She forgets him, and returns to her ordinary life on Earth.
It’s established true knowledge of Time Lords is beyond human understanding. Even powerful and gifted alien species, with greater abilities than contemporary humans, such as the Carrionites and Pyrovile, cannot grasp at Time Lord names or knowledge. And there are other examples of powerful aliens and advanced humans being denied this knowledge: Rose Tyler absorbing the time vortex, and burning up under its weight. The god planet Akhenaten receiving the Doctor’s, and some of Clara’s, memories, and collapsing under the pressure.
It takes another Time Lord, or someone very close to one like River Song, to understand and comprehend Time Lord Knowledge. Otherwise, the information is unknowable.
Except for Clara Oswin
The Impossible Girl
The prequel episode to the approaching finale revealed that the Doctor visits a place called Trenzalore. Nobody walking on the fields of this planet can fail to answer a question, or speak falsely.
Clara states that everything changed when they went there:
“I know who he is. I know how he began, and I know where he is going. I know the truth about the Doctor, and his greatest secret…the day we went to Trenzalore”
For Clara to know this information, something must change for her to grasp and comprehend this Time Lord knowledge. I think that in the finale, Clara is going to undergo some kind of transformation, which will enable her to understand Time Lord Knowledge.
Either that, or the information told to her, and the audience, will be of a more mundane nature. Watching the prequel again, I started to think that surely describing the Doctor’s origins in more detail wouldn’t subtract from the Time Lords unknowable aura?
Images from a short preview of The Name of the Doctor (Season 7 Episode 13) seems to hint at her transformation:
Until the episode airs, I’m still speculating on who Clara is, and who The Doctor is. Whether The Doctor’s name will be stated, or left unsaid as unknowable knowledge, is a mystery.