16 April 2015

Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start...

Day 836: The Name of the Doctor

Dear diary,

In the run up to The Name of the Doctor, Doctor Who Online was sent a list of stories from which clips would be taken for use in this episode. The likes of Dragonfire, Arc of Infinity, and The Invasion of Time… well, the list was obviously a fake, because despite the relative merits of those stories, if this was to be some kind of ‘classic’ Doctor Who love in, then those wouldn’t be the episodes they chose to represent each of those Doctors! But, as you’ll obviously know, they are the episodes from which clips are taken! Among others, of course, but they’re some of the most prominent ones. Oh, it somehow makes it even more brilliant that these lesser-loved bits of Doctor Who’s past have resurfaced for the 50th anniversary. Can you imagine watching that Dragonfire cliffhanger in 1987 - head in your hands - and thinking that during the celebration’s for the programme’s golden anniversary, almost eight million people would be watching it on prime time BBC One?! Hah!

Oh, but how exciting is this? In many ways, this is the Steven Moffat equivalent of Journey’s End; the current Doctor’s last season finale, with the return of several key characters from across the previous three years, all teaming up against an acclaimed enemy returning from the ‘classic’ run. River, and the Paternoster Gang… I’m really surprised they didn’t find a way to work the Ponds in somewhere. Probably for the best, though, because this episode is filled to bursting with things around the main event of Clara scattering herself down the Doctor’s time stream. Of course, just when you think it’s all over, another mysterious figure turns around, and it’s a whole incarnation of the Doctor we never even knew about! As cliff-hangers go, that’s got to be right up there…

There’s lots of other things that I could pick up on to discuss today, but I sort of set out my stall for this entry two years ago, with The Abominable Snowmen

For ages, I’d always found the idea of the Great Intelligence somewhat confusing. The version of the creature seen in The Abominable Snowmen and The Web of Fear didn’t really synch up in my head with the version that appeared in Downtime, and then when he made a return to Doctor Who in The Snowmen, The Bells of Saint John, and The Name of the Doctor, it didn’t seem to quite match up between those three stories, let alone any of the earlier ones! To that end, I put together an imagined ‘timeline’ for the being that tried to make sense of everything. That was two years ago during the Patrick Troughton stages of this marathon. Now I’ve been through these recent adventures once more, I’ve boiled everything down, simplified it, and think I’ve worked it all out…

1) A shapeless, formless being, the Great Intelligence lives in the Astral Plane. It’s immensely clever, but longs for a true physical form. Over the centuries alone on the Plane, the Intelligence devises many plans for creating a physical body for itself. Eventually, Padmasambhava manages to make contact with the creature, and it possesses the man’s mind. The human brain is too small to hold all the knowledge of the Intelligence, so Padmasambhava is set to work creating a vessel to hold the being.

2) But, as we’ve seen, the Intelligence is clever. It doesn’t want to put all its eggs in the one monk-y basket, so it places some of itself in snow, which is then directed towards London - the heart of the British Empire. There, it meets a lonely little boy, and whispers in his ear over the next half century, slowly formulating a plan to populate the Earth with Ice People. Now, you’ll have to excuse a leap of assumption here as I say that the Intelligence’s ultimate plan is to distribute itself across a world of living ice people because… for some reason that works. Possibly. The Doctor gets a lot wrong in this episode, largely because he never quite realises who the Intelligence is, but based on what we’re told and what we know of the creature from other appearances, it would seem to make sense. Anyway, point is, the Doctor stops the Intelligence’s plan here and all the snow melts, which forces the Intelligence held inside it back out onto the Astral Plane.

3) Which is fine, because he’s still in contact with good old Padmasambhava in Tibet, and so decides to just carry on with that plan for the time being. The work continues for the next thirty-or-so years, including the construction of Robot Yeti to keep inquisitive minds at bay. Just as they approach the end-game, though, after two centuries of whispering in the Monk’s ear, another ‘Doctor’ arrives on the scene and manages to thwart the plan again.

4) This time, as the Intelligence is pushed back onto the Astral Plane, he doesn’t have any backup. His only remaining contact to the physical world is via the robot Yeti, and they’ve all been deactivated. From where he is now, though, he’s able to monitor the Doctors’ travels, and grows jealous of the Time Lord. By sheer chance, Professor Travers - one of the people who helped the Doctor in Tibet - reactivates a Yeti control sphere in London, 1967, which reminds the Intelligence of something the Doctor said during their first meeting; ‘A map of the London Underground, 1967. Key strategic weakness in metropolitan living, if you ask me, but then I have never liked a tunnel.’

5) A plan is formulated to trap the Doctor, and by this point, the Intelligence’s plans are starting to change. He’s no longer interested in simply gaining physical form - he want’s to drain the Doctor’s mind of all its experience. Using the Yeti as foot soldiers - simply because they’re there - he sets the plan in motion, but once again the Doctor manages to out smart the Intelligence. This time, he almost manages to destroy the Intelligence for good. By this point, as I’m sure you can imagine, the creature is starting to get a bit annoyed with the bloke.

6) From now on, for the Intelligence, it’s as much about - perhaps more about - gaining more knowledge as it is getting some kind of physical form. It can’t bear the thought that there’s a man in the universe more intelligent than it is. It’s in this guise that we find it in Downtime - utilising the early days of the internet to gather knowledge from the students, with the ultimate aim of manifesting itself on Earth in the long term. The Doctor’s friends are able to stop the creature this time, but it’s only a set back, because…

7) By the time we reach The Bells of Saint John, we’re still seeing this same plan, but in a far more advanced stage. The Intelligence is no longer possessing people via the internet, but having their minds uploaded directly to him. Much more elegant. Once more, though, the Doctor shows up and manages to put an end to it. In fact, this time, the Doctor never even needs to set foot in the building, he reprograms a foot soldier to do it for him. From here, the Intelligence’s motives change once again. It’s now all about revenge against the Doctor. It might take centuries - millenia - but eventually, the Intelligence acquires knowledge of the Doctor’s grave and the battle of Trenzalore, and he formulates a new plan to utterly defeat the Doctor.

7a) As an aside - in The Web of Fear, the Intelligence claims he doesn’t want revenge against the Doctor, as it’s a ‘very human emotion’, but by The Name of the Doctor, that’s clearly what he’s after. Either he’s simply changed him mind after so many successive defeats by the Doctor and his allies, or the emotion has somehow been uploaded to him as a side effect of absorbing so many human minds via the wi-fi. I rather like the idea of this latter explanation.

8) The Doctor is lured to Trenzalore and the Great Intelligence finds its way into his tomb. Once there, he throws himself into the Doctor’s time stream. It kills him, but in doing so he’s able to completely destroy the Doctor, too, shattering his every victory throughout the ages. What it doesn’t bank on is the fact that Clara will be so willing to jump in after him and put everything right again. A rather sad end for a bitter, twisted being consumed by lust for life, knowledge, and revenge. It’s actually quite a neat little story in the end… 

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