National Catholic Register


The Name of the Doctor

BY Jimmy Akin

| Posted 5/5/13 at 8:42 PM


We're just about up to the final episode of the current season of Doctor Who.

The title of the episode is "The Name of the Doctor," and it promises to reveal the Doctor's actual name, something that has never been revealed in the 50-year history of the show.

We'll apparently learn the Doctor's name--and why he's kept is secret all this time--at 8 p.m. on Saturday, May 18, when "The Name of the Doctor" airs on BBC America (or a few hours earlier, if you're in the U.K.).

Here are a few thoughts . . .

(BTW, apologies to those who aren't familiar with Doctor Who; what follows is speculation about a major event in the show, and it presupposes some knowledge of what's been happening.)


Will They Really Reveal It?

I'm guessing that they will.

This runs the risk of taking an element of the mystery out of the show, but they've been teasing the audience with the idea for some time, and recently they've ramped that up in a big way.

With all the teasing, with titling the season's final episode the way they did, and with putting "His Secret Revealed" on the promotional poster (above), they'll have a lot of hacked off fans if they fail to deliver.


How Might They Cheat The Audience?

I can think of at least a couple of ways.

One would be to have the name revealed in a way that the audience doesn't perceive it, such as having the Doctor whisper it to someone, or some character reads it in a book.

But I don't think they'll do that, because they've already done that kind of thing.

Three times, in fact:

So I don't think they'll do something where the audience won't perceive the name.

It's been done.

In particular, after the wedding of River Song, having him whisper his name to someone would be a real let down.


How ELSE Might They Cheat the Audience?

A second way they could cheat the audience would be by having his name revealed in an uninformative manner, such as depicting it as a set of alien glyphs (like when Prince changed his name to that weird symbol).

Or as something humanly unpronouncable.

These would also result in a really annoyed fanbase.

In particular, the humanly unpronouncable solution would, because--although we've previously been told that the Doctor's name is hard to pronounce--River Song did pronounce it in her first appearance.

So whatever else is the case, the Doctor's name can be pronounced orally by humans.

There's also another reason I think they won't (or shouldn't, from a storytelling perspective) go this way . . .


It's Supposed to Be Momentous

They've told us that the Doctor's name is supposed to be momentous in some way, and they need to pay that off.

That's harder to do if the audience can't pronounce the name. It's harder to make unpronounceable symbols or sounds be momentous.

In particular, if it turns out to be weird sounds (think: R2-D2 whistles) then the response of the audience would be laughter rather than awe.

They also may have already given us his name in symbol form. In A Good Man Goes to War, the Doctor shows us his baby crib, which is govered in Gallifreyan writing.

Some fans have taken this symbol, from the side of the crib, to be the Doctor's name . . . 

It would be easier to make a weird symbol momentous, but I think the odds are against them doing only that and not giving us a pronounceable name.


How Might It Be Momentous?

Names aren't significant in themselves. They are just strings of syllables.

In some languages, names have perceptible meanings (e.g., in Hebrew, "Deborah" means "Bee" and "Judah" means "Praise").

They could give us a name like that, which describes something about the Doctor, but it's more likely they will give us something that seems more like a name in English, which is just a string of syllables that don't mean anything in themselves.

If so, then the momentousness of the name will stem from what it is associated with.

Here there are two possibilities: It may be associated with something that the audience is already familiar with or with something new.


How Might It Be Associated with Something We're Already Familiar With?

It could be associated with something in the real world.

For example, the Doctor's name could (hypothetically) turn out to identify him as God or as the devil.

The first of these was apparently proposed (by a writer who knew nothing of the series) for the 25th anniversary special.

The producers, wisely, declined.

The second is also unlikely, as we've already met the devil in Doctor Who and it wasn't him.

Either of these would be unlikely--and foolish on the part of the producers--since it would alienate fans and cause many (me included) to simply stop watching.

Even not-particularly-religious or non-religious people would quickly find it tiresome to watch a show about God or the devil travelling through space and time in a blue box, getting in trouble, having escapes, and doing good here and there.

That would get old really fast and damage the franchise permanently--apart from the many who would walk out on the show due to the offense it would create.

So the producers won't do that. The name will be momentous in some other way.

Another possibility is that the name will invoke something we already know about from the show.

Most likely, this would be something from Time Lord history, perhaps the age of Rassilon and Omega, or the "Dark Times" deep in the universe's past.


How Might It Be Associated with Something New?

This could happen any number of ways.

Presumably, it might have something to do with the fall of the Silence, since their whole reason for manipulating River Song was so that she could kill the Doctor to prevent The Question from being asked so that it would not be answered.

In case you don't remember or weren't aware:

A natural interpretation of "the fall of the eleventh" is the death (and regeneration) of the present (eleventh) Doctor, but this apparently is not the case.

The name is set to be revealed in the final episode of this season, so we should be going to Trenzalore then, but Matt Smith is confirmed to still be playing Doctor Who not just in the 50th anniversary special this november (which he could appear in as a "past" incarnation of the Doctor) but also in next year's season as well (which is the definitive part; unless the BBC is lying to us).

"The fall of the eleventh" may thus refer to something else.

It could be something that looks like the death of the present Doctor but they already did that at Lake Silence, when River apparently shot the Doctor.

It would be anticlimactic to do that again.

Thus, "the eleventh" may refer to something other than the present Doctor.

It might turn out, for example, that the Silence is the eleventh in a series of religious orders, for example.

That would fit nicely.


What Else Do We Know?

In The Wedding of River Song, the Doctor has a conversation with Roman Emperor Winston Churchill in which he starts to explain why he keeps his name a secret.

Apparently, it's for reasons of safety.

Lots of people (apparently) might die if the Doctor's name was revealed.

They've also alluded to this more recently, as when the Doctor told Clara that "secrets keep us safe."

This suggests that the Doctor's name is bound up with some great Time Lord secret from the past, possibly connected to the Silence.

In River Song's first appearance, the (tenth) Doctor told her that "There's only one reason I'd ever tell you my name. There's only one time I could."

This may indicate foreknowledge on the Doctor's part of what would happen if he were asked the question at Trenzalore--under whatever conditions there force people to answer and tell the truth--but there may be more to it than that.


My Guesses

Although I can see other possibilities, my guesses are:

  1. They will reveal the Doctor's name.
  2. It will be humanly pronounceable.
  3. The Doctor's name will turn out to be polysyllabic. (A single syllable would run too much risk of being comical. It will probably turn out to be something longish and hard to pronounce.)
  4. Its significance will be that it is tied to some dangerous secret from the past.
  5. The secret probably involves the Time Lords, and possibly the beginning of their civilization.
  6. The secret also likely involves the Silence and will likely lead to the destruction or the devastation of the Silence.
  7. The name may be connected to an even deeper secret that they don't reveal.

What are your guesses?


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