Soap Opera Weekly: Night Shift 6/30/08

DOCTOR WHO asks, what’s in a name? Well, when you’re known throughout time and space only as “the Doctor,” your true name holds power. If you are Prof. River Song, the Doctor’s name holds the power to convince him that you are who you say you are — a person he can trust totally. I find it mind-boggling that Song knew the Doctor’s name! The Doctor’s sonic screwdriver was a key piece of evidence that he would one day know her — but this! When Lux condemned the Doctor and Song for bickering like an old married couple it could have been a variation on this year’s lark about the Doctor and Donna being married, but the look of shock on her face — it was a little too uncomfortable. In fact, it prompted her to use a “spoiler” and whisper his name.

The reason this constituted a “spoiler” to viewers is because the Doctor’s true name has never been revealed on air. The Seventh Doctor admitted his nickname at university was “Theta Sigma” — a moniker first mentioned (by fellow Time Lord Drax) during the Fourth Doctor adventure known as “The Armageddon Factor.” A number of characters have made erroneous assumptions about the Doctor’s last name, going back as far as the very first story, in 1963: In “An Unearthly Child,” Ian called the crotchety first persona “Doctor Foreman.” The alien computer WOTAN referred to the Second Doctor as “Doctor Who” during “The War Machines.” (Incidentally, that was the only time the character was ever explicitly referred to by that name.) The Second Doctor called himself “Dr. Wer” [Who in German] in “The Highlanders” and signed a note “Dr. W” in “The Underwater Menace.” And in the story “The Daemons,” the Third Doctor was called “Quiquaequod” (which is a combination of the three Latin forms of “who”). And then there was the names the Daleks gave him: “Ka Faraq Gatri,” which translates as “Bringer of Darkness” or “Destroyer of Worlds” (because the Seventh Doctor destroyed their home planet of Skaro in the Season 25 story “Revelation of the Daleks”). And the Ninth Doctor claimed the title “The Oncoming Storm” (a name by which he was also known among the Draconian race.)

Anyway, as far as the story went: Song used a sonic blaster just like the one Jack used in Moffat’s “The Doctor Dances” to blast an escape route for the gang. Meanwhile, in virtual reality inside the Library’s computer core, Donna was living an edited life that moved at the speed of thought. In only a few seconds she met Lee, married and started a family. She was none too happy to learn it was all make-believe. “I’ve been dieting!” she wailed. On the serious side, Donna’s pain when her “children” disappeared was palpable. Speaking of children disappearing, when Cal got frightened and covered her eyes, it would have been a nice touch if she had hidden behind the couch. In Britain, there’s a long tradition of frightened children doing just that, going all the way back to the 1960s.

This was one of the stories I love best — when the Doctor himself saves the day through careful observation and even more careful thought (although it didn’t dawn on him that the Vashta Nerada might have hatched from the wood pulp of “a million million” books until it was too late). “Oh, I’m very good!” he exulted when he realized that that he would eventually give Song the screwdriver to “save” her by storing her personality in the psychic buffer of her communications device. It may only be half a life, but it made for a happy ending after all. Well, except for poor Donna — stuttering Lee couldn’t call out her name before he was teleported away. That’s two husbands down for her!

Interestingly, this is not the first time the Doctor has teamed up with a future companion before officially “meeting” her. In the story “Terror of the Vervoids,” the Sixth version of the Doctor was on trial for meddling with the natural course of the universe. As part of his defense, the Doctor presented video of an adventure from his own future, in which he and a companion named Melanie saved a spaceship full of people. Mel was then physically brought into the courtroom and teamed up with the Doctor to sort out the baddies in the “present.” The Doctor then returned Mel to her proper place in the timeline so he could eventually “meet” her. (Don’t you just lovetime travel?)

Now for he nitpicking: Strackman Lux got the Doctor’s anger up by not telling him that a child’s consciousness was linked to the central computer. “Why didn’t you tell me this?” the Doctor railed. “I needed to know this!” Well, pardon me, Doctor, but you and Song withheld a lot of information yourselves (such as the fact that Song could have gotten them to the computer core any time she wanted). However, this harkens back to his Seventh persona, who often coldly manipulated events without letting his companion, Ace, in on the plan until after the fact! (The Seventh Doctor also encountered a child’s mind wired into a computer in “Revelation of the Daleks.”)

For the second time this season, someone took the Doctor’s place on a suicide mission to save everyone, as Rattigan did in “The Poison Sky.” Yes, Jenny protected the Doctor from a hail of bullets in “The Doctor’s Daughter,” and Agatha Christie snatched the potentially fatal Vespiform amulet from him in “The Unicorn and the Wasp,” but those instances weren’t quite the same thing. Factoring in the Doctor’s self-immolation gambit at Vesuvius in “The Fires of Pompeii,” our Time Lord is working on one heck of a death wish this season!

And I wish you here for the next installment of Night Shift

Originally posted on Soap Opera Weekly.com

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