The Name of the Doctor
The Day of the Doctor
The Time of the Doctor
The Noun of the Doctor trilogy

Story No. 260, 261 and 262 Proptional posters
Production Code Concluding three episodes of Series 7
Dates May 18, Nov 23 and Dec 25 2013

With Matt Smith, David Tennant, John Hurt, Jenna Coleman
Written by Steven Moffat Directed by Saul Metzstein, Nick Hurran, Jamie Payne
Executive Producers: Steven Moffat, Caroline Skinner, Brian Minchin

Synopsis: The climactic events leading up to the end of the eleventh Doctor's life.


Time Can Be Rewritten by Hugh Sturgess 25/1/15

See the man. The man farewells the ghost of his beloved beside his own grave so that both can be at peace. Years later, the man, now old, resolves to end his days making children's toys, his wanderlust sated and his travels now over. And, somewhere at right angles to both those moments, the man is given the chance to save himself on the day he needed help the most.

Russell T Davies commissioned Stephen Greenhorn to write The Doctor's Daughter on the strength of a chance comment on Greenhorn's part, to the effect that Doctor Who is an unusual series in that its main character almost by definition never changes (except to change everything), instead changing the world around him. The Doctor's Daughter was meant to be a story that changed the Doctor. Instead, it was a parody, a tale told by an idiot, signifying nothing. It was intended as substance but was actually syrup. At the end of 2013, Doctor Who again broadcast episodes with the main character's name in the title. Each promised some huge, earth-shattering revelation or change in the Doctor's life: his name, his worst day and his death. But, as he had done since The Empty Child, Steven Moffat deceived us. Each episode is a shell game, constantly avoiding the revelation, deferring it until side-stepping it altogether. We never learn his name, he cheats death (as he was always going to) and even the worst day in his life has a get-out clause.

To viewers who, not unreasonably, wanted a climax, a moment when all the games and deferrals came to an end and the secret was revealed, this was infuriating. The secret behind the Doctor's name, the Silence, Trenzalore... these have been teased for years and yet are either forgotten or resolved in a throwaway line. It certainly looks like the work of an author who was unable to resolve the many loose threads left hanging at the end. But let's go full Barthes and explore this kind of narrative substitution (replacing one story with another) on its own terms. Name, Day and Time all promise one story and yet tell another, very different one. The title of The Name of the Doctor amounts to a trick, and its final line reads almost as a deliberate thumb in the eye: "Not in the name of the Doctor." The Day of the Doctor is not the dark, doomful revelation of how the Doctor destroyed the Time Lords at all. The Time of the Doctor fails to provide the epic conclusion to the Smith era, pointedly refusing to deal with its story arc beyond a throwaway scene over marshmallows. Even the Doctor's thirteenth regeneration, an event we all assumed would come at the conclusion of some titanic story arc, is instead introduced twenty minutes before it is resolved.

The Noun of the Doctor trilogy - and, by extension, the entire Moffat era - is a conscious subversion and inversion of the idea of the epic. It adamantly refuses to give us what we want. Heaps of things are set up as "fact", things that cannot be rewritten: the Doctor will die on Trenzalore (we even see his tomb!), the Doctor destroyed Gallifrey. Outside the scope of this review, the Doctor dies by Lake Silencio. Yet these are gleefully ignored. There's almost a mocking edge to the Doctor's marshmallows scene with Tasha Lem, in which she gives him the rundown on his era's arc in the space of thirty seconds and he delivers a line echoing what fans had been asking with a sort of smirk. ("So that's who blew up my TARDIS. I thought I'd just left the bath running.") I dare you, the story seems to say. I dare you to complain that it's a letdown.

On the face of it, this is perverse. The Moffat era has "done" arcs much more than Russell T Davies. Davies's "arcs" were just a single-word easter egg ("Bad Wolf", etc) or a returning character/monster. Moffat's arcs have stretched across seasons, episodes have run into one another and the order in which information has been given to us has been jumbled. Unlike Davies, Moffat has aggressively experimented with the structure of the series, first going for what is probably the most pleasing season-long arc in the series in 2010, then going turbo-cult with Series 6 and then going in the opposite direction in 2012 with stories accelerated to the limit of comprehensibility. River Song was introduced as a mystery before the Silence, who in turn preceded "the Question" and Trenzalore. With all this still up in the air, surely a revelation is at hand. Deliberately failing to provide a satisfying conclusion is insane.

This is Moffat aggressively subverting the idea of an arc. He has deliberately built up audience expectations for years, teasing "the Question" over and over. Now, an entire episode seems centred around it - and it barely rates. "The Question" is effectively the TARDIS's password, and it might as well have simply been "password". The story of Trenzalore becomes another shiny object that the episode is distracted by. Furthermore, the entire "mystery" of Clara is an even more dramatic subversion of narrative conventions. We have been encouraged all mini-season to see Clara as a mystery in need of solving, a puzzle box to be unlocked by the Doctor. This produced fodder for the Moffat-is-a-sexist camp (a camp not without intellectual merits), who saw this as another example of objectifying the female companion and making her an object to be acted on by the Doctor.

But I think that Moffat actually intended to provoke that reaction. The Name of the Doctor provides yet another anti-climax to a Moffat arc. Clara is "the impossible girl"… because she jumped into a clip-show for five minutes. There was no sinister plan, no "genetic programming", no evil (evil!) since the dawn of time. She was just an ordinary girl all along. She saves the Doctor because she is a brave person who cares for him. The revelation is that the impossible girl was eminently possible, that the mystery did not define Clara but was merely an event in her life. It is an attack on the very idea of treating a human character as a puzzle box. I think the two crucial moments in Series 7b come in Hide and Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS. In the former, Emma, confused at the Doctor's questioning, insists that Clara is just an ordinary girl; in the latter, the Doctor angrily demands that Clara reveal who is, getting in her face and frightening her. I think Moffat's intention was to say, "You think I'm objectifying women? What are you doing right now?!" He tricks us into believing that we're watching a very different kind of story. The criticisms of Clara for being a blandly generic companion I think were ill-founded, because we were interrogating her "mystery" so much that her character was unable to shine through (as it has done in Series 8).

This is what Doctor Who has done from the start: crashing into another genre and transforming it as a result. In 2012 and 2013, Doctor Who did this explicitly, and as rapidly as possible, doing Western, pulp fiction, weird fiction, a ghost story, a submarine story and so on. The Day of the Doctor does this with Doctor Who's own history, playing at an Earthbound thriller, a (pseudo-)historical and space adventure. The Name of the Doctor does the same, but it's hard to initially see what its chosen genre is. But my comments in my review of Name, to the effect that it's strikingly nerdy and unmainstream, suggest that it is playing at being a "cult" season finale in which the long story arc is resolved. It's hard for us to see that, since we are, in a way, expecting or wanting that from Doctor Who. We want the long arc cleared up in an ultra-dark (in this case literally), continuity-heavy story featuring a returning villain. But Doctor Who has never, ever worked like that. The series has crashed into cult fiction and subverted it. Moffat's repeated acts of narrative substitution are statements that Doctor Who's nature is antithetical to arcs.

Whether you agree with this sentiment or not, you have to admit that Moffat's reasoning, by his lights, is impeccable. Arcs imply telos, they imply structure and form that lead to a predetermined conclusion. The making of a successful arc (whether narrative- or character-based) is a satisfying ending, as the Smith era has shown by presenting the alternative. A writer (I can't remember who) once said that in writing stories, you should know where you want to begin. He meant that if you wanted to reach a desired conclusion, you should seed that in from the beginning. This is the essence of an arc.

Moffat emphatically does not write that way. He simply makes it up as he goes along. I remember him relating a conversation he had with Mark Gatiss during the writing of Victory of the Daleks, in which he instructed Gatiss to name one Dalek "Eternal". When Gatiss asked what that meant, Moffat replied (paraphrasing): "I don't know, but it'll be fun when I write it." Which he almost certainly will never do, since the New Paradigm Daleks were such an aesthetic disaster that the production team was forced into an astonishing retreat and, after an appearance as "officers" in Asylum of the Daleks, they have been entirely suppressed. By all accounts, Series 6 was a production nightmare and work on The Wedding of River Song began without scripts in hand. In short, Moffat is the antithesis of a structured, arc-driven author.

Crucially, that is also how he sees the Doctor. Challenged to explain why the Doctor didn't think to do a bit of investigation of the cracks, Amy forgetting Journey's End and the fragment of the TARDIS in Series 5, Moffat stated his belief that the Doctor is too scatter-brained to follow up a thread like that. At the end of The Big Bang, the Doctor is distracted from talk of the Silence (a mystery still hanging over him) by a phone-call which, we learn in Mummy on the Orient Express, he doesn't even follow up on. On a more fundamental level, arcs are about endings and the Doctor, Moffat writes again and again, doesn't like endings.

This works in the classic Doctor Who fashion of internalising and fictionalising some extra-diegetic element about the series. The show has long tended to fictionalise the real-world state of the program, so that the Doctor was literally put on trial at the same time that the series was being put on metaphorical trial after the Suspension. The failure of the sixth Doctor's era was fictionalised as the failure of the sixth Doctor in the New Adventures. The Time War is an in-narrative description of the cancellation and the wilderness years: a shockingly traumatic event that leaves the series without a past. As above, so below.

Moffat does the same. Doctor Who is the series that never ends. It wasn't created by a single author with a single idea about what "story" the series would tell. The only holistically satisfying ending the series could ever have would be for its two main characters - London schoolteachers Ian and Barbara - to finally get back home and never meet the alien Doctor ever again. But instead the series replaced that story with another: the Doctor's adventures. And when the Doctor couldn't go on, it replaced him with another, totally different character. Doctor Who's entire history, the reason for its unique longevity, is a process of replacing one central narrative with another. In short, it is a series defined by narrative substitution.

Moffat has fictionalised and internalised this mutability by making the Doctor as mercurial and absent-minded as the series. Beginning appropriately at the end of The End of Time, an episode in which everyone associated with the series quit and yet the series kept on going, the series has maintained a theme of people becoming stories. The Doctor is Amy's imaginary friend and when he is eaten by the crack he laments that "we're all stories in the end". And yet, he continues, despite being erased from the universe, because people - in this case Amy - keeps telling stories about him. In The Name of the Doctor, River compares her predicament to being left like a book on a shelf. This is a nice metaphor for Moffat's idea of the series as a whole: suspended but not ended. So long as the book is there, we can always take it down and have another adventure with the Doctor and River Song. This is the opposite of an arc. An arc is a crafted performance, a single trick that is applauded if done well. Doctor Who, particularly in Moffat's era, is a magic trick with no end, seeking applause for juggling more and more balls without dropping any. (No wonder it tends to run people into the ground.) Moffat is interrogating how we tell our stories. While it would undermine the weight of the final Doctor/River scene in The Name of the Doctor, it might be more ideologically appropriate to have an utterly run-of-the-mill episode for River and the twelfth Doctor in the future.

The Name of the Doctor is exploring the morality of maintaining such an anti-teleological stance. This is an interesting episode in that it is the silence after the battle. It feels not so much funereal as doomful. Trenzalore is a blasted, storm-wracked wasteland, despoiled by vast graveyards and glowing red gashes of magma. It feels hellish. The characters flit about anxiously in the near-total darkness. Has the Doctor ever looked so worried exploring a new location? The washed-out palate and the Doctor's evident fear combine with the episode's curious lack of jeopardy. The Great Intelligence's attack on the Doctor is undone in five minutes, and the Whispermen are a curious, half-formed menace. River's appearance is odd, since it comes minus all the iconography of her other stories: there are no Ponds, no Silence, no checking-the-diary. For a climactic series finale, there is an enormous amount of talking and very little adventure. It has all the hallmarks of a standard new-series episode, yet it is as lively as a corpse. It feels like something has broken inside Doctor Who, it feels like an ending. This is the ghost of Doctor Who. The Doctor has been yanked out of the series, made to look at his life from the outside and forced to confront his own limitations.

This is why River is an important part of this story. The Doctor's great triumph at the end of Forest of the Dead is a strange one. We have established that data-ghosts are merely the echoes of the original person's consciousness, the imprint of their mind on their telepathic communications net (which we never see used). However, the Doctor "saves" River as a data-ghost and the story acts as though he has saved the real River. He turns the story of her sacrifice into the story of his triumph, preserving an echo of her consciousness without asking her permission or even speaking to her. There is something supremely dislikable about the look of exultant smugness David Tennant wears as he walks back to the TARDIS. The Name of the Doctor calls him out on that and for once the series' in-text criticism of the Doctor's actions carries weight. The episode makes it clear that the Doctor preserved River's dying consciousness and never contacted her again, leaving her like a ghost unable to rest until she finds peace. Set in the space after the last full stop of his story, the Doctor is forced to admit that the triumph of Forest of the Dead was fundamentally a selfish act, in that he did it because he refused to admit that he had lost and because of his personal aversion to endings. Better to "save" River and leave her to wind down to oblivion in secret than have to directly confront her death. This is explicitly framed in terms of accepting the need to say goodbye.

But notice how that goodbye is said. "Say it like you're going to come back." This is when the Doctor regains his old swagger: "See you round, Professor River Song." While Moffat is criticising his own previous plot development (Forest of the Dead), he is not criticising, indeed he is affirming, the Doctor's aversion to endings. The Doctor's "final farewell" to River is a statement that they can continue their adventures any time they like.

As I said, it is crazy to turn your epic storyline into a statement of your opposition to epic storylines. But have Moffat or the series suffered any consequences? The reception of Name, Day and Time was excellent by mainstream reviewers and fans alike, audience appreciation figures were high, as were viewing figures generally. Fandom is used to viewing the series with a cult sensibility (all those years that Doctor Who was in the cult section of the BBC website…), but the general public isn't and that's who the series is made for. And yet fandom, it seems, loved these episodes too. The Day of the Doctor topped DWM's poll for best ever episode, though The Time of the Doctor seems to have met with a more mixed reception.

Moffat's belief in the Doctor's aversion to finiteness and conclusion feeds through into his views on the Doctor's function as a character and as a hero. As the series is defined by narrative substitution, that has bled through into the narrative as the Doctor changing the ending to stories when he doesn't like them. This is most obviously done in The Day of the Doctor, when the Doctor opts to rewrite his own life to save Gallifrey. This is interesting because Moffat has been unusually explicit in his reasoning. He says that he saved Gallifrey because he felt it was impossible for the Doctor to have "really" destroyed it. He frames this as a moral absolute. There are kids down there! The Doctor would never, ever kill kids, no matter the circumstances.

This leads to a discussion of something I noticed but failed to understand on initial watching of The Day of the Doctor. I noted that the tenth Doctor is shown at the point in his life after The Waters of Mars, in which his hubris reached new heights and he was punished for it. I lamented the decision to portray Tennant as the standard tenth Doctor, when the Time Lord Victorious would add a new dimension to the Hurt Doctor's exploration of his future selves. But I didn't realise how strange that sounded. After all, the Time Lord Victorious is a symbol of the Doctor's arrogance in believing that he can change history however he likes. What else does he do in Day but change history because "I've changed my mind"?

The Waters of Mars is praised for its tragic ending, but the moral quandary is a strange one. The Doctor's decision to save Adelaide and the others from their historical fate is portrayed as arrogance, stemming from (Davies writes in The Writer's Tale) the absence of a companion to keep him in check. But can anyone imagine any companion (other than Turlough, Compassion or other special cases) arguing against changing history to save a few lives? No, since that is precisely what happens in The Fires of Pompeii. And The Aztecs. And Father's Day. And The Witch Hunters. And every other "not one line" story about the inevitability of history. The similarities with The Fires of Pompeii are startling, given how differently the climax is portrayed. (Ponder these titles: The Fires of Pompeii, The Waters of Mars. They seem to be clear companion pieces.) They share a moment in which the Doctor, having previously decided that he cannot save anyone, returns to rescue the cast. He is shown entering the scene framed with a halo of blazing white light and a dramatic musical chord.

And yet one is bad and one is good. Why? We are left to conclude that the Doctor saved Adelaide in an arrogant fashion, and so must be cut down to size, but this is clearly not the intention. Davies evidently believes the moral of the story is that the Doctor cannot decide who lives and who dies based on whether he likes them or not, and did not notice the open contradiction with The Fires of Pompeii. In Voyage of the Damned, Davies kills the "nice" characters, saves the odious businessman and gives Mr. Copper a line stating that deciding to let people die based on whether or not they're nice people would make the Doctor a monster. But deciding who lives and who dies is exactly what he does in the exact same situation in The Fires of Pompeii. It is a testament to Tennant's acting in The Waters of Mars that he turns what is the archetypal act of the Doctor's heroism - breaking the rules to save a few people from certain death - into something terrifying.

Davies gives us an insoluble paradox at the heart of the Doctor's ethics. To save everyone is to become a monster. But to endlessly save only a few makes him a feckless moral narcissist. The Fires of Pompeii shows the Doctor salving his conscience by saving Caecilius's family from a disaster he himself caused. One family survives because he met them while 20,000 other innocents die because he did not. How is this less morally monstrous than picking and choosing who lives and who dies? (Caecilius's family even comes to literally worship the Doctor and Donna as household gods.) Davies is clear that leaving Caecilius's family to die would be wrong, but saving Adelaide and her crew in the same situation would be wrong too. The Davies era is bookended by the Doctor refusing to take a morally unpleasant action and by doing so condemning countless billions to a fate worse than death. He chooses not to destroy the Earth to stop the Daleks from conquering the universe, he refuses to shoot either Rassilon or the Master in order to save creation. In both cases, something magical happens that gives him "another way", keeping him morally pure without the moral opprobrium of letting something even worse happen. As I wrote in my retrospective on Davies, this is an astonishingly middle-class moral standpoint, based on the aesthetics of a moral decision and desperate to keep its hero's hands clean. The Doctor is allowed to grapple with his conscience and take the noble decision, without incurring the consequences.

The Time Lord Victorious could not be mentioned in The Day of the Doctor, because Moffat believes that the Doctor can change history and that there is nothing wrong with that. The eleventh Doctor reminds his younger self that he changes history "all the time", which looks almost like a direct rebuke. This makes Moffat's reasoning (the Doctor wouldn't do that) all the more telling. To Davies, going back to save Adelaide was the worst thing the Doctor could do in that situation. To Moffat, it is the only thing the Doctor could do. Given a stark choice between saving the world and saving the children, the Doctor will choose both. It is important that, after an era defined by the Doctor's relationship with children (Amelia, Melody, young Kazran, even young Clara in the prequel to The Bells of Saint John), the central obstacle the Doctor (and Moffat) has to destroying Gallifrey is that children will die too. As Amy said in The Beast Below, the Doctor would never let the children cry.

The Hurt Doctor is born of the same reasoning. Paul McGann's Doctor, Moffat thought, couldn't be imagined fighting a centuries-long war. That, along with his standing desire to introduce a "mayfly Doctor" whom we would only meet once, led him to invent a lost Doctor who can act out in ways the established character cannot.

Kory Stephens, in his review of The Day of the Doctor, expresses his strongly dislike of the episode. I totally respect that, though of course I disagree with it. Since he ends his review with a plea for those of us who disagree to take his views into consideration, I thought I'd respond to one of the objections he raises. Kory objects strongly to the creation of the Hurt Doctor, charging that the reasoning behind it cheapens or undermines the eighth Doctor. He asks why, if the eighth Doctor did not fight in the Time War, he is depicted doing so in a flashback in The Forgotten comic strip and there is heavy foreshadowing in Big Finish to that effect. I find this a strange question, since the answer is obvious: the authors of those stories didn't know about the Hurt Doctor, because Steven Moffat had yet to invent him. The Forgotten simply assumed that the Doctor who fought in the Time War was McGann's. This was always a risk. There is nothing to say it wasn't Eccleston's. Russell T Davies offered DWM the opportunity to show the Doctor's eighth regeneration at the end of The Flood, which would have established in officially sanctioned material that Eccleston was the Time War veteran, so the option was clearly open. It was just assumed to have been McGann.

The only unambiguous textual evidence of the eighth Doctor fighting in the Time War is one flashback in one comic strip that hardly anyone read (making its title, The Forgotten, rather appropriate). That is the only thing that has been blasted into non-canonicity by the Hurt Doctor. Yes, the assumption is clearly what Big Finish was operating under when they produced To the Death and Dark Eyes or featured a future "war-weary" eighth Doctor in some short stories. But there is nothing, nothing, in Big Finish's eighth Doctor adventures that contradicts the existence of the Hurt Doctor. Big Finish is forbidden from addressing the Time War directly, for precisely the reason that the TV series might want to say something in contradiction to them, and we know who will win that fight.

Big Finish must content itself with hints about the future, since it is legally prevented from showing us it. If the books and the audios swapped storylines, so that Big Finish had the Doctor destroy Gallifrey and forget everything, then it could continue to churn out eighth Doctor audios showing how he recovered his memories, rebuilt Gallifrey, restored the Time Lords and founded a new society. You could get some great material out of a long-running narrative of that kind (a wanderer who seeks out the unknown and doesn't follow rules forced into the role of statesman and civilisation-builder), but it falls into the same trap of an open-ended continuing series for a character whose resolution can never be reached but is known anyway. This is the problem of all Missing Adventures writ large. Whether the eighth Doctor fought in the Time War or not, his ending is known (it is now visible, thanks to The Night of the Doctor) but Big Finish can never show us it. Big Finish's eighth Doctor adventures are not being without becoming but becoming without being, an endless state of flux that can never reach a resolution. No matter how much they shake it up - killing Lucie, Tamsin, Alex, pushing the Doctor to the edge, giving him a haircut - they can do nothing better than tell good stories while running on the spot. The Time War is a glittering oasis of resolution that continually recedes like a mirage as Big Finish approaches it. Any problems that arise from Big Finish dropping "hints" that the TV series later contradicts are Big Finish's fault - they are not meant to do so, and the TV series will not be constrained by references to stories that haven't been written yet.

The idea that the eighth Doctor's era (more so mere assumptions about the eighth Doctor) can pull rank on the new series falls down in the face of the blatant contradictions between the books, audios and comics. In short, the eighth Doctor has no era. Zagreus went out of its way to say that the books and the audios exist in different universes, while the comics are part of a continuity all of their own, in which Ace was killed by the Threshold. Kory cites both The Ancestor Cell and Dark Eyes as evidence that the eighth Doctor could have fought in the Time War without being out of character - but those two stories come from different, contradictory strands of continuity. How can the eighth Doctor's "era" possibly hold enough weight to overrule the Hurt Doctor when it overrules itself?

Invoking the first destruction of Gallifrey in The Ancestor Cell as an in-universe precedent that the show has to respect (the eighth Doctor did not need to become a warrior to destroy Gallifrey then, Kory submits) misses the fact that the new series contradicted the EDAs from day one, by having Gallifrey destroyed in a different way and the Doctor manifestly not traumatised into amnesia by it. (Also, the Doctor does not become a warrior in The Night of the Doctor in order to destroy Gallifrey, but to fight on the front lines of the war.) The Gallifrey Chronicles was written to awkwardly reconcile the two by setting the stage for Gallifrey's return and making the Doctor's amnesia a product of design rather than trauma. Kory writes as though the Matrix explanation was intended from the beginning, but of course it was just a clever retcon. If the books had stubbornly clung to their guns and insisted that they were there first and the TV series had to follow them, Russell T Davies would never have noticed. This is as it should be. As a television program first and foremost, Doctor Who will always exhibit a narrative gravity towards television.

Kory's argument against the Hurt Doctor seems to come down, in the end, to his belief that, pace Moffat, the eighth Doctor could too have fought in the Time War, and that revealing that he didn't somehow detracts from the eighth Doctor. Well, that's a matter of opinion, but I don't think that the eighth Doctor could be any more diminished than he already is. The TV movie depicted the new Doctor as a bland Doctorish cipher, with only the justly praised "these shoes" scene and the lesser known "by midnight tonight this planet will be turned inside out" scene that follows giving us anything distinctive. The EDAs not only merely failed to develop a compelling characterisation for him, they portrayed him either as a faceless amalgam of "Doctorish" traits (mainly Pertwee or Davison) or as a feckless, whey-faced ignoramus, whom readers spent years waiting to take an active role in his own adventures. This was, for years, the official characterisation of the Doctor. Big Finish too offers no distinctive characterisation for the character, and McGann delivers a performance that might best be described as bland. The ship is well and truly sailed on making the eighth Doctor a rounded character. What traits can be held up as defining of his Doctor? What is uniquely McGannish? Split into endless fractals of spin-off on the page and on the airwaves, he was ever more diminished until the new series crushed the life from him without even noticing. Until The Night of the Doctor, he didn't even have an ending.

So it's appropriate that the eighth Doctor's life is a failure diegetically as well as extra-diegetically. This is another example of Doctor Who turning a production reality into a fictional storyline. The eighth Doctor failed at his most important challenge: namely, getting the show back on the air. Thus, he is portrayed in the books and audios as lurching from one loss to another, a ghostly half-Doctor unable to establish his mark or to reverse the advance of the forces of evil (Daleks, Faction Paradox, etc) until finally admitting that he wasn't up to the task (of winning the Time War and reviving the series) and renouncing his mantle to another. Not every Doctor's arc is a triumphant one.

The eleventh Doctor's death is unusual in terms of the history of Doctor Who, not really resembling any of its predecessors. Most regeneration stories have an elegiac, melancholy quality to them, a sense of fundamental wrongness stemming from seeing our immortal, omnicompetent hero weakened and die. The mighty Jon Pertwee, hero to the nation, is forced to confront his fears and becomes a withered old man, his body eaten away by radiation. Tom Baker, a demigod amongst men, can't keep his grip on a scaffolding and plunges to his death, a tiny little man in the grips of gravity. David Tennant, children's hero and universally acceptable sex symbol, fights back sobs as he faces his demise. And yet the eleventh Doctor dies smiling. When Clara reads him the poem, his eyes stare out of his wrinkled face alive with the old vitality. There is a single moment in the TARDIS when he is about to burst into tears, but then he is comforted by the hallucination of Amelia. ("We all change.") He dies smiling.

The Time of the Doctor has a rocky reputation for being a bit scattershot. What does the story hope to achieve? At its heart, it's one of what Lawrence Miles derisively calls "Doctor Weepies": a high-concept heartstring-puller in which the Doctor is forced to confront some emotional element of everyday life. The Doctor falls in love in The Girl in the Fireplace and Human Nature and deals with the loss of a loved one in Fireplace and The Doctor's Daughter. The Doctor's Wife falls into this category too, though the story is so high-concept that there isn't an obvious real-world analogy. The Time of the Doctor's conceit is simple: what if the Doctor was forced to stay in one place and age to death like the rest of us? The difference between those stories and The Time of the Doctor is that here we have no insight into the Doctor's interiority. In the other "Weepies", we see the Doctor's emotional reactions - after all, that's part of the point of putting him in those situations. (Human Nature has the caveat that we see John Smith's interiority, not the Doctor's.)

In Time's most obvious comparison, The End of Time, we see the Doctor raging against his fate, breaking down in tears lamenting his doom and sobbing with relief when he thinks he has been spared. In The Time of the Doctor, we see none of this. The Doctor's thoughts are a mystery to us. Even the plot element identical to The Parting of the Ways - sending the companion home to her housing estate to escape the battle with the Daleks - is utterly different in execution as the Doctor doesn't explain his decision to Clara as he did to Rose. Watch his face as Clara reads him the poem from the Christmas cracker. What's he thinking? We can guess, but it isn't acted out explicitly as it would be in Tennant or Eccleston stories.

There is no "master narrative" more universal than death, so one might think that the Doctor would rebel against it more than anything else. He certainly does in The End of Time. But there is no point in denying the inevitability of death. Everyone involved in the making and viewing of Doctor Who will die, and no amount of narrative substitution will change that. So Moffat goes the other way and gives the Doctor no option. In staying to protect a small village and the children who live there (and note how Amy's theme subtly plays when the Doctor finds Barnable waiting by the TARDIS), the Doctor must choose to die there. So he faces it not with anger or resentment but with silent acceptance, dignity and joy. That's what that expression on his face looks like: joy. Yes, Clara gets the Time Lords to rewrite the ending (but did anyone really think that he would die?), but it comes at a cost: the (or rather, a) death of the (or rather, a) Doctor.

Unlike The End of Time, this is not a dark, depressing story. It is a joyful story. The Doctor gives up his freedom and his (near-)immortality to stay in one town making toys. That tiny moment in which the Doctor is too frail to pull the Christmas cracker and Clara tenderly helps him, for instance. It's clearly based on authorial experience dealing with aged or infirm people. But it isn't about sadness, it's about treating death as unpleasant but something to be faced with contentment and dignity. The whole episode is full of humour and adventure, which is either an unfortunate lapse in tone or a statement that death doesn't have to be a journey as well as a destination. In the face of the inevitability of death, this story presents as its answer ecstatic joy. It's frankly a beautiful story and it's a shame that it doesn't have the reputation it deserves.

I understand and sympathise with the argument that a hero who never has to make tough choices is socially irrelevant. But the fact is that the Doctor has never really made tough decisions of this kind, even in circumstances when the unique selling point is a tough decision. Getting even closer to the bone, what is the social utility in the alternative, i.e. a hero who does kill four billion children to save the universe? What is this saying? That sometimes tough decisions have to be made? It's not much of a message, since we already live in a world in which powerful people make unpleasant trade-offs. Maybe it's better to make an ideological point out of presenting an alternative to those choices than to try to make an emotional point (that the Doctor is haunted and tragic) out of engaging with them and then whiffing on them. At the big fiftieth anniversary convention, Moffat was asked about the importance of the Doctor as a story, and his reply is worth quoting in full:

"Heroes are important. Heroes tell us something about ourselves. History books tell us who we used to be, documentaries tell us who we are now, but heroes tell us who we want to be. And a lot of our heroes depress me. But, you know, when they made this particular hero up, they didn't give him a gun; they gave him a screwdriver to fix things. They didn't give him a tank or a warship or an X-Wing fighter, they gave him a call box from which you can call for help. And they didn't give him a superpower or pointy ears or a heat ray. They gave him an extra heart. They gave him two hearts, and that's an extraordinary thing. There will never come a time when we don't need a hero like the Doctor."
Moffat, it is clear, sees a definite social role to writing stories like this. Decades ago, during the wilderness years, there was a protracted debates among fans who divided into "guns" and "frocks". The guns liked stories in which the Doctor is forced to make tough decisions, there are costs to victory (if victory is won at all) and the world is depicted as a general nasty and brutish place. The frocks liked stories in which victory is obtained by basically decent people struggling to do what's right, who turn the tables on the baddies with their wits and their wit, in a fundamentally moral universe. While the new series has always leaned towards the latter, it is important to note that it was RTD who gave us Last of the Time Lords and its bleak vision of a dying universe. Moffat has made it clear on just what side he is. He is a frock. As Clara says at the climax of The Day of the Doctor, "We've got enough warriors." The Doctor serves as means to affirm the value of compassion, of intelligence, of curiosity and of - and I keep coming back to this - joy.

The Power of Love is a cliche, but we exist in a world in which it does not exist, and most of our heroes are flawed vigilantes who resolve problems with guns or fists. Doctor Who fans recoil from Power of Love endings because we have an ingrained inferiority complex that comes from decades of jokes at Doctor Who's silliness. We've long wanted the series to be as good-looking and as respectable as all those other sci-fi and fantasy shows, and stories in which love and compassion save the day make us squirm by making us feel childish. But we have to admit, in the show's sixth decade, that it is other shows that now try to emulate Doctor Who. There was a war - and we won.

Doctor Who is more respected, more beloved and more widely known now than ever. This is a time in which The New Yorker runs an article discussing the series and its new popularity in the United States. This is a time in which The Atlantic reviews Deep Breath and The American Prospect run a feminist analysis of the Pond era's exploration of family. This is a time in which the Queen orders a box set of Series 2. This is a time in which a loony far-right government whip, a whip-smart shadow minister and the author of a number of erotic novels involving whips co-sponsor a motion in the Australian parliament suggesting that the BBC film the 2015 series in Australia. This is a time in which the New Statesman can depict leaders of the Labour Party as Doctors on the front page and assume that their readers will understand the visual joke (that Ed Miliband must "regenerate" Labour). This is a time in which the actors playing the Doctor and his companion can go on a world tour to America, Australia and even South Korea and meet crowds of fans wherever they go.

This is truly the time of the Doctor.