Steven Moffat’s era of Doctor Who is known for its abundance of complex, time-traveling related – colloquially known as “timey-wimey” – plots. It’s a controversial period of the sci-fi series, then, and the former showrunner’s episodes are still being discussed to this day, as fans attempt to unpack the tightly-wound nature of his writing.
Take 2013’s “The Name of the Doctor,” for instance. The episode was the finale of season 7 and featured the Doctor (Matt Smith) facing what was apparently his destiny, as he found out that he was to die someday on the planet Trenzalore and it was said that his tomb – the TARDIS – could only be entered if his real name was said aloud. This led fans to believe that we were finally going to learn what the Time Lord’s name was. However, in the end, the magic words were said by River Song.
Now, Whovians will know that River’s timeline is nigh on impossible to work out and her appearance here was one of her most complicated. Basically, she showed up in the form of a ghost that was telepathically connected to Clara. As no other characters could see her, her words were not heard aloud.
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If you can grasp that, though, the bit that doesn’t make sense is how does this ghost of River that only exists in Clara’s head activate the TARDIS by saying the Doctor’s name? It’s a good question, but one fan has now belatedly worked out a way for it to make sense. What they’ve suggested is that perhaps River is actually telepathically connected to the TARDIS at this point instead of Clara.
Still confused? Here’s how user Alcoholophile explains it:
Recall that earlier in the episode, after the dream “conference call” where the psychic link which River maintaned was established, The Doctor linked Clara to the Tardis telepathic circuits so it could get the location of Trenzalore from her mind.
My theory is as follows: River’s consciousness is just data, like a computer file. River is linked to Clara who is linked to the Tardis, River uses that opportunity to copy her consciousness to the Tardis itself. That copy of River will be with the Tardis and The Doctor forever. So the reason the Tardis heard River speak The Doctor’s name is because the River speaking is the copy inside that ancient dying Tardis.
Like the theory points out, the evidence for this occurs earlier on in the episode, as Clara connects to the TARDIS’s telepathic circuits in order to guide the time machine to Trenzalore. As it got a good look at Clara’s brain, it probably made a connection with River’s spirit, too. Also, at the end of the episode, it’s revealed that the Doctor knew River had been there the whole time. This wouldn’t make sense if she was in Clara’s head, but it does if her consciousness was linked to the TARDIS.
Is anyone else’s brain hurting now? If you like your Doctor Who a little more straightforward, you’re in luck, as the upcoming season 13 starring Jodie Whittaker as the Doctor and helmed by Moffat’s replacement Chris Chibnall is said to be more “family-orientated.” Look out for it to premiere sometime this fall.