Spoilers for Doctor Who episodes new and old follow.
So Steven Moffat's been teasing the revelation of the Doctor's real name since 2008's Silence in the Library, and built it up as his major arc last year. I figured this year was a break from that plotline and we'd probably get an answer next season -- but the BBC's just announced this season's finale will be titled The Name of the Doctor. So while there may be fallout next season, it looks like the big answer is coming in just three weeks.
So I've got some thoughts. What could the Doctor's name be? Some possibilities:
- It's a fakeout. We never hear his name. Even if it's spoken, it's spoken offscreen, or whispered so we can't hear it, like in Silence.
This strikes me as unlikely. Moffat's been building to this for five years. He's big on misdirection and on things not meaning exactly what you think they do -- but when he teases something big, he eventually delivers on it. Even if it is exactly what it appears, like last season when we found out that yes in fact River Song is the Doctor's wife, which we'd pretty much all assumed since Silence in the Library anyway.
- It's an homage. To somebody real. Like in Human Nature when he says his parents are named Sydney and Verity.
Of course, if his name is a reference to a real-life person, then the name itself won't have any in-universe significance -- see #4, below.
- It's a name we've already heard.
- It's a name we've heard before, either on the new series or the original, either a famous Time Lord, some other august personage, or hell, maybe he was faking it that very first time he said "Doctor Who?" and his name really is Foreman.
- It's a name that's been referenced that we don't even know is somebody's name -- like when we heard "Silence will fall" and only later learned that "Silence" was the name of an evil alien religious cult. The Doctor's name could be hidden in any of the catchphrases we've been hearing -- The Fields of Trenzalore, The Circle Must Be Broken, etc.
- It's just some random name. It's not the Doctor's name that's actually important, it's his identity.
This is a possibility -- a little Moffat-y misdirection -- but I doubt his name will be selected completely at random. If he goes this route I expect it'll be a combination of this and #2.
#3 seems the likeliest option to me.
There have been hints that Moffat intends to revive what's been called the Cartmel Masterplan:
The overall plan for Cartmel was to reveal that the Doctor was some form of a reincarnation of The Other, a mysterious figure from Gallifrey's past who helped form the Time Lords' society and perfect the time travel technology of the Time Lords.
Of course, "the Other" is no more a name than "the Doctor". It might tell us his significance, but it's not his name.
There's another problem: Moffat's view of the Doctor as a wanderer who stole a TARDIS when he was young seems incompatible with the idea that he's one of the three founding Time Lords. That is, short of some wibbly-wobbly-timey-wimey paradox where the Doctor is born in an already-established Time Lord society, steals a TARDIS, and at some point travels back in time to become one of the three founding Time Lords.
Which would be a workable plot, but might also tell us too much about the Doctor. Moffat, like most of the Who showrunners, thinks that a little bit of the origin story goes a long way. (For example, Neil Gaiman tells us that Moffat asked him to pare down his description of the Corsair in The Doctor's Wife because the original pitch implied that the Doctor patterend himself after the Corsair -- Moffat's response: "Answers too many question that should be left alone. He's the Doctor, he does what he does for reasons too vast and terrible to relate.") Obviously whatever the Doctor's name is must work toward some big reveal that leaves its mark on his origin story -- but it also needs to walk a fine line that doesn't tell us too much about where he came from and why he does what he does.
Indeed, in some ways it's better that the original series was canceled before Cartmel could spell everything out -- this way we got hints, in serials like Remembrance of the Daleks, that the Doctor was more than he seemed, but he still got to maintain his mystery.
If all goes according to plan, I'll have some future posts coming up dealing with Time Lord names and what we actually know about the Doctor's origins.