Scene Breakdown – “The Name of the Doctor”

This is a new thing I’m trying, where I break down a scene from TV, a movie, or a novel and discuss WHY it’s so damn good. If you dont’ want spoilers, well…mind yourself.

“You’re always here to me. And I always listen. And I can always hear you.”

This might be one of the greatest lines Steven Moffat ever penned, though I admit there’s a stout bit of competition. I recently re-watched the entire Matt Smith run of Doctor Who, and let me tell you: it’s worth every second. Even the drab bits.

For those unfamiliar, let me give you a summary of what’s happening in this scene. River (curly haired woman there) is basically a ghost. She’s been in the episode the whole time, but nobody can see or hear her. She’s always been in love with the Doctor, and while he clearly cares about a River a great deal, this is absolutely a one-sided relationship. She loves him more than he loves her.

So in this episode, the Doctor is about to do something stupid and heroic that will probably end his life (that’s all you really need to know, to understand the scene out of context). And River’s ghost, which cannot be seen by anyone, is about to slap him.

And he turns around and hears her.

This is phenomenal writing and it made me burst into tears when I saw it a second time. Because the second time I saw it, I could see that the scene is operating on two (maybe three?) levels.

At the most basic, we’ve all been in love with someone who didn’t love us back. We can empathize with this scene so strongly, because what if the person who never saw you suddenly did? It’s potent. Hell, it takes your breath away.

But there’s something else going on here, I think. The Doctor is a fictional character, and to some extent, I’ve always felt that River, with her over-the-topness, her winking and nudging and flirting and being the best at everything…River is very clearly an audience insertion character (well, an author insertion character, but I’ll talk about that in a minute). And there’s nothing we, as fans, are ever more desperate for than acknowledgement. We LOVE our shows, our books…our characters. We love our heroes.

But they are fictional. And they cannot see us.

So imagine, if you will, an Animal-Man moment where your Hero, the Main Character, looks out of the frame and sees you. They address you.

What if they can always hear you.

It’s a beautiful idea. The key to poignancy is that a scene should never JUST be about the thing it seems to be about. It should be about something deeper, preferably several layers deep, and it should speak to you on both a personal level AND a sort of mass-subconscious level. It should understand our shared human experience, and craft a scene that is both about The Doctor and River Song, but is ALSO about you and every time you’ve ever been surprised by someone you thought didnt’ love you back.

…and that’s what makes this good writing.

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