Saturday, 14 May 2011

'DOCTOR WHO' 6.4 – "The Doctor's Wife"

Saturday, 14 May 2011

It was mooted that renowned author Neil Gaiman (The Sandman, Coraline) might write an episode of Doctor Who during Russell T. Davies' era, but only now does the Hugo-winning wordsmith make his debut on the estimable sci-fi drama he grew up watching. "The Doctor's Wife" was a heady brew of fan-pleasing assortments, but sutured to the kind of barnstorming storyline that denied it becoming simply "one for the fans". Exemplifying many of the show's delights in a swift and pleasurable 45-minutes, it's very likely this could replace "Blink" as the ideal episode to show non-fans, as it worked as an effective entry point for Doctor Who as a concept.

This week, The Doctor (Matt Smith) received a distress call from a fellow Time Lord, via a levitating cube containing a psychic message. After detecting the source comes from an adjacent universe attached to ours like a benign parasite, The Doctor, Amy (Karen Gillan) and Rory (Arthur Darvill) found themselves on a junkyard planet populated by two "patchwork" people called Uncle (Adrian Schiller) and Auntie (Elizabeth Berrington), their Ood servant Nephew (Paul Kasey), and a buxom woman known as Idris (Suranne Jones) who, shortly after the TARDIS landed, became the host body for the TARDIS's consciousness itself. Soon after, The Doctor realized the distress call was a trap set by the planet's own consciousness, referred to as House (voiced by Michael Sheen), which achieved residency in the "lobotomized" TARDIS and vanished with Amy and Rory trapped inside, aiming to devour more TARDIS's in the contiguous universe...

What can you really say? This was a wonderful episode from lifelong fan Gaiman, who seemed to scratch several itches pertaining to Doctor Who while he had the chance, offering audiences some surprising insights into the TARDIS and, most importantly, the machine's relationship with its "thief", The Doctor. It's been alluded to before that Time Lords have a psychic connection with their TARDIS, but by actually giving the TARDIS a physical form with the delightful Idris, we got a much deeper sense of the bond that's shared between them. It was actually quite comical, as Idris believes she chose The Doctor and has been taking him on adventures for the past 900-year, but also rather touching when The Doctor admitted his private name for the TARDIS is "Sexy", and rather heartrending in the final moments when The Doctor had to say goodbye (or rather "hello") to the closest thing he has to a life partner. That title's more apt than you may think.

Matt Smith was at his very best throughout "The Doctor's Wife". We know he's very comfortable with the comedy and physicality of the role, but this was perhaps the first time he's been required to emote to David Tennant levels. His lip-quivering in the aforementioned final scene with Idris was genuinely moving, and in many ways has changed the way we see The Doctor and the TARDIS as the show's enduring duo. Equally good was guest-star Suranne Jones (a very underrated actress who deserves a successful post-Coronation Street career.) Her performance was spirited, naughty, magical and sublime, perhaps owing a debt to Helena Bonham Carter's Red Queen in Alice In Wonderland. She found an instant bond with Smith that radiated through the television screen, and it was a significant wrench when her character had to disappear. The idea of a talking TARDIS has never been a good one, but Jones' performance almost made me regret The Doctor will never have more dialogue with his trusty time-machine.

Amy and Rory had some fun sequences, which were notable for giving us an extremely rare glimpse beyond the Console Room of the TARDIS. Sure, it my have only consisted of some hexagonal corridors (well, until David Tennant's Console Room got an encore), but it was still a treat for fans. The jeopardy for them was a little too illogical, as House toyed with them by playing tricks with Space and Time (did Rory really live until he was elderly, alone in a corridor?), but if nerdy nitpicks are about all you have negative to say that's a good position to be in.

Overall, "The Doctor's Wife" thankfully lived up to the considerable hype surrounding it. I'm sure even Neil Gaiman's been nervous about the reaction. Well, he needn't have worried because he has same creative spark as Moffat when it comes to Doctor Who and its ramshackle energy, but as a contributing writer he's also forced to ensure everything ties up neatly. It's been awhile since I've been able to say the same thing about Moffat, who these days appears to enjoy the freedom to leave plot-threads dangling for weeks, even years. But this was a self-contained episode blessed with wonderful production values (the scrapheap planet was beautiful), full of excellent ideas, great performances, lovely moments of humour, and held together because it was fundamentally the story of an old man's love for an inanimate object that's been given life. Doctor Who's version of Pinocchio.


  • The visual of Idris "bleeding" TARDIS energy, which closely resembles the yellow energy Time Lords give off when they regenerate, had me pondering some connection to the little girl from the premiere who was seen regenerating (we assume.) Is there a connection with Idris, or are both visuals just similar?
  • Do you think the idea for this episode popped into Neil Gaiman's head after fans speculated that Kylie Minogue's character Astrid (an anagram of TARDIS) was going to somehow be the TARDIS in "Voyage Of The Damned"?
  • I loved the fanboy questions Gaiman managed to squeeze into the script: where does The Doctor sleep? Why does he always push the TARDIS door open, when the sign on the door says pull? Plus, we got to see the Tenth Doctor's Console Room again! I bet they're glad they kept that in storage over at BBC Wales.
  • Before "dying", Idris had Rory pass a message onto The Doctor ("the only water in the forest is the river"), which must surely be a reference to River Song in the episode "Forest Of The Dead". Has Gaiman been asked to lay some groundwork for something Steven Moffat has planned, hearkening back to that season 4 two-parter? Is River's demise not actually set in stone? Would any return to that story in Matt Smith's future necessitate the return of David Tennant? I doubt it, but... speculate.
  • There were some truly delicious and hilarious lines here. A few favourites being Amy's reaction when The Doctor introduced the bosomy Idris as his TARDIS/woman ("did you wish really hard?"), or "biting's excellent; it's like kissing only there's a winner".
  • The revelation that The Doctor's been making newlyweds Amy and Rory sleep in bunk-beds!
  • The working title for this episode was "The House Of Nothing", which I kind of prefer. It was also known as "Bigger On The Inside" for awhile.
  • Did you catch The Doctor referring to "himself, or herself"? That surely confirms that Time Lords can change gender, right?
  • It was fun to see another Ood, particularly now they have luminous green eyes. Or have they always had those?
written by Neil Gaiman / directed by Richard Clark / 14 May 2011 / BBC One

Next time...