Warning: “I’m looking for a word; a big, complicated word,” – SPOILERS.
Seriously – if you don’t want to be spoiled, please stop reading now.
Look, I’m putting loads of space between you and the spoilers.
On your own head be it, then.
I’ll say up front: “The Doctor’s Wife” is funny and scary and strange and all the things that make Doctor Who a show that is still entertaining and relevant after nearly fifty years.
I think it’s fair to say that the anticipation of a Neil Gaiman – penned episode of Doctor Who was at a fever pitch from the moment it was announced, well over a year ago. There are a few reasons for the level of fandom squee that accompanied the announcement: Gaiman is, himself, a very well-respected, (and beloved) writer. He’s known for his love of, (and contributions to,) the comics, science-fiction, and fantasy genres. He’s also a total Whovian.
As “The Doctor’s Wife” was bumped from Series 5 to Series 6, due to budget and storyline constraints, legions of Doctor Who and Neil Gaiman fans sighed in disappointment. When tantalizing tidbits began trickling out during the filming of Series 6, well, let’s just say Whovians have been on tenterhooks for quite a long time.
This is an episode that lives up to the hype. Gaiman has written an intense adventure, that goes right to the core of what Doctor Who is about.
He’s a man, a Time Lord, and he’s got a box, it’s a TARDIS, and they have adventures together. Sometimes with other people, but always together.
The episode opens with “Uncle” handing, “Idris” over to “Nephew” (who is an Ood,) to have “Nephew” as “Auntie” puts it, “. . . drain your mind and your soul from your body.”
In the TARDIS, there’s a knock at the door. An illuminated box.
I’m not sure if it’s the most adorable shot and line-reading ever, as the Doctor says, “I’ve got mail,” but it’s definitely Matt Smith showing us the lonely little boy that’s still part of who the Doctor is.
Mail from a Time Lord? From another universe? Maybe. Once they’ve landed, (after a lovely sequence with gorgeous drop-in lines about deleting rooms and that Time Lords can change gender – take that, fandom, it’s canon now,) all the power drains from the TARDIS, and we see it enter Idris.
There is both charm and danger in Idris’ (Suranne Jones) first encounter with the Doctor and the Ponds, “Tenses are difficult, aren’t they,” dovetails nicely with both the nature of Doctor Who, as well as the show and Gaiman’s history with Douglas Adams. They’ve landed in “A junkyard at the end of the universe,” that’s not a junkyard so much as a sentient asteroid. “House,” says of, Uncle, Auntie, and Nephew, “I repair them when they break,” leading to much creepily subtle body-horror in a later scene, and adds that they, “Do my will.”
In the cage Nephew has placed her in, Idris mutters in a very time-out-of-joint way to herself, and plaintively cries, “Where’s my thief?”
The Doctor, of course, can’t just let the babble of Time Lord voices that he’s heard from Nephew’s translator ball, and all around them, go. Not if he can save them.
“You wanna be forgiven,” says Amy, to which the Doctor replies, “Don’t we all?”
(That might just be the larger common thread for Team TARDIS this series. Everyone needs to be forgiven for something, even if we don’t know what it is, or will be, yet.)
I’m very glad that “The Curse of The Black Spot” last week, provided a breather between the emotional and mental defenestration of the series openers and “The Doctor’s Wife.”
Where eps 1 & 2 focused on the future: The future Doctor’s death and the future of his liasion with River Song, the future of the human race, Rory and Amy’s future, the yes/no future of Amy’s yes/no pregnancy, the futuristic-looking lady in the eyepatch, and the future regeneration of the mysterious child, “The Doctor’s Wife” is really about the past.
The Doctor’s past as a thief and a killer, his history with the TARDIS. Amy and Rory’s past: his 2,000 year wait and whether he’s really come to terms with Amy’s tendency to leave him behind and whether she’s come to terms with what she’s done in abandoning him.
As the nature of the deception, and the trap they’ve been drawn into is revealed, Smith’s reaction is enough to make the blood run cold.
“House eats TARDISES,” as it turns out. Guess where the Doctor sent Amy and Rory? We see the TARDIS dematerialize and the sound of the cloister bell, which is really very bad news, indeed.
I can’t give enough credit to Suranne Jones, for playing the somewhat scattered, incredibly vivacious and desperately sad personification of the TARDIS, with a manic glee and a core of steel that matches Matt Smith’s portrayal of the Doctor to a T.
I think it’s going to be a safe bet that none of us will ever think of that blue box in the same way again.
“It’s not impossible, as long as we’re alive.” The Doctor, knowing House has inserted itself into the TARDIS and has stolen his companions, sets about building a TARDIS from the remnants of House’s previous meals.
“You didn’t always take me where I wanted to go,” he says, and her reply is, “No, but I always took you where you needed to go.”
Though her human body is dying, she’s still his TARDIS, and he’s still her Doctor.
“Safe is relative,” she admonishes as he doubts whether they can succeed in building a control room without a shell. (The design for the makeshift control room, was created for a Blue Peter contest run by the BBC.)
As we jump back to Amy and Rory in the TARDIS, where House is tormenting them via the remnants of their telepathic link to the ship, we get more of the, “Oh my god, they killed RORY,” meme.
(Note: Rory Williams-Pond has only actually died once. In S5x09, when he was shot by a Silurian. End of debate. Dream-world death doesn’t count. Fake-death in DoTM doesn’t count. Almost-drowning death, doesn’t count. Hallucinated-death in this ep doesn’t count. I do, however, have a theory about why we keep perceiving that he’s died in S6. No, I’m not telling you now.)
We get to see the console we grew so familiar with during Nine and Ten’s tenures. There are loads of little touches and call-backs to the history from Classic Who through the present, that will delight fans on repeat viewings.
Once they’ve gotten back in the TARDIS, the Doctor confronts House, who says, “Fear me, I’ve killed hundreds of Time Lords.”
The Doctor’s answer is as chilling as it gets, “Fear me, I’ve killed them all.”
As Idris’ body lays dying, and the TARDIS is restored to her home, the cold wrath of a Time Lord is evident, “Finish him off, girl.” Never underestimate a TARDIS and her Time Lord. Never.
The final scene between the TARDIS and her Doctor, manages to be both heart-wrenching and gently joyous.
“There’s something I didn’t get to say to you. . . I just wanted to say, Hello. Hello, Doctor. It’s so very, very nice to meet you.”
The profound loneliness and longing Matt Smith conveys in that scene. . .
Yes, I shed a tear.
Afterwards, as the Doctor fiddles with his ship’s circuits, Rory reveals what Idris told him, “The only water in the forest is the river. She said we’d need to know that someday.”
Cue the fandom speculation, but I won’t be surprised at all if it’s not precisely what comes to mind.
And there are bunkbeds in the newlyweds’ room? Bunkbeds are cool now, too.
The first thing that struck me about Idris, is the parallel to The Little Mermaid. This is a creature of the cosmos trapped on dry land, in a body that’s dying, always dying, as frail humans do. Yet she’s ready to give everything she’s got for her Doctor, as she always does, while he’d do anything for her.
What Gaiman has done, is lovingly craft a story that’s a bit of a dark fairytale, while never letting us forget that the clock will strike midnight, the Mermaid will return to the sea or die, and sometimes the fool and the prince are the same person at the same time.
A word to those who are trying to figure out where this series is going: There aren’t many threads that are relevant to the series-arc, at least not obvious ones. Instead we see the shifting dance in the dynamics of what is, even minus River Song, truly Team TARDIS, and it’s this that Matt Smith, Karen Gillan, Arthur Darvill and Suranne Jones play out with verve, depth and grace.
The momentum of the sixth series is almost relentless, as we approach the mid-series break. What is magnificent about “The Doctor’s Wife,” is that it isn’t really tied to the timeline, yet it feels like a story that’s always needed to be told. That we should recognize the TARDIS for who she is – the only constant companion the Doctor has ever had – is necessary.
We just didn’t know that, until Neil Gaiman wrote it.
Two more episodes to go, before the fandom howl heard ’round the world.