‘The Doctor’s Wife’ by Neil Gaiman is a love song to the classic series. From the arrival of a Time Lord message box straight out of ‘The War Games’ to the Doctor having a heart to heart with his oldest and closest companion, the TARDIS.
This adventure reminds us of the rich history and mythos of the series. For the first time since ‘The End of Time’ we revisit the concept of the Time Lords and the Doctor’s fate as the last remaining member of his species.
The 11th Doctor seemed to have put that behind him but is obviously excited at the prospect of finding other Time Lords. As Amy points out, this is because he wants to be forgiven.
The Doctor’s status as the last of the Time Lords has worked wonders for the new series. It makes him unique and the only person who has the power to stop threats to space and time.
Yet hard core fans want them to come back. Their return would signal a restoration of something from the shows history, something important. If there were other Time Lords then Romana or Susan might follow. The show might take us back to the Panopticon or the Matrix.
So when the Doctor finds that its all a trap and his fellow Time Lords are long dead we share his crushing disappointment. He is still alone and it is looking increasingly likely he always will be.
It is apt that when we first see the Doctor he is regaling his companions with tales of past glories, just before the message box appears and fans at home explain to non-fans where we first saw the glowing cube.
Following on from last weeks episode the Doctor again uses a metaphor to explain the situation, in this case a junk yard outside the universe, which he instantly clarifies as being wrong and nothing like the actual reality of the situation. A fun way to keep the actually science of the situation evasive but still understandable for the audience at home.
Idris, the Doctor’s wife of the title, is played with energy and charisma by Suranne Jones. Looking like she had just stepped off the set of a Tim Burton film she played the human TARDIS with just the right amount of madness and sharp intelligence. Easily an equal to the eccentric genius of the Doctor.
The transformation of inanimate objects into living people is a reoccurring theme in fairy tales, which is appropriate since that is the direction Moffat has taken the series. Who better than Gainman to write such as story, given that he had authored ‘Stardust’ in which a star becomes a woman.
Ever since ‘The Edge of Destruction’ we’ve known the TARDIS was alive. In the audio cd we’ve had the ship using the third Doctor’s voice to communicate in ‘Zagreus’ and there were several humanoid TARDIS’s in the BBC books, most notably Compassion.
This was the first time on screen we’ve had a portrayal of what the TARDIS actually feels and thinks. The scenes with the Doctor and Idris are written with wit and intelligence and excellently played by Matt Smith, displaying the mix of emotions that are going through the Doctor’s head, from confusion to the overwhelming realisation that his beloved ship is in a physical body.
Idris reveals that she stole the Doctor as much as he stole her, that she too wanted to run away from Gallifrey. I found it amusing that she first refers to the Doctor as Thief. I do hope, however, that the name of the TARDIS doesn’t become ‘Sexy’ in Doctor Who canon.
Her transformation set up some nice questions of how the Doctor viewed and used her. The asteroid was a junk yard to him but a graveyard to her. In many ways it was also a graveyard. After all, wasn’t this where his people died, their voices still endlessly repeating their cries for help?
In retrospect it is interesting that to get to the bubble universe in the first place the Doctor discarded some of her mass, sending the swimming pool into oblivion once again. He is quick to destroy parts of the ship to benefit himself, with no regard for the TARDIS itself. Will he be less quick to damage her now he’s had a chance to speak with her personally?
We also get reminded that just as the Doctor is the last of his people the TARDIS is the last of her kind. It is this knowledge that drives House to escape in her body, desperate upon finding out that his food supply has run out.
There was so many nods to the past that it was enough to make a person giddy. We got a cheeky reference to indicate that Time Lords can change gender when regenerating, a hastily assembled TARDIS console that looked an awful lot like the Fourth Doctor’s (complete with shaving mirror) and a return to the 10th Doctor’s coral TARDIS room.
It wasn’t just the classic television series that this episode reminded me of. References to the Doctor’s past, House and people using the title of Aunt, Uncle and Nephew all reminded me of ‘Lungbarrow’ where the Doctor returned to his ancestral home, encountering Cousins and the reader discovered just why he ran away so long ago.
The nature of House, a life stealing asteroid, was similar to the Charon from the Doctor Who book ‘Sky Pirates!’ which was a planet sized entity and existed in a pocket universe after the rest of its race had been destroyed by the Time Lords.
House was a sinister, implacable villain. Michael Sheen managed to communicate the menace and power of the character in just his voice. Once it had possessed the TARDIS the nightmarish games he played with Rory and Amy nicely contrasted with the humorous scenes with the Doctor and Idris.
Poor Rory. At this rate he’ll have died more times than the Doctor. It was disturbing to see him driven mad by spending decades without Amy and tortured every night. What horrified Amy more, finding his dead body or seeing the words of hate scrawled across the walls?
The question remains just how real this separation was. The TARDIS is a time machine so can the interior be moved through different time zones? It would certainly explain Idris’s ability to see the future and catalogue TARDIS console rooms that haven’t been built yet.
Soon after we are shown that House could affect Amy’s perception, making her think it was dark when Rory could still see the light. Rather than being an ability of House this could be a devious use of the ships telepathic circuits.
These sequences evoked the psychological horror of confinement found in the film ‘Cube’ or more specifically ‘Cube 2: Hypercube’ where time itself becomes a trap. Rory’s nightly torture also matches the fate of one of the characters in ‘FAQ about Time Travel.’ Thankfully the corridor scenes don’t go on too long, just enough to unsettle us.
“Hello. Hello Doctor. It’s nice to meet you.”
This could very well be the funniest Doctor Who episode. Neil Gaiman can certainly write comedy and picking out the most amusing moments would just lead to a long list of each scene, in order.
Even though they were minor characters Uncle and Auntie (played by Adrian Schiller and Elizabeth Berrington) were very amusing Victorian caricatures, particularly their death scene which Uncle is against and protests that he actually feels fine just before keeling over.
We also get a lovely insight into Amy and Rory’s living situation upon the TARDIS. Did the Doctor really not realise that bunk beds aren’t suitable for a married couple or was this a deliberate move on his part?
It also raised the question of if the Doctor actually has his own room in the TARDIS. In all likely hood his room is probably the console room, we rarely see him anywhere else.
‘The Doctor’s Wife’ is an episode I can see myself re-watching time and again. There is just so much to enjoy packed into 45 minutes and so much new lore to explore. I hope that Gaiman writes some more episodes in the future after living up to every expectation.