Doctor Who Series 6 Episode 4 review: The Doctor’s Wife

Posted: 21 May 2011 in television
Tags: , , , , ,

“It’s always you and her isn’t it? Long after the rest of us have gone.”

The Doctor's Wife

House: “Fear ME. I’ve killed hundreds of Time Lords.”
The Doctor: ” Fear ME. I’ve killed all of them.”

Neil Gaiman is quite possibly the premier fantasy story teller in the world today. He spins dark fairytales laced with evocative characters and settings slightly out of kilter with what some might define as contemporary reality. So, absolutely perfect for “Doctor Who”. As Steven Moffat points out, even if you didn’t know he was a fan of the series it’s pretty obvious from Gaiman’s writing that he’s a fan.

Having been lucky enough to meet Neil Gaiman on a few occasions (have personalised copies of “Neverwhere” and “Fragile Things” as a result, and the memory of a fantastic adventure that won’t ever be put onto the blog) I can vouchsafe for the fact he’s an incredibly intelligent and polite individual with an amazing love of “Doctor Who”.

Gaiman’s tale originated from the brilliantly simple premise of “What would happen if the Doctor and the TARDIS actually got to talk?” But beautifully mixed in with this was a rich enhancement of the series mythos without betraying any of the facts that have gone before.

If one’s wife can be defined as your closest and best friend, the person with whom you share the most time and love the dearest, then it should have been blindingly obvious from the moment the title was announced whom “The Doctor’s Wife” would turn out to be. The TARDIS!!! The Doctor’s oldest and best friend. Moving the TARDIS matrix into a physical form is a trick that can only been done once or it’ll take away the magic and wonder of the premise.

Though it’s long been established that the Doctor borrowed/stole the TARDIS to explore all of time and space (his exact motivations for leaving Gallifrey have never been stated and probably shouldn’t be) we learn here that the TARDIS left her door unlocked so that the Doctor was able to purloin her. We know now that the TARDIS wanted to explore all of time and space and needed to find a Time Lord to do that with. We now know the Doctor’s first words upon seeing her interior. We know now that they have been together for 700 years and that she was a museum piece even then. And we know now that she gets incredibly irritated by the Doctor always pushing the police box doors to enter and exit instead of pulling them as the exterior sign states.

The Doctor and the TARDIS bicker, squabble and get tetchy with each other, but at the end of the day they love each other more than anything else in the entire universe past, present, or future. That’s pretty much what marriage is – always forgiving and loving, no matter what the other party has done.

Now I’d have preferred the very first title of “The House of Nothing” (less keen on the suggested “Bigger On The Inside”) as it’s rather evocative and gothic-like. The Moff clearly thought the more “slutty title” (as he puts it) of “The Doctor’s Wife” would attract more attention. Whatever it’s called it’s a work of bloody genius. A script that could only have been penned by a fanboy with top-notch literary skills.

Coming across as a gothic grunge interpretation of Alice lost in Wonderland, Suranne Jones is note perfect as Idris, the physical host for the TARDIS matrix through the story. Her and Matt Smith get the relationship of the final children of Gallifrey exactly right. Especially telling are the scenes where the Doctor realises that he can’t obtain the forgiveness of the Time Lords he was seeking as they are nothing but messages in boxes – their bodies recycled so that House can construct physical minions; and where the TARDIS mourns the passing of her timeship sisters – locked in their final chameleon circuit aspects and scattered across the surface of the physical House, drained of life and abandoned to history and decay.

Originally scheduled to be Episode 11 of Matt Smith’s 1st series but shifted back because of not having enough budget left to realise it, “The Doctor’s Wife” was a long-planned episode with the Eccleston/Tennant steampunk-style TARDIS console retained from “The End of Time” and left standing for over a year as Steven Moffat knew it would be required for Gaiman’s story (though the writer had hoped to get a recreation of one of the classic era console rooms but the budget wouldn’t stretch to it – as it wouldn’t stretch to the swimming pool scene).

For the first time since the Paul McGann TV Movie in 1996 (it can’t be 15 years ago that the 8th Doctor first appeared can it?) the audience get to see the interior of the timeship beyond the console room. Personally I don’t count the so-called wardrobe room in “The Christmas Invasion” as it was just a redress of the console room. And with Gaiman running the show the TARDIS goes from being the safest place in the universe to the most threatening place in the universe for Amy, Rory and the viewing public. As the TARDIS exists across all of time and space, House is able to play with spatial and temporal awareness to scare the shit out of the trapped companions and the audience.

Back in the RTD era “The Waters of Mars” was proclaimed by the production team to be the scariest story ever, but the scenes of Amy finding the TARDIS corridors daubed with messages of death and hatred knock the spots off that. With the Grand Moff at the helm, the series has well and truly re-embraced to its unofficial mission statement of scaring the audience, as opposed to boring them to death with yet another pulp sci-fi invasion of contemporary Earth by a classic monster whilst throwing in some gay references and pseudo-emotions to appear epic, hip and PC.

I loved all the little references to the classic series, which were lovely gifts to the long-term fans but would not have detracted a jot for those only acquainted with the new series:

  • The script describes the surface of the asteroid as “the Totters Lane at the end of the universe” which pays homage to the very first episode of “Doctor Who” way back in 1963.
  • The Time Lord message boxes were first seen in “The War Games” in 1969. In his final tale, the Patrick Troughton Doctor used one to summon the help of his people.
  • A TARDIS console working independently of the main timeship was used back in the 1970 Jon Pertwee stories “The Ambassadors of Death” and ” Inferno”.
  • The shaving mirror on the makeshift TARDIS console is a nod to the wooden console room from the 14th Season which aired from 1976 to 1977.
  • The toll of the cloister bell, signalling a dire emergency, was first heard in Tom Baker’s final story “Logopolis” in 1981 and in several stories since.
  • The tranquil destination of the Eye of Orion was where the Fifth Doctor, Tegan and Turlough were taking a holiday at the beginning of the 20th anniversary special “The Five Doctors”. It also got a mention in “Timelash” in 1985 when Colin Baker was the Doctor.

All the indications are that Steven Moffat will be running the show for the 50th anniversary in 2013 and that Matt Smith will still be the Doctor – so let’s have some additional icing on the birthday cake and have another script from the genius mind of Neil Richard Gaiman.

Without hesitation “The Doctor’s Wife” (still want to call it “The House of Nothing”) gets added to my list of all-time classic “Doctor Who” stories – joining the august company of “The Talons of Weng-Chiang”, “The Caves of Androzani”, “Blink” and a few select others as outstanding examples of what this great British institution is capable of providing the viewing public with. If someone walked into a television company with the premise for “Doctor Who” today they would be laughed out of the building and possibly sent for psychiatric evaluation. Yet, like the TARDIS, it’s an enduring and iconic museum piece that’s as fresh today as it was all those years ago when we first saw it sitting in the corner of the junkyard at 76 Totters Lane, Shoreditch, London…

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