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“The Doctor’s Wife” Review (SPOILERS)

And the early frontrunner for favorite Doctor Who Series 6 episode goes to…

When I watched “The Doctor’s Wife” the first time, I wondered if I was actually enjoying it as much as I thought I was. I’ve been wanting to see this episode ever since I first heard about the possibility of it 18 months ago or so, and then the anticipation ratcheted up to a new level when it was announced that it would actually be episode four of this season. Had I built up the excitement so much for an episode of my favorite television show written by Neil Gaiman, who is one of my favorite writers, that no matter what was put forth on screen, I’d just be grinning like a happy idiot when it ended? As I grinned like a happy idiot when it ended, it occurred to me that perhaps I had let my geeky fervor overrun my analytical critic’s mind. Like all episodes of this season, I knew I was going to have to watch it again.

And so I did. After a sleep and a cup of Chamomile (in my “Mind the Gap” mug), I was prepared for another viewing, somewhat wary that I may feel differently than I had. Luckily, I didn’t feel any differently. If anything, I enjoyed it MORE because I felt confident that it was, indeed, as good an episode as I thought it was. From top to tail, this is an episode that exemplifies what I love most about Doctor Who. It’s scary, it’s touching, it’s inventive, and most importantly, it’s about characters we love. It might be, in fact, the perfect Doctor Who episode.

One thing that I think helped me was that I avoided as many spoilers (or “teasers” depending on semantics) as possible. With the exception of the Next Time trailer last week and the two little clips that were released, I stayed away from anything that might give away anything about the episode. As such, I was surprised by the realization that the Doctor’s wife is the TARDIS herself. It made the most sense of anything ever, though. The Doctor and the TARDIS have been together for over 700 years, if anyone was to be his wife, it’d be her. It’s long been bandied about that the TARDIS was alive, and the Doctor certainly treats her as if she is. Getting to see the Doctor actually get to converse with her was a stroke of genius.

Suranne Jones, who played Idris, the recipient of the TARDIS’ consciousness, did a masterful job trying to physically and emotionally embody an intangible entity. She added a great deal of believability to something that, by rights, should be too ridiculous a concept to play. Through her, we get to learn so much about the series we’ve been watching all these years, and it all makes sense. The TARDIS wasn’t stolen, she allowed the Doctor to take her. She doesn’t always take him where he wants to go, but always takes him where he NEEDS to go. Why does the Doctor always seem to show up when something’s going wrong? Because the TARDIS is just as heroic as he is and she knows where he’ll do the most good. I love that.

If the entire episode had just been the Doctor speaking to the TARDIS, I’d have been one happy nerd, but there needed to be a plot and a good one too. Gaiman delivers a supremely original story, just dripping with series history. The idea of a planet-wide entity outside of the universe that kills Time Lords and eats TARDISes is immensely dark, especially when it’s revealed that it lures them there by sending distress signals from other Time Lords. How could the Doctor not follow that? Once there, he finds that House mends his playthings by using Time Lord body parts, something that’d be horrible even if they weren’t his friends. The House asteroid/planet itself is one of the best pieces of production design the show’s ever had. It’s a junkyard in space, but all the junk is so interesting looking and full of character that it’s no surprise this episode was one of the more expensive of the year.

I loved how tiny the cast was. We didn’t need dozens of extras or a number of supporting players when it was just, really, the story of two best friends finally getting to meet. The themes and implications of the episode were much greater than the need for lots and lots of characters. We hear stories about another Time Lord called the Corsair, who regenerated into both male and female, possibly opening the door for a female Doctor in the future. (Calm down, just a thought) We also get a glimpse of the Doctor still being remorseful about what had to be done to his people. He still wants to be forgiven.

Amy and Rory get trapped aboard the ship-portion of the TARDIS with House controlling it. He forces them to run through the never-ending corridors of the ship, toying with their minds. But it’s only ever Amy’s mind, isn’t it? Wouldn’t you know it, her greatest fear is leaving Rory to die, which she sees. That must be why he dies or seemingly dies in every episode; it’s Amy’s greatest fear realized. Rory doesn’t get his mind messed with. Something to think about. This sequence plays like a proper haunted house story with really nothing to scare us except the “House” itself.

This is where the real genius of the episode comes in: Gaiman breaks down the TARDIS to its component parts. On the one hand, you have the living, breathing, wonderful bit that nurtures and protects, and on the other you have the unfathomably large, powerfully foreboding THING that in the wrong hands can be the most dangerous and frightening tool in (or outside of) the Universe. While we see the Doctor getting to connect and interact with the “person,” we see Rory and Amy being tormented and threatened by the “monster.” It’s all the TARDIS, though. The TARDIS is itself a House and a Home. Houses are scary, but Homes are wonderful. You know when you move out of a place you’ve lived in for a long time, and all your stuff is gone and you’re just doing the cleaning up or whatever, and you recognize it, but it doesn’t really feel like yours anymore? There are memories, but that’s all. That’s what happens when House takes over the TARDIS. It’s recognizable, but it’s not ours. “The Doctor’s Wife” is about fighting for your Home and the family you’ve made within it. The Doctor’s best friend is the TARDIS  and her best friend is him. They are each other’s Homes.

Here I am, still grinning  like a happy idiot.

Next week we get part one of the Matthew Graham double-header, “The Rebel Flesh.” Looks right creepy.

-Kanderson requests hundreds of TWITTER followers

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  1. Ken says:

    Loved getting to see the 9th/10th Doctor’s TARDIS console again!

  2. Doug says:

    Well, I just really got around to watching this episode a few days ago, and since then I’ve watched it maybe 6 times.

    I know it hasn’t been that long, but I honestly can’t think of another tv episode of ANY show I’ve enjoyed as much as this one. Suranne Jones was amazing, her every action and nuance perfect. Her inflections and tones while speaking were superb and it was fantastic. Top notch television. I really wish the Tardis herself had not basically stated that this is the only time they get to talk, but I suppose it could be corny if it happened again with a different or lesser writer. This episode would certainly lose its poignancy if that happened.

    I loved “…what makes you think I would ever give you back?” and Amy’s “Did you wish really hard?” Fantastic!

  3. Great review of a great episode.

    Here’s my argument for why The Doctor’s Wife is the best episode of television in the 2010-2011 season.

  4. Sexy O'Sullivan says:

    I think Rory doesn’t get his mind messed with because Auntie touches Amy’s Face which I think implanted something in just her. Only a thought. : )

  5. Phil says:

    Well Matt Smith is not Tenant, so it stands to reason that his reaction to not finding his fellow Time Lords would be different. He is much more over the whole Time War thing than the last two incarnations. I thought that had been made clear this whole series. So he accepts it and moves on. I would have completely accept a more angry reaction from Tennant, but not Smith. They are remarkably different characters. Smith is more laid back, nicer and friendlier than the last two incarnations. Not to mention goofier

    Or course he didn’t ask about her exploding. Why bring up something so horrible to her? Besides, she tells him what he NEEDS to know. No need to ask anything. He’s not supposed to know what happens in his future anyway and it’s actually just like Matt Smith’s doctor to not even think to ask such a question. He’s the absent-minded professor doctor

  6. Elena says:

    I was deeply disappointed by this episode, actually. There are two glaring consistency errors here.

    1. The Doctor tracks the voices of lost Time Lords to their distress signal boxes. Now, let’s think about this. The Doctor believes that he’s responsible for wiping his own race out of existence. He spent his ninth incarnation moping about this and his tenth coming to grips with his anger and his guilt. And then, he comes across the possibility that there are other Time Lords still alive, just outside the known Universe. He’s got to be incredibly excited, giddy even, at the idea. He lets in a tiny crack of hope. And then, he opens the cabinet, and his hopes are utterly dashed. And how does he respond? With a one sentence comment that he’s pissed off, and then he shrugs and starts insulting the help.

    Seriously, my jaw hit the floor at this.

    I don’t think this is due to bad writing. It’s either bad acting or bad direction or both. Imagine David Tennant in this moment. He opens the cabinet. His eyes widen, and you see the hope on his face slowly crumble. And then you see the rage, the hopeless, terrible rage rise up inside him. He turns to Auntie and Uncle, and in that deep tone of authority, he tells them how very, very disappointed he is. And then, carefully, he gets a grip on himself, distracts himself with the Frankenservants, and moves on. That… that would have been wonderful and terrible to behold. And instead, Matt Smith just shrugs it off. Argh.

    2. The Doctor has an actual opportunity to speak with his Tardis. While I agree that most of that interaction is strange and wonderful and poignant and bittersweet, I have a great deal of difficulty with the fact that the Doctor does not ask one very important question:

    “So, er, I hate to bring this up, but you recently exploded and destroyed the entire known Universe. Any idea why?”

    I don’t need her to answer. I’m fine with them just not having time, or her not really understanding the question, or any old excuse to keep that dramatic tension, but I just simply can’t believe that he didn’t ask. Now maybe I missed something. I’d love it if I did. Please tell me I’m wrong here.

    To answer Mymosa, did you notice that the TARDIS makes no appearance with the 1100-year-old Doctor (unless he finally got the Chameleon Circuit working and turned her into a vintage car)? Also, he left no instructions as to the TARDIS’s disposal, as he did with Rose in “The Parting of the Ways?”

  7. Mymosa says:

    @AmandaM & Lord Nexus,
    I did hear the “I love you” and I thought I was imagining it last week when I first saw the show, but when I watched it again tonight I clearly heard it. I’m very interested in the part where he stated something about “they come to me every night and hurt me”, it will be interesting to find out who they are it makes me think of the Silents. I did love the part where Amy did say “did you wish really, really hard”!!! It was so touching and sad and really puts to rest the idea that the Dr could love another “woman”, this is the only one who wont grow old and die before he does. Hmmm…since we know know that the tardis is sentient and knows what will happen in the future, and we know she takes the Dr where “he needs to go”, does this mean she knows when he is going to die? Would she actually let him die, if she had no intention of “letting him go”?
    I know it’s going to be Memorial Day in the US but I really don’t feel that’s a reason to postpone the next episode of Dr Who!!!!

  8. Cuttlefish says:

    I don’t know if this is off-topic, but… The music. Auntie and Uncle reminded me of the innkeeper and wife from Les Miz; ok, fine, maybe that’s just me. But some of the background music while they were on seemed directly snagged from the opening of “Master of the house”. Am I alone in thinking this?