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