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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


  • outstanding write up! Gaiman+Dr Who = Wonderful.

    Random Quemment Poll: ok Whovians…who is your favorite who of the last 3 doctors??

    Ive just started getting into the Whoverse and started with S5 then jumped back to the beginning (well, “new” beginning, 2005).
    I just finished all of Eccleson episodes….WOW…they’re awesome! LOVED the finale. Now i move onto Tennant and cant wait to see how he fares. I was wondering if there is a standout fav amongst the fans???

  • Kyle, your first paragraph exactly describes how I felt going into and out of The Doctor’s Wife – thanks for articulating it better than I could.

    Loved the TARDIS first learning how to talk, kiss…bite (like kissing but there’s a winner).

  • wow perfect timing! I just finished watching this episode. I loved the interaction between the doctor and the tardis (def some channeling of helena bohnam carter) and my favourite line was about the warning lights/horn never turning off( i dont remember the line exactly and dont feel like being corrected so i described it).

  • Total agreement with your glowing review! All the actors were wonderful and Matt Smith really knocked it out of the park. The scene where he realizes that Idris actually is the TARDIS is golden.

  • Hey, whovians. Call for theories: Why does the doctor’s bowtie keep changing colour between scenes? It’s blue when he talks to Idris while she is jailed, and it’s back to red in the end…

  • You always seem to write the perfect reviews.

    I think what’s great about Doctor Who is that the people working on the show are fans- they’ve grown up watching the show and want to share it with everyone else, keep it going, and make something good. Which usually works very well, and is totally unique to this show.

  • Román: “Hey, whovians. Call for theories: Why does the doctor’s bowtie keep changing colour between scenes? It’s blue when he talks to Idris while she is jailed, and it’s back to red in the end…”

    It’s just the lighting, no? See as he lets Idris out of the cage: the bow tie looks blue in the teal fill light as he’s facing to screen left, but is clearly still red as he turns into the brighter key light and raises the screwdriver.

  • My God this episode was good…ridiculous smile on my face even the third time through. Just would like to say though it would be so fantastic if the Doctor regenerated into a woman. When he brought that up I couldn’t believe that they gave license for it in new who.

  • loved the whole vibe of the episode. But I’ll admit I kind of wanted them to run into a classic Tom Baker Tardis control room not just the Echelston/Tennant era controll room…. how awesome would that have been :-D

  • Indeed… but as @neilhimself mentioned, the 9-10 set had the advantage of still existing. (After he convinced the BBC to keep the set up for an extra 18 months so that he could use it in his episode! O.O )

    Nerdgasms aside, I’d have to admit that the classic console room would look jarringly out of place in nu-Who, but it was very cool that the Doctor’s jury-rigged console (designed by a Blue Peter viewer) managed to hew pretty close to the classic style.

  • I was worried this episode wouldn’t live up to my expectations too, since I was excited beyond belief to learn that Neil Gaiman had written an episode of Doctor Who. I guess I didn’t have to worry because I thought it was amazing. I also thought it was perfect placement of the episode because it was just last week that the doctor found his “loved one” (which was of course the TARDIS) in the sick bay, and this episode really made their relationship clear. I loved the idea of giving the TARDIS a voice and hearing her side of things. And, I’m glad to see that I wasn’t the only one thinking of Helena Bonham Carter during the episode!

  • “The only water in the forest is the river.” could possibly be a reminder from the Tardis. At some point the doctor has to go meet river so they can have their last day together and he can give her, her sonic screwdriver. Also if the doctor does die in 200 years( I still think this is a trick. He cant die and I won’t believe anything else.) he has to go meet her sometime before then.

  • Nice review Kyle. I can’t say that this episode had an effect on my expectations because I refuse to allow myself to look beyond the “Next Time” trailer at the end of each episode. I will not dive into the net looking for spoiler, I prefer to take each episode as it comes. This one I was delighted with the old series references – and I don’t mean 2005, that’s not old. The reference, even if it was a bit sideways, to the Tom Baker episode “The Androids of Tara” where the Doctor decapitates the king by mistake, rather the king’s android double, and he has to repair him. Matt’s Doctor turned that one around. And the other reference goes way back to the second Doctor, Patrick Troughton, with the distress cubes. That Doctor created one to call the Time Lords for help at the end of “War Games”.
    I agree with the nu-Whos that this regeneration of the show is the best because it is created by fans of the old and I will enjoy anything that might link back to the Doctor of Old as well as the concepts and stories of the New.

  • Amazingly great episode – all of the little touches before the reveal – Idris calling the Doctor “my thief”, a little bit of Brain of Morbius with the patchwork people, but my favorite has got to be Amy’s line in the Tardis after being introduced to Idris “Did you wish really, really hard?”
    More please

  • I was hoping they’d end up in the Peter Davison control room. The simple white portholes (I know there’s a name for those things, I can’t remember what) make for a more confusing place to be caught, I think. This episode made me think of Castrovalva, with the interior of the Tardis, and being able to use wall panels.

    It also made me think of Portal, Idris and House both sound a lot like Glados and Wheatley.

    There was a lot of what I thought was fan-service in this episode, lines that went back over several decades, that made me laugh. I think this may be the most fan-servicey episode I can think of, I don’t know if you’d consider the various multiple Doctors shows fan service or not.

  • I’m caught up, Kyle! Aren’t you proud of me? Say you are. NOW.
    I really dug this episode too. Uncle and Auntie were creeptastic and it was good to see the ol’ Ood again.

  • Hmm. I liked it okay, but I didn’t think it was as great as everyone is saying. I thought the corridor chasing was a failure, especially with Rory dying AGAIN! And thought the weeping scene when Idris faded away was unearned.

    Maybe I should trade in my fanboy card.

  • Wow. I am in the minority here. I was really disappointed in this episode. It seemed that we saw very little of the Tardis. The same two or three corridors over and over again. When we could have seen an unchanging number of rooms without any repeats. They could have just canablized a bunch of sets from other BBC shows. They killed Rory again. I’ve watched this episode three times. And there were a few parts that made me smile. I may be being to hard on it because it was written by the Great Neil Gaimen. One of my favorite writers. I was expecting something that would take my breath away. Something to talk about. What I got was a servicable and enjoyable episode. It could have been written by so many writters.

  • Loved the shaving mirror on the console.

    On an exploratory tour of the TARDIS, Sarah Jane encounters an antique control room.

    Sarah – Woah- this looks good!

    Doctor – Oh yes, yes it is good, you know this is the second control room.
    I can run the TARDIS just as easily from here as from the old one.
    (Lifts John Pertwee’s dusty jacket off of a chair)
    Come to think of it, this was the old one.

    Sarah (picking Patrick Troughton’s recorder off of the console, upon which sits a shaving mirror) – That looks like a shaving mirror.

    Doctor- Yes, it is.

    – Masque of Mandragora, 1976

  • I thought the episode was good but not as great as everyone here is making it out to be. I just started watching Doctor Who about a year ago starting with the 2005 revival and i’m still getting used to the british accents but there was so much I couldn’t understand when the Doctor was first talking to the Idris.

    Anyways it was still a good episode and I hope the rest of the season shapes up nicely.

  • did literally no one catch rory tell the doctor that he watched amy die at the end. Or his whole thing about being a nurse and not being able to save her? Just because we never see rory get tortured don’t mean it dosn’t happen. t

  • I have been on like 2 dozen blogs and sites and no one seems to have caught Idris {the Tardis} saying as she returns to the console in a whispered tone, “I LOVE YOU”. I have watched the scene adozen times ans boosted the volume through my audio software andshe dose say I LOVE YOU…. give it a listen

  • heres my 2 cents on “The only water in the forest is the river.” quote.

    The river is River Song.
    The forrest is the library in Forest of the Dead.

    what this implies, well we have to keep looking for clues dont we..

  • Lord Nexis, it seems that the “I Love You” at the end was only in the UK version, because it wasn’t in the Canadian version or the BBCA version. I hate it when they do that.

  • I loved this episode. It was completely Doctor Who and completely Neil Gaiman at the same time.

    Gaiman always seems to be able to reach heart.

    I think my favorite line was about humans being bigger on the inside.

    I think I shall watch this episode again before the next one.

  • 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?

  • @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!!!!

  • 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?”

  • 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

  • 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. : )

  • 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!