Review: “Doctor Who” Series 6, Ep 4: “The Doctor’s Wife”

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The TARDIS and her thief looking over a TARDIS graveyard.

Rating:  ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

I often think “Doctor Wow” would be a more fitting title for this show, especially on weeks like this when we get an episode that is sure to come down in history as a “Doctor Who” classic. Neil Gaiman’s “The Doctor’s Wife” is one of those fantastical episodes that make returning to the real world’s banal realness exceptionally difficult.

After receiving a Time Lord Emergency Messaging System (a sort of distress signal) from a Time Lord named The Corsaire, the Doctor drives the TARDIS “outside of the universe” to the surface of a sentient asteroid called “The House” (or “House”). It turns out House is really a sort of Venus fly-trap for Time Lords and their TARDISes, feeding on the vessels by transferring their souls first to receptacles, namely four beings it had caught from a rift. House “repairs” these receptacles in a Frankenstein-like manner, using body parts of Time Lords (The Corsaire included) to support the lives of their dying bodies. The soul of the Doctor’s TARDIS is transferred to Idris (played by Suranne Jones), one of these patchwork beings, and it’s this chance transference that allows the Doctor to finally communicate verbally with his wheels. (Brilliant!).

First off, what a cool idea Gaiman had of personifying the TARDIS. It’s such a mad and wonderful idea having our madman with a box finally meet in person his mad box with a…box (Oh wait, that’s vulgar, ha). Her first meeting with the Doctor is particularly memorable, yelling out for her thief, wanting to say hello but instead kissing him, mixing up her tenses. In fact, it’s pretty neat how Gaiman evinces a time machine’s perspective on time, unable to get in order what’s already happened and what is yet to happen. She ends up acting as a sort of unwitting soothsayer, spouting oracles (“The little boxes will make you angry,” she says in reference to the psychic containers the Doctor finds and does indeed get mad about). And I especially love how Gaiman plays with DW canon, positing the idea that the the robbery (or borrowing) of the TARDIS was a two-way deal:  The TARDIS stole the Doctor just as much as the Doctor stole the TARDIS. She calls him “My Doctor,” taking ownership of him, as many children (and former children, i.e. adults) in the UK have.

Neil Gaiman, Suranne Jones, and Matt Smith

Then there’s that undeniably beautiful scene in which the TARDIS says goodbye (or rather hearbreakingly, hello) to her thief. I admit to getting teary-eyed seeing the Doctor himself in tears, lips quavering (he gets “emotional,” paying no heed to Amy’s earlier imperative for him to not do so). There’s something devastating about having the Doctor, possibly the most intelligent, most powerful being in the universe, reduced to tears because of an imminent loss. Actually, that’s one of the singular themes I like about this show: the finiteness of things as seen through a sorta immortal, and the resulting heartbreaks. The best DW episodes have always involved some form of loss and heartbreak (i.e. “The Girl in the Fireplace” or “The Forest of the Dead.”). Fittingly, Murray Gold’s beautifully composed “Mad Man With a Box” plays in the end, its arpeggios evoking a morose fairy tale feel.

The House is terrifically terrifying. Its manipulation of The TARDIS corridors, and its timey-wimey torture of the Ponds, are fantastically conceived. Nephew the Ood made for a great secondary monster, its green eyes actually making it scarier, aside from looking novel (in the past, possessed Oods have been imbued with red eyes, i.e. “The Impossible Planet,” “The Satan Pit,” and “Planet of the Ood”). The green color scheme in general of the episode was very effective and just plain cool.

I like the continuing references to the Doctor’s forthcoming death 200 years in his personal future (though you can really feel the tone shift whenever Steven Moffat infuses his own dialogue into other writers’ scripts). If Amy and Rory are so affected now by their friend’s death so far in the future, just imagine how the Doctor must feel in regards to River Song’s death; so ironic and bittersweet.

I also like the continuing focus on Rory (who is becoming even more intriguing as the series progresses), i.e. the inserted reminder of Rory waiting 2,000 years for Amy while they run through the TARDIS corridors. What came every single night to hurt him? The Silence? (I also like that the TARDIS confuses Rory for being the “pretty” one; hey, I find him attractive, too). And for the third episode in a row, we get mention of Rory as a nurse. What is the reason behind him not being desensitized even as a nurse? And then there’s that mysterious line from the TARDIS: “The only water in the forest is the river.” I suppose this is to do with “Pond” vs. “River.” Or is it a tie back to the events of “Forest of the Dead?” Hmm…

Other notes:

  • I love the armpit-smelling spacepunk junkyard setting, a nice reference back to the very first William Hartnell episode.
  • The cheeky, and perhaps controversial, confirmation of Time Lords being able to regenerate into either gender I’m sure will spice things up for the Doctor’s next regeneration.
  • Such a cool TARDIS-centric episode. How cool that the TARDIS could archive its old control rooms. And I thought the “Blue Peter” TARDIS design was nicely integrated into the episode.
  • I loved how scientific reasoning was constantly dismissed throughout this episode, i.e. explanations of the possibility of traveling “outside of the universe.” Gaiman gets it:  This show isn’t sci-fi so much as it is a fairy tale.

Quotables:

  • “Yeah. No! But if it helps, yes.” -The Doctor sort of explaining the concept of travel to “outside of the universe.”
  • “It’s on the tip of my tongue. I’ve just had a new idea about kissing.” –The TARDIS comes upon the idea of French kissing accidentally.
  • “Big word. Sad word. Why is that word so sad? No. Will be sad.” -The TARDIS, in timey-wimey fashion, realizing the word “alive” will later on in the episode bring her to tears.
  • “Thief? Where’s my thief? Thief!” -The TARDIS crying out for its significant other.
  • “You gave me hope and then you took it away. That’s enough to make anyone dangerous. God knows what it will do to me. Basically…run!” -The Doctor, furious, upon learning of the fate of The Corsaire and the other Time Lords he’d come to rescue (nice allusion to Moffat’s “The Eleventh Hour” by the way).
  • “You’re a bitey madlady. The TARDIS is up-and-downy stuff in a big blue box.” –The Doctor, incredulous over the idea of his TARDIS inhabiting Idris’s body.
  • “Seven hundred years, finally he asks… You call me “Sexy.” -The TARDIS reveals its name (haha).
  • “You’re like a nine-year-old trying to rebuild a motor bike in his bedroom. And you never read the instructions.” / “I always read the instructions!” / “There’s a sign on my front door. You have been walking past it for 700 years. What does it say?” / “That’s not instructions!” / “There’s instructions at the bottom. What does it say?” / “Pull to open.” / “Yes. And what do you do?” / I push.” / “Every single time. 700 years. Police box doors open out the way. / “I think I have earned the right to open my front doors any way I want.” / “Your front doors? Have you any idea how childish that sounds?” / “You are not my mother.” / “And you are not my child.” / “You know, since we’re talking with mouths–not really an opportunity that comes along very often– just wanna say, you know, you have never been very reliable.” / “And you have?” / “You didn’t always take me around to where I’ve wanted to go.” / “No, but I always took you where you needed to go.” -Whew! A man and his car have a conversation.
  • “Crimson, eleven, delight, petrichor.” -The password to get to the archived Tenth Doctor’s console room.
  • “Finish ‘im off, girl.” -The Doctor sics the TARDIS on House.
  • “I’ve been looking for a word. A big, complicated word, but so sad. I found it now.” / “What word?” / “Alive. I’m alive.” / “Alive isn’t sad.” / “It’s sad when it’s over. I’ll always be here, but this is when we talked. And now even that has come to an end. There’s something I didn’t get to say to you.” / “Goodbye?” / “No. I just wanted to say, Hello. Hello, Doctor. It’s so very, very nice to meet you.” / “Please. I don’t want you to.” -Idris saying goodbye, and the TARDIS getting a second chance at saying hello to its thief.
  • “The only water in the forest is the river.” -The TARDIS’s dying words left to Rory.
  • “Bunk beds are cool. A bed with a ladder. You can’t beat that.” -The Doctor, after the Ponds get the opportunity to request a new bedroom.
Read my other “Doctor Who” blog posts:
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