“The Doctor’s Wife”
Writer: Neil Gaiman
Director: Richard Clark
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THE ONE WHERE The Doctor heads to a peculiar junkyard planet when he picks up a signal from what might be a still living Time Lord. Sadly for him it isn’t, but he does get to meet a fetching living embodiment of his TARDIS.
VERDICT Considerably more rewarding in every respect than last week’s pirate yarn, Neil Gaiman’s first dip into the waters of Doctor Who does not disappoint. The Stardust and Coraline scribe has created a story that is enmeshed in the show’s mythology but isn’t self-indulgent or inaccessible to non-acolytes: that’s thanks to a script that provides both an endless stream of brilliant dialogue and has a remarkable knack of following funny with emotional with scary with funny with emotional with scary – and so on.
From its tantalising pre-credits teaser when Suranne Jones’s Idris “materialises”, it’s non-stop intrigue and carefully-controlled suspense all the way. At the centre of all it all: the magnificent Matt Smith. So far in series six the Eleventh Doctor hasn’t been quite as mighty as we know he can be, but in “The Doctor’s Wife” he pings and fizzes around the screen like a Technicolor firework, lighting up every scene he adorns. His Doctor is so energetic, so multi-dimensional, so alive . Then there’s Idris – clever name that, an almost abridged “I TARDIS”; wonder if Gaiman would have taken the opportunity of having the anagrammatic “Astrid” if Russell the T hadn’t already given it to Kylie Minogue? She provides Eleven with a wonderful foil, the pair not only sparking sly and sexy witticisms but packing a real emotional punch in their drawn-out “farewell”. Who’d have thought that of the Doctor’s recent romances – Rose, Madame de Pompadour, River etc – the one that’d be the most tear-jerking would be between the Doctor and his old blue box?
While the yarn is ripping enough to keep those famous non-overnight viewers and iPlayer types enthralled, it’s really a big smoochy kiss blown to proper Who fans: not just in the sense that it takes us right back to the day the Doctor stole the TARDIS (or borrowed it… or it borrowed/stole him…) but in the small details, whether it be the first ever questioning of the Doctor’s sleeping arrangements or a casual throwaway line at the start confirming that Time Lords can change sex when they regenerate. Plus, in the style of River telling the Doctor he leaves the brakes on, Idris scolding the Doctor for pushing the TARDIS door open, when it says pull on the plaque, is a minor joy. Long-term fans may also be reminded of “The Invasion Of Time” by the chase around the TARDIS (no Sontaran tripping over a sun lounger here, though!) and “The Brain Of Morbius” by the hybrid patchwork people.
This is how you do a great Doctor Who episode on a moderate budget. Even though you have a small cast and the setting is restricted to the inside of the Doctor’s spaceship and a planet we barely glimpse, as long as you have an amazing idea and layer it with all sorts of good, good things you’ll be just fine.
CAN WE BE THE FIRST TO SAY (BECAUSE MILLIONS OF OTHERS WILL)? Rory and Amy – so who’s on top?
WINNING DESIGN The ersatz TARDIS console the Doctor creates was based on the winning design in a Blue Peter competition (opens in new tab) .
WHO’S FAMILIAR The episode had a vibe a little reminiscent of “Utopia” and similarly built to a great climax. And I imagine a few fans thought of “The Doctor’s Daughter” too, if only because, like this episode, the title was slightly mischievous…
STAR TURN As already mentioned, Suranne Jones, whose previous entry into the Who niverse was as a very northern Mona Lisa in The Sarah Jane Adventures , is splendid, a beautiful, busty, poetic, bursting boxful of charm and kook, a Helena Bonham Carter with the briode nebuliser ramped up to 10. Also worth an honourable mention is Arthur Darvill, briefly allowed to rip loose with a bellowing bearded older version of himself. (Nice that Gillan and Darvill are both noticeably playing their characters more “grown up” than last season.)
OMG, THEY KILLED RORY (AGAIN) Well, sort of. The Leadworth nurse’s Expiration Of The Week this week was one of “the orangey girl’s” nightmarish visions in the TARDIS thanks to House. (Hugh Laurie’s House wouldn’t have played a nasty trick like that.) Funnily enough, this week’s is probably more emotionally affecting than most that have gone before.
BEHIND THE SOFA MOMENT In an episode that might have worked even better viewed on a dark wintry night, there were some unsettling moments in those TARDIS corridors. Highlight has to be Amy reaching out for Rory’s hands… only to grab an Ood’s tentacles – yuck! Kudos to the team for making the Ood scary once again.
BEST LINES There’s no way we can choose just one here, so here’s a few favourites!
The Doctor: “I’ve got mail!”
Idris: “Biting’s like kissing. Only there’s a winner.”
Auntie: “I got the arm, Uncle got the spine and the kidneys.”
Amy: “He’s a Time Lord. It’s just what they’re called. It doesn’t mean he knows what he’s doing.”
Idris: “I’m the TARDIS.”
The Doctor: “No you’re not, you’re a bitey mad lady. The TARDIS is up and downy stuff in a big blue box.”
Idris: “Yes that’s me, a Type 40 TARDIS.”
House: “Corridors. I have corridors.”
The Doctor: “You’re doing it, you sexy thing!”
Idris: “See, you do call me that. Is it my name?”
The Doctor: “You bet it’s your name!”
The Doctor: “She’s a woman… and she’s the TARDIS.”
Amy: “Did you wish really hard?”
Idris: “There’s something I didn’t get to say to you.”
The Doctor: “‘Goodbye’?”
Idris: “No – I just wanted to say ‘hello’. Hello Doctor, it’s so very very nice to meet you.”
The Doctor: “Bunk beds are cool. A bed with a ladder . You can’t beat that.”