‘Doctor Who’ – ‘The Doctor’s Wife’: Neil Gaiman brings good things to life

Senior Television Writer
05.14.11 89 Comments


A review of tonight’s Neil Gaiman-scripted “Doctor Who” coming up just as soon as I read the instructions…

“It’s always you and her, long after the rest of us have gone.” -Amy

The Doctor is a lonely, lonely soul, and was long before he killed off virtually all of the other members of his race. He picks up companions – usually human, but sometimes not – to hold back the loneliness, but it never works out in the long-term, and not just because he’s destined to outlive most of them by centuries.

But there’s one companion who’s been there since he began his madcap journeys across time and space – a companion he didn’t even quite realize was a companion until the revelations of Gaiman’s delightful “The Doctor’s Wife.”

The idea of a familiar setting or inanimate object suddenly gaining or displaying sentience is one I’ve seen before, notably in the comics milieu where Gaiman became famous. Not long ago, for instance, Joss Whedon did an X-Men story arc about the Danger Room coming to life and turning against Wolverine and company, and if none of the “Star Trek” spin-offs did a technobabble-heavy episode about the starship talking back to Captain Picard/Janeway/etc., I would be shocked.

But if the concept wasn’t entirely novel, the execution was still lovely. “The Doctor’s Wife” had all the usual “Doctor Who” tropes – a creepy, low-budget monster (in this case, one the production team never had to actually show), characters running for their lives, witty banter (I particularly liked Amy’s “Did you wish really hard?” response to the Doctor’s explanation of his new female friend), etc. – and yet at the same time managed to be a moving examination of the close relationship the Doctor wasn’t even aware of until now.(*)

(*) Or, at least, that he hasn’t fully admitted to before now. In the past, he’s talked to the TARDIS and encouraged her, but only in the way that, say, Scotty talked to the Enterprise’s engines.

Suranne Jones did a fine job as the character – whether you want to call her Idris, TARDIS or, as she preferred, “Sexy” – seeming as alien in her own way to the Doctor as the Doctor seems to people. Though he travels through time, he still experiences each moment of his life in a linear fashion, while Sexy is experiencing time all at once. And where the Doctor always thought that he stole this nifty machine, she turns the tables by insisting that she “stole” him because she was just as bored and eager to explore the universe.  And it’s important to know that the TARDIS isn’t a slave in any of this, but a willing and eager participant, so that the next time the Doctor pushes the machine through some hard paces, we don’t find ourselves thinking, “Oh, why’s he abusing poor Sexy this way? She wouldn’t want that.”

I don’t know that the revelations of this episode fundamentally change the way the Doctor will interact with the TARDIS going forward, though there may be an added gleam in Matt Smith’s eye the next time he calls her “girl” while working the controls. But it was still a fine duet, one that made me think about the structure of the show in a very different way without upending any of it, and a far more satisfying hour – in terms of drama, action, comedy, etc. – than last week’s minor pirate adventure.

Some other thoughts:

• I think we saw a part of the TARDIS other than the control room at the end of David Tennant’s first Christmas special where Ten is picking out his wardrobe, but I believe this is the first time at least in the modern era where we’ve seen all those corridors Amy and Rory used to run from House.

• Speaking of which, while many of those scenes were effectively creepy – particularly Amy’s nightmare vision of Rory once again having to wait year upon year for her to come back to him – it’s starting to turn into a running gag where Rory appears to die once per episode.

• House’s patchwork people were unsettling, but not nearly as much so as that now-reliable image of a malfunctioning Ood coming to getcha.

• Hands up, everyone who heard the phrase “The only water in the forest is the River” and thought of that other woman whom we often assume is the Doctor’s wife.

What did everybody else think?

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