DOCTOR WHO 6.4 (32.4): The Doctor’s Wife

Well, thanks to Neil Gaiman’s instant classic “The Doctor’s Wife” episode of DOCTOR WHO, no one will ever look at the TARDIS in quite the same way again!

It has long been hinted and teased that the TARDIS houses some sort of consciousness, or even a kind of “heart” or “soul.” The revived series has added clues that TARDISes are grown from a kind of coral more than manufactured (The 10th Doctor states as much in “The Impossible Planet.”) And, of course, the exact circumstances of the Doctor’s…um, departure from Gallifrey have been a question ever since “An Unearthly Child.” Leave it to fantasy demigod Gaiman to blend all those elements into a magical, alchemical mix and come up with a ripping yarn that entertains while addressing questions and raising new (fun) mysteries.

Yes, I am an unrepentant Gaiman devotee, having first discovered him thanks to his brilliant Sandman comic book series for DC Comics. I know him to be an author of inexhaustible imagination who expresses himself wonderfully. When I heard that show-runner Steven Moffat regards DOCTOR WHO as a fairy tale, I knew Gaiman would be the perfect writer to pen a story for the 11th Doctor. And Gaiman did not let me down. Not one little bit.

The Doctor (Matt Smith) received a hypercube message from an old acquaintance called the Corsair, which led him to a junkyard asteroid outside the known universe. There he met Auntie (Elizabeth Berrington) Uncle (Adrian Schiller), an Ood dubbed Nephew (Paul Kasay) and the seemingly mad Idris (Suranne Jones). The asteroid, dubbed “House” (and voiced by Michael Sheen), was sentient, and informed the Doctor that it had been visited by many TARDISes in the past, but there were no longer any Time Lords present. Still, the Doctor was convinced that the Corsair and other “good” Time Lords needed saving, so he sent Amy (Karen Gillan) and Rory (Arthur Darvill) in the TARDIS so he could deal with Time Lord affairs. What he discovered was a cache of Time Lord distress-call boxes. Then he realized that Uncle and Auntie were patchwork people made of random body parts – including the Corsair’s arm – and that Idris housed the “soul” of the TARDIS! House feeds on rift energy, and TARDISes are full of it. But the only way to consume that tasty energy is to delete the TARDIS’ matrix. But removing a TARDIS consciousness would blow a hole in the universe, so House sticks the TARDIS matrix inside a living vessel to contain it while he feeds on the remaining Artron energy.

Amy and Rory were trapped in the TARDIS as House seized it. However, since the Doctor had revealed that his was the last TARDIS in existence, House wanted to return to the known universe. Left behind, the Doctor suddenly realized that he was in a TARDIS junkyard – and set about building a new TARDIS console, with Idris’ help. Meanwhile, inside the ship, House commanded Rory and Amy to “Entertain me: Run!” Rabbiting through the famously labyrinthine corridors, House manipulated time and space to torture Amy with the appearance of a dead and desiccated Rory. Doctor and Idris managed to get their makeshift TARDIS off the ground, and Idris sent Rory a telepathic message to go to the archived “old control room” and lower the TARDIS shields. This allowed the Doctor to materialize inside the TARDIS shell. Then the Doctor baited House into deleting the room. A failsafe transported all the living beings out of the dissolving room and into the main control room, where Doctor stalled until Idris’ human body could no longer hold her and the TARDIS consciousness re-merged with the control console and then destroyed House.

“The Doctor’s Wife” is full of wit and imagination and lively writing. And it takes a fresh look at the Doctor’s relationship to the amazing vessel in which he travels. Ships and vehicles of all types have long been anthropomorphized as female, and much as STAR TREK’s Capt. Kirk was “married” to the Enterprise, the Doctor is bound to the TARDIS. I liked the little spin that Gaiman put on their relationship by making it a two-way street. He invalidated nothing about the Doctor’s conviction that he stole the TARDIS by suggesting that the TARDIS also stole him! Idris acknowledged that she, a Type 40, was already a museum piece when the Doctor was young. He said he took her because she was unlocked; she insisted she wanted to see the universe, so she stole a Time Lord – and he was the only one mad enough to go on the journey. So they ran away together, which makes the departure from Gallifrey more like an elopement, lending credence to the “wife” metaphor. On a somewhat more crass level, the Doctor and Idris did bicker like an old married couple! He scolded her for not being very reliable and rarely taking him where he wanted to go. She countered that she always took him where he needed to go. This casts a new light on a great many “classic” stories that saw the Doctor conveniently arrive in a trouble spot just when he was needed most. And it also helps exonerate the Doctor’s ability to pilot the TARDIS; he was doing it right, but the TARDIS herself had other ideas! So, in the end, could the Doctor really have “stolen” the TARDIS when she wanted to steal him? They technically kidnapped each other!

Gaiman’s script was full of big ideas that made logical sense; everything was extrapolated from existing ideas. Even the seemingly convenient “failsafe” that saved the day made internal story sense; the TARDIS would want to preserve anyone accidentally trapped in a segment slated to be jettisoned. And, of course, the idea of sacrificing TARDIS rooms for additional thrust was used in “Logopolis” and “Castrovalva.” (That poor swimming pool seems destined to never last very long…) Gaiman’s dialogue was lively and funny in some spots, creepy in others, and touching in still other passages. Most of all it was clever, as in the way that Idris’ idiosyncratic dialogue provided a lot of exposition and foreshadowing in painless ways (in the guise of her being loopy adjusting to human form): Getting tenses mixed up allowed her to plant information that would be needed in the future, like the meaning of “petrichor.” Witness the clever manner in which Rory bargained for his and Amy’s lives by appealing to that old supervillain standby: “Killing us quickly wouldn’t be any fun.” And Amy was as playful as ever: Rory: “He’s a Time Lord.” Amy: “It’s just what they’re called; it doesn’t mean he actually knows what he’s doing.”

But I know what I liked most of all: The way the story gave Smith the material to really cut loose and bring the Doctor to uproarious life. I think I will always have the image etched in my mind of the gleeful Doctor and Idris whipping through space in their slapdash TARDIS. It was a positively mad gambit – and the Doctor wouldn’t have it any other way! At times, Smith looked as if the Doctor could barely contain himself: He was positively rapturous when he first retrieved the Corsair’s hypercube. Then, later, the Doctor was genuinely confused and excited and more than a little frightened at the prospect of there being “lots and lots” of Time Lords on the asteroid. (Amy absolutely nailed why the Doctor was so pumped: He needed to be forgiven by Time Lords for his genocide. Wow, Neil. Just, wow.) Equally effective was the time when the Doctor felt lost: “I really don’t know what to do,” the Doctor mused. “That’s a new feeling.” But then his manic self resurfaced: “I’m a madman with a box – without a box!”

I would still like some clarification on how TARDISes come to be. After this episode I’m looking at some kind of melding between the organic “coral” elements and the technology of the main console. Perhaps the TARDIS shell and matrix are grown, then the artificial console is built and melded into a control room, and then imbued with the spark of consciousness from the living TARDIS to make the whole thing “work.” (Sounds like a plan to me…)

Hey, let’s not forget the positively ground-breaking news that was casually tossed off by the Doctor: Time Lords definitely can change gender when they regenerate. Long a rumor, this is the first story to make the change canon. A Time Lord may become a Time Lady. In fact, the Doctor’s friend the Corsair (love that moniker!) apparently alternated being “a hell of a bloke” and a female several times. “Oooh, she was a bad girl!” the Doctor chortled.

And, finally, the story needed a dollop of myth-arc, and that came in the dying words of Idris, who told Rory, “The only water in the forest is the river.” Idris said they would need to know that. I hope Idris didn’t get her tenses confused again and was referring to “Forest of the Dead,” because we already know what happens to River in that story. I want more clues about the future of Series 6!

Am I an old sourpuss for being disappointed that the War Chief did not appear? We had been promised someone who hadn’t been seen since “The War Games,” but somewhere along the line that tease morphed into something we hadn’t seen since “The War Games” — and that turned out to be the hypercube.

Advertisements

4 thoughts on “DOCTOR WHO 6.4 (32.4): The Doctor’s Wife

  1. …Neil Gaiman’s instant classic…

    Completely agree. Dare I say it, but Series six is shaping up to be the best ever.

    And it also helps exonerate the Doctor’s ability to pilot the TARDIS; he was doing it right, but the TARDIS herself had other ideas!

    Alternatively, that he was always doing it wrong, and the times he got where he wanted were just those times she thought he should.

    Even the seemingly convenient “failsafe” that saved the day made internal story sense; the TARDIS would want to preserve anyone accidentally trapped in a segment slated to be jettisoned.

    That is the kind of little plot hole that niggles me. The ‘obvious’ failsafe would be to refuse to jettison the room, or to place its occupants into a protective time loop (like when the Tardis exploded). Transporting them automatically to the main control room is hardly a fail ‘safe’.

    (That poor swimming pool seems destined to never last very long…)

    Do you get ‘Confidential’ in your part of the world? Apparently the original script would have featured some of these rooms, but the budget didn’t run to it.

    Did we know – before this episode – that the Doctor can create rooms at will?

    “I really don’t know what to do,” the Doctor mused. “That’s a new feeling.”

    It’s not. The Tenth Doctor had a similar moment of helplessness, albeit unvocalised, in “The Stolen Earth”, when the trail ran cold at the Medusa Cascade. It was brief, but no briefer than here.

    Also I think Eleven knew that he was clutching at straws when he was trying to guide blind Amy past the Angels in “Flesh and Stone”:

    River Song: It’s never going to work.
    The Doctor: WHAT ELSE HAVE YOU GOT? River, tell me!

    When Eleven explodes in rage like that, it’s because he doesn’t know what to do.

    Hey, let’s not forget the positively ground-breaking news that was casually tossed off by the Doctor: Time Lords definitely can change gender when they regenerate. Long a rumor, this is the first story to make the change canon.

    It’s canon that the Doctor said this, but we still haven’t seen a timelord change sex. I don’t think everything the Doctor says can necessarily be taken at face value, particularly when he’s wittering. Rule one: The Doctor lies. There wasn’t really an “escaped fish” on Starship UK, and I sincerely doubt that the Timey-Wimey detector Ten made in Blink really caused hens to explode.

    In other words, I think Rory’s skepticism is justified, even if Amy “was there” on that particular occasion.

    That said, I’ve long hoped we might see a female Doctor some time, and don’t forget Eleven’s moment of gender-confusion just after his regeneration.

    I hope Idris didn’t get her tenses confused again and was referring to “Forest of the Dead,” because we already know what happens to River in that story. I want more clues about the future of Series 6!

    I’m sure it will be. So are we going to see a forest with a River inside it but no Ponds?

    But I don’t just want clues. I want to see the arc story developed. In series 5, other than appearances unnoticed by the characters, the cracks featured in episodes 5, 6 (dialog only), and 9, before the arc was resolved in 12 and 13. So we’re due for something more than just a clue.

    Like

  2. I’m choosing to take the Doctor at his word on the sex-change thing. In the context of the scene — singing the praises of an old pal — I don’t see any reason why he would suddenly want to slip in a lie about something so off-the-wall as Time Lords changing gender. (At least in the case of the regeneration limit, Clyde had actually asked the Doctor about it, so if the Doctor felt like having some fun at the kid’s expense, at least it wasn’t completely out of the blue.) The Doctor was talking about good times with the Corsair, so why use his/her memory as a springboard to randomly yank his companion’s chain?

    A healthy skepticism is fine, but I don’t think it’s necessary to literally see absolutely everything in order to believe it.

    Like

    • I don’t think he “slipped in a lie”. I think he just says whatever pops into his head, which comes as much from his creative imagination as it does from his knowledge of objective fact. I’m quite quick-witted, and often throw one-liners into social conversation just for a laugh. It would be ridiculous to hold such utterances to an objective truth standard.

      So I don’t think the possibility of regeneration sex-changes has been positively established in the sense that, if it were shown in some future episode, that such changes were not possible, it wouldn’t require a retcon of this episode. What it does indicate, I think, is that the current showrunner is thinking about the issue, and views sex-changes as possible.

      Similarly, the SJA episode “Death of the Doctor” didn’t contradict the continuity of “the Deadly Assassin”. It does, however, indicate that at the time Moffat approved that dialog (which he surely did), he was considering ignoring or abrogating in some way the twelve-regeneration limit, (or – less likely – that he had simply forgotten about it).

      Like

  3. Pingback: A Burlesque Tribute to DOCTOR WHO in NYC | Read at Joe's

Oh, yeah? Sez you!

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s