REVIEW: Doctor Who - "The Doctor's Wife"
Wow – where to begin with last night’s Doctor Who? Writer Neil Gaiman packed so much fascinating material into the script for “The Doctor’s Wife” that I might need two posts to cover it all! We had the Doctor and his companions finding a “bubble universe” attached to our own, attracted by the possibility of a living Time Lord. Instead, the Doctor was presented with another impressive puzzle, which would require more than the usual amount of help from the TARDIS. Combined with the appearance of a slightly unstable woman named Idris, a pair of creepy planet caretakers, and an Ood, this episode made for a thrilling fourth entry to the series.
Read on for my full review of “The Doctor’s Wife”, and don’t worry about spoilers – I’ll try my best to leave out the worst of ‘em! Hit the jump to navigate through the Rift!
The setup for the episode (before the opening credits rolled) gave away the episode’s main concept, which I’m not afraid to talk about here: that Idris is actually the human form of the TARDIS (it’s in the title, so it doesn’t count as a spoiler, alright?). She and the Doctor have been together for longer than any of his friendships with his companions, and so it makes sense that she might be called the Doctor’s “wife”. As I mentioned, that part played out in the first segment, so it wasn’t a big reveal – I didn’t care, though, because the rest of the episode more than made up for it in terms of suspense.
Being a fan of Neil Gaiman, I could pick out his writing style both in the design of the new characters Auntie, Uncle and Idris and in the black humour of some of the jokes. I liked how Auntie and Uncle were patchwork creations made out of the body parts of the other lost travellers; it was a nice Gothic touch that reminded me of Gaiman’s story Coraline. The costumes and set almost seemed Dickensian, or else very British – when Uncle collapsed, there was a great Monty Python reference in the line,“Actually, I feel fine!” Idris had a suitably nineteenth-century look that matched the age and personality of the TARDIS – between the costume and Suranne Jones’ personality, she reminded me of Helena Bonham Carter as Mrs. Lovett in Sweeney Todd.
The enemy in this episode was a disembodied entity called “the House”, who was voiced by the excellent Michael Sheen. I liked that the House wasn’t just an alien with the ability to possess things (that’s been done way too much) – House was always an ominous threat by the very fact that he seemed omniscient and omnipotent without ever being seen. He subjected Amy and Rory to some pretty horrific experiences, using the powers of the TARDIS against them. The whole accelerated-aging thing and the angry writing on the wall were very intense – more examples of the type of epic material we should expect from Neil Gaiman.
One cool feature in this episode was Idris’ ability to see, or think, into the future – in a TV show known for travels through space and time, this detail felt like the “time travel” portion of the episode. (Check out my review of the episode “Day of the Moon” for more on the other versions of time travel in the series) Gaiman used Idris to drop a few tantalizing tidbits about future episodes – just the kind of stuff that will keep the message boards buzzing for weeks. In fact, this episode was a great treat for long-term fans: it was crammed with inside jokes, references and links to other parts of the series’ universe.
When Idris (or should she be referred to as the TARDIS?) and the Doctor were bickering on the abandoned Bubble Universe planet, it really sold me on their relationship. It truly felt like an actual marriage, with all the love and occasional frustration. In fact, the emotional elements of Gaiman’s script were another highlight of “The Doctor’s Wife” – when Amy’s suggested that the Doctor wanted to be forgiven for the death of the Time Lords, the Doctor’s line “Don’t we all?” really got me. It was another impressive piece of Matt Smith’s performance as the Doctor.
In another great bit of character work, I felt Arthur Darvill’s portrayal of Rory was really strong in this episode. After a few stories where Rory was always being used as the whipping boy, or cannon fodder for the enemies, in “The Doctor’s Wife” he was given more responsibility. The fact that Idris sent the telepathic instructions to Rory helped reinforce this, along with how he stood up to House when he and Amy were first confronted by the entity in the possessed TARDIS. Rory was not was merely being brought along for the ride – he seemed like a useful part of the TARDIS crew.
Memorable episodes of Doctor Who are made that way partly by the comic repartee between the series regulars, and “The Doctor’s Wife” was no exception. There were some great back-and-forth moments here, but I won’t list them – if you’ve seen the episode, you’ll know what I mean, and if not, I promise you’ll like it. Many of the best lines came from the dynamic scenes between the Doctor and Idris, and it did even more to develop their face-to-face relationship in such a short time.
“The Doctor’s Wife” gets four stars out of four due to Neil Gaiman’s thrilling story, the convincing emotional performances, and the great character work. I’m looking forward to next week’s episode “The Rebel Flesh” already, if only for the hints in the trailer of a return to the "Amy’s pregnancy" storyline. Share your comments on this fantastic episode below!