In the fourth episode of the sixth series of Doctor Who, the TARDIS is called outside of the universe — for real!!! — by a mysterious message that seems absolutely impossible. The Doctor, Rory, and Amy land on a planet that finally gives a view of the TARDIS we’ve never had the chance to see. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Doctor Who.
It’s Sunday night, just past 11:00pm, and I’m exhausted. I waited until around 1:30am early this morning for iTunes to post the episode, and since then, I’ve watched “The Doctor’s Wife” three times. I’m entranced by what Neil Gaiman has handed the Doctor Who world, a story that has just…well, blown me away. I recall a statement he had made during his WonderCon appearance, about how he was surprised at the idea that no one had ever written a Doctor Who episode specifically about this. What this was, was a mystery, of course, but having now seen this episode thrice in one 24-hour period, I am both amazed that no one had ever attempted this before, and totally thrilled that Neil Gaiman was the one to get a chance to do so.
And I’ve just sat with my word processor open and not a single word typed for twenty minutes. I honestly don’t know what to say about this episode, at least not in any coherent manner.
I’ll start with this: Ever since I properly finished the series for Mark Watches, I’ve been utilizing Netflix Instant (and the occasional DVD) to pick random serials from the classic series to watch without having to think analytical about them. It’s been a lot of fun to just sit and enjoy the stories as they are, especially since I’m so used to having to mentally note things I’ll want to write about. I’ve gotten to watch “The Armageddon Factor” with Tom Baker (SO FUCKING GOOD) and “The Awakening” with Peter Davison (ALSO QUITE GOOD). Point being, I managed to spend a weekend (splitting it into two five-part sessions) watching “The War Games,” Patrick Troughton’s final appearance. (KIND OF DEPRESSING AND FUCKED UP.) So, given this, when there was a knock on the TARDIS and a fucking hypercube flew into the room, I knew that SHIT WAS GOING TO BE UNBEARABLY REAL. A hypercube? But that’s how Time Lords communicate! I thought. Wait. WAIT.
WAS THIS GOING TO BE AN EPISODE ABOUT TIME LORDS. OH MY GOD WHAT.
Funny thing, that thought. It was an episode about Time Lords and the TARDIS and it was not anything a single one of us expected. And while there are so many continuity and series mythology reveals that make this episode truly magical, I also don’t want that to distract me from how beautifully written “The Doctor’s Wife” truly ends up being. Yes, this episode is mind-melting and rather terrifying at times, but the emotional core of it all involves a relationship that’s existed since that first view of the TARDIS in the junkyard on Earth. (The use of a junkyard to explore the nature of the TARDIS is not at all lost on me.)
But let’s start with that hypercube, from a Time Lord named The Corsair. (Is that how all Time Lords are named? The _______? Just curious.) It does seem like an impossibility, but I can’t deny that despite knowing that Gaiman would find away around the fact that there are no Time Lords left, my face essentially mirrored that of the Doctor’s when he realized that The Corsair had sent him a message. Mail from a Time Lord!!!! And then, as if the heavens opened up and looked down upon Doctor Who and said, “Nay, let us rejoice at this glorious show,” The Doctor most casually mentions that The Corsair had regenerated as a woman a few times.
It is not an actual woman Time Lord on screen, but I literally YIPPED with excitement to the answer of a question so many of us have asked: Are Time Lords always dudes? NO. Oh god, is there now a possibility that there could be a woman as a Time Lord? COULD YOU IMAGINE ALL THE SHITTY BACKLASH FROM THE FANDOM. oh god just the very concept sends me into a tizzy of excitement and i have to move on or I will wet myself with joy.
Of course, it’s too much for the Doctor to ignore (would you????), and so they travel outside of the Universe. (Yes, that gets a capital letter.) I was absolutely ecstatic that we were already getting a non-Earth episode in the sixth season because I feel like we sometimes spend a bit too much time on our planet. You can travel through all of space and time! GO SOMEWHERE ELSE, DOCTOR. And what a place he travels to this time! Again, as I said earlier, I love the parallel to “An Unearthly Child,” and there’s such a beautiful reference to the birth of this series. It’s especially fitting that a story about the TARDIS is set in a planet that is entirely a junkyard.
This episode never quite seems to be that serious for the first fifteen minutes or so, and this is perfectly fine. A lot of “The Doctor’s Wife” relies on the back-and-forth banter between the characters facing what is a totally absurd situation. Here, on a planet that exists outside of the Universe, the Doctor can hear the voices of Time Lords somewhere nearby. But upon landing on this junk of a planet, they meet three very bizarre people and a slightly-creepy Ood. And this is after another impossible thing happens: The matrix of the TARDIS has completely disappeared. (How many times does the Doctor say something is impossible in this episode? God, I love it.)
The weirdness of this all is what puts the main characters (and us, as the viewers of this escapade) entirely on edge. I wasn’t quite sure if I was going to like “The Doctor’s Wife” right at the beginning. I didn’t understand how or why something on this planet had “stolen” the TARDIS and why the matrix appeared to enter Idris in the cold open. Was Idris the “villain” of the episode?
But after meeting her (SHE BITES THE DOCTOR GOOD GOD), Auntie, Uncle, and Nephew (the Ood), I was even more confused. These people seemed to just be others that had gotten stranded on the planet, and I stopped thinking they were sinister at all. And Idris had passed out and been taken away, so I literally had no clue what the hell was going on. I’d seen that tiny bit about Auntie and Uncle introducing the concept of the House while at Wondercon, so I knew beforehand that they had landed on a planet that was some sort of entity. But now the question remained: How were there other Time Lords on this planet? I liked that the Doctor entertained the idea that he had killed all of the Time Lords in our Universe, meaning that it was technically possible that there were Time Lords in this place.
I do have a bit of a problem with the way that the Doctor went about investigating this place further. He sends Amy and Rory on a fool’s errand to find his sonic screwdriver onboard the TARDIS. Rory was more than welcome to get off this planet, as the place gave him the willies, but Amy exhibited a more necessary reaction: Dude, Doctor, you’re kind of a dick. I understand that this is a huge moment for him, that he probably wanted to deal with this on his own, but are you really at a point with your companions that you have to lie to them in order to get them to let you do your own thing? Hell, because of this, Rory and Amy have to face being kidnapped and mentally tortured by the House inside of the TARDIS and HOLY SHIT IT IS SO AWFUL. So what gives, Doctor? Be upfront next time!
I suppose that it creates the necessary dichotomy for the story to do what it does, which is to separate Amy and Rory from Idris and the Doctor, because at heart, this story is about Idris and the Doctor. As the Doctor discovers the cabinet full of hypercubes, containing distress signals from his fellow Time Lords, Auntie and Uncle arrive to give him the horrifying run down: The House repairs things. It’s revealed that even the two of them are repaired.
FROM THE REMAINS OF OTHER TIME LORDS.
Absolutely one of the most disturbing and fucked up things this show has ever done. (Auntie has The Corsair’s arm!!!! WHAT THE FUCK!!!) The Doctor has been tricked, just as so many other Time Lords have been, because the House realized that Time Lords possessed what he needed in order to “repair” those that ended up on that sphere of collected matter.
Oh god, just look at Matt Smith’s face during that realization. I’ve read that there is a contingent of long-time Doctor Who fans who hate Matt Smith and think he’s too “hip” or “silly” to be the Doctor, and I implore all of them to watch this episode very, very closely. Matt Smith is the Doctor, possibly the best of them all, and there are so many moments (like this very one) that show us this man is nearly 1,000 years old and the heartbreak that has ruled his existence is hidden just behind that goofy, curious facade. You see it on his face when he finds the hypercubes: The Time Lords are all dead, and he is responsible for it, and this small little detour to entertain the hope that there is at least one still alive has just been crushed, utterly and completely.
Bless you, Matt Smith. You’re quickly becoming my favorite Doctor.
Simultaneous to this, as the Doctor is realizing just how messed up this all is, Rory and Amy find out just what the House was planning all along: to escape. A green glow shimmers outside the TARDIS and then the House announces to the two of them that it has taken over the time-traveling machine in the hopes of entering the energy-rich universe just beyond his ball of matter outside the universe. When the House demands that he be given a reason not to kill them, good ol’ Rory understands the situation quite dearly: the House wants adventure. Isn’t that what the TARDIS is for? And so he gives the House an idea: if the House kills them quickly, wouldn’t that be less entertaining for it? Unfortunately, it’s such a good idea that the House obliges and aims at doing whatever he can to kill Amy and Rory. (Many people in this fandom have pointed out that Rory has “died” in nearly every single episode he’s appeared in and I now can’t ignore how ridiculous it’s getting. Is this a conscious running joke with the writers or just an unfortunate implication of what’s happened with all of these stories?)
Gaiman doesn’t spend a lot of time on this part of the story, but I’m ok with that, since what happens with the Doctor is so huge to the series at a whole. But I do want to briefly comment on how creepy the concept is, and how this subplot allows us to FINALLY see more of this majestic TARDIS in the new series. While some of the corridors seem fairly plain, I didn’t really care. We finally get the chance to see Eleven’s TARDIS beyond the control room, and it’s these shots that Gaiman uses to create a claustrophobic sense of reality, where time bends in impossible ways and the House goes after what both Amy and Rory would die over: losing each other.
I’ve praised Matt Smith today, and now I must praise Arthur Darvill, who seriously knocked it out of the park for his portrayal of Old Rory, one of the creepiest and unsettling things I’ve seen during Moffat’s run. That intensity, drawing on the fact that Rory has already been The Boy Who Waits, plays off both of Amy’s and Rory’s collective horror. And even though we know it’s a trick and it’s not at all real, I can’t imagine a more gruesome and grim site than Rory’s dessicated body lying in the corridor of the TARDIS, having long died after Amy abandoned him.
Neil Gaiman, what is your brain.
Oh, that’s right, your brain is fucking brilliant. Because all I’ve wanted to talk about this entire time is the fact that he finally wrote a script where THE TARDIS IS AN ACTUAL FUCKING PERSON. We’ve been hearing for years that the TARDIS is alive, that it basically has its own mind and persona, that it is a living ball of energy that sometimes makes choices for the Doctor and always takes him where he needs to be. When the Doctor hears Idris tell him that she is the soul of the TARDIS, Matt Smith puts on one of those looks, the ones that make me fall in love with him even more than I already have. This is his TARDIS, right before him, and able to speak to him.
To round out my heaping of praise on the acting in “The Doctor’s Wife,” Suzanne Jones is rather perfect as the soul of the TARDIS, stumbling over proper tense, speaking in that rapid-fire wit we expect from the Doctor, and exhibiting the fact that the TARDIS loves the Doctor back just as much as he loves her.
I think that is ultimately why this episode is so goddamn fantastic: After traveling together for over forty years’ time on television, somehow, we’ve never seen this: What would happen if the TARDIS and The Doctor could meet? Well, we get many, many answers to that: They’d flirt. A LOT. And then they’d resort to bickering. And then they’d make up with more sweet talk about how much they love one another. And then the TARDIS would talk to the Doctor in a non-linear manner about many things that will happen in the near- and far-future, and would actually be one of the few things to truly confuse the Doctor.
I commented during the liveblog that we were witnessing perhaps the greatest OTP in the history of fiction, and I’d glady put Broyles/LSD from Fringe in second place to this, because it is just so touching to me. There is just something so poetic about the very idea of the Doctor and the physical manifestation of the TARDIS building another TARDIS in a veritable graveyard of TARDISes. It’s a statement about how this ball of matter is a morose and terrible place that has caused so many Time Lords to lose their lives, and yet these two people still refuse to give up hope.
I know that I’m 2,500 words into this review and I am going to skip a few smaller details that blew my mind (NINE AND TEN’S TARDIS CONSOLE HOLY FUCKING SHIT), but there is a scene in “The Doctor’s Wife” that is, without a doubt in my mind, the best scene that Doctor Who has ever given its audience, one that I now feel we’ve all been waiting to see. After materializing inside the copy of an old control room, which is then deleted by the House, which then deposits them in the main console room, which is then taken back by the matrix as Idris’s body dies (and not before she whispers the weirdest thing to Rory) (also I cannot ignore the brilliance that the TARDIS thinks Rory is the pretty one), the TARDIS has one final conversation with the Doctor. And I’m just going to quote the whole thing because anything I say will ruin it:
Idris: Doctor, are you there? It’s so very dark in here.
The Doctor: I’m here.
Idris: I’ve been looking for a word. A big, complicated word, but so sad. I found it now.
The Doctor: What word?
Idris: “Alive.” I’m alive.
The Doctor: Alive isn’t sad.
Idris: It’s sad when it’s over. I’ll always be here, but this is when we talked. And even that has come to an end. There’s something I didn’t get to say to you.
The Doctor: “Goodbye.”
Idris: No, I just wanted to say…Hello, Doctor. It’s so very, very nice to meet you.
And no lie, Watchers, I was in a glass case of emotion during this whole exchange:
Doctor Who is about a mad man and a blue box that is bigger on the inside, and this is the first time we’ve seen that blue box as a living thing. I will never forget this. It’s one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever witnessed on this show, and I have to gush and thank Neil Gaiman for giving us all this story. You’ve reminded us all that these characters are so alive, and that the Doctor and his big blue box will forever be alive in all of us.
Gosh darn, I must watch this again.
- SO MANY GOOD QUOTES IN THIS EPISODE.
- “Are all people like this?” “Like what?” “So much bigger on the inside!”
- “How can we be outside the universe? The universe is everything.” “Imagine a great big soap bubble with one of those tiny little bubbles on the outside.” “Okay.” “Well, it’s nothing like that.”
- “Biting’s excellent. It’s like kissing, only there’s a winner.”
- “He’ll be fine. He’s a Time Lord.” “It’s just what they’re called. Doesn’t mean he actually knows what he’s doing.”
- THE DOCTOR CALLS THE TARDIS SEXY WHEN HE’S ALONE. A;KLSDFJA;D FLKASDJFADS;LKFJA;FJ
- Oh god, the amazing conversation between Idris and the Doctor about the instructions on the door. amazing AMAZING.
- “You ever wonder why I chose you all those years ago?” “I chose you. You were unlocked.” “Of course I was. I wanted to see the universe so I stole a Time Lord and I ran away. And you were the only one mad enough.”
- “She’s a woman and she’s a TARDIS.” “Did you wish really hard?” AMY POND FOR THE VICTORY.
- “The House deleted all the bedrooms. I should probably make you two a bedroom. You’d like that, won’t you?” “Okay, um, Doctor, this time could we lose the bunk bed?” “No, bunk beds are cool. A bed with a ladder! You can’t beat that.” THE DOCTOR FOR THE VICTORY.