Doctor Who, Eleven For Eleven: The Doctor’s Wife

“I told you to look after him.”

“He’ll be fine. He’s a Time Lord.”

“It’s just what they’re called. It doesn’t mean he actually knows what he’s doing.”

I really miss Time Lord stuff. Skullcaps, high collars and capes, translucent energy pistols, mind probes, the computation matrix, the High Council and their stuffy politics, this-that-and-the-other-thing of Rassilon: all of that stuff. I grew up watching fuzzy tapes of PBS airings of “The Deadly Assassin” and “The Five Doctors” over, and over, and over again; of course I’d think that was essential Doctor Who stuff. And yet within the first two episodes of Russell T Davies’s relaunch of the series in 2005 it was established that the Time Lords were all gone, and Gallifrey less than a memory. So when a hypercube — a Time Lord device last seen in the series in “The War Games” way back in 1969 — bursts into the TARDIS and gives the Doctor hope that there are more surviving Time Lords out there, I admit I shared that hope. And while that turned out not to be the case, I still came away from “The Doctor’s Wife,” Neil Gaiman’s delayed-by-a-year entry into the televised Doctor Who canon, much more than satisfied.

11. Matt Smith puts in his best performance as the Doctor since “The Big Bang,” a sweeping tour de force that runs through the highs and lows of the emotional spectrum. Gaiman’s script gives him moments of great, awkward comedy with Idris, righteous anger at those who’ve tricked and murdered his people, and deep sorrow as he loses something he never knew he could have, something he never knew he wanted ’til he had it. The most haunting moment has got to be when he realizes he’s been tricked and House’s two patchwork servants come up behind him and try to explain themselves. He really kind of loses it.

10. Watching the Doctor running around and having a chat for the first time with his one true love really took the wind out of the “who is River Song” sails for me. Seriously, after we’ve had an episode called “The Doctor’s Wife,” River had best not turn out to be the Doctor’s wife; this episode makes it clear that position is sort of taken. That said, it sounded like Idris provided some sort of cryptic clue about River towards the end. As for Idris herself, once she settled down I quite liked her. Suranne Jones gives quite a fun, spirited, and charming performance that’s just awkward enough that you believe that behind those eyes there’s an entity that’s not quite at home in that particular body.

9. Amy and Rory are surprisingly well served considering that the story is mostly about the Doctor’s relationship with the TARDIS, though again, we’re teased with Rory dying, this time in an illusion thrown before Amy’s eyes. This is becoming quite the running gag. Still, his rotting corpse laying in a corridor scrawled with anti-Amy graffiti is creepy as all hell. This series is really putting Amy through the ringer, making her pay rather dearly for continuing her journey with the Doctor.

8. I’m very slightly surprised to hear that the Doctor told Amy the details about the final fate of the Time Lords; the only time we ever saw him discuss it with her was way back in “The Beast Below,” where he kind of glossed things over. Perhaps he filled in the gaps in the wake of “Victory of the Daleks.” That seems like it would have been an appropriate time for that particular chat. She really knows how to read him, too. I love his reaction when she tells him he wants to be forgiven: “Don’t we all?”

7. In a story laden with continuity references across the whole span of Doctor Who’s forty-eight-year history, it’s the bits from the past few that really stood out: a single Ood (“One more Ood I couldn’t save,” the Doctor remarks) and the Ninth and Tenth Doctor’s console room, which for good measure is ejected from the ship, destroyed a second time in a clever gambit on the Doctor’s part. (But I bet Peter Davison’s console room and Tom Baker’s wood-paneled secondary console room are still in there somewhere!) For some reason it felt to me that the way he told the TARDIS to take out House felt like an echo of the Tenth Doctor’s merciless torture of the Family of Blood; I haven’t seen him exercise that level of ruthlessness in a while, not in any moment that springs immediately to mind.

6. The corridors of the TARDIS are charmingly cheap-looking, designed to match the Eleventh Doctor’s main console room but with a minimalistic look reminiscent of the corridors of the late 70’s and 80’s TARDIS. Again, I grew up on Baker and Davison stuff; I expect to see people wandering up and down the hallways of the TARDIS. Even though Gaiman’s twenty years my senior, apparently he feels the same way.

5. Speaking of Baker and Davison, the Cloister Bell and the ejecting of rooms from the TARDIS: “Logopolis” and “Castrovalva,” anyone?

4. It’s amazing how a show that looks so big, so modern, so expensive still feels like such an old-fashioned Doctor Who story. The surface of House is so realistically otherworldly, but feels so naturally like a place the TARDIS might land during the classic series. The way the action winds up divided, with Amy and Rory trapped in the TARDIS while the Doctor and Idris work on the problem from their own end, also feels like a slice of classic Doctor Who. And seriously, it’s filled with enough classic continuity to be a John Nathan-Turner-era story.

3. It’s lovely how Gaiman turns the “origin” of the Doctor from the story of an old man stealing a machine to flee his stodgy, rotting society for a life of adventure to the story of two daft soulmates finding each other and fleeing a stodgy, rotting society for a life of adventure together. And it doesn’t throw any sort of spanner into the works about destiny or any such nonsense; the door was intentionally unlocked and she knew he was the only one crazy enough to open it, that’s all. It’s not like the notion of the TARDIS being alive wasn’t a part of Doctor Who from day one: Ian Chesterton made the remark in the very first episode of the series, and the ship’s had a mind of its own for just as long — as Idris says here, taking the Doctor and his companions where they need to go rather than where they want to go. But filling in gaps and confirming long-held fan theories is one thing; the thing that makes “The Doctor’s Wife” great is that it shades all this in, better defines the relationship between the Doctor and his TARDIS, while telling a fun, emotional yarn about an asteroid beyond the universe that eats TARDISes.

2. Amy’s reaction when the Doctor explains to her that Idris is the TARDIS, but also a woman (and really, to be fair to Amy, he seems entirely too excited by the idea at the time), is the funniest damn thing I’ve heard in weeks: “Did you wish REALLY hard?” I totally cracked up at that on BOTH viewings.

1. “Bunk beds are cool! A bed — with a ladder! You can’t beat that!” No, Doctor, you sure can’t.