Sorry for the delay in getting this up, unfortunately real life’s got in the way a bit this week. Although part of the blame does lie with the episode itself as I did find that I had to watch it a couple of times before starting on this review. And even then, I still found myself struggling for words somewhat – mainly because I wanted to spare you all from the full force of my excitable gushing. In other words I was in nerd-heaven this week. It was a perfectly formed little episode anyway, but being written by fantasy fiction genius, and all-round decent chap, Neil Gaiman, it was also something a bit more special than that.
I suppose it was a bit of a cheat naming the episode ‘The Doctor’s Wife’ when there’s the whole River conundrum to sort out (did we work out last series if River is the Doctor’s wife or not? I remember there being a bit of a debate about it on here, but I’m not sure if any consensus was reached – although after their snog at the end of episode two, I think/hope we can rule out them being related). We did know in advance that Alex Kingston wasn’t in the episode, but I thought that there might be some clarification/development on their relationship. So it was a surprise when it turned out that ‘The Doctor’s Wife’ was in fact his Tardis, temporarily placed within a human form (for reasons which, to be honest, seemed a little contrived, but then that’s Doctor Who for you). It does make perfect sense though – with the Doctor getting through a high turnover of companions over the 700 years that he’s been travelling around, of course he’d form the closest bond with his ship.
Before the episode aired, Heat magazine’s Boyd Hilton described it as Doctor Who meets Beckett, and I could definitely see where he was coming from. It may not have been a brief, bleak bit of abstract existentialism but the small scale of the story provided the opportunity to look deeper at the Doctor’s character, in a much more playful way than you’d think a portrayal of crushing loneliness could be. I think the most telling moment here was the Doctor, on discovering that the possibility of meeting other Time Lords again had actually turned out to just be messages from the long dead, angrily (or sadly) declaring that ‘I really thought I had some friends here’ – the choice of words rather implying that perhaps Amy and Rory aren’t his friends (perhaps he sees them more as pupils, or even children?). That, and the ending, where Rory and Amy left the Doctor alone, tinkering with his ship.
The problem with providing the Doctor with the personified Tardis as a sparring partner was that, having similarly gigantic intellects and non-linear approaches to time, it was hard to keep up with them. I don’t think I’ve heard dialogue that fast outside of something scripted by Aaron Sorkin. Still, I thought that Suranne Jones was excellent in the role – it almost made me sorry to have not actually seen her in anything before (Coronation Street’s not really my thing). The performances all round were pretty great, from the regular cast (even if Darvill had to act out another unpleasant fate for Rory, and this time under ridiculous ageing make-up, he did it well), to the guest stars – in particular Elisabeth Berrington as oddly cheerful Auntie, who’s only just been in the also excellent Crimson Petal and the White. Although I do question why they got Michael Sheen in as the voice of House as, with the effects applied to it, he sounded more like Michael Gambon than himself.
There was a definite child-like feel about the supporting characters – their exaggerated actions, oddly creepy familiarity (except for nephew) and lack of names seeming like something invented by a child, albeit an exceptionally intelligent/disturbed child. As, for that matter, did their comical death scenes. The exception being Idris – who had both a proper name and a proper death scene (more than one in fact). I’m not sure why she got a name, and if it was significant in any way though. The only Idrises I’m aware of are the islamic prophet, Idris Elba and the ginger beer manufacturer (I think we can rule out the last two though).
We weren’t given much in the way of clues for future episodes this time. Other than the line ‘The only water in the forest is the river’. I have no idea what it means, although it’s something that involves River and not Amy (Pond), and as the episode where River ‘died’ was entitled ‘The Forest of the Dead’, I did wonder if it had something to do with that. Maybe the Doctor, Amy and Rory will be revisiting the library from that story at some point this series? I did note a few links to past episodes though – the fishfingers reference from Matt Smith’s first episode and the essence of the Tardis being portrayed as a yellow light as it was in Bad Wolf. Another, more trivial one was the makeshift Tardis console that the Doctor constructed from junk (it was weird seeing him lugging around bits of old Tardis – the Doctor’s generally more into cerebral pursuits than physical labour) being designed by a Blue Peter viewer in a similar competition to the alien design one for Love and Monsters – I think we can say that this episode worked out a lot better than that oddity (the episode itself, not the child’s costume design). Probably the big one though was Gaiman’s choice of setting the episode in an intergalactic junkyard, which he claimed was an homage to William Hartnell’s very first episode (although that was a Tottenham landfill rather than an intelligent asteroid that may, or may not, have been located in a small bubble on the outside of the universe).
So, it was a rather successful first episode from Gaiman, and hopefully it won’t be his last. He deserves to be let loose on a bigger story, one which has more of an impact on the series as a whole (I might be wrong, and Suranne Jones may pop up as the Tardis again at some point, but I doubt it – if she could see all of time at once, she’d probably be able to see her return if it was going to happen). And on that note, Gaiman didn’t get much of a chance to pursue his own interests (I did wonder if the ‘House loves you’ line was intended by him as a playful comment on religion though) Going by his work in something like Sandman, for example, given a bigger canvas he could really do some interesting stuff with the series’ mythology, or just mythology in general.
Next week’s episode looks rather good too – just as well with it being a two-parter – so there’s that to look forward to, hopefully my review for it will be a bit more punctual though.