The Doctor's Wife

Story No. 236 The Doctor's wives
Production Code Series 6, Episode 4
Dates May 14 2011

With Matt Smith, Karen Gillan, Arthur Darvill
Written by Neil Gaiman Directed by Richard Clark
Executive Producers: Steven Moffat, Piers Wenger, Beth Willis.

Synopsis: The TARDIS inhabits the body of a woman.


A Masterpiece by Andrew Feryok 12/3/12

What would a sci-fi hero be without his spaceship? Kind of like a cowboy without his horse. Where would Captain Kirk be without the USS Enterprise? Or Han Solo without the Millennium Falcon? Or Buck Rogers without a... um... dart ship I guess (I don't watch Buck Rogers, sorry). In the Doctor's life, there have always been two constants: the Daleks and the TARDIS. But it is the TARDIS that came first.

In fact, the TARDIS predates the Doctor. In the very first episode of the first Doctor Who story, long before we are introduced to the character of the Doctor, or even the characters of Ian, Barbara, or Susan, we are introduced to the TARDIS. That strange humming police box in Foreman's Junkyard. From the very start, it was presented as almost a character in its own right. And only three stories in, it was shown to be something truly out of this world. It wasn't just a miraculous time and space machine. It could try to send messages and warnings to the occupants when the fast return switch gets stuck or the fluid link is going on the blink again. In later stories, the Doctor even revealed that the TARDIS is an artificial life form in a way and responds to them through the telepathic circuit (it takes a particular liking to Leela in Image of the Fendahl). By the time we reach the new series, the TARDIS is revealed to be even more sentient and even part organic. And that finally brings us to the remarkable moment in Season 6 when the TARDIS takes a large step for TARDIS-kind and gets its essence transferred into the body of a humanoid female and can at last exist on the Doctor's plane of existence.

The Doctor's Wife is a brilliant story. It should be a load of fanwank gibberish, since the idea at its core is the worst kind of fan-fiction fantasy ever. But Nail Gaiman pulls it all off with style and wit, and ends up producing not only one of the very best stories of Matt Smith's Doctor so far, but easily one of the best stories of the new series, up there with Blink, Human Nature and Dalek. In some ways, it's amazing that no one ever thought to do this scenario in all the years the show has been on the air. The EDA book series touched on the idea with its Compassion story arc, but in that case that was someone turning into a TARDIS. Here we have the Doctor's original TARDIS going the other way and becoming human.

In some ways, Idris/TARDIS shows up just how artificial River Song is in comparison as the Doctor's supposed wife. The Doctor has and always will be married to his ship (as the saying goes about Captains). It's the one constant in all of his travels. It stayed with him when he was exiled to Earth, it returned him to the safety of UNIT HQ after the Third Doctor was badly damaged on Metebelis 3, and the Cheetah planet transported him back to the TARDIS in Survival when he thought of home. An article in Doctor Who Magazine about the nature of regeneration in the show also pointed out something interesting: that the TARDIS has almost always been present when the Doctor needed to regenerate and the Doctor always seems desperate to return there when regeneration was to set in. So clearly there is a closer connection between the Doctor and his ship than I think has ever been consciously acknowledged in the series before and it seems appropriate that "the Doctor's wife" should always be the TARDIS in the end.

Of course, this wouldn't nearly be possible if it wasn't for the outstanding performances of Suranne "Mona Lisa" Jones and Matt Smith, who completely sell the whole idea of the Doctor meeting his ship in human form. In particular, Suranne Jones completely steals the show and gives a brilliant performance. She appears to be a hollow, one-dimensional character when we first meet her, but she completely transforms when the essence of the TARDIS is imbued within her. In many ways, she comes across as more alien than the Doctor and the first moments of their meeting are marvelous as she strains to come down from an existence of seeing all possible realities, timelines and timestreams at once to focusing solely on the present and on the Doctor. And I love the fact that she is sassy towards the Doctor without being in-your-face-cocky the way that, say, River, Madame du Pompadour or Astrid where. She doesn't feel like some young thing trying to get into the Doctor's pants. She acts like someone who knows she has the Doctor around her little finger and is just teasing him.

Jones and Smith are also brilliant in the scene where they are trying to build a makeshift TARDIS from scraps and start arguing like a couple that's been married for years. I love the whole idea that the TARDIS itself was a renegade just as much as the Doctor. She wanted to see the universe and its wonders just as much as the Doctor wanted to escape Gallifrey and see the universe. This isn't the lonely god or galactic crusader Doctor we are seeing in this story, but who I consider the "real" Doctor. The mad Time Lord who rebelled against his society in order to see the wonders of the universe and this story captures that idea at its core through the relationship between the Doctor and Idris.

And I haven't even mentioned Rory or Amy! They do get sort of sidelined a bit in this story, but their subplot is just as scary. They are trapped inside the TARDIS which has been taken over by the malevolent force known as House. No, not Hugh Laurie, but a strange malevolent force hell bent on returning to our universe. For the first time in the new series, we really get a sense of the TARDIS being more than just the console room (the costume room in The Christmas Invasion being an exception). We see the inner corridors for the first time since the Colin Baker years, it's acknowledged that the old console rooms still exist in the TARDIS and we get a brief return of the Ecceleston/Tennant console room. Wouldn't it have been cool though if we there had been a revisit to the classic-series console room done in the style of the new series!

Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill put in fine performances as they find themselves on the run from House and even an Ood. Yes, Gaiman even managed to put in one of my favorite new series monsters in a brief cameo appearance! But Darvill really creeped me out in the sequence when House made Amy think that she had jumped a time track and that Rory had been left wallowing in madness as he waited hundreds of years for her return. It's a bit of a daft idea on paper, but Darvill steps up and gives a truly manic performance that makes you think he has gone mad and might even be capable of killing her! Now that I think of it, it nicely foreshadows The Girl Who Waited in which that role would be reversed.

But I could go on all day about the brilliant ideas at work in this story. There are the Time Lord "black boxes" that draw the Doctor to this pocket universe in the first place. There's the Doctor and Idris flying a ramshackle, slapped-together TARDIS through the vortex to pursue the TARDIS (a nice mini-metaphor for the series). Or the sidesplitting moment when Idris attempts to contact the Doctor's "pretty assistant" and makes telepathic contact with Rory!

On the whole, this is a classic. It sums up everything I like about the show and the nature of why the Doctor travels in the first place. It's not because he wants to be a god or an intergalactic superhero. He's just a mad man in an equally mad blue box taking us on the trip of a lifetime to see the wonders that are out there. This is one of the few stories that nearly made me cry by end, as Idris is forced to die so that the TARDIS can have its essence back. You feel like there is so much left unsaid between the two and you wish that they could have traveled together in human form. But it is not to be. The TARDIS must always be the TARDIS and the Doctor must always be the Doctor. But, in a way, Idris is always going to be there. She always was from the very beginning. She didn't just steal a Time Lord. She stole us as well. And she's got a whole lot more to show us about the universe for generations to come. 10/10

PS: If you ever wondered what it would be like if Captain Kirk got to meet the Enterprise in human form (a scary proposition) check out the classic Trek episode The Naked Time and see Kirk's over-the-top rant about how in love with his ship he is when he gets "drunk."

A Review by Clement Tang 17/4/12

I've seen many comments on YouTube saying that this is extremely well-written. A lot of praise is given to Neil Gaiman for this story. But really, after viewing it again, it's not the classic I was thinking of.

The Power of the Daleks, The Evil of the Daleks, Spearhead From Space, Genesis of the Daleks and Pyramids of Mars are real classics because you can't stop watching them again and again (although it would be more, but I haven't experienced The Web of Fear, The War Games, The Silurians or Inferno yet). This may look pleasing on the first viewing, but once you watch it again, you can pinpoint the flaws clearly.

That's not to say it's entirely bad, though. There are some good points that I want to start with. The trio act really well in this story, and there is a lot of development in Amy's and Rory's relationship (although this is also a flaw, but I'll get to that later). But that's about it for me. And below you'll see why:

  1. 1. The plot makes no sense. The Doctor receives a message that could be from another Time Lord. How is that possible when he himself says they're all gone. Also, what's the point in the Ood? Just to attract viewers? And another thing, Why does House want to do all this anyway? It is never explained clearly.
  2. Too much emotion. As I said before, I hate RTD for putting too much emphasis on emotion. Even though Moffat toned it down, this episode seems to be filled with unnecessary emotional drama. And as I said, the relationship development is unnecessary because we get it. Amy loves Rory, Rory loves Amy. We knew that in Series 5. Why shove it in our faces?

I thought it was a classic, then I viewed it again, and my opinion if it dropped. The third viewing was even worse. I would rather not watch it a fourth time, thank you.

5/10 (and that's because of the acting)

What makes you think I'd ever give you back? by Evan Weston 30/8/18

In the interest of full disclosure, I've been looking forward to rewatching The Doctor's Wife more than any other episode of the show. This is due to the stark disparity between the episode's public and critical reception of the episode - incredibly positive - with my shrug of the shoulders first impression. I remember thinking it was a cool concept that never really got going, and, while it was a nice diversion, it didn't do much than just play with an interesting idea. I still don't think The Doctor's Wife is the best or even one of the top ten best episodes of Doctor Who, but I can definitely understand the viewpoint of those, and they are legion, who claim such a place for this story. It's imaginative, scary, exciting and lets us into the Doctor's most trusted relationship.

Neil Gaiman is probably to the Moffat era what Moffat himself was to Russell T. Davies - the guest writer everyone looked forward to watching each series. It started with this story. Gaiman's resume in children's fiction is deep and impressive, and he takes his trademark wonder and weirdness to a show that is the perfect outlet for his off-the-wall creativity. There are few concepts in the show's history more interesting than "What if the TARDIS could talk?" and the experiment is fascinating to watch. Before we dive into the nitty-gritty, though, I must emphasize that the chief reason it works so well is because of Gaiman's utterly terrific dialogue and the way he writes the interplay between the TARDIS and the Doctor.

The actors certainly provide a lift, and Suranne Jones finds herself right near the top of the already absurdly strong guest list for Series 6. She's a bit too weird at the beginning, but once she starts chatting up the Doctor, the magic happens. Jones and Matt Smith have unbelievable chemistry as the petty married couple, and their scenes together are at once hysterical and incredibly interesting. You know Jones' Idris isn't making it out of the episode alive, so every time she's on screen with the Doctor, we almost jealously covet the words they say to each other. What to say to the one companion that's remained constantly by your side when all others have left and gone?

By the end of the story, the Doctor and the TARDIS have argued no fewer than three times, saved the day and resurrected a ridiculous amount of nostalgia. You also understand the Doctor a bit more. This man who claims so much loneliness and is defined by his constant need to simultaneously embrace and escape that feeling is never truly alone after all. Even in his darkest moments, she's always there beside him, and Gaiman continuously places this theme front and center. It feels like a rare glimpse into the Doctor's soul, and the episodes that can pull that off (Dalek, The Girl in the Fireplace, Midnight) tend to be spectacular. The Doctor's Wife can claim company in that regard.

The central Doctor-TARDIS story is surrounded by a pretty creepy yarn involving a sentient inter-dimensional being called House that eats TARDISes, voiced with baritone-infused relish by Michael Sheen. House is almost underused - the climax feels a bit on the short side, and he never makes good on most of his threats - but the torture to which he subjects Amy and Rory is quite painful to watch, and he's a great villain for the most part. Those torture scenes would be the highlight of most episodes, particularly Rory's "Why did you leave me?" meltdown that cuts right to the heart of the relationship, but the Doctor is talking to the TARDIS, so these moments tend to be lost in the shuffle. They are spectacular though, and there are certainly chills to be had here. Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill know they aren't the stars of this one, and they play their parts to perfection. Gaiman probably gives them a bit too much screen time, but only because the other element with which he was working was stronger.

That's probably the only real serious flaw in The Doctor's Wife: the pacing is just a bit off most of the way. The first ten minutes until Amy and Rory get kidnapped by House are actually pretty boring, and most of the exposition ends up being unimportant. What's worse, the episode tries to tease us with the Time Lords' return, but it never says it convincingly and then abandons the idea around that ten minute mark. Gaiman could have easily done away with that nonsense and the Uncle and Auntie characters and gotten his story going much faster, allowing for more Doctor-TARDIS time. The only regret to be had is that we couldn't have more of Jones and Smith bouncing off each other. They truly are fantastic.

The production just keeps getting better on this show, and we're at the point where every episode deserves heaps of praise for its look. Doctor Who, at this point in its history, had claimed its spot as the best-looking and most cinematic show on British television. The creepy green of the planet and House's demonic TARDIS possession is contrasted perfectly with the sweeping golds and yellows of the TARDIS matrix inside Idris. The TARDIS graveyard is wonderfully creepy and yet almost mystical; in fact, every set looks phenomenal.

This includes the Davies TARDIS, brought back in all of its coral glory and worked seamlessly into the plot by Gaiman. I assumed the Doctor had blown it to smithereens upon regenerating from Tennant to Smith, but apparently this was the archived version. Nice job, TARDIS. Seeing the Ninth and Tenth's console again was a welcome sight that brought back lovely memories of that era, and it's cool that Gaiman and Moffat respected their predecessors enough to include it. A shame we couldn't have seen classic TARDISes, but the Moffat era is all about celebrating the entirety of the New Series, so the decision is understandable.

While it's not quite an instant classic, and I can quibble with things for a while - telepathic communication? really? - The Doctor's Wife still lives up to most of the lofty words thrown at it by the critical set, particularly those concerning Suranne Jones's Idris and her interplay with Matt Smith's Doctor. The touching ending scene where Smith tearfully says goodbye only to realize she'll be at his side forever perfectly encapsulates the story's aim: to show us in full view a side of the Doctor we rarely even glimpse. The Doctor's Wife deserves acclaim on that development alone.