Doctor Who #873: The Doctor's Wife

"Are all people like this?" ""Like what?" "So much bigger on the inside."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired May 14 2011.

IN THIS ONE... Neil Gaiman writes Doctor Who. The TARDIS is personified as a Tim Burton character.

REVIEW: An episode about the true central relationship of the series since its inception, if the title is a misleading ploy from Mr. Moffat, it at least comments on the oldest couple in fiction - the Doctor and the TARDIS. Given voice, the magic box  reveals that she stole her thief, not the other way around, and that she loves him still, even if he does bring home an awful lot of strays. Presumably, only a writer of Neil Gaiman's stature could have been allowed to fiddle with Doctor Who canon this much, and the greater implications the TARDIS' revelations I can only address fully under Theories (see below). He throws an incredible array of ideas at the screen, from patchwork people made from Time Lord parts, to the possibility of a regeneration into a different gender, to flying a TARDIS console without a shell, to a sentient planetoid living in a bubble universe, to a return to the old console room... So much, that a lot of it ends up as background detail and is never fully explored, most notably what only seems to be the A-plot, with House's Frankenstein monsters.

One of the script's most satisfying ideas is that of recursion. At the center is the premise of a woman (the personified TARDIS) who experiences her entire time stream simultaneously, so makes comments out of order, and ends on "hello", but can also use this to fix problems before they occur, give answers before the questions need to be asked. The TARDIS' insistence that she stole the Doctor doesn't mean he's any less of a thief, so they are two thieves who stole each other. Again, recursion. We also find it in the Corsair's Ouroboros tattoo, and in the TARDIS corridors that all look the same and bend back on each other, not necessarily synched to the others. I once thought this was a major clue about Gallifrey's return (we know the end, but would see its start rather than its return), but alas, I don't think that's to be.

While the Doctor interacts with the true love of his life - and it's all quite fun, thanks - Amy and Rory are sent to hide in the TARDIS and fall prey to House's mental torture. Nothing is to be taken literally in this sequences, though they may well be literal. The TARDIS, as taken over by House, seems to become Schrodinger's nightmare, where timelines are created and collapse in a moment. However, there is evidence that points to it all being some kind of hallucination. If Amy finds an aged Rory, trapped alone in a section for millennia, a Rory that has come to despise her, it's really her anxiety talking. This has already happened - with the plastic Centurion - and she may think Rory really should hate her for making him wait so long. It's her nightmare given shape, telepathic circuits tapping into her darkest fears. And yes, Rory dies again, twice (drink!). Suranne Jones as Idris/the TARDIS is quite good and makes me forget her Mancunian Mona Lisa from Sarah Jane Adventures entirely. Matt Smith is too, of course. There's a bittersweet acceptance of what's happening coming from him, sad that she (as a person) is gone, but happy to have had this chance to meet her. He perhaps put too much relish in his order to effectively execute the House entity (is he becoming more ruthless? he seemed similarly happy to let River shoot the Silents), but love the final moment when he's asked if he has a room. No answer, but it's obvious. We're standing in it.

THEORIES: The greatest revelation about the TARDIS, to my mind, is that she's a predestination machine. From her point of view - and she's sentient enough to have one - there is no different between past, present and future. She is aware of her entire existence simultaneously. The past can be rewritten, just as the future can (we feel like we're writing it for the first time, obviously). To the TARDIS, it's all one and the same, so taking action can and does change the future, but it's like she's choosing from a number of possible futures. She doesn't take the Doctor where he wants to go, but where he needs to be. That's how she's chosen companions for him, and how she's taken him where the action is. She's telepathic, so she's either tapping into his heroic impulses, trying to save the universe just as her pilot is, or into the boredom that made him leave Gallifrey in the first place, steering him to the most exciting places possible. In other words, she KNOWS there are Daleks at her destination; its part of her written existence. It's the future she chose for him. The idea that she's even archived console rooms from the future means she already knows every incarnation of the Doctor too. This is the River Song paradigm magnified. But unlike River, she knows her own end too. When she opened the door to the Doctor all those centuries ago, she would have seen her entire, exciting future unfold, and chose to go on that track. Undoubtedly, every other Time Lord that passed by gave her a flash of something much less interesting (probably retirement and dismantling for parts).

SECOND OPINIONS: My original review, 10 and 1 Things About The Doctor's Wife, manages to broach other subjects. There's so much here to discuss.

REWATCHABILITY: High - A beautiful high concept episode that manages to reveal things at the core of several characters.


Anonymous said...

I could see a little bit of both Destiny and Delerium's of the Endless in the TARDIS person's speech patterns. Not a complaint, as I found the character and episode very likable.

- Mike Loughlin

CiB said...

So far this is my favorite New Who episode, and the only new-Who story that can stand among the classics of the classic series.


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