“The Doctor’s Wife” – Review: Redux

Idris “It’s me. I’m the TARDIS.”
Doctor “No, you’re not. You’re a bitey mad lady. The TARDIS is up and downy stuff in a big blue box.”
Idris “Yes, that’s me. A type 40 TARDIS. I was already a museum piece when you were young. And the first time you touched my console, you said…”
Doctor “I said you were the most beautiful thing I’d ever known.”
Idris “Then you stole me. And I stole you.”

The Doctors Wife

It is easy to chuck criticism around on the internet. For us bloggers, to sit in our darkened rooms fiercely tapping away at keyboards to spread our vitriol around the web to anyone willing to listen every time something happens that raises our heckles one iota above our arbitrary safe levels, it is second nature. At least, that is how it can appear. Secure in our anonymity and with ultimate control of our little corners of the world wide web that we call home pages, it is sometimes all too easy to criticise. We are spurred on by our heroes of criticism like Charlie Brooker and Mark Kermode who are both brilliant in their own way and highly professional in what they do, but they have turned acerbic commentary into an art form of the spoken word to which far too many of us seem to aspire. Is it really so much easier to produce entertaining critiques when you take a stance firmly against your chosen subject matter?

I admit that when I read blogs from people who unashamedly admire or who heap praise upon their subject, it is far too obvious a reaction of mine to respond with accusations of insipidness or blind faith or arse-licking. Equally, when you’re trying to be objective about something, it tends to get little or no reaction at all: Lay out some facts, provide a synopsis, explain what worked well and explain what didn’t. Then move along. Objectivity is dull, I guess. However, lay in to something with venom and ferocity and the reaction of the reader is to get defensive, to react against the attack. I’m sure I’ve said it before but I bet there is a great psychological profiling thesis that could be written about online behaviour in the blogging and forum communities. Never is this dichotomy of reaction more true than in the closeted world of the Doctor Who fans. You may be wondering why my review of The Doctor’s Wife begins with such a perspective. Well, the reason is this… Neil Gaiman’s first foray in to the Whoniverse is already one of my favourite stories, ever. So, if you’re not into “unashamed admiration” look away now.

I was never a devoted reader/watcher of Neil Gaiman’s work until this episode. I’d bought a few comic books here and there, read “American Gods” and “The Graveyard Book” (enjoying them greatly) but never got much further in to his back catalogue, I didn’t really enjoy the “Neverwhere” TV series when it was on our screens, and the movie “Coraline” passed me by. However, a lot of people who I admired, ranked Mr Gaiman right at the top of their lists of today’s great writers and with that knowledge, along with the fact that my inexperience of his work was more down to my own laziness than any judgement of it, I was really looking forward to “The Doctor’s Wife” more than any other story in the first block of seven stories in Series Six. It did not disappoint in any way whatsoever. Since beginning this re-evaluation blogging marathon, I have been deliberately sparse with my “20 out of 20” marks with “Family of Blood” and “Midnight” being the only maximum scores thus far, but with plenty more knocking on the door with 19/20.

First and foremost it put on-screen the kind of tale that writer’s of fan fiction and officially licensed spin-off material must dream about producing. Hardly surprising given the much-publicised fan credentials that @neilhimself has proclaimed before and since getting the gig. Giving the TARDIS a human voice, albeit for less than hour on a Saturday afternoon, is the kind of premise that should set the collective hearts of fans aglow. And what a voice it had. I was lucky enough to have tickets to go and see Suranne Jones in a play called “Top Girls” which was played in the intimate confines of Chichester’s Minerva Theatre in the summer of 2011 and can reliably inform you that she’s a fine, fine actor. She effectively (well, as effectively as time allowed) gave us an insight and a little more history in to the heart of the TARDIS: this constant companion to the Doctor, for which a “mind of its own” has been hinted at from the very first episode (Ian Chesterton’s “It’s alive!”). How, unashamedly, wonderful. The supporting cast of Uncle (Adrian Schiller) and Auntie (Elizabeth Berrington) were also worthy of high praise as the patchwork people that House had kept alive providing a healthy dose of black humour right up to and including their untimely demise. Getting a big name in like Michael Sheen to provide the voice of the unseen malevolent force that was House also added further weight to the episode, and complimented the TARDIS regulars whose brilliance goes without saying.

In previous episode reviews I, and many others I dare say, have been known to comment on circumstances when the plot and pace of storylines have left quizzical frowns upon the faces of viewers. Where it’s not entirely clear on first showing how “a” resulted in “b” or why a particular character felt the need to act in a certain way. Indeed, this is almost inevitable in a story that is as complex as Doctor Who with its built-in shortcuts like psychic paper, sonic screwdrivers, or a quick TARDIS trip to fix a problem, all being available to assist the writer in getting a character out of (or in to) a tricky spot. Sometimes it starts to feel a little clumsy as these options are taken away from protagonists for whatever reason (“Oh no, it’s a deadlock! The sonic can’t open it”). My gut feel on many of these instances is that the volume of work required to produce fourteen episodes a year means that sometimes these things are allowed to slide for the sake of expediency and left open to later interpretation. However, no such problems exist in the TDW, perhaps because the story was being written and re-written since its original place in the schedule was towards the back end of last year’s stories. It has had time to develop in the capable hands of Gaiman and Moffat and, as a consequence, it is the most tightly (and delightfully) scripted slice of Doctor Who as I can recall.

It rattles along at a cracking pace, raising questions, revealing secrets, and putting our heroes in jeopardy, all the while throwing quotable dialogue around with gay abandon and letting us eavesdrop on the Doctor’s first ever conversation with his “wife”. It also managed some big emotional hits alongside the gags and in-jokes that seamlessly melded together with moments of genuinely scary stuff like House’s teasing of Rory and Amy in the TARDIS corridors. If you didn’t feel at least a little lump in the throat at the sight of Matt Smith’s wobbly bottom lip as the TARDIS said “Hello Doctor” for the first and last time, then I don’t think you can call yourself a fan. It was a masterpiece from start to end. It would, I imagine, be easy to pick at and criticise this story. How much more fun would it have been if the junkyard TARDIS had materialised in a classic series console room? Given one conversation between the Doctor and TARDIS would they really have discussed which way the doors are supposed to open? Where did Idris actually come from? However, that would all be to miss the point entirely. We can’t have stories like this every week, I know, but as a slice of indulgence, it was peerless.

Highlight: “Hello Doctor”

Lowlight: None whatsoever

Talking Point: Neil Gaiman for showrunner?

Demon’s Run Rating: 20 out of 20

Original BBC1 Broadcast: 14th May 2011

Marathon Status: The light at the end of the tunnel is in sight

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