As many of you will know, this is one of the episodes fandom has been awaiting with some internet-beating excitement. The very notion of a Neil Gaiman Doctor Who story seems so perfect that we wonder why it’s taken just so long for this union to happen. Anyway, ‘The Doctor’s Wife’ has arrived and there’s not a church in sight…
SPOILER WARNING FOR THIS EPISODE…
Within minutes we learn the identity of the titular “wife” – Idris or, as she quickly becomes, the TARDIS – with her body used to posit the soul of the Time Lord’s ship of choice before the credits have even rolled.
We quickly learn too that The Doctor has been lured to the “junkyard planet in a bubble universe” by an entity referred to as “House” (who is, in fact, the planet itself, or its soul rather), assisted by the characters who inhabit his outer-shell. He, literally, eats TARDISes for breakfast.
These characters - Auntie, Uncle and Nephew – have been patched together from Time Lords who have been trapped on House’s back (including an old chum of the Doctor’s, the Corsair whose message was received at the start of the episode). And it’s not long before everyone’s favourite Gallifreyean makes the discovery of many more distress signals from past (or future) Time Lords.
It’s a frankly disturbing moment, and Matt Smith plays his horror and disgust expertly; moving from heartache to anger, almost despatching Auntie and Uncle immediately. This scene comes directly after another excellent moment from the actor where his pitiful sadness (where he reveals his wish to be forgiven for his actions against his fellow Time Lords) is palpable.
“Don’t we all?”, he responds after Amy suggests he’s looking for redemption. So utterly human. But it doesn’t end there. The Doctor runs the gamut of emotions in ‘The Doctor’s Wife’, from elation (upon learning of the possibility of other Time Lords still kicking around) to despair and then to joy as he begins/continues his relationship with the TARDIS/Idris; ending in more heartache as she leaves her physical body.
Full marks to Smith for such a wonderful performance. Also entertaining greatly are the rest of the cast, and what a lovely bunch they are. Playing Auntie and Uncle, Elizabeth Berrington (Waterloo Road) and Adrian Schiller (Zen) bring bags of life and personality to their respective roles; memorable and instantly likable. Meanwhile, Michael Sheen (Frost/Nixon) also manages to make an eerie impression with just his vocal talents as House.
Special mention, though, must go to Suranne Jones (Coronation Street) for her portrayal of Idris – she’s a little bit Mary Poppins, a little bit Leeloo from The Fifth Element – a part Helena Bonham-Carter was born to play. Jones is an absolute delight, demonstrating a flair for the eccentric and sometimes robotic. And damn sexy with it. Every scene she inhabits is made that much more fun through her engrossing performance.
Although she is not Romana (upsetting about twelve people online), her role is very much like The Doctor’s past Time Lady companion. We would say they are equals but, of course, they are not. The TARDIS is always way ahead of him, laying seeds of help throughout and, in fact, laying up a juicy mention of a “river” for a future episode (presumably).
Watching such an iconic part of the show living so vicariously and so beautifully too does rather spin the “myth” or Whoevrue, as no one calls it, of the show’s history on its head. Who stole who? Who is the real thief? The title of “wife” may not be accurate in its literal sense, but it is perfectly lyrical and poetic – never have a couple been so in need of one another.
It’s not all about them though; the actual married couple get a whole heap of pain to deal with back inside the TARDIS itself. Amy and Rory find themselves in a labyrinthal nightmare (in both time and space), magnificently realised by ‘Gridlock’ director Richard Clark using simple horror techniques and inspired camera work and lighting. Genuine terror and unease are felt during these moments that may have younger viewers (and even older ones too) staring into a pillow/loved-one.
As a one-off, or a one-shot, ‘The Doctor’s Wife’ is breathtaking in its cinematic scope. The production is a feast with Richard Clark injecting scenes with genuine terror whilst other scenes resonate with an acute palate of colours and enigmatic lighting.
It’s a pity, however, that this was story had to be told in a forty-five minute slot. With Neil Gaiman recently revealing that around 13 minutes were cut, we would have loved to have seen the full version (a DVD release perhaps?). It would have made an exquisite one-hour special, or even a two-parter.
Gaiman has crafted an ingenious plot that will satisfy the internerd and long term fan (and give some serious food for thought), whilst absolutely enthralling and enchanting everyone else. In no uncertain terms ‘The Doctor’s Wife’ is an instant classic with scenes that will live long in the mind and characters that will delight and sadden in equal measure.
Let’s hope Gaiman says “I do” to future episodes.
Airs at 6.30pm on Saturday 14th May 2011 on BBC One.