Doctor Who series 6 episode 4 review: The Doctor’s Wife
Neil Gaiman plus Steven Moffat plus Doctor Who plus some great acting plus some terrific direction equals The Doctor’s Wife. Here’s our spoiler-filled review…
Warning: this review contains spoilers. You can find our spoiler-free review here.
6.4 The Doctor's Wife
Were this an ordinary episode of Doctor Who, just the moment where the Doctor ruminates on the idea of looking for forgiveness would have left me content. But The Doctor's Wife was far from ordinary. Instantly proving the argument, as if it needed fighting, for the majesty of standalone episodes, it was an episode that offered plenty for the casual viewer of Doctor Who, but an absolute treasure trove for anyone invested in the heritage of the show.
Before I get going too much, I'll concede this. There are people out there who may have found the premise here a bit daft, and the emotional side of the episode not to their tastes. I, though, am not one of those people. I'm one of those who will sit in a pub and bore you to tears about just how special The Doctor's Wife was.
And it's built, at heart, around a simple idea. What if the Doctor could actually have a conversation with the one companion that's been by his side for nearly five decades of television? What if the very soul of the Tardis could, temporarily, be transported into a person, and thus give us a chance to evaluate what other shows might just leave as a relationship between man and machine.
The Tardis has, though, for much of Doctor Who's time, been a bit of a character in its own right, a cantankerous machine with a mind of its own. But here, Neil Gaiman's script threw in a few thoughts as to just how the mechanic between the Doctor and his Tardis has been working. For here, the idea is put across that it was the Tardis that chose the Doctor, and rather than being an erratic machine, it was actually always in control of where it was going. It's just the Tardis was making the decisions, not the Doctor. The Tardis got the Doctor to where it mattered, rather than where he wanted it to go.
I thought that was lovely, and I have to heavily applaud Suranne Jones in one of the most challenging roles that a Doctor Who guest star has faced in recent times. She had to be the human face to a staple of the show, and her performance was excellent. Channelling elements of Miranda Richardson in Blackadder II, her shifts of mood and the scenes she shared with Matt Smith were just exquisite. Smith was in series-best form, too, shifting mood and emotion, on one hand snarling that he'd killed all the Time Lords, and on the other shedding an utterly believable tear.
And that was the bit that really got me, the goodbye of sorts. Where the Doctor and Sexy The Tardis realised that this was their one conversation, before they went back to their usual roles. And the magical word that brought up the goosebumps? A simple "hello".
How good is that?
By this time, we'd already had a dig into the history of the Time Lords, too. It was superb, as well. An entity by the name of House, feeding off the many Tardises that he'd lured to a junkyard outside the universe? Again, a grand idea, and one that allowed the Doctor to come face to face with a cupboard full of Time Lord distress messages. Effectively, he was doing battle with a Time Lord killer, with his closest ever companion by his side.
Gaiman had fun with the setting, too, with the banging together of a replacement Tardis out of rather familiar scrap, with that then leading into a far from cheap sequence as the bodged together Tardis chased the blue box. It seemed everywhere you turned in the episode, Gaiman had laid a treat in store.
Yet, all of this was just part of the episode. Because elsewhere, Rory and Amy were being pushed once more. This gave The Doctor's Wife the opportunity to be the first episode to explore the new iteration of the Tardis (not quite so much money spent on the corridors, but I thought they were a lovely throwback to Who style of old, both in their design and use), and spend a bit more time getting to know it. And we learned something else new, too: the old console rooms are archived. Hence, as if the geeky quotient of the episode wasn't enough already, we got Tennant's control room, too.
Underneath all of this were the little details and questions that Gaiman poked at. Where does the Doctor sleep? Why does he always push the Tardis door open, when the sign clearly says pull? They're the kind of questions that fans would ask, and if there was any doubt that Gaiman was a Who devotee (which I'm not sure there was), then they must have been eradicated in any sane person's mind.
And what of the line about the river being the only water in the forest? A River Song reference, surely, harking back to the back end of her maiden two-parter, Forest Of The Dead.
Some credit, too, for the wonderful jokes. The highlight? Karen Gillan's terrifically delivered question when the Doctor introduces his Tardis in womanly form: "Did you wish really hard?"
Yet, the understandable and entirely correct excitement over Gaiman's maiden Doctor Who script (and please, if you're reading, Mr Gaiman: write another) shouldn't overshadow the many other things that went right here. Director Richard Clark had a massive task here, capturing an episode that was, by turns, emotional, sinister, scary and action-packed. He turned out to be absolutely the right choice, and - matched by some brilliant production design and effects work - he turned in a superbly shot piece of television.
But the lasting memory of The Doctor's Wife, and it will last, is that examination of the relationship between the Doctor and the woman who's always been in his life. It's the kind of story that's wonderfully backwards-compatible with Who of old, and one that sets a real here and now marker for what can be done with forty-five minutes of teatime television.
Read our review of episode 3, The Curse Of The Black Spot, here.