Thanks to an incident with a scratched preview disc, this spoiler-free review of The Doctor’s Wife has appeared a day later than planned. And in that time, a couple of reactions to the episode have appeared online, which have been immensely positive. Its writer, Neil Gaiman, has, in turn, Tweeted a response or two to some of the early chatter. And he wrote in one of them, “my biggest concern now is that people will build it up too big in their heads. I just hope people enjoy it. Especially kids”.
And you can see his point. To call The Doctor’s Wife eagerly awaited would show little sign of understatement. Neil Gaiman? Doctor Who? An episode called The Doctor’s Wife? It’s as if someone sent a targeted gift to the very heart of Who fandom, one wrapped in incredibly posh paper for good measure, and accompanied by a generous slice of quite delicious cake.
Which, of course, brings with it a mountain a pressure. But it’s a mountain of pressure that, for an abundance of reasons, The Doctor’s Wife shoulders with apparent ease.
Because this is a great, great story. It’s one that offers plenty for the here and now viewer, for the younger audience, and for those who might not be quite so au fait with the lengthy history of the show. For those who do remember the first visit to Totters Lane, though, this is a gift. A piece of television to cherish.
I might not be helping Neil Gaiman’s concerns right now, but I can’t help but applaud outstanding television. And The Doctor’s Wife is very much outstanding television.
Usually in spoiler-free reviews, I’ll take the story as far as the opening credits. I can’t do that here, because the first few minutes sets up a mechanic that underpins much of the rest of the episode’s story. And it’s a cracking idea it brings in, too, one that goes right back to the heart and soul of the series in some exceptionally surprising ways.
All I’ll say is that the Doctor, Amy and Rory arrive at a massive scrapyard. A single word more on the plot, and I fear I might spoil it. And you don’t want The Doctor’s Wife spoiled for you.
In the scheme of things, this a standalone episode, at least with regards much of this season’s narrative arc (there are moments that tie things into the broader series themes, but they’re not the main emphasis). But it’s a standalone episode with many ramifications, and entirely welcome ones. It also gives Matt Smith his deepest work of the series (and that really is saying something), and he’s in quite, quite brilliant form. His Doctor goes to some uncharted places here, and Smith turns in brilliant work.
Gaiman’s script leaves room to spend quality time with Amy and Rory, too, and I maintain that Arthur Darvill is really coming into his own this series. He and Karen Gillan are making a complicated, intriguing pairing, and there’s space in the episode to build on that, too.
But I wanted also to take a moment to salute the production design and the direction here. Because, making no bones about it, the episode looks stunning. In fact, from the first scene, post-credits, there’s a cinematic feel here, and clearly lots of money and effects work has been invested in The Doctor’s Wife. It puts the look of many feature films to shame, for starters.
For the budget has been well spent, and director Richard Clark (last seen on Who directing Gridlock and The Lazarus Experiment) ensures he maximises that investment. Clark has to juggle a couple of difficult changes of pace and tone, and he does an expert job in doing so. Here’s hoping that it’s not too long before he’s back working on the show, and I look forward to seeing what he does with his episode in the second half of this series.
I appreciate I’ve done little to dampen the enthusiasm of many of you looking forward to The Doctor’s Wife, and I also appreciate that there will be people out there who don’t warm to it. So be it.
Me? I loved it. Just loved it. Intelligent storytelling, bold decisions, superb direction and the acting quality to match it all, I can say with some confidence that we’ll be referring back to The Doctor’s Wife for many years to come.
It’s exquisite television, and not for the first time this series, a massive testament to a show that can still tell a masterful story in 45 minutes after all this time. Just make sure nobody spoils it for you.
Our spoiler-filled review will be live once The Doctor’s Wife has aired on Saturday 14th May.