6.4 – “The Doctor’s Wife”
The Doctor, Rory and Amy arrive on a strange junkyard asteroid in pursuit of a message from an old friend of The Doctor. The asteroid is populated by a handful of patchwork automatons, an Ood and a clearly mad woman. But the TARDIS crew soon discover that the asteroid itself is alive and that they’ve wondered straight into a trap that has claimed many a Time Lord and their TARDIS before.
Sweet. “The Doctor’s Wife” is sweet. Not in a cloying 1980’s American sitcom way, but sweet in the sense that it’s something delightful and leaves you with a pleasant taste in your mouth (or in this case, your brain). Yes, there’s Frankenstein-style body part mash-ups and a sadistic entity with a line in the most serious mind fuckery ever seen in the show, but overall it’s lovely and sweet.
Neil Gaiman is a master of horror fantasy and that’s pretty much what this story is. The Doctor and co are enticed to a place beyond the limits of our own universe with a promise of finding other surviving Time Lords. The Doctor’s delight is obvious but, of course, we know there’s something more going on here, something nasty. The nastiness is evident from the beginning with Idris being assured that the process she is about to go through will hurt. We never actually meet the real Idris as she is killed straight away and only serves as the vessel for the soul of the TARDIS. Suranne Jones as Idris is wonderful, flirty and cute, genuinely attractive, completely tonto, innocent as a child but knowing and prescient. The other support, being Uncle and Auntie (Adrian Schiller and Elizabeth Berrington) have small roles but are very effective, weird and unpleasant yet pitiful at the same time.
This could easily have been a two parter as there’s a lot going on here. The first half deals with The Doctor’s arrival at the asteroid, meeting Idris and uncovering the mystery while Amy and Rory get trapped inside the TARDIS. The second half has Amy and Rory’s ordeal as they are mentally tortured by House, the sentience within the asteroid, whilst The Doctor and Idris chase after them in a make-shift TARDIS.
The asteroid is a great setting; the giant remnants of lost spaceships loom over everything and on the ground the place is cluttered and wrecked. This is one of Smith’s finest turns playing The Doctor, showing excitement at the possibility of finding other Time Lords whilst still maintaining an air of scepticism. Is he just trying not to get his hopes up or does he suspect something sinister is going on from the start? After he’s sent Amy and Rory back to the TARDIS and uncovered the truth about House devouring previous Time Lords who fell into the trap, Smith conveys a tide of dangerous fury that is barely contained but he does so without the bombast that David Tennant may have shown (something that, in previous episodes, Smith was prone to do).
Amy and Rory have less material in this story, but what they do get they do a lot with. When House threatens and toys with them in the TARDIS, we get some grade A horror and that’s sold mainly by Gillan and Darvill’s performances. Michael Sheen as the House is, in some ways, wasted. He is a brilliant actor and it would be great to actually see him on screen as opposed to just hearing his voice. Still, House is a very effective villain, a genuinely sadistic entity who, Rory correctly summises, takes real delight in seeing others suffer.
Despite all of this other great material, the heart and soul of this story is the interplay between Idris and The Doctor. Finally he has the chance to talk to his TARDIS and actually get a response but it soon becomes apparent that this can only be a brief meeting between The Doctor and his most important and longest serving companion. He tries to be frustrated with her but, as she points out, she may not have always taken him where he wanted to go but she always took him where he needed to be. The Doctor’s relationship with “the old girl” is not overplayed (unlike some character elements like, say, Rory and Amy) but written genuinely; they irritate each other, but they still love each other. I said this episode was sweet and I really mean it.
The episode ends with the sight of The Doctor, hanging beneath the console, fixing stuff and playing around with the TARDIS. It’s simply wonderful, as is the revelation that The Doctor put bunk-beds in Rory and Amy’s room. It’s great to see the humour that sparked all the way through Series 5 reappear so well.
“The Doctor’s Wife” has pretty much everything. It has slowly building suspense, then fast paced action, then high blood pressure horror, some excellent character moments, a nasty, nasty villain and the personification of the best supporting character of them all. Like the TARDIS herself, it’s a little enigmatic and dangerous, but an awful lot of fun. A well earned 8/10 for the old girl.
Written and edited by Richard Barnes