Saturday, May 14, 2011

The Doctor's Wife

Doctor: I don't know what to do.  I really don't know what to do.
Doctor: That's a new feeling!

Every now and then, an episode will focus on something that's always been present but never really came to the front in the show.  Last year's Amy's Choice explored the Doctor's inner feelings.

The Doctor's Wife explores his relationship with his TARDIS in a delightfully insane way.  Like Amy's Choice, it doesn't have any real revelations, but it's wonderful to hear these things expressed.

Which is to say, spoilers.

The episode's central conceit is ingenious: the soul of the TARDIS is sucked into a human body for certain nefarious purposes.  As played by Suranne Jones, the TARDIS is every bit as eccentric and funny as the Doctor, and with the added fun of discovering a new world of being alive.  It's truly brilliant dialogue from Neil Gaiman, consistently funny, moving, and fascinating, all at the same time, and Jones and Matt Smith play it for every ounce of humor and warmth it's worth.  I'd love to quote every moment of it, but it's honestly best saved for watching the story; I wouldn't want to spoil a moment of the fun.

As for the two companions, Amy and Rory spend much of the story trapped in the corridors of the TARDIS, now controlled by a cruel villain, resulting in a series of exceedingly creepy, atmospheric sequences.

The villain himself and his said nefarious purposes are wildly imaginative and very, very cool, though the 45-minute format smashes them into a very small corner.  Still, the genius of the concept and the wonderful viocework of Michael Sheen make every moment here shine.

He doesn't show his face, so here's the f/x artists being awesome.

And that, to be honest, is my only real complaint about this episode.  Even as it is, it's wonderful.  Every scene and moment shines with pure joy.  But it's just so rushed, so short...  There's only a handful of scenes between the Doctor and the TARDIS, the heart of the episode.  Their final exchange is deeply touching, but with more time spent with her than a few fleeting exchanges, it would have been absolutely heartbreaking and absolutely heartwarming.  The villain is so awesome that his underdeveloped plot doesn't hurt the story, like the Headmaster in School Reunion, but it could have been one of the all-time great villains.  The haunting travels through the corridors are wonderfully creepy, but there's only a few minutes of it before it has to run on to something else.  I love seeing the Ood return, but despite a decent amount of screentime, it seems entirely tangential to the story itself.  Aunt and Uncle are terrific characters, but they aren't around long enough for their fate to have an impact, or, for that matter, for their existence to make sense.

But I can't say anything really bad about anything that actually happens in the story.  It says something about how good this yarn is that I'm giving it my highest rating anyway.  Even compressed and gasping for air, it's a work of beauty and joy, one of the finest stories in the Who canon.

A little more time and space, and it would have been the finest.

But it doesn't stop me from loving every moment of it.

"Thief?  Where's my thief!"


* * * *


  • So, the big question about Rory is this: is his dying in every episode just a (hilarious) running joke, or is it actually going to play out somehow?  I don't mind the former; it's just a random musing on something that might be an arc-thread.
  • Speaking of which, it was fun to see a story where Rory was more important than Amy, because he's awesome, too.  Their scenes are as well-written as the main ones.  There's a lovely little moment where everything gets really, really bad, and Amy asks him to hold her hand.  It's a credit to Karen Gillan that this comes off as bravely facing her fear rather than just fear, and it's an equally great credit to Arthur Darvill that the outwardly meek Rory earns her trust in his strength so fully.  But the best moment in their storyline is when and why the TARDIS sends a telepathic message to Rory.

  • Okay, it was awesome seeing the Eccleston/Tennant TARDIS console again, but you know what would have been even cooler?  Seeing the epic McGann console.  Maybe when they do a multi-Doctor story and bring him in.  Which they have to do.  Have to.
  • This isn't a major criticism, but it occurred to me that, outside of the action scenes, Murray Gold's music was largely superfluous.  His action music is great, but during dialogue scenes, it's just kinda added background noise.  It doesn't hurt anything, so I can't really complain.  But cutting out the music when it doesn't need to be around would give it a much greater impact when it did show up.

    See Rocky for a particularly standout example of this: except for the opening theme, until the last half hour, there's only a few moments of music, and even that's mostly quiet piano solos.  So when it rips out "Gonna Fly Now" for the training montage and the sweeping, exhilarating fight music, it's an absolute knockout that just wouldn't exist if rousing anthems played throughout.

    Again, it's a minor thing, but it crops up in almost every new series episode: Gold writes music for every scene, whether or not they'd be enhanced by background music.  Sometimes it reduces the emotion of the scene by telling us what to feel, and in doing so, simplifying what we feel.  When he goes for big, epic themes or contemplative vocals (or both), he almost always comes up with something pretty awesome, but when he's scoring witty dialgoue, it just comes across as unnecessary.


  1. What do you mean could have been heartbreaking?! The final scene between Idris and the Doctor WAS heartbreaking. But I agree it would have been much better had it been longer. Great review! P.S. I can't wait to read your review of Amy and Rory's exit!

  2. I guess I just found it heartcracking at the time. Having rewatched it four or five times since (because my word is this thing brilliant), I think I'd agree with you now.

    Maybe I'll rewrite that bit in retrospect.

    (and my Angels Take Manhattan review is up. Hope you enjoy it!)