KT here, late but catching up.
DOCTOR WHO: 6.04 “The Doctor’s Wife”
Neil Gaiman has written an episode of Doctor Who, and he has given us a love story. It’s a love story to the long history of the show itself, and it’s an odd, quirky, deeply touching love story between the Doctor and the TARDIS.
[…of course. You didn’t really think this was going to be about River Song, did you? Although the phrase is never mentioned in the episode itself, “the Doctor’s wife” is the only person it possibly could have been.]
At its core, the plot is quite simple: the Doctor is lured to a sort of sentient asteroid called House, which is somehow outside the universe, so that House can eat the TARDIS and use its energy to get back into the universe where it can continue to feed and generally cause havoc. It’s the details and the dialogue that make this something special.
For one, House hits on the best possible lure: the suggestion that there might be other Time Lords left somewhere. As Amy astutely points out, the Doctor still wants to be forgiven for destroying his people: he will always come running at the suggestion of Time Lords. Of course this time it’s just a trick, though it becomes clear that House has met other Time Lords… and destroyed them, using them as spare parts to repair his servants, the sinister but congenial Auntie and Uncle.
There’s also an Ood called Nephew, which is fun for continutity’s sake, but he’s really just a red herring.
We also get to see something of the TARDIS outside the main control room for the first time since… what, the wardrobe scene in “The Christmas Invasion”? Mostly it’s just corridors, though, where House has Amy and Rory running around like rats in a maze. We get some cheap thrills out of seeming to kill Rory (again)—as Amy gets separated from him, time seems to pass differently for each of them. A minute for her, an hour for him; then he turns up as an old man, then as a decaying corpse surrounded by hateful scrawls on the wall. It’s all in her head, though—and I can easily believe that Amy’s deepest fear is leaving Rory behind.
But the heart of the episode lies with the Doctor and Idris, a poor lost wanderer who has her own self pulled out of her body to be replaced with the consciousness of the TARDIS. And so, for all the time that they have travelled together, Doctor and TARDIS, this is the time when they talked.
And this talking is possibly the best part. I love that the newly human TARDIS’s first reaction is to yell for her Thief, and I love the conversation they have about who stole whom. I love that she too wanted to see the world, and the stern insistance that she has always taken him where he needed to go. I love the admission that the Doctor thinks his ride is sexy, and her interpretation of this as her name. I love the way the TARDIS gets flashes of what people are going to say later on, and I love the way Suranne Jones portrays a character who isn’t at all used to being human. I love that the TARDIS’s reaction to being human is that we, too, are “bigger on the inside.”
As tends to happen, when the writing is extra good, the actors and crew seem to dig a little deeper, too. One of my favorite moments is just as the TARDIS and the Doctor come across the TARDIS graveyard. In a rare moment of stillness, the two faces are carefully framed and each expression speaks so clearly: she mourns her fallen sisters while he can barely contain his glee at finding the best spare parts drawer ever.
In the end, of course the TARDIS can’t be a woman forever, and her return to being herself is a loss and a triumph all at once. But there’s a sweetness to the ending. As the Doctor works on the wiring under the TARDIS console wearing a big pair of funny goggles, the atmosphere is of a couple who are closer than ever. “Where should we take the kids this time?” he asks. Best thing there is.