On paper, the combination of Doctor Who and Neil Gaiman looks like a winner. And while many fans were looking forward to the season premiere of series six, I’d be willing more than a few were equally or more excited to finally see the story from writer Neil Gaiman finally hit our screens this year.
It’s been rumored for six years now. And while we heard positive buzz on the story from the production team, cast and crew, I’ll have to admit that as we counted down the hours until “The Doctor’s Wife” finally aired, I was a mix of excitement and worry. Excited that I’d finally get to see it. Worried that my expectations would be so high that no episode could ever live up to them.
Those worries evaporated within the first three minutes of this magical episode and for the rest of the story I was swept up in what is one of the best episodes not only of the new series run but also the entire tenure of this long-running series. This one is making a serious run at my top ten of all time* Doctor Who stories based on my initial viewing.
* One of the things that vaults a story into my top ten is its re-watchability value…and the eagerness I have to re-watch the story. If a story demands a repeat viewing almost immediately after the closing credits have faded, that’s a good sign. Such is the case here…
After receiving a hyercube message while in deep space, the Doctor takes the TARDIS outside our normal universe and lands on what appears to be an alien junkyard. The Doctor discovers the planet a large creature named House who lured in Time Lords to feed on them and energy from their TARDISes.
Also living on this world are a trio of people and an Ood, named Nephew. One of the trio is Idris, who behaves strangely and we eventually discover that House has pulled the personality Matrix from the TARDIS in order to feed on its energy. Upon the discovery that the TARDIS is the last of its kind, House decides to take over the ship and enter our universe to try and find more forms of energy on which to feed.
At several points in the history of Doctor Who, people who grew up watching the show and are fans have been given the opportunity to pen a script or two for the series. But none are quite as prominent (at least in fan circles) as Gaiman. Some of the stories penned by fans have been great (“Full Circle”) while others went woefully over the line into fan-fiction with too many continuity references and muddle storylines (“Attack of the Cybermen.”) Thankfully, “The Doctor’s Wife” is from the same school that gave us “Full Circle.”
Gaiman’s story pays homage to the roots of the show as well as examining the fundamental relationship at the heart of the series. Over the years, the one constant piece of the show has been the TARDIS and while certain abilities the time machine may or may not possess have changed from story to story, season to season, it’s still been one of the fundamental centers of the show. And yet, we’ve never really had an episode that really explored the nature of the relationship between the Doctor and his beloved time machine.
At least until now…
Gaiman equates the long relationship of these two travelers to that of a marriage and it works beautifully on every level. Lines about how the two chose each other to feel Gallifrey and see the universe were spot-on perfect as was the TARDIS’s jealousy over the long line of companions who have traveled over the years. The chemistry between Matt Smith and Suranne Jones as Idris/the TARDIS jumped off the screen.
Seeing the two working together to try and build a functional TARDIS console of the bits of destroyed TARDISes on House was delightful.
But where Gaiman’s script continued to deliver was in not just having the story be merely focused on the relationship of the Doctor and his TARDIS. Just as Rob Sherman did with “Dalek” a threat was created to keep the story momentum. In this case, it’s Amy and Rory trapped inside House as the TARDIS, participating in the Doctor Who Olympic sport of corridor running. Seeing House’s games he played with the two to try and keep them from reaching their ultimate goal and deciding whether or not to keep them alive kept the story moving and on the edge of your seat.
It’s one of those cases were the script gets every big thing and every little thing absolutely right and you end up with a story that is, in my mind, an instant classic.
It took six years for Neil Gaiman’s first Doctor Who script to see our screens. Hopefully if he’s got another idea half as good as this one, we won’t have to wait six more years to see it.