Doctor Who – The Doctor’s Wife – Episode review

If Neil Gaiman’s place in the history of fiction writing wasn’t already assured, it will be after tonight’s episode of Doctor Who. The Doctor’s Wife was a bit of a tricksy title to begin with – the mysterious character of Idris (played by Suranne Jones) was neither a Time Lord, nor the Doctor’s actual wife.

But we’ll get to that bit in a minute, won’t we?

In the interests of getting straight to opinions and the deep discussion we all favour here, I’ll cut out the detailed recap (we’ve all seen it already, haven’t we?) and go straight for the jugular. With my teeth. People who break out in a cold sweat at the sight of story details being discussed on the Internet should look away now. This means you too, Steven Moffat.

If geeksplosion was a word, I think it would safely apply to this episode. If this was an episode of Friends, it would be “The One Where The TARDIS Takes Human Form And Talks To The Doctor”.

The very idea of the living embodiment of the TARDIS is so rich with possibility, and Neil Gaiman mines the wonderful mythology surrounding The Doctor and his time machine. From the fact that the doors are supposed to be opened outwards (read the label, Doctor) to the notion that the TARDIS stole him, I don’t know of another episode which has so beautifully laid bare the relationship The Doctor has with the machine he’s been joyriding for 700 years.

And that’s before we even get to the wonderfully satisfying trickery with the infinite corridor, the first time in decades anyone’s ever mentioned jettisoning rooms from the TARDIS (twice) and that fascinating graveyard of TARDISes. Imagine The Doctor building and flying a TARDIS from scrap?

Oh, did I mention that they even brought back the Tennant/Ecclestone TARDIS console room for one last ride?

And how wonderful was it that this adventure took place in a scrapyard at the end of the universe when Doctor Who started out in a scrapyard all those years ago? A nice little detail that I hope other Whovians will have picked up on.

As if that wasn’t enough, there’s even a long-standing piece of Time Lord history teased – can Time Lords change gender during a regeneration? Yes they can – The Corsair changed into a woman a couple of times according to The Doctor. Squee! You know what this means for the little girl who regenerated two episodes back? Could be a guy. Could be a much older guy. This throws the possibilities wide open. Especially when they eventually have to recast The Doctor. I wonder if they have someone in mind?

For the first time in ages, it felt like the dynamic between The Doctor, Amy and Rory was natural again. Jovial in the TARDIS at the start, then he sends Rory and Amy on a false errand and locks them inside to protect them. 

In terms of filming this was a very old-school episode – cheap sets, clearly cobbled together from scruffy teatowels. Even that rather clunky infinite corridor felt like it had been poached from the 80s. But how can we complain when the payoff from this episode was so good? I’m not even annoyed about the teaser that there were other Time Lords left in the universe – compared to the clunkiness of Day Of The Moon, this is misdirection done right.

The Doctor’s Wife has turned out to be an extra rare treat. I think in six years of (new) Doctor Who, there hasn’t been an episode that has so deeply explored the mythos of the TARDIS and The Doctor and the Time Lords. It’s always been hinted at in various episodes, but nothing as far reaching as this.

Really folks, there isn’t a single negative thing I can say about this episode. It was Doctor Who perfection – all the right ingredients were here. The main cast were on top form, and Suranne Jones brought a scatty manic energy to a time machine that suddenly found itself in a human body. 

More like this please. More Time Lord lore, more depth for The Doctor and his companions and less silliness. Let’s hope Moffat remembers Neil Gaiman’s phone number for series 7. Maybe make it a two-parter next time…

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  1. jefft

    I wont be the only person old enough to have known real police boxes, but even the BBC model…

    >>> From the fact that the doors aresupposed to be opened outwards <<<

    teehee good line, but No.

    seriously, look at the panel. You pull the little handle and the door to the PHONE opens outwards.

    Not the whole thing.

    1. TrueSatan

      …and I’m that old, and gnarled, too.


      Many of thre better storylines in the old series were drawn from Timelord lore…Rasselon (say for instance in The Five Doctors)..Omega…Morbius…it does tend to work well for them.

    2. redblu

      I assumed at the time that the TARDIS knew this and was just making a joke at the Doctors expense (as real police box doors open outwards) but thinking about it only people old enough to remember it, and dedicated whovians would know so maybe not. In any case I think it was primarily written as a meta joke aimed at the obsessive fans.

    3. Gerard McGarry

      Darnit! I shouldn’t admit to freeze-framing Doctor Who (Timelord porn and all that), but I did pause it tonight and noticed that the sign was on the phone panel. You’re quite right.

      However – if I remember correctly, in the early versions of the show the doors did open outwards. I’m not sure if it was Hartnell or the Peter Cushing movies, but I do remember thinking it was different.

      I’ll leave the post unedited so that a) your comment makes sense, and b) I have the right amount of egg on my face 🙂

      1. jefft

        Even so..

        The public didnt have access to the inside of a Police Box. They were locked. ‘Pull to Open’ is to allow them access to the phone which connected straight to the station.

        Doesnt matter. It was still a good line.

  2. redblu

    The day had to come, we agree on something! I found this to be an absolutely magical wonderful delight of an episode, my favourite single parter of Doctor Who ever (and that includes Moffats of which you already know I’m a large fan).

    I’m hoping for another, and yes, obviously a two parter, this was a near perfect single parter but there’s only so much you can do in that time, but I’m not hoping for next year. Gaiman is such a successful and established writer, fan though he is of the show, I doubt his agent would let him spend that much time on a show which must comparatively pay him peanuts. Instead I just strongly hope and pray he comes back in two years for the shows 50th anniversary. The 20th got Terrance Dicks, the 50th surely deserves a writer of Gaimans calibre.

    And it was nice to have after an intentionally mysterious opening two parter (which personally I loved and won’t go back into here), and a disjointed and rushed third episode, it was the perfect time for such a well and traditionally paced episode, just to catch our breath. No timey wimeyness, just a traditional old school single timeline story with a very modern heart and soul.

    1. Gerard McGarry

      Hello you. As I was watching this episode, squeeing and cooing and loving all of the insider jokes, I was thinking of you and last week’s review! There I am sitting and declaring the episode to be perfect and “best Who evar!” and realising that I moaned about people who do that just a week ago!

      But it was a bloody good episode. Less pirates, more Time Lords!

      1. redblu

        Not since being a child and seeing the Curse of Fenric, that will never leave my top spot as it is too firm a part of my childhood (and the excellent special edition only solidified that opinion).

        Everything I loved about Fenric though, horror, a timey wimey plot and a sprinkling of fantasy, everything which therefore shaped how I see Who as a child is how Steven Moffat writes, and doubtless helped make his era my favourite by leaps and bounds. I’ll never apologise for this as it’s so rare, as Who fans, that we get to break the cliche of saying “it’s not as good as it used to be”.

        That said it’s wonderful when an episode like Gaimans comes along as for one very brief moment Who fans unite. I think a lot of the beauty of that was how many nods to every era Gaimans episode had, most definately a Moffat ‘dark fairytale’ style (which is by a happy conincidence Gaimans own style), but little treats for fans of every era, right back as far as William Hartnells.

        Just to add to the things I loved about this episode: the notion that the TARDIS ‘stole a timelord’, putting a slightly different perspective on 50 years of lore in what little sentance.

  3. Gerard McGarry

    Anyone want to refine their River Song theories in light of this episode? A couple of you had hypothesised that River Song was the embodiment of the TARDIS and The Doctor’s Wife. How do the theories hold up in light of that, and what does the “The only water in the forest is the river” quote mean?

    River Song met The Doctor in the Forest Of The Dead (i.e. the library planet), but she was also with him in that techno forest at the crash of the Byzantium. Could there be something in that?

    1. Emperor Gregor

      A magical episode. Keep the “dark” stories. I prefer the “magical”. Give me River and the Tardis over the Silence any time.

      I suppose my only response (to the notion that River is the embodiment of the Tardis and the Doctor’s wife) is that they are hardly likely to repeat the idea. Notwithstanding Neil Gaiman’s comment on Confidential that DW and the Tardis are “like an old married couple.’ I suppose that comment could mean that it’s possible this current series is about both River and the Tardis. River (if she’s human) will be another ephemeral love who is going to die eventually (we know she will), while the Doctor lives on. (Everybody dies, and nobody knows it like the Doctor). The Tardis, though, will be there through thick and thin, long after Rose, River and any others. Loved the idea that the Tardis picked him (whatever DW thinks).

      Or you could say it’s all about a guy and his car. 

    2. redblu

      But the disturbing element of that would be that the child, rather than regenerating, is more likely to be attempting to leave her body and take that of the man who asked her if she was ok. When ‘Sexy’ returned to the TARDIS console it looked very much like a regeneration.

      1. pirho

        It could be that the time energy is what enable the Doctor to regereate.  The same energy that makes up the matrix of the tardis only in a lesser amount.  Think back to Bad Wolf when Rose sucked up all the time energy, it was the same look.

  4. pirho

    Can’t say anything negative about this episode, simply elegant, it flowed very well, and an utter joy to watch.  I agree with everyone on this, Neil Gaiman did a great job of writting this.  I especially loved how the Tardis knew what the doctor was going to say before the Doctor know he was going to say it.  We always knew the Taris was a life form, and to put it into the body of Idris, was a great idea, the Tardis speaks for the first time in history.  Like kindred spirits they were meant to be together from the moment they laid eyes on each other.  Well done, well done all.  Neil Gaiman could Teach Moffett a thing or two about how to write an episode.

    1. Emperor Gregor

      Everyone ALWAYS says “it’s bigger on the inside” when they go inside the Tardis’s shell.

      It was fun to hear Idris say the same about people. She goes in side the human shell and is so amazed at the scope of the human mind she says it’s bigger on the inside.

      Moffat likes his highly complicated stories but Gaiman showed us that a simple narrative line with lots to explore along the way is better Not that I’m complaining. I just think that it’s all getting a bit, well, bitty. There;s two terrific narrative lines in the series – River, and the Silence. Separately either is a terrific story. Together – well I can see why Moffat needed two whole series to tell the tale.

  5. grift

    i agree with all the praise. truth be told, i wasn’t really look forward to this episode from the preview, it reminded me too much of tim burton’s “chocolate factory.” but wowwy wow wow. gaiman did an amazing job with the story. as a current generation whovian (i haven’t seen the old series’… yet), i eat up every bit of lore about time lords and the TARDIS and the doctor, etc., that i can, and this was no exception. actually having the interactions between the TARDIS and the doctor play out verbally, and sexually?, was such a treat! and suranne jones was brilliant!! i think she would give helena bonham carter a run for her money playing an erratic slightly-maniacal character.

    loved this episode. i hope there will be more like it, and less like the curse of the black spot.

    [rewatch edit] so i’m rewatching the episode right now.. and something else that’s a bit mistaken other than the telephone door vs. police box door issue (and this is just be being nitpicky)… Idris says “borrowing implies the eventual intention to return the thing that was taken”.. but it should be “the intention to eventually return the thing that was taken” because even if you eventually develop the intention to return the thing taken, it was still stealing in the first place. that is all. just wanted to show how amazingly smart i am ::sarcasm::

  6. grift

    anyone else hear Idris/TARDIS whisper “i love you” right as she disappears? if i were a more emotional person, i’d be in tears right now =]

  7. silveredtears

    Wow am i glad to hear such high praise for this episode, and to this it was bias at Neil Gaiman’s writing. Love his taste (I mean, who wouldn’t want to marry Amanda Palmer, but that’s not for here!), the very Helena-esque Suranna Jones, the well written story, the lovely banter, all the holes patched up! It was just the most wonderful episode, and I actually think it is now my favourite to date! (I loved Vincent, as a story, just not the actual alien interactions of the episode..)

    Especially wonderful to head Gerard’s praises after the ‘best episode EVAR’ spat from last week XD

  8. magsmagenta

    I loved all the one liners, especially Amys ‘Did you wish really really hard?’ and The Tardis ‘I like biting, it’s like kissing only there’s a winner’

  9. sgreco1970

    The wobbly hallway sets certainly weren’t up to par with this new series, and I still felt the plotline was frenetic and sometimes hard to follow. That said, I did enjoy it and I do think my prediction that River, as the doctor’s future wife, would be the embodiment of the TARDIS has been vindicated to a degree. (and I seem to remember some folks saying how they thought that would be impossible, but here it is.)

    Now, I fully expected her to regenerate as she died and become River, but I still hold out hope she may yet. It certainly would explain how River could fly the TARDIS so expertly. I think the clue “the only water in the forest is the River” is not only a clue about River Song but also a connection between River and Idris (TARDIS). Only time will tell.


  10. redblu

    The plot was pretty linear this time around, with the opening two parter I had to play close attention (I won’t get into another debate about whether or not that is a good thing, I love it *shrug*) but in the Doctors Wife? Not at all. It was very much a character piece, a wonderful bit of fantasy. The plot its self was pretty simple and easy enough to follow, if I had a complaint about the episode that would be it, that with all the hype I expected something with more complexity (which admittedly would be hard in a single parter).

    1. Gerard McGarry

      I think the beauty of The Doctor’s Wife was that one episode left you wanting more, to explore the dynamics of that relationship between The Doctor and his TARDIS in a human dimension. If they’d stretched it to two episodes, it risked losing the charm of that fleeting glimpse.

      Although for the briefest of moments I wondered whether they’d consider creating a TARDIS console that could talk, like the computer on Red Dwarf. And whether that would be a good or bad thing…

  11. Dilettante

    On rewatching, one hole caught my eye in this loving tribute of an episode to Doctor Who fanboyism. Sexy the TARDIS says that the Doctor has been ignoring the sign on her door for seven hundred odd years – but she’s only been in police box form since the scrap yard in the first episode of the show. She wasn’t a policebox for the great bulk of their unfilmed time together.

    1. silveredtears

      Maybe because she doesn’t know how long it’s been, she’s seeing back and forward in time, and how long does he take to fix it?

      Also, I don’t recall Hartnell ever saying how long it had been broken, just that it was?, and that yes, he could fix it, but he likes it that way? that last part may have been a later doctor..

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