Saturday, 14 May 2011

Doctor Who: The Doctor's Wife

Idris: 'Oh, my beautiful idiot. You've got what you've always had. You've got me.'

It's virtually impossible for me to criticise tonight's episode, as I loved every last minute of it. Let's face it, expectations over this episode were impossibly high. Once word got out that Neil Gaiman was on the writing team, fans have talked about little else. Recipient of numerous prestigious writing awards (Hugo, Bram Stoker and Nebula, to name but a few), Gaiman's a doyen of the fantasy fiction genre. Add Moffat to the mix, and it's a Marvel Team-Up made in heaven. I didn't think anything could eclipse 'The Girl in the Fireplace', 'Blink' or 'Vincent and the Doctor', but I was wrong. Tonight's episode pipped them all.

Gaiman himself has been quietly mindful of the possibility of a fan backlash. Unfulfilled expectations are rarely dealt with gracefully on the internet, and clearly he's been feeling the pressure. He even admitted on Twitter: 'My biggest concern now is that people will build it up too big in their heads. I just hope people enjoy it. Especially kids'. A sweet sentiment, but with all due respect, Neil, you shouldn't have worried—this was an episode for everyone. The concept was simple yet staggeringly effective, the pathos gentle and true. We're used to seeing the Doctor talk to the TARDIS—but what if the TARDIS could talk back?

Forget River Song, the TARDIS has always been the love of the Doctor's life. He's been groping, rubbing, tweaking, inappropriately fondling and pulling on her knobs for over seven hundred years. The Doctor introducing Sexy to Rory and Amy had all the awkwardness of a teenager introducing his girlfriend to his parents. Idris was pure wish fulfilment—the 'old girl' in an attractive female body—and it was love at first sight. I adored the idea that, rather than the Doctor stealing her, it was her who stole him. I was also impressed with the way Gaiman developed Idris' character. She went from being unable to cope with the inconvenience of linear time, to a fully formed, intelligent, impeccably spoken woman, able to fully  interact with humans, make rational decisions, and face loss with dignity.

I sobbed at Idris' first and last 'Hello'. After seven hundred years of being unable to speak, what else would she say? It made perfect sense that she'd want to connect with her beloved thief. The idea was so simple, so beautifully believable, that it's impossible to explain why the story hasn't been attempted before. This isn't the first time we've seen the Doctor in pain—we saw his grief at losing Rose and Reinette, we saw him say goodbye to Sarah Jane, we've even witnessed him mourn his own death—but this was right up there with the Doctor's most soul wrenching moments. Matt's tears were perfect.

I loved that the Doctor brought up the TARDIS' erratic navigation. She might not have taken him where he wanted to go, but she always took him where he needed to be. (Lovely tip of the hat to Douglas Adams' 'The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul'.)  And, finally, confirmation that the TARDIS is alive beyond mere sentience. She possesses intelligence and sapience to rival the Doctor, and was every inch his equal. They behaved like an old married couple, with her scolding him for bringing home strays and ignoring her door sign, and him behaving like a nine year old. I wonder how tonight's episode will affect the Doctor's future relationship with his TARDIS?

I choked at Idris having to look upon her dead sisters. I blubbed at their shared sadness as their time together drew to a close. Suranne and Matt completely acted their socks off during those scenes. Good though season five was, we haven't had dialogue like this since season two's 'School Reunion'. Despite this being Sexy's first appearance, she felt like an old friend. She's been part of the Doctor's life since he left Gallifrey. The look they gave each other when her kidneys started to fail and she stumbled into his arms was... well, quite wonderful.

Even Rory and Amy running about in the TARDIS wasn't an exercise in futility. House messing with their minds gave what could have been a generic run-around a real sense of eeriness. Seeing Rory turn into an old man, and start ranting at Amy, was genuinely disturbing. I liked that House played upon Amy's insecurities over leaving Rory behind. I liked, too, that we got to see the interior of the TARDIS again. Thankfully, the Ood didn't have anything cryptic to say to the Doctor this time—but the TARDIS did. What did she mean by 'the only water in the forest is the river?' A reference to 'The Silence in the Library' perhaps?

Even the Artron gobbling House was a nice touch, and proves, once again, that you don't need to waste money on expensive (and usually crap) CGI to create palpable tension and a worthy adversary. In fact, this was an episode full of nice touches, from the return of the Time Lord distress beacons, to the TARDIS scrapyard, to the numerous references to existing Who lore. (See 'Other Thoughts' below). And it's good to know that, despite losing her physical form, the TARDIS can still sense the Doctor. All he had to say is 'The Eye of Orion' and the old girl was de-materialising herself, and whisking them off to their next adventure. Ever the faithful servant... or after tonight, his true companion.

I'd hate to be Matthew Graham. Gaiman's a tough act to follow.

Other Thoughts:

—There were several nods to Who lore worth mentioning. (Proof, if it was ever needed, that Gaiman's a fan of the show.) There was the 'Totters Lane at the end of the universe' tip of the hat to Douglas Adams. The patchy umbrella reference to the McCoy era. Even the 'changing the desktop' line was taken from 'Time Crash'. And we got to see the 10th Doctor's control room again. I'm amazed it still exists.

—They killed Kenny again. Just how unlucky is Rory? Actually, he didn't die properly this week, but I love that Gaiman made fun of the fact that it keeps on happening.

—Paul Kaseys interpretation of Uncle reminded me of the talking moon from The Mighty Boosh. Kasey's a veteran of the show, despite us hardly ever seeing his face. He's played Coffa of the Forest of Cheem ('The End of the World'), Zu-Zana ('Bad Wolf'), a clockwork droid ('The Girl in the Fireplace'), Judoon, Ood, Pigslaves... you name it, he's played it.

—Interesting that the Corsair could change gender via regeneration. An interesting fact, with possible future ramifications?

—Michael Sheen (AKA Aro... or, if you like, Tony Blair) was the voice of House.

—When Idris returned for the last time I couldn't help but laugh at the Doctor looking right at her cleavage.

—So Rory's the pretty one, eh? What a twisted mind Neil Gaiman has.

Quotes:

Idris: 'Biting is excellent, it's like kissing. Only there's a winner.'

Idris: 'It's me. I'm the TARDIS.'
Doctor: 'No you're not, you're a bitey, mad lady. The TARDIS is uppy, downy stuff in a big blue box.'

Idris: 'Borrowing implies the eventual intention to return the thing that was taken. What makes you think I'd ever give you back?'

Doctor: 'My TARDIS?'
Idris: 'My Doctor!'

Idris: 'Are all people like this?'
Doctor: 'Like what?'
Idris: 'So much bigger on the inside?'

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

Idris: 'No. Stop it. Don't get emotional. Hmm... that's what the orange girl says. You're the Doctor. Focus!'

Doctor: 'Do you have a name?'
Idris: 'Seven hundred years. Finally he asks.'
Doctor: 'What do I call you?'
Idris: 'I think you call me... sexy.'
Doctor: 'Only when we're alone.'
Idris: 'We are alone.'
Doctor: 'Oh, come on then... sexy.'

Doctor: 'You thinking what I'm thinking?'
Idris: 'I'm thinking all of my sisters are dead. That they were devoured, and that we're looking at their corpses.'

Doctor: 'You know, you have never been very reliable.'
Idrsi: 'And you have?'
Doctor: 'You didn't always take me where I wanted to go.'
Idris: 'No, but I always took you where you needed to go.'

Idris: 'Hello, pretty.'
Rorry: 'What the hell is that?'

Doctor: 'Amy. This is... well, she's my TARDIS. Except she's a woman. But, she's a woman and she's my TARDIS.'
Amy: 'She's the TARDIS?'
Doctor: 'And, she's a woman. She's a woman... and she's the TARDIS.'
Amy: 'Did you wish really hard?'
Doctor: 'Shut up! Not like that.'
Idris: 'Hello, I'm... sexy.'
Doctor: 'Ohhh...still Shut up.'

Doctor: 'Ah, he must have been redistributed.'
Rory: 'Meaning what?'
Doctor: 'You're breathing him. Another Ood I failed to save.'

Doctor: 'Hang in there old girl. Not long now. It'll be over soon.'
Idris: 'I always liked it when you called me old girl.'

House: 'Fear me, I've killed hundreds of Time Lords.'
Doctor: 'Fear me, I've killed all of them.'

Idris: 'I've been looking for a word. A big, complicated word, but, so sad. I've found it now.'
Doctor: 'What word?'
Idris: 'Alive. I'm alive!'
Doctor: 'Alive isn't sad.'
Idris: 'It's sad when it's over. I'll always be here. But this is when we talked, and now even that has come to an end. There's something I didn't get to say to you.'
Doctor: 'Goodbye?'
Idris: 'No, I just wanted to say hello. Hello, Doctor. It's so very, very nice to meet you.'
Doctor: 'Please! I don't want you to... please!'

Amy: 'Look at you pair. It's always you and her, isn't it? Long after the rest of us are gone.'

Doctor: 'Bunk beds are cool. A bed, with a ladder. You can't beat that.'

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