Friday, November 10, 2017

"The Doctor's Wife" Is An Erratic Throwaway Episode Of Doctor Who.

The Good: Moments of performance, Moments of character, Concept
The Bad: Inconsistent plot elements, Jumbled mood
The Basics: "The Doctor's Wife" is one of the best examples of inconsistency within an episode of Doctor Who.

One of the interesting aspects of going back to a series that has been around for a few years is discovering episodes that might not be as memorable as others. When it comes to Doctor Who, one of the most forgettable episodes of the new Doctor Who is "The Doctor's Wife." While "The Doctor's Wife" might generate a lot of interest in general fandom - as it was written by genre favorite author Neil Gaiman - it is a creepy little episode that has so little impact in the larger Doctor Who narrative that it becomes utterly unmemorable. That said, there are moments of brilliance in "The Doctor's Wife" that makes it interesting to watch. But the brilliant aspects are not consistently executed and the episode transitions with a painful awkwardness from quirky and interesting to generically horrifying and into an exceptionally predictable resolution. The Doctor makes it from delighted and intrigued to angered and offended before going into full-on problem solving mode and then longing for, essentially, his lost love. Yes, "The Doctor's Wife" is all over the map.

Following on the heels of the predictable "The Curse Of The Black Spot" (reviewed here!), "The Doctor's Wife" is another episode that includes a pocket universe or alternate dimension (which is essentially what the hospital ship in the prior episode was). Neil Gaiman presents an episode packed with so many different elements that he almost manages to disguise the fact that the episode serves a very simple purpose and is exceptionally predictable. Will the TARDIS fall to an evil new personality? Probably not. Will The Doctor actually get stranded in a pocket universe where he does not actually have the technical skills or raw resources to escape? Doubtful. Will the human personification of the TARDIS burn through its human body at a rate similar to Rose and Donna Noble? No, the plot requires her to be around for a bit longer than that. So, we get a high-concept execution of a very simple plot.

While Amy and Rory worry about telling The Doctor about his impending death, the TARDIS is visited by a little box. The Doctor recognizes the sigil on the box as the tattoo belonging to the Time Lord Corsair and when they bring the box aboard the TARDIS, the TARDIS is pulled out of the universe into a parallel dimension populated by three crazy people, at least one of whom appears to be a Time Lord (or regurgitating Time Lord regeneration energy). The TARDIS arrives at the scrapyard in an alternate universe, which is where the distress beacon from The Corsair took them. There, The Doctor and his Companions meet the three crazies, the lead of whom speaks in mixed tenses and warns The Doctor that the little boxes will make him angry.

When an Ood joins the trio of crazies, The Doctor repairs its translation device and it starts transmitting Time Lord distress beacons. The Doctor is freaked out by that and in communicating with House, the planet itself, The Doctor learns that many Time Lords have visited this particular planet. After sealing Amy and Rory into the TARDIS, The Doctor learns that the junkyard is essentially a trap. One of the women on the asteroid reveals herself to The Doctor as being the TARDIS, incarnated! While House takes over the TARDIS and takes it and the Companions back to the universe, The Doctor and Sexy (his name for the TARDIS before House identifies her as Idris) start construction on a TARDIS by cobbling together pieces from the wreckage from all of the other TARDIS's there. Amy finds herself trapped on the TARDIS with a temporally-deranged Rory, who exists in different times within the TARDIS after they get separated. The Doctor and Idris escape the pocket universe and have to reconnect with the TARDIS to stop House!

"The Doctor's Wife" is a prolonged, convoluted, explanation for a very simple premise. The essential purpose of "The Doctor's Wife" is to definitively explain what happened to every other Time Lord that was not on Gallifrey when The Doctor ended the Time War and, similarly, to explain why there are no other TARDIS's. The pocket universe is essentially a TARDIS graveyard and House is a predator that feeds on TARDIS's, which is a cool idea (though how would such a creature ever evolve?!). Even the TARDIS predator, though, is somewhat erratically-executed; if it so thoroughly consumed TARDIS's, how could there be enough functional parts left over to rebuild a working TARDIS? In analogous terms, if a creature feeds on something, the waste that is left over should be just waste; The Doctor is essentially attempting to make a cow based on the shit of a thousand hamburgers. So, the set-up in "The Doctor's Wife" is brilliant; the solution to the fix The Doctor and Sexy find themselves in, less so.

The other purpose of "The Doctor's Wife" is to present the TARDIS as a character and that is fun and an interesting idea. Idris (the TARDIS personified in a human body) is a fun character and she is played very well by Suranne Jones. Jones finds the right balance between humor and seriousness for her role, making for a compelling characterization of the TARDIS.

Unfortunately, Jones is something of an exception to the rule in "The Doctor's Wife." "The Doctor's Wife" has one of the most terrifying concepts of any Doctor Who episodes. House is a truly impressive and horrifying adversary (evolutionary requirements of it notwithstanding). The idea of an entity that feeds upon TARDIS's is creepy and the TARDIS graveyard is a well-executed image of desolation and destruction that implies the raw power and evil of House. Indeed, the wreckage plays off the feminine persona for the TARDIS with an expert sense of literary contrast.

But "The Doctor's Wife" is not presented as a horror episode; The Doctor jokes through the dire situation and he plays off a beautiful incarnation of the TARDIS that is completely unlike the two crazies cobbled together from Time Lord bodies. Yet, amid The Doctor delightfully interacting with Sexy, there are scenes of devastating psychological horror as Amy and Rory make their way through the House-infested TARDIS.

Which brings me to the writing problem for "The Doctor's Wife." "The Doctor's Wife" is a cobbled-together collection of scenes and ideas that awkwardly is strung together into a single narrative. When one steps back from the episode, it is easy to look at "The Doctor's Wife" and get the impression that the executive producers of Doctor Who said to Neil Gaiman, "We'll give you one episode of Doctor Who to do anything you want in the franchise" and Gaiman shot together every idea he ever had for Doctor Who. Cobbled together Time Lord bodies? Sure, throw those in, even if it is an idea that does not actually go anywhere. Creepy time hallway horror? Absolutely, but it's not an idea that can sustain a whole episode! Generic villain that is terrifying until it is no longer plot convenient? Sure, we have that right here! And hey, did Gaiman or Steven Moffat actually watch any of Russell T. Davies's Doctor Who?! Because in "Rise Of The Cybermen" (reviewed here!), Doctor Who became defined as being trapped within our universe, unable to travel between parallel universes.

Ultimately, "The Doctor's Wife" is an insular episode of Doctor Who that is hampered by its own inconsistencies and its own concept. It is packed with far too many tangents for a single episode to be a satisfying narrative and the ideas in the episode could have made for a compelling season of the show, if they were stretched out and developed better, but that is not what this season was going to be. So, instead, we are given an episode of Doctor Who that is more of a throwaway episode; the novelty of it wears poorly as the promise of the concept quickly fades to a jumble of ideas and generic villains and twists.

[Knowing that single episodes are an inefficient way to get episodes, it's worth looking into Doctor Who - The Complete Sixth Season on DVD or Blu-Ray, which is also a better economical choice than buying individual episodes. Read my review of the sophomore season of Matt Smith as The Doctor here!

For other works with Michael Sheen, please visit my reviews of:
Alice Through The Looking Glass
The Twilight Saga
Jesus Henry Christ
Tron: Legacy
30 Rock - Season 4
Alice In Wonderland
Underworld: Rise Of The Lycans
Blood Diamond
The Queen
Laws Of Attraction


For other television reviews, please check out my Television Review Index Page where the reviews are organized!

© 2017 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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