'The Doctor's Wife': A Review
I note that viewer response was overwhelmingly positive to the Doctor Who episode written by Neil Gaiman ‘The Doctor's Wife’ (Season 6, Episode 4, first broadcast in May 2011). But as a fan of the show since 1963, that worries me a little.
I was able to extract one negative comment: that the whole 'junkyard in space' motif and the non-descript rubbish in it was a bit... well, rubbish.
For a fan boy like me though, there were references throughout this episode to the classic series and a kind of homage to Doctor Who as a whole which swung it over to positive in my estimation. Things like the fact that we first met the Tardis in 1963 in a junkyard, the psychic message boxes (last seen at a very pivotal moment in 1969), the cloister bell ringing in the Tardis, the fact that the 'junk' console was actually designed by a child on Blue Peter, the shaving mirror reminiscent of 'The Masque of Mandragora' in which we first see an alternative control room (which has a shaving mirror on the console), the reference to the Doctor stealing the Tardis (or the Tardis stealing the Doctor), the 'deleting' of rooms to give the Tardis extra power (last used in the early '80s) and so on, all showed that Gaiman is a real fan, and therefore that we were in safe hands.
I also enjoyed some of the lines and their delivery: like when Matt says 'Just admiring your collection of Time Lord psychic distress signals...' in that slightly menacing way. Smith was a brilliant Doctor -he could command total attention by playing the fool or the god, and in that line he’s doing both. His best line, though, comes when he says to Idris 'I've got nothing' and she replies 'You've got everything you've always had: you've got Me' and touches her finger to the console, sparking the take-off. Goosebump stuff.
But the most stand-alone dramatically effective pieces were the scenes with Rory and Amy inside -the switching of viewpoints, the psychological tension, the use of collapsed spaces and times, the claustrophobia (as well as the wonderful resurrection of the earlier control room). Like that episode on board that ship ('Midnight') with David Tennant.
However, I think the one disapproving comment reveals an important weakness in the show: it is highly vulnerable to being too self-referential (and even self-reverential) -it can effectively disappear up its own Time Rift by depending for its emotional impact on its own past history. Unless it can reach out effectively to non-fans it will begin to die. This was one of Russell T Davies great strengths: he could do the wacky Doctor Who stuff and still drop in a moment of real human drama. Rose may have eventually turned into a goddess, and been banished to a parallel universe with a quasi-Doctor, but when we first saw her, and for quite a while, she was a shop assistant. Donna Noble too: in fact, Davies inserted quite a few moments of real human drama into each episode and this served to ‘anchor’ the show and make it more universal and more real for non-fans. I think of Rose confronting Donna in the episode ‘Turn Left’ and the heart-breaking (and wonderfully delivered line) 'I'm not important -I'm just a temp from Chiswick'. Moffat runs the big risk of introverting the show too much, making it 'too clever' and cutting it off from the wider public. It will disappear into its own bubble universe if it's not careful.
The show is so old it’s developed its own gravtiational pull. But it will suffer, and its ratings will go down, if it goes into orbit around itself rather than the viewer sitting at home.
It's still one of the loves of my life, though, and I still felt re-invigorated about my relationships with things and people when the Doctor sees the lever move by itself at the end and realises that the Tardis has always taken him where he needs to go rather than where he wants to...
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-Grant P. Hudson is the founder of Clarendon House Publications. Download a free catalogue here.