I’ve always thought that the relationship between The Doctor and the TARDIS was the most important relationship on Doctor Who; one that was surprisingly not explored often. Oh, sure, there was plenty of talk about the TARDIS being alive, and there were stray bits of dialogue directed at the TARDIS—“Thank you, dear!” “Look at you, you sexy thing!”—but there was never an episode devoted exclusively to their relationship. So, while thinking about spec scripts to write—because, you know, I do that—I was toying around with the idea of a two-hander between The Doctor and the TARDIS. Of course, the TARDIS would be a woman, in the way that all ships are women and called “she.”
Then, Neil Gaiman had to go and write “The Doctor’s Wife,” which not only uses my idea, but executes it about a million times better, creating one of the most beautiful episodes of Doctor Who ever written.
**I loved Star Trek: TNG when I was a kid, and when I was about 10 or 11 I had the idea to give Data an android daughter. I wrote the “script” in a spiral-bound notebook. Then I saw “The Offspring.” Rene Echevarria is a bastard, too. But the moral of the story is, if you have an idea, WRITE FASTER!
Team TARDIS are called to a “bubble outside the universe” by a cube with a message from another Time Lord (shout-out to “The War Games!”). The Doctor is thrilled by the possibility of another Time Lord being alive. However, things are not as hopeful as all that. They’ve been lured to what seems like a planet outside the universe, but is actually a sentient asteroid called “House” by the life forms who live upon it: a man and a woman, Uncle and Auntie, who are “patchwork people,” “repaired” by stitching them up with other people’s body parts and kept alive by House. There is also an Ood, called Nephew, and a woman named Idris who seems abnormally attached to The Doctor. As it turns out, House needed the TARDIS to feed off of its Artron energy, and put the personality of the TARDIS matrix into Idris. House’s back is littered with destroyed TARDISes that have come before, and once he learns that The Doctor is the last Time Lord, he transfers himself into the TARDIS (with Rory and Amy still inside) and uses it to get into the universe. The Doctor then pairs with Idris/TARDIS to cobble together another TARDIS from scrap parts and pursue House. The result is triumphant and bittersweet.
While I adore Steven Moffat’s work, his tendency as a writer lately is to go Plot First, with the characters having to scream to be heard around what’s happening. Granted, they scream loudly and well, and Moffat’s characterizations shine through in spite of the plot surrounding them, but it is clear that they are secondary to The Thing That’s Happening. (For an example of Moffat doing the opposite, see “Blink.”) Gaiman’s script for “The Doctor’s Wife” is a different, elegant, approach to Doctor Who. The plot, while intriguing, is one that allows the characters room to breathe, and the story becomes about them, not about the Monster of the Week.
Not that the Monster of the Week this week wasn’t terrifying, because he was. While we never see him, the nonchalance of House’s voice was enough to send chills up my spine. From casually allowing Auntie and Uncle to die while he takes the TARDIS, to asking Rory and Amy why he shouldn’t just kill them, then making them run in order to save themselves by “being entertaining,” House is a clear example of less being more. A few well-placed words read by a wonderful actor (Michael Sheen) are all you need to ramp up the fear.
Apparently, Gaiman originally wrote this with only Amy, because it was supposed to be part of last season when Rory was no longer with us. He’s expressed regret over losing a scene in which Amy has a monologue about being a companion. However, I was happy he was forced by circumstances to include Rory, because it allowed for a clear, loving picture of how a married couple would function on the TARDIS, and also provided a wonderful parallel to The Doctor and Idris. As Emily Asher-Perrin mentions in her article about Mr. and Mrs. Pond, it’s interesting to see The Doctor almost force them to have a great marriage by forcing them to be responsible for each other, as he does when he sends Rory after Amy and into the TARDIS. Rory keeps them alive by answering House’s question—“Why shouldn’t I just kill you now?”—cleverly. He leads Amy through the TARDIS’ endless corridors, keeping her sane when she’s ready to break down, then when it comes time to use the code he’s been given by Idris to lower the TARDIS’ shields, Amy figures out that it needs to be used telepathically. He sets ‘em up, she knocks ‘em down. They’re a wonderful team.
But not nearly as wonderful as The Doctor and Idris.
The Doctor and the TARDIS are so brilliantly alike, each believing that they “stole” the other one from Gallifrey, and each needing more than what their home planet could offer them. They are each child-like, but also brimming with wisdom. They have pet names for each other: she calls him “My Thief,” and he calls her “Sexy.” She isn’t afraid to correct him, or call him on his crap, but he does the same for her. In their 700+ year relationship, they have developed a lovely shorthand that The Doctor never even realized, having never been given the opportunity to speak with the TARDIS before. He discovers a lot of other things about the TARDIS, too, like the fact that, even though it’s seemed like she hasn’t taken him where he’s wanted to go, she’s always taken him where he’s needed to go. She knows him better than he knows himself, and in this episode, The Doctor learns to really trust that, which is a beautiful thing.
And then there’s the part where one of the last things Idris says is, “The only water in the forest is the river.” “Forest of the Dead” reference to River Song saving The Doctor’s life by giving up her own? Or is this a reference to a future event?
The performances in this episode were great across the board, but Suranne Jones and Matt Smith deserve special kudos. Jones, as Idris/TARDIS, accomplished the seemingly impossible task of portraying a soul that had never before left its matrix. Words and concepts that are dependent on a physical form escaped her, while she contained the wisdom of all of time and space, and Jones balanced a creepy childishness with a matronly demeanor to wonderful effect. Her final scene with The Doctor where she explains how she feels alive and how she’s always wanted to tell him “Hello!” was buoyant and beautiful and melancholy. And Matt Smith’s heartrending performance of The Doctor meeting the love of his life for the first time was a perfect balance for hers. There’s that moment when Amy asks The Doctor if he’s looking to be forgiven, and Smith squeaks out “Doesn’t everyone?” that had me almost in tears right at the top of the episode. By the time he tearfully speaks to the TARDIS for the last time, I was crying buckets. That guy can act.
“The Doctor’s Wife” was about as perfect a Doctor Who episode as there can be. I hope that there will be more Gaiman-penned trips in the TARDIS! Next week, the first of a two-part story about evil skin!
And I agree with the TARDIS—Rory is totally the pretty one. And wonderful. But if he says “I’m a nurse” one more time, I’m going to start punching infants in the face.
Doctor Who airs Saturdays at 9PM ET on BBC America.
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Teresa Jusino doesn’t generally cosplay, but she now wants to try and cosplay Idris for the next Gallifrey One. Her “feminist brown person” take on pop culture has been featured on websites like ChinaShopMag.com, PinkRaygun.com, Newsarama, and PopMatters.com. Her fiction has appeared in the sci-fi literary magazine, Crossed Genres; she is the editor of Beginning of Line, the Caprica fan fiction site; and her essay “Why Joss is More Important Than His ‘Verse” is included in Whedonistas: A Celebration of the Worlds of Joss Whedon By the Women Who Love Them, which is on sale now wherever books are sold! Get Twitterpated with Teresa, or visit her at The Teresa Jusino Experience.