The Doctor's Wife is possibly one of the most endearing of Doctor Who
episodes to air, not least of which because it explores, in a way never before done in the series, what is undoubtedly the most important relationship of the Doctor's life. Now that you're hooked, the rest of this review is essentially one terrific spoiler
. This is, to pile up a bunch of numbers, the fourth episode of the sixth series, featuring Matt Smith
portraying The 11th Doctor
(accompanied by umpteenth companions Amy Pond
and Rory Williams), and so appropriately aired in 2011. Perhaps most intriguingly, the script was penned by famed graphic novel
author Neil Gaiman
-- perhaps best known for his series, The Sandman
, but who has shown more humorous chops in a companion book written for The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
, and in the ha-ha apocalypse novel Good Omens
coauthored with Terry Pratchett
And now back to our spoilers -- the first of which, for those familiar with the version of the Doctor's out-of-order relationship with mysterious archaeologist River Song
, is the simple fact that it's not her
, and indeed, she doesn't appear in this episode, at all (though she is slyly referenced at one point). But, then again, if you're familiar with River Song
, you've probably been watching this series and have seen this episode already.
But, no, the titular wife
here is the Doctor's own beloved Tardis
. And this episode informs us more about this device than almost everything to have come before. Oh, not as to its workings, especially, but as to something even deeper -- it's soul. You see, the premise of this episode is that the Doctor (and current companions Amy Pond and Rory) are drawn to a pocket Universe
, ostensibly by an invitation
(in the form of a nifty little box called a hypercube
) from a fellow Time Lord
(called the Corsair), which excites the Doctor to no end, he having thought himself the only one of his kind left in existence. But the summons is a ploy by a sentient-asteroid
sort of being, named House
(which might be a reference to something else in popular culture, but I'll speculate no further); House has a few people living on it (well, sort of), a raggedy old man and woman dressed in 18th century clothes who call themselves Aunt and Uncle; an attractive but clearly loopy girl in a corseted dress named Idris who first kisses the Doctor (calling him her 'thief
'), and then bites him (him after uncle warns that 'she bites,' to which she responds, 'Do I? Excellent' and tries it out); and an Ood
-looking species of alien, of a species which the Doctor once failed to save from destruction) called Nephew, who essentially acts as House's muscle.
But all is not right, here; Idris gets locked in a cage on account of her crazy behavior, but not before warning the Doctor that the little boxes will make him angry. The Doctor hears the voices of Time Lords, and eventually discovers that these all come from hypercubes -- little boxes -- stashed in a cupboard. House has killed them all, and when the Doctor confronts a caged Idris, he is startled to discover that she is in fact his Tardis, which she confirms with the knowledge that she was a museum piece when he first took her, and that the first time he touched her console, he called her "the most beautiful thing I'd ever known." And, perhaps even more surprisingly, she declares that, rather than her having been stolen by the Doctor, it was she
(from her point of view) who stole him, so that she
could gallivant around the Universe.
The Doctor's Tardis, it is explained, is now in a body because House subsists by eating Tardises; or, to be particular, by eating a certain kind of energy
produced by the Tardis. But in order to do so, House must move the matrix of the Tardis to a living body, so that its later consumption of Tardis energy doesn't blow up the Universe
. But by now, House has taken over the Doctor's Tardis, fleeing with Amy and Rory trapped inside (whom House torments for his own amusement, having Nephew chase them around). The Doctor, meanwhile, is trapped on this gigantic junkyard
in a collapsing Universe outside of space, with his Tardis equally trapped in a dying body. All hope is lost.... except, it isn't a junkyard. It's a Tardis
junkyard. And that means that the Doctor has all the pieces he needs to build a working Tardis console from a hundred different models and pursue his own Tardis.
During the process, he and his humanized Tardis bicker like an old married couple -- she complains that he never follows the instructions for operating the Tardis, exemplified by the fact that for 700 years he's pushed the doors in, when police box doors are clearly meant to open out; he retorts that she is unreliable in taking him where he wants to go -- to which she points out, she's always taken him where he needs
to go, a point which he is delighted to be unable to disagree with. They succeed in assembling their temporarily reconstructed makeshift Tardis console and give chase; catching up to the Doctor's own Tardis, the girl is able to telepathically communicate to Amy Pond the instructions to enter the old control room used by the ninth and tenth doctors (Smith, remember, playing the eleventh), therefrom to lower the shields, enabling the Doctor and the girl to reboard (materializing right where Nephew is threatening, atomizing him to the Doctor's quiet dismay).
House, thinking to destroy them, dissolves the room, but that simply triggers a safety mechanism which transports them into the main control room (which House had heretofore sealed). House is unconcerned over this turn, telling the Doctor, "Fear me, I've killed hundreds of Time Lords" -- to which the Doctor quietly retorts, "Fear me. I've killed all of them
." But as the Doctor then points out, House had separated the Tardis matrix into a new body because it couldn't be in the control room while House devoured the vessel's energy -- and here the Doctor's own Tardis is reabsorbed into its traditional frame, overwriting an agonizingly dying House. The Doctor's Tardis is able to speak for a few more minutes through the dissolving living body it had briefly occupied, to convey a few more words of sadness and affection, and a subtle clue about another storyline
-- and then, it is no more.
The Doctor momentarily carries on at his controls with palpable sadness, but sparks with joy when one of the levers flips itself -- signifying that his Tardis is indeed back in its normal mode of ferrying him about time and space -- if not exactly where and when he wants to go.
Notably this episode is highly freestanding -- it could have been set in the time of any Doctor, with any companion or set of them. And, naturally there are some elements of arbitrary contrivance to this arrangement -- of the four bodies being sustained on House, one just happens to be that of an attractive young woman, and it happens to be this body into which House deposits the Tardis matrix. But the overall idea of the episode, of the Doctor having this first-and-last-in-a-lifetime chance to actually speak with the soul of his Tardis, is quite enjoyable and does not feel especially forced. The revelations of the Tardis' point of view is equally enjoyable -- when the Doctor attempts to contend that he only 'borrowed' the Tardis, she responds that borrowing implies an intention to eventually return the thing taken, and asks him, "what makes you think I would ever give you
back?" She amusingly observes, as well, that people are "so much bigger on the inside." But for my money, the best exchange in the episode is:
The Doctor: What do I call you?
Idris: Well you call me.... Sexy.
The Doctor (embarrassedly whispers): Only when we're alone.
Idris: We are alone.
The Doctor: Oh. (smiles, mischievously) Come on then, Sexy.