Sexy TARDIS & Her Beautiful Idiot: Doctor Who, "The Doctor's Wife"
"No, you're not. You're a bitey mad lady. The TARDIS is up and downy stuff in a big blue box."
On a distant junkyard asteroid outside the boundaries of the universe, "Auntie," "Uncle," and Ood "Nephew" prepare Idris to lose her soul, as it will be painfully replaced with the coinciding imminent arrival of a Time Lord. (Idris, by the way, is a woman. I might not be compelled to point this out save for two factors: the episode's title, and the existence of one Idris Elba, a.k.a. Stringer Bell, from The Wire.)
Out in deep space, The Doctor, Amy, and Rory receive a literal knock at the TARDIS' door. A distress cube, characteristically unique to the Time Lords (and used way back in the Doctor Who annals by Patrick Troughton's Doctor), hurtles through the doorway to notify them that one Time Lord in particular, The Corsair, is in need of help. The Doctor recognizes the Corsair's Ouroborus sigil on the cube and knows him/her (the Corsair was known to switch genders across regenerations) as a good Time Lord from past experience. The summons takes them to the aforementioned asteroid, and upon landing the TARDIS is drained of its soul, which is transmitted into the waiting Idris.
Outside, The Doctor is intent on tracking down The Corsair and tries to explain the concept behind this location outside the universe (it's something like a "plughole" in a sink), which could have allowed a Time Lord to survive the purge for which The Doctor was responsible during the Time War against the Daleks. The landscape is littered with detritus against a dark sky, and there they meet Auntie, Uncle, Nephew, and Idris. Idris appears completely mad, nearly mauling The Doctor with bites and kisses. Her grasp of the English language is spotty, and further confusing matters is a cryptic prescience of conversations to come. Nephew's Ood communication orb is faulty, so The Doctor repairs it and stumbles upon several other Time Lord distress transmissions that are broadcast through it.
Auntie and Uncle reveal that the only other organism at this location is House, the consciousness that inhabits the asteroid itself. House speaks through Auntie and Uncle in a booming, ominous voice (played by none other than Michael Sheen) and offers hospitality to The Doctor and his companions. House speaks glowingly of past Time Lord visitors and says that he takes care of all that visit, having "repaired" Auntie, Uncle, and anyone else.
"We're not actually going to stay, are we?" Rory asks.
"Well, it seems like a friendly planet. Literally," The Doctor replies.
The Doctor dashes off to track down the source of the Time Lord distress signals, and Amy is concerned that he is taking this business a little too emotionally. How is he going to explain what happened during the Time War?
"You want to be forgiven, don't you?" Amy asks.
The Doctor answers, "Don't we all?"
The Doctor fools Amy and Rory into going back to the TARDIS for his sonic screwdriver so that he can handle "Time Lord business" by himself. He discovers a cabinet full of wailing Time Lord distress cubes, an archive of long-dead victims of House. He confronts Auntie and Uncle, "patchwork people" composed of body parts collected from those same victims of House. Auntie has The Corsair's arm; Uncle has his kidney and spine, as well as the eyes of a twenty-year-old, mismatched ears, and two left feet.
The Doctor is not happy about his discovery: "You gave me hope, and then you take it away. That's enough to make anyone dangerous. God knows what it will do to me."
With resignation Uncle tells him that House is too clever to defeat. The Doctor realizes that Idris correctly predicted "the boxes would make him angry." He finds her imprisoned in a cage where Nephew left her. Making that wonderful TARDIS materialization noise, she reveals to The Doctor that she is the TARDIS. They trade the sort of banter for which you would hope after all the adventures they have shared together and deduce House's repeated scheme of extracting time machine consciousnesses so that it is safe to devour the Rift energy each TARDIS has accumulated. Attempting to devour a TARDIS without first removing the consciousness would result in a disastrous hole in space-time at best.
They rush off to warn Amy and Rory, but House - having learned that there are no Time Lords left to be lured to their doom - has already hijacked the TARDIS with his own consciousness and spirits them away in an effort to travel back to the regular universe. As House carries them away, he asks Amy and Rory for a good reason not to kill them. Rory replies that it would be more entertaining to keep them around to sadistically toy with them like his old gym teacher. Wasn't that the purpose of Auntie and Uncle: oppressed company? This idea appeals to House, as he sends them dashing through the TARDIS corridors on a terrifying chase featuring altered gravity and hallucinations.
Back on the asteroid, The Doctor watches Auntie and Uncle die, as their life force expires without House's support. There is a wry morbidity in their acceptance, as they do not make much of a fuss about their lot. The Doctor discovers that Idris is dying as well, as the human body is not fit to hold a TARDIS consciousness. She is no longer "Idris," though, so for lack of a proper name, The Doctor calls her "Sexy," a moniker we learn he uses when the two of them are alone together.
They find the TARDIS graveyard, housing the mechanical remains of all the time machines that House has devoured over the years, and they hurriedly embark on cobbling together a patchwork TARDIS to catch House.
On the TARDIS, Amy and Rory are separated in the corridors. House haunts her with visions of Rory dying of old age, giving the appearance that time is not passing at the same rate for the two of them. They shake off these hallucinations and flee a more direct physical threat: Nephew, under the influence of House's mind control, is in the corridors with them with directions to kill them. With the help of telepathic directions from The Doctor and Sexy, now in hot pursuit across the space-time continuum in a retro TARDIS with no proper exterior casing, they find the archived control room of Tennant's Doctor. A password to enter is not a "password" at all but a telepathic impression: the color crimson, the number eleven, the feeling of delight, and the smell of dust after rain, i.e., "petrichor," which Sexy earlier told them they would need to know. In case you were wondering, "petrichor" currently is not a legal word in Scrabble, but Australian scientists did coin it in 1964.
In the secondary control room, Rory lowers the shields per Sexy's instructions, thus enabling The Doctor to materialize his ad hoc TARDIS onto that bridge. Unfortunately for Nephew, that materialization takes place on the space he was occupying, and The Doctor laments another Ood that he failed to save.
House taunts them, demonstrating that he can kill them in a host of ways with his control over the TARDIS, using gravity control, air supply, etc. The Doctor acknowledges that House has the upper hand, but he offers House knowledge in return for sparing their lives. The engines lack the power to escape back into the universe, and The Doctor can tell House how to remedy this. Rooms will need to be ejected, as The Doctor did upon their original transport out of the universe. House agrees to spare them, but upon learning this information, he responds by deleting the secondary control room with The Doctor, Amy, Rory, and Sexy inside. The power boost vaults the blue police box back into the universe we know, and the TARDIS hurtles through space with House's menacing green glow, an empty control room, and the apparent victory of evil.
The Doctor anticipated House's duplicity, however, as a failsafe automatically transports all living things in a deleted room to the primary control room. They materialize in the original control room safe and sound. House is not impressed, as he still has the controls and their lives at his disposal. However, as Sexy's rapidly fading human form is back in the primary control room, she is able to transport her consciousness back into the console. TARDIS interloper House bellows in dying defeat as she reasserts control. Sexy appears to The Doctor as a ghostly apparition so that they can speak one last time, and she uses the opportunity to say something she had always wanted to say: "Hello, Doctor."
With all back to normal, The Doctor offers to take Rory and Amy to the Eye Of Orion for vacation, a long-running joke from the old days. He uses the TARDIS to rebuild Rory and Amy a new bedroom -- this time sans bunk beds per their request. (The Doctor apparently believes a bed-ladder combo to be a staggering innovation.) Rory asks if The Doctor has a room, and he does not answer. (I wonder if this is meant to imply that the main room with his "wife" will always be "his" room.) This marks two episodes in a row with the companions retreating to the bedroom to rest at the end of an adventure, which seems an intuitive and usually unexpressed conclusion to these adventures if you consider it. Alone with the console, The Doctor speaks to the TARDIS, hoping for another hint of the interaction they had shared. She responds with the automatic flip of a switch that will take them to their next destination.
My Whovian friends, this might be the best episode of the Matt Smith era. Thank you, Neil Gaiman, and please feel free to return anytime and bestow another of your stories upon us. Confession: I myself have very little exposure to Gaiman's work, so I cannot call myself much of a fan. Everyone was so excited about his writing gig that I had great anticipation, and after watching this episode, I am motivated to seek out more of him.
The strength of "The Doctor's Wife" is in the basic concept, which works on two levels. First, it appeals to us by tapping into The Doctor's Time Lord roots, an avenue mostly unexplored in the new era of the program, due to the established mythos of the Time War. When I first learned what Eccleston's Doctor had done just before meeting Rose, I was disappointed, as I always enjoyed all the Gallifrey-related stories of the old days. The Doctor's history as a Time Lord is an important, untapped part of his character, as evidenced in this tale by The Doctor's unchecked enthusiasm in tracking down any possibility of a surviving Time Lord. Any opportunity for this Doctor to explore that aspect of his backstory is a welcome one.
Second and more powerfully, though, it deals with The Doctor's only omnipresent companion throughout all his adventures, the TARDIS, in a new way. (I did learn that if you are familiar with the radio dramas or novelizations, which I am not, placing the TARDIS's consciousness in a human form is not entirely new, but it is new territory for the television program, unless I am forgetting an episode.) We touch upon the original history of The Doctor and how he stole her so long ago, or how she stole him, if she were telling it. If you are a Doctor Who fanatic, that is a most fundamental topic, and Gaiman does it justice.
Making this click so well is the central guest performance of Suranne Jones as Sexy / The TARDIS / Idris. She credibly delivers a mixture of uncertainty that comes with a machine consciousness inside a human body, the confusion that comes with knowledge that transcends time and space, and the sort of authoritative certainty that would accompany those traits as well. Her chemistry with Matt Smith seems exactly what one might expect from The Doctor with his TARDIS, and the episode needs to be watched twice to fully appreciate all of their dialogue, which reaches its apex with this exchange:
The Doctor: "You didn't always take me where I wanted to go."
Sexy: "No, but I always took you where you needed to go."
I do have minor quibbles. I did not need to hear Rory and Amy remind us that they are haunted by the knowledge of The Doctor's future death; this seems particularly unnecessary in an episode that almost has no serialized aspect to it. The mysterious metallic eyepatch lady made no appearance to Amy; the only possible reference to the overarching plot was what Sexy told Rory about the future before her human form died: "The only water in the forest is the river." I might guess this verbiage is a play on "River" Song, but we shall see.
We were inflicted with Rory death fatigue for the second week in a row, but I did think the payoff of Amy's hallucination of his rotted corpse and walls scrawled with mad ramblings of how much he hated her was a creepy enough payoff to justify it.
Not that it concerns this episode specifically, and I have read many of you complaining about it as well already, but that Amy opening on the BBCA version does need to go. This is not the Amy Pond show, and The Doctor is not "an imaginary friend." Imagine you are watching the program for the first time and consider The Doctor's history; the wording of that introduction would be doing you a complete disservice.
That aside, the only true regret I have about this episode is that the resolution seems to preclude our meeting House or the TARDIS incarnate again, which is a shame, because they were both fun characters. If you are left wanting more, it is difficult to call that a failing.
I do wish to note one mental tangent I had over this exchange between House and The Doctor:
House: "Fear me. I've killed hundreds of Time Lords."
The Doctor: "Fear me. I've killed all of them."
House is permanently vanquished moments later. What was House thinking about The Doctor in the interim? We know the mitigating circumstances behind The Doctor's self-characterization, but House does not. Did House think that The Doctor was a genocidal murderer? Was House frightened by that idea? Not all Time Lords are kind. House seemed supremely confident, but perhaps The Doctor's delivery of that line prompted House to consider that he finally had bitten off more of the space-time Rift than he could chew.
Next week sees "The Rebel Flesh," part one of a two-part adventure, penned by Matthew Graham ("Fear Her"). May The Doctor and his sexy TARDIS land in your backyard to take you on a hundred journeys between now and then and return you by Saturday night.
C. Robert Dimitri slept in a bunk bed his sophomore year of college, but he would hope for more luxurious accommodations if he were taking his honeymoon on the TARDIS with its ample freedom over matter and space. At least put a mirror on the ceiling, Doctor. Admittedly, twenty-five years ago when he first started watching Doctor Who, this likely would not have occurred to him.