“Borrowing implies the eventual intention to return the thing that was taken. What makes you think I would ever give you back?”
Doctor Who is a quintessential piece of British culture, and it has been for nearly a half century. A more recent contributor to that lexicon is Neil Gaiman, the mastermind behind Sandman, Stardust and Coraline. Well last year the ‘Grand Moff’ worked his magic again and secured Gaiman to write a season six episode of Doctor Who. Uniting two of the giants in British fantasy into one perfect, condensed episode of TV. Or is it?
Of course it is, I won’t even try to fool you. ‘The Doctor’s Wife’ is one of, if not the, best episode of Moffat and Smith’s run up to this point The tone is fabulous, the writing is perfect, the acting is spectacular and the monster is every bit as threatening as he should be considering the stakes. As far as stand alone stories go, I predict this will be at or near the top of many Whovian’s top lists for years to come.
So we have reached the spoiler warning portion of my review, I cannot implore you enough to see the episode first. You do yourself a disservice by not heeding that warning! More after the jump.
First things first, there is no wife. The Doctor doesn’t get married and this isn’t some alternate universe thing. The title is in reference to the Doctor’s oldest and most loyal companion, his TARDIS. What makes this episode so profound and unique in the Who mythos is that the TARDIS is given physical (and female) form. The living matrix inside the TARDIS is transferred into the body of Idris, a helpless but willing servant of the planet house. But I fear I am getting ahead of myself.
The episode concerns itself with a TARDIS eating planet named House who lures Time Lords into a tiny bubble dimension and feasts on their ships. House has been able to trap the Time Lords by stealing their emergency beacons and storing them somewhere on the planet. Time Lord emergency beacons are essentially psychic imprints of a message stored in a tiny box and shoot into space. Of course when the Doctor receives a beacon from a fellow Time Lord, The Corsair, he gets his hopes raised unreasonably high. It is particularly difficult for The Doctor to contain himself in this case because he knows The Corsair and he is “one of the good ones.” The Doctor has healthy, and fair, distrust of many Time Lords from back when they weren’t all dead, so he is extra excited at the prospect of re-discovering some of his brothers who he knew to be trustworthy.
This is the where the roller coaster of emotions begins for The Doctor. So much happens in this episode that requires an exceptional range of emotion to play, and what makes this whole thing work is Matt Smith’s ability as an actor. Smith owns this role and firmly establishes his grip as one of the most complex and interesting Doctors ever. It is very important that Smith is at his best here, because his version of the Doctor is given an incredibly rare honor. The chance to talk face to face with his TARDIS is so profound that it can move even the Doctor to tears, and their are tears.
For an episode as dark in style and tone as this, it also maintains a wondrous since playfulness. This is where Neil Gaiman’s expertise comes into play, he has the ability to straddle the line between pitch black Gothic horror and captivating fantasy that appeals to all ages. The marriage between the eleventh Doctor and Gaiman couldn’t be more perfect, because it is eleven who has taken on the darker worlds of Moffat while maintaining that strong tie to the imagination of youth that has always been a core value of the Doctor.
Gushing for Smith, Moffat and Gaiman aside, there is some one else in this episode who I want to shine a special light one. The disembodied voice of the planet known as House is played by non other than Micheal Sheen. Yes the guy who can’t stop playing Tony Blair himself lends his vocals to a role that must have been difficult to fathom. Usually faceless, formless voices fail to connect from an audience perspective, they lack a certain gravitas that draws the audience in. Which all makes sense when an actor is only aloud to fall back on h is voice and nothing else. Well, one of the biggest surprises of the episode was how well House’s voice was pulled off.
I give a ton of credit to Sheen first and foremost, he is clearly doing a voice that is heavily modified. But even through all the masking, he is able to convey such a sense of smug superiority that just works. He was so convincing in the role I didn’t even recognize him at all during my first watch. Having that extra layer of ability placed on top of an already superbly crafted episode is the perfect icing on the cake.
“The Doctor’s Wife” is destined to be one of the best episodes of the NuWho era, and honestly it probably is among the very finest stories that the show has ever produced. The perfect blend of everything anyone could ever want to see in a Doctor Who story.