For a spoiler free review from Mr Moon, go here!
But now, run for the corridors! The spoilers are free!
Well, I couldn't just let such a lovely episode pass by and not remark in detail on its merits could I now?
To begin with in the opening scenes we have a whole slew of little nods and winks to the Doctor’s past travels. In the run up to this season, hot on the heels of the news that Mr Gaiman’s episode would be appearing, came the titbit that the story would feature something or some one not seen since The War Games.
Now for those of you who don’t know, The War Games was final epic adventure that ended the Second Doctor’s run. And this tale was a real landmark in Who history, as it finally revealed that the Doctor was a Time Lord, met other members of his race, saw their home Gallifrey (though it wasn't named until much later on) and we discovered why he’s been roaming time and space all these years.
Therefore when the title of this episode was revealed and the teasers and trailers told us that it took place in a bubble universe, in conjunction with the afore mentioned titbit everything seemed to be pointing in the direction of meeting some surviving Time Lords. However this wasn't exactly the case and the call back to The War Games turned out to be a hypercube, the method by which the Second Doctor summons the Time Lords to sort of the War Chief’s mess.
Now while some viewers might feel a little disappointed we only found the remains of dead Gallifreyans, it was a nice little swerve. For while the fan genes have always clamoured to see an appearance of Time Lords, even before RTD wiped them out in the returning show’s mythos, when they have manifested in a story, it hasn't always been for the best. For if they are mishandled – which they had been in the past in some stories – you damage the mystique of this powerful ancient race that effectively rules all time.
However while The Doctor’s Wife may not deliver on-screen Time Lords, among the wreckage of the countless TARDISes (TARDII maybe? Yes, we’ll go with that…), we get a lot of hints and odd little details that reveal just enough to fire the imagination but not drag the lore down into mundanity. For example, who exactly was the Corsair – the very name is laden with untold stories! And while his introduction into what we know about the Who universe confirms that Time Lords can indeed regenerate into different gender, fans no doubt will be more intrigued by his tattoo –what does it signify? Is it a Time Lord brand marking his as a criminal, which fandom has suggested the tattoo we see the Third Doctor sporting in Spearhead From Space is?
But as well as the hypercube, this adventure brings back lots of other classic flotsam and jetsam. Of course the reappearance of the Ood and the console room used by the Ninth and Tenth Doctors need not be remarked upon. However more obscurely, the bubble universe sounds very similar to E-Space where the Fourth Doctor adventured for a spell. And the deleting of rooms within the TARDIS to provide an energy boost has been done before too – in Castrovalva where the Fifth Doctor jettisons a quarter of the Ship’s interiors for extra thrust to escape being sucked in the non-time that existed before Event One (or The Big Bang to you and me).
And as well as all these tips of the hat to the show’s long history, there’s a pleasing return of some classic thematic elements. Firstly we have the long running staple of the original series, running down some corridors! And better still, they are corridors in the TARDIS! It’s always fun to get a peek at the Ship’s interior, but like the Time Lords, it’s best if that’s all we get – the TARDIS rooms you can imagine will always be more fun that whatever we see on screen.
Now while I delighted to learn that all the old console rooms are archived within the depths of the TARDIS, I was little disappointed we did get to a version from the classic series (and indeed from my web surfing this morning it would appear that every one who feels the same way would like to see the wood panelled secondary console room from the Fourth Doctor’s era). However we did get a third console in the shape of the lash-up TARDIS the Doctor and Idris cobble together, and this looked not unlike a strange mash up of TARDII desktop themes past. And even more fun is the fact that this improvised console was dreamed up by a child in a Blue Peter competition (details here).
Now what I really love about it is that a young viewer has taken the shape of the classic era console and made it over with the mad bric-a-brac stylings of the current TARDIS. But not only is it a great bit of design but it fits so perfectly with the themes of the episode. And speaking of which…
…We have the junkyard planet – now that’s not a reference to an older adventure per se but junkyards in general are important to Doctor Who lore. Our first meeting with the Time Lord and his TARDIS in An Unearthly Child occurred in a scrap yard on Totter’s Lane owned by one I.M. Foreman. And over the years, the Doctor has been back there several times - twice on screen in Attack of the Cybermen and Remembrance of the Daleks and on a few other occasions on the printed page. And it’s not the first time we've seen a spaceship graveyard too - all that interstellar wreckage reminded me of the wastes of Karn in The Brain of Morbius - and House is not the first villain who lures in spacefarers to stock his larder. It’s a vintage Who set up all round!
And so to then let’s talk a bit about the Doctor/TARDIS romance in this story. While any whiff of the ‘L’ word around the Doctor is seen as heresy for some fans, I thought the relationship portrayed in this episode was spot on. Now I’m not against the Doctor having a relationship per se – after all he is a grand father remember – but in the past I’ve never been quite convinced by what we've seen on screen in the new series.
For example, although I can understand the Doctor would have a lot of affection for Rose, as she seems to connect him back to the world after the traumas of the Time War, I didn't think she have the intelligence and resourcefulness to win a place in his heart next to Sarah Jane or Romana II, the two past companions who it would appear he had relationships that ran deeper than just friendship. And while I enjoy The Girl In The Fireplace, it’s main flaw is that I don’t really buy that the Doctor would seemingly fall for Madame Pompadour as quickly as he does – again I can see why he wants to whisk her away in the TARDIS – she has many of the qualities of Sarah and Romana but the gloss that there was love blossoming there just seemed too much to soon. But as I said, I’m not against the idea in principle. For example, you can see why he’s going to become River Song’s ‘old man’, as she’s obviously his sort of girl!
However what we have in this adventure is a different kettle of fish. For this is a love that is as deep as that we associate with Cupid’s arrows but it’s far more than the usual hearts and flowers. This is the Doctor meeting the human embodiment of his beloved Ship; as his oldest companion, his real home, the TARDIS is part of who he is. Yes, The Doctor’s Wife is a love story of sorts, but it’s not one that trivialises who the Doctor is by giving him a conventional love interest as a gimmick. Rather it’s an exploration of what the TARDIS means to the Doctor, and most deliciously, vice versa.
Now in the various books and short stories produced in the Who cannon, there has long been the idea that as well as being somehow alive and in some fashion intelligent, the TARDIS is also sentient and that they are as much grown as built. Indeed in the Eight Doctor series of novels we have the concept that in the future (well, the future that was to be before the Time War) TARDII would evolve beyond taking the form of inanimate objects and manifest as sentient beings.
Furthermore, fans have evolved a theory that the TARDIS takes the Doctor to specific places rather than just being somewhat erratic in where it lands. An early piece of ‘evidence’ for this is way back in the First Doctor’s time. In The Massacre, the Doctor’s companion back then Steven meets a girl called Anna Chaplet and it would appear she perishes in the titular tragedy. And Steven is most grieved that the Doctor is content to allow history to play out. However as they are arguing the TARDIS lands, apparently randomly, in present day London and a young woman enter, one Dodo Chaplet… Seemingly the TARDIS had sensed Steven’s grief and materialises at exactly the right time for his to meet one of descendants, proving that she survived the massacre.
Now then The Doctor’s Wife confirms both the above theories that have accreted over the years. And it does so in a wonderful fashion – solidly there in the script, yet not the main focus of the story.
The inclusion of all these little nods and winks, not to mention the new hints revealed will certainly play well to all those who love the show. But the story is so well crafted that causal viewers will equally enjoy encountering the conceits the plot is built around for the first time. Mr Gaiman has pulled off the perfect balance of an adventure that will appeal to both those steeped in Who lore and those who can’t recite the titles of Dalek episodes in order. As I said in my spoiler-less review, it is the a love letter to the series, but one that everybody can read.
And much has been made of the fact that this story is a wonderful stand alone adventure, but I do wonder it is as self contain as it first appears. Are the echoes of Totter’s Lane foreshadowing a new beginning for the Doctor? Remember, Moffat has promised us 'a game changing cliff-hanger'…
Also I do suspect we haven’t seen the last of Idris, or rather I can see the TARDIS taking on human form again for a chat, although her dialogue suggests that it might not be to speak with the Doctor...
And to briefly open the TARDIS doors while in the wild vortex of speculation – the Corsair? Piratical sounding handle isn't it. And what do pirates wear? Eye patches… Now we know he changed gender…
...But enough of that! Probably nonsense!