A telepathic distress call-in-a-box – a technology used only by the Time Lords – tracks down the Doctor’s TARDIS in deep space. Eager to find out if the sender of the distress call is still alive, the Doctor follows the call to its point of origin: an asteroid that exists outside the boundaries of the universe in its own “bubble universe”. But upon making the trip, the TARDIS’ energy – and, according to the Doctor, its soul – is drained, leaving the ship immobile. A very strange couple of humanoids, with a green-eyed Ood servant they refer to as “Nephew”, occupy the living asteroid, while a woman named Idris exhibits wildly unusual behavior near the Doctor. The Doctor sends Amy and Rory back to the TARDIS for their own safety, and soon enough discovers that he’s walked into a trap: the couple inhabiting the asteroid have several Time Lord distress call boxes stowed away, which they’ve used to lure many Gallifreyans to their deaths. The Doctor also finds that Idris’ body is inhabited by another life form: his own TARDIS. The mind of the living asteroid is taking her place as the controlling force in his TARDIS, while the timeship’s actual living essence is trapped in a human body never meant to hold it. Now his companions are trapped in the TARDIS with a malevolent entity, and time is running out to return the TARDIS’ own energy to it.
written by Neil Gaiman
directed by Richard Clark
music by Murray Gold
Guest Cast: Suranne Jones (Idris), Michael Sheen (voice of House), Paul Kasey (Nephew), Adrian Schiller (Uncle), Elizabeth Berrington (Auntie)
Notes: The Time Lord telepathic distress call boxes haven’t been seen since the Doctor himself summoned the Time Lords with one in 1969’s The War Games. This is the first new series episode to show areas of the TARDIS other than the console room or the wardrobe glimpsed in The Christmas Invasion. The “junk TARDIS” console, like the Abzorbaloff before it, was designed by a young Blue Peter competition winner. The Doctor’s Wife was a title that the late producer John Nathan-Turner kept poster on a bulletin board in the Doctor Who production office in the 1980s, credited to writer Robert Holmes. There was never any such story in the planning: it was a ploy to try to discover the identity of a mole in the production office who was leaking advance information to fanzines. The Doctor’s Wife won the Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form, Hugo Award in 2012, beating out two other episodes from this season (The Girl Who Waited and A Good Man Goes To War).
LogBook entry & review by Earl Green
Review: A stand-alone episode we’ve been waiting for since it was delayed from the first Matt Smith season, The Doctor’s Wife proves to have been worth the wait. Not only is it a fun romp with a slightly obvious plot twist, but it calls the very origins of the series into question. Not bad for 40-odd minutes of TV.
The obvious plot twist is that the Doctor’s “wife” is the soul of the TARDIS itself. This writing has been on the wall for decades, ever since the show established that the TARDIS is a living thing with a symbiotic link to its pilot, but with the possible exception of the Big Finish audio story Zagreus, which gave the TARDIS its own voice (namely, the voice of the late Nicholas Courtney), the TARDIS has never gotten a chance to speak before. You’d think she’d have a little bit more to say about the abuse she’s had to put up with over the years. Suranne Jones, who appeared in The Sarah Jane Adventures as a living Mona Lisa a couple of seasons back, makes the disheveled Idris an endearingly strange character – like Canton Delaware, there’s “potential companion” written all over her, though she’s best as a one-off. Giving the TARDIS a voice full-time would rob the Doctor’s timeship of its mystery and would turn it into a steampunk KITT.
But Gaiman doesn’t waste the TARDIS’ precious few minutes with a voice with small talk. We learn that, where we previously accepted the explanation that the first Doctor, bored with Gallifrey, stole his TARDIS and left, the reverse may also have been true: the TARDIS was also bored, and needed a Time Lord “mad enough” to take it to see the universe. Little plot developments that retroactively rewrite the DNA of the show’s early years without breaking everything that we know are nifty additions to the mythos, and very difficult to pull off without rewriting the show’s backstory in huge broad strokes. Add to that the first TARDIS other than the Doctor’s that we’ve seen on TV since 1986, complete with its console and walls that hearken back to the original series, and there’s a lot for long-term fans to love in this episode.
The mythology of the current series doesn’t go unaddressed either, with Amy and Rory enduring a nightmarish escape into the bowels of the TARDIS (something else we haven’t seen since, at the very least, the 1996 movie, on whose 15th anniversary this episode was broadcast), and a reminder for the audience’s benefit that the Doctor still hasn’t learned of the fatal future seen in The Impossible Astronaut. It was interesting to see Rory agonizing over the apparent death of Idris – it’s nice to have some character development going on with Rory that doesn’t have anything to do with Amy.
Even though it’s just one episode with no major connecting tissue to this season’s story arc, The Doctor’s Wife is an instant favorite – an episode that left me with the feeling that I’d just seen something magical in the Doctor’s ongoing story. (Funny, I had the same feeling about Neil Gaiman’s solitary episode of Babylon 5.) Gaiman says he has no immediate plans to write another episode of Doctor Who (he’s likely to be very busy in the near future, since HBO’s success with its adaptation of George R.R. Martin’s “A Game Of Thrones” has encouraged the cable network to give a green light to a TV version of Gaiman’s novel “American Gods”)… but I hope he isn’t completely writing off a return to the Doctor’s world at any point down the road.