'Doctor Who' review: 'The Doctor's Wife'
Published May 15 2011, 04:00 BST | By Morgan Jeffery
It's unusual for a Doctor Who
episode, save perhaps each run's premiere and finale, to garner as much anticipation as 'The Doctor's Wife'. Even putting aside the episode's provocative title, this instalment marks legendary fantasy author Neil Gaiman's first contribution to the Who
universe, and expectations were absurdly high. Does it live up to the hype? No, and it's arguable that it never could. Nonetheless, this is a very good episode of Doctor Who
An intriguing and action-packed pre-titles sequence introduces us to a strange family on a junkyard planet - Idris, Auntie, Uncle and Nephew. First impressions of Idris are not exactly stellar - her early eccentric behaviour tends to grate rather than amuse, and, while it's undoubtedly a difficult role to play, the performance of guest star Suranne Jones veers slightly too far towards cartoonish caricature in these initial scenes. After an initial flurry of action though, the episode calms down - as does Idris and, as a result, Jones's performance. From her caged conversation with The Doctor onwards, Idris becomes a far more likeable presence, and Jones seems far more comfortable with this more restrained, sensitive take on the character.
The relationship between The Doctor and Idris is ultimately at the core of the episode, but Jones's fellow guest stars Elizabeth Berrington and Adrian Schiller also acquit themselves well. Schiller is particularly memorable as the bizarre Uncle, a character as creepy as he is hilarious. The last-minute addition of the Ood
perhaps inevitably leaves the creature with little to do, but the sequence in which The Doctor repairs the alien's translator globe and picks up distress calls from a legion of lost Time Lords is terrifically atmospheric.
Though the promise of a Time Lord reveal never comes to pass, the ruse does reveal a new facet to The Doctor's character, as he admits his desire to be forgiven for his actions in the Time War. Indeed, this episode showcases a number of new sides to the show's central character, as he tricks his companions and sneers with fury at Auntie and Uncle. What with this and his more sinister moments in 'The Impossible Astronaut', Matt Smith
's take on our Time Lord hero is developing into a pleasingly complex, truly unpredictable character.
Just as 'The Doctor's Wife' reveals new aspects of The Doctor's personality, so it reinvents one of the key symbols of the series - the Tardis. The decision to deposit the soul of the space-time craft into a human body is bold, audacious and risky, but Neil Gaiman pulls it off. Idris's struggle with the passage of time is a well-played conceit, and it's clear that Gaiman has used his labyrinthine mind to full effect to expertly structure an episode that plays entertainingly with the notion of cause and effect.
As a slight criticism, it's regrettable that series regulars Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill are somewhat sidelined this week, due to the prominence given to The Doctor/Idris dynamic. The scenes in which the pair become trapped in the Tardis, at the mercy of the all-powerful House, are certainly exciting and atmospheric, but, as hard as director Richard Clark might try, it's difficult to disguise the fact that they're running down the same corridor set again and again, in classic Doctor Who
style. This elongated sequence is saved though by Gillan and Darvill's dependably excellent performances. Rory's transformation into a decrepit old man and subsequently a shrivelled corpse (yep, again!) is superbly atmospheric and powerfully played by both actors.
The means of defeating the seemingly-invulnerable House (an unrecognisable Michael Sheen) is also slightly disappointing, as the death of Idris's human body leads to a literal deus ex machina
resolution. But it's debatable whether it really matters, since this episode's strength is very much character rather than plot. On this level, it succeeds, and both Matt Smith and Suranne Jones are absolutely fantastic in the final scenes. The final shot, with The Doctor delightedly dancing around his ship's console, is utterly heart-warming, and reminds you of everything you loved about Doctor Who
in the first place.
It's truly remarkable that almost 50 years after Doctor Who
began, way back in another junkyard, we can still learn new things about the central character and his origins. It's equally amazing that an episode such as this can take something as iconic as the Tardis and make it feel fresh and new again. In conclusion, 'The Doctor's Wife' isn't perfect, but you'd be hard-pressed to fault its ambition.