Written by Neil Gaiman
Directed by Richard Clark
After receiving a Time Lord distress call, The Doctor and his assistants travel to a pocket universe on a rescue mission.
I liked it.
Okay, I acknowledge that I need more. Evaluating this story on its merits rather than its hype is, I think, the only fair thing to do. Twenty years from now, when Doctor Who is no longer on our screens (Pessimistic? Perhaps), the only way to experience this episode will be via whatever digital format we will have, and the hype will no longer be a factor. So, ignoring the hype and the somewhat easily decoded identity of Idris*, how does the episode work, especially in the larger context of Who? I think it works quite well. It expands a bit on the basic origin of The Doctor, but doesn’t really reveal too much, primarily operating to confirm a fan theory, or at least, a theory that I have had for some time, namely, perhaps The Doctor doesn’t so much control the TARDIS as the TARDIS controls him. The implications are rather interesting, a creature that exists at all points in time and space that guides a mortal that, while being mysterious and knowledgeable in his own right, is still finite (depending on which lifespan of the Time Lords you accept in your personal fan-cannon). And, as Gaiman says in an interview where he describes scenes that were cut, this same creature leads The Doctor to situations so that he and the companions can put things to rights. On some level, the TARDIS is somewhat more God-like than The Time Lord ever was. How well they must have worked together in the McCoy era.
But like her stolen Time Lord before her, she has become human. The Doctor’s Wife is to The TARDIS what Human Nature was to The Doctor, only in her case, she doesn’t forget who she was, she merely has to learn to operate as a new entity. Which leads to a sensory overload as she attempts to cope. But cope she does and she quickly learns why The Doctor picks up his “strays”. Humans are bigger on the inside. They remind him of The TARDIS . . . so much potential.
This is what Neil Gaiman does when he plays in other peoples’ universes. Like Alan Moore before him and Grant Morrison (one of my favorites) after, Gaiman takes established characters and mythologies and mines their back catalogues for interesting concepts or ideas, while staying faithful to the current incarnation of what he is writing. He can bring a new way of looking at an old thing. Whether the character of Matthew in Sandman or the Batman mythology in Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader, Neil Gaiman is often able to distill a mythology to its essence and write it in such a way as to be at once faithful and fresh. Often with large amounts of fairy tale added in.
Ah, fairytale again. Who better to write in Moffat’s pseudo-fairy tale era than Neil Gaiman. With stories that have distinct fairy tale qualities (Stardust, Sandman: Dream Hunters), Gaiman has proven he can write quite comfortably in the genre. In truth, he can evoke a fairy tale feel better than Steven Moffat (he understands the Rule of Three).
I found the episode quite touching, much like Time Crash, exuding a love of Doctor Who but with more substance. The Doctor and The TARDIS have, in some way, consummated their partnership, and make no mistake, it is now a partnership. Even some of my quibbles about why The Doctor would prolong looking for the mysterious girl from Day of the Moon is now answered, in part, because The TARDIS knows the proper time for that confrontation. Other adventures are more immediate.
And as a final word, I have to share that my wife really enjoyed Matt Smith in this episode. While she has enjoyed his performance off and on, this was the first time where he felt like The Doctor for the entirety of the episode for her. And I would have to agree.
*A play on the word TARDIS. Surely I’m not the only one who wondered. It was much more fun to speculate Romana or The War Chief, but keeping with New Who building major revelations on its own mythology, the “old friend with a new face” could only be The TARDIS, unless you count The Master as a friend, or believe that Donna can now regenerate. And would the return of Donna really be that satisfying? After what they did to her?