Well. That was certainly a Doctor Who episode written by Neil Gaiman.

It’s not that I particularly find Gaiman a bad writer. He can be quite good at times and is frequently a very funny writer. But I find his stock plots rote and frequently derivative and his fans, like Joss Whedon’s, tend to favor the “omigod” and “awesome” and “win” schools of criticism, and an intense negative reaction to any apostates or heretics offering more nuanced critiques. So my expectations going into this episode were that we would get a moderately clever idea, though possibly a bit fanwanky, good dialogue for the leads, and that the reaction from fans would be far in excess of the episode’s actual merit.

Mostly I think my expectations were met. The banter in this episode, particularly between Idris and the Doctor was frequently hilarious and sparkled with well-observed statements about the Doctor and his relationship to the TARDIS. The performances of Matt Smith and Suranne Jones were excellent in this regard as well, showing that good actors and good dialogue are an absolutely necessary combination for genre material. Though it drifts heavily towards fanwank territory, giving the TARDIS a voice, however briefly, is a nice way to play with the show’s format and history. The notion of the TARDIS thinking of the Doctor as “her thief” and of taking him where he “needs to go” puts a new spin on much of the series back-story while opening up possibilities for future stories. Rory and Amy didn’t fare as well in this episode, but with what little they were given to do, that’s not surprising. This is actually the place where I felt the episode was most lacking, with Amy and Rory running through corridors in what was either a deliberate nod to the original series or an attempt to save on the budget by creating just one set to shoot from multiple angles. And, of course, Rory dying again, in what has become the most tiresome running joke in television history. Most of their story seemed to exist merely to provide some characterization for the antagonist, House, a living asteroid/disembodied voice. And since most of that characterization amounted to comically sinister threats of execution, this left all the Amy and Rory bits somewhat lacking in drama.

Most of my fears of Gaimanisms weren’t met, thankfully, with the exception of the characters of Auntie and Uncle, two patchwork Victorians who could be dropped into virtually any other work Gaiman has written and fit right in. They didn’t feel “right” for this episode somehow. They were a bit too deliberately odd and out of place in a story that was already fundamentally weird given its central premise. And it was, indeed, very fanwanky. Yes, I did like the idea and the characterization of Idris the humanoid TARDIS. And yes, I liked her relationship with the Doctor. But the premise felt like Gaiman’s Who fan-fiction and veered dangerously close to plot-lines from the Eighth Doctor novel line (or, as I like to call them “the books that the guy who read every New Adventures novel couldn’t even get through”), not to mention Gaiman’s own Stardust.

So the end result, in line with the rest of the episodes so far this season, was something that was good but not great. Good characterization for the Doctor, a fan pleasing spin on prior continuity, and a heavy-handed hint at the season meta-arc with Idris’ “the only water in the forest is the river” line. Well, at least it wasn’t the Rani peeking at Amy through a cupboard.

12 Responses to “The Doctor’s Wife”
  1. M.A. Masterson says:

    Thank you for once again writing a review I can link to and say, “No, I really thought more like this…”

  2. Brandon says:

    I’m going to second the first comment. I was beginning to feel odd that I thought this was only a good episode and not the most wonderful one that everyone else seemed to think.

    The one interesting point in the rather bland Amy/Rory sections was what they say about Amy. If you take the old/dead Rory as Amy’s fears, then you really have to assume that she doesn’t think that she deserves him and that eventually she’s going to fail him miserably and he’ll hate her like she feels he should. Which honestly is a nice nod back to her problem behavior last season. On the other hand, maybe this was just House and it means nothing. Wasn’t really clear.

  3. Cap'n Carrot says:

    This entire season has felt very fan-fictiony to me (space mermaids and pirates, the “final” death of The Doctor), this episode in particular. This might have been the best episode of this season so far, but only because the bar was set so low to begin with, and I thought it was, at best, an average Matt Smith episode – nothing more.

  4. Mojo says:

    I really did not like this episode. The entire thing felt like Gaiman pulling on his oldest and most worn trousers. Of course there is a madwoman! Of course! And of course there was nothing for Amy and Rory to do, or any other intriguing new characters. No, just the doctor fanwanking over how awesome the TARDIS is.

    My wife kept glancing at me while we watched the episode with this “Is it really going to be this lame” expression on her face. And as soon as the TARDIS was humanized she blurted out “This just made the TARDIS a thousand times less interesting”–my wife never talks during Dr Who.

    But then again I hated American Gods and think that Gaiman is a very lazy storyteller post-Sandman.

  5. I quite liked it, but, yeah, it was hardly the most earth-shattering episode ever. I’m actually starting to wonder if the “Rory gets killed” thing is really a joke. I read someone somewhere on some recap wonder if the universe isn’t actually out to “get” Rory because by all rights he SHOULD be dead. Still, I actually think Rory and Amy had got to show how good a team they really make. Rory saved them from immediate execution by appealing to House’s sense of “fun”; Amy figured out what the TARDIS was talking about with the code to the old control room.

  6. lankyguy says:

    Great review, you put into words much of what I felt about this episode; it was perfectly adequate but not much more. It was fan wank.

    My favorite bit was finding out that the TARDIS thinks Rory is the pretty one. Thank you TARDIS we agree on that.

  7. merchantfan says:

    I liked the part of the psychic lock and a lot of the lines, though I’d agree the running around part wasn’t the most riveting. No thoughts about the Timelord-eating thing?

  8. Tim O'Neil says:

    I quite liked it for the most part. With the exception of Auntie and Uncle I think most of the Gaimanisms were fairly innocuous. I mean, really, what would be the point of getting Gaiman to write an episode if there weren’t at least some identifiable bits in there for his fans to recognize, like a magic twirling madwoman speaking cutesie riddles? I think of the four new episodes this season three have been very good – I hated the pirate episode with a flaming purple passion.

    I would slightly object to the criticism of this episode on the grounds of fanwankery, however: I think that of all the major nerd franchises, Dr. Who (at least the real TV Dr. Who) has always been the *least* likely to indulge in fanwankery. Given the number of open plot threads and unanswered questions and just plain weird elements that have never been touched on or revisited in the show’s almost 50 year history, I think there is remarkably little in the way of indulgence on the subject of fanbait. Certainly not compared to (deep breath!) Star Trek, Star Wars, any superhero movie franchise in history, Buffy, any long-running anime ever, etc. I actually wish they did more in the way of occasional “fanwank,” just because I’m a fan and I wouldn’t mind having a few long-running mysteries solved, even if only in passing. The fact that I know most open questions will never be resolved on-screen gives Who a flavor that sets it apart from most other pop-culture sci-fi, but because I’m a fan I always enjoy it when, every once in a blue moon, they bend their reticence.

  9. Chris T says:

    I liked it too but I also agree with Mojo’s wife exclamation. I prefer keeping the possible sentience of the TARDIS implied.

  10. I liked it because the story was different, with some sparkling dialogue (e.g. the bunk beds). Perhaps it helps that I’m not familiar with Gaiman’s writing. To my mind, the pirates story from last week exhibits all the boring things about Dr Who — familiar ploting, lazy writing.

    Did you watch the associated Dr Who Confidential episode? A lot of padding, and people being “lovey-lovey” to each other, but some interesting bits. The weakness of the Amy/Rory part may be because the script was originally for the previous series, with no Rory.

    I smiled a lot during the corridor-running section. I thought it was a joke, very similar to the Lenny Henry send-up of years ago. Gaiman and ‘girl who plays Amy’ say something like that during the confidential programme.

  11. broundy says:

    >”like a magic twirling madwoman speaking cutesie riddles?”

    Two people in this thread have identified this as a Gaiman-ism, which leaves me confused. Where has this trope come up before in his work? Because it’s not in Stardust, Graveyard Book, Coraline, American Gods, or Anansi Boys. Maybe you’re counting Mad Hettie in Sandman? If that’s all (it’s the only other example I can think of, but I might be leaving something out), then I don’t think two examples of a similar character 20 years apart should count as a hackneyed device.

  12. Tales to Enrage says:

    Really, I was pleasantly surprised that the episode was not centered on the power of belief, or how stories change reality.

    Because those are the Gaiman tropes that I’m sick to death of.

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