Doctor Who: The Doctor’s Wife
(1 episode, s06e04, 2011)
“Where’s my thief!?”
A woman named Idris is led to a platform by “Auntie”, “Uncle”, and “Nephew”, the last of which is an Ood who drains her mind in preparation for a Time Lord’s arrival.
On the TARDIS, the Doctor, Amy, and Rory are surprised by a knock on the door. Even though they are in deep space, the shave-and-a-haircut routine reveals an emergency hypercube message for the Doctor, presumably sent by another Time Lord named the Corsair. They follow the signal contained within, dumping excess TARDIS rooms for fuel, and break through to another universe.
Almost immediately, the TARDIS goes dark. The matrix – the heart and soul of the TARDIS – has vanished. While the Doctor puzzles over where it would go, Idris awakens with an exhale of golden regeneration energy.
The travelers exit the TARDIS into a junkyard. Luckily, there’s plenty of rift energy so refueling should be easy. On the other hand, the Doctor is accosted by Idris, who presents as an insane woman calling the Time Lord her “thief”. After taking care of Idris, the Doctor turns his attention to the green-eyed Ood. After fixing the Ood’s sphere, it broadcasts a series of interwoven distress messages from various Time Lords. As Auntie and Uncle take Idris back to the House, the Doctor expresses his intrigue at the possible presence of his own people.
In the House, the asteroid is revealed to be sentient. The asteroid tells the Doctor that many TARDISes and Time Lords have come and gone, but there are no others now. The travelers explore a bit. Amy points out that the Doctor is seeking forgiveness from his people. The Doctor sends the companions back to the TARDIS in search of his sonic screwdriver. Once they arrive, the doors lock as a green mist swirls about the phone box. Meanwhile, the Doctor had his sonic the entire time. Cheeky devil.
The Doctor discovers a collection of Time Lord distress signal cubes. He realizes that Auntie and Uncle have been mended over time by the asteroid with parts of the various Time Lords, including the ouroboros-tattooed arm of the Corsair.
Knowing that Idris foretold the Doctor’s discovery, he confronts her. There he finds out that she holds the matrix. She is the personification of the TARDIS. The Doctor releases her and together they determine that House feeds on TARDISes, which it can only do if it removes the matrices first. The Doctor tries to retrieve Amy and Rory from the TARDIS, but the phone box dematerializes with the chiming of the Cloister Bell and heads back to N-Space. Unfortunately for the companions, the House has hijacked the TARDIS.
In the junkyard, Uncle and Auntie collapse as they lose their source of life. Idris herself only has a short time to live but encourages the Doctor to explore the TARDIS junkyard for a way home. When the Doctor asks what he should call her, Idris tells him (much to his chagrin) that he named her “Sexy”.
House asks why he shouldn’t just kill the humans. Rory stalls for time by suggesting that they could provide entertainment. House agrees, prompting them to run for their lives through the corridors in a series of nightmare scenarios.
As the Doctor assembles a TARDIS from spare parts, he and Idris argue. The discussion ranges from how police box doors open outward (“Pull to Open”, which actually refers to the phone compartment), how the TARDIS always takes the Doctor where he needs to go, the Time Lord’s fascination with “strays”, and how the TARDIS wanted to travel so she stole the Doctor to take her on an adventure.
With a kiss to the time rotor, the patchwork TARDIS console room dematerializes and gives chase. Idris sends “the pretty one” a set of telepathic directions to one of her old console rooms. Rory leads Amy to the archived desktop of the Ninth and Tenth Doctor’s console room. There they lower the TARDIS’s shields but are pursued by Nephew. Just in time, the patchwork console materializes in the archived console room and vaporizes the Ood, marking another one that the Doctor failed to save.
After introductions are made, Idris collapses and House muses about ways to kill the Doctor and his companions. The Doctor gives House instructions on how to get the TARDIS back to N-Space, but when House starts deleting rooms for the journey, it inadvertently invokes a failsafe that protects living things from being deleted with the rooms. As the travelers materialize in the real console room, House suggests that they should fear him since he’s killed Time Lords before and won’t hesitate to do it again.
The Doctor replies that House should fear him. He’s killed all of them.
The Doctor stalls for time as he points out the concept of trapping the matrix in a human body. The goal was to get the matrix as far as possible from the console room, but House has brought the matrix home. With her last breath, Idris releases the matrix. It swirls about and reintegrates with the TARDIS, overriding and consuming House.
As a last gift, the TARDIS speaks through Idris. She remembers the word that she’s been searching for – “alive” – and tells him the one thing she’s never been able to say: “Hello, Doctor. It’s so very very nice to meet you.” In a bright flash of light, Idris disappears, offering her final words of “I love you” to her companion.
Some time later, the Doctor installs a firewall around the matrix. Rory tells him that Idris’s final words to him were, “The only water in the forest is the river,” which she believed that they needed to know for the future. Amy and Rory ask for a new bedroom – preferably one with a double bed instead of bunk beds – since theirs was deleted. He tells them how to get there, then spends some time with the TARDIS console. He asks the ship where she wants to go, even if it’s the Eye of Orion for a little rest and relaxation.
The levers flip on their own accord. The TARDIS sets a course. Adventure awaits.
What a beautiful ride.
When I first saw this episode back in 2011, I was confused by it. The fast pace coupled with rapid-fire references lost me. This time around, however, I relished the experience. The story is well-written and plays off of each of the main characters so nicely, from the Doctor’s desire to be forgiven for his actions in the Last Great Time War to Amy and Rory’s love. The latter of which was actually sold quite well here despite my skepticism of it last season.
The core of this story is the Doctor’s relationship to the TARDIS, which is played beautifully by giving a voice to a consciousness that exists simultaneously across all time and space. The relationship is pretty much that of a married couple, and the TARDIS’s finally expressed love for her companion is one born of their mutual adventures. I love that the TARDIS has archived past console rooms – which presumably means that a blank room is simply formatted with the “desktop” file from previous iterations – and that the TARDIS already knows what rooms are coming up next.
Amusingly, Neil Gaiman has requested that the archive scene feature a classic-era console room, but the budget wasn’t available for that. So, the production team left the coral console room standing for this story. This episode was supposed to air during Series Five but was pushed to this point in time so there was quite a long production lead for it.
The Doctor’s TARDIS also is pretty explicit about the nature of other time capsules. The Time Lords have previously treated them as nothing more than machines or vehicles, but Idris refers to her dead siblings as sisters. That matches well with nautical traditions of referring to all ships as female, but also gives us insight into the culture of the TARDISes overall.
This story featured the Doctor piloting a TARDIS other than his own for the first time on screen – at this point in time, Shada had not yet been completed – and that patchwork ship was the creation of 12-year-old Susannah Leah for a Blue Peter contest, complete with safety straps on the console (hello, Timelash!). The Doctor previously traveled with only the TARDIS console in Inferno. This story was also the first one since Horror of Fang Rock to kill every character except the Doctor and the companions.
Neil Gaiman reached way back for some of the elements here. We first (and last) saw the hypercube in The War Games, last saw the TARDIS’s telepathic circuits used to mess with the companions in The Edge of Destruction, and found the Doctor rebuilding the TARDIS in both The Claws of Axos and The Horns of Nimon. Lest we forget the concept of jettisoning rooms on the TARDIS, which we’ve seen on at least three occasions (Logopolis, Castrovalva, and Paradise Towers), or the idea of tricking the villain into fixing the TARDIS (ala Frontios).
It’s obvious that he’s a fan of the show and has done his homework.
He also deliberately provided the first confirmation in the franchise mythology that Time Lords can change gender during regeneration. I covered many of the reasons why this was a brilliant and easily defensible concept when Jodie Whittaker was announced as the Thirteenth Doctor, and I still stand by it. Gaiman’s choice of the ouroboros – the snake eating its own tail, a symbol for eternity – for the Corsair’s personal emblem was a great representation of both Time Lord culture and the nature of Doctor Who.
This story is just amazing as a franchise game-changer and ode to the show’s history. To call it fantastic is an understatement, but it’s the highest choice I have.
Rating: 5/5 – “Fantastic!”
The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.