Sunday 15 May 2011

The Doctor's Wife

Before reading my review, I recommend reading a great review on The Daily POP. It makes some excellent points about the faults of this story.

I have not read a huge amount by Neil Gaiman. He strikes me as the sort of writer who is just a bit too cool for his own good. He is certainly a very popular writer and this story has been massively overhyped. The Doctor's Wife is certainly better than the boring and tedious two-part story that opened the season and the half-hearted pirate romp last week, but that is not saying an awful lot.

Unsurprisingly, given the similar titles, The Doctor's Wife shares some of the main faults of The Doctor's Daughter. Both stories give us a relation of the Doctor who is not really any such thing. The idea of the TARDIS being the Doctor's wife is admittedly more interesting than an artificially created daughter, but the execution is not much better. Both Jenny and Idris turn out to be likable, but generally uninteresting characters. Both stories had the potential to radically shake-up the format of the show to make it more interesting. Imagine how fantastic it would have been for the fourth BBC Wales season to have gone back to the format of the first season, with the TARDIS being a family again, with the Doctor being a kind and protective father as he was to Susan and Donna taking on a motherly role, as Barbara had so beautifully done. It would have made the fourth season so much stronger. Likewise, having the TARDIS taking on a permanently humanoid form would have been a really interesting development in the show. Of course, watching both stories you are absolutely certain that the producer is not going to be bold enough to do those things (and if a new permanent character was going to be introduced, you would probably have already heard about it). Hence, watching The Doctor's Daughter you know that Jenny will be killed off at the end and watching The Doctor's Wife, you know that Idris is doomed. Both stories feel like Star Trek episodes where everything is returned to normal at the end.

Neil Gaiman tries to do far much in this story. He wants to deal with the Doctor's relationship with the Time Lords, he wants to bring back an old monster, he wants to explore the TARDIS, he wants to examine the Doctor's relationship with his ship, he wants to introduce the kind of freaky gothic characters that inhabit all his stories, he wants to bring in lots of continuity references (the snake tattoo is a subtle one), he wants to revisit Edge of Destruction and, like every other current Doctor Who writer, he wants to kill Rory. The episode suffocates under the weight of all that Gaiman is attempting to squeeze into it.

The plot of the story is incredibly predictable once the main elements have been revealed. You know that the House will chase Amy and Rory around the TARDIS corridors, you know the Doctor and Idris will get to the TARDIS with their ramshackle model and you know that Idris will defeat the House by returning to her original form (thus sealing her death warrant).

One thing that really annoys me about this story is the fast pace at which the dialogue is delivered, a problem I seem to have had with every story in this season and the last. There are probably some great lines, but I just can't catch them all as the cast speak so quickly. Remember the Kangs in Paradise Towers? They spoke so precisely and with such clarity that they were not really believable, but at least you could follow what they were saying and appreciate the cleverness of their lines.

I am not altogether convinced by Suranne Jones' performance as Idris. I have seen much more impressive madwomen in films and television. The flirting and bickering between the Doctor and his 'wife' is dreadfully unsubtle and not terribly believable. As is pointed out in The Daily POP review, it is not all clear that if the TARDIS did have a human personality, she would be at all like the flighty, manic and flirtatious Idris. One suspects she would much more like the human TARDIS that we got in the BBC books, the austere and cold redhead, Compassion. It was a great idea of the BBC books to create a humanoid TARDIS, but just like Moffat, the writers did not know what to do with her.

It was nice to finally see a little more of the TARDIS, but it must be said that what we got was very disappointing- just some very boring corridors. It looked to the uniform functionality of Castrovalva, rather than the mad array of peculiar and surreal rooms in The Invasion of Time.

This is yet another disappointing installment in the new series and yet more evidence that the writers and producer are unable to address the tired and stale format of current Doctor Who.


  1. You could always have tried reviewing this episode not from the position of someone who knew a lot about Gaiman. Too much of this review seems obsessed not with the writing but with who the writer is.

    90% of the audience won't have the vaguest idea who Gaiman is. And I think that is a telling point about your comment that this was massively overhyped. It actually wasn't that hyped at all in most media so I can only assume that it was being hyped in the sort of places which deal with Gaiman's usual genre. And, popular as he may be among people who like that sort of thing, that's a rather obscure genre.

  2. Thanks for the feedback. However, I find that comment a bit odd. I did say I had only read a few works by Gaiman. I am certainly not somebody who knows a lot about him.

    Notice I have not compared The Doctor's Wife with any other Gaiman work. The fact that I mentioned the writer's name a few times hardly means I am obsessed with who he is. I might just as easily have written 'The writer tries to do far too much in this story.'

  3. Thanks for the referrals. I'm glad that we finally agreed on a new series episode. Too bad it was a negative, maybe next time it'll be a good story. Well, we can hope.

    I don't really see the POV of the other poster Steve H as you don't really approach the Doctor's Wife relying on Gaiman's reputation. That said, Gaiman being the writer of this one was one of the biggest pulls for anyone plugged into the comic book or general science fiction world. Additionally, Gaiman's authorship of the Doctor's Wife was HEAVILY over-hyped in Doctor Who media and most press articles refer to it as being more anticipated than a series finale.

    And for all that promotion, it was a shoddily constructed slapdash of plots and characters running around screaming.