By following a Time Lord distress signal, the Doctor puts Amy, Rory and his beloved TARDIS in grave danger.
At the very least, this is the episode that taught me and, I’m sure, a lot of other fans what the smell of dust after rain is called – petrichor. It’s a lovely episode for early on in the series and feels like it has high stakes.
Neil Gaiman’s script is a love letter to the TARDIS, a key part of the Doctor’s story going all the way back to the very beginning, but the focus of very few televised stories. Gaiman’s literary CV speaks for itself, so it’s perhaps surprising that he hadn’t been approached to write for the show before. Perhaps his style matches up best with the Moffat era rather than Russell T Davies, and he certainly fits Smith’s Doctor well, as well as understanding the relationship between the Doctor and his craft more generally. The story feels like a Gaiman story, especially Uncle and Auntie, whose patchwork people feel like they could have walked out of a story like Coraline. Gaiman is a skilled writer and a fan, and manages to capture what makes the relationship between the Doctor and his vessel so special, and understands the series’ humour. He mixes tones from the fairytale to the horror of the scenes in the House controlled TARDIS corridors, whilst dealing with the more fantasy elements on the junkyard planets. Director Richard Clark does really well balancing these two tones, and Murray Gold’s score really ties it all together nicely. It’s also commendable that the inclusion of the Blue Peter TARDIS console doesn’t break the episode – it is perhaps something that isn’t so essential to the story as the Abzorbaloff in Love & Monsters – and feels like something that feels organically natural to the Doctor Who universe.
His story sends Amy and Rory barrelling into the depths of this version of the TARDIS, which feels much more cohesive than previous attempts to show more of the TARDIS than just the console room. The show since the revival had avoided showing much beyond the central room, but sequences of the Fourth Doctor strolling through warehouses and wine cellars in The Invasion of Time or the Eye of Harmony chamber in The TV Movie feel like they’ve not even tried to make it feel like the Doctor is still in the TARDIS. Whilst the companions mainly run around the corridors, this makes the TARDIS feel claustrophobic as the villainous House weaponises it against them, playing with the gravity and playing psychological tricks on the companions. Perhaps the biggest slight against the story is the fact that it possibly led to the production of Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS, probably one of the weaker stories of the Smith era, but to blame The Doctor’s Wife for this would be extremely uncharitable.
Fear me, I’ve killed hundreds of Time Lords.
Fear me…I’ve killed all of them.House and the Eleventh Doctor
The revived series has also gone to extents to convince the audience that the TARDIS is a place of safety and impenetrable. The Ninth Doctor reassures Rose that the “assembled hordes of Genghis Khan couldn’t get through those doors” in Rose, whilst the Twelfth Doctor tells Bill that she’ll be “safe in here and (she) always will be.” Whilst The Sound of Drums/Last of the Time Lords corrupts the TARDIS into a paradox engine, in the majority of the Doctor’s adventures, it is a place of sanctuary. So it is testament to the power of House that he is able to suck the heart out of the machine, as he has done to countless of the Doctor’s predecessors. He is brought to life by Michael Sheen in a menacing vocal performance, which more than makes up for the fact that we never actually see what House is. Sheen’s voice is so heavily altered that it must be We are told that he is like a sea urchin, but we never actually get an explanation for what he actually is. The production team evoke his presence really simply and effectively by the use of the green light, especially effective when we see the TARDIS’s shell enveloped in green smoke, the warm white light that spills out of its windows turn green, or Nephew’s eyes. Speaking of the Ood, that moment where Amy reaches out her hand for Rory only to find Nephew’s tentacles is one that always sticks with me.
And of course, it would be remiss of me to talk about the fact that the show humanises the TARDIS without mentioning Suranne Jones, who plays Idris. It is not necessarily the easiest role to have to play, and the dialogue she is given is all over the place as the script plays around with how the TARDIS’ relationship with time would affect someone trying to articulate it, but Jones does it really well. Jones makes that final scene in the console room with Smith feel natural and
You gave me hope, and then you took it away. That’s enough to make anyone dangerous. God knows what it will do to me.The Eleventh Doctor
This is possibly the quintessential Matt Smith story and he plays the role to perfection. Smith manages to capture that glee at receiving a message from what he believes is a surviving Time Lord, his friend, the Corsair, then believing that there are actually more Time Lords on the planet he has come to is so superbly played that the fall is devastating. Evoking the return of Time Lords is something that the revived show hasn’t really played with very much, with the exception of the Master, and it feels like it’s perfectly placed. This incarnation of the Doctor is one who can start to move on from the traumas of the Time War – as Moffat would later label him ‘the one who forgets’ in The Day of the Doctor – so bringing him back to this is an interesting thing to do with this incarnation. Smith’s Doctor almost gets blinded by his rage that he feels as though he is lost, and it is only Idris who is able to bring him to his senses. Equally, the Doctor’s joy at being able to speak to his TARDIS, his oldest friend, is short-lived as Idris’s body cannot sustain having the power of the matrix inside her. I do like that last moment, where the ship seemingly flies itself, as Gaiman says, clearly not going to the Eye of Orion. I love the way that Smith plays with his sonic screwdriver whilst he’s on the phone to Amy and Rory, who he has sent back to the TARDIS for their own safety.
This is an interesting episode for the companions, who spend a lot of time separate from the Doctor, especially for Amy. Amy has spent a significant time with this Doctor, so recognises that when he gets emotional, he’s setting himself up for a fall and so tries to leave Rory with him to stop him from doing anything he’d regret. Karen Gillan is really great in this role, and this episode puts her through her paces as she is confronted with the possibility that she has left Rory to wait for her again for 2,000 years. It’s interesting to see that Amy’s wedding day is the image that her brain conjures up of delight, after having a series of her running away and trying to woo the Doctor. Amy realises that the Doctor needs to be left alone with the TARDIS when he carries out the repairs at the end of the episode, ultimately stating the truth of the show since the beginning.
Look at you pair. It’s always you and her, isn’t it, long after the rest of us have gone. A boy and his box, off to see the universe.Amy Pond
Week by week, Arthur Darvill gets stronger and stronger in his role as Rory. He is often the butt of jokes, but here he gets something more to do. He is the one who really stands up to House and tries to help Amy get through this. I really enjoy the scene where Idris manages to telepathically communicate with him to get into the old console room and both his and Smith’s reactions to Rory being labelled the pretty one. Additionally, his exasperated reaction when told that the makeshift TARDIS is going to break through is great.
Verdict: The Doctor’s Wife brings the Doctor’s oldest and most faithful companion to life in way that the show had never really done before. Gaiman’s debut script for the show is a home run, helped by strong central performances by Smith and Suranne Jones. 10/10
Cast: Matt Smith (The Doctor), Karen Gillan (Amy Pond), Arthur Darvill (Rory Williams), Suranne Jones (Idris), Michael Sheen (House), Paul Kasey (Nephew), Adrian Schiller (Uncle) & Elizabeth Berrington (Auntie).
Writer: Neil Gaiman
Director: Richard Clark
Producer: Sanne Wohlenberg
Original Broadcast Date: 14 May 2011
Behind the Scenes
- Working titles for this story included Bigger on the Inside and The House of Nothing.
- This story was originally intended to be Episode 11 of Series 5, however, due to budgetary limitations, it was held over to Series 6. Originally, it did not feature Rory, and Amy would have found her engagement ring when re-entering the TARDIS to look for the sonic screwdriver.
- Neil Gaiman’s involvement in the show had been speculated about for a long time before this episode’s involvement, with rumours swirling about it since the announcement that Steven Moffat was taking over as showrunner in 2008. Gaiman was given more freedom than usual guest writers due to his reputation, but not complete creative control.
- It is a notable story for numerous reasons, including, most importantly, being the first episode to see the TARDIS in human form, allowing the Doctor and his ship to communicate directly. It is also the first episode of the revived series to show the TARDIS corridors.
- The story is also notable for reintroducing the concept that Time Lords could change gender. This had been done before, in the Comic Relief parody The Curse of Fatal Death and in the Big Finish Unbound story, Exile both featuring female versions of the Doctor, played by Joanna Lumley and Arabella Weir respectively. In Series 8, the Master would regenerate into a female form, portrayed by Michelle Gomez, and at the end of Twice Upon a Time, Peter Capaldi would regenerate into Jodie Whitaker, the first female Doctor.
- This is the first story since Horror of Fang Rock where every member of the guest cast dies.
- The junk TARDIS console was designed by a Blue Peter competition winner. Susannah Leah won the 2009 competition, and was able to visit the BBC Art Department and location filming.
- This episode won the 2012 Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form.
- This is the first episode to credit the creator of a revived series creature, in this case, the Ood, to its creator, Russell T Davies.
- This story marks the first time that the Doctor is seen on screen piloting a TARDIS other than his own since Shada.
- House was originally intended to be the Great Intelligence, a prelude to him featuring in Series 7, however, the rights could not be secured in time for this episode.
- Neil Gaiman had wanted to use a classic-era console room, however, due to the costs of building this a set could not be rebuilt. The previous TARDIS set, as used by Christopher Eccleston and David Tennant’s Doctors, was left standing to be used in this episode.
- Adrian Schiller has appeared in the Big Finish audio plays Fright Motif and Time Works.
The scenes of the Doctor and Idris rebuilding the TARDIS in the junkyard are wonderful.
You’re like a nine-year-old trying to rebuild a motorbike in his bedroom. And you never read the instructions.
I always read the instructions!
There’s a sign on my front door. You have been walking past it for seven hundred years. What does it say?
That’s not instructions!
There’s an instruction at the bottom. What does it say?
“Pull to open”.
Yes, and what do you do?
I push!Idris and the Eleventh Doctor
I was already a museum piece when you were young, and the first time you touched my console, you said-
I said you were the most beautiful thing I had ever known.
Then you stole me. And I stole you.
I borrowed you.
Borrowing implies the eventual intention to return the thing that was taken. What makes you think I would ever give you back?Idris and the Eleventh Doctor
Previous Eleventh Doctor review: The Curse of the Black Spot