Monday, May 16, 2011

Relation Ship

So The Doctor’s Wife is not actually his wife. No more than The Doctor’s Daughter was actually his daughter. The big difference is that one of those stories was so pedestrian that the TARDIS should have been a zebra crossing instead of a police box, while the other positively bubbles over with joie de vivre. Even more importantly than the vivre, perhaps, The Doctor’s Wife is full of joie de Doctor Who.


Bizarre, creative fantastic, creepy, romantic, dark, colourful, hilarious, tragic, soulful, moving and not a little bit mental.

There’s one other show this would have fit very comfortably and that would have been Farscape. I can just picture Crichton, Aeryn and Dargo having to deal with the situation of Moya’s essence transferred to a humanoid body while a sentient, ship-devouring planet seeks to take possession of the vessel. (And while Rygel ferrets through the space junkyard for anything of value.) Complete with madcap patchwork characters like Auntie and Uncle and you can safely bet that alien Nephew would have looked just as odd as an Ood. Then again, I used to say that Farscape offered good pointers on how to approach modern Who. Small wonder I enjoyed the story, in that case, but let’s assume that Neil Gaiman isn’t even aware of Farscape. (I wouldn’t know if he was aware of Compassion, the human-form TARDIS from the books.)

What we have is a story firmly stamped with his personal brand of fantasy, which marries with Doctor Who extremely well. For me, his foray into the Babylon 5 playground was not a success and last week I was hoping this would be more on a par with Stardust.

And instead of a love story with a fallen star in human form, well, we get the Doctor’s lifelong affair with something borrowed and blue. His box of delights. Invited into the Who play room, Mr Gaiman plunders the toy box and gets to work with his imagination on overdrive. Time Lords, telepathic message boxes (from The War Games), the Matrix, artron energy, auxiliary control rooms, room deletion, the original theft that sparked this special bond between a Time Lord and his ship. The question of who chose Who. And a throwaway line opening the way for transgender regeneration.

Fans will love it or be livid. All that trespassing on the sacred turf of continuity.
What it felt like to me was a celebration – of Doctor Who and more specifically that relationship that has been at the heart of the show all this time without really being explored.

Interestingly, another thing that hadn’t been explored in modern Who was the rest of the TARDIS. It’s a minor shame that the first time we see any of it, it’s just a stretch of samey corridors – albeit nicely designed ones. But it’s in the way that you use it, as they say, and the scenes where Amy and Rory are lost in the shadowy TARDIS interior and Amy’s encounters with a decrepit and a decayed Rory are utterly chilling. Enough that I could postpone my cry of They Keep Killing Rory! until afterwards.

Michael Sheen provides House with a coldly sinister voice but it’s heavily treated such that it’s ultimately a bit of an anyvoice and I can’t help feeling if you’re going to hire an actor of that calibre you owe it to yourself and him to give him a more substantial (ha) role. In similarish respects, I did wonder why, given the body of a Time Lord named Corsair, the best House could do with it was lop off an arm and graft it onto Auntie. Auntie and Uncle themselves were terrific characters, but although they’d served their purpose for House – in a sort of Condo-Solon (Brain of Morbius) contract of employment – they could have served a fuller purpose in the story. Nephew is given more to do at least as the visible monster deployed by House to stalk Amy and Rory.

Still, these omissions leave more room and screen time for Suranne Jones to truly shine as the TARDIS trapped in the limited confines of a human mind. Might have been fun to give her a shock of white in her hair for a hint of Elsa Lanchester (Bride of Frankenstein), but either way it’s a magical, heartfelt, compelling performance. The fact that she has this quirky sort of attractiveness about her lends a great charm to the Doctor calling her ‘Sexy’, that just wouldn’t have worked if she’d looked like Seven-of-Nine. Matt Smith, by the way, responds to the storyline by effervescing throughout. He’s not merely in characteristic fine form here, he’s buzzing with sheer unbridled Doctorness and the two of them are, quite rightly, the main driving force whisking us along on this emotional rollercoaster.

Laced with truly laugh out loud moments (e.g. “the pretty one?”), brilliant touches (the choice of images when Amy works the telepathic lock) and pure fantastical fantasy (the cobbled-together star-like TARDIS chasing the familiar blue box), this is brave, playful and energetic stuff. Great heart, without being saccharinely sentimental.

Like a lot of fantasies, it has a rather-too-easy ending. And why could the TARDIS attack House in the main control room and not in the other control room? Possibly there’s an answer in there I’ll catch on a rewatch. For now, it doesn’t much matter because my overriding impressions are that this story is like that big, complicated, sad word that the TARDIS struggles to remember until the end:



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