Thursday 16 April 2020

Story 217 - The Doctor's Wife

In which the Doctor gets mail in the TARDIS - in the form of a Time Lord message cube. These containers can carry telepathic messages. This one has been sent by a Time Lord known as the Corsair, an old acquaintance of the Doctor. He is overjoyed to learn that more of his people may have survived, as he realises that the cube originated in a small bubble universe. The TARDIS travels there and arrives on a small planetoid, covered in space junk. On landing, the ship suddenly loses power. The Doctor, Amy and Rory encounter four individuals - a man and woman named Uncle and Auntie, a younger woman called Idris, and an Ood called Nephew. Idris appears to know all about the Doctor, despite him never having met her. She is acting in a crazed, manic manner, so Aunt and Uncle are forced to lock her up.
From Auntie and Uncle, the Doctor learns that they call this planetoid House, and it sustains them. The Doctor discovers that beneath the thin shell of the planet is a mass of sentient energy. Suspicious about what is going on here, he sends Amy and Rory back to the TARDIS for his sonic screwdriver, even though he has it in his pocket. Once they are inside, House materialises as a dense green fog and impregnates the ship. Amy and Rory find themselves locked in, as House takes over the TARDIS.

The Doctor meanwhile manages to trace a number of Time Lord signals which are being transmitted via Nephew's communications sphere. He locates a cupboard in which dozens of cubes are held - messages from long dead Time Lords. Auntie and Uncle have misshapen bodies, made from spare parts of other individuals, and the Doctor recognises that Auntie has the arm of the Corsair, as it bears a distinctive tattoo. They admit that House feeds on the energy of TARDISes and lures them here to consume them. The Time Lord pilots are killed and their bodies used to prolong the life of Auntie and Uncle. House begins by removing the TARDIS' matrix - its "soul" - and temporarily housing it in one of its slaves. This is why the ship lost power on landing, and why Idris now knows so much about the Doctor. She has become the soul of the TARDIS. Now that House knows there are no more TARDISes, it plans to leave this place in the Doctor's ship to travel to the main universe in search of more sustenance. With no further use for Auntie and Uncle, House allows them to die.
The TARDIS dematerialises with Amy and Rory still trapped inside, with House in control and with Nephew lurking on board.

The Doctor must join forces with Idris / his own TARDIS to escape the planetoid and save his companions. Despite the great jeopardy, he finds it fascinating to be able to talk directly with the TARDIS matrix in a way he has never been able to communicate before. She complains that he always pushes the doors when it says "Pull" on them, whilst he argues that the ship never goes where he wants it to go. She explains that she takes him where he needs to go. She also says that he never stole her - she stole him, as she wanted to explore the universe just as much as he did. The planetoid's surface is littered with TARDIS fragments, and they realise they can build a make-shift ship out of these.
Inside the TARDIS, meanwhile, the sadistic House decides to torment Amy and Rory rather than simply kill them. They run and hide in a maze of corridors, but Nephew stalks them and House plays mind games with them, distorting space, time and senses. Amy sees Rory as an old man who accuses her of abandoning him years ago, and later as a corpse.
The Doctor and Idris build their makeshift TARDIS and she gives some Arton energy to power it. They then set off in pursuit of the TARDIS which is nearing the exit from the bubble universe. Idris sends Rory a telepathic message telling him how to get himself and Amy to safety. They follow her instructions and find themselves in the old TARDIS console room, as used by the Ninth and Tenth Doctors. Idris explains that all the old designs are stored on file.

House manages to trace them here and sends Nephew to kill them. The makeshift TARDIS materialises in the console room just where Nephew was standing and this destroys him. House threatens to kill everyone, but the Doctor points out a huge mistake it has made. The original TARDIS matrix is now back aboard the ship. The Doctor is able to say a final farewell to it as it leaves Idris and reenters the TARDIS systems. House is overwhelmed and destroyed.
The Doctor always knew that having the matrix inside her would be fatal for Idris, and she dies - but first gives Rory a cryptic message - "the only water in the forest is the river".
Later that night, the Doctor works alone at the console, sad that he won't be able to communicate with his ship in the same way as he could through Idris. Asking if it is still there, one of the levers moves by itself...

The Doctor's Wife was written by Neil Gaiman, and was first broadcast on 14th May 2011.
Gaiman's name had been linked with the series ever since Steven Moffat took over as showrunner, and it was originally intended that this story would feature in Moffat's first series. This was later confirmed when the Blue Peter competition to devise a "junkyard" TARDIS failed to see its winning entry feature in the Series 5.
Gaiman was forced to make some cuts to his story mostly on cost grounds. An early sequence featuring Amy and Rory in the TARDIS swimming pool was cut (mainly because Karen Gillan couldn't swim), another scene had Rory hiding in the Zero Room, and it was originally planned that Nephew would be a new design - looking like a hulking, stitched together Frankenstein Monster sort of figure. Instead, an Ood costume from stock was redeployed. Another sequence was to have been Idris turning off all the chameleon circuits on the wrecked TARDISes, leaving them all in their natural form, but the CGI costs were prohibitive.
One major trim was an opening sequence which would later appear in amended form as a DVD extra on the Series 7 box set as "Rain Gods". The Doctor, Amy and Rory where to have been threatened with sacrifice by aliens who worshipped the said Rain Gods, but would have been saved by the arrival of the Time Lord message cube.
Looking to the future more than the past, we also get the first mention that a Time Lord can change gender - the Corsair having been a woman at one point. This idea originated with Gaiman, not Moffat.

As far as this series' story arc is concerned, we only have Idris' cryptic message to consider. What The Doctor's Wife does do is look more to the history of the series, referring to earlier stories and even to the time before the series started.
It has always been stated that the Doctor stole the TARDIS, but here we learn that the TARDIS was just as guilty as he was - claiming instead that it stole him in a way. The old complaints that the Doctor always ended up in trouble wherever he went, and the TARDIS rarely went where it was supposed to go, are addressed by the TARDIS claiming that it always took the Doctor where he needed to go - suggesting it knew that bad things were going to happen on these planets, and so directed the Doctor there to sort them out.
The message cubes were seen once before - in The War Games, when the Second Doctor used one to send a telepathic message for assistance from the Time Lords. All other times the Doctor sought help from Gallifrey he was in the TARDIS, so presumably these are for when Time Lords are separated from their ships.
A more recent nod to the past is the inclusion of scenes set in the previous coral themed TARDIS console room, as seen from Rose to The End of Time Part II. Moffat and Gaiman specifically requested that the set be maintained for this story. It would later be partly reassembled at the Doctor Who Experience in Cardiff Bay, which is where subsequent stories featuring it could be recorded (i.e. The Day of the Doctor). Plus, Rory gets to die yet again.

The guest cast is headed by Suranne Jones playing Idris. She had only recently played a living Mona Lisa in The Sarah Jane Adventures story Mona Lisa's Revenge.
House is voiced by Michael Sheen, David Tennant's recent co-star in Good Omens (co-written and adapted for TV by Gaiman). Sheen has quite a reputation for portraying real people - everyone from football manager Brian Clough to David Frost, Kenneth Williams to Tony Blair, the Emperor Nero (twice) to Chris Tarrant.
Uncle is Adrian Schiller, and Auntie is Elizabeth Berrington. Berrington had featured as Cherie Blair opposite Sheen, as Tony, in The Deal, and had also appeared in Good Omens.
Paul Kasey was Nephew - given green eyes this time instead of red as he was possessed by House.

Overall, an excellent story - one of the best from the Eleventh Doctor era (indeed, it was voted 4th most popular of his stories in the DWM 50th Anniversary poll, in 37th place overall). Suranne Jones gives a remarkable performance - initially quite manic but you're in tears by the time Idris dies. Sheen also provides a very good vocal performance as the totally villainous House. It's also one of those rare occasions when the three regulars all get good material to work with.
Things you might like to know:
  • One of the working titles was "Bigger on the Inside".
  • The initial idea would have been the Doctor trapped inside his own ship, pursued by an enemy.
  • The story which replaced The Doctor's Wife in Series 5 was The Lodger, so this version would not have featured Rory.
  • In the earlier version, the final scene would have been of the Doctor and Amy burying Idris' body, with a hint that House might have survived - hidden inside her.
  • The story's title goes back to the JNT era, when the producer was starting to have second thoughts about wooing the fans so much. He was convinced that someone in the production team was feeding secrets to fan groups, and so would leave things like fake story titles on the office wall to see if they got reported in a fanzine. One such bit of fan-bait was the title "The Doctor's Wife".
  • The first glimpse of TARDIS corridors since 2005, and they're a bit of a disappointment, being sci-fi cliche hexagonal ones.
  • The Doctor had previously claimed that there could be (at least) two console rooms in existence at the same time (Masque of Mandragora and The Invisible Enemy). Here it is stated that the TARDIS itself can create the rooms on its own, stores the old ones, and even has some future ones already lined up.
  • A new safety feature is that on impending break-up the occupants are automatically transferred to the current console room from wherever they are in the ship.
  • The Doctor mentions having rebuilt a TARDIS before. This might refer to his having taken it apart and put it back together again whilst in exile on Earth, or his dismantling of key components in The Horns of Nimon.
  • A Seventh Doctor comic strip ("Nineveh!", The Incredible Hulk Presents Dec 1989) had featured a planet full of wrecked TARDISes, and a villain who lured Time Lords to their deaths.
  • The argument about the door panel saying "Pull" when the Doctor always pushes them open doesn't actually make sense. The "Pull Door To Open" on a Police Box refers to the small telephone cabinet, not the main doors themselves.

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