Friday, July 08, 2011

"It's like kissing, except that there's a winner!"

And so to The Doctor's Wife. Atmospheric, witty in a slightly grim way, more than a touch of melodrama (dare I say Grand Guignol?) about it. There was no particular theme that I noticed, and the story itself was pretty straightforward - in fact, I'd say the episode didn't present so much a story as a platform for some character interaction, some zingy dialogue and the broad elaboration of a high concept idea (sentient asteroid from another dimension eats timeships!). It'd probably make a good 30-odd-page comic book. (I say that... it very nearly already did. See footnote.)

In other words, this is pretty much what you might expect a one-off DW story written by Neil Gaiman to look like. It even has a powerful abstract entity embodied as an attractive Goth-lite young woman, although the TARDIS's dialogue comes across as more Delirium than Death. I'm not aware of any evidence either way as to whether Death had a posh accent. Another Gaimanism in evidence is the inversion of a familiar bit of mythology, and so here we're presented with the suggestion that the TARDIS stole the Doctor, rather than the other way around. Works for me.

This is clearly the best episode of the demi-season, but the competition isn't the fiercest on record, and on balance I might only give it an 8 out of 10. Observations follow.

The guest characters in this are brutally used. It's not clear whether we're expected to feel sympathy for Auntie and Uncle - the Doctor's angry at them because they're largely made of cannibalised parts of his old friends, but that's not exactly their fault, and they're clearly House's victims as much as anyone here. Still, no sympathy is shown in-story - if anything, they're presented as figures of macabre fun - and they're pretty much forgotten the minute they tragicomically keel over with multiple organ failure. Idris' fate is similar - in fact, we don't get to know the character of Idris as anything more than a physical vessel for the TARDIS' soul/mind/whatever-it-is. Her death by organ failure is more tragi- than -comic, but clearly seen as necessary and desirable in story terms. Once Nephew the green-eyed Ood has lured the Doctor into House's trap, he serves only two purposes - to give Amy a creepy moment in the dark, and to give the Doctor an opportunity to make a sick crack about his track record vis-a-vis saving Oods. Beneath the jokes, this isn't a pleasant story.

That the TARDIS is sentient in some way is old news, nearly as old as the show itself. That contrary to the Doctor's wishes, it always takes him where he needs to go, is also old news, speculated if not openly stated (and I think it may have been stated in Old Who on occasion). Having the TARDIS interact with the Doctor as a person is a novelty, but the only real revelation apart from the who-stole-whom reversal mentioned above is that the TARDIS expects to be referred to as... Sexy? The Outer Limits meets Top Gear, perhaps. Well, I suppose it does play up to all the times we've seen the Doctor petting the console. And as the final scene shows, we've known all along where the Doctor's room was.

Finally, how good is Arthur Darvill in the hallucinatory freakout scenes? This good, that's how good.

Next episode, a story about clones with CGI monster overtones of The Lazarus Experiment. Sadly The Sontaran Experiment has already been used as a title in DW.

Footnote: Well, let's not clutter up the main bit of the blog post too much. Waaaay back in the misty dawn of the mid-80s when Colin Baker roamed the Earth, Doctor Who Magazine ran a comic strip story called Fun House. The resemblance is patchy and debatable, but well worth a mention.
Fun House sees the Sixth Doctor and his companion Frobisher (a shape-changing alien stuck in the form of a penguin - those were the days, by thunder) land inside a sentient House that attacks them psychologically through hallucinations. Included is a disturbing vision of a contemporary companion - Peri, in this case, who was travelling with the Doctor in the TV stories. The House lives outside the regular universe, and wants to use the TARDIS to escape and/or feed on it. Here, it attempts to absorb the TARDIS into itself rather than the other way around. No mention is made of the TARDIS's mind/soul, and the Doctor repels the hijacker by regressing time inside the TARDIS until the House is shaken off, but the upshot is the same - the House is flung out into the Time Vortex.
On an extremely tangential note, during the time-regressing bit Frobisher is seen to collapse into a pile of goo - now that's what I call foreshadowing!


Matthew Kilburn said...

I'd forgotten 'Fun House' - the post-Steve Parkhouse period of the comic strip isn't my favourite, nor indeed are the DWMs of 1985-1989 greatly memorable for me. Or at least that's my excuse. It's a strong parallel, though.

Christopher Pittard said...

Ah yes, Fun House - a real crazy show where anything can go, if I recall correctly.

I was not optimistic about Gaiman's involvement, if I'm honest, considering that I seem to be the only person alive who thinks that *Neverwhere* is an utterly dire novel. The first ten minutes did not go well - I'm thoroughly tired of 'there's another time lord out there!' stories and this looked like it was going to be another. I nearly zoned out a la "The Vampires of Venice"... but luckily this got much better after the time lord stuff turned out to be a dead end. Very nice hallucinatory scenes, and lovely commentary on how Who often becomes people running around the same two corridors... I think, however, that Gaiman's twist here regarding the TARDIS needs a bit more credit. Yes, it's an old idea, but here Gaiman uses it in such a way that the entire series (and I mean series, 1963 onwards) suddenly makes much more sense. I'm going to go for an 8/10.

In an addendum to last week - yes, more Rorydeath. I think I made the claim that no other fictional character has died quite as much, missing (of course) one very obvious counterexample, which you rightly pointed out. The silly thing is that I'd already made this very same comparison elsewhere. Huh.

Christopher Pittard said...

Oh yes - "Did you wish really hard?" also deserves a mention.