Saturday, 24 September 2011

What Is And What Will Have Always Not Already Will Have Been

Warning! Danger, Will Robinson!
Here be SPOILERS for Doctor bloody Who series 6 episode 4!

On a whim, and thinking on a comment by a friend about the present state of Doctor bloody Who, I re-watched the series six episode ‘The Doctor’s Wife’. And here are my thoughts.

First off - strange title. Or is it? Married to the life, connected to the one thing that has been constant in his life for the past 700 years, it was fitting enough once the opening salvo had taken us to the opening credits. I’m sure many fans were contemplating River Song’s involvement in all this - at time of broadcast, we neither knew who she was, nor what she was doing with such intimate information as to the Doctor’s real name (still a MacGuffin if ever there was one). Giving this episode such a title was partly to titillate the masses, I’m sure.

Very early on, we’re introduced to the idea that the Corsair - a word taken to mean pirate, or privateer - has sent a distress call to the TARDIS using his personal tattoo as proof of authenticity. This gets the purr wee Doctor all excited - after all, he’s supposed to be the last surviving Gallifreyan (not counting people unaccounted for, such as Susan, Romana, the Mad Monk, Omega, etc.). This Corsair chap seemed to be right up the Doctor’s alley; ‘one of the good ones’, ‘a hell of a bloke’, and even, in a female regeneration (inadvertently - or otherwise - letting it be known that Time Lords did actually change sex during their long lives), ‘a bad girl’. It sounded like just the kind of person the Doctor would jump about with, going to all those cool bars and being the hoopy frood with the hip friend everyone loved. With bananas in their pockets, of course.

Once we’re at the destination of the distress signal and it’s clear we’re all too late via a lovely bit with an Ood, it’s not exactly standard sci-fi fare. Yes, it’s a clear body swap and yes, it’s a prisoner having found a way to escape, but it’s more than that. Why? The characters involved. For once, the Doctor is allowed to hope that someone else of his race survived (barring the Master, of course. If I were the Doctor, I’d still be a just a little tetchy over making him regenerate when he really DIDN’T WANT TO GO). Amy even says the only reason the Doctor is so desperate to find the apparently hidden, living Time Lords is because he wants to be forgiven. And here we have a subversion; instead of the Doctor doing the standard blowing it off and stoically pretending nothing of the sort, he comes back with a very quiet, very humbling ‘Doesn’t everyone?’ This is more than enough to silence any Companion. Amy is suitably mortified. Leave it to purr wee Rory to be the sensitive one, though. His faithful earnestness all the way through was touching, and a very effective counter-point to the rest of the episode.

When the Doctor finally believes what the TARDIS is telling him - from Idris’ mouth - we get a marvellous if tiny, shiny moment of TV legend. Words cannot express how much I loved that weeny sliver of affection, of alien appreciation; the TARDIS knows what the Doctor calls her, and he protests that he only calls her that ‘when we’re alone’. Magic. That’s what he’s attracted to, and every Earth girl wannabe should bloody well take note. Everyone’s idea of ‘sexy’ is different - and, lest we forget, the Doctor is an alien whose childhood consisted of learning an alphabet that uses maths for its basis, playing with Röntgen radiation blocks in the nursery, staring into untempered schisms and time vortices and then being old enough to get lashed with his mates at the Academy. He’s seen the fall of Arcadia, the end of the Time War and every one of the Time Lords. (As House says: ‘Fear me, Doctor; I’ve killed hundred of Time Lords’. And the Doctor’s chilling reply? ‘Fear me: I’ve killed all of them.’)

The ticking clock is introduced - the TARDIS will cark it if she stays in the fragile corporeal body attached to only four dimensions instead of her usual eleven. The plot is set to get her back to her own space before Amy and Rory are killed off by the entity formally known at ‘sentient asteroid’. Now we’ve met sentient suns before, and let’s face it, this is Doctor bloody Who. It’s not the weirdest thing we’ve seen them be, to paraphrase Tony Stark. And at least this sentient plot device can talk - with the voice of Michael Sheen, Welshmen and Hollywood actor extraordinaire, no less.

While Amy and Rory are pounding up and down TARDIS corridors - whether belonging to Eleven’s version or not, it’s never made clear - we get a glimpse of life beyond the control room. It shows other places exist - good. It takes away a little mystery - bad. All in all, the effect is impressive - and, as we later learn, may not have been the actual truth anyway. So it’s all fixed, in a potential retcon kind of way. I was on the edge of my seat waiting for the ‘archived’ control room - could it possibly be Five’s? As it turns out - no. It was Ten’s - not in bad nick for a set they put in the Earl’s Court exhibition and then brought back again. Part of me was sad it wasn’t Five’s (I’ve seen that at Earl’s Court, too!) - but then part of me was glad it was Ten’s.

And so to Idris. Hmm… Either named after an ancient Welsh astronomer, whose throne you sat on for one night and either emerged a genius or a madman, or the now defunct operating system. And a nice update/reference to Ten’s ‘timey-wimey’ comment - Amy mentioning how it’s all ‘spacey-wacey’. The Doctor, bless him, attempts to explain, but in the end he has to give up and just go ‘Whatever’. Amy’s only human, after all.

So is it a good episode? Undoubtedly. The concept of something that eats TARDISes may have arisen through entities luring Leviathan spaceships in so that the living ship, Moya, could be eaten (‘Farscape’, episodes 3x06, 3x12), but it was done neatly here. The framework was well-hung, and even Rory providing lampshading (as well as being the universe’s butt-monkey, as usual) was seamless. But the performances - oh dear god-who-is-Stephen-Fry, the performances...

Two outstanding moments from Matt Smith: the ‘only when we’re alone’, whilst talking to who he now recognises as his TARDIS, and the heart-wrenching moment where he realises he’ll be lost without her to talk to: ‘Please... I don’t want you to go’. His only companion from Gallifrey, the only piece of himself he can attempt to control, the only one who’s been with him since he was 200-odd (according to her). The only one ‘mad’ (or ‘man’?) enough to let himself get stolen by a Type 40 - and now he has to go back to the one-sided conversations he had before. Perhaps he’s listening to the wrong voice.

Rory - as always, quietly amazing. It’s been a shame since the very first episode of series five that he wasn’t taken into the TARDIS instead of Amy full stop. The Sam Winchester of England, in terms of his apparently bumbling nature and everyone’s eagerness to underestimate his tenacity - and just a hundred ways in which he Took A Level In Badass throughout the series - he gets my vote. He grew on me and I didn’t mind at all. Amy, on the other hand, was quietly not annoying. This got many millions of thumbs-up from me, because at times she’s really got on my tits. At least in this ep, the focus was firmly on the Doctor and was happy to stay that way. After all, he’s the reason I watch - he’s the alien, the interesting one, and it’s always going to be that way. Idris was at times a little over-played, but mostly convincing and certainly a welcome addition to the episode (and by an Oldham lass, none the less!). At just the right times, she was heart-wrenchingly aloof to the tiny things, practical and far-reaching, transcendental and omnipotent. But when it came to the small things - the words - she found it the hardest thing in the universe. Welcome to the human race, love.

Dialogue was spiffy and excellent - Eleven even came out with a direct quote from Ten: ‘Basically - run!’ His explanation of his Calm Malfunction: ‘I’m a mad man with a box - without a box!’ was just brilliant, and then at the end, Neil Gaiman rounds it all off with the throwaway line about going to the Eye of Orion for some peace and quiet - nice.

We do get a tiny hint, a niggling quote about the future: :the only water in the forest is the river.’ This seemed to go by the way in later eps, as it was never referred to again - but then, it wasn’t needed.

And so, all in all, I have to say this was one of my favourite episodes of the series. It demonstrated what the Beeb can do with it lets people writes its scripts for entertainment value - before being vetted by the Tormenting, Capricious God Who Is Stephen Moffat. It also goes to show that, when Matt Smith is given proper drah-ma, Doctor Who style, he can handle it easily and it brings out the best in him - and his audience. He deserves much more than some of the scripts they’ve given him, and I for one do not want Matt Smith to go. He’s not yet had his finest hour, but 5x11, 6x04, and Christmas 2010 are very, very close. No matter what happens in the next few hours, when 6x12 airs, I’ll still be wishing he could stay for another few years. Rumour has it that series seven has been pushed back to the tail-end of 2012. I’m not happy about that - but I am happy that we’ll actually get a series seven, and of the rumours surrounding that magical year 2013. Yes, the 50th anniversary of that national institution that is Doctor Who itself. Think of the possibilities...

Peach and lube, people. Peach and frelling lube.


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