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The Doctor's Wife
Submitted by Geoffrey Dow on Tue, 2011-05-17 17:21
Spread the word!
The divorce is on hold
Finally. Finally! FINALLY!
Finally, a well-written episode of Doctor Who again. Finally, a plot without major holes. Finally, characters who ... stay in character. Finally, complications and surprises that neither reek of, nor hint at, a cheat. And finally, an emotional climax that warrants the tears it asks for.
"The Doctor's Wife" is probably not, as I've already seen suggested more than once, the best stand-alone episode of the revived "Doctor Who", but it is a very good one and certainly the best episode — stand-alone or otherwise — since "The Waters of Mars" and maybe before.
I know, I know: it's shocking. As a friend of mine said elsewhere, I "actually liked an episode? ZOMG!"
A real writer takes control of the TARDIS
(Pity it's only for a single trip)
Despite Neil Gaiman's byline, I wasn't expecting too much from "The Doctor's Wife". In truth, I was mentally preparing myself to give up on the franchise completely — at least until Steven Moffat's eventual exit. But that separation, if it's going to happen, has been put off for at least for another week.
For the first time during Moffat's second series, we are blessed with a script that integrates story and character into a structural and thematic whole, a genuine story.
If "The Doctor's Wife" isn't quite the pinnacle of televisual entertainment, it is not surprising that is is nevertheless being greeted almost rapturously in some quarters.
The episode boasts a plot that surprises without confusing or insulting, action that pushes that plot forward and develops character in a manner consistent with what we know of the regulars, and revealing of those we meet for the first time — I feel I have learned more about both Rory and Amy from this single episode than I did from the preceding 16, while Auntie and Uncle are both scary and sympathetic, enough so that I feel I've have caught glimpses of people, not plot devices.
Finally, the mysterious antoganist, House, feels genuinely dangerous, a worthy foe who, when the end comes, we can agree fully-merits his fate.
When House mentally tortures Amy and Rory, the mind games that in a lesser writer's hands would have been only scary are best, in Gaiman's are frightening and disturbing, and even emotionally revealing. Though Rory "dies" yet again, for a wonder it isn't a cheat. Only amy is meant to believe he is dead; the drama comes through Amy's belief that he is.
And before that, when the horribly aged Rory howls, "You left me!" even from our privileged position, we are as terrified and heart-broken as Amy. (Well, almost.)
"The Doctor's Wife" is everything a good episode of Doctor Who should be: exciting, scary, funny and even moving. And unlike "Vincent and the Doctor", the last episode to even come close, Gaiman's story relies neither on fame nor mental illness to tug at our heartstrings.
Meanwhile, for perhaps the first time since he took on the role, Matt Smith has a script worthy of his talents. One suspects that Gaiman's Doctor is the one Smith has been lusting to play. Brilliant, passionate and supremely confident, even in moments of doubt, this Doctor is (rightly) thrilled when he realizes the true identity (again, we have the privileged perspective, and again, it doesn't matter a whit) of the mysterious biting woman.
"The Doctor's Wife" succeeds as respectful homage to the past and joyful hand-off to the future. If Steven Moffat's Doctor Who has been an ongoing disappointment, Neil Gaiman's has given me hope again.
Here's to further hope that the next episode doesn't take it away again.