There are certain episodes of Doctor Who that are tailor-made for certain Doctors. Theoretically, any incarnation of the main character could have pulled them off, and probably would have done so with plenty of aplomb – but not as well as one particular Doctor, because of the characteristics they possess and the tone of their era. “Dalek” was an excellent fit for the Ninth Doctor, who was still coming to terms with his PTSD and the consequences of the time war, everything he had lost. The Tenth Doctor was an eternal optimist who always wanted to see the best in humanity, so “Midnight” was just the right sort of bleak episode to come along and almost break his spirit.
Neil Gaiman loves to come up with weird, abstract concepts in his stories – like a sentient junkyard planet that exists outside of the universe, populated by patchwork people that do its bidding – so the bizarre plot of this episode feels right at home in the dark fairy tale aesthetic of the Matt Smith years. Especially since the main premise of “The Doctor’s Wife” is exploring the close relationship between the Eleventh Doctor and his TARDIS, a dynamic that’s always been a prominent part of his tenure since “The Eleventh Hour“, but has never really been explored in depth until now.
Despite the extremely straightforward, tongue-in-cheek title, “The Doctor’s Wife” is not another story about Dr. River Song, and her grand, unfolding love story with the Doctor that’s at the core of this season. It’s about another character who loves the Doctor very much, and who’s been with him for so long, as a constant companion in his life, that she might as well be considered his spouse.
“The Doctor’s Wife” was originally intended to be the penultimate episode of Series 5, but it was pushed back until Series 6 because of budget issues the show was having, and replaced by “The Lodger“. During that time, Neil Gaiman had to rewrite the script multiple times to accommodate all sorts of necessary changes (like adding Rory into his story where he didn’t exist before, once Amy’s lover had been restored to the universe by the second big bang in the Series 5 finale), and that grew to be tiring. Eventually, Neil asked Steven Moffat for help with finishing the final draft, and the two men co-wrote the story together. Despite all the production issues the episode had prior to being filmed, it was still received well upon completion, and it became known as one of the standout stories of Series 6.
In “The Doctor’s Wife”, the Eleventh Doctor (Matt Smith) is thrilled when he receives a distress signal from an old friend of his, leading him to a sentient junkyard planet outside of the universe. For the first time in a long time, he’s filled with hope that he might find another time lord, and that hope is clearly affecting his better judgment as he walks into a very, very obvious trap. The Doctor’s loneliness and his desire for companionship is probably one of his greatest weaknesses alongside his pride – his encounters with the Master in the RTD era, where he tolerated way more abuse from Harold Saxon than he would have from anyone else, made that very clear – so Amy warns him not to let it get the better of him. Beyond that though, he still feels terrible about the way the time war ended – how he wasn’t able to think of a better way to save the universe than planetary genocide – so he’s hoping that by finding some more surviving time lords out there, he might also find some forgiveness somehow. So this trip is less about what the Doctor thinks is possible and more about what he emotionally needs.
It isn’t long before he discovers that anyone he was hoping to find on this world was already murdered there a long, long time ago, including his friend – but while he doesn’t find what he was looking for, he does discover something just as grand, something that makes him as giddy as a school boy. The Doctor’s TARDIS has been a constant figure in his life: she was there when he first left Gallifrey, when he parted ways with Susan, when he lost his family to the Daleks, when he fought in the time war, when he lost Rose to an alternate universe, when he rebooted the multiverse. She’s essentially family, and now, for the first time ever, the Doctor and the TARDIS get to speak to each other when her soul is deposited inside the body of a human woman.
It’s a surreal and unprecedented experience, but one they both decide to take full advantage of. Once they get used to it, they decide to use this opportunity to critique each other and get some things off their chests – which leads to a few hilariously snippy talks about how they could both afford to pull their own weight more – but the bond they have as friends is frequently reaffirmed as they work together to save Amy and Rory, and they discover they have a lot more in common than they previous thought: like how they’re both completely and utterly mad. The TARDIS has a time limit to get her old body back before her new human form gives out, so the Doctor grows very protective of her as she starts to slowly deteriorate.
Once she manages to return to her old home, the Doctor is heartbroken that he has to say goodbye to her already, just as he was starting to see her in a brand new light, and their final scene together – where they both have tears in their eyes, confessing their love for each other – really solidifies that the time they shared together in this episode was precious and something neither of them will ever forget. We rarely ever see the Eleventh Doctor cry, and I have to say, it’s a sight that hurts to watch. By the episode’s end, the show’s usual status quo remains in place, but the Doctor has just been given a reminder that however lonely he might feel, he’s never truly alone. He’s a got a little piece of home with him, and his oldest friend watching over him. As a result, the Doctor’s dynamic with the TARDIS is permanently changed for the rest of the Moffat era. He was already very fond of her, but after this episode, he grows a lot more affectionate towards her and more appreciative of everything she does for him. He’s gained a greater understanding of the old girl, and he knows now that every time he speaks to her, she can always hear him back.
Like “Vincent And The Doctor“, “The Doctor’s Wife” is one of Amy Pond’s (Karen Gillan) better episodes when it comes to how well her friendship with the Doctor is portrayed. When the Doctor takes Amy and Rory (Arthur Darvill) on a dangerous rescue mission outside the universe, Rory is willing to take the Doctor’s word for it that he knows what he’s doing and he has everything under control (despite his own apprehension), but Amy isn’t so sure, since she knows her Raggedy Man quite well. By this point, the Doctor has told Amy and Rory about how he ended the last great time war, which says a lot of about where they’re at as friends, since that’s hardly a memory he’s proud of. Amy knows the Doctor has weak spots in his judgment, and basic human needs like everyone else, so she’s worried about him making a huge mistake.
Throughout “The Doctor’s Wife”, we see how Amy’s view of what it means to be a companion has grown and changed over time. Last season, Amy (like every companion initially) thought her bond with the Doctor was one-of-a-kind, that she was the only girl in the world he had a special connection with, as she claimed to the Dream Lord in “Amy’s Choice“. By now, she’s nowhere near that naïve. In the coda, Amy quietly notes that companions come and go all the time, but at the end of the day, the Doctor and the TARDIS will always have each other, long after she and Rory are gone. It’s a sad thought, but it’s also true, and Amy seems to be making peace with it. During their stay on the junkyard planet (simply named the ‘House’ (Michael Sheen)), the Doctor sends Amy and Rory back to the TARDIS, to keep them out of harm’s way in case anything goes wrong, which backfires horribly when the House runs off with the TARDIS – leaving the Doctor stranded in space and the Ponds trapped with a predatory killer inside a labyrinth.
The House is a textbook sadist, so he decides to toy with the Ponds for his amusement and psychologically break them. They run into all sorts of terrifying dangers as he turns the TARDIS into a maze of horrors, giving us several memorably creepy and trippy sequences in the episode’s B-plot. Throughout their ordeal, Amy and Rory try to support each other and have each other’s backs, allowing us to see the tenacity and durability of their bond as a married couple, how they give each other strength as their respective better halves. At one point, the House separates Amy from Rory and subjects her to cruelest things she can imagine to mentally torture her.
These hallucinations are intriguing to read into because they say a lot about her feelings for Rory, and all the doubts she might have about whether or not she’s a good enough partner for him. She’s still haunted by the idea that Rory waited 2,000 years for her in another life – an unfathomably long amount of time – and in the back of her mind, it would seem she still feels a bit guilty about taking him for granted during the early episodes of Series 5. Naturally, one of her greatest fears is the idea of losing Rory, and that fear is still fresh in her mind after the close shave with death he had in “The Curse Of The Black Spot“. But on a more positive note, we also discover that Amy’s strongest memory of pure delight is her wedding day, and considering she spent half of Series 5 fearing that date, that’s heartwarming to learn. We get some more insight into Rory’s core nature as well: when the TARDIS is dying, Rory’s instincts as a nurse kick in and he stays with her as she goes, showing her plenty of compassion. He later confesses that even now, after all this time he’s spent with the Doctor, every death he can’t prevent still hits him pretty hard, but the Doctor reassures him that’s a good thing: it’s a better to have a broken heart than no heart at all.
Ever since 1963, the TARDIS has been a core part of Doctor Who. The whole premise of the show – a time traveler and his friends journeying from place to place every week, sorting out problems – wouldn’t work without the big blue box, and while the Doctor is the main character of the series, the TARDIS serves as the franchise mascot. After getting the main cast everywhere they need to be and more for nearly fifty years, the TARDIS is finally given her own episode, her own day in the spotlight, in “The Doctor’s Wife”. Of course, she’s more than just a mode of transportation, she’s also a living creature with a mind of her own. The notion that the TARDIS is a sentient spaceship with a finnicky nature is a very old concept and it’s been a part of the franchise’s lore ever since the earliest serials produced (“An Unearthly Child”, “The Daleks” and “The Edge Of Destruction”), so as far as sci-fi spaceships go, she’s really something special.
In “The Doctor’s Wife”, the soul of the TARDIS is ripped out of her outer shell and transplanted inside a human vessel (Surrane Jones), allowing her so speak and say what’s on her mind – and she’s got a lot to share. For starters, she has plenty of affection for the Doctor and she admires him for how mad he is. Back on Gallifrey, she was considered a museum piece and was officially retired, but she still had plenty of life in her. She wanted an escape from the boredom and stagnation just as much as the Doctor, so when the First Doctor and Susan stole her all those centuries ago, it was her chance to leave Gallifrey and finally see the universe. The TARDIS is notoriously unreliable, and while it’s been implied loads of times over the years, here she officially confirms that she purposely causes some of the Doctor’s adventures: taking him off course to wherever she thinks he’s needed.
Throughout “The Doctor’s Wife”, despite the considerable amount of danger she and the Doctor are in, the TARDIS enjoys the experience of being alive in a completely different way than she ever has been before. She exists across all of time and space, and even in a human body, she still has her prescient powers, so she has a lot of trouble keeping the past, present and future straight in her head. But despite that, she has complete confidence in her ability to adapt. She’s used to being strictly and efficiently logical, but now she’s dealing with brand new concepts, brand new human emotions that let her express things that have gone unsaid between her and the Doctor for centuries. The years of history between these two Gallifreyans who have always had each other to turn to are palpable on both ends, with all the fondness, respect and annoyance that would come from sharing that kind of bond with someone.
The TARDIS has a one-sided rivalry with the House in this episode, since they’re the complete antithesis of each other and he wants what she has. She’s kind and intelligent, he’s petty and cruel. She looks unimpressive on the outside, with a whole world inside of her. He’s a huge asteroid with a tiny, bitter core. The TARDIS manages to defeat him in the climax and take back her home, and once that’s done, she and the Doctor share a beautiful and bittersweet farewell. The show’s status quo is put both back in place by the episode’s end, but by that point, Neil Gaiman and Steven Moffat have ensured that the viewers will never quite look at the big blue box the same way again. There’s an unspoken rule in Doctor Who that if a guest star can predict the future, they simply must drop some hints about the series arc: so naturally, before she goes, the TARDIS gives our heroes a message about the future that will make a lot more sense when “A Good Man Goes To War” comes around.
“The Doctor’s Wife” is directed by Richard Clark, who previously worked on “Gridlock” and “The Lazarus Experiment” in Series 3, and here some of his more tasteful and inventive decisions in the director’s chair are enhanced by the fine work of the lighting department, who are on top form throughout Series 6. In “The Doctor’s Wife”, the eerie green color scheme associated with the House and the servants he controls is frequently contrasted with the pitch black backgrounds of the junkyard planet, deep space and the dimly lit corridors of the corrupted TARDIS: making all the various locations in this episode feel legitimately haunted and evil. I’m especially fond of that slow, suspenseful shot of Nephew advancing on Amy and Rory from out of the dark, his green eyes glowing menacingly while he’s still obscured in the background.
The CGI work from the Mill is stellar this week as they craft multiple, visually stunning establishing shots of the TARDIS traveling through the rift between worlds, as well as the Doctor and Idris flying their makeshift TARDIS after the Doctor’s vessel’s through space, making the scale of this adventure feel huge. Notably, “The Doctor’s Wife” is the first time we get to explore other areas of the TARDIS besides the console room since the (often mentioned but rarely ever seen) wardrobe room in “The Christmas Invasion“, and as such several new hallway sets were created just for this episode; we also get to revisit the set for the Tennant era console room again for a bit of fanservice during the last act. Compared to the last couple of stories he’s worked on, Murray Gold’s score is much more reserved here, with a dark, elegant and fantastical sort of whimsy to it in the same vein as his music for “Silence In The Library“. Standout tracks include “Run, Sexy“, “Locked On“, “The Impossible Astronaut” and “The Mad Man With A Box“, the Eleventh Doctor’s love song that makes an appropriate and heartwarming return for his last scene together with the TARDIS.
With his debut script for Doctor Who, Neil Gaiman wanted to do something new, something different for the series, and the ambitious gamble that he took certainly paid off in the end, since “The Doctor’s Wife” became one of the highlights of the Eleventh Doctor’s era.
* “I only wish I could go in your place, Idris… Nah, I don’t, because it’s really going to hurt”.
* “Where are we?” “Outside the universe, where we’ve never ever been!”
* “Just keep back from this one. She bites!” “Do I? Excellent!” “Auugghh!” The TARDIS trying to take a huge chunk out of the Doctor’s neck is hands down the best laugh in this episode.
* “Idris, I think you should have a rest” “A rest? Yes. Good idea. I’ll see if there’s an off switch” I wish I could drop off like that on sleepless nights.
* “We walk on his back, breathe his air, eat his food-” “And do my will”.
* The revelation that Auntie has been wearing the Corsair’s arm this whole time is surprisingly gruesome and nasty, even for this show.
* “He’s not trusting us and he’s being emotional. This is bad. This is very, very bad” “Yeah, I think it probably is” “Sometimes I hate being right”.
* “And then you stole me. And I stole you” “…I borrowed you” “Borrowing implies the intention to return the thing that was taken. What makes you think I would ever give you back?”
* “Are all people like this?” “Like what?” “So much bigger on the inside”.
* “You’re the Doctor. Focus” “On what? How?! I’m a madman with a box, without a box!”
* “What do I call you?” “I think you call me Sexy” “Only when we’re alone!” “We are alone” “Oh. Come on then, Sexy!”
* “I just want to say, you have never been very reliable!” “And you have?” “You didn’t always take me where I wanted to go” “No, but I always took you where you needed to go”.
* “It can’t hold the charge. It can’t even start. There’s no power. I’ve got nothing” “Oh, my beautiful idiot. You have what you’ve always had. You’ve got me”.
* There’s been a running gag for quite some time now that the Doctor apparently thinks Rory doesn’t have a lot having going on for him in the good looks department – which is pretty rude, in my opinion. That gag comes to a head here, when the Doctor is baffled to discover the TARDIS considers Rory to be the ‘pretty one’ between himself and Amy.
* “But I’ve only changed the desktop, what, a dozen times?” “So far, yes” “You can’t archive something that hasn’t happened yet!” “You can’t”.
* “We’re coming through! Get out of the way or you’ll be atomized!” “Where are you coming through?” “I don’t know” “Oh, great. Thanks”.
* “She’s the TARDIS?” “She’s the TARDIS, and she’s a woman!” “Did you wish really hard?” “Shut up, its not like that” “Hello, I’m Sexy” “Ugh, still shut up”.
* “I’ve been looking for a word. A big, complicated word, but so sad. I’ve found it now. Alive. I’m alive” “Being alive isn’t sad” “It’s sad when it’s over”.
* “Look at you pair. It’s always you and her, isn’t it, long after the rest of us have gone? A boy and his box, off to see the universe”.
* Since “The Doctor’s Wife” was originally intended to be the penultimate episode of Series 5, that means Steven Moffat has a bit of a sadistic streak. An episode all about how the TARDIS has a soul, making the audience love her even more than they already do, would have been immediately followed by “The Pandorica Opens” – where she gets blown up.