I have a confession to make this week: I was up to my ears in work over the weekend, and was in a distracted mood for everything else that evening, which means that this week’s episode of Doctor Who wasn’t able to really grip me or even sink in properly (and also explains why it’s taken longer to write this post than usual.) I suspect this is mainly my own problem/fault, although if I were being harsh I could suggest that the very fact that the episode ‘happened’ without actually demanding my attention suggests that it wasn’t all that it had been hoped it would be.
In many ways, this was the episode we should have expected from Neil Gaiman when we originally heard that the fantasy author was going to write for the series. Instead we first got the brilliant “The Doctor’s Wife,” which set such high standards for any follow-up story that it was almost impossible to meet even with appropriately lowered expectations set firmly to ‘realistic’ in advance. It’s still full of recognisably authentic Gaiman-esque touches, being set in the richly textured and slightly off-kilter landscape of a derelict amusement planet populated by memorably quirky characters none of whom are or end up being what they initially seem to be – of which the same could be said about the Doctor and Clara themselves. Read the rest of this entry »
Note: contains some spoilers, although I’ve tried to conceal them for the most part!
After all the build-up, hype, anticipation and expectation of having one of the world’s foremost science fiction and fantasy writers, Neil Gaiman, supply a script to Doctor Who it was inevitable that the final result couldn’t possibly live up to it all.
Inevitable, perhaps. But – as it turns out – utterly incorrect.
I’m not even a particular Neil Gaiman fan (or more accurately, I’m not a huge fantasy genre fan) and so approached this episode with a degree of caution that it wouldn’t be “my sort of thing”. I had been fortunate to miss any spoilers about the episode – I understand there have been many online and even in mainstream press, to which I can only say “Shame on you.”
I very quickly cottoned on to who Idris was going to be, and the concept was initially interesting but only in an eye-brow raising “Oh, they’re trying that are they?”
It’s one of those ideas that seems so obvious, even as it is revealed, that you (a) can’t believe no one has ever done it before, and (b) still feel won’t be all that special after all. And yet within minutes it pulled together so many strands that the show burst through its series format confines and became, for the next 40 minutes, bigger on the inside than it ever previously appeared before.
It was a show packed with brilliant lines, from the Doctor’s chilling “Fear me, I killed all of them” to his aching for forgiveness, to Amy’s arch “Did you wish really hard?” when she finds out Idris’ real identity, to the way the Doctor said he’d stolen her and she responds that in fact it was the other way around. But surely the best of them was something we have always known deep down but never had confirmed before: when the Doctor accuses Idris of being unreliable and never taking him where he wanted, her reply was brilliant: “I’ve always taken you where you’ve needed to be.”
Even the traditional weekly Rory death scene was forgiveable, seeing how well it was done (quick, snappy, nightmarish – the graffiti on the Tardis walls was chilling and Rory’s rebuke citing his 2,000 years of waiting packed a huge emotional punch). Rory and Amy both got some great moments again in this episode, in a show packed with brilliant and astounding performances from Matt Smith (surely never better in the role?) to Suranne Jones as Idris, and the creepy, deep tones of Michael Sheen as House.
Despite the fact that this was probably the most satisfying stand-alone episode for even casual viewers to watch, it packed in more love notes for Doctor Who geeks than anything even Russell T Davies managed in his tenure, right down to finding the Tardis setting down in…a junkyard, just where it all started. It’s clear just how much Neil Gaiman is a massive Doctor Who geek himself, as the companion behind-the-scenes Confidential show followed him going totally fanboi as he stood on the console room of the Tardis reading aloud the script that he’d written. And what magnificent prose that script sounded in its own right, too – surely it will get published? Just the sight of Amy and Rory arriving at a certain old console room deep in the heart of the Tardis was enough to spark geekgasms up and down the country. Bravo to Mr Gaiman for envisaging that – I might just have to start reading your books now after all, sir.
Confidential showed just how much the core concept of this episode had been seeded through the 32 previous seasons of the show, and clips of Rose and Sarah Jane Smith (awww, Lis …) comparing notes on how the Doctor cooed and stroked and talked to the Tardis seemed like some crazy script editors had been feverishly at work laying out the series arc even then, going back decades.
As you’ll recall, last week’s pirates caper felt to me like disappointing “filler”, treading water despite all those series arc continuity references it packed in. Ironically, this episode was structurally far more of a classic “bottle show” in that it lacked any continuity references to the episodes or series immediately around it. It could be parachuted in to any season (indeed, it was famously ‘bumped’ from series 5 where it had been originally scheduled.) And yet the episode was such that far from being lightweight, disposable fluff, detached and unnecessary to the series, it instead managed to be profoundly connected to an entire 48 years’ worth of the show’s history.
In a way that I’m not sure we the audience or even they the production crew quite understand or expect, this episode can’t help but change the way we see so much of the series and the character of the Doctor. For one thing, it brings home to us why the Doctor can and will never be in love with his companions (and doesn’t it show his time with Rose as a rather shallow distraction?): because there can only ever be one true romance in his life. She’s the one companion who has been there throughout; even before Susan, Ian and Barbara, she was the first, and she’s still with the Doctor and with us. She’s the most important character in the show, along with the Doctor himself.
Shows like Doctor Who can, at their very, very best, produce genuine magic. In previous years it has been Steven Moffat who had provided exactly those highs, with ‘The Girl in the Fireplace’ and ‘Blink’. It’s taken someone of Neil Gaiman’s calibre to top all of them: with this episode, the show has cast perhaps its most magnificent spell over its viewers yet in its entire history.
“Hello, sexy,” indeed.