Saturday, 14 May 2011

'The Doctor's Wife' Review

Series 6 - Episode 4: 'The Doctor's Wife'
Written by Neil Gaiman - Directed by Richard Clark

Neil Gaiman is one of the most celebrated and renowned Science Fiction and Fantasy authors of our generation so it was only natural for Whovians to be extremely excited at the thought of him crafting an episode of our beloved show. Gaiman is famous for his often dark and meticulous works that dazzle and chill the reader and two of his most successful novels have been adapted into feature films ('Stardust' [2007] and 'Coraline' [2009 - in which I was lucky enough to meet him at a Q&A screening]). 'The Doctor's Wife' was always bound to be an interesting episode at this man's hands but the end result wasn't just interesting - it was utterly unique.

Plot Outline:
The Doctor, Amy and Rory arrive on a junk-yard planet after the TARDIS receives a distress call. The call presents the idea that The Doctor may not be the only Time Lord left in existence - however not all is as it seems and after a meeting with a surprise woman, The Doctor's world is turned upside down.

'The Doctor's Wife' is currently the 'special' episode of this series just like 'Vincent and the Doctor' was last year. Each had an established outside writer, each featured notable guest stars and both strayed away from standard narrative conventions of the show. 'Vincent and the Doctor' was a marvellous and compelling episode, and equally so was 'The Doctor's Wife'. In fact, the latest adventure for the TARDIS gang was so marvellous, I can see it becoming a firm favourite. 

 Everything was pitch perfect; the dialogue, performances, set design, computer imagery - the whole hog. This was a marvel in prime-time television and firm congratulations are certainly in order. It's quite possibly the most cinematic episode since 'The Fires of Pompeii' back in 2008. It was a true audio-visual spectacle that I would have loved to have seen on the big screen. 'The Doctor's Wife' in IMAX - yes please.

 Gaiman stuck to his traditional guns of terror too which was a relief - at points, this episode was quite disturbing in narrative and tone. The dreary, lifeless colour pallet of the planet mixed with the lime-green eyed Ood pierced the screen like a knife sending tingles down the spine, and the vacant limbo-like corridors of the abducted TARDIS felt like a mash-up of 'Inception' (2010) and 'The Shining' (1980). Apparently, lots of waiting and ageing makes Rory a dull boy. It's times like these when one can question the correct audience for 'Doctor Who'; personally, I found this episode fairly adult yet it still didn't seem totally inappropriate for children - the young's desire for fear is something authors and filmmakers has exploited for generations and nobody does it better than Gaiman.

This episode was (excuse the pun) littered with layers and sub-text - so much activity in a mere 45 minutes, yet it wasn't a battle to grasp, it was more of a leisurely stroll through the sparse and derelict wasteland. In a way, I wish this episode had lasted an hour. Apparently 13 minutes were cut to fit the standard show length which seems a bit of a shame but this minor set back doesn't devalue this already ground-breaking episode.

 As previously mentioned, the set design was magnificent. I'm starting to think Michael Pickwoad is one of the best things to happen to the new show - his eye for detail is uncanny and his work here just proves how much range and imagination he possess. Clark captures Gaiman's and Pickwoad's dreary environment with great skill and excels in the corridor sequence; it felt claustrophobic and mounted the atmosphere greatly. 

 The performances were all fantastic, with Smith being the shining star. He is a tremendous Doctor and his performance here is amongst his best. All that bursting zany energy matched to the gorgeous emotion and heartache creates a wonderful and moving portrayal making this his episode. Suranne Jones is also brilliant as Idris/TARDIS - She compliments Matt's madness and has a good go at it herself. She delivers the majority of comedy and indeed sadness in this episode and she was a fabulous casting choice; I wonder if they also had Helena Bonham Carter in mind? Although calling the current screen Queen Elizabeth "sexy" may have been slightly controversial. Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill were also brilliant and their time spent dashing through dangerous corridors and entering Tennant's TARDIS was brilliant.

 'The Doctor's Wife' will certainly be talked about for a while and I imagine will be regarded as a high point of this already extraordinary series. This has cult status written all over it and I'm sure it will become a fixed reference point for old and new 'Who' fans. It was spellbinding, incredibly original and essential viewing; I'm hoping and praying Gaiman is asked to write again, but for now the ball is back in your court Moffat.

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