“The Doctor’s Wife” is the kind of story idea that draws all of its emotive power from being entirely unrepeatable. An episode in which the Doctor’s iconic mode of transportation is given its own human body and allowed to express emotions, it’s the sort of tale that is supremely fascinating for Doctor Who fans but could easily have missed its mark with casual viewers unless given a very special script and some particularly fine actors.
Luckily it is blessed with both, with a script from Neil Gaiman that proves to be a total geek-out for fans and a delightfully fresh tale for first-timers. And then there’s the palpable chemistry between the Doctor (Matt Smith) and Idris, the personification of the TARDIS (Suranne Jones). Small wonder it became the first Doctor Who serial to win a Hugo award for a story that was not concocted by the showrunner.
You can read BBC AMERICA’s recap of “The Doctor’s Wife” here, but first, here are 10 points of interest, some of which may be new to you:
1. Whereas Richard Curtis (writer of “Vincent and the Doctor”) was already known to Steven Moffat as a Doctor Who fan, Neil Gaiman’s feelings on the topic had not been made entirely clear to him. But having read his novels over the year, a certain shared point of view became apparent, as Steven explained to Doctor Who Confidential: “It occurred to me—not for the first time, knowing Neil’s work—I just thought ‘this guy’s a Doctor Who fan. I can tell, I can smell it! He loves Doctor Who. He’s practically writing Doctor Who in disguise.”
2. Neil’s idea for the story came from a key moment of confrontation, as he told Doctor Who Confidential: “The central idea of the story was what would happen if the Doctor and TARDIS actually got to talk. I thought there has to be a point there where the Doctor would say, ‘Y’know you have never been very reliable. You didn’t always take me where I wanted to go,’ I thought if he said that, then I know what the TARDIS would say: ‘No, but I always took you where you needed to go.’ And knowing that, it’s like the entire episode grew around that conversation, like a pearl around a piece of dust.”
3. The location of the story, in which the Doctor materializes in a junkyard of TARDISes outside the known universe, shares some similar ideas with a 1989 Seventh Doctor comic book story called “Nineveh,” in which he is confronted by a killer of Gallifreyans called the Watcher of Nineveh, having been delivered there by the TARDIS. The story ran in “The Incredible Hulk Presents” issue #12, but there’s no distress cube, no sentient TARDIS, no “sexy,” no Uncle, Auntie and Nephew, and none of the exploration of the TARDIS corridors towards the end.
4. The Doctor’s old friend the Corsair has quite the colorful history, according to Neil Gaiman. He (when he WAS a he, that is) had a TARDIS like a sailing ship; a tattoo of an ouroboros—a snake eating its own tail—that moved to a different place whenever he (or she) regenerated; was worshipped as a god by the ancient Assyrians of Earth; kept a cat and acted as a kind of freelance pirate for the Time Lords. There was some early talk of the young Doctor begging to be his assistant at the age of 12, but that didn’t even make it into the first draft of the script.
5. The story was originally due to begin with the Doctor, Amy and Rory having been taken prisoner on the planet of the Rain Gods, and about to be sacrificed. The plan had been to go and see the Beatles in the early ’60s, but they got waylaid, then captured. This idea was later filmed as the minisode “Rain Gods,” featuring the Doctor and River Song.
6. “The Doctor’s Wife” had three working titles during production. First, it was “The TARDIS Trap,” named partly after House’s successes at capturing Time Lords and partly because Neil wanted to make the TARDIS interior into a fatal maze. Then there was “The House of Nothing” and then the self-explanatory “Bigger on the Inside.”
7. The console flown by the Doctor and Idris to try and catch up with the House-flown TARDIS was designed as part of a competition run by the BBC children’s TV show Blue Peter. The winning idea, by 12-year-old Susannah Leah, was chosen by Matt Smith.
8. References to classic Doctor Who include the psychic cubes that Time Lords use when in distress (first seen in the Second Doctor adventure “The War Games”), the junkyard setting (which goes all the way back to the first Doctor Who episode “An Unearthly Child”), a TARDIS console traveling without the outer shell (“Inferno”) and a body-less and malevolent enemy (similar to The Great Intelligence from “The Abominable Snowman,” “Web of Fear” and so on). Again, there was a lot more of this stuff that got left out, including references to the TARDIS’s mercury fuel links and the food vending machine referenced in the novelization of the First Doctor story “The Daleks” by David Whitaker.
9. The story, which ran in Season Six, was originally intended for Season Five and did not feature Rory (as he had been erased from existence at that point). The script contained references to cracks in time and a sequence in which Amy found her engagement ring in the TARDIS. This was used in “The Lodger” instead.
10. There’s a curious history to the the title “The Doctor’s Wife.” It was originally a fake title for a fabricated Fifth Doctor story in 1984. Doctor Who exec John Nathan-Turner posted it on his office wall as part of the list of stories for the season, not because he had a script with that name, but as a way of weeding out leaks within the production team.
“The Doctor’s Wife” airs on BBC AMERICA on Saturday, August 29 at 9:15 pm ET.Read More