Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start...
Day 812: The Doctor’s Wife
A few years ago, in a Doctor Who Magazine poll, the Fifth Doctor’s swan-song *The Caves of Androzani was voted to be the best Doctor Who story ever made. In that same poll, The Twin Dilemma - the very next story to be broadcast, only a week after Androzani, was voted to be the very worst Doctor Who story ever made. It always fascinated me that Doctor Who was so flexible that stories right next to each other could be considered so far apart in terms of quality. Of course, The Twin Dilemma is far from being the worst Doctor Who story ever, but that’s an argument for another day.
We’re in a similar situation here. Whereas yesterday’s episode, The Curse of the Black Spot is often considered rubbish and rated rather low, The Doctor’s Wife always seems to come out near the top of polls, and often crops up in discussions regarding the best ever episodes. In the most recent poll, this story was placed number 37 - with only three Eleventh Doctor stories above it, which makes it almost the polar opposite to yesterday’s episode. And yet, I’ve never been able to get a handle on why this one is so loved.
It’s one of those occasions where I watch an episode, find that I’ve not particularly enjoyed it, then go online to find that everyone else loves it. Happens from time to time, most recently with Flatline last year, which didn’t grab me in the slightest, and received a rather luke-warm preview from me on this very site. I can’t say it particularly bothered me at the time. As I’ve said recently, at this point, my interest in all things ‘current’ Who was running at an all-time low, and the fact that I’d not enjoyed it was hardly the end of the world. There was plenty else to keep me entertained, after all! In the years that have followed, I’ve not given it a great deal of thought - it’s simply an episode that exists somewhere in the greater Doctor Who world.
But all the same, I sat down today looking quite forward to the story. After all, the first three episodes of Series Six have proved quite strong for me, and that’s always a nice sign. It opens nice enough, with the Doctor getting a message from another Time Lord, and being all excited because there’s another living Time Lord out there somewhere (‘one of the good ones,’ he says, presumably because the Master has been locked away in the final day of the War), which is a lovely contrast to his reaction to similar news in Utopia, where he simply knows who it’s going to be… On the whole, it’s very exciting! I remember the speculation, too, when it had been announced that something would be making a return that hadn’t appeared in the show for a very long time (the ‘mind cube’), and the hints of another Time Lord in a pocket universe… oh, the theories about Romana!. Everything about this hook is simply marvellous.
And then it just gets about as boring as can be. Oh, I’m sorry, I’ve really tried, but I simply cannot see what everyone loves about The Doctor’s Wife. There’s lots of great concepts in here - the TARDIS made ‘human’, the archived console room, the building of a TARDIS from the remains of a hundred others, using the temporal and spacial physics of the TARDIS as a deadly mind game - but none of them really feel like they’ve got the room to be explored properly. I think that’s the problem I’ve got with this one - so many great ideas end up being thrown away just too quickly.
The Doctor hears the other Time Lord voices: there’s lots of Time Lords close by… and oh, no, they’re just more cubes. Righto. That only lasted a few minutes. Amy and Rory are trapped like rats in a maze… but no, there we go, that’s over with, too fairly quickly (and, it has to be said, Rory ‘dying’ is starting to get old now. I remember all the jokes about it at the time, but I don’t think it really bothered me all that much on first watch). The Doctor’s got to build a new TARDIS… and he’s done it. Easy. I think this story, more than any other for me, really warrants being extended. I’m not sure it would stretch to two full episodes, but it simply needs a little bit more room to breathe.
I’m not going to carry on, because I know people won’t be keen on my reaction to this one, and I’ll just continue being a bit grumpy about it. Believe me when I say that I really want to like this one, but it’s simply not working for me.