The Doctor’s Wife
The Doctor’s Wife was the fourth episode in the sixth series of Doctor Who. It was notable for being the first episode of the series to be written by famed fantasy and comic book writer, Neil Gaiman. Such was the notoriety of Gaiman writing an episode of Doctor Who that he was given some of the prerequisites of a head writer — he wrote the production diary section in Doctor Who Magazine and hosted on Doctor Who Confidential. The story received an exceptional amount of pre-broadcast hype in part because of the length of time it had to wait to be released. Originally scheduled as a part of series 5, it was not produced until the 2011 series, and rumors of Gaiman being recruited to write an episode for Steven Moffat dated back as early as 2008 when then-incoming showrunner was preparing to take over from Russell T Davies.
Like Love & Monsters and Utopia before it, The Doctor’s Wife was significant for its connection to a Blue Peter competition. Teenager Susannah Leah’s winning design for a TARDIS console was prominently featured in this episode, and subsequently turned into a Character Options action figure set.
Narratively, Wife was important because it depicted the Doctor’s TARDIS in human form, and offered revelations about the relationship of the two time travelers. It was also the first episode of BBC Wales Doctor Who to extensively feature the corridors of the TARDIS — a setting common to several stories of the 1963 version of the show. It also contained the first appearance of the Ood in the Steven Moffat era, and was thus the first time that Russell T Davies was formally credited as their creator.
Wife would win the show’s first Hugo award not won by a showrunner when it received the 2012 Dramatic Presentation, Short Form Award.
The story was further remarkable for its unmistakable similarity to Nineveh, an obscure Seventh Doctor comic story from the pages of The Incredible Hulk Presents.
In another universe, a woman named Idris is led down a corridor by Auntie, with Idris admitting that she is afraid of what’s about to happen to her. Auntie tells her that she is right to be afraid, as it will hurt, but that her actions will serve a greater purpose. A green-eyed Ood brings her onto a platform and drains her mind and soul in preparation for the arrival of a Time Lord.
In the main universe, the Eleventh Doctor’s TARDIS is floating in deep space; regardless of this, however, there is a knock at the door, thoroughly puzzling Amy and Rory. The Doctor, confused and intrigued, opens the door to find a small white cube, which flies into the TARDIS and whizzes about wildly before he is finally able to catch it. When Amy and Rory wonder what it is, the Doctor excitedly responds that he has mail. He refers to the object as a hypercube — a form of communication for Time Lords. This one is from the Doctor’s old friend, the Corsair, and comes from outside the universe. They follow the signal, deleting the TARDIS rooms for fuel, and succeed in breaking the barriers of their universe, landing on an unfamiliar planet in a bubble universe. Upon landing, the TARDIS loses total power; the Doctor worriedly explains that the matrix — the heart and soul of the TARDIS — has completely vanished. He then wonders where it could have gone. Elsewhere, Idris awakens with the sound of the TARDIS whooshing coming from her as golden light emanates from her mouth and hands. Auntie and Uncle watch as Idris looks at her glowing hands.
Elsewhere, the time travelers step out of the TARDIS to find that they’ve landed on a planetoid junkyard. Optimistically, the Doctor observes that the yard is full of rift energy, and so the TARDIS should refuel. They are spotted by Idris, who kisses, then bites the Doctor, calling him her “thief” while speaking madly. She is closely followed by Auntie and Uncle; all make their apologies for Idris, explaining that she is insane. However, Idris says she is not insane and tries saying something, but then tries kissing the Doctor again. She is stopped from doing so. Idris tells the Doctor that “the little boxes will make you angry” and tells Amy what petrichor means. Auntie tells Idris to get some sleep and she agrees, saying she will look for an “off switch”. She then faints. Uncle then says sadly that Idris has died, but Rory examines her and says she hasn’t.
Uncle then asks Nephew to take Idris somewhere she cannot bite others. The Doctor and his companions turn around to see the green-eyed Ood. Amy is shocked, but the Doctor calms her and explains what Nephew is. The Doctor tries talking with Nephew, but finds that his translation sphere is broken. As a gesture of goodwill, the Doctor fixes the device; upon activating, it plays a series of interwoven distress messages from various Time Lords. The Doctor demands Auntie and Uncle tell him who else is there, but they say it’s just the four of them and the House. The travellers are confused; Auntie explains that the world that they’re on is how. She then asks if they want to meet him. The Doctor agrees, taking Amy and Rory with him into a cavern, led by Auntie and Uncle while Nephew takes Idris away.
Inside the cavern, Auntie shows the travelers a vent cover that the Doctor immediately examines. He then tells his companions that the asteroid is sentient. Nephew joins them as Auntie explains that the four of them breathe House’s air, eat his food, live on his “back” and “smell its armpits” as Amy points out by how the air smells. House then take control of the three natives, greeting the travellers — specifically the Doctor as a Time Lord. The Doctor then asks House if there are other Time Lords on him, but House says though there have been many TARDISes in the past, none are there now. The Doctor then tells House that he is the last Time Lord and his TARDIS is the last as well. House only says that’s a pity as the Time Lords were kind. House offers the Doctor, Amy, and Rory free rein for as long as they’d like, giving them the opportunity to explore. As the travelers leave, Auntie, Uncle and Nephew look on with worried faces.
In the meantime, Idris has awoken and begins babbling random lines and gibberish. She then realizes the Doctor isn’t there and calls out for her “thief”. Nearby, the Doctor hears her and tells his companions that he knows House is lying because of what he heard on Nephew’s translator. However, Amy points out even if there are other Time Lords, the Doctor will have to explain his annihilation of the rest of their species to them; he wants to be forgiven. Wondering what the Doctor needs to help in his search, Amy is instructed to retrieve the sonic screwdriver from his spare coat. Amy gives him her phone to keep in touch and leaves Rory to look after him. However, Rory follows Amy on the Doctor’s orders. He believes the Doctor will be okay, but Amy thinks different — the Doctor might get emotional and make mistakes. They enter the TARDIS as a green smoke begins swirling out of the ground and around it.
Amy calls the Doctor, asking him where he said the sonic screwdriver was and is told to have a long look for it; the Doctor actually has it with him and locks the TARDIS with it. He then traces the distress signals to a cupboard. He is dismissive of the idea of all the Time Lords being in a cupboard, but is soon prompted to open it when the voices calling for help continue. Inside the cupboard, the Doctor discovers the horrific truth: the Ood’s translation sphere was picking up a series of hypercubes, all transmitting similar distress signals from Time Lords that are now long dead. Auntie and Nephew — at House’s behest — released the hypercube as a means of luring the Doctor to the asteroid. Distraught, the Doctor turns on them and deduces that House has been “repairing” them with bits and pieces of the Time Lords who have landed here. Angered, he tells them to run.
Back in the TARDIS, Amy and Rory realize that the Doctor has lied to them and call him. The Doctor says that he lied and is sorry, but then wonders how Idris knew finding the hypercubes could have made him angry. He tells his companions to stay still and hangs up. Amy realises the Doctor is emotional, which is very bad. A green glow comes from outside the windows, prompting Rory to agree with her, at least with the part about their predicament being bad.
The Doctor confronts Idris; he wonders how she could have possibly known, leading her to reveal that she is, in fact, the TARDIS — on landing, House removed the TARDIS matrix and implanted it in her body. While the Doctor’s reluctant to believe her, he comes to realize it’s true when she explains that she “borrowed” him because she wanted to see the universe, and he was the only Time Lord that was mad enough. He releases her from the cage in which she has been imprisoned and, with her help, deduces that the House “eats TARDISes” by feeding on the Rift energy bursting from them; but because he can’t “eat” a TARDIS without blowing a hole in the universe, the House removed the matrix and placed it inside Idris with the hope that it would die off on its own, far away from the console room.
Realizing that Amy and Rory are in danger, the Doctor rushes outside. He calls them, telling them to “get the hell out of there!” Amy tells the Doctor that he locked the doors, but the Doctor has unlocked them with the sonic; House has begun possessing the TARDIS instead of eating it and is keeping it locked. The Doctor reaches the TARDIS and tries opening it manually and by snapping his fingers, but is unsuccessful.
Inside, the Cloister Bell rings as a green glow fills the console room; the TARDIS vanishes from the asteroid. The Doctor is left dumbstruck by these events; he has no idea what to do. He then slaps himself to get back on task of following after House to save his companions.
Inside the control room, the House reveals his presence and explains that he will kill Amy and Rory unless they can defend why they should live; Rory claims House needs entertainment, which is why Auntie and Uncle lived on his old home — he likes to make other suffer. Hearing this, House simply tells them to entertain him then, ordering them to run — which they do without much persuasion.
Back on the asteroid, the Doctor tells Idris that the TARDIS has been hijacked just as Auntie and Uncle walk up to them. Auntie explains it’s time for them to “pop off”, but Uncle is against it — without House around, they lack the source of their life. They then die, albeit comically. Idris tells the Doctor they have to go where she landed, but stops from a pain in her side, Idris only has a short time left to live. The Doctor then asks his TARDIS if it has a name of its own and Idris tells him he named her “Sexy”, much to his embarrassment. Remembering that they are in a “TARDIS junkyard,” the Doctor and Idris decide to construct a TARDIS control console from the remnants of other models, though Idris rebukes the Doctor briefly when she reminds him that the so-called “junkyard” is in fact filled with the corpses of her sisters.
Elsewhere, as they run through the TARDIS corridors, Amy and Rory must contend with House’s mind games; first, he separates them, placing Rory in a faster time stream than Amy whereby he ages and dies in a matter of minutes, devastating her. However, the true Rory unites with her soon afterwards.
The Doctor and Idris bond while constructing the new console, though initially the Doctor is confrontational, accusing the TARDIS of acting like his mother and not being very reliable. Idris informs the Doctor although she has not always taken him where he’s wanted to go, she’s always taken him where he’s needed. The Doctor expresses the desire to talk to her even when she’s “inside the box,” but she states that it’s impossible. Moments later, she nearly collapses and informs the Doctor that her body is deteriorating rapidly.
They successfully launch the console and pursue the TARDIS through the vortex. Because House has raised the TARDIS’ exterior shields, the Doctor orders Idris to send Amy a telepathic message, directing her to one of the old control rooms; she mistakes Rory for “the pretty one” and sends him the message instead.
On their way to the console room, House continues to play with Amy’s mind, turning off the lights so that she can’t see. As Rory goes ahead, Amy is confronted by Nephew, who has been brought aboard to do House’s bidding. The couple flees to the old control room only to find the doors locked; Idris sends Rory another telepathic message to give him the password. Amy, remembering the TARDIS interface is telepathic, mentally visualizes all four of the words (remembering Idris’ seemingly random reference to the definition for “petrichor”), and they succeed in entering the control room that was used by the Doctor’s ninth and tenth incarnations. They manage to lower the shields just as the “invading matrix” materializes. House is able to enter the room.
House is annoyed that they lowered the shields, hoping they could have been his servants along with Nephew, but decides they are too much trouble; Nephew is ordered to kill them. The makeshift console then materialises, atomising the Ood. The Doctor reunites with Amy and Rory, introducing them to Idris, whose body is failing. Realizing how little time they have left, the Doctor engages the House, explaining that he will need the Doctor’s help re-entering the larger universe. He suggests that House delete 30% of the TARDIS rooms for extra fuel. The House agrees, firstly deleting the room in which they all stand.
However, instead of dying, they find themselves in the main control room, where the Doctor reveals the emergency failsafe the House failed to consider: all living things present in deleted rooms are automatically transported to the main control room. House sees no reason to delay killing the Doctor and his friends now that they have reached the main universe, leading the Doctor and Amy to enthusiastically congratulate him for defeating them; however, the Doctor is merely buying time, watching as Idris dies just after
whispering something in Rory’s ear. The Doctor reminds House of his plan — to trap the matrix in a mortal body, where it would die off safely far away from the control room; however, this plan has failed, and the matrix has been released into the console room. Upon entering the console, the matrix quickly overrides House and the entity screams in pain as it is consumed.
The matrix has one last conversation with the Doctor, projecting itself as Idris’s form into the room. She remembers the sad word she’d forgotten all along — “alive” — which the Doctor insists isn’t sad until it’s over. She also tells him the one thing she never got to say to him: “Hello.” The Doctor pleads that he doesn’t want her to go, but she disappears in a burst of light, whispering, “I love you”, before vanishing entirely. The heartbroken Doctor tearfully begins to work the console as Amy and Rory look on.
The Doctor works underneath the console platform, placing a firewall around the matrix to prevent it from being removed again. Rory admits to the Doctor that, before she died, Idris whispered, “The only water in the forest is the river,” which she believed they’d need to know one day. Amy asks if the TARDIS will be able to speak again, but the Doctor says no due to “spacey-wacey” reasons. As their bedroom was one of the ones deleted, the Doctor constructs them another but is disappointed that the two go for a double bed instead of a bunk bed like they had before. As the two head off the Doctor, now with a new appreciation of the TARDIS and his relationship with her, speaks to the console and tells her they can head wherever she wants… the Eye of Orion for some peace and relaxation or to wherever the TARDIS thinks he needs to go. One of the levers moves of its accord making the Doctor gleeful as he goes heading into another adventure with his oldest companion leading the way as always.