It’s the Ood I feel sorry for. Seems like they can’t do anything without being possessed by some evil demonic force/sentient asteroid.
Steven Moffat once said something to the effect that ‘children want Narnia, not the wardrobe’. Then Neil Gaiman wrote this. For the first time this series, an episode that I can say I liked without reservation, that was great, rather than just the ‘good’ episodes of the opener, or the ‘dull’ of the pirates episode. Yes, I had some nitpicky problems, as I do with absolutely everything, but in this I found an episode which I enjoyed the whole way through, from beginning to end*. And it’s all wardrobe.
The central premise of the episode ‘What if the Doctor could talk to the TARDIS’, is a superb one, and even if it hadn’t been written by Gaiman (a controversial figure, but I like Sandman and his novels, if not so much the cult of personality that seems to surround him) I think the premise itself is enough to carry the episode**, but his writing makes it sparkle.
Helena Bonham Carter Suranne Jones does a stupendous job making the TARDIS – the Doctor’s one constant companion throughout his travels, with a personality ascribed to it by the Doctor and viewers alike – a person, with the sort of tremendous eccentricity you’d expect were you to imagine a personality to match the central console. I seem to recall the idea of sentient TARDISes being played around with in the Eighth Doctor novels. I was going to explain the character of Compassion to my little brother, but I think Idris was just … well, a better character, to be honest. She seemed to fit completely. The whole ‘I chose you’ bit puts a subtly different spin on the TARDIS’ unreliability, and its relationship with the Doctor – it’s guiding him to where he’s needed most, and when it does go where he wants, it’s because he’s doing what he should be. As a concept, it feels right.
The acting was all top-notch – Suranne Jones, as I’ve mentioned, did look an awful lot like Bellatrix Lestrange (and I must confess, I’m not entirely sure where ‘Idris’ (before she got TARDIS’d was meant to have come from, since she didn’t look patchwork) but the Auntie and Uncle were brilliant, (and looking on the Uncle’s IMDB page, he was the judge in the IT Crowd episode The Work Outing (the one with Gay: The Gay Musical)) Matt Smith was terrific, running the gamut of emotions from jubilance to anger through sorrow and back to jubilance again at the end. Michael Sheen seems a little wasted as the House – the character was great – undertones of GLaDOS? -but it just seemed like they didn’t make the most of having such a great actor working with them. Oh well. Rory and Amy spent most of the episode running away, but they did a good job of it. Seems like this series they’re behaving more like adults, less like teenagers, which is certainly an improvement. The bunk-beds line at the end was terrific as well. As was the gag about Rory dying every episode.
I said on Twitter the other day that Moffat’s style of series punishes standalone episodes, but I think I might have just meant ‘the pirates one was tedious’ since this is splendid. There was so many great moments – all the little bits and bobs like The Corsair, the cupboard full of Time Lord broadcasts, the TARDIS graveyard – the really quite dark*** psychological torture stuff in the TARDIS (this series rather seems to like the idea of writing on walls) and especially the hand-in-the-tentacles moment – which way the doors open, and the fact that the improvised TARDIS was part of a Blue Peter competition (thankfully one which didn’t end with Peter Kay and paving-slab people) and that the old control room was archived – explaining that mysterious bit from the trailer. But as for the overarching story – I suspect there may be a little more than just the ‘only water in the forest is the river’ (possibly something to do with River, but I like my little brother’s suggestion that they’re going back to that forest from Flesh and Stone) in there, but I’m not sure what just yet.
Ultimately, I think this episode explores the purest love story in Doctor Who – the love between the Doctor and the ship in which, for the last seven hundred years, he’s sailed around the universe (or been sailed around the universe). Because we felt we already knew the TARDIS (to an extent anyway) it was a joy to see it become a person, and tragic when she was taken away, but, as the ending reminded us, she’s still there. I suspect that idea may come back later as well. An unreservedly excellent episode, and that’s cheered me up substantially. Next week looks pretty good too! See you then!
*Apart from the title (do you see what they did with that?). And OK, I did laugh at House’s cries of pain. But they were cringeworthy.
**Well. Maybe not if it’d been written by someone like Chris Chibnall. Or Chris Chibnall.
***for Doctor Who at least