Wednesday, 24 February 2016

The Doctor's Wife

Chapter The Eighteenth, the Doctor versus the Pathetic Fallacy.

The Doctor is lured to and left stranded on an asteroid in a bubble universe outside our own when a nebulous green nasty, who likes to kill Timelords, nicks his time/space craft. As part of this, the TARDIS matrix, its consciousness, has been extracted and deposited in a woman called Idris. The Doctor and this living embodiment of his ship join forces, save Amy and Rory whom the nasty and his pet green-eyed Ood have been torturing, and win. Idris dies and the TARDIS returns to normal, but just for a short while the Doctor was able to talk to his longest-running companion, or 'wife' hence the (slightly forced) title.

Watched the Blu-ray with the whole family, the kids happy it was 'a new one' for a change. Nothing much scared any of them, not even the bits that scared me (the psychological horror of House toying with Amy and Rory in the TARDIS).  Elder boy, 9 years old, realised while watching how much he's missed Matt Smith who's 'his Doctor'.

First-time round:
No clear memory of first seeing this particular episode, but almost certainly it was watched late on during the evening of the original BBC1 screening, timeshifted as the live transmission coincided with the kids' (only two of them at that point) bedtime.

This is a gem. In a year which saw the show get a little bit too wrapped up in its own mythology (not for the first or the last time) this story somehow stood head or shoulders over the others in terms of quality by… well, by being even more wrapped up in the mythology than they were. Why does it work? It must be love. Not just the soppy stuff, but that does help to give a human dimension to the story. For the pedants thinking that a human dimension has no place in the love story between a Timelord and a Gallifreyan time machine: fear of upsetting you boys was the reason that Idris’s parting “I love you” is so low in the sound mix, shame on you!

But it’s also the love that the writer has for the mythology that shines through. Neil Gaiman, the geek-lit Robert Smith, might at first glance seem too super cool and above this sort of thing, but at heart he's always been a fan writer in the best sense of the term. Consistently in his work in all genres, he revels in upending the toy-box of myths and legends, both ancient and pop, and playing with them in new ways. It's done here to great effect, but it works also because the setting and characters Gaiman creates are equal to the legends they are pitched against.

House is a fantastic creation, chillingly voiced by the always excellent Michael Sheen; those scenes of Amy and Rory at his mercy in the TARDIS corridors (ooh TARDIS corridors!) are the best moments that Gillan and Darvill shared in their time on the show. As ever, Darvill is great value at delivering a funny line. Suranne Jones is obviously wonderful as Idris, but even the less showy roles in a small cast are perfect in writing and performance, Auntie, Uncle, and Nephew, with Paul Kasey reliably delivering full-on sinister with only body language. 

Quibbles? Why start with the scene showing Idris becoming the TARDIS? Would it have been so difficult to follow what's happened without that scene? As it is, it just calls attention to the fact that there's a character we never get to mourn. And given it's the punchline of the piece, Matt Smith's line "Bigger on the inside" is a little too thrown away.

Tough one this; not much connects The Doctor's wife to The Dalek Invasion of Earth. There's a significance in both to something at the centre of a celestial body, but that's about it.

Deeper Thoughts:   
Baby Let's Play House. The first book by Neil Gaiman that I ever read, I adored; it was not Good Omens, or a Sandman graphic novel, though I came to them and enjoyed them soon after, it was Don’t Panic: The Official Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Companion. Neil himself started as pop-culture journo, and wrote a few non-fiction fillers before he found his way to his true i.e. fiction-based calling. It was a very good read, and spoke of a love for the referenced material, as does the Doctor’s Wife. I didn’t realise that he’d written it until much later when I knew much better who he was, and it sparked that immediate recognisable feeling that I’m sure everyone gets, an excitement that someone you like likes someone or something else you like.

Perhaps because of this, or because they have a new record out soon, I find myself thinking of the Pet Shop Boys. The only happy obsession of my life that’s come near to my fanaticism for Doctor Who is being a Pet Shop Boys fan since 1986 (I refuse to call myself a ‘Pet Head’ as some, probably Americans, do – it is the cool self-deprecating pop electronica version of Whovian).

What shapes one’s personal taste? Phaedrus, need we ask anyone to tell us these things? Why do I so very much like this thing and also this other thing? The (Dr.) Who and ver Pets don’t seem connected particularly. In fact, because I am the sort of person who likes to make lists here goes: starting with the most obvious, David Tennant took his stage surname from Neil Tennant after reading about him in Smash Hits (I like David Tennant and I liked Smash Hits – I’m getting that feeling again); Ian Levine, Doctor Who superfan and missing episode hunter but also music producer, was approached to work on It’s a Sin, and did some remixes of early Pet songs; Doctor Who is mentioned amongst many other pop culture memories in a drunken conversation recorded in the 1989 tour diary book 'Literally'; John Nathan-Turner, 1980s Who producer, lived near Neil Tennant at one point, and asked the group to remix the Doctor Who theme tune for the 1993 Children in Need 3D Who skit, Dimensions in Time, which they presumably politely refused; the Pets themselves were subject to the same 3D technique when performing a hit on the same Children in Need telethon; the title of the song Radiophonic is a homage to the BBC Radiophonic Workshop; David Walliams, Kylie Minogue and Babs Windsor have worked with both institutions... and I'm out.

There may be the odd bit of trivia I've missed, but it doesn't amount to a hill of beans; so, why are they connected in my affections? Maybe it's not a trivial thing; both in their way mine the sands of human emotion and - when on form - present those blown into perfected cut-class creations. Maybe that's the connection, the true aim of the craft of writing: presenting something immediate and fantastic that can be appreciated by the audience, but still delving deep into the human condition on the sly. In other words, it's all about being bigger on the inside, isn't it?!  

In Summary:
A thing I like that clearly likes another thing I like.

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