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New Who 6.4: The Doctor's Wife

This one I did see at the time of broadcast, but I was still too unwell last weekend to get it written up straight away, and besides wanted to write about The Curse of the Black Spot first. So I'm way behind the bulk of the conversation about it again. But at least I can get my own thoughts down now before tonight's episode.

In general, I thought this was way better than last week's story. The tone and atmosphere were great, if exactly what we would have expected from Neil Gaiman. The dialogue was fantastic, ranging from lovely quotable lines like Amy's "Did you wish really hard?" to more revealing exchanges like the Doctor's comments about his role in the Time War. The plot and setting dangled all sorts of exciting opportunities for future story developments - Time Lords who can be either male or female, the ability to travel beyond the Rift, and left-over psychic imprints and indeed actual body-parts of Time Lords. Those latter may have been left behind outside the universe in the course of the story - but given River's comments about the value of Doctor's body in The Impossible Astronaut, there is obviously huge potential in the fact that we have now met actual characters walking around with the arm, spine and kidney of a deceased Time Lord. As for the Doctor and the IdRIS - what joy! Perhaps no actual, human-written script could quite live up to fandom's fevered expectations after 48 years of waiting for that conversation - but I think it would have been a tough call to do any better.

The most striking thing about the story for me as I watched it was the density of references to past stories, so I've compiled a little list of the ones I spotted, helped in some instances by the continuity section of the episode's Wikipedia page:
  • Opening dialogue about robot-double kings: The Androids of Tara
  • Jettisoning TARDIS rooms to generate thrust: Logopolis and Castrovalva
  • Junkyard setting: An Unearthly Child (and by default Remembrance of the Daleks too)
  • IdRIS wanting to snog the Doctor: a return for his TARDIS-console snog in The Ribos Operation
  • Auntie, Uncle, Nephew and a sentient House: all felt a bit Lungbarrow to me, although similar family names are also used in The Family of Blood
  • Patchwork people made from the victims of crash-landings, including parts of at least one Time Lord: The Brain of Morbius
  • Running around along TARDIS corridors: The Invasion of Time, Castrovalva
  • The Doctor sending his companions back to the TARDIS on a wild goose chase to keep them out of harm's way: done to Rose in The Parting of the Ways. (I feel sure this happened fairly regularly in the Classic series as well, but can't pin down a specific example - can anyone help on this?)
  • Building and piloting a stand-alone TARDIS console between universes: Inferno
  • Experiencing strange hallucinations while trapped in a maze of corridors: Sixth Doctor believing that he is trapped in a burning desert with no water in Vengeance on Varos
  • And of course appearance of the Russell T. Davies-era console room

For the most part, those are all looking firmly back at Classic-era Who - and the exceptions to that can be explained away. As I've said, I'm pretty sure the companion-to-TARDIS device features in the Classic era too, while the RTD-era console room would presumably be readily available and easy to film in, in a way that any surviving Classic consoles would not. It would seem that Moffat, and with him Gaiman, is keen to look past the RTD era (except for his own parts of it, of course), and towards the Classic era instead for inspiration. On one level, that's great, and helps to ensure a sense of freshness and change in relation to the RTD era - but on another, it does risk alienating those new-Who fans who aren't familiar with the old series. Still, if Moffat can keep ensuring that the new series contains enough stories as enjoyable as this one, that would seem to be a manageable risk.

The other thing which most caught my interest was the Corsair - and not just for his/her gender-changing abilities, or left-over body-parts (see above). I wasn't familiar with the word 'corsair' before, but the use of the definite article made it sound as though it fitted into the same Time Lord naming tradition as 'the Doctor' and 'the Master', so I Googled it - and sure enough, a corsair is a sort of naval mercenary, almost equivalent to a pirate sanctioned by the French crown. Sounds like just the sort of character the Doctor would get on well with, and it of course provides a link (of sorts) back to the subject-matter of the previous episode, as well.

Meanwhile, I did recognise the Corsair's symbol, which is the Ouroboros - a snake-like being which continually swallows its own tail. This was interesting, too, given its resonances of repeating cycles and regeneration. Given all the continuity references I've noted above, it could perhaps be taken as a comment on the nature of the show itself: constantly recycling and reworking its own heritage. But for me, the more immediate question which it prompted was - "So why didn't the Corsair (or indeed any of the other Time Lords who ended up on the House) regenerate, then?" Did the House have some system for stopping them? Could it somehow steal their regeneration energy? Are their potential regenerations still out there somewhere? And might the answers to some of these questions open up another potential route for the Time Lords to be recovered somehow? Oh, I do hope so...

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( 10 comments — Leave a comment )
May. 21st, 2011 04:27 pm (UTC)
The Doctor sending his companions back to the TARDIS on a wild goose chase to keep them out of harm's way

Not exactly a wild goose chase, but the Doctor sends his companions back to the TARDIS with "the Watcher" in Logopolis - and then they go "outside of space and time" too.

Edited at 2011-05-21 04:28 pm (UTC)
May. 21st, 2011 07:38 pm (UTC)
Saturday, 21 May, 2011
User wnnb_darklord referenced to your post from Saturday, 21 May, 2011 saying: [...] reviews the Doctor's Wife [...]
(Deleted comment)
May. 21st, 2011 08:20 pm (UTC)
I've not seen Kinda yet, so I don't know about that. But with the Corsair, the symbol was on his/her cube-message as well as tattooed on his/her arm. Granted, s/he could have adopted it as a general symbol after getting the tattoo - but I got the impression from what the Doctor said about it that it was a voluntarily-adopted symbol, which the Corsair chose and also got as a tattoo.
(Deleted comment)
May. 21st, 2011 08:46 pm (UTC)
Yes - good point about the naval connections. Oh - and I meant to say also, I see what you mean about the placement of the tattoo, beyond what it actually shows. That does indeed give it extra resonances.

Edited at 2011-05-21 08:47 pm (UTC)
May. 22nd, 2011 09:58 am (UTC)
References to the past
Add the Clioster Bell, first heard in Logopolis, but apparently last heard in "The Curse of the Black Spot". And the notion of a secondary control room is a reference to The Masque of Mandragora.
May. 22nd, 2011 10:22 am (UTC)
Re: References to the past
Yes, I did notice both of those, too. I left them out of the list because I felt they've become established enough as part of the general parameters of the Whoniverse to have become more than a reference to a previous individual story - same for the references to the TARDIS as a type 40, for example. But the line between the two types of continuity reference is certainly very blurry.
May. 22nd, 2011 10:56 am (UTC)
Re: References to the past
Is the secondary control room that established in continuity? My recollection is that we see it in Masque where it is identified as the secondary room. It is then used as the primary room for the rest of that season. At the beginning of The Invisible Enemy the Doctor and Leela are back in the old control room, and the Doctor explains that they were using the other one while this one was being redecorated. And after that, I don't remember an onscreen reference to a secondary control room until last week.

(Mind you, I only remembered the Cloister Bell being reused in the McGann movie, and I gather that it has been used a lot more than that.)
May. 22nd, 2011 11:42 am (UTC)
Re: References to the past
Well, Time Crash and The Eleventh Hour both touched on the idea that the console room could be changed - as indeed we've also seen happening regularly throughout the entire series, even if it wasn't talked about. The idea that they are archived, and that you can return to older ones, is closer to Masque (and season 14 generally) than anything else - you're right. But this seemed more like a logical development of references from several previous episodes than a direct continuity reference to one individual story to me.

As for the Cloister bell, there's a handy list of its appearances here.
May. 23rd, 2011 07:58 am (UTC)
The Doctor sending his companions back to the TARDIS on a wild goose chase to keep them out of harm's way: done to Rose in The Parting of the Ways. (I feel sure this happened fairly regularly in the Classic series as well, but can't pin down a specific example - can anyone help on this?)

Funnily enough I was browsing through the wikipedia page on Inferno since you referenced it and it wasn't a story I recognised... A quote from that page follows:

"The Doctor, in the meantime, sends Liz away on a wild goose chase while he hooks up the console again" - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inferno_%28Doctor_Who%29

So there you go. :)

And that last question of what happened to the timelords themselves is a good one. I kind of wish that somebody had asked it on the Gaiman Q&A that the guardian did...
May. 23rd, 2011 08:24 am (UTC)
Thanks for the example from Inferno, but unfortunately it doesn't quite match the model I'm looking for, as the Doctor there is sending Liz away from the TARDIS console he's working on, rather than into the TARDIS for safe-keeping. Still, it does show that Doctors sending companions on wild goose-chases to a variety of destinations has been a pretty common trope throughout the series.
( 10 comments — Leave a comment )

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