Words: Paul Dean
SYNOPSIS: "Science fiction drama. When he follows a Time Lord distress signal, the Doctor (Matt Smith) puts Amy (Karen Gillan), Rory (Arthur Darvill) and his beloved TARDIS in grave danger." (bbc.co.uk)
Despite its fame, its enduring popularity and a complex, convoluted history that has seen an extraordinary number of authors penning all sorts of episodes, 'Doctor Who' has rarely attracted famous scriptwriters. You’d think that the profile of the show, along with its multitude possibilities, would draw science fiction, fantasy and alternate history writers from far and wide, yet a dalek could count the number of household names who have contributed to the show on its limbs and still have an eyestalk to spare.
Many will have seen Richard Curtis’s contribution last year, the touching tribute to a troubled Van Gogh, while more dedicated Who fans will be familiar with the excellent Tom Baker adventure 'City Of Death', one of several serials authored by a then up-and-coming writer known as Douglas Adams. Completists may even own copies of the Who comics written by a young Alan Moore.
'The Doctor’s Wife' has long been whispered amongst fans simply as “The one written by Neil Gaiman” and must be the most hotly anticipated of the season, perhaps even of the last few years, such is Gaiman’s standing amongst fantasy fandom. The popularity of Gaiman’s work, along with his experience as a screenwriter, meant the episode had a lot to live up to. I would love to be able to say that it delivered on its expectations, but it very much had its strengths and its weaknesses.
Almost from the start, this very much feels like a Gaiman work - depicting a scrappy and imperfect fantasy world where darkness and malevolence seep through the cracks (rather like a less twee Tim Burton), but Gaiman doesn’t seem to have time to develop his characters as much as he could. In particular, the Doctor’s opponent lacks potency and his companions are largely sidelined for this episode, left to do little more than some athletics and a bit of wailing.
'The Doctor’s Wife' does, however, have some fine guest stars and a good concept at its core that fills in just a little more of that mysterious past which the Doctor has so closely guarded all these centuries. It’s well worth watching and, even if you find the resolution a little underwhelming then, just like the Doctor, you’ll still enjoy the journey that took you there.
Watch 'The Doctor's Wife' on BBC iPlayer until 19:19, Saturday 11 June '11.