With the recent release of The sand man, the long-awaited television adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s beloved graphic novel, fans of the sci-fi and fantasy writer are thrilled to see one of their favorite stories come to life. In recent years, Gaiman has found huge success getting his stories on television, with Starz’s adaptation of american gods and the hugely popular miniseries good omens. However, neither show marked Gaiman’s first foray into television. In fact, before these adaptations of his written works exploded, he wrote an original tale for the small screen as a chapter in one of British pop culture’s biggest franchises: Doctor Who.
In New Who Series 6, Gaiman introduced audiences to the story of a sentient asteroid out of the universe, patchwork people with a sinister plot, echoes of the Time Lords’ past – and most memorably, the consciousness of the TARDIS planted in a human body. He had all the dark whimsy, quirky humor and unique, weird flavor that Gaiman fans have come to love from his work. But despite its distinct style, it fits right into the Series 6 arc, building on the story and characters in a way that feels natural to longtime fans of the show.
In “The Doctor’s Wife”, Amy, Rory, and the Eleventh Doctor are in deep space when a knock outside the door catches their attention. The Doctor finds a cube that appears to contain a message from an old friend of the Time Lord, and in hopes of finding more of his kind, he follows the signal to a bizarre out-of-universe junkyard. . When they get there, the TARDIS suddenly shuts down and the trio encounter the asteroid’s strange inhabitants: a creepy and eccentric couple, a babbling madwoman named Idris, and an Ood.
Already, the setting and characters have Gaiman’s trademark style written throughout. The strange ways of the strange aunt and uncle couple are reminiscent of the sinister, not-quite-human characters of so many Gaiman stories, such as Coraline and Never. As happens in many of his works, the main trio find themselves in completely foreign circumstances, even for them – they have crossed the universe, but now they are outside it and the rules they knew do not apply. more.
Unsurprisingly, all is not as it seems in this bizarre dump. Aunty and Uncle have been luring Time Lords here for longer than anyone can guess, allowing the sentient asteroid (called “House”) to feed off the energy of the TARDIS. To do this, they must first rip the Matrix from the TARDIS, placing it in an organic body – and that’s what Idris is. With Amy and Rory trapped in the TARDIS, House toying with them before devouring it, it’s up to the Doctor and his oldest companion to save them and stop House from going to their universe for food.
Idris, the personification of the TARDIS itself, is what makes this episode truly special as she works with the Eleventh Doctor to come up with a brilliant, trademark plan. In Doctor Who, it is understood that in order to operate a TARDIS, it is essential to accept that it literally has a mind of its own. Matt Smith in particular leaned into this aspect of the Doctor in his portrayal, addressing his ship directly and treating him like a sentient being. This made the Eleventh Doctor the perfect embodiment with which to create a story in which the soul of the TARDIS took on human form. And Gaiman was the perfect writer to bring this story to life.
Gaiman’s works often involve beings who experience time and reality differently from humans. The ancient deities of american godsthe ghosts of graveyard bookthe mysteriously magical inhabitants of London below in Never – all live according to laws of existence different from ours. As the soul of the TARDIS, Idris exists in all of time and space. Like some of Gaiman’s characters, she can seem crazy; she babbles in cryptic puzzles and confuses past, present and future. But like the gods and fairy creatures of her novels, Idris knows exactly what she’s doing; it’s just hard for a human form to contain and express its thoughts.
House, too, is familiar to Gaiman fans while feeling right at home in the Doctor Who universe. Amy and Rory are manipulated by an incorporeal, seemingly omniscient entity. Their fears and insecurities are laid bare as it disrupts their minds, turning their home into a dark and twisted place. The perversion of the familiar is another theme in Gaiman’s work (e.g., “The Otherworld” in Coraline). His villains often loom, as does House, creating an odd spine-tingling sensation.
Of course, this episode wouldn’t be as memorable without the cast that brought the story to life. Amy and Rory (Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill) make the horror of House’s mind games almost tangible. Actress Suranne Jones gives a stellar performance as Idris, and Matt Smith plays her beautifully, intuitively understanding her TARDIS as it has for hundreds of years. The interaction between the two is beautiful to watch and clearly shows that Gaiman has known the series for a long time. He understands the dynamic that has always existed between the Doctor and his ship, and has translated it perfectly into a dynamic between two people. The two bicker, they brainstorm, they complete each other’s ideas — and ultimately, they save the day.
Bringing your own style, especially one as unique as Neil Gaiman’s, to such an old franchise is no easy task. Doctor Who has spanned many eras, and while each feels a little different, there are always recurring themes. Some writers have struggled to bring their own voice to the show while staying true to everything fans love about the show. Gaiman, however, handled it wonderfully, adding to the mythos in the process. It created a whole new level of depth for the TARDIS itself, one that audiences won’t soon forget.
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