Oh yes. This is quite simply one of the best episodes of all time, and it’s fair to say it changed the way I think about Doctor Who. All throughout my marathon of the classic run, I thought of the TARDIS as one of the characters. Every time it did something unexpected, or disobeyed the Doctor, I considered it to be “her” taking matters into her own hands. I’m pretty sure I never thought of it that way until this episode came along.
A huge part of the appeal is Suranne Jones, who rises to the not inconsiderable challenge of encapsulating the mystery, wonder, danger and madness of the TARDIS, whilst also creating a character that you can empathise with and care about. Hearing about the Doctor’s relationship with the TARDIS from her perspective was a delight – I’m totally on board with the idea that it was her the stole him by leaving herself unlocked. And how have I not noticed that he always pushes a door that clearly states “pull to open”?!
The other star of the show – on equal billing with Smith and Jones (haha) – is Neil Gaiman, who tells a story that only someone who’s been a Who fan all their life, but who also happens to be one of the finest writers of their generation, could pull off. As well as the huge, off-the-wall ideas, his dialogue is absolutely sumptuous. Too many examples to list, but honourable mentions for my three favourites: “It’s like kissing, only there’s a winner.” / “Did you wish really hard?” / “Fear me, I’ve killed all of them.”
Just to compound the embarrassment of riches, this episode also contains Michael Sheen, albeit only in voice-over form. You need gravitas in order to avoid making a psychopathic asteroid seem like a silly idea, and with Sheen, you don’t even question it. I’d forgotten about the sub-plot with him chasing Amy and Rory round his many corridors, but it’s always fun to see more of the TARDIS interior. Well, I say ‘fun’, it was also pretty horrific at times, such as Rory ageing to death in a nutty room with “KILL AMY” scrawled all over the walls. Needless to say, THE RORY WILLIAMS DEATH COUNTER: 4.
There’s an Ood knocking about as well, in a rare instance of a creature that originated in the RTD era being brought back by Moffat – there’s the Weeping Angels, technically, but they don’t seem to count because they were Moffat’s invention, and I can’t think of any others. It’s kind of hard to know what to make of the Ood, as each time they appear we’re reminded that they’re a fundamentally good race that are often used for evil purposes, but aside from a brief cameo in Tennant’s swansong, they’re always used as villains. I guess they belong in the same bracket as the Silurians – theoretically not inherently evil, but they’re most interesting, and therefore most commonly seen, when they’re baddies.
So many big, brilliant ideas floating around here. Auntie and Uncle, the hotch-potch humans cobbled together from bits of old corpses, a concept which only the twin minds of Gaiman and Moffat would use to provide the comic relief. The giant TARDIS junkyard, which naturally piqued my curiosity. The notion that all the old console rooms are archived somewhere, which immediately opens up a million fanwank fantasies.
Plus, right at the start, what I’m pretty sure is the first irrefutable indication that Time Lords can change gender when they regenerate (or regenderate, if you will). This episode’s influence reaches far and wide – informing the future and recontextualising the past. The TARDIS is a clever old girl.