I don’t love everything Neil Gaiman’s done. Some of his post-Sandman stuff I’ve found just okay, or struck me as almost self-parodic (Coraline and Neverwhere), and some of it’s really rubbed me the wrong way or just been shockingly off-putting (Stardust and almost all of his short stories). I always enjoy him the most when, as in American Gods, Anansi Boys, and of course Sandman itself, he’s putting a voice to something that typically doesn’t speak. Usually it’s a god, or the personification of an idea. This time it’s a time ship.
It’s funny how self-effacing classic Doctor Who fans can be. We’re always worried about how everyone else is going to react to Our Show. Will the kids be too scared? Will the casual viewer be confused? This time I catch myself worrying about whether this episode will resonate with the newer fans the way I imagine it resonated with Nerds Like Us. I forget that the new fans have had five or six years (depending on how you count them) to fall in love with the renegade and his trusty blue box. Heck, I’ve only had about 26 myself, which is just over half the show’s age and includes the 16 years it existed only in books and reruns.
It’s not just about the Doctor finally having a heart-to-heart with his favorite thing in the universe. It’s about the fairly terrific idea that the TARDIS stole him rather than vice versa, the only slightly less terrific idea that her erratic steering wasn’t entirely accidental, and the kind of awesome idea that the TARDIS is somehow conscious of its entire lifetime simultaneously. It’s about the personification of these ideas. It should feel self-indulgent, but it just feels fun, and rather satisfying. There’s the twinge of a mystery made too plain, but science is all about solving mysteries, and if you don’t love that, why even watch a science fantasy show?
It’s a drag to be teased with all of those Time Lords, certainly. I can see why RTD killed them off, and even though there are some I miss (chiefly Romana, and I’m crossing my fingers she shows up again though I don’t see how it’ll work) I can understand why the choice makes dramatic sense. (The awfulness of “The End of Time” certainly drove this point home.) Maybe this made it all the more sad for me when they turned out to be unalive. And the tortures House put Amy and Rory through seemed a little pedestrian at first, though again, maybe this made them all the more plausible.
So honestly, I don’t have much to complain about, except maybe the Doctor’s early slapstick (that guy who sat up out of a pratfall, went all cross-eyed and yelped “I’ve got mail!” was never the same guy Pertwee played), which thankfully settled down as the episode wore on. Well, that and his propensity toward threats and vengefulness, which was treated as a serious product of pain in the RTD era and which is treated as action-hero bravado in this one.
Other than that, I gotta file this with the good ones, Gaiman. Yours and Who‘s.
P.S. Lawrence Miles has already deleted his comment on this episode, which is a shame because even though he didn’t like this story (or any of the Matt Smith stories, from what I can see), his reasons were hard to argue with. There’s little question in my mind that, judging from what I’ve read of his novels and his take on the show, he’d write some amazing scripts for this show if he were somehow able to get along with the people who produce it and willing to meet halfway with their (apparently accurate) vision of what sells.
But that’s not why I bring him up. I bring him up because as soon as the TARDIS was infused into a female shape, I instantly thought of Marie and Compassion. It must be maddening to watch a showrunner you dislike steering so close to (yet still so far from) some of your best ideas.