Years ago, I was in a band with a drummer who lived, ate, and breathed Sci-fi. On one of those long journeys to a gig, I asked him what his ideal woman would look like, and he said, “She’d be covered in soft blue fur, from head to toe.” He had no real reason, he just liked the idea.
Well, this week, the Doctor gets to live out a Sci-Fi geek dream, when the TARDIS is ‘made flesh’ in the form of a Victorian trollop. (Suranne Jones as Idris.) Lovely, passionate, and manic, the dark haired beauty is the captive of a small asteroid, a junkyard, that is actually the heart and soul of a travelling alien. “She’s a woman –and she’s my TARDIS.” It really is the manifestation of the love of the Doctor’s life, all 700 years of it, current doctor and past incarnations included, that ‘sexy thing’ that is the TARDIS, standing before him in the body of a beautiful woman. And to add even more geek-cred, the writer of this particular episode is none other than Neil Gaiman, author of The Sandman, the film “Coraline,” and other Sci-Fi/Fantasy classics.
If you’ve seem the wonderful “Confidential” footage of the episode, you’ll have noted that even Matt Smith seemed cowed by Gaiman’s on-set presence. For his own part, Neil Gaiman seemed equally awed by Matt Smith/The Doctor. And apparently Stephen Moffat (Executive Producer and Head Writer) and Neil Gaiman have been a mutual admiration society for ages. Gaiman’s a longtime Doctor Who fan. It’s a lovefest. So, how’s the story?
Well, Gaiman writes quite differently from Moffat, rhythmically. But Gaiman may be the first writer to actually capture the 11th Doctor’s personality, and the nature of the relationship between the Doctors and the Type 40 TARDIS (Time and Relative Dimension In Space.) The TARDIS, ‘you sexy thing,’ is the closest thing to a wife any Doctor may ever have.
Are you sitting comfortably? Then, let’s begin …
The Doctor and his companions are summoned by a cube banging on the TARDIS door as they hover in deepest space. It seems to be a distress signal, from the Corsair, a fellow Time Lord. The doctor is overjoyed. “I’ve got mail!” Could there really be a survivor of the Time Lord massacre?
They hurry to answer the call which has come from the outer edge of the universe, actually a bubble universe sitting just outside of our universe. On a sentient asteroid, a quartet of lost people live; ‘Uncle,’ ‘Auntie,’ and ‘Nephew Oud,’ and of course, Idris. Idris has been chosen to have her mind and soul sucked out of her. “I’d go in your place,” says Uncle, “but it’s really going to hurt.” They know that this sacrifice will bring a Time Lord, as it has before. Their allegiance is to the asteroid they call ‘House’, (voiced by Michael Sheen) as it provides for them in every way.
When the Doctor, Amy and Rory land, they discover that the heart of the TARDIS has been – well – eaten – by Idris. She now encompasses the soul of the TARDIS, and the TARDIS itself is now just a Police box, albeit still larger on the inside than the outside. They aren’t going anywhere until the Doctor figures out what’s happened. When he meets Idris, he encounters a woman that appears to be mad, passionate, and sexy and who has at least some of the answers he seeks. She seems affectionate to him, first kissing, and then biting him. “Biting is excellent! It’s like kissing, only there’s a winner.” The Doctor backs away from this madwoman, and she is taken away and imprisoned by the Oud. The Doctor is delighted to see the Oud, but this Oud has been ‘repaired’ by House, and is only the bearer of bad news.
Tricking Rory and Amy into re-entering the dormant TARDIS, he locks them inside, then disappears into the bowels of the asteroid. He discovers a cupboard stacked full of cubes, each containing distress calls from long gone Time Lords. Angered and devastated, he realizes he truly is alone, the very last of the Time Lords. Confronting Uncle and Auntie, he learns that they are only kept alive by House ‘frankensteining’ bits and pieces from other travelers; they are a patchwork of lost souls. When they learn that he is, indeed, the last Time Lord, House has no further use for their corporeal bodies, and they fall dead. The Oud, wormy beard and all, is saved, as he will be sent on a more sinister mission.
The Doctor hears Idris’ calls, and he rescues her from her cage. Her stumbling speech becomes understandable, and The Doctor realizes she is indeed the TARDIS. And she wants him to call her “Sexy.” (“Only when we’re alone!” he replies.) Cue a montage of previous Doctor incarnations interacting with the TARDIS, with that curious, lighted, pulsing, center pole slowly moving up and down the center of the console … hey, this is supposed to be a kid’s show! The Doctor and Idris talk and flirt like a long married, loving couple, we learn that his theft of the TARDIS was actually aided and abetted by the TARDIS’ wish for freedom and adventure. “I wanted to see the universe, so I stole a Time Lord and I ran away,” says Idris. “You stole me, and I stole you.”
They argue over the Doctor’s inability to follow rules. “You’re like a 9 year old trying to rebuild a motorbike in his bedroom. And you never read the instructions. There are instructions on the door (of the TARDIS), it says “Pull to Open. What do you do?” “I push!”
The Doctor fights back. “You have never been very reliable.” “No, “ she says, “but I always took you where you needed to go.” She adds, “I exist across all space and time, and you, you run around, and bring home strays.” 700 years of frustration, bubbling over as they battle together to handle a problem, just like a real, long married couple.
Having figured out House‘s plan to take over the TARDIS, they realize that the surface of the asteroid is strewn with the detritus of scavenged TARDIS’. The Doctor and Idris put together a rudimentary console. But how will they make it through the rift?
House has taken over the TARDIS, and is now in control. He wants his own adventures. With Amy and Rory his reluctant guests, House takes sadistic joy in torturing the duo with an impossible maze of corridors, playing with gravity, separating them from each other, aging Rory until he’s 2000 years old, and Amy’s despair in finding a long dead Rory skeleton in a corridor covered with graffiti saying “Hate Amy. Kill Amy. Die Amy!” The Oud has been dispatched to find and destroy them. As they run from him, Idris makes telepathic contact with ‘the pretty one’ … Rory. She sends him a passcode to an archived area of the ship, which turns out to be the console of the Tardis from David Tennant's era (the 10th Doctor.) Bathed in green lights, the console is under the control of House. The pursuing Oud is atomized when the improvised TARDIS lands, and the Doctor and Idris appear.
House chortles that he simply can’t decide how best to kill the intruders, but the Doctor warns House that the engines are failing, and if he is killed, the TARDIS will fail, ruining House’s plans. Tricking House into deleting the archived room, they are teleported into the main console. House, still intent on destroying them, thunders, “Fear me, I've killed dozens of Time Lords", and the Doctor replies, "Fear me. I've killed them all."
Idris, however, is dying, the ‘body house’ not able to contain the matrix for long. As she expires, she exhales a golden, glimmering light that circles around the room, vanquishing the spirit of House. The TARDIS is back in her own box. But before Idris’ body disappears, she calls to the Doctor.
“Doctor, are you there? It’s so very dark in here.” “I’m here,“ he replies. “I’ve been looking for a word, a big complicated word, so sad. I’ve found it now. ‘Alive’. I’m alive.“ “Alive isn’t sad,” says the Doctor. “It is when it’s over. I’ll always be here,” she says, “but this is when we talked. And now even this has come to an end.”
“There’s something I didn’t get to say to you … Hello. Hello Doctor. It’s so very, very nice to meet you. I love you” she whispers, and, to the sound of the TARDIS’ engines, is consumed by the light. Visibly moved, the Doctor sniffles, and turns to the console, as Rory and Amy look on with concern.
Later, the Doctor is found in the bowels of the ship, where he is continuing to repair wires and putting a firewall around the Matrix. Rory tells the Doctor that Idris kept repeating something just before the end, and she said they’d need to know it someday. “The only water in the forest is the river.” They’re off to restful Orion in two minutes, he says, and shoos them off to their bunk bed. We learn that all of the beds on the TARDIS are bunk beds, because bunk beds are cool – a bed, with a ladder!
Upstairs at the console, the Doctor finishes his repair, and sets a course for Orion. Alone, he says to the machine, “Are you there? Can you hear me? Okay, the eye of Orion, or wherever we need to go.” The controls shift by themselves, and he laughs, as the TARDIS once more makes the real decisions.
Sneak peek for next week, first of a two parter, from tardis.wikia, "A synopsis of "The Rebel Flesh" and "The Almost People" has been released: An army of monsters from outer space will make a carbon copy of the handsome Doctor as they invade Earth. However, the Time Lord will only discover the clone when he comes face to face with himself as he investigates the alien invasion, and tries to foil the extra-terrestrial beings’ plans to take over the world. His companions Amy and Rory also become confused when they can’t work out which is the real Doctor and which is his double, and whom they should be taking instructions from."
Off you pop, then! See you next week!