The Tardis intercepts a hypercube containing a distress call from another Time Lord that leads the Doctor and his friends to a living asteroid in a bubble universe ... But who is the mysterious Idris and what has House got in store for our friends?
What's good about it?
From the start it was clear that this episode was going to be something special. The possibility of there being another Time Lord somewhere in the cosmos is a captivating idea for the Doctor and viewer alike so credit to Neil Gaiman for audaciously playing with the Doctor's hopes only to dash them cruelly. These cries for help are just echoes of the long dead, lured to the junkyard only to be filleted by House for his amusement and the Tardises consumed for their energy.
The scene where the Doctor finds the cabinet full of distress signals is played beautifully by Matt Smith showing a combination of aching disappointment and barely suppressed rage that's electrifying to watch. The asteroid itself is brilliantly realised (filmed in a quarry no less, very retro) and House is a creepy adversary brought to life with a chilling turn by Michael Sheen. His ragtag bunch of grotesques are also wonderful and provide much of this episodes dark humour.
Laughs aside, this is a touching and bittersweet episode at heart. Which leads me to Idris. Oh Idris, you mad, bitey, splendid, timey-wimey Tardis lady. I think Gaiman hasn't been cheeky at all in calling her the Doctor's wife; in fact it seems only apt. After all the things they've seen and done, at the end of the day once the 'strays' have left all the Doctor and the Tardis have is each other. A mad man and a big blue box may not be marriage in the conventional sense, but who are we to judge? So after hundreds of years the Doctor finally gets to have a one to one with his motor made flesh only to have her taken away again. Oh cruel, cruel world. Their parting was beautiful, sentimental without being mawkish and very nearly brought a tear to the eye of this reviewer. Kudos to Suranne Jones for an outstanding performance that will be remembered for many years to come.
Anyway, blubbing aside, the denouement of this episode was superb. House getting well and truly shafted by Idris for stealing the Tardis was very satisfying indeed; especially given the mental torture it had just subjected Amy and Rory to in their flight through the ship's corridors. Speaking of which, it's great to see our other resident couple share some proper screen time together and get a chance to show their mettle - Amy's deduction work with the Tardis telepathic codes being a particular highlight.
Alas, with an episode this good it would easy pick out every single golden moment, but that would take forever so I'll leave you with these final three. I loved that the Tardis thinks Rory is 'the pretty one' - not a reflection on Karen Gillan's beauty but very amusing nonetheless. A little echo from the future in Idris' dying words: 'The only water in the forest is the river'... Another tantalising hint towards the resolution of this year’s series arc.
And the final scene with the Doctor alone in the console room, wondering out loud if Idris can still hear him? In response a lever moves by itself, guiding him to his next destination. Oh, you beautiful idiot, of course she can.
What's wrong with it?
If I'm being honest, not much wrong this week. Apart from one thing. Yep, they've gone and done it again. The production team have killed Rory Williams (or Pond, depending on your preference) for the third time in as many weeks. I mean honestly, I know it was a nasty illusion created by House but this is getting beyond the pale. What price for Amy and the Doctor to discover Rory, dead in the jaws of some slavering beast and Amy to exclaim: 'Oh my god! You killed Rory!!' Cut to the Doctor muttering under his breath: 'You bastards'. Anyone? No? On a serious note, this is beginning to make me wonder if Rory's days might actually be numbered. The good man and hero to many that River is supposed to go down for killing, could it be him and not the Doctor? I certainly hope not but we'll just have to wait and see. One other thing, I was sorry not to see more of Auntie, Uncle and Nephew, they were hilarious. Ok, so Nephew was just a silent Ood with green eyes, but everyone loves an Ood, right?
Plenty of kisses from the past this week, but all handled in a way that rewards classic Who fans without alienating the nu-Who audience. The hypercubes that contain Time Lord messages were first seen in Patrick Troughton's epic swansong, 1969's The War Games in which the second Doctor is forced to contact his own people to save many others, even at the price of his own liberty. Peter Davison's debut adventure, 1982's Castrovalva sees the Doctor's friends Nyssa and Tegan fending for themselves in the Tardis corridors and deleting rooms to create energy for flight. At the conclusion of this week's episode, the Doctor says he will take Amy and Rory to the Eye of Orion, the fabled galactic beauty spot that suspiciously looked like the moist countryside of Wales in 1983's anniversary tale The Five Doctors. As it should, this bonus material for avid fans only adds depth to an already fresh and original story, not distract from it.
The bottom line
'I always took you where you needed to go.' An extended love letter to the constant companion the Doctor has had through his 47 years of on-screen adventures, the Tardis. A moving script beautifully executed by a confident production team with barely a shot or line out of place. Once in a while Doctor Who likes to give the audience a good shake to remind them how brilliant it can be and this is certainly one of those occasions. As soon as the credits rolled I wanted to watch The Doctor's Wife again right away, and if that's not the greatest compliment you can pay to a piece of television I don't know what is. So roll on The Rebel Flesh, you have a high benchmark to live up to.