Post Game TV Recap: DOCTOR WHO S6E4

Do you have any idea how hard it is to type during a standing ovation?

For nearly two years, Doctor Who fans have been waiting for this episode, written by Neil Gaiman. And every time his name was spoken or written in reference to the show, you could imagine being said in the same way Judy Jetson would say "Jet SCREAMER!!!", complete with the EEEEEEEeeeeeeee*faint* at the end. People made mad predictions about the episode, and when the title was officially announced, it shot into high gear. The guessing, the Clever Theories, the hot steaming rumors, were all gloriously wrong, except for the bit that it would be a cracking good episode. Have a sit down anywhere, and we'll take a look at all that jam-packed wonderful in this tale.


by Neil Gaiman

Directed by Richard Clark

Receiving a distress call from a fellow Time Lord, The Doctor pilots the TARDIS out of the universe entirely, into a "bubble universe" containing nothing but an asteroid junkyard. The TARDIS goes dead - literally; the sentient core of the time capsule is removed somehow, and even more amazingly, transplanted into a young woman, Idris. It turns out that at the center of the asteroid lies House, an energy being that traps ships and people that stray too near it, and its favorite meal happens to be free-range TARDIS. With Amy and Rory trapped in the TARDIS, now under the control of House, The Doctor and Idris have to build a makeshift ship from the castoff remnants of dozens of previously captured TARDISes, all before Amy and Rory are killed by House, and before the powerful energies of the TARDIS matrix destroy Idris' human form. After Amy and Rory are tortured by House, The Doctor and Idris/TARDIS manage to return her to the big blue box, with these two last-of-their-kinds closer than ever.


Neil Gaiman (Writer) is an amateur beekeeper, with an assortment of honeys in competition in many country fairs in the Minneapolis area. He has experienced some recent notoriety for a talk given at a local library (presumably not about beekeeping) and the reaction to same by a local politician.

Oh, yes, and he's won more Eisners and other industry awards than the average person has used the word "lubricant" in casual conversation. His comics include Sandman and Marvelman, his novels include American Gods and Good Omens (with Terry Pratchett) and he has written an equally beloved episode of Babylon 5, the only writer than JMS to write one in its final three seasons. He will soon be on The Simpsons, and is a card-carrying member of the International Norbert Conspiracy.

Suranne Jones (Idris) played a hilarious Mona Lisa in The Sarah Jane Adventures and recently shared the screen with David Tennant in his dramatic miniseries Single Father. She starred in the crime drama Strictly Confidential, had an extended run on Coronation Street, and co-starred with Ray Winstone in Vincent.

Elizabeth Berrington (Auntie) has been burning up British TV for almost 20 years now. With her first major role on The Lakes, she's appeared in both drama and comedy, most recently in Drop Dead Gorgeous and Waterloo Road. She appeared in Psychoville as the mistress of Dawn French's husband, played by co-creator Steve (Strackman Lux) Pemberton.

Michael Sheen (House) has played British PM Tony Blair three times so far, as well as interviewer David Frost, who got a shout out in the episode two weeks ago in the Oval Office. Lots of genre credits as well - he's in the latest Twilight film, was in Tron: Legacy, played H.G. Wells in a TV biopic, and voice the White Rabbit in Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland.

Adrian Schiller (Uncle) played the psychic Hennessey in the second UK series of Being Human, and has done a number of roles in popular video games like Fable III and Castlevania: Lords of Shadow.

THE MONSTER FILES The House is an energy being, using the asteroid, and later the TARDIS as its home, like a hermit crab takes cast-off shells of other mollusks. The Doctor's met with other energy beings like the Nestenes and the Great Intelligence, Fenric, and more recently, the mysterious being from Midnight. Many similarly take control of humans, like the Gelth in The Unquiet Dead.

While not technically a monster this time around (just under the control of House) The Ood were introduced in The Impossible Planet as a servant race, telepathic but apparently only semi-sentient. This was proven tragically incorrect in Planet of the Ood where it's revealed they are functionally lobotomized by the company that processes them, replacing an exterior hind-brain with a technologic replacement which allows them to communicate with humans. They are similar in look to the Sensorites; as a nod to the old creature it was later revealed that Ood Sphere, their home planet, is in the same star system as Sense Sphere.

BACKGROUND BITS AND BOBS - Trivia and production details

THE SCRAPYARD AT THE END OF THE UNIVERSE - As Doctor Who started in a junkyard, Neil thought it fitting to have this story take place in one. He's made a return to Totters Lane a couple times over the course of his adventures, both on screen (Remembrance of the Daleks and Attack of the Cybermen) and off. 

CAUSE YOU CAN BUILD A MAINFRAME FROM THE THINGS YOU FIND AT HOME - The junk TARDIS from this episode was designed by 12-year-old Susannah Leah, as a result of a competition on the perennial British children's craft show Blue Peter. The console will also be made available as a playset for the action figure line. In a "Design a Monster" competition a couple years before, a young winner created The Abzorbaloff, as seen in the hilarious Love and Monsters, played by British comedian Peter Kay.

If you listen carefully, you'll hear some sound effects from the original series used in the junk TARDIS console.  They've done that a few times on the show, using older sounds to refer to older concepts.

HERE'S ONE I MADE EARLIER Blue Peter has had a long history with Doctor Who. A clip from the end of the serial The Tenth Planet featured on the show is the only remaining footage of The Doctor's first regeneration - so too, footage of the death of companion Katrina. 

Ace (Sophie Aldred) wore a Blue Peter badge on her costume. This was initially seen as a bit off-sides (sale or transfer of ownership of Blue Peter badges in the UK is as frowned upon as buying Oscar statuettes in America) until it was revealed that it was Sophie's own badge, awarded as a competition winner as a child. The BP presenters have appeared on the show twice in recent years, once on Who and once on Sarah Jane. 

SEEMS LIKE FOREVER (AND A DAY), THOUGHT I COULD NEVER (FEEL THIS WAY) - I think we can close the book on the old "Is the TARDIS sentient?" argument for good now. The Doctor has long referred to his ship in the feminine. Often assumed that this was merely the traditional reference to all ships as female, it's been said or alluded many times that "she" was alive, after a fashion. A TARDIS is described as being "grown" not built, though that may be in the sense that crystals are grown, as opposed to plant life.

I REMEMBER EVERY LITTLE THING, AS IF IT HAPPENED ONLY...TOMORROW - Like Dr. Manhattan in Watchmen, the TARDIS exists in all points of time simultaneously, which is why Idris has trouble with tenses throughout her bipedal adventure. It's interesting to see The Doctor's problem with keeping his own personal timeline straight expanded and turned back upon him.

A WHOLE LOT OF RUNNING - The old endless corridor gag is as old as filmic entertainment itself. You build a pair of hallways in a "T" shape (or in this case, three meeting in the middle at 60-degree angles), and with clever camera angles, you can made it look like an endless maze. And they have been used more than a few times on Doctor Who. Much of The Horns of Nimon take place in a giant maze that changes as The Doctor walks through it, eventually revealed as a huge computer circuit, the moving walls switches in the chip opening and closing. Steven Moffat got to skewer the trope in his Comic Relief short The Curse of Fatal Death as The Doctor and his companion are chased through endless identical-looking hallways.

Comics legend Neal Adams directed and wrote a film in the '70s called (eventually) Death to the Pee-Wee Squad that featured a pretty well-done version of such a scene, using a neon-lined corridor of an office building near South Street Seaport in New York City. 

"I've got MAIL!"- The cube is the method used by Time Lords to send emergency messages to each other. It first appeared in the final Patrick Troughton episode The War Games, where we first heard about the Time Lords at all. Before that, The Doctor's home planet and people were an utter mystery. In the episode, The Doctor, left with no options, pulls six plastic squares out of his pocket, sets them on the floor and concentrates, and the squares assemble themselves into a cube, containing the details of the situation they're in. He tries to get away before they arrive, but fails, and we get our first look at Gallifreyan justice.

"There's a living Time Lord sitting out there, and it's one of the GOOD ones!" - With the stroke of a pen, Neil Gaiman adds to the roles of Gallifreyan expatriates; I expect there's already The Corsair fanfic in the offing. There have been a number of renegade Time Lords over the course of the series, but not too many "Good" ones. Professor Chronotis attempted to atone for crimes at the end of his regeneration cycle in Shada, and Drax helped The Doctor recover the last portion of the Key to Time in The Armageddon Factor. K'anpo Rimpoche would tell the young Doctor stories both thrilling and terrifying as a boy, and centuries later, would help guide him into his fourth regeneration at the end of Planet of the Spiders. In the novels, New Adventures and Big Finish audio plays, one of the most popular renegades is the blissfully wacky and metafictional Iris Wildthyme, played by Jo Grant herself, Katy Manning. With Paul Cornell's crowning creation Bernice Summerfield, she's one of the most popular Doctor Who characters never to appear on the actual series.

The Master and The Rani were of course the most well-known of the more embarrassing side of Time Lord culture, but they're far from the only ones. The Monk was introduced in the Hartnell years, the first other member of The Doctor's race (save for Susan, and many consider the book still open on her), and the first antagonist to return, save for the Daleks. The War Chief shared the secret of space/time travel with a race of expansionist aliens in the aforementioned The War Games.

"Good-bye swimming pool, good-bye scullery" The idea of deleting rooms to provide extra power was introduced in Castrovalva, where the TARDIS was on the way back to the beginning of the galaxy, and about a fourth of the TARDIS' mass is blasted away and converted to thrust. While the companions worry that they may accidentally delete the Control Room, The Doctor is not of clear enough mind to alert them to the safety measures explained in this new episode. It comes up several times in the episode, following the triple-use format; once to set it up, once as a plot device, and a third as a joke.

"Outside the universe...where we've never ever been..." unless you count the time spent in E-Space after a fall through a Charged Vacuum Emboitment, or the Daleks' little extra-dimensional pocket, or the various parallel universes...oh, all right, where they've never been, please yourselves... The TARDIS lost power in a similar way when it lands in the universe of Rise of the Cybermen. It's fair to presume that while the TARDIS can refuel itself by absorbing Rift energy, it may still be receiving beamed energy from the Eye of Harmony on Gallifrey from a period of time outside the time lock, since the TARDIS exists in all points of time at once.

"the Matrix, the soul of the TARDIS" - This is another case of the same name being used to refer to different things. The Matrix is part of the APC Net, the digitized memories of past Time Lords, as first seen in The Deadly Assassin. In the same episode we learn of the Eye of Harmony, a captive black hole that provides the energy for all Time Lord technology, including the TARDIS. But in later stories, it's said that the TARDIS has its own Eye of Harmony, and it's never explained if it's a separate power source, or a conduit to the real one on Gallifrey. So the "Matrix," as The Doctor describes it, might be merely an offhand choice of words, or perhaps it is (or was) a part of the larger Matrix.

This may or not be a separate thing from the heart of the TARDIS which has been seen a couple of times since the new series has begun, and as far back as the Davison era. It gave Rose Tyler the power of the Bad Wolf in the episode of the same name, and reduced Blon Fel-Fotch Passameer-Day Slitheen to an egg again in Boom Town. Its casing has been partially removed physically to great damage to the machine in Terminus. It's interesting to note that the look of the energy of the Matrix looks similar to that which we saw from the Heart in Bad Wolf,  as well as the energy of a regenerating Time Lord, and even the wispy energy from Jenny in The Doctor's Daughter.

"You stole me; I stole you" truly the biggest change to The Doctor's first adventure that we're ever seen. He wasn't exactly dragged off Gallifrey, but he got a lot more help than he thought. If you want to take the episode's title a step farther, he didn't steal a TARDIS...he eloped.

"Run." The line is used twice in the episode, once by the Doctor, once by House. And in both cases it means "I am to be feared, but I'll give you a head start." 

"I directed them to one of the old control rooms"  The different look of the TARDIS control room has been a question since the first redesign. It's never clearly explained how it changes look and shape, sometimes quite radically. Since the new look is rarely if ever acknowledged by the passengers, it's tempting to assume that the room doesn't actually change. Like any time a set changes on a show, it's just taken as read that the "real" ship has always looked that way, and older episodes just couldn't show us the real look. It's similar to the argument Roddenberry made on Star Trek; Klingons ALWAYS had that ridge, the 60's show just couldn't afford to show them. However, the Second Doctor makes a specific reference to not liking the new look of the control room in The Three Doctors, so that fails a bit.

In The Masque of Mandragora, we are shown explicitly that The Doctor and Sarah Jane came across a second control room, and he reconfigured the design to connect its doors to the exterior. Note that here, the exit that used to link this control room to the external doors now connects to an internal hallway.

(By the way, that wonderful wood control room was intended to remain the main control room, but in between seasons it was stored poorly, and warped to the point of unusability, forcing the return to the old white walls.) In the Children in Need special Time Crash, the fifth Doctor sees the new look of the control room and remarks that "messed with the desktop settings", which opens up the possibility that like the rest of the ship, the console and control room is equally customizable.

"It's a bed...with a ladder!" Near the end of the episode the Doctor remarks that the bedrooms were jettisoned, and sets out to building new ones. Likely they're made of stray material collected as the TARDIS travels, converted and designed to the pilot's specifications. Which, apparently, includes bunk beds.

BIG BAD REPORT / CLEVER THEORY DEPARTMENT - Well, more mobiles, but other than that, not a whole lot of new bits. While it's a rather moot point by now, the episode does serve to drive home an important point - Time Lords can die.

Let's step back a bit. The Silence have a ship that greatly resembles a TARDIS in design and function. We have yet to see it travel in time. It could be missing one of two things; either a working TARDIS Matrix or the Rassilon Imprimatur. The Imprimatur was introduced in The Two Doctors - it's burned into the Time Lord DNA, a combination of physical and metaphysical ingredients that allow a Time Lord to travel in time. Without it being added to a time machine, no one can use it; once it is, ANYONE can. There are some theories that the young girl (whoever she is) is a Time Lord - if so, the Silence may have been keeping her alive until she was old enough to imprint their ship. The other possibility is that she is to be used as the matrix of their ship, getting the soul and the Imprimatur at once. The suit would keep her from burning out like Idris did, and Rose almost did. Just thinking...

"The Only Water In The Forest Is The River" - That is going to keep people chatting for a while. We already know the TARDIS is having trouble with tenses, so she may have been talking about something that's already happened, namely, The Doctor's FIRST adventure with River, the second half of which was called Forest of the Dead. Also, at first Rory thinks she's asking for water, not making a prediction - she may be providing information about saving herself, not saving him, or River.

We do know that such prophetic statements are not easy to read. "You Are Not Alone" were the final words of The Face of Boe, and while it sounded promising, was not a source of joy at all; it referred to Professor Yana (acronyms are fun!), the disguised mind and body of The Master. "Your song will end soon" got a lot of guesses that it too was referring to River Song, but it was a more simple and direct reference to The Doctor's life, or at least his latest incarnation. So this line stands a fair to middling chance of meaning nothing like what we think it does.

NEXT TIME ON DOCTOR WHO - Steve Martin used to joke about McDonalds having a vat of "stuff" out of which they made everything sold at the restaurant, including the paper box. Apparently, with a bit of tweaking, a similar substance can make damn near everything, including a Time Lord. The co-creator of Life on Mars brings us The Rebel Flesh once seven days pass.

Vinnie Bartilucci owns three scarves of varying length and quality, and four sonic screwdrivers, including the one that also works as a Wii remote.  His blog The Forty Year-Old Fanboy should really be updated more often, considering how much he seems to go on about things.

Twitter activity