Click here for the video adaptation of this article: The Doctor’s Car…uh…Wife
“I’ve got a sports car, you’ve got a space hopper!”
- The Doctor (Utopia)
Oh great. The Doctor’s “sexy” sports car came to life and is an attractive woman. Awesome. Not masturbatory at all.
Ever since we discovered that the TARDIS was alive in the 1964 story, Edge of Destruction, the Doctor has happily referred to his time machine as a “She”, as any traditional ship captain would. This has always bothered me, as it seems so dated in such a (usually) progressive show. Not overtly misogynistic, just very basic in its idea of the feminine as property. (The gendering made weirder when we see the Doctor “strokes bits of the TARDIS”, and, uh…occasionally gives “her” a thump if “she’s” not working properly.)
When I first tuned into Neil Gaiman’s 2011 episode “The Doctor’s Wife”, I had no idea what the concept was (I do so hate spoilers). I hoped that the people in the promotional images were Time Lords, hiding in some lost pocket of space, and that we’d perhaps meet Susan Foreman‘s Grandmother! However, it became clear within the first few minutes, that this wasn’t the case, and quickly I realized that the Doctor’s wife was, in fact, the human embodiment of the TARDIS!
From that moment on, I watched with an incredulous gaze, convinced that bringing the Doctor’s prized possession to life as his “wife” couldn’t possibly play out in a feminist way.
After the episode, I wasn’t quite sure what to think. I went back and watched it again immediately. How was this woman portrayed? Was she just an object? Did she belong to the Doctor, as I so feared?
Well…no. Actually, she claimed that he belonged to her. That rather than steal her, she had stolen him.
On top of that, she hadn’t “stolen” the Doctor out of any sort of romantic ideal. She hadn’t fallen in love with him suddenly, in a Disney romance, love-at-first-sight kind of way. Rather, she had chosen him, because she wanted adventure! Just like the Doctor, she was bored of her Timey-Wimey Gallifreyan life, and wanted to escape it. She made a choice to let the Doctor in, and use him to travel all of time and space.
As this is the first time the Doctor and the TARDIS officially get to talk, he confronts her about how “You didn’t always take me where I wanted to go”, to which she responds, “No, but I always took you where you needed to go.”
Well. That’s it then, really, isn’t it? The TARDIS isn’t an unreliable piece of crap. She’s an independent, adventure seeking, intelligent, compassionate life form. She lives on a different plane from the Doctor, but she’s tied to him by the same drives, which go beyond a “Disney romance”, and instead are based in what truly matters in a relationship: they want the same things out of life, not just out of each other.
I appreciate Neil Gaiman’s work here. He definitely made a point of trying to put the two characters on an even playing field. It would be easy for many male writers to have ignored the necessity of this, I think, and made the story a gratuitous fan-wank fantasy. He even managed to bring up the “sexy” nickname without actually sexualizing the character. It felt more like cute banter between two people who genuinely cared for each other, rather than the Doctor objectifying her. Thank goodness.
The Doctor cries in this story. I think that’s important. He really cries here, which he does so rarely. It gives this event such size, which it should have. Hello, TARDIS. It was so very, very nice to meet you.