Written by Neil Gaiman
Directed by Richard Clark
I once saw Neil Gaiman live. I went to see his wife, Amanda Palmer, in concert, and he told a story as a warm-up. And then he wrote an absolutely amazing book after that called The Ocean at the End of the Lane that everyone should read.
But it’s not the star power of Neil Gaiman that makes this episode so great. It’s the fun way that it deconstructs the Doctor, the TARDIS, and the relationship between them. When the TARDIS consciousness is ripped from the TARDIS body and placed inside a woman’s body instead, she and the Doctor can suddenly discuss their relationship and all of its foibles. And they unsurprisingly but amusingly bicker like a sitcom married couple (If there were actually funny sitcoms, that is.) before coming to an understanding about their relationship. The Doctor finally realizes how much the TARDIS has taken care of him over the years while she recognizes that she needs the crazy Doctor, the mad man with a box, to get where she wants to go every bit as much as he needs the box.
Meanwhile, what Amy and Rory go through in the possessed TARDIS is a more adult brand of horror than that in which Doctor Who normally traffics. Gaiman is a horror/fantasy author, and his chops really come in handy for him as he puts the Ponds through a psychological ordeal that tests and re-tests their relationship. They abandon one another, feel abandoned by one another, lose each other, find each other, learn to hate and be hated by one another–it’s an ordeal that only makes sense for people in a relationship, but for them it is as horrific as anything could be.
The episode also serves as something of a showcase for Arthur Darvill as Rory Williams. While he is often relegated to a “dimwitted sidekick” role, he was actually a strong performer, much stronger than most of the Doctor’s companions, and it was never put to better use than it was here, where he had to play a very wide range of emotions in only one hour.
It’s an episode that breaks the TARDIS crew into two couples and forces them through some of the most difficult trials imaginable only for them to come out stronger than ever in the end. But it approaches its relationship drama in such an incredibly appropriate way, mixing a more traditional rom-com approach for one couple with a psychological horror show for the other, that it cannot be anything other than Doctor Who.
Plus, Amy asking, “Did you wish really hard?” is perhaps the single funniest moment in the series’ history.