This episode is almost perfect.
The contrast here between a ‘fine’ episode and a spectacular one is stark. ‘Black Spot’ is serviceable. It keeps audiences reasonably entertained for a week. It’s also a little ho-hum. A little ordinary. A little bit blah.
This one isn’t.
It’s not just Neil Gaiman, although that helps, but there are other wonderful episodes which he didn’t write (and a rather less-wonderful one that he did). It’s more than that. It’s the idea: boy meets box. It’s the delightful banter between them. It’s the roller-coaster of feelings: the Doctor’s hope, rage, terror, grief, joy, and grief again. It’s the timey-wimey ‘Tenses are funny’ bits of conversation out of order. It’s everyone getting to be extra human. Rory, the nurse, lets it get to him. Being alive: it’s sad when it’s over. And I just wanted to say hello.
I adore it.
There a couple of slightly off moments. Amy’s repeated grief over Rory is starting to get silly. How many times has he not-died in the last season plus? It’s getting hard to buy. And the Doctor’s excitement over the TARDIS being, specifically, a woman, is a bit uncomfortable. I suppose I could read it as woman=person=walking talking fellow being, but in context with a Doctor who doesn’t know how to talk to girls and a showrunner who enjoys making fun of male-female relations, it’s awkward. Same with the biting kissing thing. Funny I guess, but in a slightly off kind of way.
There’s also the more subtle question of who Idris was before. A life was taken to make room for the TARDIS, and no one mourns her. I suppose the same could be said for the rest of House’s crew, but I feel particularly for Idris. Her body served a lovely purpose; someone should have thought to thank her.
Still, in all it’s almost perfect.
With reference to season 7: Moffat decided, in ‘The Name of the Doctor,’ that Clara picked the TARDIS for him. In my headcanon, that never happened. The TARDIS chose him, and he chose her. There was no third party. No one retconns Neil Gaiman. The tale of a boy and his box told here is perfect, and nothing can change it.
“I wanted to see the Universe, so I stole a Time Lord and ran away.”
Okay, not quite done. The suggestion that a Time Lord can change genders, in reference to the Corsair, is made canon here. It’s not a large thing but arguably important. Also, Rory the nurse gets to be a nurse, and not for the first time. RTD’s doctors – Martha, Owen – tended to panic when faced with a medical situation, or at least overreact. (Additional misuse of CPR to be found in ‘Utopia.’) Rory the nurse maintains his calm, looks out for his patient, and always lets it get to him.
This story affected me quite a bit the first time I saw it, while I was still suffering from an RTD-era hangover. I was charmed by the way she called him her thief. I was captivated by the idea that her love for him was large enough to encompass all his companions and all his love for them. Here’s what happened:
To my thief
I didn’t mean to do it
honestly, I wasn’t jealous
didn’t mean to lose your favorite friend.
I know I didn’t take you
where you wanted
where you were needed, there you were.
I did my best
to get you back to her
honestly I did
how I cried to see your tears.
When I fell through that crack
all I knew
was you alone could save that world.
I never imagined
that I’d opened a trap
through which your love would fall
never to be recovered.
Forgive me, my thief
let me soothe you
the only way I can
taking you ever farther
which only you can overcome.
(originally posted here)