I’ve often half-seriously wondered if Steven Moffat has just decided to make this entire series of Doctor Who as an elaborate means of winding Lawrence Miles up. The riffs on Alien Bodies in the opening two-parter were blatant enough, but this might as well have been labeled as an adaptation of Miles’ short story Toy Story. Except of course it’s written by Miles’ least-favourite writer in the world, Neil Gaiman.
Truth be told, I doubt Gaiman’s read Miles’ story, but both have such similar ideas as their basis (the TARDIS takes on the form of a human woman, and amongst other things reveals that she had as much choice in who her pilot was as he had in his ship, and it’s also made clear that the interior of the TARDIS is more software than hardware) that Moffat at least must have noticed. People on the Faction Paradox forums have been pointing out other, more tenuous, similarities too, but I suspect these are more down to Gaiman and Miles having common influences than anything else. (I strongly suspect one of the reasons Miles loathes Gaiman so much is that he sees him as a warped mirror reflection of himself).
The result is easily the best Doctor Who TV story since Dalek, and feels more like Doctor Who than anything on TV since the McCoy era, but is a strange collision of at least four separate styles.
First, we have the standard Gaimanisms – the TARDIS is written as, to all intents and purposes, Delirium of the Endless. Auntie and Uncle could easily have stepped out of Neverwhere. And the whole cosmic junkyard thing felt very, very Gaiman. Even the production design felt this way – it looked all steampunk-goth – though the whole series since Moffat took over has had that feel.
On top of that, we had the Big Idea stuff – the stuff that felt like Miles, the living planet that eats TARDIS energy and creates puppet people to play with out of the parts of dead Time Lords, the possessed woman with the mind of a TARDIS, the space-time twisting inside the TARDIS itself, and so on. This is a side of Gaiman we don’t often see, but which seems to owe a lot to Alan Moore in horror mode.
Then we have a few bits which seem to be Gaiman deliberately trying to write like Russel Davies – the tearful goodbye to the embodiment of the TARDIS felt exactly like the kind of tearful goodbye-forever speech Davies wrote about four times a series (usually before bringing the same character back two episodes later).
And there are a few bits which seem to be either Moffat’s direct input or Gaiman trying to sound like Moffat (the “be afraid of me, I killed *all* the Time Lords” bit seemed very like Moffat’s usual macho action-hero posturing). I suspect the Ood was also just dumped in in order to have a visible ‘monster’, as it had little part to play in the proceedings.
But all this hangs together, thanks to Gaiman being a good enough writer to make it work. He even manages to take a joke about running down corridors (and having the corridors looking all the same to save on expense) and turn it into something quite scary and effective. Though it would have been more scary had they not killed Rory and brought him back to life AGAIN – the South Park jokes are getting more appropriate all the time.
I have serious problems with the episode – mostly that the TARDIS in human form is just Gaiman-mad-woman-by-numbers rather than the truly strange and awesome (in the literal sense of the word) character she should be. People have been comparing this to things like Edge Of Destruction, and the comparison really does it no favours – in Edge Of Destruction, it’s all about the characters, whereas here there really *were* no characters – a majority of the characters are really just puppets played with by an omnipotent disembodied entity.
But this had a plot that made sense, a few good lines, a couple of scary bits, and the Doctor didn’t commit any genocides (though he did cause the death of at least two intelligent entities, one accidentally and the other in self-defence). By the low standards of 21st-century Doctor Who, that’s as good as it gets.