Post-facto edit: So I have had an incredible amount of trouble writing this post. I've been working on it on-and-off for three weeks now and I'm just going to throw it out there. Know before you read that it may not make that much sense and I know I'm missing huge huge huge things. Sorry 'bout that. Blame it on the medication if you like; I do.
I'm going to admit it right up front: The Doctor's Wife would have had to bork loudly and badly in about 9,000 different ways at once before I didn't love it. I went into it not only wanting to be pleased but feeling more than a little bit confident that I would be pleased.
'Cause -- did you notice the writing credit at all? Yeah, this dude, right here. And since I've pretty much enjoyed everything he's ever written -- with the exception of Sandman but that isn't Gaiman's fault; that's my ex's fault -- I was pretty much right there with Wife from the beginning. (Okay, if you don't know who Neil Gaiman is, that last paragraph makes next to no sense. Still, if you don't know who he is, you have a lot of treat coming your way! I suggest starting either with Stardust or Neverwhere but, really, just pick a title that grabs your eye and go with it. Enjoy. There are also great movie/TV adaptations of both of the above, just in case that helps you out at at all. Obviously -- read the book first. :))
But then -- you know what the bonus to all this was? It was fucking awesome. It didn't need help to be loved because it was freakin' great. (My real problem with it? The sound on my DVD was not great -- we had to ramp up the volume to a little over half and still had problems.)
Read on at your own risk of spoilers.
Plus, I have a slight shame issue: I failed to recognize the voice of Michael Sheen. Whoopsy!
The basic story for Wife is very simple (as with a lot of Gaiman's best short stories): the Doctor is decoyed to an asteroid, thinking he has received a message from an old Time Lord friend in peril. Meanwhile, an Ood removes mind and soul from a young woman named Idris as she is assured by an older woman she calls Auntie that everything will be fine because there will be a Time Lord along shortly. The Doctor, Amy and Rory in tow, arrives and -- well, everything really isn't fine. Gaiman begins to ring the creepy changes as soon as the Doctor sets foot on the asteroid -- earlier, if you notice that Auntie, her companion Uncle, and the Ood, Nephew, don't seem...hooked up right. Idris herself has been acting strangely since the TARDIS arrived and her first scene with the Doctor is just great: "I just thought of a new thing about kissing!"
Idris is a delightful, sad, heartbreaking new character -- mostly because you never really know what Idris herself is like. The original Idris is gone in the first few moments of the show. Who knows what the real Idris was like! But the TARDIS in human form? As Amy asks the Doctor: "Did you wish really hard?" I know it's become a truism for the new series for fans to say that the true love of the Doctor's lives is the TARDIS but, seriously, folks? It's true. And seeing that made more visible for the rest of us -- well, I normally want to give Gaiman hugs but now I want to hug him, his kids, his dogs, his assistant, and his wife. Just for the sake of having been somewhere around the creation of this fantastic conceit of the TARDIS embodied.
Watching the TARDIS-as-woman and the Doctor interact is wonderful, particularly since Idris is such a delight: she's sharp, funny, and gives the Doctor shit. And her take on their relationship is great stuff: "I wanted to see the universe so I stole a Time Lord and ran away." !! Yes, please! (It's also wonderful that she continually refers to the Doctor as "her thief.")
Alongside all this lovely, however, is a good dose of both sad and genuinely scary: House, the living asteroid who has been...well, up to no good, steals the TARDIS (minus the energy that is now in Idris' body) and makes a run for it with Rory and Amy trapped inside. The mind games House puts them through are really quite uncomfy making -- time becomes a suddenly flexible thing and Amy, for the first time really, is faced with Rory getting angry at her for abandoning him: "You left me again!" The graffiti scrawled on the TARDIS walls as Rory ages and dies without Amy is terrifying. It brings back unpleasant memories of Day of the Moon with the marker slashes on everyone's skin to mark encounters with the Silence.
The Doctor's temper, too, is volatile in this episode: when he discovers what House has been up to, we see shadows of the scene in Eleventh Hour where he calls the Atraxi back for a scolding: the Doctor is always distressing to be around when he gives into his urge to deliver the universe a righteous smackdown.
But the centrepiece of the episode and what makes it an absolute gem is the Doctor and Idris: it's heartbreaking, hysterically funny, charming, lovable -- and I can pretty much guarantee you will never watch The Big Bang the same way again.