It's finally here: award-winning author Neil Gaiman's episode of Doctor Who is airing this weekend. We've seen it, and here's our absolutely spoiler-free review.
And when we say spoiler-free, we really mean spoiler-free. There will be no details below — beyond vague generalizations. We're assuming you haven't even watched the "next time" trailer. With that said, here are our first thoughts...
So at first blush, Gaiman's episode might be a good candidate for "episode you could show to your neophyte friends to get them hooked on Doctor Who." When we interviewed Gaiman a while back, he told us that his goal was to create an episode like "City of Death" or "Blink," one which just shows how that dotty man and his blue box can be used to tell a story.
But unlike those other two episodes, Gaiman's outing actually provides more of an introduction to the show and what it's about. And it's a very sweet encapsulation of the wonder and strangeness of the show's premise. (Although, to be fair, it does reference previous plot points from "The Impossible Astronaut," and it sort of assumes you know what a Time Lord is.) If someone didn't know anything about Doctor Who, they could pick up with this adventure and get a darkly mystical explanation of the show's main idea.
And the main idea of the story is clever enough that you wonder why it hasn't been done before.
Gaiman's love for Doctor Who shows through in every second of the episode, not just through little references to past stories but also through clever little bits that expand the universe and make it feel more like a living thing. It's always nice when an episode leaves you feeling as though the world of Doctor Who is bigger than what we've seen on the screen.
There's also a lot of stuff about the power of words, and a lot of cute wordplay, and the need to find the right word for something, the word that's just on the tip of your tongue but isn't quite coming out. And the difficulty of coming up with verb tenses to describe stuff that happens/will happen/is happening in the baffling web of time.
All in all, it's a silly, twinkly and enchanting look at the world of Doctor Who from a new angle. The idea of treating the original mad scientist show as a fairy tale has seldom worked better than it does in Gaiman's hands. It's one of those things that starts out just sort of spinning out cleverness, and then it suddenly turns quite scary and dark, and winds up being quite emotional. And it might just make your friends fall in love with the greatest time traveler of them all.