This article contains spoilers for The Time Traveler’s Wife episode 2.
HBO’s The Time Traveler’s Wife lets creator Steven Moffat do what prior shows like Doctor Who would never allow. Based on the bestselling 2003 novel by Audrey Niffenegger, The Time Traveler’s Wife tells a story that Moffat himself originally borrowed from when creating a story for the Eleventh Doctor: a man with the power of time travel meets a woman at many points in her life and they fall in love. Where Moffat’s prior work on Doctor Who was largely family-friendly, The Time Traveler’s Wife has given him wiggle room to explore things of a more adult nature.
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The Time Traveler’s Wife episode 2 has Henry (Theo James) meeting up for a reluctant second date with his future wife Clare (Rose Leslie) when she starts digging into Henry’s past and powers. At one point in the conversation, he mentions that his father found out about his powers when Henry was 16 because he walked in on two versions of Henry in a decidedly sexual situation. He waves the event off and explains it away by highlighting the fact that he was 16.
This trope doesn’t resemble anything seen in Doctor Who. It’s the sort of joke and trope that Moffat never could have used in such a family-friendly property. However, in a series where the protagonist always shows up naked after time-traveling, Moffat has a bit more leeway to explore the tropes of science fiction that don’t fit nicely into Doctor Who‘s brand or image.
The idea of sleeping with oneself is oft-repeated in time travel stories and jokes. Popular examples include David Gerrold’s 1973 Nebula-nominated novel “The Man Who Folded Himself” and Robert A. Heinlein’s short story “—All You Zombies—”. While Doctor Who is heavily invested in science fiction tropes and has itself impacted the genre in significant ways, the strictures of its specific branding don’t allow for the exploration of tropes like The Time Traveler’s Wife does. That Moffat is able to pay homage to these established tropes in a new property is exciting and fun to watch.
Moffat is a big fan of Niffenegger’s 2003 novel and has shown his affection for it by letting The Time Traveler’s Wife influence Doctor Who. That he now gets to work on an adaptation of it and that said adaptation is allowing him to stretch his wings into science fiction tropes that Doctor Who won’t touch is satisfying and interesting. It’s enough to make one wonder what other potentially risque tropes Moffat might explore in the remaining episodes of The Time Traveler’s Wife.