Series 10, episode 6: “The Girl Who Waited”
When the Doctor tries to take Amy and Rory to the No.2 Most Beautiful Planet in the Galaxy, the TARDIS crew finds themselves in the midst of a planetwide medical quarantine, with Amy on the wrong side of the line, and trapped in a faster timestream.
There have been a LOT of good episodes this season, and some real big ideas and revelations, and most of it has been tied into the Death of the Doctor storyline, but it was one of the stand alone stories that is my current favorite of this run: “The Doctor’s Wife”. Neil Gaiman’s exploration of the love affair between a boy and his Box was pretty damn brilliant, and gorgeous to boot.
I now have a 2nd favorite episode.
Let me be perfectly clear, this is one of the best episodes of DOCTOR WHO since it’s returned to our screens six years ago. Like “The Doctor’s Wife” it examines a relationship, only this time it’s Amy and Rory’s, and like it, it looks at what the power of love means for them. And this episode, too, is gorgeous. It also takes a good long look at the Doctor in a way that is both true and unsettling.
I’m not going to give you a recap here, because this is an episode you have to watch. Leave aside the stunning production design, the lighting, the makeup and the effects, which are really, really good; it’s the story and the acting and the questions at the heart of it all that you have to watch. So if you want to go in completely fresh and see this the best way? Stop reading and watch it. Seriously.
OK, so if I’m not going to give an actual recap, what am I going to do? Well, first of all lets get the negative out of the way, because yes, it’s not a perfect episode. The premise of a medical quarantine that uses time to separate the sick from the healthy is really very interesting, and the idea of being able to watch your dying loved one have a full life in the 24 hours they have left is both truly kind and deeply sad. It is, unfortunately, a little hard to buy that every one of the 40,000 infected are all in their own separate timestreams… good God, think of the power and the processing requirements! And while the caretaker robots aren’t actually designed to be something to fight, no matter their adversarial nature here, they are apparently of pretty flimsy construction when the story requires it… painting canvas is not that effective a weapon. And that’s the quibbles. All of them. Seriously folks, that’s as bad as it gets.
Because writer Tom MacRae have given us something really good here. MacRae isn’t someone I expected this from to be honest, and that’s more my fault than his. I wasn’t much of a fan of the alternate universe Cybermen of his two-part story “Rise of the Cyberman/The Age of Steel”, and while I know that scripts change a lot in the course of filming, when I saw he wrote this episode, it didn’t make me all that excited. Mr. MacRae, I still don’t think much of those two episodes, but believe me, sir, the next time I see your name as the writer of anything, I will watch it.
Credit must also be given to director Nick Hurran, who is new to DOCTOR WHO, and especially to cinematographer Owen McPolin, who also shot “The Doctor’s Wife”, and if I could have him do the camera work for the entire series that would be just fine. The look of this episode falls squarely on the shoulders of McPolin and the production crew, and they do a truly excellent job.
What make this episode special is the hard look it takes at the love between Rory and Amy, and the consequences of travel with the Doctor upon that love. We’ve seen before what Rory’s love for Amy will lead him to do, from following her into the TARDIS in the first place, all the way to spending 2000 years waiting for her. We’ve seen him take on the universe to get his wife and child back, and if nothing else, we know Rory loves Amy. He’s grown immensely from the fairly feckless comic relief of “The Eleventh Hour”, and while he’s still funny as hell, Rory is a very three-demensional character.
Amy? Well, yes and no. She’s gone through a lot too, but essentially she’s stayed the same since we first met her. She’s still the strong willed, smart, sassy Scottish lass, and while we’ve seen some change with the pregnancy/Melody/River story, it hasn’t been much. And lately it’s been, and yes, it goes with the story arc, Amy needing rescuing a fair amount, with Rory being the one to save her as much as the Doctor. Here though… here we have a very different Amy than we’ve seen before.
“Rory, I love you. Now save me.”
In brief, when Amy is caught in the separate timestream of the Two Streams, 36 years have passed compared to the mere moments/hours of time Rory and the Doctor, and the years alone, constantly on the run from the HandBots, have hardened her into a bitter, angry woman. She’s built her own sonic screwdriver, hacked the computer system to aid her, and taken one of the HandBots for something resembling companionship. Feeling abandoned, her love for Rory and the Doctor has hardened into disdain for them both, and for the Doctor particularly, actual hatred.
“You told me to wait, and I did. A lifetime. You’ve got nothing to say to me.”
It’s quite the change from the Amy we’ve seen, to put it mildly. Physically Karen Gillan goes all out here, moving differently than young Amy, talking differently than young Amy, and yes, the excellent makeup helps, but it’s Gillan’s performance that makes older Amy work. Her anger, her bitterness, and most importantly her refusal to be saved by those she feels abandoned by, make or break the story, and Gillan gives her best work yet. We have to believe in this woman, this slightly mad, survive-at-all-costs woman, who would sacrifice her younger self to preserve her own life, for this to work, and that it does is a testament to the writing and her performance. When she’s playing against herself, old and young, it’s fantastic.
There’s a moment where the younger Amy reminds her older self of what it was like to fall in love with Rory, what that love means to them both, and it leads to this exchange:
“You’re asking me to defy destiny, causality, the nexus of time itself for a boy.”
“You’re Amy, he’s Rory, and oh yes, I am.”
Here we see what differentiates the two Amys, and it comes down to whom they put first. Young Amy asks “what about Rory”, and that she does shows how far the two are apart. Older Amy puts herself first, and you can see that she’s had to, but young Amy puts the man she loves, her husband, first. It’s an important moment, because while we have seen Rory do that for Amy over and over, we’ve rarely seen Amy return that level of sacrifice, and make no mistake… younger Amy is asking older Amy to sacrifice herself so that Rory can be reunited with her younger self. That the argument works only to a point is made clear moments later, when older Amy demands that the Doctor save both versions, because while she rediscovers her love for Rory, she quite simply doesn’t what to die.
“I don’t care that you got old. I care that we didn’t grow old together.”
Poor Rory. Last season it was “how can we kill Rory this week”, and if anything, he was the comic relief of the Doctor and Amy Show. Starting with “The Big Bang”, Rory became something far more, turning into a true Companion, and not just The Boy Who Follows Amy. From the Last Centurion of that episode to the Last Centurion of “A Good Man Goes To War”, Rory has asserted himself more and more, and proven again and again that nothing will keep him from being with the woman he loves, but here… here he has an almost impossible choice. Older Amy IS his Amy, damaged to be sure, but she is the woman he loves. It hurts that he didn’t get to grow older with her, and when the Doctor tells him they can still save the young Amy, obviously he’s going to try. And of course he’s going to try to save the older Amy too… he loves her. But the days of Rory just going along are over, and he’s even willing to have a yelling argument with older Amy, something we couldn’t have pictured when we first met him. And when he realizes that ultimately, the situation is the result of the Doctor’s way of doing things, and that it could have been avoided:
“This is your fault.”
“I’m so sorry, but Rory…”
“NO! This is YOUR FAULT! You, you should look at a history book once in a while, see if there’s an outbreak of plague or not!”
“That is not how I travel!”
“Then I DO NOT WANT TO TRAVEL WITH YOU!”
When the Doctor tells older Amy that there is a way to save both versions, things become even worse for Rory, because as we all know, the Doctor lies. Having promised him that he would save “thier” Amy, the Doctor is willing to do whatever it takes to get her back, and lying to his friends to achieve that goal is the least of it… because when Rory carries a tranquilized young Amy through the TARDIS’s doors, the Doctor slams them shut on the older one. The paradox would be too great to sustain, and so the Doctor does what he always does, and makes the terrible decision that has to be made. Only this time, Rory stands up to him and finds himself forced to make the decision, leading to another important line:
“This isn’t fair, you’re turning me into you!”
Wracked with pain, torn apart by knowing that if he doesn’t let older Amy into the TARDIS she’ll die, Rory almost does it, but older Amy stops him. Realizing that she truly has forgotten how much he loves her, how much she loves him, she accepts that there can only be one Amy, and gives the days to the one who can grow old with Rory.
My daughter told me today that this scene at the TARDIS door is being compared on some message boards to the 10th Doctor/Rose scene on the beach. Rubbish. While it’s true, I’m not a huge Rose fan, and always thought that “love” story was out of character, that scene was about something else entirely. This feels far more real, and the emotion of this scene is far more powerful. Listen to Arthur Darville’s voice, look at his face throughout this entire episode, but especially here at the door, and you’ll see what I mean. I am a big Arthur Darville fan, and this episode he’s bloody brilliant.
This is a “Doctor Light” episode, and while it’s all about Amy and Rory, without the Doctor’s actions, the story wouldn’t have played out the way it did. Rory is both right and wrong to call the Doctor out on causing all of this, because yes, traveling with the Doctor is dangerous. For every wonderful moment of new worlds and adventures, there are horrible moments of terror and potential death, but ultimately Amy and Rory chose to travel in the TARDIS, and they chose knowing that. It doesn’t, however, make it any less true. It also brings to the fore again something that it’s been easy to forget but this season has been greatly about: The Doctor’s decisions are always made for the greater good, but there are consequences to them, and they are not always kind. The war against the Doctor by the forces of the Silence and thier allies are a result of the fear those decisions and actions have caused, and while they are on a much smaller scale here, it’s the same thing. The Doctor will save Amy, and if that means wiping older Amy out of existence, well, that’s what has to happen. But watch Matt Smith’s face when the Doctor slams the door on her. Watch his face when she’s screaming through the door that she trusted him. Watch his face when he makes Rory choose and when Rory asks him if he always knew that there could be only one Amy. And watch his face when Amy asks where her older self is. The Doctor knows, and has always known what he’s doing when he makes the decisions that shatter empires and wipe out timelines. And I think we’re seeing here the reason the Doctor doesn’t like himself very much.
Well, there was a lot more recap here than I planned, but it was hard to write about some of this, a lot of this, without it, so there it is. Again, just about a perfect episode, and again, one of the absolute best of the series. Writing, performances, direction, design and music: fantastic.
It isn’t simply a great DOCTOR WHO episode, it’s a great STORY.