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DW Season 5’s Best Episode (According to Me) #Spoilers

Doctor Who season five is a pretty uniformly good season.  Matt Smith is excellent and, with arguably only a couple low points, it definitely started the Eleventh Doctor’s tenure with a bang.   After watching it through a second time, I’ve once and for all picked my favorite episode, and it might not be one most people would expect.  “The Eleventh Hour,” the Weeping Angels two-parter, and the final two episodes were all in contention, but for me, the best episode was smack dab in the middle of the season, episode 7, “Amy’s Choice,” written by Simon Nye and directed by Catherine Morshead.

Why “Amy’s Choice,” you ask?  Well, Internet, I happen to think it’s a nearly perfect 45 minutes of sci-fi.  The story is quite simple; A mysterious figure calling himself The Dream Lord places The Doctor, Amy, and Rory in two disparate realities, each with a deadly predicament for them to solve.  They are told that one of these scenarios is real, and the other is a dream.  In one, Amy and Rory are married and expecting a child in a quiet little village five years after travelling with the Doctor and the elderly in town end up being alien-possessed and on a killing spree.  In the other, the trio are still aboard the TARDIS in what is their personal present, though the ship is broken and drifting toward a cold-burning star.  Rory assumes the pleasant life is the real world, as it would be his ideal existence and the Doctor assumes the TARDIS scene is the real world because that’s really the only life he knows.  So which is it?  INSERT TITLE OF EPISODE.

The episode is truly all about a character facing a fork in the road of her life.  For the first six episodes, we’re shown how Amy is a girl of two minds about the men in her life.  Part of her would love to settle down with Rory and have a big family, while the other side is enamored with the time-travelling lifestyle and the strange hero that goes along with it.  Those two sides of herself are quite literally forced to collide and confront each other.  Amy is very much at the center of the whole season, and the very center of the very center of the whole season she has to choose, ultimately, which man she wants to spend her entire life with.  It’s an important decision and one that shapes the rest of the season.

The Dream Lord casts a wonderfully eerie shadow on the proceedings.  The Doctor seems to know who he is, but it’s left a mystery for us until the end.  Played by Toby Jones, the Dream Lord is like Q from The Next Generation with an even more malicious streak.  He’s toying with the crew for really no other reason than it tickles him.  He also knows exactly what everyone’s thinking at any given moment.  There’s probably nothing more unsettling than an omniscient antagonist.  It’s also through this villain that the Doctor is forced to examine his own worth, as his actions have great repercussions on his companions.  It finds the Doctor in a place we’re not used to seeing him, which is completely out of control of the situation.  Rory, also, has to question himself, and whether he fits in Amy’s world.  He’s a brave, loving man, but is he enough for Amy?

While both potential realities offer their own set of dangers, the more menacing in my mind are the monstrous pensioners whose spit can turn people into piles of dust.  Morshead gives us wonderful shots of these old people shuffling in a pack or through a field closing ever-slowly in on the heroes, images one finds in so many zombie films.  Let’s face it, the elderly are creepy enough on their own, but when you add murderous and alien to the mix, they become truly terrifying.  As the action picks up pace, the heroes find themselves in a cottage, surrounded by the freaky old things and that’s when things get really hairy for them.  Watching this again after seeing the first few episodes of “The Walking Dead,” I find the parallels to the type of storytelling they both offer quite enlightening.  Zombie horror is best at allowing personal dramas play out in a horrifying setting.  By using that basic model for this episode, Simon Nye offers a life-or-death external struggle that echoes the internal one going on within the characters.

In the end, it’s the interplay between the three leads that makes “Amy’s Choice” my favorite episode of the season.  Science Fiction often needs to strip away the flash and examine real people’s issues, and here we’re allowed to see the characters battle their own uncertainties and shortcomings on a larger scale.  The Doctor has always been afraid to fail and lose his companions, but here we can see it writ large.  For a show that’s been around since 1963, it’s remarkable when it can do something so different and yet so in the wheelhouse.   While not as grandiose in visual scope as some other stories, it gets right to the crux of each of the characters and offers excitement and mystery to boot.  This will be one I show non-fans when they ask me that age-old rhetorical question: “Why should I watch ‘Doctor Who?'”

-Kanderson

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30 comments

  • Maddeh, I agree.

    If the doctor has any weakness, it’s definitley explaining what the hell just happened. Half the time it’s like he doesn’t know why they survived and just makes something up so Amy will shut up and get back in the Tardis. “Psychic Pollen”? Really dude?

  • I Loved the weeping angels two parter in this season, they are my favorite doctor who antagonists (plus it featured River), but my all time favorite DW episode is ” the girl in the fireplace” featuring the all time best doctor David Tennant

  • I would have to agree with everyone else. The emotion that the end of the Van Gogh episode was was very powerful. I also think I liked it because it was one of those “The doctor goes and meets one of history’s great people” episodes.

  • I’m with you Chris. Amy’s Choice is the whole reason I started to like Rory, and why the next two parter was hard to watch. Plus just love the way it was done. And don’t complain about psychic pollen, it’s no worse than most of the deus ex machina of the show.

  • Got to say that ‘Vincent and the Doctor’ was the best of the season, probably top 10 for the entire series (old and new). Brilliant writing – probably better than a mid season ep required – great performances all round.

  • This entire season was great, and I agree this was a fantastic episode.

    But I agree with the above posters in that my personal favorite is the Van Gogh ep. It had so many of the hallmarks of a great Dr. Who episode, and made me weepy as well.

    I actually set my family down (all art lovers) and made them watch it even though they aren’t Dr. Who fans.

  • I’m rewatching Series 5 right now too.

    The first time I watched I was still iffy about the 11th Doctor – until “Vincent and the Doctor”. That’s the episode that made me love Matt Smith and has probably made him my favorite Doctor to date.

  • Even before reading the comments, your title made me wonder which episode got my vote for best/favourite, and I’m in the Van Gogh camp, as well.

    “Amy’s Dream” is a close 2nd, though — for all the reasons you mentioned, plus for the fact that it was the first full episode of DW that I’d ever seen. I’m brand spanking new in my Whovian obsession and only started watching during one of BBC-A’s recent weekend marathons.

    “Amy’s Dream” is not only science fiction at its best, but high drama at its best. “Midnight” was also one of the first episodes I saw, and it cemented my love of DW (and DT). It’s another great intro ep for newbies. Until watching those two episodes, I had no idea “Doctor Who” was so character-driven and had so much heart and poetry (and silliness) in its stories.

    I was born 12 days after Doctor Who premiered, and my whole life I’ve thought that the show was nerd-driven high-tech video gamey sci-fi for boys. I’ve never been so happy to be wrong!

    So thanks again, Kyle (and CH). This blog made me interested in Doctor Who, and “Amy’s Dream” shot cupid’s arrow straight through my mono-cardial system’s heart. :D

  • I have to agree with those who chose the Van Gogh episode as the favorite season 5. OK, I will likely love just about anything Richard Curtis scribes. Bittersweet to see VVG see people enjoy his painting and yet fate/history not changed. One word: Wow.

  • Totally agree with others that “Vincent and the Doctor” was an emotionally striking episode but that was really only the last 5 minutes other than that it felt flat for me. “Amy’s Choice” is an entire episode of simple pure and amazing from start to finish. “The Pandorica Opens” is also a stunning piece of work as well. For pure campy fun, “The Lodger” was perfect. Those are my top 4 of the Season.

  • Heh alright well I can’t figure out what’s my favorite, I liked this season a ton.

    So I’ll just do something different than everyone above and say what wasn’t so great :-P

    (1) Atraxi (sp?) – weak. Ship with a giant eyeball? Bleh.
    (2) The CSI “remembering” scene also from The Eleventh Hour where he thinks back about seeing Rory. So lame.
    (3) The entire lizardy things in plague town episode. Urgh.
    (4) Rorybot. Is Rory an Auton now? I’m confused :-)

  • It’s cheesy, but I really liked the translation of the wedding saying
    “something old, something new, something borrowed, and something blue” to meaning the TARDIS.

    As for episodes, it’s weird. While season 5 overall I thought was very strong and I liked a lot of the episodes, there wasn’t one that stood out like in the past RTD seasons (though to be fair, those were usually the Moffat ones). On the upside, I thought there only was really one dud in this season – the Dalek one. (If people thought the old Dalek resemble a coffee machine, the new multicolored ones resemble them even more!)

  • I just completed the entire season off my DVR in 2 days and I have to agree with Kyle that ‘Amy’s Choice’ was my favorite episode. It is worth watching twice after you learn the dream lord was The Doctor the whole time to catch some of the things he says about himself.

    The Vincent episode was also in close second – when they brought him to the future to see how his art has been appreciated tugged at my heart.

  • What I loved about Amy’s Choice is that it took the whole “lusting after the Doctor” thing that was an issue with RTD’s time and it fixed it. I keep thinking that this is what they SHOULD HAVE done with Rose (and Mickey). Turns out Amy actually loves her boyfriend.
    Hear that, Rose? Sye loves her boyfriend.

  • My favorite of the season is either Vincent and the Doctor or The Lodger, but I did enjoy Amy’s Choice a whole damn lot, not only for the general cleverness and execution of the conceit, but also because it finally shored up Amy’s feelings for Rory, and finally made Rory into a real character of his own right instead of just being Mickey 2: Electric Boogaloo (But Not If Electric Boogalooing Is In Any Way Inconvenient Or Frightening).

  • Thank you! FINALLY, someone giving “Amy’s Choice” it’s due! I thought it was brilliant and holds up to many viewings. And has some of the best lines ever (“If we’re gonna die, let’s die looking like a Peruvian folk band.”) All around, a fantastic episode that hasn’t gotten the attention it’s deserved.

  • I would have to say The Lodger is the best from this season. It was just a great idea and I love very Doctor centric episodes. Best Doctor though was David Tennant. I have to disagree with Chris though and say that Amy is not the best companion, that honor belongs to Rose

  • Eleventh Hour was definitely my favorite. It was the only episode in which the solution was really just the Doctor being purely, unequivocally brilliant. A computer virus traced back to the room where Prisoner Zero was hiding – a solution in 18 minutes with no TARDIS and no sonic. Doctor, you are da man. And then there’s the whole “Basically, Run” speech at the end, which very nearly top’s the Stonehenge schpeel in Pandorica.

    Anyway, Amy’s Choice was probably my second favorite episode in the series, for reasons Kyle Anderson has explained quite brilliantly. Vincent and the Doctor, on the other hand, was extremely overrated in my opinion. Yeah, sure, I cried at the end (honestly), but any emotional wringing was offset by that god-awful invisibeast. This is what I understood from that resolution: the Doctor murders a blind, lost, baby alien and then swans off back to the 21st century without so much as a sorry excuse for a eulogy. Out. Of. Character. And to top it off, the creature we thought we were worried about through the entire episode is killed off with fifteen minutes to go, and from there it’s all just (admittedly, very good) emotional tug and pull.

  • Excellent choice. I’m glad they did it when they did it (mid season) too as Amy pining for the Doctor all season would ahve gotten tedious. Nice to see her make the choice she did. My only beef with it is that I really loved the Dream Lord and would have liked ot see him be a recurring villain. Seems less likely with the reveal as to who/what he really is though.

  • My favorites were the Weeping Angel episodes & the Van Gough episode. I cried too… I was just … overpowered with emotion. I don’t usually cry at television (I do cry at movies occasionally though). But the Weeping Angels… oh my god. Nightmares.