“Doctor Who”: “The Girl Who Waited” Review (SPOILERS)
By Kyle Anderson on September 12, 2011
As I’ve said several times, my favorite Series 5 episode is “Amy’s Choice.” My reason for liking it so much is that it tells a relatively simple, straightforward story, but, within that framework, is able to get to the heart of each one of the show’s three leads, and forces them to hash out their differences and avoid death at the same time. It was, to me, a perfect 45 minutes of science fiction storytelling. Episode 10 of Series 6 of Doctor Who is called “The Girl Who Waited,” and in many ways it could be called “Amy’s Choice 2,” yet, while they share a lot of basic elements, Tom MacRae’s script goes a step beyond. It’s not merely whether Amy will choose a life with or without Rory, it’s Amy being forced to live a life without him, and how that changes her view of everything. And latterly, Rory has to decide if he can live with an Amy he failed to save.
Through a simple pressing of a red button instead of a green one, Amy spends 36 years alone waiting for Rory to save her, which is longer than either of them have been alive. It’s a painful proposition no matter which side you’re on. It’s made even more painful for Rory knowing that, to her, he failed to save her, but to him, he’s in the middle of doing so. He and the Doctor know that they can figure out how to save past-Amy, but that means that present, older Amy won’t have existed, something she does not want to happen.
The central idea of the Two Streams facility is an interesting one: When a plague that kills in 24 hours hits the resort world of Apalapucia, a place that’s incredibly fun to say, they set up a way that the infected can live out an entire life’s worth in a quicker time stream and their loved ones can watch from a slower one. There are two sides to the argument of this place, as represented by the Doctor and Rory. Rory thinks it would be terrible to watch and not interact with someone you love for their whole life, while the Doctor thinks it’s incredibly kind because at least they aren’t watching them die. This is the central difference between the Doctor and Rory. The Doctor is detached from that type of emotion after centuries of traveling with people he is inevitably forced to leave behind. Rory, on the other hand, could not imagine having to witness a life and not be a part of it.
It’s this exact question he’s faced with when he meets older Amy, now world-weary and hardened from living nearly 40 years on her own, running from androids that will literally kill her with kindness. He doesn’t mind that she’s old; he minds that he didn’t get old with her. He would gladly take that Amy with him, though he’d much rather spare her from having to be alone for so long. Rory is maybe the most kind-hearted person in the history of Doctor Who. The word “stalwart” comes to mind. But this Amy doesn’t want to disappear; she doesn’t want those experiences of being alone to leave her, which I think is a very interesting dilemma. To get to relive 36 years of loneliness with the person you love at the expense of being who you are now: Would you do it? I can’t say if I would or not. Rory blames the Doctor for not being more careful about where they land, to which the Doctor says that’s not how he travels. Rory then says he’d rather not travel with him anymore.
Ultimately, there can only be one Amy, despite the lie the Doctor told about taking them both on the TARDIS. It would indeed cause a paradox. The Doctor does what could be considered the cowardly thing and leaves it up to Rory to choose, either HIS Amy, or the Amy who lived without him for so long. To his credit, it’s a harder choice than it might have been. There’s no doubt he’d love either Amy with all his heart, but it’d certainly be much easier on him if he didn’t have the one he’d failed for so long. By the end, we realize the name of the episode could have been “Rory’s Choice.”
What makes “The Girl Who Waited” great is that, with the exception of Imelda Staunton as the voice of the Interface, and a brief hologram of a hostess, the whole episode is just the three leads. “Amy’s Choice” had this element as well, but there was still the Dream Lord to act as antagonist. In this, time is the antagonist and the kindness robots are the inevitable end. It’s nice to know that the characters are so rich and the actors so good that they can sustain an entire episode essentially on their own. MacRae turns out a powerful character study, somewhat in keeping with his earlier Who effort, the Series 2 two-parter “Rise of the Cybermen/Age of Steel” which plays with the idea of an alternate universe where Rose was never born and her father didn’t die. He excels at these “What if?” scenarios, and is able to explore the character relationships more deeply.
Karen Gillan gives her best performance to date as she convincingly portrays the character of Amy Pond both in her 20s and in her late 50s. There is a definite age behind her mannerisms and physicality that goes far beyond the old-age makeup she’s wearing. The scene where she speaks to herself through the looking glass is truly phenomenal. Nick Hurran’s direction really adds to it as well, with the use of shot/reverse-shot and the slow fading between the two. Amy Pond as a character needs to be written well to be effective, and this script surely does that. Let it never be said that Karen Gillan isn’t a good actress, because, given the proper material, she’s clearly very good.
Arthur Darvill is likewise very good playing the pain, frustration, and difficulty of Rory’s predicament with aplomb. As stated before, Rory has really become the heart of this TARDIS crew and has shaken off any of the just-the-boyfriend problems and has become quite the character. You buy the love between Rory and Amy, even when it seems neither have any reason to.
Matt Smith has the least to do in this episode; however, he’s still at the very tip top of his game. The Doctor, as old Amy says, is like the voice of God, trapped in the TARDIS to help with the plot but detached from his companions. However, the reaction shots by Smith convey all the guilt, regret, and sadness the Doctor feels because of his action (or inaction) and masques the trickery and deceit that was needed to get old Amy to help them. I also really enjoyed his relationship with Rory in this episode. Rory objects to the Doctor trying to make Rory more like him, which in a way is very true. The Doctor has protégés, and Rory flatly does not want to be one.
Like “Amy’s Choice” before it, “The Girl Who Waited” gives viewers a story about the main characters entirely unhampered by a guest cast. The Doctor and friends can help strangers week after week but they often have the hardest time helping each other. In both stories, we get the very real sense that the Doctor does what he does because he has to, but hates himself because of it. For all of the Eleventh Doctor’s silliness and cheer, he harbors a real darkness which is maybe most fascinating. And there was a Twitter reference in it. What more can I say? I dug it.
Next week is Toby Whithouse’s “The God Complex.” It also looks very good.
Doctor Who meets The Shining. Love it.
-Kanderson would rather not wait 36 years for you to follow him in the TWITTERS… but he will.