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The Dreamlord Cometh

May 17, 2010

Amy’s Choice, the latest episode of Doctor Who, was well paced, very engaging and felt expertly put together. The concept was unique and, as in the best of dramas the, the viewer was left guessing right until the end and (pollen aside) I was not disappointed.

The presence of several good, solid Doctor Who tropes quickly lent pace and familiarity to Amy’s Choice, such as lots of running, some nice a-little-bit-unconventional-but-nothing-too-alien aliens and some fittingly suspect science explaining why they’re all in trouble. The special effects in the episode were also of a noticeably high quality in places, both CGI (e.g. where the victims ‘melted’, or when we saw the frost forming on the outside of the TARDIS) and physical (the frosting effects inside the TARDIS were particularly good). It also had some fine storytelling and plot-pacing- meaning that even when we thought we knew what was going on we didn’t – and as always there was some brilliant dialogue, for which I must congratulate the credited writer Simon Nye. I’ll certainly be looking out for any more of his episodes.

As well this praise for the show’s writing (nothing new there then), this episode in particular highlighted for me how important a good delivery can be, irrespective of the quality of the words themselves. The many references to Amy’s size (of which my favourites were “Now, we all know that there’s an elephant in the room“/”I have to be this size, I’m having a baby.” and “You’ve swallowed a planet!“), as well as to the perceived coolness of bow-ties, might have become repetitive and irritating, but instead Matt Smith, Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill (that’s Rory by the way, and don’t worry I had to check the credits too) were all very competent in both the funny and serious scenes, and even Amy and Rory’s age differences between the dreams was noticeable in their acting. I’m unashamed to admit that Rory’s ‘death’ and Amy’s reaction to it made me well up a little. And this from a TV series! I haven’t welled up at anything since I saw ‘Up!’, and everyone knows what Disney are like for making people cry. Suffice to say that these 3 actors are establishing themselves well in their trade (Stephen Fry on Twitter referred to Matt Smith’s performance in parts of Vampires of Venice as ‘simply superb’), and I say 3 actors here instead of 2 because in my opinion Arthur Darvill’s performance in this episode was excellent. Anyone who dismisses him merely because he’s in a less major role clearly hasn’t been paying attention.

In the interest of balance I need to also point out what was wrong with the episode, and the first thing that springs to mind is pollen. Seriously, pollen? You couldn’t have said that a meteor or a solar flare messed up the TARDIS’s psychic translation facility or something like that? Even I have to admit that inventing psychic space pollen as a half-a-minute explanation of why they were all asleep in the first place does stink a little of a reverse deux-ex machine, and in light of my previous praise for the show’s writing and production values (which I’m sticking to despite this pollen related rant) I felt slightly let down when I realised that the actual villain here was just TARDIS hay-fever. As well as this, I thought that Amy’s exchange with the Dreamlord was surprisingly shiver-free considering how cold it was supposed to be inside the TARIDS, and I also thought the van wasn’t going what you’d call ‘dangerously’ fast when Amy crashed it. Was a convenient valley or river too much to hope for?

Criticism aside, one of the best things about the episode for me was that it was essentially about Amy and Rory’s relationship. This needed to be explored early on – if it wasn’t then their relationship could, at best, have been reduced to a quirky recurring theme and possibly a minor distraction, and at worst been an over-done plot point that risked seriously irritating viewers and leading to claims that “Dr Who is just Sci-Fi soap-opera”, or whatever. The beauty of Amy’s Choice is that Amy and Rory’s relationship, though a main theme, is underlying and understated rather than overt or obvious. Clues throughout the episode point to the unspoken strains in the relationship, particularly in Amy’s head, and the way this conflict ultimately inspires the 2 dreams – one where Amy has chosen the Doctor’s life and one where she has chosen Rory’s – provides a very appropriate background for the Dreamlord’s purpose, which is to force Amy to choose between the Doctor and Rory. Because that’s really what this episode is about. Despite the Doctor’s plan to make Amy and Rory’s relationship more solid, which is why he goes back for Rory in the first place, the manipulativeness and selfishness of the Doctor’s sub-conscience, personified in the Dreamlord, twists this intention and forces Amy to choose between them, perhaps because deep down the Doctor wants to know if he would be her choice. But he isn’t. From the expression on the Doctor’s face when Amy has made her decision you’d be forgiven for assume that her decision isn’t totally what he wanted to hear, even though it’s the one he consciously wanted, however the words of defeat from the Dreamlord (“I have been defeated, I shall withdraw”) show that the Doctor accepts her choice, both subconsciously through the Dreamlord and consciously by offering to go for “a few lengths” at the end in order to give Rory and Amy some space. I reckon that from now Rory will seem like much less of a third wheel, and the love interest between Amy and the Doctor will be much less prominent, though as to whether or not this will be extinguished we will have to wait and see.

Best bits (there are more but the list was too long to put them all in):

  • The whole opening sequence was brilliant and set the episode up perfectly.
  • There’s something here that doesn’t make sense. Let’s go and poke it with a stick.” Without a doubt my favourite line of the whole episode.
  • Amy pretending she was going into labour to get back at the Doctor for calling her life dull.
  • This is so you isn’t it, a weird new star, only 40 minutes left to live and only 1 man to save the day?” Rory’s not completely wrong here is he.
  • When the Doctor puts his hand out to comfort Amy after Rory has been killed, but can’t bring himself to touch her.
  • No no no ice can burn, sofas can read, it’s a big universe.” Pardon?
  • The ending was nice, especially the wonderfully awkward bit between Amy and Rory when she’s telling him what happened in the dream.
  • Only one person hates me that much.” This has some fairly significant impact when we realise who the Dreamlord actually is.
  • Don’t spend too long there or you’ll, um, catch your death here.” Excellently delivered.
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