Well, that was intense! Not since Amy’s Choice have we seen such powerful emotion in Doctor Who. These kind of stories – well delivered and incredibly emotionally mature – are examples of television drama at its absolute finest. And bear in mind that this is a show aimed predominantly at children! The Girl Who Waited demonstrated perfectly that whatever age your audience are you don’t need to talk down to them to entertain them. Or to emotionally devastate them, which is what happened to me and probably a fair few others!
I quite liked this week’s opening and the premise of taking a jolly to the 2nd best destination “for the discerning intergalactic traveller”. The explanation of why they weren’t going to number one was fun as well (“It’s hideous! Everyone goes to number one, planet of the coffee shops!”) But as with Doctor Who there’s something amiss almost at once, and we’re quickly introduced to the time-stream dilemma. The concept of a hospital where you can go to prolong your final day indefinitely is a very interesting one – “sit by their bedside for 24 hours and watch them die, or sit in here for 24 hours and watch them live” – and I sort of agree with the Doctor when he says that it’s a kinder way to go, but at the same time I wasn’t surprised that he didn’t answer Rory when he was asked “Which would you choose?”. Yes they’re able to live and to grow old, but if it was your wife for example, could you sit and watch her grow old knowing that you can’t grow old with her? I quite liked the Red Waterfall/Green Anchor symbolism too. An anchor for those living in real time, fixed, and observing the waterfall that is the thousands of quarantined patients that we glimpsed living in time-streams parallel to Amy’s. Effective but nicely subtle at the same time.
While I’m talking about the setting I did agree with Rory that the planet-wide quarantine is something that the Doctor really should have been aware of, especially if it’s something that could have killed him had he wondered into the infected areas. This does highlight how reckless the Doctor can be sometimes, especially considering he can use the scanners on the TARDIS to check what’s outside (like River does at the start of The Time of Angels) and presumably the history of the area along with it, and he can even make the TARDIS invisible if he thinks it might be dangerous (like in The Impossible Astronaut). In fact this episode shows just how powerless the Doctor can be at times too, especially when he’s forced to act through other people and especially when he doesn’t really know what’s going on but knows that he could be sending his friends into danger. Rory’s line of “Then I do NOT want to travel with you!“, aside from being excellently delivered, shows how frustrating this is for him as the Doctor’s companion. It’s interesting to think that so few of the other companions (at least, out of the ones I’ve seen) have stood up to the Doctor in this way and been able to tell him how much they disagree with some of the things he does. The other notable example was Donna in The Fires of Pompeii, when she wanted to warn people about the volcano and he said not to because it would change history. She has a great line there that’s something along the lines of “I don’t know what kids you’ve been traveling with before Doctor but I’m not letting hundreds of people die because you say so”. In these kinds of situations the Doctor often doesn’t really know what to do, or how to respond, for example when Amy says “Don’t you lecture me, blue box man flying through time and space on whimsy. All I’ve got, all I’ve had for 36 years is cold hard reality.” Another extremely poignant line is when Rory tells the Doctor “this isn’t fair, you’re turning me into you”. This for me really illustrated what Davros said to David Tenant’s Doctor in Journey’s End, about how the Doctor claims to be non-violent but ends up turning the ordinary people around him into weapons, willing to do things that he wouldn’t. The Doctor we see here, put firmly in his place by a companion that he knows he’s let down, or an enemy who’s shown him how much of a monster he can be, is a far cry from the triumphant Doctor we’ve seen in episodes like Forest of the Dead, where he can open the TARDIS with a click of his fingers. And it’s this balance between triumph and despair that makes the Doctor such a convincing character, even after nearly 50 years on TV.
Turning to Amy now, I have to say I was so impressed with Karen Gillan’s performance in this episode, and with Arthur Darvill’s as well. It’s not easy to act a character that’s suddenly become so much older, especially when you have to convey the years of experience that the character’s had in-between. I had been worried that it would simply be the same Amy with an older looking face but it wasn’t. We were definitely looking at an older Amy. Even her voice was different. There was a deliberation to her speech that gave what she was saying an extra gravitas, somehow managing to convey those years of isolation and bitterness. I think the word I’m looking for is convincing. From her performance I was utterly convinced that this older Amy had gone through 36 years of solitary hell because “You didn’t save me.” I believed it when she said she hated the Doctor, and that she wouldn’t help the younger Amy to escape. I could see the pain in her face when she watched Rory carry young Amy into the TARDIS without looking back to her. And I wept when she said goodbye to Rory through the TARDIS door. How Karen managed to achieve this is beyond me, but I have to say that she was nothing short of magnificent here. Arthur wasn’t very far behind her either. He had good bits of humour what with “eyes front, soldier”; his anger at the Doctor’s mistake was clearly very strong even though he was controlling himself because he was still trying to save Amy; and when he was saying goodbye to Amy at the end… it was heartbreaking, and we could all see it. Rory is another character who’s utterly convincing, thoroughly likable and great fun to watch, and if that wasn’t enough, when he saw all the echoes of all the other patients through the glass and asked the Doctor “Are they happy?” he reaffirmed his place as my favourite companion so far. Very well done sir.
I also really enjoyed how the love of Amy and Rory was played out in this episode, and how it underpinned the whole thing, from the beginning with “Rory… I love you. Now save me” right up to the emotional farewell. I think the fact that this was a Doctor-lite episode really worked in Karen and Arthur’s favour and allowed them to flesh out their characters in the way that they did, as well as letting us see more of their relationship and how strong it is. When Rory tells Amy “I don’t care that you got old, I care that we didn’t get to grow old together” you can’t not believe him, just like when the Amys’ joint thought is her and Rory’s first kiss (and not fish-fingers and custard as I’d expected), or when old Amy tells Rory “I’m gunna pull time apart for you.”
I normally include a section in these reviews about the bits that I didn’t like or weren’t convinced by, because even though I’m a huge Doctor Who fan I don’t believe in saying something is brilliant and perfect when there are bits that aren’t. Plus I wouldn’t be a very good reviewer if I always said nice things. However, in the case of The Girl Who Waited I genuinely can’t think of anything that I didn’t like about it when I watched it. Someone pointed out afterwards that Amy was very angry after waiting only 36 years, compared to Rory who seemed a lot calmer after waiting for nearly two thousand years. However the circumstances there were different because Rory chose to stay with the Pandorica and Amy, as far as she knew, was simply abandoned and left to survive on her own.
There are a few other bits I would like to mention before we get onto the Best Bits though. Firstly I really liked the bit at the beginning with Amy going back to get her phone, which was “on the counter by the DVDs“. This is such a strikingly ordinary place for someone to have left a phone, and I liked how this hinted at the life that Amy, Rory and the Doctor have in the TARDIS that we don’t see, the normal, everyday mundanities like watching DVDs together or having a cuppa while watching the Doctor fly the TARDIS (which we saw that the start of last week’s episode as well). Also, though there weren’t that many visual effects being used this week they were still fairly good. In particular I liked the scene with older Amy fighting the handbots, and I thought the split screen effect with old and young Amy’s faces in the glass while they’re talking about Rory was really well executed. My penultimate nod is to Amy’s line of “where is she?” when she sees that older Amy isn’t there. I think the fact that we never see how Rory answers this is quite effective, especially as we’ve already heard what older Amy wanted him to tell her and hearing him repeat it would diminish the impact it had the first time. Plus at that point I really couldn’t have coped with any more heavy emotional stuff so I’m quite glad it ended there.
- “Your mobile telephone? I bring you to a paradise planet two billion lightyears from Earth and you want to update…twitter?“
- The Doctor’s wearing his new long coat. I wonder if there’s any significance there.
- “Small act of vandalism, no-one’ll mind – ah, that’ll be the small act of vandalism alarm!“
- “Anything beats a fez eh?… What?” “I think that’s the first time I’ve laughed in 36 years.“
- In the latest game of Spot The Cardiff Building, I believe that’s the Wales Millennium Centre.
- “Woman with a sword, don’t push it!“
- Did the hologram woman in the reception say the roller-coaster simulation was based on Disneyland Klom? As in “Klom? Who’d want Klom?!” (quoting the 10th Doctor in The Stolen Earth), and the home-world of Absorbaloff, played by Peter Kay in Love and Monsters.
- “If anyone can defeat pre-destiny… It’s your wife.“
- Amy’s sonic probe and how it’s not a screwdriver.
- Older Amy to her younger self “…and that’s why you’ll refuse to help when it’s your turn.“
- Older Amy being hesitant with the lipstick when she sees Rory for the first time in 36 years.
- The look on older Amy’s face when she knows that the Doctor’s going to betray her. Back to rule 1: the doctor lies.
- “I love you too. Don’t let me in. Tell Amy I’m giving her the days I can’t have.” Devastating.