Stars: Matt Smith, Karen Gillan, Arthur Darvill, Josie Taylor, Imelda Staunton, Stephen Bracken-Koegh
Writer: Tom MacRae
Director: Nick Hurran
Network: BBC America, airs Saturday nights
Original Telecast: September 10, 2011
In the tenth episode of DOCTOR WHO Series 6, “The Girl Who Waited,” Amy (Karen Gillan) is quickly separated from Rory (Arthur Darvill) and the Doctor (Matt Smith) upon visiting a strange medical facility that sorts its terminal patients into their very own accelerated time streams. Trapped and living at a faster rate than her two boys, Amy ages 36 years and reunites with Rory as a hardened woman that has learned how to survive and avoid the Handbots that patrol the facility. For Rory and the Doctor, the desire to save the younger Amy from this terrible fate is foremost in their minds…but what if the older Amy doesn’t want to give up her existence, not even considering how bad that life has been? Will love conquer all in the end?
Kudos to Tom MacRae for not only writing a powerful, character-driven script that still manages to construct a logical and satisfying time conundrum at the heart of the story, but for affirming the bond of love and devotion that makes the Amy/Rory romance resonate in a way that it often failed to do in the past. This year too, Karen Gillan’s portrayal of Amy has improved by leaps and bounds, but here she turns in a breath-taking, award-worthy performance as an older Amy with a very different bearing and outlook on the universe. Her slower body language and cadence, lower voice register, and some astoundingly good make-up come together to create a plausible and moving portrait of an aged, embittered Amy.
It’s also very refreshing to finally see both Amy and Rory unleash on the Doctor for the cavalier way he so often endangers his traveling companions while supposedly showing them the wonders of the universe. The moment where Rory angrily tells the Doctor he no longer wants to travel with him is like a stab in the hearts to the Time Lord and to the very premise of the show itself, and it’s so emotionally real at that moment that it works beautifully. But although Darvill and Smith are exceptional – really, they always are – I still have to say that Gillan is the star of this episode for such a nuanced, affecting performance. I can’t say enough about it. Her amazing conversation between two Amys across a gulf of decades sharing their love for Rory is so well-written and performed, it’s tear-inducing.
As if that isn’t enough, the sharp writing and moving acting are ably supported by stunning visual effects and set design. True, the Handbots are a little goofy, but they’re supposed to be. The sterile interiors of the facility (including a familiar setting for anyone that remembers the 2006 episode “New Earth”), the lush gardens, and the foreboding internal pipe work that supports the structure are all convincing and strikingly picturesque. This is one of those episodes that really captures the feel of having taken us to some other alien environment. Of course, these aliens have a lot of respect for human art – wonder if that Mona Lisa had “This is a fake” written in felt tip on the canvas? Come to think of it, has anyone seen the Master of the Land of Fiction skulking about?
Ultimately, the best thing about this episode is how well it reinforces the profound love between Amy and Rory, allowing her to tell him how much he means to her and even giving her the chance to make a sacrifice similar to one he long ago made for her. It’s a moving and satisfying statement of how love conquers all, and who cares if that’s a cliché when it’s handled so well and across streams of time itself?
This episode is so good across the board that I still can’t give it less than an A-, but that minus is there for a reason: the baby! There is not one single mention of their time-lost baby in all this exploration of the love between Amy and Rory, and as young parents still deprived of a child ripped from them and stolen to become a psychopathic killer, would this not merit even the most passing mention? In the scene where Amy angrily berates the Doctor for everything he’s ever done to her, she never once mentions, “Oh, and I had a kid and they took her to make her a weapon against you!” Not a word.
But perhaps even more significantly, this entire story is in fact an exact depiction of precisely the dilemma facing them in the Melody/River scenario. Replace mentions of young and old Amy in any dialogue here with “Melody” and “River,” and you see the issue explored exactly as it should be discussed. Shouldn’t these parents want to rescue their child at all costs and raise her together as a loving family, regardless of the future adult version they’ve met whose life did not proceed naturally as it should? This is the choice between young and old Amy, and old Amy herself realizes that she doesn’t matter as much as what should have been.
In a sense, this episode is saying beyond a shadow of a doubt that they should be racing to save baby Melody regardless of their knowledge of the existence of River; all that should matter is reuniting the family. Even the title plays on the way Amy’s arc first began, waiting her entire childhood, and now here, an entire adulthood waiting for the Doctor to rescue her. How could any mother wish that horror on her own daughter, who suffers pretty much the same fate and worse, waiting a lifetime or more for her parents to save her and instead becoming a programmed monster? To watch this episode so perfectly articulate these issues and yet not even mention the child is maddening. Did the production team even realize this is what they’re talking about here? Let’s hope so, because we have a few episodes left before that arc really needs the right emotional closure.
Having said that, this is still a fantastic episode with a strong heart, and if it took place prior to Melody’s birth or in a storyline that had no child, it would be an A installment all the way. Even the now grating gimmick of having automatons in every episode repeat catch-phrases over and over – “Do not be alarmed. This is a kindness.” – wasn’t as annoying as it usually is.
Next time, it’s corridors galore as the talented David Walliams achieves a life goal.
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Article: TV Review: DOCTOR WHO – Series 6 – “The Girl Who Waited”