Sunday, 10 August 2014

The Girl Who Waited written by Tom MacRae and directed by Nick Hurran

This story in a nutshell: Two Amy’s. You would think it would be Rory’s dream come true but it turns into his worst nightmare…

Nutty Professor: The Doctor looks crestfallen that his happy go lucky adventures have driven such a wedge between his best friends. The older Amy criticises his lifestyle and how he forgets the kind of impact his careless behaviour can have and with results like these you can’t help but agree with her. Is it my imagination or do the Doctor's companions tend to give him quite a hard time in the New Series? I can't remember him ever having quite so much expected of him in the days of old (beyond Tegan's constant, incessant whining). We can deal with the Doctor killing off armies of evil aliens, bringing down villains and even wiping out his own people for the greater good but when he outright lies to his best friend’s face and promises her that she will be able to live knowing it is total fabrication it takes his character into a very dark place that I’m not sure that I like. Paradoxically I really like that I don’t like it because it means he can still surprise me and after nearly 50 years worth of adventures. It opens up the tricky question of how much we can trust the Doctor. Matt Smith could have done with more of this kind of ambiguity to play because it really challenges him, quietly observing the events of this episode and shamefully knowing how it is going to end up. It’s ridiculous to even think that the two Amy’s could travel together (it has plagued many a nightmare of mine) but what really hurts is that the Doctor gives the older Amy, the one whose spirit he has already crushed, hope and then he snatches it away. Ouch. This is an Amy of his own making (although given he crash landed on her lawn when she was a child I guess any version of her is one of his making) and he is willing to sacrifice her. When Rory asks if the Doctor always knew that saving both Amy’s was impossible he gives a cop out of an answer, pushing the attention away from the Amy they killed and onto the one they saved. The final shot of his face as Amy asks where her other self is answers the question far more succinctly. Never mind all that guff about the Doctor being a vengeful alien that can take down armies in A Good Man Goes to War or facing his own (backtracked) death, this is the most interesting (and challenging) the eleventh Doctor has been since Amy's choice.

Scots Tart: ‘If anyone can defy pre-destiny its your wife!’ It's fascinating to see Amy’s central characterisation – the girl who waited – conceptualised in an episode of her own (although to be fair perhaps Rory should take that crown because he waited about 985 years longer for Amy than she did for the Doctor). The make up for the older Amy is incredibly well done, it can be so easily over exaggerated (check out Smith in Time of the Doctor where it literally looks as though his face has melted) which I have seen in so many shows but here the worn lines on her face and wrinkled skin really suggest an age of waiting. Karen Gillen jettisons all the smart alec wit that comes with our Amy and chooses a voice that personifies both weariness and fury and the resulting character is worlds away from what we are used to and thoroughly compelling to watch. The way she curls her hair around her ears, insulted that Rory suggests it has been 40 years by the look of her, is a small moment but heartbreakingly realised. Another is when she has to put on the glasses, another indignity after everything she has suffered and the camera lingers on her looking as ridiculous as possible. It's interesting to note that when Donna had the same choice to make in Turn Left that she agreed without argument because she knows that her other self will have a better life, to the point where stepping in front of a car and committing suicide was the only option. Amy’s embittered refusal to help herself feels a trifle selfish in comparison (whilst still being completely understandable and perhaps more realistic). Having the two Amy’s together suddenly makes the older version the odd one out and there are a few seconds of very awkward silence as our Amy and Rory embrace. I love the older Amy’s honesty that she desperately wants to join them in the TARDIS and if Rory opens the door she will step inside without compunction and her brave decision to tell him not to her in for that very reason. That shows some strength of character. My issues with Amy have ranged from her being treated as a plot device rather than a character, her inconsistent characterisation in her debut season (where she goes from fairytale princess to morally bankrupt vixen from episode to episode) but rarely has it been because of the way that Gillen chose to play the character (actually occasionally she over stresses her attitude ala The Hungry Earth/Cold Blood). This is without a doubt her finest performance in the series and shows what she can achieve when she is given tough material to play.

Loyal Roman: ‘You know when you meet someone so beautiful and then you actually talk to them and five minutes later they’re as dull as a brick. And then there’s other people and you think not bad, they’re okay. And then you get to know them and their face sort of becomes them. Like their personality is written all over it and they turn into something so beautiful. Rory’s the most beautiful man I’ve ever met.’ Sometimes I wonder if Rory would have any character at all without Amy because everything about him seems inextricably linked with his partner. That’s a thought better left to episodes that treat him in a superfluous fashion because here the crux of the episode is Amy and Rory’s relationship and how he handles a very difficult situation. When he says that he doesn’t care that Amy is old but that they didn’t grow old together is very sweet and honest. This guy is the King of sweet and honest gestures like that. There is a wonderful moment where Rory realises that the older Amy has named her pet robot after him and I cannot have been the only person to wonder if that was how our Amy sees her husband. We haven’t heard a male companion rail at the Doctor this powerfully since Steven’s dramatic walk out at the end of The Massacre and Rory’s ‘I do not want to travel with you!’ really strikes a chord because he is usually the quiet one. His allegation that the Doctor is trying to turn him into a version of himself has never carried more weight than at the moment he has to choose which of his Amy’s to save. Darvill's performance as an agonised Rory at the climax is very impressive, one of the few times in Moffat's era where I am reduced to a blubbering wreck.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Don’t you lecture me, Blue Box Man, flying through space on whimsy. All I’ve got, all I’ve had for 36 years is cold hard reality. So no I don’t have a sonic screwdriver because I’m not off on a romp. I call it what it is, a probe. And I call my life what it is…hell.’
‘All those boys chasing me but it was only ever Rory.’
‘I’m going to pull time apart for you.’
‘Amy you always say cooking Christmas dinner you wish there were two of you!’

The Good: The Rory cam glasses are a bit too similar to the contact lenses on Torchwood but I love the fact that they are designed with retro 70s black rimmed specs. It's all the peripheral details in the yawn-some opening 15 minutes that I admire – that piece of artwork with the purple gunge dribbling down it and the oversized magnifying glass! For a minute you could be forgiven for thinking that you have stepped into Tim Burton’s re-imagining of Alice in Wonderland as Amy steps out into a lush garden filled with delicately carved exotic bushes. The garden serves no purpose but to add some colour to an otherwise clinical looking episode but this is one superfluous addition that is most welcome. The music as older Amy cuts her way through an army of robots to reach the TARDIS is Murray Gold at his exciting, uplifting best. This episode is all about those last few shattering minutes when older Amy watches Rory carrying her younger self into the safety of the TARDIS and wonders if she should follow before the overwhelming urge to escape takes over and she rushes for the shelter of the ship. There could be no better visualisation of the Doctor’s deception than him literally slamming the door in her face. Amy and Rory are on either side of the TARDIS doors railing at the Doctor and almost cruelly he steps aside and makes the choice there’s. The hand at the window is a tear jerking image. Arthur Darvill will absolutely break your heart during this scene – Simon and I were in tears, so was my mum and my mate Emma. I always associate moments of overwhelming emotion with the Davies era but this is one of best examples of the emotive approach to Doctor Who seen in six years.

The Bad: The stark simplicity of the design and the fact that it just comes down to the press of two different buttons exposes the elementary plotting of this episode for what it is, an excuse to split up Amy and Rory. Nothing more, nothing less. This was never going to be a story in its own right. This location was specifically designed to drive a massive crowbar between our two companions and it has absolutely no use beyond that. I object to that because there are far more imaginative (and less conspicuous) ways to get the same result without completely exposing the worthlessness of the location in any other kind of story. Two rooms running parallel but at different time streams where you can interact with each other at certain points – an idea that is wasted by hoping forwards to the older Amy so quickly. Imagine if they had had the guts to run this entire episode in these two rooms with Amy gaining years every time they spoke to her. Is it just me or are these the cheapest, ineffective looking robots since the Mr Many Claws contraption from Terminus? They shuffle forwards in a not very menacing fashion, holding up their hands because the face ain't listening and look as sparse and unmemorable as the rest of the design. Again there are a couple of nice touches; I love the way they arrive in a blob of quicksilver and the pretty nifty dart reveal as the head opens but in their basic form they make a cheap episode look cheaper. Doesn't the Two Streams facility look awfully like the hospital from New Earth that the Doctor and Rose visited a few years back? Have they run out places to film? It's odd because the classic series managed to film in the same location twice – say Stargroves in Pyramids of Mars and The Seeds of Doom – and yet make it look completely different both times. For some reason BBC Wales cannot make the Millennium Centre in Cardiff look like anything other than the Millennium Centre in Cardiff. The trouble is you know that the first fifteen minutes is all set up because not one of the characters shows the slightest sign of characterisation until the older Amy shows up (Rory’s breast obsession aside) – they are simply functions of the plot until it reaches the point where it wants them to emote. I know he was busy feeling up an invisible wall and everything but could Rory really not hear that robot coming up behind him? You know the one with the servos which hiss with every footstep! In this lifestyle you really should develop a stronger sense of self preservation (he should get tips from Turlough, the lad who was always taking a glance over his shoulder). If she had been stuck at Two Streams for over three decades then wouldn’t Amy have acclimatised to her surroundings more than she has? Shouldn't Amy’s hair have gone grey?

Result: Such a weird episode and I don’t know how to judge it. The first third is the most boring 15 minutes of season six because it is all overly complicated set up for the last ten minutes of drama. You can literally hear the plotting gears grinding into place to get the Doctor, Amy and Rory where they need to be to provide that humdinger of an emotional climax. Whether by design (it is supposed to be a sterile medical facility) or because they were saving money for Moffat’s expensive finale) it is also one of the few new series episodes that feels cheap (the bloody Millennium Centre again). Interesting ideas are tossed in the air but jettisoned in favour of the characters (normally I complain it is the other way around - the best episodes of this era are the ones that balance both equally) and there is an awful lot of running around to be had too. However when The Girl Who Waited gets it right it really gets it right and the horrific choice that falls on Rory at the conclusion grabs hold of your heart and crushes it until your eyes bleed with tears. The older Amy is a great character, bitter and angry and unwilling to give the Doctor any more chances. The Doctor has to make the awful decision to slam the door in her face when she tosses all that resentment aside and decides to leave with them in one of the most shocking moments of the season. Darvill, Smith and Gillen have never been better than at that moment and it's great to see them hitting such an emotional high when they are about to be split up permanently. How to rate an episode that tests my patience this much and yet manages to score such a coup with its characters in its closing third? It feels unfair to score an episode that hits the series’ emotional high point (The Doctor’s Wife excepted) this low but there are too many surrounding details that let it down: 6/10

1 comment:

David Pirtle said...

Why not they try explaining the situation to the facility before snatching the magic magnifying glass and running off? Surely this can't be the only time someone's accidentally pressed the wrong button. How does the facility manage to collect enough information from Amy about her home to provide human works of art but not work out that she only has one heart? Isn't this a medical facility? How on God's green earth did Amy Pond, regardless of the number of years she had to fiddle, manage to build a sonic screwdriver?! Thinking about the plot just annoys me.

But the three principles have never had stronger material, and they never get it again. Not even close. That's why I still find this to be a great episode. I also think that the Doctor putting Rory's hand on the TARDIS lock and forcing him to choose which Amy to save is without a doubt the cruelest televised act the character has committed against one of his companions (at least up to this point - buggering off during Kill the Moon gives it a real run for its money).