jason stives got a little misty watching the Doctor this week …
With three episodes remaining in the last regular run of Doctor Who until (at least) autumn 2012, I can already see fans being confused by the recent episodes’ direction. Keeping a series arc consistent and prominent is no easy feat, and the first half of the season seemed to tie up what we wanted quickly, leaving the second half with room to breathe. Last week’s “Night Terrors” proved to honor standalone stories that have both ignored hanging plot points and stood out as imaginative adventures in the vein of classic Who, relying on singular storytelling without having bells and whistles attached to it.
For those reasons, last night’s episode, “The Girl Who Waited,” really had room to stretch without being bogged down by tying up storylines. The result is an emotionally charged 45 minutes that alters the perception of the characters we have come to know for two seasons as well as act as a traditional piece of science-fiction glory.
The premise is one of traditional sci-fi folklore, the opportunity of meeting an older version of oneself — in this case, Rory and then eventually Amy meeting an older version of Amy, but one ravaged with age and remorse at never being “saved” by the Doctor and Rory. Story wise, this is about crossed timelines more than the holiday world that the TARDIS crew drop in on, only to find that its tranquility comes from being quarantined off due to a one day plague that has ravaged this awe inspiring world.
And what a world it was!
Much praise has to go out to the visionaries of this world. It harkens greatly to many of science fictions greatest dystopian societies with its white cleansed look and its border between the futuristic and the fanatical, showcased in the botanical garden that Amy and Rory find themselves. Think Alice In Wonderland meets The Prisoner and of course, the classic Who serial “The Mind Robber,” which the high-five-centric white robots in this owe a lot to. By trying to make the white wash world so pristinely happy in their mercy killings, it really puts a fracture to this perfect world.
Much of the story’s strength lies in the performances, and for anyone unsure of Karen Gillan’s acting potential, she shows here the full circle belief I have always held about Amy Pond. Throughout two seasons, we have seen a character with the strangest conundrums both in her importance as well as her perception of those around her. Outside of the occasional emotional benders, she was quite harsh to Rory during Series 5, but this year with the establishment of her devotion to old stupid face, the two have prospered as an equal onscreen couple. “Night Terrors” showed their adventurous desires and their ability to fight off danger, and this week, we get two facets of Amy, and one no one was probably ready to see.
The embittered aged 36 years Amy is absolutely ravaged by the personal hell she has suffered through and shows little to no sympathy to the Doctor, in fact, hating the Time Lord. Her resistance and overall forthrightness of being abandoned is scuttled by Rory’s presence showing a resistance to seeing the man she became disconnected to but the only connection to the world she should’ve seen over three agonizing decades of loneliness. Everything about this Amy is obviously tragic, but the delivery of those tragic moments is astonishing — the robot named Rory, her unwillingness to save her younger self, and of course, her willing sacrifice at the show’s climax tugs heavily at the heart strings. Her final moments, sharing a hand to glass connection with Rory through the TARDIS door was heartbreaking, and her final speech stating her love and need for her husband hammers home the evolution of these two as a married couple.
It’s important to point out that not all the stellar acting goes to Ms. Gillan. Arthur Darvill once again hammers out Rory’s development from Mickey like foil to prominent muscle with school boy charm. His constant resistance to the bitter Amy’s unwillingness showed guts that were absent from his earliest episodes. Matt Smith also pours on a confined but empowering performance as we see the dark Doctor rear a brief appearance thanks in part to his reluctance to save the older Amy. This allows Rory to shed light on the Doctor’s complex visage that he as an almost 1000-year-old alien hides so well under fezzes and bowties. The Doctor is self aware more than ever and his dances and decisions with death really signify how his battered body is taking to his inevitable death.
By episode’s end, we are dealing with some dark matter in the Doctor’s world as well as his companions. With rumors floating around that Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill might leave at season’s end, this episode made a very bold look at that possibility as Rory fought tooth and nail against the Doctor’s constant rebuffering of timelines and making grave choices after making fundamental mistakes. It once again firmly re-established the alien aspect of the Doctor that had long since been on ice during his predecessor’s time and allowed for continuous growth for this character that has been on screen now for almost 50 years. “The Girl Who Waited” is picture perfect standalone episode which doesn’t rely on story development but character development, something that makes science fiction and drama an endearing pair in modern television.
Rating: 8.5 out of 10 (Excellent)
All Photos Credit: BBC America