Warning: this review contains spoilers.
6.10 The Girl Who Waited
“I trusted you”.It’s interesting that, in a time when Doctor Who is having immense fun and success weaving longer narratives, that two of the best episodes this series have been the standalone ones. The highlight remains Neil Gaiman’s The Doctor’s Wife, and Tom MacRae’s The Girl Who Waited can’t dislodge that.
But it has a damn good go, and comes a fair bit closer than you might have expected. For this, again, was an excellent story in a show that continues to be inventive, surprising, and quite brilliant.
In an episode that by turns felt like it was evoking The Mind Robber, a bit of Paradise Towers, The Beast Below, and a small dab of Turn Left (with a nod to 70s telly, too), the Tardis lands in a seemingly empty world (I’m not going to try and spell its name), opposite a door with two buttons alongside it. It’s a proper sci-fi door, too, with requisite swishing, in that way that all sci-fi doors should.
In fact, the whole episode evokes a look and feel of proper, old-fashioned science fiction, with a bleak world, underpinned by a seeming kindness that’s actually anything but. Credit must go, too, to director Nick Hurran, for making quite as much out of the wonderful production design as he does.
Back to the story, though. The Doctor and Rory press one button, and go through the door. Amy follows, pressing a different button, and ending up elsewhere. The reason? Well, this is a place where multiple timestreams are running, and Amy is on one that’s going faster.
Doctor Who’s recent confidence in playing with time within the confines of a single episode was already high before The Girl Who Waited, and here, it’s used in an interesting way to put the spotlight firmly onto Amy Pond. Karen Gillan does not disappoint.
I found Amy, thoughout the last series, a really quite unsympathetic character, and a hard one to root for at times. This year, though, the depth of her feelings for Rory have been explored in some depth, and it’s here when they feel at their most real. For the first time, I absolutely believe that Amy loves Rory as much as Rory loves her, and now that that’s been established, I expect the pair of them to be facing a fair amount of added peril come the next three episodes of the show.
A bit of me still thought that she a bit unreasonable for grumbling about 36 years, when Rory had been waiting for her for the best part of 2000. But Rory’s too nice to bring that up.
That said, it’d be remiss to say that it was just Amy under the marvellous prop magnifying glass. I’ve already praised Arthur Darvill’s portrayal of Rory a fair amount this series (his protestations that he was trying to save Amy were excellent: “still can’t win, then”, and his devotion to her is clear), though, so instead, I’m going to focus on Matt Smith’s Doctor.
We’re reminded at the end of the episode that his death is firmly established at a fixed point in time and space, but perhaps even more interesting, it’s being brought home to him more and more the damage he can do to his companions (as if he wasn’t already aware).
In Let’s Kill Hitler, when he was minutes from death and on the floor of the Tardis, the Doctor basically requested to see the face of a person he hadn’t screwed up yet. Cue the young Amelia Pond, in all her innocence.
When presented with the older Amy here, the one caught in the episode’s time labyrinth for over three decades, he pretty much got the polar opposite. An older Amy, burning with hate and resentment for the Doctor, practically snarling her disgust at him for leaving her in a form of hell. Gillan’s dual performance sells this extremely well, too (as does Smith’s reaction to it). I felt I was watching two slightly different Amys, and that’s not an easy thing to get across by any measure (decent make-up work, too).
And while it’s clear that one Amy is ultimately going to have to perish here (not for the first time this series, the Doctor lies, after all), it’s not that, for me, that gave the episode its emotional core. Instead, it was the deeper peek into the soul and feelings of Amy, once the layers had been peeled away. That’s why Amy was basically able to sacrifice Amy for Amy. If, er, that makes sense. That the emotional moments paid off because the build-up was so diligently, and convincingly, done.
While we’re here, can we also point out that, over the past 24 episodes, we’ve now seen Amy, Rory and The Doctor die? On more than one occasion in some cases. Likewise, last year, we had Amy’s Choice. Wasn’t this just a little bit Rory’s Choice? Just thought we’d state that, on the off-chance we’d stumbled on something relevant.
Elsewhere in the episode, we had the handbots, whose reason for being was to be kind to people. This kindness extended to, basically, conking them out and doing them nasty harm, in a not dissimilar way to the tentacled lumps of metal we saw in Let’s Kill Hitler. They gave Amy Pond ample opportunity to be a badass, too, as, when she appeared in her older guise dressed in some stuff she found in the Doctor Who prop cupboard, she turned into warrior Amy. Expect the very welcome action figure in due course.
What I really liked about The Girl Who Waited, though.is that a strong, interesting idea is used to explore characters who have been parading around our tellies for the best part of two years now. It’s an episode that worked very well on both a science fiction and narrative level, and left the three lead characters in slightly different places to where they started (Rory’s haunting comment to the Doctor – “this isn’t fair, you’re turning me into you” – is an example of this that deserves highlighting, for one).
Those seeking a slightly more action heavy instalment are perhaps likely to have been left a little disappointed here (the humour wasn’t quite as prevalent, either, save for a fine Twitter gag). Yet they’re surely in the minority. For here, once more, was an ambitious 45 minutes of television, that proved that there’s an awful lot you can do with a show about some people zipping around in a blue box. Congratulations to all concerned.
And doesn’t next week’s look good, too?
Read our review of episode 9, Night Terrors, here.