Well that was that. And her. And them. And the whole mess. And a door slammed in a face, and none of it happened, and none of it mattered, but it did, and it did.
Tom MacRae, eh? Who would have thought he’d have it in him? The creator of airline totty drama Mile High and so-so 2006 Who double bill “Rise Of The Cybermen” and “The Age Of Steel” comes out with one of the most memorable punches in the heart in recent Who memory.
A sort of spiritual successor to last season’s “Amy’s Choice”, “The Girl Who Waited” started innocuously enough (if you’ll excuse the pun) with the Doctor, Amy and Rory arriving on Apalapucia – apparently the number two holiday destination in the universe after Planet Of The Coffee Shops. Fairly simple so far, until they arrive at the planet and – through a case of sheer bad luck – Amy finds herself trapped in the same place, but moving at a much swifter pace, on a different time stream.
The opening in itself was beautifully put together, simple white waiting rooms and the use of a huge magnifying glass to communicate between the two versions. The symbolism of the green anchor to represent the normal time frame and the red waterfall to represent the fast one, quickly pulling Amy further and further downstream and eventually over the edge.
This framing was, of course, as it turns out, all just plotting to get us to where we needed to be – building blocks to push to the inevitable dilemma at the story’s core. But what beautiful building blocks they were, eh? All clean lines and creepy faceless Handbots determined to deliver kindness in the form of a sharp – and deadly for humans – needle to the solar plexus.
Kudos to director Nick Hurran for creating a believable and subtly unsettling world in which to place this drama, as well as once again praise to the costume and set designers who worked on this production (especially production designer Michael Pickwoad) – and who continue to knock Who out of the park week on week.
But all that beautiful dressing was indeed just dressing, for a story that saw Amy and Rory face up to the realities of their relationship and life on the TARDIS. Rory and the Doctor tried their best to throw themselves into Amy’s time stream, and they succeeded, but in doing so they essentially created an entirely new problem. They overshot, you see, and for poor Amy it’s been 36 years, left behind by the man she loves and the “blue box man flying through time and space on whimsy”.
The genius here was not just in the dilemma facing Rory and the Doctor, about whether to mess with what had happened to this woman to get their friend back, but that the episode spent much time with Old Amy. She was there, so forcefully there, in everything she said and did. This wasn’t a tragic circumstance or an interesting sci-fi mix-up; this was a woman who’d been abandoned for three decades by the two most important people in her life. She wasn’t interested in sacrificing herself to save Young Amy, in doing the right thing, and the moment she steadfastly refused to honourably shuffle off (and take the easiest plot turn out of this mess) I knew we were in for something very interesting.
The above was, of course, enabled by a barnstorming performance by Karen Gillan, who (despite some occasionally dodgy make-up work) managed to imbue both Amys with distinct personalities. The Older Amy was worn out, bitter, and her voice was even deeper than our spritely regular ginger Scot.
This episode also helped us – and hopefully Rory and Amy – to understand the price one must pay for travelling with the Doctor.
When he first speaks to Older Amy, and she responds with “and there he is, the voice of God,” it’s ultimately hurtful because it’s true. In “Let’s Kill Hitler” we saw the level of guilt the Doctor feels when projected the images of his most previous Companions – and it’s true that nobody who crosses his path ends up the better for it in the long run. It’s what makes it even more painful when the Doctor hands Rory the choice near the episode’s end: save your wife now, or save this older version of her that’s waited three decades for her knight in shining armour to turn up.
He was right. And, to be honest, it was a cruel thing for the Doctor to do, to place that responsibility on Rory’s shoulders. But, one supposes, it had to be Rory’s decision to make. Still, there won’t be a Who fan around who won’t have one image seared into their memory next time they think of the Doctor as just some whimsical alien in a magic box: the moment he slammed the door in Older Amy’s face, locking her out of the TARDIS and making her 36 years of waiting amount to nothing.
In her own words: “I trusted you”.
The final moments of the episode were pure science-fiction heaven. An impossible situation boiled down to its most basic emotional parts. Rory on one side of the door, safe with his wife and the Doctor, and Older Amy on the other – her hand pressed against the glass, inches away from a moment she’d spent her whole life waiting for.
In the end, she did sacrifice herself, refusing Rory’s offer to open the door – but it didn’t feel like a cop-out. It felt like an old woman who’d spent 36 years waiting for her husband to show up and love her again, only to watch her place taken by her young and unworried self. It felt right because it felt earned, and correct, and true to the character of Amy, and the character of Older Amy specifically.
But it wasn’t a happy ending. It was just an ending.
And as the episode signs off, with Young Amy’s “Where is she?” hanging in the air with no answer, it becomes clear that things are going to get a lot worse for Amy and Rory before their time with the Doctor is over. They keep dying, but they keep hanging around, and they keep winning but they keep losing more: their daughter, their past, and occasionally each other.
How will it end?
– Too much great dialogue to quote, but the overlapping moment where Amy says “I’m giving you the days” from one side of the door while Rory whispers “I’m so, so sorry” from the other has to be the winner. Beautifully acted too.
– “Did I ever tell you about a boy I met there? He pretended to be in a band.”
– “You used to look at me like that. I’d forgotten how much I loved you. I’d forgotten how much I loved being her. Amy Pond in the TARDIS. With Rory Williams.”
– “Do not be alarmed. This is a kindness.” The last, and truest, words Amy Pond got to hear.
– There was a lot to pick apart for fans of Angel’s season one episode “I Will Always Remember You”, which saw Angel and Buffy spend one perfect day together before the memory was ripped away. From her, but not from him.
– The Handbots were low-key, but clean and effective. It was good to have some level of enemy but nothing too sinister that would take over the plot.
– Rory the Handbot. SQUEE!
– I really do hope that at least the emotional turn of this episode will carry into later episodes.
– That Mona Lisa was too large, surely?
– It wasn’t likely, but it was a good tease by MacCrae to include dialogue where Older Amy predicts she won’t stay on the TARDIS but might visit – giving the illusion she might just survive the experience.
– God that door slam was harsh. And Amy’s “I trusted you!” was so very, very angry.
– No mention of Melody again. Not necessary, but curious in its absence.
– That macarena was adorably awkward, though the sci-fi logic was a bit too “power of love-y”.
– That was Imelda Staunton on the intercom, by the by.
– Apparently Steven Moffatt did some strong work on shaping this episode with Tom MacCrae, so maybe my complaints last week are being addressed.
– Next week it’s The Shining by way of minotaurs and coulrophobia. Cover eyes, engage couches.