“The Girl Who Waited”
Transmitted 10 September, 2011
Thinking that he is bringing his companions to the second most amazing holiday planet in the galaxy, Apalapucia, the Doctor finds that he has instead made a grave error of judgement that places his newlywed partners in dire peril. The planet Apalapucia is under strict quarantine to combat a plague so deadly that the treatment involves placing the infected into separate time streams to make the loss of the victims easier on the family members on the other end of the temporal visiting mirror. While Timelords are not immune to the plague, humans are, but the cure offered by the clinic is just as deadly. Unfortunately, Amy and Rory find themselves on different time streams thanks to a clumsy mistake.
The Doctor attempts to merge the two time streams and rescue Amy from the clinic, but unfortunately he is too late, a few decades too late. By the time Rory finds his wife she is a survivor of 36 years of solitude dressed in the discarded armor of the facility robots and self trained in sword play enough to stay alive. The Doctor and Rory face two problems, how to solve the fissure in the time stream (easy-peasy) and what to do about there being two Amys in the world.
The author of the series 2 Cybermen story Rise of the Cybermen/The Age of Steel, Tom Macrae, vindicates himself with this episode. Fast-moving and utilizing the ideas of time travel in order to tell a different type of story is exactly the kind of thing Doctor Who needs to do more of. Never mind that we get more of the ‘time wimey’ nonsense that was stolen from Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure of all places, it’s a step in the right direction. Trapped in a different time stream, Amy hardens as a person and becomes full of resentment and hatred not just for the Doctor and Rory for not saving her but for herself. It’s a rather adult concept to show the potential of something going horribly wrong for the companion and I’m glad that this episode explored that idea.
The facility itself was brilliantly executed with that mixture of simplicity and complexity that Doctor Who excels at. White walls with magic doors that link to other sets or exterior locations. Nice. The ‘temporal engines’ being located in what appears to be the boiler room was a bit laughable, I have to admit. Why does modern Doctor Who keep going back to the same industrial complexes when a super scientific setting is called for?
Industrial complexes are the new quarries, apparently. In twenty year’s time fans will make pilgrimages to rubber factories and visit where the ‘Love Triangle of the Sea Devils’ was filmed.
While the direction is almost as dire as Murray Gold’s musical score (why so much slow mo? Why so many close ups? Am I meant to be brain dead?), the plot is actually quite clever. However, in order to tell its story,The Girl Who Waited utilizes an accepted conceit that the program is based entirely on love. Since the program returned in 2005, the theme of romance has been a part of Doctor Who. The Doctor and Rose were presented as the greatest love that there ever was, only to be torn apart in the finale of series 2. Series 3 saw Martha pine after the Doctor but he could never be hers because he loved another… a woman whom he could never see. More recently the Doctor revealed his deep longing love for the TARDIS itself. The idea continues here but in this case Moffat has had a stroke of intelligence by removing the Doctor from the equation and instead inserting a pair of lovebirds in his place. It’s still unnecessary and crass, but it works given that Rory and Amy have already been through so much together and the actors can pull it off. The sappy scenes of Rory and the future Amy crying on opposite sides of the TARDIS door, however, followed by future Amy telling the facility interface about her great love while looking at a hologram of the Earth (I know that’s what I do) is unneeded.
I called it when he first appeared as a regular, but Arthur Darvill is just magnificent. I am a sucker for the well-meaning klutz character and he embodies that so well with Rory. While the Doctor knows exactly what the script needs him to, Rory must not only make do but often stumble about making mistakes until he gets it right. His character also genuinely cares about people, exemplified by his relationship to Amy, a girl who brushes him off at each opportunity but is still the most amazing woman in his life. He has time and again risked his life for others but dared anything to save Amy. As I say, this serves the marketing demographic that the program is looking to reach who apparently needs to have a couple in deep undying love on screen in order to pay attention, but if you’re going to go in this direction… this is how to do it.
Karen Gillan won me over almost immediately as new companion Amy Pond last year. Steven Moffat obviously has a thing for forthright heroines (nearly every script he has written for Doctor Who not only features one but is centered on such a character type), but for some reason in interviews refers to her as a ‘bad girl in the TARDIS’ which I think misses the forest from the trees. Amy is not a ‘bad girl’ at all, she’s ‘brassy.’ Think Tegan ramped up to 11 and add another. Not only does Amy take no nonsense from anyone, even the Doctor, she hardly waits around to be rescued. Case in point, in this episode she not only fights back against the situation she has become stuck in but she improves herself, hardening her survival skills to the point that she is not just deadly but brilliant (just how did she invent a sonic probe??).
I do think that this episode missed a great opportunity, however, in making the older Amy not dissimilar to the younger version. Sure, she was bitter and quick on the draw, but essentially she’s the same person. It would have been much more interesting if the older Amy was unappealing, making Rory’s decision over which one to save all the more complicated. No wonder he figured that he could save both of them, why not? By the end of the episode they’re both sexy assertive women. If the alternate future Amy was instead a more sinister persona, Rory would be faced with more shame and guilt around his decision. Sure, that Amy would not be the woman that he fell in love with, but could he just let her die? It would also color the inevitable conclusion, filling him with guilt over letting the other Amy go because maybe deep down he wanted to. Maybe I’m on the wrong track or maybe that’s just asking too much of this program.
Matt Smith is again in tip top condition as the scatter-brained alien stuck with a pair of humans to protect, but The Girl Who Waited is the third story in a row where the Doctor does almost nothing at all. In ‘Let’s Kill Hitler’ he failed to save Melody, failed to procure an antidote, did nothing against the time traveling policemem and had no interaction with Hitler. In ‘Night Terrors’ his big moment was to convince a man telling his son he loves him was important (that’s two scripts that Gattis has put this into and I’m officially worried about the man). This week he chats on a video phone through Jarvis Cocker’s eyeglasses. I’m all for an ensemble program, but this is just bizarre.
The Girl Who Waited is a tightly written melodrama with science fiction elements and some keen action sequences. Over the top and saccharine-sweet at times, it is nonetheless an episode that tells a compelling story offering more depth to the characters and the concepts of the program. Given the choice, I’d gladly watch the Silurains or Dominators and even pay for pizza and beer too, but for new Doctor Who, this was quite good.
Next time: The God Complex