Tuesday, 12 November 2013
The Girl Who Waited
On the one hand, this is a clear case of hard sci-fi. Usually the TARDIS crew battle fantastic monsters of one kind or another, with the occasional moment of heartbreak thrown in along the way. Here the story is the emotional and moral dilemma that arises and confronts Amy, Rory, er, Amy, and the Doctor. The problem is caused by the impact of another culture and its technology upon our time travellers: which timeline will survive? There are two Amy's, old and young, but we all know that only one can leave in the TARDIS. In an inversion of Schrodinger's famous experiment, it's only when the (police) box closes that the ambiguity is resolved. Sounds like proper sci-fi to me.
But on the other hand technology can, famously, be so advanced that it becomes indistinguishable from magic. The temporal two-way glass is an enchanted mirror in all but name, and the alternate time stream into which Amy wanders might as well be the realm of Faerie. There's often a touch of the fable about Doctor Who these days and this is rich in fairy-tale trappings. Amy, locked away for a hundred years (alright, 36 years) becomes, in effect, a princess who needs rescuing, and Rory, her brave knight - although, this being 2011, there's an appropriate amount of tweaking to those antiquated gender roles.
I suppose the answer is that neither label is useful. Doctor Who remains the one television show that can go anywhere, tell any story and be different things to different people. .
This episode is an astonishing piece of television full stop. Superb writing, gloriously realised. The production design on Doctor Who is currently outstanding, but this is a very fine example indeed, with its fine white expanses and blank-faced robots. At the heart of it all is an incredible performance by Karen Gillan, playing two versions of Amy thirty-six years apart.
I haven't said much about Amy, but she really has proved herself to be a top-tier companion, just as Gillan has shown real acting class. Big, important things have happened to her (getting married, becoming a mother), and these have been shown to have affected her, to a greater or lesser extent. But Amy has also been gently growing all the while in the background. It has been a very subtle and effective performance from Gillan who, assisted by a judiciously evolving costume design, takes Amy from her callow youth (she's 19 in The Eleventh Hour), to almost thirty by the time The Angels Take Manhattan.
She stretches the role even further here to play the old version of Amy and does so very well indeed. The older Amy walks differently, talks differently, her whole bearing has changed. Combined with some top notch make up the effect is startling, especially when, thanks to the magic mirror, the two Amy's are able to talk face to face.
With the Doctor stuck in the TARDIS (a clever and unobtrusive improvement on the Doctor-lite problem of past series), the heart of the story is once again the relationship between Amy and Rory. He does very well to get his head around a situation which, for him at least, moves very quickly, but his key strength as always is his compassion, and his indomitable love for Amy. Amy is the real surprise though. We've talked about her abandonment issues before, but she copes remarkably well left by herself. I'm not talking about her day-to-day survival skills, but the emotional strength she has needed to endure. Although she is embittered, she has not succumbed to hate in the way that she feared Rory had in The Doctor's Wife. Inside her, she is still capable of love. It's not self-preservation that makes her decide to help the younger Amy, she does it for Rory.
The final scene is really something else: the older Amy locked out of the TARDIS by the Doctor, desperate to survive, Rory prepared to let her in, to save her, even if it means ripping open the Universe. At the very last it is Amy's strength and her love for him that prevent that from happening: once again, and not for the last time, Amy chooses Rory over everything else.