Amy Pond is the longest-lasting Doctor Who companion since Rose Tyler, and recent events have made her even more central than Rose to the Doctor's mythos. But she's been a bit of a cipher for a while now, without much in the way of character development or badass moments.
Meanwhile, Rory and Amy are the first married couple to travel in the TARDIS, but their relationship hasn't really been front and center, apart from Rory being determined to rescue Amy from a series of damsel-in-distress situations.
So we really needed an episode like "The Girl Who Waited," that focused on Amy and Rory. And thank goodness it was so magnificent. Spoilers ahead...
At first blush, "The Girl Who Waited" is just another iteration of Amy being a damsel in distress, and Rory saving her. Amy has gotten herself stuck in a quarantine facility for people with an obscure disease, where the inhabitants can live out their entire lives in 24 hours, while their loved ones watch in regular, slowed-down time. (And the medicine that the "hand-bots" dispense is lethal to humans.) The only trouble is, Rory comes to rescue Amy too late, and she's already been there for 36 years.
In a way, it's another version of what happened to Amy as a little girl, when the Doctor promised to come back for her and returned 12 years later. Except this time, the abandonment issues and feelings of isolation are amped up massively. And Amy has become self-sufficient, learning to hack the deadly hand robots and make the quarantine facility's A.I. her bitch. This is a very different version of Amy, and one which challenges Karen Gillan's acting chops more than usual.
The whole thing, with the timey-wimey dilemma and fairytale jewel-box feel, is very much like the sort of story that Steven Moffat was writing, before he was showrunner and all his episodes were "arc" episodes. (Except for "The Beast Below," I guess.) But it's also very remiscent of some of the better 1990s Star Trek episodes, like Deep Space Nine's "The Visitor" and TNG's "The Inner Light."
And yes, none of it entirely holds up if you look at it too carefully. The quarantine facility where tens of thousands of people are in their own private time streams feels far-fetched, even for Doctor Who. Then there's the fact that the disease kills you within 24 hours — unless you slow down time, in which case 24 hours becomes a lifetime but the virus still goes at normal speed. Oh, and this disease randomly doesn't affect humans, but does affect Time Lords. And so on. The whole thing is made of handwavium. But it still works.
At first I thought that one of the implausible things in the episode was the fact that Old Amy doesn't want Rory to save Young Amy, because then Old Amy will cease to exist. You sort of wonder, at first, whether Old Amy really thinks that decades of loneliness and misery are worth preserving. But after a while, that part of the episode really won me over, and became the most interesting thing about the story.
Old Amy hasn't just become an awesome hacker, survivalist and Magnus-style robot fighter. She's also become bitter and mean, and focused on surviving at all costs. On some level, the episode suggests that this is the only alternative to being a damsel and letting Rory save her — but then again, the decades alone in a sterile paradise probably play a bigger role in her crazy lady-hood. And she's pretty much forgotten the person she used to be, and how much she used to care about Rory and the Doctor, until she's confronted with both Rory and her young self.
The heart of the episode isn't the dilemma of whether to save Old Amy or Young Amy — we all know it's going to be Young Amy, in the end — but rather, Old Amy rediscovering her love for Rory. And Rory's determination to grow old with Amy, to have those years with her. This story is really about Amy and Rory's love, and how it overcomes a time trap. In the end, Old Amy is finally willing to sacrifice her existence not because she's stopped fighting for life, but because she's remembered how much she loves Rory and treasures their time together.
I've never been this convinced, both about Amy as a three-dimensional person with a life of her own, and about her love for Rory. Much more than last year's Amy/Rory episodes like "Amy's Choice" or "The Big Bang," this felt really emotional and intense and real. I got much seriously choked up, watching Rory fight for his marriage and then face consequences of his choice. More than Rory spending 2000 years guarding Amy off camera, more than Rory confronting the Cybermen to get to his wife, this episode left me with no doubt that Amy and Rory are an epic pair.
And yet. It seems weird not to mention, at least in passing, the Slitheen in the room. For the second episode running, there's been no mention of the fact that Rory and Amy had a child, that Amy was forced to give birth on an evil space station, that the child was stolen and raised by evil aliens who turned her into a psychopath, and that the Doctor lied and promised to get back their baby, which he clearly could not do. The Doctor told Amy and Rory they couldn't stay with the newly regenerated River Song because they had "too much foreknowledge" — an argument which didn't stop them from looking for her before, and has never stopped River herself from hanging out with them when the positions were reversed. And Amy and Rory meekly accepted this and decided never to speak of it again. This is the sort of thing that does strain your belief in these characters, a bit.
But even if this episode, in particular, didn't assuage those concerns, it did at least give us an epic Rory-Doctor smackdown. Rory finally seems to lose patience, once and for all, for the Doctor's lying, feckless, callous ways. After the Doctor basically cons Old Amy into thinking she can survive, and then maneuvers Rory into killing his own wife, Rory has a very gratifying spot of rage at the Time Lord, including the ultra-memorable line: "You're trying to turn me into you." Which sums up so much about the Doctor's relationships with his companions, really.
As I mentioned in the preview post yesterday, this is also a beautifully directed episode, thanks to first-time director Nick Hurran. There are a lot of amazing visuals in this episode, including a lot of great camera angles that serve to heighten Amy's isolation in the Two Streams facility. And the visual motif of the giant magnifying glass that can see other time streams is used to great effect, a number of times. It's great that an episode which sees all three of the show's stars giving standout performances also gets some really effective direction.
"The Girl Who Waited" is the sort of stand-alone episode that elevates the show as a whole, by recharging our belief in these characters and their world. It's a really strong story in which the clever plot devices serve the story, rather than the other way around. And it's proof, once and for all, that a married couple in the TARDIS is a great idea that can give rise to a ton of brilliant stories.
Next week: Scary Clowns and minotaurs!