Saturday, 10 September 2011

DOCTOR WHO, 6.10 – "The Girl Who Waited"

Saturday, 10 September 2011

Karen Gillan gets her best material yet, which inspires her best performance on Doctor Who; a series that hasn't yet managed to turn Amy Pond into a companion to rival Rose Tyler or Donna Noble, because she's more concept than character. Amy's the little girl with an imaginary friend who was proven real in adulthood, who then got married and had a baby. Who is Amy Pond? It's a question I still can't quite answer, as even "The Girl Who Waited" just confirmed the one thing we already know: she's truly, madly, deeply in love with Rory (Arthur Darvill).

In a rather complicated setup I'm still slightly confused by, The Doctor (Matt Smith), Amy (Gillan) and Rory arrived on a planet current under quarantine from a disease that only effects double-hearted beings, only for Amy to become separated from her friends by entering a room that's actually a gateway to a timestream running at a faster speed. In minutes for The Doctor and Rory, Amy's already spent a week in the blindingly white medical facility. Even worse, once The Doctor's hatched a plan to rescue Amy by sending Rory into the facility alone, connected to Amy's timestream, he discovers that 36 years have passed for his wife—who over that time has become a middle-aged survivor, hardened by years of solitude, skilled with a samurai sword she uses to regularly destroy the troublesome "Handbots" who intend to give her medication they don't realize will kill her.

It's another complicated story that takes delight in playing games with the nature of time, which is definitely a preoccupation of Doctor Who in the Steven Moffat era. I think we're due a few old-fashioned monster episode with simpler plots soon, as so much of the show is now emphasizing the paradoxical possibilities of the series' time-travel element. Thankfully, while "The Girl Who Waited" was unnecessarily busy with too many ideas at times, it worked rather well once writer Tom MacRae ("Rise Of The Cybermen") focused on Rory trying to rescue Older Amy, but realizing she'll effectively be erased from existence if he instead opts to save the Younger Amy. Even better was the return of The Doctor's darker side, as he lied to Rory about the possibility they can rescue both Amy's, and then forced Rory to make the choice about which Amy to save: the younger one he knows and loves, who's sweet and innocent? Or the older, grumpier one, who nonetheless he owes the most, as she's spent a lifetime waiting for rescue. "This isn't fair! You're turning me into you!" came Rory's protest, before making a decision he'll have to live with, getting a taste of the tough decisions The Doctor often has to make.

As I said, putting aside the episode's cluttered feel (despite the fact it was apparently simplified by Moffat from MacRae's original drafts), Gillan was very good in her dual role. The show hasn't given Gillan  many opportunities to act much beyond outgoing Amy's quirkiness (even "A Good Man Goes To War", where she lost her baby, was followed by an episode that restored things to relative normality), but Gillan proved she can handle more challenging material. Her Older Amy was noticeably different in mannerism, posture, and temperament, helped enormously by understated make-up, and the scene where the Younger Amy managed to convince her sourpuss older self to help Rory, by reminding her of how much he means to them both ("Rory's the most beautiful man I've ever met") was very poignant and heartfelt. MacRae managed to make Amy/Rory feel like a special love-story that truly matters, in a way most previous episodes haven't managed. Much of the success with Amy and Rory has been down to the sheer likability of the two actors playing them, so it's great to see them given a script that really played to their strengths.

The only thing that irritated me about this episode was Older Amy's dismissive reaction to seeing her husband again for the first time in 36 years, which didn't seem realistic in the slightest. It was more plausible and interesting that she'd has decades to think about her situation, and had come to the conclusion that meeting The Doctor was the biggest mistake of her life. There's always something very juicy and appealing when the companions start to question their relationship and involvement with the Time Lord... who promises them amazing wonders, but generally gives them extraordinary dangers.

All credit to director Nick Hurran for delivering a relatively "cheap" episode that looked anything but, with the pristine whites of the facility being especially gorgeous (with lighting setups that somehow made Karen Gillan's features look twice as beautiful). It's worth mentioning that, considering Doctor Who's budget, it's quite regularly outdoing most of the US sci-fi you see these days. There's a level of care and attention to Doctor Who, especially in how it's filmed and the locations they choose, that puts most other shows to shame—especially American ones with a budget that usually 2-3 times higher, who must squander it on production fripperies, craft services, and inflated wages.

Overall, "The Girl Who Waited" was creative and imaginative fare, blessed with two great performances from Gillan and Darvill, if slightly tarnished by a convoluted setup and some confusing early moments. Some of that may be down to the story having too much ambition for its own good, or could be solved by a second viewing, I'm not sure. But I do know this episode was a definite highlight of Series 6, but probably one that's going to be slightly overrated by fans. It had its problems and it didn't all work smoothly for me, but an ambitious story that focuses on character and gives its cast a challenge is very hard to hate.


  • This episode's various working titles were: The Visitors' Room, The Visiting Hour and Kindness.
  • Nick Hurran directed this episode, making his Doctor Who debut. He's previously worked on ITV1's The Last Detective and helmed The Prisoner remake (which had a similarly spartan aesthetic).
  • Amy and Rory had their first kiss to the Macarena? Where do you slip that move in amidst all the hand-turning and hip-grabbing?
  • The Interface computer was voice by Imelda Staunton. She joins Michael Sheen from "The Doctor's Wife" as another celebrity guest-star with a role that's entirely aural.
written by Tom MacRae / directed by Nick Hurran / 10 September 2011 / BBC1

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