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Sunday, 11 September 2011

The Girl Who Waited

So, this was the mysterious one that nobody knew anything about! Tom MacRae's Doctor Who offering. The elusive Episode Ten. And I'm so glad I knew very little about it! This is one of those episodes that sounds a bit rubbish on paper, but shines so brightly on screen (literally, in this case) it hurts.

The premise was this: The TARDIS lands on the planet Apalapachia (or something) and find themselves under a quarantine. There's a plague that kills only two-hearted life-forms, Chen 7, so our Doctor has to sit this one out in the TARDIS. "Sit what out?" you ask?

Well, due to a forgotten phone, a wrong button and an accelerated timeline, Amy's got herself stuck in an alien clinic, pursued by well-meaning but deadly Handbots. When Rory heads off to find her he doesn't expect 36 years to have passed for her during the 10 minutes or so he's been gone. And so begins one of the most emotional and well-acted episodes of Doctor Who I've ever had the pleasure to sit through.

Seeing a main character aged is something that's been done before, but always superficially. Martha was aged in Torchwood's second series but it didn't last long, and we've seen the Doctor himself aged to hundreds of years old in the finale to series three, but again, it wasn't for long, or for real.

This time, it's done properly. Kudos to Karen Gillan who carries this episode almost all alone and does so expertly - this should be enough to shut the "Karen Can't Act" lot up for good! She clearly can. The subtleties she shows in her performance as "Old Amy" is a pleasure to behold. She's such a bitter, hard, unforgiving character that you almost see her as the villain of the piece, especially when she refuses to help save "Our Amy" from her lonely, heartbreaking fate. And she plays the same person "as a different character" as well (if not better) than Tennant did as John Smith in The Family Of Blood.

More than anything else it's the relationship between Rory and Amy that makes this episode so wonderful - lots of little things are revealed about their past together that cements these two, in my mind, as the best-fleshed-out companions we've had. Sure, Russell gave us families and friends to potter about with, but in Amy and Rory we have a real sense of knowing all about them without ever having seen the life together we know so much about. Their first kiss to a silly song, in particular, was a lovely beat; a "get out of this" plot resolver and a beautiful nod to a history unseen. The story is simple, the conclusion a little simple also, but the episode looks, feels and sounds so perfect that it's difficult to find anything at all to complain about.

So I won't. As you know, I have an almost medical inability to criticise Doctor Who - you should never, ever use my reviews as a measure of quality, I always like it. But this time, even if I DIDN'T always enjoy the show, I'd be singing its praises. It seems that, in many different forms, this series is throwing out some great episodes: For emotion, this one is up there with 'Vincent and the Doctor'. For excitement, it's up there with 'The Pandorica Opens'. For pure good looks it beats almost anything we've been given before. And for making a grown man cry... well, we'll leave that, okay? Rory's choked "I'm sorry, I can't do this!" at the TARDIS door, when "old Amy" is begging him to let her in while at the same time telling him that he really, really shouldn't, broke my heart. And when Doctor Who can do that, you know you're on to a winner. 

And the Doctor's cruel and deceitful means of "saving Amy", then dumping the responsibility of Old Amy's inevitable death/non-existence firmly within Rory's hands brings up an important question: Now that Amy and Rory know how ruthless the Doctor can be, even to the people he cares about most of all, will they even want to travel with him anymore?

Whatever the fallout from this beautiful episode, it's a relief to know that, no matter what, Rory will do all he can to assure his wife is safe. He loves her, she loves him, they are perfect together. I've never been one to gush over in-show relationships, but I love this dynamic so much. It really is true love - rarely at the forefront of everyday life, but always there as the most important emotion you can ever feel. And both parties know the other feels it. It doesn't get much better than that. And as far as this episode of Doctor Who is concerned, that same sentence will do just fine.