5 December 2018: It Takes You Away review added.
26 November 2018: The Witchfinders review added.
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THE GIRL WHO WAITED
Bertie Bottís Every Flavour Beans. Some of them are nasty, some of them are nice, but the nasty ones donít put people off buying them.
And thatís what this episode is like. There are many wrong things in it, especially on a second viewing when the more muted emotional impact affords a better view of the wheels falling off, but overall that doesnít really matter. The apple, cranberry and chocolate flavours outweigh the earwax.
Where The Girl Who Waited scores, and scores big, is in the emotional arena. Letís start with the most obvious, shall we? That, of course, would be Amy. We havenít liked Karen Gillanís performance in every episode sheís been in, but here she hits it out of the park and weíll fight anyone who says otherwise. Playing someone decades older than you is a big ask, and while Karen might not be 100% convincing as a fifty-six year old, she nevertheless makes a pretty kickass job of it. We love her gruffness and steel, and the decisiveness foreign to younger Amy which has almost visibly taken decades of hardship to acquire. We love the stompy way she moves, which transforms her body language. More than anything, we love her bitterness. Younger Amy isnít bitter in the least, even after the loss of her daughter (about which the less said the better - apparently), but this Amy? Yuh-huh. We love the venom with which she spits ďRaggedy ManĒ at the Doctor.
Whatís also great is older Amyís determination to stay alive. It might be a horrible, horrible life, but itís hers, and she wants to hang onto it. We love this. It has the ring of utter truth: people cling to life under even the direst of circumstances. Itís only on the screen that they nobly step aside without hesitation. Except this time.
Of course, under the tough armour is a lonely and vulnerable woman. And it works. Our Mawk-O-Meter is very sensitively tuned, and it wasnít triggered at all. Instead of rolling our eyes as Rory and older Amy declare their love for each other through the TARDIS door, we were crying us a river.
Then thereís Rory. Weíve been waiting all season for Arthur Darvill to be given something to get his teeth into, and here they deliver. His pain at the dilemma of choosing between two Amys breaks your heart, and his rage at the Doctor is blistering. Bravo, sir.
Like we said, those are the most obvious things emotion-wise. But the most interesting thing is the Doctor. Heís not really in this much, and yet what he does do is enormously telling. Remember us whining about how itís not enough to just tell us the Doctorís a bad, bad man, you have to show us? Well, they do. This is not the cuddly Doctor who saves everybody. Yes, we know he said he lies, but weíve mostly seen that in a benign context, often to save people from themselves. Here, though, he lies to manipulate a woman into giving up her own life under false pretences, then looks her in the eye and slams the TARDIS door in her face. Wow. And although she is just as real as the other Amy, he coolly dismisses her entire life with a ďsheís not realĒ.
When you think about it, this must be par for the course for the Doctor. When he touches down in some doomy scenario, he canít always save everybody. A lot of the time, he knows he isnít even allowed to. Life and death decisions must be as routine as brushing his teeth. But most of the time, they havenít got the guts to show us. Here they do. We love it.
What else do we love? Mostly, the storyís simplicity. Weíre always a fan of the cheap but wildly effective white set (too many viewings of Ark In Space, probably), and here it looks spectacular, especially with the TARDIS against it. The garden and the inside of the Millennium Centre (about time the inside got a go after the outside was lavishly featured in Torchwood) also look fabulous.
As for the rest of it, itís almost exactly the right size. No cast of thousands. No planet-spanning crisis. A handful of characters in a handful of sets is just enough to let the full impact of the story out. And, of course, itís cheap. It should be bronzed as an ideal example of virtue out of necessity.
Sure, itís not perfect. In fact, far from it. But the good things burn so brightly that it seems almost unfair to point the bad things out. Well, obviously weíre not going to refrain. Thatís what weíre here for, after all. But to reflect the different weights of the good and bad bits, weíre trundling the bad bits off to the Outtakes section.
The scriptwriter for The Girl Who Waited, Tom MacRae, also wrote Rise Of The Cybermen/The Age Of Steel. Yes, really. Amazing, isnít it? Kudos to him: heís learned his lesson and then some. The Girl Who Waitedís got its faults, but itís also got a right hook thatíll send you to the canvas. For that we can, and do, forgive a lot.
MORAL: Donít cross the streams.
Why is Rory in a strop because Amy pushed the red waterfall button? Why didnít he tell her which one to push himself?
DO YOU FEEL LUCKY?
Two Streams is a quarantine facility, right? So why is there an exit into the facility from the visitorsí room?
A TURN FOR THE WORSE
We love the way this starts off light-hearted and abruptly becomes anything but when they realise whatís happened to Amy. It could be jarring, but it isnít (except in a good way).
HAVING YOUR CAKE AND (NOT) EATING IT
OK, this time compression thing. Amy isnít hungry because of the compression, and it also doesnít speed up things like the progression of the virus (otherwise the compression would be pointless). How does that work, exactly? You canít have time flowing faster yet leave things like digestion at the pace they were before. Also, how far does this compression thing go? Has Amy not eaten anything for thirty-six years? If not, where did she find food?
ROBOTS OF DEATH
The robots look nice with the set, but thatís about as good as they get. Thereís a real missed opportunity here: they could and should have capitalised a lot more on the uber-creepy ďkindnessĒ thing. When itís delivered by something both crap and cute, it kind of lowers the fear factor. Whatís more, it makes the cool gladiator action at the end rather too smirksome. Battliní Amy with her sword and slo-mo? A granny could take the lot of them out with her handbag.
A lot of this series has been about what it means to be real/human, and this is no exception. Weíre starting to wonder if the theory of one of us that neither Amy nor Rory are as real as they seem isnít as far out as we thought. Also, more here of Amy waiting. Thereís certainly a lot of that about.
Love Roryís geeky glasses - they suit him perfectly. (Geeks are cool.) And so much nicer than the try-hard contact lenses in Torchwood.
KILLING WITH KINDNESS
Itís a shame that this followed Letís Kill Hitler so closely, as the robots are a bit too like the antibodies for comfort.
BECAUSE YOUíRE WORTH IT
If Amyís wrinkled and stuff, why isnít her hair grey?
WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN ALL MY LIFE?
Why does Amy not exhibit the least surprise - not the tiniest scrap - to see Rory? We know sheís being all staunch so you canít see The Hurt Inside, but itís hard to conceal surprise. Especially big surprise. Like the surprise you might feel when youíve been alone for thirty-six years and your husband suddenly pops up.
MISTRESS OF PAIN
ĎďSo heís like yourÖĒ ďPet.Ēí Yes yes, we get it, she treats Rory like shit. But at the same time, of course, itís the love of the century.
WISHINí AND HOPINí AND THINKINí AND PRAYINí
Considering Roryís two thousand year vigil, is Amy being whiny? We donít think so. First of all, Rory knows itís finite. And much more importantly, it was his choice. Weíd do a million years next to the Pandorica by choice over a year forced into that hellhole.
MY OLD LADY
Weíre really not fans of the way Amy being older and still being Roryís wife is handled. First, Rory tells older Amy he doesnít care that she got old. And he kisses her, too, without having to vomit into a bucket afterwards. Then young Amy shows up and suddenly Rory is all eww, hands off, Grandma. Then in the TARDIS, itís back to Compassionate Rory, which seems a lot more likely a response from Rory than revulsion. It is, after all, Amy all along.
TILL DEATH DO US PART
ďYouíre asking me to defy destiny, causality, the nexus of time itself, for a boy.Ē Nope, sheís asking you to die for a boy. Spot the eensy-weensy difference.
OUT WITH THE OLD
Thereís something in here we donít like thatís hard to pin down exactly: the closest we can get is that it feel like a subtle ageism. Older Amy is never really treated as someone with as much right to existence as younger Amy by the other characters. From the Doctorís ďSheís not realĒ to Roryís ďYou being here is wrongĒ, it dismisses older Amyís right to life as being much inferior to young Amyís, simply because she had the bad luck to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and is no longer ďtheirĒ Amy. (We know Rory behaves differently later, but he does say this stuff as well.) As a result, itís easy to overlook that both Amys are as real as each other. Roryís right that the life older Amyís lived has been ridiculously tough, but itís a big step to go from that to ďand therefore youíre obviously the one who should be wiped from existenceĒ. Why ageism? Because we just have the feeling, and your mileage may vary, that if it had been another Amy of the same age as the original, Tom Riker-style, she wouldnít have been treated as quite so disposable.
So, just as in School Reunion with the past and current companions, the two Amys are bristling with hostility towards one another. Yes, we know Amyís arsy, but this is herself, and a self, whatís more, who just saved her. Canít writers ever think of anything but a catfight?
ďSometimes knowing your own future is what enables you to change it.Ē Well, thatís all right then, isnít it? From the paradoxes to the fannying about with individual timestreams to the difficulties for future episodes posed by the Doctor suddenly deciding itís OK to go back and tidy up lives, itís an unmitigated disaster. Massive eyeroll.
So did the Doctor ever entertain the possibility that older Amy could really be saved? Nope. Watch him shake his head after she proposes it. Also, admittedly with the benefit of hindsight, as the Doctor is saying the TARDIS can sustain the paradox, you can see the lie written on his face. Now that is acting with a capital acting.
THE SPEED OF THOUGHT
A thought so powerful it can rip through time? Ugh, just like Amy remembering the universe.
Whatís with all the three lever stuff? What a yawn.
THE ART OF MURDER
And just when you thought the robots couldnít get any more feeble, Rory breaks a paper-thin painting over oneís head and leaves it for dead.
YOU ARE FEELING VERY SLEEPY
Did they really have to big up Rory carrying Amy quite that much? We know itís just a short-acting sedative. Hardly slo-mo-worthy, is it?
ANY COLOUR AS LONG AS ITíS BLACK
At the end, Rory says ďIím sorry, I canít do thisĒ and reaches for the door. However, we never get the feeling that he really understands whatís at stake. Itís not a choice between older and younger Amyís lives at this point: if he opens the door and older Amy comes in like she says she will, older Amy, younger Amy, Rory and the Doctor are gonna be blown into the next dimension. They canít point this out too clearly to the audience, because itís a stupid decision and therefore no decision at all, but we have to see Rory choose. So they step softly around it by not emphasising the consequences and hope we wonít notice. We did. Sorry.
The Doctor could piss off in the TARDIS, allowing older Amy to melt out of existence without knowing what hit her, but instead he hangs around and waits for her to die. Callous? We donít think so. At least it accords her the respect of choosing her own ending.
Love, love love that shot of the Doctorís face at the end. Chilling isnít the word.
They keep it lovely and unsentimental, then Murray Gold pours slush over the most important emotional moments. Sigh.