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New Who 6.10, The Girl Who Waited

Oh wow - I loved that! This is what I watch Doctor Who for - proper engagement with the emotional experiences of the characters and clever ideas which break the rules of reality. It seems all too rare to get both in one episode these days, but this one got it just right. In my view, the only other episode this season so far which has done that was The Doctor's Wife, and I think this one was very much in the same league. In fact, I've a feeling I liked this one slightly better - but then I've only just seen it, so of course it seems more vivid and exciting than a story I last saw in May.

I think I particularly enjoyed being brought face to face with the darker side of the Doctor - hard, manipulative, and not entirely as competent and trustworthy as we might like. That's ten times more interesting than just treating him as an outright superhero, and a big part of why I love this show but have no great interest in traditional superhero narratives. It's perhaps a pity in a way that it is primarily the older Amy who calls him on his "voice of God" behaviour, while the younger Amy has less reason to be so critical of him. Some of my favourite moments for previous companions have come when they stand up to or challenge the Doctor - starting right with Barbara in The Edge of Destruction - and younger Amy never quite got that in this episode. But Rory did get some good little rants in ("This is All. Your. Fault!"), while obviously both of the Amys and Rory got plenty of fantastic character moments. Indeed, much as in The Edge of Destruction, I really appreciated the absence of any other (human) guest-cast, so that we could really concentrate on their emotional dilemmas and development.

There's a case for saying that older!Amy's ending is not very feminist, since it is the Doctor who forces her to give up her life by doing an about-turn on her and leaving her behind. But I think that the degree to which this is engaged with explicitly in the dialogue makes it very different from e.g. River giving up all her remaining regenerations for the Doctor a couple of episodes ago. The older version of Amy has already described her own life as 'hell', so it is emotionally plausible that she might eventually decide that it is worth letting it go - and not for the sake of the Doctor this time, but for the sake of her own future happiness. "I'm giving her the days," she says to Rory through the TARDIS door. Not him - not either of him. Earlier on, the dialogue which leads to the older Amy agreeing to help her younger self was striking, too:
"You're asking me to defy destiny, causality, the nexus of time itself for a boy?"
"You're Amy. He's Rory. And oh yes I am."
That acknowledges the tropes we have seen in other episodes, and connects the older Amy's decision to the specific relationship between two particular characters, rather than men and women in general. This doesn't mean that the actions of specific characters in drama can't be reflective of wider sexist paradigms - they certainly can. But I felt that this dialogue at least acknowledged that the writer was aware of how an individual scene can reinforce a wider paradigm - and that certainly made it a hell of a lot better than River's declaration that she wanted to study Archaeology to find a good man.

Going back to Barbara, my jaw nearly hit the floor when Rory voiced one of his own criticisms of the Doctor - "You should look in a history book once in a while, see if there's an outbreak of plague or not!" The structure of the sentence took me right back to Barbara in The Reign of Terror, angrily declaring, "You check your history books, Ian, before you decide what people deserve!" But functionally, Rory idea of how history books should be used is closer to the Second Doctor's comment in The Highlanders, when he suggests that Ben might better understand what is going on if he had "paid more attention to [his] history books."

I still prefer Barbara's view of history books as places where different motivations and ideologies can be rationally weighed up against one another and chosen between, rather than Two and Rory's view of them as handy survival guides. But either way, the reference is very exciting as another contribution to Doctor Who's now very-long-running discourse over this issue. It's also particularly interesting to see the idea of history, which is clearly so important to Moffat's conception of Who, being evoked at all in relation to an alien planet. The only two previous examples of that which I can remember right now are a question about the history of Vortis from Ian in The Web Planet, and references to the history of the Aplans in Moffat's own The Time of Angels.

Meanwhile, the Apalapucians clearly have a great deal of interest in the art history of all sorts of civilisations, including Earth's Classical period to judge from their Venus de Milo and two different discoboloi. This is not without resonances in Whovian history, either - it reminds me of the Monk's rather similar museum in The Time Meddler. Meanwhile, the white featureless set, especially when the TARDIS first landed, took me straight back to Warriors' Gate, and Amy's apparent ability to knock up a makeshift sonic probe / screwdriver inevitably recalls Romana, as did the Mona Lisa which Rory destroyed - and which I certainly hope was a fake! The detail about the sonic screwdriver did seem very surprising to me, given that we've only ever seen a Time Lady do that before - but I think we already know far too much about Amy's back-story and life experiences to maintain any hope that she might actually be a fob-watched Romana.

Meanwhile, the continuity references certainly weren't restricted to the Classic era. Amy's desire to go back into the TARDIS to collect her phone was of course primarily a plot device designed to separate the characters, but I loved the way the opportunity was also taken to give a shout-out to Twitter, and to the Tenth Doctor's irritated "We're at the end of the universe, right at the edge of knowledge itself - and you're busy blogging!" Older!Amy and Rory's scene on either side of the TARDIS door was very deliberately shot in the same style as Ten and Rose in parallel universes too, while of course it was closely preceded by Eleven speaking Ten's very favourite line of all: "I'm sorry" (though delivered rather less sentimentally). Coming hot on the heels of last week's visit to a pseudo-Powell Estate, this rather feels like a change of attitude on Moffat's part towards Russell T. Davies' premiership. Defining his own era against it and emphasising the differences is no longer so important - that point has been made, and the Ninth and Tenth Doctors' eras can be bundled up with the rest into the great, rich store of potential continuity threads.

And meanwhile, Moffat's own favoured themes and ideas continue to bubble over. The episode title reminds us how Amy's Whovian adventures began - and that has particularly poignancy to contribute here, given that this episode sees them end too for one potential Amy. The dialogue also emphasises Rory's choice, which again not only reminds us of another previous episode title, but also has important thematic resonances, given that Amy's Choice saw another potential Amy in a hellish parallel world choosing to face her own elimination for the sake of 'our' Amy's safety and happiness. More recently, The Doctor's Wife saw Amy and Rory getting separated by a closing door during one of House's hallucinations, but that time it was Rory who aged faster than Amy, and ended up bitter and angry about it. The references to streams and waterfalls reminded me of Rivers and Ponds, and of course we also have yet another episode featuring duplicates and / or parallel universes. This is clearly going to be Significant for the season finale.

Nothing's perfect, of course, and it did seem awfully odd not to make any reference at all to Rory's long, faithful wait outside the Pandorica while Amy was suspended inside it for two millennia. I mean, I know that was entirely voluntary, while Amy's wait was not, but you'd think he might have mentioned it at some point. I really hoped for more to be made of that this season, and I'm disappointed that it hasn't happened. Also, I think we may now have had one too many humanoid automata with creepy catch-phrases (cf. "You will be deleted" (from the same writer, of course) "Information: You are all going to die", "Who turned out the lights?", and so on).

All in all, though, absolutely cracking stuff - and I look forward to I Can't Believe It's Not The Shining next week with renewed enthusiasm. :-)

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Comments

( 22 comments — Leave a comment )
pingback_bot
Sep. 10th, 2011 10:11 pm (UTC)
Reviewing Dr Who
User andrewducker referenced to your post from Reviewing Dr Who saying: [...] and 's review of The Girl Who Waited [...]
parrot_knight
Sep. 10th, 2011 10:14 pm (UTC)
Thanks for such a detailed and thoughtful review. I can't believe I missed the 'history books' line; and I'd forgotten about Rory apparently ageing in 'The Doctor's Wife'...

The Pandorica waiting issue is something presumably worked through in the season we never had, of honeymooning and Orient Expresses in space.
strange_complex
Sep. 10th, 2011 11:40 pm (UTC)
Cheers! I must say I'm glad to have had the opportunity to write it. I haven't felt that inspired by a new Doctor Who story for a while - which is rather a sad thing, really.

(Edited for dumb typo.)

Edited at 2011-09-11 10:00 pm (UTC)
parrot_knight
Sep. 11th, 2011 10:02 pm (UTC)
Ah, but you often seem to want to right difficulties in the script...
steer
Sep. 11th, 2011 06:50 am (UTC)
Oh dear -- well I suppose we can't all like the same things. I thought it was simply dreadful. The moment I saw older Amy I thought "tragic but heroic death imminent" and spent the episode wallowing through the treacly dialogue waiting for it. It just seemed like a filler episode which did nothing in particular and left everything exactly where it was before -- rather like older Amy it might as well never have existed. Still, I guess we can't all enjoy the same things.

Also, really, given two buttons one green and one red which you don't know what they do, who in their right mind presses the RED button? That's a mental problem right there.
andrewducker
Sep. 11th, 2011 09:30 am (UTC)
"It just seemed like a filler episode which did nothing in particular and left everything exactly where it was before"

You mean, like the vast majority of all Dr Who stories up until this season?
steer
Sep. 11th, 2011 11:10 am (UTC)

You mean, like the vast majority of all Dr Who stories up until this season?


Indeed... well, I would say up until the restart and new Dr Who with Christopher Eccleston. Previously to that though you're completely right -- the expection would be that in a typical story everything would return exactly as it was before with completely no changes made to characters or relationships. That isn't a fault and I can enjoy that as an experience. New Who has increasingly changed this model to the point that now the expectation is that a story will create some ongoing change and in particular that major or traumatic events will have some kind of long-lasting impact. However, they managed to write something where one of the three main characters spends effectively half a lifetime in solitary isolation going quietly mad... and then undo it all after the odd overblown emotional speech and leave everything essentially unchanged.
andrewducker
Sep. 11th, 2011 11:15 am (UTC)
Even with Ecclestone, most of the episodes didn't actually change anything. Father's Day threated space and time, but at the end, nothing had really changed. Or The Empty Child/Doctor Dances. Or any of them really. Occasionally someone would say "Naughty Lupus" so the audience could chat about what it all meant, but the episodes could have been shown in any order (except for Boom Town appearing after Aliens of London), and nobody would have noticed.

In fact, looking through the RTD stuff, that's largely the case through all of them. The final couple of episodes of each season have to be seen together, but the others could be shuffled (or missed out) and nobody would even notice.
steer
Sep. 11th, 2011 11:28 am (UTC)
My impression has been a gradual change -- for example Mickey's on again off again relationship with Rose altered every couple of episodes. There was the whole Saxon on/off in season three. So for those you could miss episodes and sometimes there'd be a minor kind of "what happened there". With the latest season with most/many episodes you'd be really baffled if you missed the previous episode.

As I think I said, I don't mind which approach a series take but having created the expectation of a continuing plot where stories advance and reveal this, a story that doesn't do that then sticks out.
andrewducker
Sep. 11th, 2011 11:33 am (UTC)
Oh, I agree that they should go for one or the other, but that's hardly a new thing for Who. I get the feeling that they've been told that they need to have one-off episodes, to keep someone's perception of the public happy.
chrisvenus
Sep. 11th, 2011 11:50 am (UTC)
That last point was one of my big problems. Faced with two buttons and told to press "the button" and with no problem communicating why not ask "which one?".

That and why those robots were so flimsy that hitting one with the mona lisa that just ripped actually broke it. Though I guess I have no idea how much force it requires to break a canvas of a painting... :)
steer
Sep. 11th, 2011 11:54 am (UTC)
*laugh* There was also the "asking" option -- but what I was really getting at was that being raised in a human culture there is almost no situation we regularly encounter where there is a choice of coloured buttons and the red button is the correct one. The red button is the "alarm", the "call operator", the "release jam", the "stop it's broken" button. I'd have serious worries about the socialisation of someone who given a red and a green button pressed red. :-)

why those robots were so flimsy that hitting one with the mona lisa that just ripped actually broke it.

That did seem a bit crap -- although I guess they were helpful medical robots designed to be nice to people who wanted them to help so I guess you wouldn't design them mil-spec.
chrisvenus
Sep. 11th, 2011 12:01 pm (UTC)
Oh yes. I quite agree with the red button comments you made. I was just pointing out that even if the buttons had both been plain it was still a bit stupid. :)
steer
Sep. 11th, 2011 01:26 pm (UTC)
Doh... oh well. Dr Who assistants have always had a touch of "wrong-buttonitis".
chrisvenus
Sep. 11th, 2011 11:58 am (UTC)
I did really like a lot of this episode. In particular I was expecting the inevitable sacrifice of old amy for young amy so was quite pleased with how she actually said "I want both of us to leave" and it was then for the doctor to slam the door in her face. I found myself actually saying "PLease don't do it doctor" because it was such a nasty lie.

The end speech was spoilt a little bit for me though by Old Amy just giving in to the handbots. After saying in the speech something along the lines of "If you open that door i'm going to come in and not give up trying and give up fighting" then to see her just give in to the bots was disappointing. I wanted to see her cutting down robots as the screen faded to white or whatever.

Also not convinced by the whole "You don't need to eat because you are in a faster time stream" or whatever the heck it was. I could gloss over that easily enough though. :)
huskyteer
Sep. 12th, 2011 09:46 am (UTC)
Nice to read a different opinion of an episode which, I'm afraid, bored me rigid!
restiva
Sep. 12th, 2011 11:56 pm (UTC)
Nice review! I really liked this episode actually, aside from the completely predictable set-up (Surprise surprise. Amy gets separated. Now Amy needs rescuing... again.) Seemed a lot more interesting emotionally too.

Oh, and I stumbled across your lj and friended you because your reviews look interesting. Hope you don't mind :)
strange_complex
Sep. 13th, 2011 07:00 pm (UTC)
Hi, and welcome! I'm friending you back, too, as it seems we have a few things in common - like reviewing things, interested in politics. I don't know much about NZ politics, but I'm interested in it because of your recent history of changing your voting system - something I was heavily involved in fighting for the in UK this year, though sadly unsuccessfully. So maybe I'll gradually get more of a grip on it through your posts. :-)
restiva
Sep. 14th, 2011 10:53 am (UTC)
You mean to MMP (partially proportional voting)? There's actually going to be a referendum about it in November, to see if the country wants to keep it or not. National's trying to get rid of it so they don't have to negotiate with the smaller parties - hopefully they won't succeed.

Oh, and No Right Turn is a really awesome blog on NZ politics if you're curious.

strange_complex
Sep. 14th, 2011 12:07 pm (UTC)
That's it. We had a referendum about changing our voting system this year, but it was only about whether we wanted to change from FPTP to AV (as used in Australia). I campaigned for AV anyway, because it is a huge improvement on FPTP, but we lost the referendum, mainly because the 'No' camp could focus really effectively on spreading fear and lies about AV to prevent change. I really wish we had done something more like New Zealand did, and asked people whether they wanted a change in principle first, before then getting into the question of what to have instead.

Anyway, I will be keeping an eye on what happens with your new referendum in November, and like you I hope you get to keep the more proportional system you have. And many thanks for the link to the blog, as well - looks really good.
danieldwilliam
Sep. 13th, 2011 11:36 am (UTC)
I do like your reviews.

This episode, for me, better than recent ones.
kernowgirl
Sep. 18th, 2011 01:26 am (UTC)
We really need to catch up on our Who watching, since there's no reason for us to be a week behind. But I've just watched this episode, and like you, I enjoyed it, although it left me profoundly unsatisfied for two very different reasons.

Firstly is a deeply personal one... that we are the sum of our experiences and eliminating a bad one would destroy who we are. Which the episode did talk about and it was of course the driving motivation for older Amy. But in the end, she reneged on her own condition, thinking it better for the young Amy not to have those hellish 36 years.

I look back at some of my own hard times, particularly my failed attempt at teaching. Obviously they pale in comparison to 36 years of fighting for your life without another living soul.... but it's the saying: "That which doesn't kill us makes us stronger." For all old Amy's hatred of her life, she didn't show any self-loathing. Would she really have thought it better for her younger self never to be disillusioned about the doctor? Never to learn everything she's had to? But to carry on along a more sheltered road instead? I just couldn't buy that.

And that leads into the second reason, which is that I liked older Amy better than young Amy. I've not been hugely fond of Amy at any point, but it's becoming a recurring theme that Amy should be sheltered from suffering (inasmuch as a doctor's companion ever is).

As you mentioned, Rory did the waiting for her while she slept in the Pandorica. Even when she was abducted, she got to exist outside of her prison in a flesh counterfeit of her real self. And now instead of fending for herself for 36 years, she's granted more Fun Times in the Tardis (to paraphrase Old Amy).

Eh. I love Rory, but Amy... well, she's so shallow. And this looks like being an ongoing problem with Moffatt, in that characters face really extreme lifechanging experiences without it affecting their relationships. Rory's 2000 year guard duty. Rory and Amy losing their baby and discovering that she spends (did they ever specify a timeframe?) her childhood being brainwashed into an assassin and just living with that (there's a thought... how come River Song is allowed to keep her own trauma?), and now Amy's wait and sacrifice.

I know Rory and Amy are meant to be a romance that can cross the barriers of space and time, but can't their love age a bit? All good relationships do....

What I would have absolutely loved would have been for them to choose old Amy instead of young one. Clearly the make-up would have been an ongoing pain, but... it would have been so much more interesting. And considering the experience gap between Rory and Amy anyway, you'd think he'd relate better to older Amy. Plus, it'd have been kind of nice to acknowledge that it's possible to view a woman with wrinkles romantically.

Oh, well. I still enjoyed it for the most part, and yes, I loved the doctor doing the nasty betrayal thing and desperately rationalising it to everybody by saying old Amy wasn't real. A blinder of a Rory episode too, which is always a good thing.
( 22 comments — Leave a comment )

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