Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Doctor Who: Amy's Choice

Doctor: 'Look at you both, five years later and you haven't changed a bit. Apart from age... and size.'

I read an interesting thing on a Doctor Who forum last week. Someone made the comment 'The difference between a good episode of Doctor Who and a bad one is how much people want to talk about it afterwards'. There's probably some truth to that. When an episode's bad, many see it as a call to arms. Some find ripping into the writers/actors/production team a satisfying and cathartic way of expressing their displeasure. Others choose the more traditional route of identifying an episode's faults, and then proposing a potential fix. Whichever method you choose, the point is, dissatisfaction and confusion increase discussion exponentially.

Conversely, when an episode's good (yet non-essential to the main story arc), although enjoyable, you often feel less compelled to write about it. If there's nothing demonstrably wrong with it, or at the very least unusual, then what's the point? You can only crank out the old 'great episode guys' cliché so many times. Case in point: my review of 'The Satan Pit' (an episode I liked) was just seven paragraphs long, whilst the first draft of my 'Victory of the Daleks' review (an episode I thought honked), ran to an incredible twenty nine paragraphs. Obviously, I had to cut it down to something more manageable, but it proves the point that dissatisfaction breeds the sudden urge to vent ones spleen.

Tonight's episode was delightful. It had a simple premise, featured some great acting, a smattering of chortle-inducing humour, and had a nice little twist at the end—but story-wise, it was, more or less, a stand-alone. So I was initially worried that I'd have nothing much to say about it. Evidently, this was an unfounded worry, as we learned more about the Doctor, Rory and Amy tonight, than we have in the past six episodes combined. The question is: was this episode as stand-alone as it seemed?

My initial dislike of Rory, as expected, came back to haunt me again this week. I was quite prepared to spend all season ridiculing Rory—I've already called him the new Mickey Smith (the worst insult I can think of)—but his raised profile these past two episodes has forced me to reassess my admittedly stinky attitude towards him. And, you know what? I quite like him! He's a fun character. With Mickey, I couldn't bear to see him in the TARDIS, as his presence felt like a profaning of the Holy Temple. With Rory, I don't want him to leave. He's good for the show, good for the Doctor, and I think he may even be good for Amy.

That said, he had a difficult episode tonight. It started out well enough. Rory was living the dream: he had his dream job, was married to Amy, and lived an idyllic existence in Upper Leadworth (I know... posh, or what?) They even had a child on the way, so it was easy to understand why Rory would want that reality to be the real deal. But, in the words of Persephone, such things are not meant to last, and his dreams came to an abrupt and screeching halt. He died. Dusted by the Eknodines' crazy green cloud. Damn! Just when things were looking up.

Amy, however, seemed less enthralled with Upper Leadworth, and on seeing the TARDIS, couldn't conceive of anyone wanting to leave it. Admittedly, Upper Leadworth better suited Rory's gentle nature than it did Amy's. The game-changer, of course, was Rory's death. For the first time Amy really seemed to connect with her feelings. Death can do that. It clears away the layers of detritus, and makes you focus on what's important, and tonight, Amy finally realised that she loved Rory (a fact further evinced by that whacking great kiss she gave him). But this seeming metamorphosis didn't happen because of one singular event. Earlier in the episode, Amy scolded the Doctor for calling her life dull, and you couldn't help but feel Amy's affection for Rory as she shared her cake mixture with him. So her sudden declaration of love wasn't just some emotional reaction to his death—it ran much deeper.

But if Amy loves Rory, then what's going on between her and the Doctor? Could the Dream Lord really see into Amy's dreams, or was it all just bluff? Was the Dream Lord simply riffing on the Doctor's repressed feelings in an attempt to provoke a response, or is Amy more conflicted about her relationship with the Doctor than she's letting on? Whatever the case, the Dream Lord's words certainly touched a nerve. Her reassurance to Rory that she'd already 'chosen' him sounded hopelessly insincere. Was it all just empty placation? If it came down to it, who would she really choose: the Time Travelling genius, or the nerd with the heart of gold? If the Doctor's life were similarly in peril, would her true feelings for him emerge in much the same way they did for Rory? She did, after all, meet the Doctor first.

And after all this character development, are we now at a state of equilibrium? Now Amy's announced her undying love for Rory, will she stop pursuing the Doctor? Has their romance effectively been nipped in the bud? What about the Doctor's feelings? It was strongly implied tonight that the Doctor and Rory were both competing for Amy's affections. Plus, the Dream Lord saw Rory as a gooseberry, which must surely mean that the Doctor sees him that way, too. Up until now, I've been operating on the assumption that Amy's love for the Doctor was largely unrequited. He refused her advances in 'Flesh and Stone', and this whole episode was about him trying to push Amy and Rory together. Why would he do that if he were in direct competition with Rory?

And Amy's abandonment issues came to the fore again tonight. She virtually pleaded with the Doctor not to leave her, but leave her he did—as did Rory. Amy needs stability in her life. She was orphaned at a young age, was dumped twice by the Doctor, and nobody's seen hide nor hair of Aunt Sharon—so Rory seems like the obvious choice. But Amy also craves excitement, and since Rory's idea of high adventure is growing a pony tail, it seems only logical that, to sate her desire for thrills, she's going to have to roam further afield. Well, as far as the Doctor, at least.

But, is that likely to happen now? Amy's confidence in the Doctor's powers to save must surely have taken a knock. When it became obvious that the Doctor couldn't save Rory, Amy's 'then what is the point of you?' comment was cutting to the extreme. Has Amy now realised that travelling in the TARDIS is more than just a game? She originally intended to use it as a means of indefinitely postponing her wedding, that way she could keep a hold on Rory (who'd be effectively frozen in time), whilst off gallivanting with the Doctor (insert something here about cakes, and having, and eating). But will the wedding now go ahead as planned? Are Amy's time-travelling days over? I'm guessing not (otherwise, worst-plot-development-ever), but how's it all going to work? I can't imagine Rory allowing Amy to run off with the Doctor a second time.

Technically, this whole episode took place inside the TARDIS. I must confess, I was slightly surprised to find out the Dream Lord's true identity. Had Russell T. Davies still been in charge, you can bet your bottom dollar that the Dream Lord would've turned out to be the Master ('There's only one person in the universe who hates me as much as you do'). Personally, I had him pegged as the Valeyard (me and the rest of the English speaking world). The Valeyard was, likewise, a personification of the Doctor's dark side—but is the Dream Lord really gone? At the end, despite the Doctor blowing the psychic pollen out into space, he could still see the Dream Lord's face reflected in the TARDIS' console. Does that mean we'll see him again later in the season? Or have they simply left the door open for some future return?

It was fairly obvious that both 'realities' were fake. The cold star seemed so ludicrous that it just had to be bogus, and Upper Leadworth was just too quiet and too perfect. Plus, the Doctor's braces kept changing colour—a sure sign that something was wrong. But why does the Doctor hate himself so much? Because of what he had to do during the Time War? His multiple genocides? For forever leaving his companions behind? I sometimes wonder how he justifies to himself the trail of chaos he leaves behind. Rose trapped in a parallel universe. Donna's mind-wipe. Does he mentally offset the bad by focusing instead on what he's given them? The grand adventure. The wonders of the Universe. Does he think the benefits outweigh the negatives?

Essentially, tonight's episode was about choice, primarily, between Rory's world and the Doctor's world, but also between Rory and the Doctor. It was a master-stroke to give Simon Nye this story; character driven pieces, swathed in sparkling humour, are his bread and butter. And in the end, Amy chose Rory... and everyone was delighted. Even the Doctor applauded as Amy kissed Rory, but what a limp wristed clap it was. I know the whole point of the exercise was to bring them together—so, in that sense, it was mission accomplished—but, if the Dream Lord was telling the truth, then you can't help but wonder how the Doctor really feels. If he does feel something more than friendship for Amy, then why is he stifling it?

It was odd, too, that in the end, the Doctor let Amy choose for him. He knew she was acting out of grief, yet he still put his life in her hands. Thankfully, she made the right decision—or at least one of the right decisions. The TARDIS' 'reality' was also a dream, and just as Amy closed the door to Rory's world, so too the Doctor flicked the reset button, and slammed the door shut on his own.

Other Thoughts:

—A normal length episode tonight, clocking in at just over 43 minutes.

—No crack in the Universe this week.

—Surely driving a VW Camper Van into a house wouldn't be enough to kill everyone outright? I'm not convinced they go that fast.

—Great wicket-keeping pose by the Doctor as he prepared to catch Amy's baby. Two Doctors on the scene... both seemingly sharing the same brain cell.

—There were some great comedy moments tonight. I've mentioned most of them in the quotes section at the end.

—I really must apologise for the length of this review. I'll try to be more concise next week, I promise. I'm not sure what's going on.


Rory: 'I know. Leaf blowers. Use a rake!'

Doctor: 'Amy! You've swallowed a planet!'

Doctor: 'Never use force. You just embarrass yourself. Unless you're cross, in which case, always use force.'

Amy: 'Oh! Can we not do the running thing?'

Doctor: 'Er, slightly keen to move on. Freak psychic schism to sort out.'

Rory: 'If anyone's the gooseberry around here, it's the Doctor.'
Dream Lord: 'Well, there's one delusion I'm not responsible for.'

Dream Lord: 'If you had any more tawdry quirks you could open up a tawdry quirk-shop.'

Rory: 'This from the man in the bow tie?'
Doctor: 'Bow ties are cool.'

Rory: 'After all I've done for the over-seventies in this village.'

Rory: 'I'll deal with this one, Chubbs.'

Doctor: 'No, no, ice can burn. Sofas can read. It's a big Universe.'

Rory: 'Oh, a poncho? The biggest crime against fashion since lederhosen.'

Amy: 'Oh, my boys. My poncho boys. If we're going to die, let's die looking like a Peruvian folk band.'

Amy: 'Save him. You save everyone. It's what you always do. It's what you do.'
Doctor: 'Not always. Sorry.'
Amy: 'Then what is the point of you?'

Amy: 'This is the dream.'
Doctor: 'How do you know?'
Amy: 'Because if this is real life I don't want it. I don't want it.'

Amy: 'It can't be. Rory's isn't here. I didn't know, I honestly didn't. Until right now. I just want him.'

Amy: 'I loved Rory, and I never told him. And now he's gone.'

Doctor: 'Okay, where now? Or should I just pop down the swimming pool for a few lengths?'

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