Sunday, 11 September 2011

DOCTOR WHO: 'THE GIRL WHO WAITED'

NB: If you were looking for the second part of the Vorticists try here



The planet Apalapucia might be a new destination, but it comes with a strange sense of deja vu. If not quite to the degree of last week’s ‘Doctor Who on Remix’, Tom MacRae’s script takes us places we’ve been before. You could see it as the parallel timestreams of ’Girl In the Fireplace’ switched to the empty institution setting of ’Silence in the Library’. (Us oldsters may have also been partially reminded of ’Warrior’s Deep’.)

But plot and setting serve only as the backdrop here, for the emphasis is on the inter-relationship between the characters. Something about the trailers and the episode name suggested it would be this season’s ‘Amy’s Choice’, and this was bourn out. (It even occupied a similar place in the sequence, about two-thirds through, if we ignore the way this season has been cut in two.)

The title, and much of the dialogue, of course reference Amy waiting for the Doctor in ’The Eleventh Hour’. But a (rather blatant) plot contrivance sticks the Doctor in the Tardis, away from the adventuring, and the focus falls on Amy and Rory. At one point Rory complains to the Doctor “you’re turning me into you.” And of course Rory is forced to see Amy the way the Doctor sees everyone - as if their lives are stuck on fast-forward to yours, creating an inevitable gulf.


Actually, the focus is probably more on Amy and Amy, seeing as we get two of her at different ages. Old Amy has become the ‘last girl’ so beloved of movies and video games such as ’Resident Evil’. Notably, much of the look and feel of the episode was like a survival video game – an endless succession of faceless adversaries inhabiting a landscape of featureless corridors, symbol-tagged decisions, an on-access computer for info-dumps.

We are used to TV shows, especially in the SF genre, copying the format of video games and do not normally welcome it. It usually leads to the worst of both worlds; a plotless meander devoid of character development, yet with none of the interactivity that make gaming absorbing.


But it then populates that over-familiar furniture not with an avatar but something more like a real person. The chief requirement of the video avatar is that she’s sexy. Alice in ’Resident  Evil’ is played by model Mila Jovovich, and wears a costume more suited to a photo-shoot than post-apocalyptic survival. Amy, normally the show’s sex symbol, is shown as having visibly aged and instead of her trademark miniskirts is clad in defensive body armour. (She’s surprisingly sprightly in the fight scenes for someone who must be at least approaching their sixties, but never mind...)


But of course it’s not merely an anti-video game and this is a means to an end. It’s not a story about growing old, it’s a story about growing old alone. As a child, Amy spent many years waiting for the Doctor to come back, during which she had to bite many a child psychologist. All that waiting, wouldn’t it damage you? What if you decided the only way to ensure no-one ever let you down again was to rely just on yourself? Old Amy is like Dickens’ Miss Haversham, brooding over a life ruined by a rendezvous which never happened, and young Amy the Estelle she works to turn into her twisted image.

Hence the irony of the white handbots believing they’re doing Amy good, endlessly insisting “this is a kindness” as they advance on her. Decades of fighting alone have made her allergic to any contact, seeing it as an inherent threat. Killer robots would have killed any of that. (At one point the episode was to be called ’Kindness’.)

There’s also an odd parallel with the scene in ’The Doctor’s Wife’ where the Tardis is taken over, merely with Amy and Rory’s roles swapped round. Is that merely a case of great minds thinking alike? (In which case you wonder why it wasn’t spotted at script-ed stage.) Or is this setting up something else? I’m genuinely not sure! People had all sorts of theories over how ’Amy’s Choice’ would feed into the finale, then it didn’t at all.

This focus on the characters did reduce the science to techno-gobbledygook, even more than usual. (I don’t think the Doctor actually offered to reverse the polarity of the neutron flow at any point, but so much of his exposition sped by so fast I can’t be sure.) This isn’t important when it’s just acting as a plot driver, such as when the Doctor is suddenly able to reconcile the two timestreams. But when it impinges on the foreground, such as why there can’t be two Amys, this matters more. (Why could the two exist at the same time on the planet but not in the Tardis? Or was it okay if only temporary?)

And one very minor whinge but Amy’s “so many boys” line over Rory sounds like an undoing of her character. Yes, she was the only schoolgirl who could tolerate Rory’s doofusness, but also he was the only boy who could cope with her bizarre obsessions over the raggedy Doctor. The two are loners apart from each other, aren’t they? Yet this was already part undone through the retro-fitting of Mels... okay, I said it was a minor whinge!

Postscript: Previous embitterment has led me to not expect much from Toby Whithouse or Gareth Roberts episodes. So unless I am pleasantly surprised by the next two weeks, we shall adjourn over the big finale.

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