From DWM #439. It’s yet another review where the last line calls back to the first. However, when I made a grab for that opening quote I didn’t have much of an idea how I was going to play with it. The notion of using it again came later. Sorry, it’s just too handy a trick.
By the time I’d written about Let’s Kill Hitler and Night Terrors, both for this issue, I was quite squeezed on word count for The Girl Who Waited. Which was a good thing. If I’m given lots of room to write about an emotive episode, my prose can get overwrought.
“Rory, I love you. Now save me! Go on!”
Whereas Mark Gatiss’ Night Terrors was a celebration of the Doctor Who we’ve always known, Tom MacRae’s The Girl Who Waited is all about the Doctor Who we know right now.
His is a story which is assuredly representative of the series in its 2011 incarnation. It is, in fact, a tale much like Let’s Kill Hitler, in that it orbits only our TARDIS team. There’s no mandate to vanquish a monster or depose a despot. This isn’t all of time and space, it’s much smaller than that.
Which, obviously, makes it much bigger. Because this is family business.
In this year’s Doctor Who, a theme has emerged as across almost back-to-back adventures we’ve been presented with variant aspects of Amy Pond. We’ve seen the Ganger Pond, the Teselecta Pond, the Peg Doll Pond and, of course, Amelia Pond. This week brought us the scariest of the lot. Clench, people, because thanks to a certain oversized prop, we are literally through the looking glass here. Beware! Menopausal Pond!
Forgive my glibness. It feels even more misplaced than normal. That’s because The Girl Who Waited isn’t about jokes or capers. No, it’s a shiny, inviolate thing that shrugs off silliness. Good heavens, it even turns the Macarena into a lament for love lost. A cerebral tale of disparate time streams, where effect comes before cause, this story is precision tooled. As, indeed, is Karen Gillan’s performance.
Ahead of this series’ return, Matt Smith made a sterling job in PR-ing this particular episode. “Karen gives her finest performance of the series so far,” he teased the press. “She’s spell-bindingly good in it.” At that, your DWM reviewer readied himself for a bravura turn, full of sound and fury, not to mention real snot and real spit. However, what Karen gives us is something far cleverer.
Her portrayal of Older Amy is subdued. And that just makes it all the more heart-breaking, because here is the most vibrant character in the show, now blunted. She’s a woman who’s had to shut down in order to survive both the physical dangers of The Twostreams Facility and the emotional tumult of being let down so badly. As a result, accusative lines such as, “You didn’t save me,” aren’t played with hysteria. Instead there’s resignation. “I hate the Doctor”, says Older Amy plainly, and our Time Lord – with his silly hair and silly plans and silly waggling fingers – suddenly seems small.
This Amy is the girl who waited, but the girl who lost her life in the process. Even in her body language there’s a sense that something’s died. The way she won’t look Rory in the eye for fear of confronting something, or the moment when he moves to put those glasses on her face, then realises such intimacy isn’t appropriate and hands them to her instead. It’s wonderfully sad.
To paraphrase Amy’s plea to her older self, The Girl Who Waited is something that when you first experience it is so beautiful, but then five minutes later… well, gosh, no, it’s not dull as a brick. Absolutely not! But it’s kind of desolate. Almost as though the white heat of pure sci-fi – wherein someone can ponder upon the legitimacy of defying “destiny, causality, the nexus of time” – burns out the sentiment. “You’re Amy, he’s Rory.” Sure, that’s epic and so is their love for one another, but it’s the cerebral decision to close the door on Older Amy that ultimately defines this tale.
And that, let me be clear, is not a criticism. A study of emptiness, from the visuals to the voice, MacRae’s story has progressed the show’s recent thought experiments with the nature of time, while also giving us a new take on space – the one that can exist between people.
“Rory, I love you. Now save me! Go on!” Ultimately Rory saved Amy, didn’t he? But he also did go on – without her.