The TARDIS brings its crew to a quarantine facility for victims of an alien plague. When Amy is trapped, Rory must rescue her from the facility’s doctors but learns something surprising about his wife.
Doctor Who airs in the UK Saturday nights at 7:00PM on BBC ONE.
Doctor Who airs in the US Saturday nights at 9:00PM on BBC AMERICA.
Writer: Tom MacRae
Director: Nick Hurran
“The Girl Who Waited” isn’t just one of the strongest episodes of this season of Doctor Who–it’s one of the strongest in the show’s history. Indeed, if it wasn’t for the Neil Gaiman-penned “The Doctor’s Wife”, I wouldn’t hesitate to call it the best 45 minutes of TV that I’ve seen all year.
Revolving around an attempted rescue of a time-displaced Amy by Rory and the Doctor, the episode could easily have played out as a generic action-adventure set in a well-meaning but sinister alien hospital, populated by medical droids that look like extras from I, Robot. However, by foregrounding the emotions of the lead trio rather than the adventure elements, Tom MacRae’s script turns the story into a highly affecting, sincere and unpredictable exploration of Rory and Amy’s relationship, as well as their relationships with the Doctor.
After an opening blast of exposition which sets up the basic concepts that the story will be playing with (including a charming oversized magnifying glass that can see through time, which is used sparingly, but effectively throughout), the episode quickly gets to the point. Rory (with some remote assistance from a TARDIS-bound Doctor) hooks up with a version of Amy that has lived out 36 years in the blink of an eye for her husband and the Doctor, and manages to enlist her help in rescuing her own past self from the same fate.
It might sound like a heady concept, especially given the speed with which these ideas are thrown at us–but the straightforward way in which it’s presented makes it accessible and perfectly easy to follow.
Whilst the limited cast places an extra emphasis on the three lead actors, this is really Karen Gillan’s episode. A perfectly-judged make-up job might provide the first step in convincing us that the older version of Amy has really lived for almost four decades longer than the version we know, but it’s Gillan’s acting that really completes the picture. Subtle changes in Amy’s mannerisms (both her body language and her speech patterns) along with a slightly altered vocal register go a long way to transform “our” Amy into an older woman. Albeit an older woman that is still pretty handy in a fight when the situation demands it (and her acquisition of a samurai sword doesn’t hurt).
If I have any slight problem with the story, it’s the revelation that Amy’s technological wizardry has enabled her to survive in a facility full of well-meaning but lethal medical droids for as long as she has. Her chummy interactions with the facility’s computer are one thing, but her construction of a sonic screwdriver (sorry, “probe”) and her reprogramming of a robot seem to take things a little too far for someone who is meant to be the audience’s gateway character. That said, I guess it’s not outside the realms of possibility that she could have learned these skills from the (incredibly obliging) computer over the course of her ordeal.
(Another potential nitpick is Rory’s admirable resistance of the temptation to counter Amy’s complaints about her situation by pointing out that he not only waited for two millennia for Amy in the guise of a Roman centurion, but he also experienced virtually exactly the same torment as she did in this episode during his TARDIS-corridor terror in “The Doctor’s Wife”, earlier this season. However, I don’t really mind that these previous experiences aren’t mentioned, as it would bring too much baggage into what is a very elegant standalone story.)
Either way, these details are secondary compared to the powerful drama that the episode wrings from its core concept. Amy’s confrontation with the Doctor about how the harsh reality of her 36-year wait contrasts with the whimsy of his existence shows a darker side to their relationship (and one that compounds the ambiguous feelings that the audience might have about the Doctor essentially allowing her child to be stolen out from under her, earlier this season).
Rory’s later realisation that the Doctor has lied to him–and his moment of self-awareness that he doesn’t want to become anything like the Timelord– is an equally dramatic moment that’s so important for the character that I really hope it feeds into future stories. And the ultimate reactions of both old-Amy and young-Amy to the outcome of the story provide a climax so emotional that only those with a heart of stone will fail to be moved.
Undercutting these scenes are lighter, almost throwaway moments of comedy that stop things from getting too overwhelmingly dour. Rory the robot is an idea that feels perfectly fitting, given the nature of Amy and Rory’s relationship. And the build-up to the revelation of a memory of huge significance for the Amys gets a wonderful payoff involving Rory, a kiss, and the Macarena.
Finally, I have to commend the show for its production design. “The Girl Who Waited” is an episode that not only overcomes the limitations of what was presumably quite a cheap show to make, but actively harnesses them to enhance the story. Stark, clinically white surroundings and generic, faceless robots (albeit with scary innards) might not sound exciting, but they suit the story perfectly–and provide a great opportunity for the more outlandish elements, such as the sprawling topiary garden, to create a real impact.
A strong central idea, some dramatic moments, some arresting imagery and some great performances from the series’ leads combine to make this one of the most satisfying episodes of Doctor Who yet, and one that can easily stand alongside the likes of “Blink”, “Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead”, “The Girl in the Fireplace”, “Human Nature/Family of Blood” and “The Doctor’s Wife” as among the best stories we’ve seen since the series was revived.
A journalist and sometime comics reviewer, Dave Wallace was raised on a traditional European diet of Beano comics, Asterix collections and Tintin books before growing up and discovering that sequential art could — occasionally — be even better than that. He has an unashamed soft spot for time-travel stories, Spider-Man, and anything by Alan Moore or Grant Morrison, and has been known to spend far too much on luxurious hardcover editions of his favorite books when it’s something he really likes. Maybe one day he’ll get around to writing down his own stories that have been knocking around his head for a while now.