Sunday, 11 September 2011

The Girl Who Waited

After a decidedly average first episode in the form of “Let’s Kill Hitler”, and the potentially brilliant but unfortunately rushed second episode “Night Terrors”, I was honestly dreading “The Girl Who Waited”.  I’ve never made any secret of my dislike of Amy Pond, and frequently complain that Doctor Who has turned into The Amy Pond Show, with the Doctor occasionally guest starring, often relegated to a minor supporting character.  Last week, he stepped back to the foreground and dominated the storyline, but that storyline barely did the character justice, rushing through most of the interesting moments due to the running time.  The ‘Next Time’ trailer made me deeply unhappy, as the Doctor barely even appeared.

How pleased I was, then, when “The Girl Who Waited” ended.  And not because once it was over, I’d never have to see it again, as I’d expected.  No, “The Girl Who Waited” was the probably the second best episode since Moffatt took over as show-runner, second only to “The Doctor’s Wife”.  Whilst there were a few issues within the episode, I was totally blown away by it – it was brave and riveting, exciting and tragic.  I’m not ashamed to confess that I even shed a few tears.

Karen Gillan was excellent.  Again, I never thought I’d say that.  Her performance as the older and embittered Amy Pond, left abandoned for 36 years by the ‘raggedy Doctor’, was so far removed from her usual portrayal of the character, from vocal tone to stance, that it was unbelievable that this was the same woman.   Whilst the make-up wasn’t the most realistic we’ve ever seen in Doctor Who – Rory’s aged make-up in “The Doctor’s Wife” takes that medal – it was reinforced by her outstanding performance, allowing me to easily look past this in favour of the plot.  And what a plot...

In essence, this was the Doctor-Lite episode – Relegated to the TARDIS for the majority of the story, with Amy stuck in one time-stream, and Rory desperately searching for her in a second, later, time-stream.  Unlike the atrocious “Love and Monsters”, or the superb “Blink”, however, the absence of the Doctor was barely noticeable, mainly because he was ever present through the glasses worn by Rory.  His voice penetrated every scene, and there were frequent cuts back to the TARDIS interior, reminding us that he was still a physical being, not simply a disembodied voice.  This made a refreshing change, and one which I hadn’t really expected – usually, Doctor-Lite episodes embrace the absence of the Doctor, whether for better or worse.  As the companions wondered around the facility – with stunning sets worthy of a Tim Burton film – looking for each other, the story trotted along at a decent pace, slower than usual but none the lesser for it.

The Doctor is stuck inside the TARDIS as the facility houses a plague which is a danger to any organism with two hearts, including the Apalapalachians whose home planet the TARDIS lands on, and Time Lords.  As such, the Doctor would die of the one-day plague if he entered the facility proper, so must send Rory in after Amy instead.  Amy, meanwhile, is wondering around in the hospice, taking in the stunning surroundings, such as the garden with moulded topiary that would make Edward Scissorhands hang his head in shame.  Chasing after her are the Hand-bots, whose sole purpose is to ensure the avoidance of the plague spreading.  Much like the antibodies in the Teselecta in “Let’s Kill Hitler”, they had some great lines, assuring their victims that what they were doing was for the greater good, and out of nothing more than kindness – before firing huge, deadly metal needles from their faces.  The fight sequence in which Older Amy replicated the swishing gun battle of River Song from “Day of the Moon” was wonderfully choreographed, and proved that Gillan has it in her to be a little more physical than she usually is.

The best thing about this serial, though, was Arthur Darvill.  By far the most interesting of the companions since the regeneration of the series in 2005, as I’ve said before, Rory frequently is getting the best lines – and this episode was no different.  In addition to the comedy, though, were some of the most heartbreaking moments we’ve seen, including the reprise of David Tennant’s Doctor’s line “I’m sorry.  I’m so sorry” as he took his hand away from the lock.  The decision he was forced to make, by the Doctor, being an absolute bastard, was heart-wrenching and painful to watch.  Having to decide between the love of his life, and the same girl but with 36 years of pent-up bitterness was awful – and then Older Amy persuaded him to leave her.  “If you love me, don’t let me in” she said – and the tears poured.  I genuinely felt nauseous with emotion.  It was dreadful – and perfectly performed by both Darvill and Gillan.

Of course, there were also the bad points.  Every serial has them, even the great classics like “The Caves of Androzani” and “Genesis of the Daleks”.  And it would be lazy of me, as a reviewer, not to touch upon them.  The biggest flaw, as I could see it, was with Older Amy – specifically, her knowledge.  Whilst she had been abandoned, becoming the embittered middle aged lady Rory meets during a fight with the hand-bots, she whips out her sonic probe – “I call it what it is” – and talks about the “nexus of time” and so forth.  But surely, as she was completely alone, she would never have been able to get to grips with this technology?  Who taught her?  The interface, as wonderfully voiced by Imelda Staunton?  It’s unlikely... 

My other issue, although again this is nit-picking, was the decided lack of a real monster.  Again.  Let’s Kill Hitler had the Teselecta, but they weren’t the bad guy.  Night Terrors had those awful dolls, but they didn’t kill anyone, and they were defeated by a brave little boy.  This week had the Hand-bots, simply robotic nurses desperately trying to help, but without the humanity to understand that they aren’t always helpful.  I’m really missing monsters now – not even the recurring ones, like the Daleks (I don’t miss the Daleks at all) or the Cybermen, or even the Weeping Angels – just some proper monsters to scare us.  Next week has a Minotaur in a hotel room, and some horrible looking ventriloquists dummies, as well as David Walliams.  The following week will feature the Cybermen.  And James Corden.  So that’s something to look forward to...  Maybe.

All in all, then, it was a terrific episode.  It proved that hard Sci-Fi still has a place on British TV, and that Doctor Who can still achieve within the genre when it pulls all the stops out – and writer Tom McCrae absolutely nailed it this week.  His previous experience on the show was a bit too hit-and-miss,  but this week’s episode was a smashing, emotive piece.  It was a team from heaven, with new-to-Who director Nick Hurran creating a beautifully cinematic experience.

In a series which has focused so heavily on story arcs, it is telling that the best episodes so far have been the two stand-alone episodes.  I only hope that the Grand Moff pays heed and that, as he has promised, the story arcs are done away with and we return to the older days of interesting individual episodes – even if they lead into a final plot point, it’s better than every story line serving one overall goal.  Nick Hurran returns next week to direct what looks like a frankly outstanding episode.  I only pray that it doesn’t let itself down, with Walliams cast as a fearful mole creature bred to be afraid – I only hope that it doesn’t go down the JNT route of casting celebrities to grab viewing figures.  It looks set to be a dark and scary piece.  Fingers crossed...

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