Originally published Oct. 2, 2011 on Intersections.
I’ve spent a lot of time and Internet space discussing my love for shows that are essentially about pretty people mishandling their lives; I’m not ashamed to admit that I spend a good deal of my life indulging in escapism. What I haven’t spent a lot of time doing, however, is discussing my love for the good stuff. I’m a firm believer in TV as an art form, as a medium for visual and narrative expression, and every once in a while someone somewhere will produce something so beautiful that I’ll watch it over and over for a week, babble about it to all my friends and spend a lot of lecture time reading reviews of it on the Internet. Two weeks ago, this happened to me for the first time in a long time, and it was glorious.
“The Girl Who Waited” was the tenth episode of the current season of Doctor Who, a British TV show about the Doctor, an (alien) man who travels through space and time in a blue telephone box. After the jump, I explain why I consider it one of the series’ best and why you should run, not walk, to your friendly neighborhood TV source and watch it too. Beware spoilers, pretty pictures and lots of words.
At its core, Doctor Who is sci-fi: the Doctor and his companions do, after all, travel through time and space, and some of the most effective episodes have dealt with the nature of time, and the ramifications of playing with it. As David Tennant’s Doctor so eloquently put in “Blink” (which, by the way, I consider the most perfect hour of television ever created), time is a “big ball of wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey stuff.”
In “The Girl Who Waited” (henceforth known as TGWW), the time paradox is immediate and gut-wrenching: in a fast-paced, breathless scene within the first five minutes of the episode, Karen Gillan’s Amy gets stuck in a timestream moving faster than ours. “Where have you been?” she snaps at the Doctor through a looking-glass connecting the two timestreams. “I’ve been here a week!”
As it turns out, the planet has been overrun by an epidemic of the one-day plague, which kills its victims in 24 hours. The people of the planet have devised a scheme to deal with this terrible disease: they put victims in a quarantine facility moving at a timestream much, much faster than ours, so that they can live out their entire lives in the 24 hours they have left. Loved ones can watch the victims live out their lives through the looking-glass. As far as wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey shenanigans, this bit of time foolery is one of the show’s most intriguing and frightening. “That’s horrible,” Rory gasps. “No, Rory, it’s kind,” the Doctor replies.
Karen Gillan studied with a voice and movement coach to take on the challenge of playing two different Amys. She must have also swallowed a ball of awesome, because this episode is without a doubt her finest work so far. Battle-hardened Amy–the Amy who waited 36 years, fighting for her life and running from the robots trying to kill her–trembles and tenses, speaks in a rough, brusque murmur and can barely meet Rory’s eye. It’s a complete change from the pretty, fiery, twentysomething girl we’ve known as Amy Pond to this point. At one point after Rory comes back for her thirty-six years too late, Rory makes Old Amy laugh. She stops short: “I think that’s the first time I’ve laughed in thirty-six years.” It’s heartbreaking and believable.
The episode turns emotionally on the bond between Rory and Amy, and the impossible choice he has to make. Arthur Darvill’s work as a frustrated, desperate Rory might also be his finest to date–you see his choice coming a mile away, but it doesn’t make it any easier to watch. Amy’s speech on Rory and why she loves him, though, is pretty much the most perfect summation of true love I’ve ever heard.
You know when sometimes you meet someone so beautiful and then you actually talk to them and five minutes later they’re as dull as a brick? Then there’s other people, when you meet them you think, “Not bad. They’re okay.” And then you get to know them and… and their face just sort of becomes them. Like their personality’s written all over it. And they just turn into something so beautiful. Rory’s the most beautiful man I’ve ever met.
All right, Doctor Who, now I believe these two as a married couple in the grandest of all love.
I’m a sucker for cinematography, beautiful landscapes, odd camera angles, things in HD and shadows played right–good thing this episode had all of those things! From the stark white of the initial green anchor/red waterfall rooms to the dark, steampunk shadows and lights of Amy’s hiding place, it’s clear someone has thought about what this should look like, and taken the time to make it so.
Nothing grand and rambling or cute and tied up in a bow–just a quick, effective, final punch to the gut. You’re already all D: over Old Amy’s “I’m giving her my days”–and then, just as you’ve caught your breath, Amy wakes up in the TARDIS and immediately asks Rory, “Where is she?” And then the episode ends. Writer Tom MacRae: well done, sir.