The Girl Who Waited

Story No. 242 Peg doll Amy
Production Code Series 6, Episode 10
Dates September 10, 2011

With Matt Smith, Karen Gillan, Arthur Darvill
Tom McRae Mark Gatiss Directed by Nick Hurran
Executive Producers: Steven Moffat, Piers Wenger, Beth Willis.

Synopsis: Amy gets separated from the Doctor and Rory and ends up waiting decades for them.


The Relationship That Digressed by Sean Dwyer 24/11/13

The Doctor and the Ponds are off to a difficult-to-pronounce Eden of a planet but are instead confronted by a white expanse with doors. The Doctor and Rory press a button and enter a room. Amy, off to get her camera-phone is left outside but when she presses a different button she ends up in a different room. And this is how The Girl Who Waited gets started. They appear to be in something called the Two-Streams Facility, where they get separated by different time streams. How they resolve this is complicated by a virus the Doctor is susceptible to but his human companions aren't. This episode starts off in the classic off-balanced Doctor Who manner. Two Streams is a care facility and has all the hallmarks of well-meaning but ultimately cold organisation that such facilities can exhibit. When it thinks Amy has a problem, it really wants to help her with, we're off to lots of running away from bland robots armed with syringes, repeating the ironic phrase "this is a kindness".

If you weren't clued in by now, this is principally an Amy/Rory episode. We shift now and again to the Doctor and Rory's search for her and then back to Amy's plight, until we discover the girl who waited. Yes, it's yet another pun on Amy Pond being left behind by the Doctor. What if the Doctor didn't rescue her and she was left for decades on her own? What would happen? How would Rory react to an older, slightly mad Amy? Once the episode poses these questions, (which takes half the episode to do), the rest is a kind of twist on the idea of who is actually being rescued.

Karen Gillan carries this episode, as well she must, having to act old as well as that fabulous aging makeup job. I like the sometimes shambolic attempts to give the companions some kind of life of their own, but somehow we always end up with a robot called Rory or K9. Darvil and Gillan act their hearts out over the course of their time, but the relationship doesn't quite seem real, despite numerous stabs at it from different writers. Even with two Amys and a great deal of humour, this episode nearly makes the case: when the Doctor makes it Rory's choice, it only underlines how difficult it is to describe the relationship in any other terms but loss. I understand that loss is a better driver of art than joy, but that's not a satisfying answer. The saving grace, however, is that this then reflects back on the Doctor's own continual loss. We are reminded again and again throughout the Amy/Rory period that the Doctor mourns them even as he is enjoying them. He sees the same patterns again and again.

As a way of bringing a more psychological approach to the Doctor, it is to be commended, but that nagging sense of artificiality remains. Is it because the Doctor offsets any Companion story? The often gleaming new sets of New Who? This episode is so shiny I would be quite happy to never again see plastic, chrome or spotless white walls. Or is it that the episodic format now allows a digression like this, only to disappoint because of its brevity? If our only experience of the depth of Amy and Rory's relationship is how they react to its possible loss, are we just meant to fill in the picture ourselves now? Hence Pond Life and Asylum of the Daleks perhaps.

So, rather than write this episode off as filler, look upon it as an instructive example of how difficult it is to write companions with any depth without having to see them from the Doctor's point of view. But otherwise you can pretty much ignore it, for it doesn't add anything of necessity to the canon. 7/10

I walked in here, and I died by Evan Weston 27/4/19

Series 6, as I've noted in several of these reviews already, is built around an extraordinarily overcomplicated arc with plenty of running plot threads and spoilers and twists. This works largely towards the detriment of the season, particularly in the awful A Good Man Goes to War, as it takes away from enjoying the characters and thrusts them into a mystery that, by this point in the run, we're just waiting to get neatly resolved. On most television shows, and certainly in most science-fiction, a poor arc means the entire season is lost, and you just need to pack up and wait until next year. Not Doctor Who.

The Girl Who Waited is a miracle, a low-key, straightforward character study built around an extremely basic sci-fi conceit: meeting an older, bitter self. It's the most astonishing episode of the show since Midnight, not only for its content but for its context. I never would expect an episode this narrowly focused on the characters in a season like Series 6, but Tom MacRae - whose other Who contribution is incidentally one of the few arc-focused episodes from Series 2 - steps up to the plate and delivers a touching, haunting and important portrait of our three leads that leaves them a little bit different than where they were at the start. This is the first real character development Amy and Rory have received since all the way back in Amy's Choice.

In many ways, The Girl Who Waited is a spiritual successor to that episode. It focuses itself primarily on Amy and Rory's relationship, even more than that Series 5 triumph. But it also has the same narrow feel and emotional intensity, cranked up to an even more focused level. It takes its time setting things up, but once the premise has been put into place and Future Amy shows up, get ready for 30 minutes of utter tear-jerking power. From this point forward, the story is at its best when it's fundamentally deconstructing the roles the TARDIS trio have staked out for themselves. The Doctor, swashbuckling leader, becomes almost the default villain trapped inside his box, inhumanely lying and deceiving his way out of the story. Rory, professional lapdog, assumes the role of tragic hero and is placed firmly in the center of the action. And Amy, usually the emotional core of the group, gets pushed to the brink and threatens to upset the whole balance. It's a stunning feat that allows MacRae to expose some of the fundamental flaws between the three, and it begins the gradual departure of the Ponds from the show.

This is a story that, in an unbelievably refreshing change of pace, isn't afraid to insult the characters and presses us to view them (especially the Doctor) in a less-than-perfect light. Rory fights the Doctor's negative influence throughout, yet he eventually succumbs to it and locks Future Amy out of the TARDIS. It's hard to fault him for this, due to the rules of the story, but it's not an entirely honest decision, either. The Doctor is clearly supposed to be the flawed source of conflict here. We initially feel as though he doesn't deserve the tongue-lashing he receives from Future Amy, but in the end, he manages to screw her over again and deserves no sympathy. Amy's role in this is a bit different. While she comes into the episode as easily the least likeable of the three leads, her Future version commits an incredibly selfless act to save her husband's sanity that, somehow, feels totally believable as it happens.

We can credit this first and foremost to the acting of Karen Gillan, who is about to earn some very serious praise. This performance nearly passes Billie Piper's in Father's Day as the best from a companion to date, as Gillan is forced into two roles and plays them both out of her freaking mind. Her turn as Future Amy is ruthless, focused and tragic all at once, bringing out the best in an actress that was just begging for a chance to be a star. There's an entire scene in which Gillan just talks to herself for about four minutes, and it may be the most brilliant moment in all of Series 6. She even manages to cover up one of my biggest pet peeves about Steven Moffat as a writer, unannounced until now: Moffat tends to write off long periods of time as meaningless. Rory waits for 2,000 years and his personality is not affected at all. The Doctor just flies away at the end of Series 6 for nearly 200 years and doesn't change a bit, while he then suddenly ages in his 300+ years on Trenzalore in The Time of the Doctor. Amy only ages 36 years, but MacRae - and particularly Gillan - make sure you know it. She also manages to be a total badass, carrying two action scenes by herself and handling the physical parts of the role beautifully. It's her magnum opus, and it justifies Gillan's casting all by itself.

Arthur Darvill also has his meatiest role in an episode yet, and he's nearly as brilliant as his fictional wife. His best moments come at when Rory is under extreme pressure, with his cracked delivery of "I can't do this" near the end bringing the tears hard. He's not quite the action hero Gillan is, but that's not the point: he's supposed to just be the most beautiful man she's ever met. Matt Smith tends to get written off in this episode, as he's mostly sidelined, but his conflicted performance is one of the best we get to see from him. The Doctor is proved unerringly alien in The Girl Who Waited, yet Smith manages to project just enough humanity into the Time Lord's eyes so that we don't completely turn on him. It's also worth noting that he gets the last close-up of the episode; this ordeal affects him more than the other two.

That decision comes from director Nick Hurran, announcing himself as the most talented individual to step behind the camera on Doctor Who since Joe Ahearne. Hurran directs with a steady, confident hand, not afraid to get up close and personal with each character as the script gradually exposes their deeper layers. He does a great job with the villainous Handbots, who in turn can be counted amongst the best mechanical monsters on Doctor Who. Their disarming presence and slow movements are contrasted sharply by their incredibly swift attacks, making them doubly effective. There's a bit too much slow motion near the end, but Hurran makes enough correct choices for me to overlook that. He also gets very cosy with Future Amy's wrinkles, trusting a makeup team that did a lovely job with Gillan's face and neck. Maybe she doesn't quite look like a woman of 60, but it's tough to make Karen Gillan look any older than 27, so again, can't really blame them.

The production really is marvelous, though this isn't an episode that broke the bank for the BBC. Sleek white looks great with Doctor Who, and it provides a (literally) blank canvas on which the character drama can play out. The Two Streams Facility is designed in sync with the story's themes, a touch often lacking on Doctor Who. The outside appears pure and pristine, but there's something off, and the facility's core is rough and dangerous. I must again credit the Handbots, this time for their design, as they have the ability to project whatever the script needs of them. Their blank faces are either adorable, as with robot Rory, or menacing.

Excluding Christmas, it's been a while since Doctor Who has presented such a thorough and complete story. On top of that, The Girl Who Waited isn't an action saga or part of a big arc; it's just a science-fiction character study, one built on a template done dozens of times but executed to near-perfection by all involved. The low-key nature of the proceedings means it's a bit slow at points, but the quality of the acting, writing and directing is so high that the minor flaws of The Girl Who Waited miss the point of the story, and that's not something to lose points over. While perhaps the last unequivocal masterpiece on Doctor Who to date, The Girl Who Waited is a masterpiece nonetheless, and only this show could land such a starkly different episode with such fluidity and grace.