Doctor Who reviews: Amy's Choice
|REVIEWS - DOCTOR WHO|
Another big leap in the Amy/Doctor timeline brings new decisions, but the low point in S5 so far...[spoilers]
This week (and next week, from the look of this week's closing trailer), the Doctor Who team seem to be tightening their belts to pay not only for the inevitable VFX-laden series 5 finale and Christmas specials, but some of the more expensive scripts that will intersperse the time between now and then.
Amy's Choice could scarcely have had a lower budget or been filled with a duller and greyer English light and location as the village in which half of the action, such as it is, takes place. Several of the scenes seemed to have been filmed when the average cinematographer would have packed up their light-meter and headed for the emergency set reserved for bad weather. Amy's Choice, aesthetically, is one of the most tedious-looking episodes of Doctor Who since the series re-booted, and if it harkens back to the years of John Pertwee shivering through the mid-winter mud of Middlesex with the bores of UNIT, for once it's not in a good way.
There's a lot you can do in sci-fi with a grey English village and hardly any money - reference John Wyndham's The Midwich Cuckoos for proof (or the 1960s adaptation Village Of The Damned) - but it takes a hearty dose of imagination to make it work, and this story didn't have it.
To boot, Amy's Choice uses one of the most hackneyed and threadbare crumbs from a sci-fi writer's creative cupboard - the 'arena' situation. You've seen it in Star Trek (several times, in all the iterations of the series), Space:1999, Blake's 7...everywhere: in the 'arena' situation our heroes are challenged by an almost-omnipotent force and must fight and solve puzzles in order to be granted their lives.
Writer Simon Nye messes with our minds by starting off the episode with The Doctor returning back into Amy Pond's life after a number of years, something we have already seen Our Hero do in The Eleventh Hour - which wrong-foots us, if only briefly. Amy is now pregnant and happily married to village doctor Rory, and though there's a note of tedium in their village life, only The Doctor's sense about the residents of the local old people's home tells us there's anything unusual going on.
Suddenly our heroes are falling asleep willy-nilly and transposing between two situations of great peril: one in which the old people in the village turn out to be refugee aliens who can turn humans into dust like dragons, and the other in which an out-of-control TARDIS is heading towards a kind of freezing 'anti-sun', threatening to turn the crew of the ship into icicles.
Before you know it, someone who spontaneously names himself 'The Dream Lord' appears in both worlds, informing The Doctor and Co. that they must choose between the two realities they are being shunted between. If they die in the 'false' reality, they will wake up unharmed in the other.
Since the Dream-Lord claims to know The Doctor very well, we're all, naturally, expecting an appearance from John Simm before the episode's close, but Nye has other plans...
Amy's Choice turns out to be entirely about the sadly-developing love-triangle between the Doc, Amy and Rory, and all the developments, challenges and criticisms aimed at The Doctor throughout the episode the fruit of his own sub-conscious struggle not to love Amy as anything but a friend.
And here, we therefore return to territory that Doctor Who has trodden since the first episode of the new show came to light in 2005. We will clearly not be abandoning the theme of 'impossible love' which made Mister Spock such a hit in Star Trek, and which hallmarked the Who stories of both Ecclestone and Tennant.
I said only recently that I was impressed to see Matt Smith have higher things on his mind than the carnal/amorous, and what a refreshing return it was to the classic serials. I was wrong. This week we saw directly inside The Doctor's mind (since his own subconscious generated all the story's conflicts and issues with the aid from some psychedelic seed-pods that had somehow wandered into the TARDIS's vents).
Smith's Doctor referred to himself in this episode as 'very old', but it's hard to say whether the longing for true and regular female companionship that has been a staple of the five series represents the adolescent feelings of a doctor who has with reasonable consistency grown younger with the years, or a slightly tardy mid-life crisis that finds him, as the 'Dream Master' mentions, always wanting to hang around with young people. Is he looking for a mate among them or trying to recapture/retain his own youth?
It's interesting to see a Doctor with an internal crisis - it's just a shame that it has to play itself out in a way so imitative of previous seasons. This is not Moonlighting - can there really, really ever be an episode where The Doctor says 'Oh, fuck it!' and just sticks his tongue down an assistant's throat while the saxophone music kicks in and a nation cheers? It's not that he doesn't deserve it. It's just that breaking sexual tension is what killed Moonlighting back in the 1980s, and it would kill Doctor Who just as effectively - the show would become its own spin-off series. And Torchwood was created almost specifically to siphon off this inherent sexual tension in the Who-verse.
The Doctor started out as a father-figure in the 1960s - a grandfather-figure even; he's supposed to represent authority, our dad, our good teachers. Though it doesn't look like River Song is going to turn out to be the Doc's ideal wife, at least she isn't a kid.
The other annoying aspect of Nye's mind-play with the love-triangle is how dumb and gormless Rory continues to be, scant competition for a being with The Doctor's credentials. I don't know quite how far season 5 intends to take the Doc's slightly incestuous internal crisis, but it certainly took centre stage in Amy's Choice, and failed to surround itself with a ripping yarn in the process.
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