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Doctor Who complete reviews: The Girl Who Waited

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The Girl Who Waited (Doctor Who)

The Season Of Goodwill has come and gone like a freezing winter cloud. The long, dark nights, crass commercialism and horrible weather drew in quickly to put all that sunny good cheer to the test.

Mind you a good goodwill killer was that truly wretched BBC Christmas trailer - very probably the worst Christmas Trailer Ever - and that includes the crappy 1993 one with badly Chromakeyed BBC celebs superimposed onto a tacky fake winter wonderland. In case you hadn't seen the latest model, basically what happens is that a clutch of smug BBC celebrities sing some old Oliver dirge in a short but gaudy advert which I suspect would have cost several thousand pounds to make (a fact that's even more galling when the BBC have still had to cut Doctor Who Confidential for budgetary reasons). I can understand the likes of Skeleton Steptoe Forsyth, Humour Free Zones McIntyre and John Bishop (played by a Nick Park re-imagining of Vernon Kay and a Bee Gee), along with Irritating Donkey Woman from The One Show queuing up to be in this Goon Squad, but Matt Smith and Karen Gillan?? Noooooo... the only rational explanation is that they were played by Teselecta versions of the duo, which may account for their strained grimaces. All that goodwill invested in the BBC for making so many great episodes of Who - pah, who'd have Christmas, eh?

"Some of this year's Doctor Who episodes have proven to be the best thing on telly this year. The Girl Who Waited carries on the fine work"

The Girl Who Waited (Doctor Who) - Karen Gillan trappedShame really, especially when some of this year's Doctor Who episodes have proven to be the best thing on telly this year. The Girl Who Waited carries on the fine work – oddly, it's the episode I'm seeing last, given that I missed it the first time around (since it fell on the day on which I consoled myself on accelerating from my mid into my late 30s – Horror Of Fang Rock Part Two was never like this). But it carries on the uphill quality trend laid down by Night Terrors , and like Horror Of Fang Rock, the emphasis is on minimalism. There's no proper guest cast to speak of, save for a cameo voice-over from popular actress Imelda Staunton as the voice of Interface. Matt Smith himself is given less to do, making this the by-now traditional Doctor-Lite episode of the season. Most of the sets are also minimalist in appearance, all gleaming white walls so shiny you wouldn't even want to touch them, in case of fingerprints. So instead it's left to a finely crafted script from Tom McRae and an equally sensitive turn from Karen Gillan as both the regular and older Amys to propel this one into the upper echelons.

What starts out as a perfectly harmless trip to apparently top holiday destination Apalapucia turns out to be anything but fun for all the TARDIS family. They didn't exactly mention the Chen7 plague in the brochure, did they? Still, a trip to a Kindness Centre could be just the solution for those who have been infected – placed in an accelerated time stream, they can live out their lives while contacting close family and friends through a great big glass lens. Naturally, this being Doctor Who, one of the team has to fall victim to this, and so Amy, having already been turned into a doll in the previous serial, draws the short straw by getting stuck in one of these time streams. Only The Doctor and Rory can rescue her, but when a much older Amy emerges emotionally disillusioned and battered (Her hiss of “Raggedy Man” is dripping with venom), it's clear that the two have to make a terrible choice in order to restore the status quo.

The Girl Who Waited (Doctor Who) - Karen Gillan young and oldI mentioned goodwill in the opening paras, or more to the point, fading goodwill – and this concept is smeared everywhere in The Girl Who Waited. The Older Amy is bitter with The Doctor, having waited 36 years for rescue. It's a clever echo of The Eleventh Hour , in which a young Amelia was forced to wait in vain for a long time until The Doctor showed up. The difference is that this time around, the gap's longer, and also, that loneliness and resentment has manifested itself in an angrier Amy than we saw in her first story. It's things like her awkward, stompy movement – almost as if this is a shield for her inner vulnerability.

And then there's the dialogue - “I've had decades to think nice thoughts about him, got a bit harder to stay charitable once I entered decade four” is just the tip of the iceberg – shortly after, Amy claims that she “Hates The Doctor. I hate him more than I have ever hated anyone in my life and you can here every word of this through those ridiculous glasses, can't you, Raggedy Man?” Being trapped in what Future Amy calls Hell has left her the shell of the woman that she once was. We've seen Amy's bad side manifest itself before – her treatment of Rory in the previous season was the most blatant example, but then there was her petty sulky behaviour in Cold Blood, not to mention her penchant for shouting sarcastic gibberish at the top of her voice. Steven Moffat has apparently said that Amy's not meant to be the most likeable companion in the Whoniverse, but in the case of The Girl Who Waited, Amy's hard shell is perfectly in context.

Mind you, you could say that Amy's got a point in this one, when it comes to The Doctor. Up until now, we've been hearing about how The Doctor's such a bad man, would probably sell his great granny for an updated Sonic Screwdriver etc, but to be honest, this just didn't ring true because we hadn't seen any examples of truly callous behaviour from Doctor Eleven. Well, up until now – The Girl Who Waited shows the darker side of this incarnation. The Doctor lets down Future Amy again by making a false promise to her that he can rescue her and take her in the TARDIS. Which of course turns out to be a great big stinking fib: “I lied to her Rory,” he confesses. “There can never be two Amys in the TARDIS. The paradox would be too massive”. He even has the audacity to turn this around and pin the responsibility on Rory, saying that it's Rory's choice as to which option he goes for – Younger or Older Amy (even though the two are inseparable). “This isn't fair,” retorts Rory. “You're turning me into you”.

False promises and ill-treatment of companions are not exactly alien to The Doctor though. In the past, his earlier incarnations have treated companions badly, through lesser characteristics. The Third Doctor's haughty arrogance meant that he belittled and patronised Jo in equal measures during the Eighth Season. The Fifth Doctor's reckless naivety meant that he had absolutely no chance of saving Adric. The Sixth Doctor's abrasive selfishness resulted in his callous abandonment of Peri. And as for the Seventh Doctor's manipulative streak with hapless Ace... Surprised that she never called him “Bilgebag”.

Doctor Eleven's real downfall is that he doesn't really know how to interact with humans. We've seen this treated as an amusing frivolity in stories like The Lodger or the birthday cake scene in The Vampires Of Venice, but the dark side of this has also reared its head from time to time, whether it's in the matter-of-fact lack of reassurance to Amy in the Weeping Angels two-parter or his explosive outburst at humans in The Beast Below (even though he hadn't taken the full facts on board). So this sometime lack of empathy with other people is demonstrated plainly in The Girl Who Waited, and it's a brave move to show this otherwise likeable incarnation in such a dark light (forgive the paradox). Matt Smith doesn't get that many scenes, but when he's on screen, he makes a definite impact with a resolutely steely performance. The last look he gives at the end is a good example of this.

"It's a joy to see Arthur Darvill get his teeth into some really meaty material...Karen Gillan also gives an excellent performance as both Amys – in fact, this is probably her best work for the show"

The Girl Who Waited (Doctor Who) - Arthur Darvill as RoryIt's left to Rory to be the hero of the piece, and it's a joy to see Arthur Darvill get his teeth into some really meaty material here. Reading back on some of my earlier reviews, hmmmm, maybe I was a bit tough on poor old Rory, but it's great to see him actually grow into a fully-formed person rather than a gibbering wreck. Not only is he playing the hero with Amy, he also has the guts to stand up to The Doctor, exploding in rage at the Time Lord: “This is your fault!” he yells. “You should look in a history book once in a while, see if there's an outbreak of plague or not!” The Doctor can only reply with “That is not how I travel” to which Rory flips out (and throwing the silly communication glasses to the floor). “Then I do not want to travel with you!” he bellows. It's setting things up nicely for the following shock resolution of The God Complex – and considering that Arthur Darvill's really made his mark as Rory, that's a bit of a shame.

Karen Gillan also gives an excellent performance as both Amys – in fact, this is probably her best work for the show. Her older Amy is very well judged, with a slightly lower, gruffer voice – and beyond all that brittle cynicism, you get the sense that there's a very scared, lonely woman. Top marks too to the prosthetic make-up. The make-up team has done an outstanding job in transforming Gillan into a 50-something woman – about the only issue I have is the fact that there's not one grey hair on Older Amy's head. I guess she's got a regular supply of hair dye at her disposal.

In true Doctor Who style, The Girl Who Waited is a classic case of making the best from limited resources. Director Nick Hurran does a fine job of bringing McRae's script to the screen. The stark white surroundings are very effective, bringing that clinical emptiness over well (although Ark In Space, anyone?). The Handbot robots are also well shot, and make for a simplistic but creepy menace. Every aspect of this story is shot to perfection, and despite the fact that there's very little in the way of big name guest stars or swanky locales, the production still looks hugely impressive.

"The Girl Who Waited proves that this season of Doctor Who is much bolder and much more diverse than its predecessor."

The Girl Who Waited (Doctor Who) - Matt SmithAnd as Older Amy is abandoned in quiet defeat, it's another tearjerker. The last scenes are again very well acted, but it's also McRae's dialogue that sparkles: “Tell Amy – your Amy – I'm giving her the days” All throughout, McRae's script has been first rate, providing action, timey-wimey paradoxes and emotion in equal measure. It's hard to believe that this is the man who wrote some of the howlers of Rise Of The Cybermen/The Age Of Steel.

The Girl Who Waited isn't the most expansive story. It's played out on a relatively blank canvas (literally, sometimes) and deals with smaller-scale, personal issues rather than melodramatic face-offs or over-complicated Pot Pourri. Or Chop Suey. But that's no bad thing at all, and in fact proves that this season of Doctor Who is much bolder and much more diverse than its predecessor. It's got a genuine emotion at its core (and after the way in which Amy's reacted after her baby went AWOL, that's a relief) and is presented immaculately through a strong script and some excellent acting from the regulars. The Girl Who Waited is another triumph for this strong season.

But - Oh God, No, that sodding BBC Christmas trail is on TV again. Still. At the end of December. Run for the hills, folks...

 

John Bensalhia limbered up for this mammoth task with a full four-series review of Blake's 7, and writes professionally and recreationally all over the web. Check out his portfolio of work here.

Check out John's previous Doctor Who review, Night Terrors

Read more Doctor Who articles at Shadowlocked


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Comments 

 
#1 RE: Doctor Who complete reviews: The Girl Who Waited Michael Boon 2012-01-07 17:46
Completely agree with this review. Everyone raves about The Doctor's Wife (and rightly so!) but this episode was the highlight of Series 6 in my opinion. Brilliant.
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