Doctor Who: The Girl Who Waited


Rory's choice, Amy's choices


"Don't you lecture me, blue box man flying through time and space on whimsy. All I've got — all I've had for 36 years is cold, hard reality. So no, I don't have a 'sonic screwdriver', because I'm not off on a romp. I call it what it is — a probe. And I call my life what it is — hell." — Amy Pond gives the Doctor what for in The Girl Who Waited.

Mere hours after laughing out loud at the ludicrous climax to Torchwood: Miracle Day (post coming soon), I found myself joyfully laughing with the latest episode of Doctor Who, The Girl Who Waited.

Not only laughing with it, but accepting its plot and wondering how it would be resolved; finding tension in the story's moral and philosophical implications; and, even, caring about the Doctor's companions, probably for the first time in Steven Moffat's nearly two years as show-runner.

Also for the first time, Karen Gillan's performance — or rather, her performances, were revelatory. Gillan may be a real actor, not just a performer with a pretty face.

Add to all that first-string performances from both Arthur Darvill and Matt Smith and this tight, three-actor episode sings. Only in its opening movements are there any stumbles, and they are minor ones.

The situation arises because, as happens so often, the Doctor gets something a little wrong.

His first mistake is a direct result of his traditional attitude towards safety and common sense. Intending to take Rory and Amy for a holiday on a the planet Apalapucia, he lands the Tardis without first checking for a local newscast.

Rather than a five-galaxy hotel, the Tardis lands within the stark, clinical confines of what seems to be an empty medical facility, in fact a hospice.

Apalapucia,it turns out, is under planet-wide quarantine, due to an outbreak of Chen7, a disease to which the planet's native inhabitants and even Time Lords (though not humans) are vulnerable and for which there is no cure. (Both the Apalapucians and Time Lords have two hearts. What? You've never heard of a disease which strikes any animal with four legs, but not two? Never mind. Accept the conceit and carry on.)

The Doctor's second error happens when he gets the timing of the rescue mission a little wrong too, which leaves Amy on her own for more than 36 years.

The hospice, or Kindness Facility, runs two streams of time, one slow and one fast. Slow, for the dying, and fast, for their loved ones, who could make many visits over the dying one's last day of life.

Amy is trapped in the fast zone, Rory and the Doctor in the slow. When Rory goes out on the rescue mission, the Doctor stays behind, because of the plague. (No haz-mat suit in the Tardis? Accept that one, too.)

There is one other complication. The facility's "nurses" are helpful robots — who don't recognize humans as aliens, or recognize that their "help" will kill humans.

Not only does Amy spend 36-plus years on her own, she spends 36-plus years on the run.

As I said, Gillan's performance is a revelation. Older Amy is no caricature, but a nuanced portrayal of a person-who-is-old, not of an old-person, if you you see the difference.

Gillan convinces us that Amy was a woman smart and inventive and strong enough to not only survive — utterly alone and always running — but even to stay sane. (I even — almost — believed she could cobble together a sonic screw-driver.)

And so it is that Rory is saved not by the Amy he knows and loves, but by the woman she would become after 36 years of, as she puts it, living in hell.

Though shalt not suffer a paradox to live!

Amy, (briefly) triumphant

The Doctor is appalled by what has happened, but says he can "fix everything". Old Amy, though, realizes that fixing "everything" means "fixing" her. Time will be re-written, so that she will have never existed.

But the Doctor's plan requires that Old Amy help Young Amy, which the former only agrees to on condition that she, too, can enter the Tardis.

The Doctor hems, the Doctor haws, but finally concedes that yes, the Tardis "could sustain the paradox" and so Rory, Amy and Amy work together to get back to the little blue box.

It is only at the moment of truth, in one of the episode's few nods to the season's continuity, that we are reminded that "the Doctor lies", and Gillan is required to one-up her own previous career-best performance.

The look on Old Amy's face, she watches Rory carry Young Amy from the field of battle is as heartbreaking as anything this program has managed in a very long time.

The story, ostensibly about saving The Girl Who Waited for Rescue, becomes the story of The Woman Who Rescued Herself — but only at the cost of sacrificing herself.

The Old Amy succumbs outside the Tardis' door, the Doctor comforts Rory with the claim that Old Amy never existed. But what can that mean, when Rory and the Doctor — and Young Amy herself — all remember her? How does this differ, in any meaningful way, from "real" death?

It is certainly not immediately obvious that "re-writing time" erases from existence the 36 years of painful life so devastatingly portrayed by Karen Gillan, even if it puts an end to them.

Pretty heady stuff for a television program meant mostly for children. Pretty heady too, the complex depictions of love, of the double-edged virtues of self-sacrifice and of our titular hero's conditional relationship with truth.

Screen-writer Tom MacRae (who tweets as TomMacWriter and whose Rise of the Cybermen/The Age of Steel was among the best two-parters of the Davies years) does not shy from yanking hard at our heartstrings, but neither does he pander as he tugs upon them.

The tragedy of The Girl Who Waited arises inexorably from the internal logic of the story, one that (at least insofar as Doctor Who is concerned) is a rigorous exercise in science fictional world-building that leaves the viewer questioning the nature of reality even as we weep at the fact the world sometimes forces brutally hard choices upon us.

Time may write a different conclusion, but a day after the fact, The Girl Who Waited seems like the first classic episode of Steven Moffat's tenure, the first episode to make us fully believe in and care about the program's principals.

Spread the word!

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.

Yes, that was a good episode

Yes, that was a good episode that reminded me of why (Empty Child/Doctor Dances, the Library episodes) I liked Moffat's writing.

But I would have liked it better if they had ended up with Rory saving 55-year-old Amy instead of (or as well as) young Amy.

The whole paradox thing is bullshit - paradox only comes in to play when the plot requires it on Doctor Who. We've had multiple Doctor's in the TARDIS. Hell, we've had two 10th Doctor's in the TARDIS.

If it was going to be either/or I understand why it was young Amy saved instead of old but because I can break the 4th wall and I understand television production prejudices when it comes to displaying women only in their young state whenever possible, but old Amy would have made the story truer even if it did make the Doctor all teary-eyed that she no longer hero-worshiped him.

I have faith that in Rory. Rory would still have loved her.

Re: Yes, that was a good episode

I agree. Saving Old Amy (or both) would have been an extremely courageous move, in terms of the long-term "arc" (a term I'm getting heartily tired of when it comes to Steven Moffat — but I digress).

Or, I kind of agree. It would have been a very different episode, but — strictly in and of itself — it would have been a very different episode. It certainly wouldn't have been the tear-jerker that was The Girl Who Waited was.

But still, Old Amy would have offered at least the promise of much more interesting stories to come.

I've also got to the stage

I've also got to the stage where I'm not all that interested in the on-going arc that is "The River Song Show" (although I like River!). But the point isn't really who the baby is or turns out to be, it's the fact that the Ponds have lost their baby and it's not even been acknowledged in the last two episodes that is really bothering me. Especially as last week's had a child who feared abandonment as a protagonist, and this week, Amy has 36 years in which to reflect on her life. You can't tell me she wouldn't have given a thought to her child during all that time!

But the Moffat apologists are all hand-waving that, because we know the baby grows up to be River Awesome.

Well, that's alright then.


I doubt there's any mention

I doubt there's any mention of River in the Mark Gatiss episode because it was supposed to be shown in the first half and got moved to the second. The lack of any reference in this is a little odd however, as it was always supposed to be shown in this position.

Re: I doubt there's any mention

You would think that it wouldn't be too hard to edit in a little reference or two, though, even in the Gattis episode. I still think it's unlikely that Moffat will just drop the whole "what happened to our baby?" story-line, but maybe so far as he's concerned, what happened in "Let's Kill Hitler" is enough of a resolution to it.

Which, if so ... Jesus Christ! What was the point of it all, then?

Which, if so ... Jesus

Which, if so ... Jesus Christ! What was the point of it all, then?

My thoughts exactly. And I'm fed up with seeing comments to the effect - "it'll all make sense in the end".

I want to enjoy and understand what I'm watching WHILE I'm watching it, not three months later!

Although it could just be that I'm not clever enough to appreciate the incredible subtelty and nuance of Moffat's writing and vision.

Re: Which, if so ... Jesus

Dave Godfrey (here) has pretty much convinced me that the Hitler episode was intended to be the end of the where's-my-baby storyline after all.

"Thanks for the use of the womb, Amy, but it's time to carry on as if nothing has happened."

Presumably there will be some sort of teary reconciliation ("Sorry I tried to kill you, Mom") during River's wedding, but I'm not holding my breath that I'll buy it.

According to wikipedia- "The

According to wikipedia-

"The prequel to "Let's Kill Hitler" was released on 15 August 2011. Amy leaves a message for the Doctor on the TARDIS' answering phone, pleading for him to find Melody and bring her home, having trusted him to do so. The Doctor is then shown standing by the console, upset."

Doesn't help that much I know, but its something. The end of "Let's Kill Hitler" is still a little off, and there should be some more repercussions from learning that you've already raised your daughter, even if you didn't know it.

Doesn't help that there have still been rather too many stand-alone episodes for this section of the series that just haven't referred to anything.

Re: According to wikipedia- "The

The end of "Let's Kill Hitler" is still a little off, and there should be some more repercussions from learning that you've already raised your daughter, even if you didn't know it.

Right. You know, in retrospect, I think the whole "Mel-was-actually-their-daughter-now-let's-move-on" so preposterous that I quite blanked it out of my mind.

I'd even seen the prequel you linked to and had forgotten that as well; it's tone suggested a powerful emotional story to come, but what we got was ... Let's Kill Hitler, and then a couple of stand-alone's in which both the baby and the adult River are not mentioned at all.

This is why I can't bring myself to care about whatever it is that Moffat's been up to since way back at The Eleventh Hour: none of it makes any emotional sense to me. Fans with more patience or a greater delight in intellectual puzzles than I might well succeed in creating a very convincing map-with-legends to explain it all.

But I just don't care. I'm not invested in the characters and, frankly, it would not have taken much tweeking for this episode to have worked just as well with Amy and Rory's role played by a couple of guest characters, a la a Christmas special.

Re: I've also got to the stage

People keep bringing up the silence on the baby front. I dismissed it at first, as uninteresting to me personally, because I'm not remotely invested in River or the mystery and puzzle Moffat is building.

But your comment suggests that the silence on the subject over the past two episodes is actually a good example of why I'm not invested. As I've been saying for some time, it seems to me that Moffat's only real interest is in the larger story, the puzzle(s?), and so characterization goes by the wayside.

A show-runner who was paying attention to his characters could easily have tweaked a couple of stand-alone episodes to at least reference the missing baby — it wouldn't take much effort and it would lend a significant level of depth to the proceedings that are otherwise lacking.

I will freely admit that my

I will freely admit that my annoyance over the fact that the Ponds have, to all intents and purposes lost their baby may be due to the fact that I'm a mother and I know that I'd be bloody devastated at the thought that I'd never get to see my baby again, or get to see her grow up.

We're supposed to believe that the Ponds are nice, caring people. Nice, caring people would, I'm sure, have had more of a reaction to the loss of their child. But no, in Moffat's universe, he needs his companions to be able to go on more adventures with the Doctor, so it's "bye, bye baby."

Basically, I'm agreeing with you. I've long said that SM's characters serve the demands of his plots - and if a character is a square peg, he will beat them into shape until they fit into a round hole.

I said way back in the spring, when the baby plot was becoming apparent that I thought it was a bad idea for DW and that I disliked it intensely. The fact that said baby would have to be "disposed" of in order for the show to continue on its merry way was one of the reasons why.

We're supposed to believe

We're supposed to believe that the Ponds are nice, caring people. Nice, caring people would, I'm sure, have had more of a reaction to the loss of their child. But no, in Moffat's universe, he needs his companions to be able to go on more adventures with the Doctor, so it's "bye, bye baby."

I'm really hoping that this cavalierness about the baby on the part of the Doctor, combined with the cavalierness of killing off hard middle-aged Amy so that he could have his back, will lead to the plot development where it turns out to be either Rory or Amy in that spacesuit, and they will be there because they are convinced they are saving the world against a monster.

Re: We're supposed to believe

Hmm. That would

Re: I will freely admit that my

People keep wondering why there's been no mention of Mel/Melody/River over the past couple of episodes, and I've wondered too — sure it wouldn't be so hard to have thrown in at least brief acknowledgements, even retroactively?

But I'm starting to think that Moffat considers the baby plot-line closed, as of Let's Kill Hitler — which I guess would prove our points, but in a remarkably lead-footed way.

Surely to got there's going to be something more than a shrug and an "Oh well, at least we got to grow up with her for a while." Right? Right?

some negative points

My problem with ass kicking self-rescuing (not to mention incredibly smart) Amy is that she's somewhat out of character. 36 years of hell is a long time and people can change, but Amy had shown little indication of those traits before. She hasn't been shown to solve puzzles and figure out things on her own. When hostile aliens kidnapped her and her baby, she just stayed calm and waited for the Doctor. I definitely prefer older Amy, but I wish younger Amy could be a little bit like her. I miss strong companions who *do* things.

The other issue with this episode is the same issue with all episodes since A Good Man Goes to War: the Ponds lost their baby, which apparently had no emotional impact on them. They don't even mention her once. That's especially a problem in this episode because Amy is left alone for 36 years, all that time to ponder and think bitterly, yet her speech to the Doctor doesn't mention the baby, even though that's another instance of him lying or not telling the whole truth and causing the companions pain.

Re: Some negative points

I handwave your negative points away like that!

My problem with ass kicking self-rescuing (not to mention incredibly smart) Amy is that she's somewhat out of character.

You're right of course, but I justify my appreciation for the episode on the basis that she hasn't shown much of any character until now (neither, really, has Rory, other than his inexplicable passion for the red-haired cypher).

Good point about the lack of series continuity. As with the same last week, though, I was unbothered simply because I don't give give a damn about the on-going arch.

Honestly, I'm dreading a return to River Song Chronicals.

Have to agree, this is the

Have to agree, this is the first episode of Moffatt's tenure that reminds me why I stay with a show that seems to have me locked in an abusive relationship at times. It's the first time the characters have genuinely moved me, the first time I've had any stirrings of the old itch to write fiction. Marvellous, and shows what can be done.

The glaring problem with it, as mentioned above, is the lack of a Melody mention, which leads me to wonder whether we're going with some kind of alternate timeline in which she doesn't exist. However, the moment when Rory, like Tegan and Martha before him, cries that he can't do this any more was closely followed, at least for me, by the awful realisation that if he and Amy bail they lose the only link they'll ever have to their child.

Re: Have to agree, this is the

...he awful realisation that if he and Amy bail they lose the only link they'll ever have to their child.

Damn. If I had been invested in the over-all story, I would insist that that line of thought must be followed-up. It would make of the lost child so much more than a mere plot device to explain River Song.

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.

Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
This question is for testing whether you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.
Enter the characters shown in the image.