REVIEW: Doctor Who - "The Girl Who Waited"
It’s a return to the high-concept science fiction side of Doctor Who! The Doctor and his companions travel to the tourist hotspot planet Apalapucia, but Amy becomes trapped in an alternate time stream in a strange quarantine facility. This leads to an appearance from a middle-aged Amy Pond, which I initially assumed would mean a lighter tone than last week’s “Night Terrors”.
Instead, writer Tom MacRae uses the scenario for a dramatic purpose, and the episode turned out to be a moving and effective installment of the series, filled with emotional dialogue and speaking to the sometimes destructive nature of time. Read on for my full, spoiler-free review of “The Girl Who Waited”, including my ranking out of four stars!
The episode begins, of course, with a failed attempt to reach a worry-free part of the universe, but we all know that the TARDIS never takes the Doctor where he wants to go, but rather “where he needs to go”. The Doctor, Amy and Rory find themselves in a gleaming medical facility, where they learn that Apalapucia is currently infected by a plague, and thousands of people are being kept here in an alternate time stream so their relatives can still watch them grow old.
Amy, of course, becomes trapped in the patient section of the facility, and the Doctor reveals that to avoid becoming infected, he must stay in the TARDIS, forcing Rory to rescue his wife singlehandedly. Unfortunately, penetrating the time stream is more difficult than it may seem, and Rory ends up many years in the future, finding a bitter, middle-aged version of Amy who has been waiting for rescue all this time.
I was immediately drawn to the visual aesthetic of this episode. The polished, clinical design of the quarantine building and the faceless look of the Handbot guards reminded me of other highly futuristic science fiction properties, like Minority Report and I, Robot. The conceit here is that the planet has been forced to use these thoroughly artificial technologies to stop the spread of the plague. Fittingly, the older Amy uses a now-antiquated katana-style sword to kill the Handbots, evoking a sense of the old vanquishing the new.
This episode was what is referred to as a “Doctor-lite” episode, meaning that the Doctor has limited screen appearances in the story. This is similar to the fantastic episode “Blink”, although “The Girl Who Waited” doesn’t quite match the quality of that entry. Since the Doctor must remain in the TARDIS, he is forced to guide Amy and Rory from afar, and the frustration is very visible on Matt Smith’s face when the circumstances of the episode put the Doctor into a significant moral quagmire.
I like it when Doctor Who does this, because it allows for some fascinating storytelling – Rory becomes the hero of the episode, something I always like to see. In fact, in terms of the acting in “The Girl Who Waited”, both Arthur Darvill and Karen Gillan put in impressive performances here. I was especially hooked on the scene between the two versions of Amy through the giant magnifying glass – Gillan truly sold me on how Amy was speaking to an older version of herself.
While Gillan’s acting was convincing, the make-up meant to make her look older was not. It only held up to close scrutiny in certain lighting situations, and in many scenes the colours and application seemed a bit off. It’s always hard to age younger actors (even the work in the Back to the Future movies was a bit dodgy), but maybe if the crew had toned down the visual emphasis on Amy’s age, the make-up might have been less distracting.
This quibble is mostly overcome, however, by the symbolism of the story in “The Girl Who Waited”. Here we clearly see, as we did with Rory in “The Doctor’s Wife”, the destructive nature of time. After four decades trapped in the facility, surviving the patrols of the Handbots, the older Amy has become cold towards Rory and hateful of the Doctor. When a chance to return to the way she was presents itself, the older Amy resists; despite the pain of the long years in hiding, she is proud of what she has done to survive, and wants to hold on to it.
The anger behind her distrust of the Doctor is emotional and unsettling, but also cathartic in a way: MacRae reminds us in a particularly dramatic fashion of the consequences of travelling with the Doctor. It’s been a persistent theme in Doctor Who for many seasons now, but an important one to include; a sobering addendum to all the fun the show provides.
In true Doctor Who style, “The Girl Who Waited” does include a few lighter moments to balance the emotional material. I loved the sequences of Rory walking around with hipster frames and a huge magnifying glass – just an absurd visual that made me laugh. MacRae slotted in a bit of banter between Rory and the two Amys near the end, but luckily didn’t go overboard; it would have felt strange to tack on a bunch of one-liners to a mostly sombre episode.
There was still no mention of Melody/River, and so this episode works as a another standalone entry that is being used to delay the bigger episodes to come. Nevertheless, the surprisingly hard-hitting script, futuristic visuals and believable acting earns “The Girl Who Waited” three and a half stars out of four.
What did you think of Episode Ten? Did you burst into tears during the more emotional parts of the story? Or are you angry that we’ve had two standalone entries of Doctor Who in a row, and still no mention of the Silence or the war with the Doctor? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below!
Check out all my reviews of Series Six of Doctor Who so far:
Episode 1: The Impossible Astronaut | Episode 2: Day of the Moon | Episode 3: The Curse of the Black Spot | Episode 4: The Doctor's Wife | Episode 5: The Rebel Flesh | Episode 6: The Almost People | Episode 7: A Good Man Goes to War | Episode 8: Let's Kill Hitler | Episode 9: Night Terrors