Yes, I Shall Come Back (The Girl Who Waited)
|For once I’ve picked the image because it illustrates a point and not to make|
a bad joke about it. So I’ll just give you a bad joke with nothing to do with
the image. What’s brown and sticky? A stick.
It’s September 10th, 2011. Example are at number one with “Stay Awake,” with Ed Sheeran, Maroon 5, Olly Murs, and Calvin Harris also charting. There’s not exactly been a ton of news in the last twenty-four hours, with the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces declaring a state of emergency, along with Barack Obama, the former covering Egypt, the latter Texas. While on television, it’s The Girl Who Waited.
The Girl Who Waited marks one of a handful of times that more or less the entire Doctor Who fandom was properly blown away and surprised. Nothing about Tom McRae’s previous Doctor Who story, the largely unloved Tennant Cybermen two-parter, really suggested that he was capable of this story. And so when McRae was announced as the writer, a large swath of the audience was not particularly enthused. It wasn’t until the title, which magnificently baited the audience by drawing unapologetically on the Moffat era’s established iconography and mythos, that things started to seem a bit more interesting, and not until the revelation of the story’s real premise, the heavily aged Amy Pond, that it started to become clear that, far from being a dud filler episode marking time between the big River episodes on either side of this half-season, The Girl Who Waited was a stunningly interesting episode in its own right.
First and foremost, The Girl Who Waited is a piece of superlative character work. There’s a school of thought, not entirely unjustified, that suggests that Karen Gillan’s interest in Amy declined over the course of the show, and that she phoned in large swaths of Season Six and more or less the entirety of Season Seven. There’s another that says that Gillan was actually fine, but that Moffat ran out of things to write about the character, hence her spending most of Season Six as fridge bait. This school of thought is, as we’ve seen, self-evidently ludicrous, but it’s worth acknowledging as well. Both, ultimately, end up treating Amy as something of a problem companion in this period. But in many ways, both lines of criticism almost necessarily have to avoid this story (and it’s telling, I think, that the “Moffat is an arch-misogynist” crowd mostly steers around this story in their criticisms) in order to work.
Certainly, whatever one might say about her in Season Seven, Gillan is absolutely on fire here, managing to distinguish Young Amy and Old Amy as real and distinct characters through a host of subtle but deliberate ways. Old Amy carries her body differently, speaks with a slightly different timbre, and genuinely, properly feels like a different character to Young Amy. The entire episode is set up to live or die by the strength of Gillan’s performance, and she rises to the occasion magnificently in a way that anchors everything around her. Given her strength here, it’s perhaps easy to see why her character falters in stories where she’s reduced to being a generic companion with relatively little to do, and certainly easy to see why she might have been frustrated at how much of her character development is pushed off-screen with the River plot. As noted before, the alternative – showing Amy Pond, feisty protagonist beloved by a nation of young women, shattered by sexual assault and slowly healing – was completely untenable, but from Gillan’s perspective, it’s still a fantastic chunk of material that she had to act around.
But it is fair to say that even though Moffat continued to give Amy an interesting plot line over the course of Season Six, he didn’t necessarily serve Karen Gillan terribly well. Which is where this episode comes in. Because even though it’s completely detached from the season’s overall arc, it hits many of the same thematic notes. Ultimately, both the River arc and this explore the same basic question of what it means for Amy to wait for the Doctor, and what it means for him to come back after she’s waited. In A Good Man Goes to War he is pointedly and tragically too late to stop River’s abduction, and here he’s too late to rescue Amy at all, so that his arrival becomes something entirely more unsettling. But unlike the River arc, this time the consideration of the Doctor returning too late focuses on Amy herself, instead of deflecting the arc off to another character.
But all of this is really just a reconsidering of her Season Five arc. There the season focused on the Doctor’s quest to fix his error from The Eleventh Hour – to restore Amy to being Amelia, in effect. And by the end of it, he succeeded. Fourteen years of being late were finally paid off, and Amelia Pond was restored at her own wedding. Except, of course, healing is not the same as preventing. That is, I would argue, a fundamental premise of the Moffat era. The Doctor fixes things. He is a healer – a bringer of reparation. But this doesn’t mean that bad things don’t happen. Moffat, when quizzed on the “fairy tale” aspects of his tenure, has always stressed that fairy tales are how we teach the fact that there are terrible things in the world. And so after his arc of reparation and healing for Amelia, Moffat goes back and re-examines the question, focusing on the basic fact that there is healing to do in the first place.
So in this regard, The Girl Who Waited is an essential thematic component of the season. Moffat’s decision to move the focus from Amy to River was perfectly sensible, not least because he had a mystery to resolve, but it left a narrative gap regarding Amy, which this fills nicely. Or, rather, not very nicely at all. Because this is a story that puts a tremendous amount of emphasis on the fact that healing necessarily requires damage. Because at the heart of this story is the fact that there is no way out of this that doesn’t cause damage. Either Amy has to live through decades of anguished isolation, or a version of her has to be murdered. Those are the only two choices the narrative gives. And so we are put into a position where the Doctor is fundamentally unable to avoid causing pain and damage.
That doesn’t mean that the Doctor can’t heal, of course. He does, ultimately. The horrible fate of being trapped in Two Streams for decades is, in the end, averted. But just because he averts it doesn’t mean that there’s no harm caused. And the Doctor is pointedly forced to confront that, in a way that tips him into a moral ambiguity that the series hasn’t really seen since the McCoy era, and even then more in the novels than the television series. The Doctor outright lies to Amy and Rory, telling them he can save both Amys when he knows he can’t, just to manipulate Old Amy into helping him. It’s not a situation I’m comfortable calling outright morally wrong, but it’s clearly meant to be an uneasy sequence, and it succeeds at its goal. The Doctor is put in a situation with no good answers, and doesn’t get to dodge choosing a really shitty one.
But equally, this isn’t presented as an occasion for the Doctor’s angst. There’s no standing out in the rain feeling guilty about shamelessly ignoring his companion’s end-of-life directive. He may be wounded by Rory’s anger, but even that is clearly only in passing for him. Instead the moral ambiguity is presented as the price of doing business – as a fundamental aspect of what the Doctor is. It’s tempting to read this as post-Dark Knight “let’s make all our heroes dark and tormented,” but The Girl Who Waited actively resists this reading. For one, the Doctor isn’t particularly tormented by all of this. But for another, there doesn’t really seem to be any sense in which this is a critique of the Doctor as a character. Rory gets some zingers, but they’re not exactly deconstructive swipes at the heart of the show. You can tell because they’re actually reasonably well-founded. Unlike, say, Davros in Journey’s End, where the attempts at moral critique only land because the Doctor declines to offer the obvious refutations, Rory’s pointing out that maybe doing a spot of research to avoid landing in the middle of a plague, or that the Doctor is kind of a dick in making him explain to Old Amy that, yeah, he’s totally murdering her is, on the whole, a fair point.
But the truth is that it wouldn’t be Doctor Who if it didn’t feature the Doctor imprudently landing in trouble. More broadly, this script fits firmly into one of Moffat’s most basic and recurring themes, not just in Doctor Who, which is that there is a price for having gods. Great men who can serve as ontological forces within a narrative are scary things. But this isn’t a critique of them. As Moffat said quite early on in writing Doctor Who, the Doctor is worth the monsters. And ultimately, for all that it’s an emotionally brutal episode that pushes characters to awful places, The Girl Who Waited is not a refutation of either the Doctor or Amy. Murray Gold’s decision to reuse lots of the classic Amy Pond musical cues emphasizes this, making it impossible to separate this story from the basic mythology of Amy Pond. (As, of course, does the title.) The result is, in effect, a story that symbolically fills the biggest narrative gap in the River Song arc without having to get into any of the problematic content.
And it’s interesting to note just how much this story really is based on Amy as a character. It’s not just the ways in which being abandoned is the thing she’s most scared of, or the role Rory plays in her personal mythology. It’s also littler things about the particularities of her strength. More than once we’ve seen sequences where Amy, after vowing in some way to never give up, almost immediately does – Curse of the Black Spot being a recent example. Here we get one of the best, where she vows that she will fight like hell to survive and then stands and lets the handbots get her instead of fighting to her last breath. It’s a little thing that doesn’t undermine her strength in the least, but that rips apart any argument that all of Moffat’s companions are the same. Indeed, it quickly becomes clear why critics who push this sort of argument almost entirely ignore this episode – because there is no other companion pairing in all of Doctor Who that this story would work with. Maybe, maybe you could do it with Ian and Barbara, but you’d need a massive retcon to have “do it for Ian” work as a way of persuading Barbara to save her past self. So maybe, but not really. This is a story that depends, in a deep and fundamental way, on the complexity and detail of Amy’s character, and it’s in its own way as much a triumph for her as Last of the Time Lords is for Martha or Turn Left is for Donna. Except instead of making the case for her character with a big hero moment, it makes a case for her by aggressively interrogating the basic premise of the character.
Absolutely none of which is actually the most interesting or important thing about this story. No, what’s really important about this story is that it marks the debut of Nick Hurran on Doctor Who, and Nick Hurran is very probably the most important director in Doctor Who since Graeme Harper. Yes, even moreso than Euros Lyn, who is excellent, but who is ultimately a director who embodied a straightforward style. Hurran, on the other hand, is aggressively experimental. The Moffat era has always embraced subjective camerawork, a technique that came to a triumphant conceptual endpoint in Day of the Moon with that brilliant scene in which the Silence edit themselves out of the narrative. But Hurran is the first director to take that as a starting point, and it’s no surprise that Moffat promptly grabbed him for himself, both on Doctor Who and Sherlock.
We’re going to talk more about Hurran on Monday when we deal with a story that is much more drenched in his directorial style, but even here there are some clear signs of the sort of thing he does. The camera angles are all dynamic and dramatic, with lots of low angles and decisions to shoot people’s hands doing things. But the most dramatic trick he develops is the superimposition of two shots. This makes its first appearance when the two Amys talk through the glass, and Hurran opts to frame the shot by showing both of them on screen, talking directly to each other, instead of doing it as a shot-reverse-shot across the glass. Then he does it again when Rory and Old Amy have their final conversation through the TARDIS door, which is on the whole a stranger time to do it, since in that case the entire point is that the two characters can’t see each other, which differentiates it sharply from the first one. But in both cases, there’s a decision to completely abandon the idea that what’s on the screen is a depiction of a real space at all. And the implications of this in terms of how future stories are going to be constructed is profound. As I said, we’ll talk more about this on Wednesday, but for now let’s point out the profound appropriateness that one day after the final Russell T Davies story airs comes a story you can point at and say “here’s where the post-Davies style begins in earnest.”
August 6, 2014 @ 12:23 am
Great piece. Though I wish you'd said more about the Haynes "mini-era" now tha we're getting a directorial focus!
(PS: Example is a bloke, not a band.)
August 6, 2014 @ 1:42 am
I'm glad you didn't decide to do a retrospective hatchet job on this one because despite its clear brilliance it does have its faults – the Two Streams facility is a classic example of a ludicrous Sci- Fi technobabble mise en scene whose sole purpose for existing is to create the dillema our heroes must solve. (There must be a TV trope page for that). Despite your assertion that this begins the post -Davies style this is as RTD a concept as the 'two doors to the radiation room' set -up in The End of Time the difference here of course, as you point out, is that 'the Doctor is put in a situation with no good answers, and doesn’t get to dodge choosing a really shitty one.' He also doesn't get to wallow in any self pitying hubris. As you also point out – 'There’s no standing out in the rain feeling guilty'.
This is the episode to show to critics of Gillan's acting skill. If you'll allow the drama teacher in me a moment, she gives a masterclass in physicality, character building and through line work that is pure Stanislavski.
Hurran's direction is superb. Innovative and tension building. I'd also lavish some praise on the production design too. Classy and stylisly clinical in an almost retro -futurist nod to Tarkovsky and Kubrick but also reminiscent of many Hartnell/Troughton era Doctor Who sets.
The imagery and metaphor is also ripe for interpretation here with lots of mirroring, doubling, reflecting, and a palpable sense of things just slipping out of ones grasp. The garden set and the dummy companion which Amy names Rory, The handbots with their aggressive nursing and threatening needles. I'm looking forward to jane interpreting all the metaphors.
I loved this episode on transmission and it continues to intrigue me. Thanks Phil for reminding me of some of the reasons why.
August 6, 2014 @ 2:06 am
The sf technobabble premise isn't only there to justify the dilemma. It's also being used for imagery. In particular, the robots that continually announce that this is a kindness before they heedlessly try to kill you. In a way, it's an interesting parallel to Jill Buratto's piece on Miracle Day. It's coming from a slightly different place but is still a commentary on the way that end of life issues are dominated by bureaucratic convenience and the emotional needs of the far from death rather than the emotional interests of the imminently dying.
Structuring a whole episode around an sf technobabble premise works better than structuring a shaggy dog ending to my mind.
Also, it's easier to take aliens thinking in ways that seem weird, such as thinking that using sink plungers for hands is sensible. When apparently contemporary humans do it, one wants a bit more exploration of the bureaucratic stupidity, or whatever, that made them think it was a good idea.
August 6, 2014 @ 2:28 am
All good observations David. Perhaps I should make it clearer that I absolutely love this episode. I find it emotionally haunting for many of the reasons you state.
August 6, 2014 @ 3:08 am
In this article, Clara is cleverly disguised as the picture caption in order to… (help me out here, I can't figure out how to finish the joke).
August 6, 2014 @ 3:19 am
In this article, Clara is cleverly disguised as the picture caption in order to save the Doctor from the subtext.
August 6, 2014 @ 3:34 am
I would have gone with "In this scene, Clara is cleverly disguised as the exposed part of Amy's brain." …but perhaps it's just me that thinks the superimposition makes it look like she's cosplaying as a Cyber Leader.
August 6, 2014 @ 3:58 am
I love this story and it's fantastically written, but the end doesn't work for me in the same way the end of the Silurians doesn't work for you, Phil – after this, there's no reason for Amy and Rory to continue traveling with the Doctor. He's just lied to and (for all intents and purposes) murdered a future version of Amy, and Rory is understandably incredibly angry (and presumably Amy is as well, once she finds out). The closest comparison is Love & War. The thing is, this could have all been fixed by switching the order of this episode and the God Complex and moving the last scene of the God Complex to the end of this episode. This would work on multiple levels – Amy's fear from the God Complex would thematically set up this episode in a better way than this sets up the God Complex, and the ending would provide a satisfying counterbalance to the Doctor's ambiguous morality in the Girl Who Waited.
August 6, 2014 @ 4:15 am
I was entirely caught off guard by this essay, Phil. Because I remember your post from a while back where you gave your personal rankings for every Doctor Who story that's ever been (up to that point, anyway), where The Girl Who Waited was in the category of stories that ranked 1/10. I had a feeling that you were going to give this story, which has received some of the most lavish praise in Season 6 (and is one of my favourite stories from that year, precisely for the reasons you explain in the actual post you've written today), an extraordinary drubbing.
So I have to ask. Why not write that critical post?
I mean, I understand why you wrote this one. The Eruditorum is about tracing the story of Doctor Who itself, and the analyses of the Davies and Moffat eras have included examinations of how the show's televisual sophistication has changed, so the directorial innovations of The Girl Who Waited would be important to any post. And Gillan's performance is, I would say, the best of her time on the show. She was given the opportunity for virtuoso acting, she knew it, and she didn't disappoint. (It makes me especially sad to see her in the horrifyingly offensive and terrible American sitcom Selfie as her main television follow-up to Doctor Who; that way goes the career of Heather Graham.)
Will we see your more critical take on the episode in the Smith-era book?
August 6, 2014 @ 4:21 am
I think I agree, though I'd say The God Complex would still be problematic in putting Amy into the role of generic new series companion. But it would be less noticeable and less pat. (I hasten to add that this is the only real problem I have with the God Complex.)
August 6, 2014 @ 4:26 am
As I remember it, Phil said in comments that the 1 was a mistake, and corrected it to a 9.
August 6, 2014 @ 4:29 am
August 6, 2014 @ 4:44 am
I don't know where to begin with this one. Guess I'll start with Nick Hurran, as that hint in the Night Terrors entry last week is what got me so excited.
Hurran's direction is intensely visual, first and foremost, to such an extent that the choices he makes in how to compose a shot are integral to the storytelling itself. This is as far from the "point a camera at a stage-play" style of the Classic series as we've ever seen. There's so much more going on than just the ostensible story, than what's "written."
And this poses a problem for most amateur critics, because critique is primarily a written exercise, learned from analyzing books, with an emphasis on "story" as opposed to "discourse." Culturally speaking, we know cinematic techniques intuitively and instinctively, but we get very little training in the discursive analysis of those techniques.
So, an easy one. When the Doctor and Rory first enter The Green Anchor, they stand side-by-side in the doorway, the TARDIS perfectly framed in the background, and there's this brassy metal stripe in the foreground, on a glass table, positioned such that — visually speaking — it's right in between Rory and the Doctor. We then learn that this brassy stripe is in fact the frame of a "magnifying glass" — a "looking glass" in a strange sense.
So in this singular shot, Hurran has established a juxtaposition of Rory and the Doctor that invites a deliberation on these two men. This discourse, as it turns out, is exactly one of the things that the story is doing: "You're turning me into you," Rory says at the end. Well, yes. And so much of what Hurran does emphasizes this point, from the similar colors worn by the Doctor and Rory to their mirrored gestures (like crossing their coat lapels over their mouths, or holding up their hands in the manner of a Handbot).
But there's a whole more going on with Hurran's direction than simple mirroring.
August 6, 2014 @ 4:59 am
I would say that the two doors set-up in End of Time puts the Doctor in very a similar position of having no easy way out and no good answer – there are consequences either way, causing either Wilf's death or his regeneration. In both cases you can make a case that there is a right choice and a wrong choice, but also in both cases each choice will inevitably cause damage, as Phil says.
I'm not sure why the Doctor occasionally feeling guilt over his actions is necessarily a bad thing. I'm not saying every episode needs to end with him standing moodily in the rain, but I think sometimes that's appropriate for the character. However, I do agree that the fact that the Doctor, in this case, doesn't seem to indulge in that turmoil but just ruthlessly gets on with the job he has to do does add to the impact of the story in a chilling and effective way.
August 6, 2014 @ 5:00 am
A digression: Hurran shows off his chops early on when Rory discovers that Amy pushed a different button. Muttering to himself, he leaves the Doctor behind, enters the lobby, pushes the red button, enters a now empty Red Waterfall room, goes back to the lobby, and re-enters The Green Anchor, where the Doctor still sits, talking to Amy.
And this is all accomplished in a single shot, which is more than a technical achievement. Regardless of how it's accomplished, though, it's the sort of shot that demonstrates at that intuitive, instinctive level that the two rooms of The Green Anchor and The Red Waterfall, despite being behind the same door, are in fact in two different places and times.
But this is more than just world-building, more than creating an illusion in which to immerse us. As with the previously dissected shot, there's a larger theme being served here, one ultimately runs through the whole episode, one that I rarely if ever see being discussed, one that transcends the story itself and actually speaks to the "art" underlying The Girl Who Waited.
A taste: In this single shot, which happens over time as opposed to being a simple artifact of framing, Hurran has established two distinct spaces and two distinct times, which are nonetheless unified and conjoined. This is the "union of opposites" which is at the heart of alchemy, the transcending of duality.
And the way it's employed here, throughout this episode, it's more than an abstract concept. It's in service to describing something profound about the human condition.
August 6, 2014 @ 5:01 am
You used this title for Girl in the Fireplace, too (I recently reread that post, so it's fresh in my mind). Intentional thematic link, or boo boo? Don't feel obliged to answer if it's intentionally ambiguous.
August 6, 2014 @ 5:06 am
Hmm… Red Waterfall & Green Anchor.
Red is a nice fiery Amy color. The waterfall might imply constant change and the swift passage of time.
Rory is definitely the steadfast anchor. The boy who waited.
August 6, 2014 @ 5:15 am
As Phil notes, there's an awful lot of reflections in The Girl Who Waited, reflections and twinnings. When the Doctor and Rory are in the lobby, and the Doctor tells Rory to press a button, Hurran shows us the buttons themselves, which are framed by a mirror, and in that mirror we see the reflection of the two men. Rory presses The Green Anchor. When it's Amy's turn, the shot is repeated: Amy's reflection in them mirror, as she presses the Red Waterfall.
Mirrors and twins.
This kind of composition helps to establish a visual language for the story — the Doctor and Rory are "green" (they wear green coats) and Amy is "red," her long hair resembling the Waterfall logo, which is later reinforced by a shot of her squatting under said logo.
Beyond that, though, the imagery helps to define the world and even the people we're considering. Both rooms are based on "water" concepts, and as previously established in The Curse of the Black Spot, water is a reflective surface. Indeed, the Ponds are named after water, as is their daughter. They are "mirrors" themselves. On the other hand, water is also used as a metaphor for Time: the flowing waterfall space moving "faster" than the anchored room. And this isn't really anything new: time is a river, after all.
But what of the choice? Rory pushes the Anchor, Amy pushes the Falls, and this speaks to their characterization; the "mirror" isn't skin-deep. Amy is the one who falls, and has been falling this entire season. Rory, on the other hand, is himself an "anchor" — he's the one most rooted in the Ordinary World, the one who anchors Amy and the Doctor.
So when Hurran employs "reflection" in his shots, he's doing more than providing stylistic flourish: his discourse is fully in service to telling the story.
August 6, 2014 @ 5:18 am
The very first shot of the episode is a reflection — we see the Doctor, Amy, and Rory reflected in the TARDIS console scanner, all circles and light. Superimposed over this reflection is not another image, but the audio track: Apalapucia, says the Doctor, pointing at the scanner, but visually pointing at "us" through the reflection to the camera.
"Say it again," Amy says. "Apalapucia."
Mirrors and twins.
August 6, 2014 @ 5:34 am
Interesting, given that you reference the Moffat-is-the-devil crowd, that you missed one of, to me, the most important moments in this episode. The Doctor is colossally sexist (as Eleven tends to be) and the narrative responds with a "nope, not happening": the Doctor tells Rory to choose which Amy lives, when that should be a question that Amy and only Amy has a right to answer–and Old Amy snatches that choice away from Rory almost immediately.
August 6, 2014 @ 5:38 am
Oh, here's a good one. On more than one occasion, Hurran uses his direction to establish a juxtaposition of Rory and the Handbots. Mind you, this is certainly a part of MacRae's script — Amy names a "disarmed" Handbot after her husband — but Hurran reinforces this juxtaposition in several ways.
The most notable is in the scenes with Rory and his namesake Handbot. Older Amy tells Rory to sit, and both the Handbot and Rory sit down, in unison, visually mirroring each other. When it's time to leave Amy's lair, Rory and the Handbot again move in unison towards the exit. Later on, at the climax, there's a shot that comes right after Rory smashes the Mona Lisa over a Handbot's head, and we see Rory and that Handbot standing side-by-side, slightly bent over, in exactly the same position.
All of which is to invite a comparison of Rory and the Handbots. The Handbots are, technically speaking, the nurses of the Two Streams facility. Rory, of course, is a nurse.
So this ends up functioning as a metaphor. Amy's relationship to Rory gets explored through her relationship to the Handbots, and it's rather revealing of the sorts of dynamics that tend to go unspoken, that in some way are, in a word, repressed.
For example, Amy ends up fighting the Handbots for years on end, and she specifically uses violence in that endeavor. As noted elsewhere, this is in fact a problematic aspect of the relationship between Amy and Rory (and which is mirrored by River and the Doctor).
Conversely, though, the fact that Handbots might kill Amy with their "kindness" speaks to another aspect of the Amy/Rory dynamic. Amy is the Waterfall, not just The Girl Who Waits but also The Woman Who Runs, who is strongly motivated to travel through time, and who has come to thoroughly (if not completely) understand the implications of time-travel. But if Rory is the Anchor, the one who gets rooted in a time and place, what does this mean to Amy?
To stop running would kill her. To be "healed" of the two-hearted disease (the disease of the Doctor) is to kill her. And, neatly, this is exactly what we get at the end of The Angels Take Manhattan: Rory gets stuck in a particular time and place, anchored in New York, and this ultimately entails Amy's own death.
August 6, 2014 @ 5:45 am
it does have its faults – the Two Streams facility is a classic example of a ludicrous Sci- Fi technobabble mise en scene whose sole purpose for existing is to create the dillema our heroes must solve.
This is a fault now?
August 6, 2014 @ 5:50 am
You guys are much deeper at reading past comments than I am. I still find myself kind of missing an essay that mercilessly pans The Girl Who Waited. Maybe I'll write it myself as a devil's advocate (because it really is one of my own favourites from Season 6), or see if Jack Graham will.
August 6, 2014 @ 5:57 am
Much like "manipulating the audience's emptions", it's a fault if you notice it. If your Big Idea is based on somewhat convenient tacit assumptions that are tucked away in the background where the audience won't notice them until they start writing Discontinuity Guide entries and think "Wait a minute…", that's fine.
If on the other hand, you have a hospital with a completely insane admission system that has clearly been designed for no reason except trapping Amy in it, well…
August 6, 2014 @ 6:08 am
The mirroring of Rory and the Handbots is subtle, though, compared to the mirroring of Amy and the Handbots. When Older Amy first appears (not counting her faint reflection in the "magnifying glass" held by Rory) we can't exactly see who she is, in part because she's wearing bits and pieces of Handbot as armor.
Which is very interesting. It doesn't just change the shape of her body (so that Gillan appears heavier and hence older than her true age) — it serves at least two metaphorical functions. The more obvious one is that Older Amy has "armored" herself psychologically, emotionally, how she's coped with 36 years of abandonment (which also speaks to the premise of her character). Fair enough.
But what I find really striking is that yet again Amy has been "monstered." This has been a running theme of Series Six, the juxtaposition of Amy with monstrosity. She's taken up a gun against the Astronaut, worn a pirate's outfit and used violence in a way that jeopardized Rory's life, she's been enFleshed, been depicted as the Tesselector, and turned into a wooden Dolly. Now she's taken on the aspect of the Handbots.
But this mirroring of Amy with the Handbots doesn't play out as it does with Rory — instead, it's superimposed with a mirroring of the Doctor. Amy and the Doctor are likened as "geniuses" by Rory. Amy makes her own Sonic. Amy demonstrates a thorough understanding of time-travel. Amy hacks the technology of the Interface.
So Amy and the Doctor are juxtaposed, and yet so is Amy juxtaposed with Rory, most strikingly when Rory holds up the Looking Glass in front of his face and sonics it, revealing the image of Younger Amy superimposed over his own head. Part of how Rory is defined, in other words, is through Amy.
So, visually speaking, we get Rory juxtaposed with Amy, Amy juxtaposed with the Doctor, and the Doctor juxtaposed with Rory — and there's even a visual cue that links all three of them, namely the Camera Glasses. Which, frankly speaking, is perfect. Hurran's camera is juxtaposing the three of them, and with the monsters as well, and pointing towards how through perspective we can see ourselves in each other, and each other in ourselves. That people are, in an important respect, mirrors.
No wonder the Ponds are named after water.
August 6, 2014 @ 6:12 am
If ludicrous sci-fi that has only one purpose (to create a dilemma for the heroes to solve) is a problem, we're going to loose an awful lot of speculative fiction trying to fix said problem.
August 6, 2014 @ 6:47 am
"I'm not sure why the Doctor occasionally feeling guilt over his actions is necessarily a bad thing. I'm not saying every episode needs to end with him standing moodily in the rain, but I think sometimes that's appropriate for the character."
I love the 10th Doctor, in all of his angsty glory. But the problem people have with him is not that he sometimes feels guilty, but that so often what happens to the female companions seems like it happens just as a reason for him to be angsty. Unlike Amy working through the horrible things that happen to her, a lot of the Tenth Doctor's companions don't have that opportunity. Instead, it becomes all about his reactions and how bad he feels about things instead of them. The Eleventh Doctor generally has the opposite reaction, giving the companions the space in the narrative to work through the traumas that traveling with him cause. He can get guilty – like in Amy's Choice – but it's much more muted and the narrative focuses on him less.
August 6, 2014 @ 6:51 am
"It's hardly rocket science. It's just quantum physics."
It's not just the characters who are juxtaposed through visual similarity. The spaces of Two Streams likewise invite such an examination.
First, we should note that we get all kinds of spaces to look at here, and many are quite distinct. The interior of the TARDIS, of course, especially copper-toned in this episode, is a Red space. The temporal engines where Amy hides are another, all done in Blue. And finally the Garden, which is a Green space, and harkens to the location where Amy's "sacred wounding" took place back in The Eleventh Hour.
But other spaces in Two Streams are starkly white, devoid of color. Functionally speaking, we get the Medical Facility in general, the Art Gallery, and the Gateway, a liminal space that connects everything else. Of particular interest, I think, is that of all the "entertainment zones" in Two Streams, it's the "art gallery" that mirrors the facility as a whole.
So the environment of Two Streams as a whole should be considered in terms of "art" — which brings us back to what I think is the truly brilliant underlying conceit of the episode. The "art" in question being an art of alchemy, not the "secret" so much as an underlying principle in its practice, which Hurran alludes to with that tracking shot which unified two distinct spaces.
Amy is the Red Waterfall. Rory is the Green Anchor. The Doctor is the Blue Box Man. And we have three colored spaces as well. But the correspondences now start to blur. Which space actually represents whom, when all three characters have in fact been juxtaposed with each other?
DOCTOR: Pull out the red and green receptors. Re-route the blue into the red and the green into blue. Leave the red loose and on no account touch anything yellow. Come on, Rory. It's hardly rocket science. It's just quantum physics.
In quantum physics, the "color charge" of basic particles (quarks) can change as "antiparticles" (gluons) are passed between them. For example, a "blue" charged particle can interact (a "strong" interaction) with "green" charge particle, passing over a gluon that makes the blue particle green, and the green particle blue.
"You're turning me into you."
All three together (unified) are "colorless" — white, so to speak, which is devoid of color and yet truthfully full of all colors. A transcending of duality, a union of opposites. Alchemy.
So the art of the episode is that we mirror each other, and through our strong interactions, our colors become mixed. We see who we are through the eyes of others. We are unique, and we are the same, and both of these statements are completely true. This contradiction, this fundamental paradox, another union of opposites, is at the heart of our condition.
We are the star-stuff of the Universe.
August 6, 2014 @ 6:53 am
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August 6, 2014 @ 6:57 am
Sadly, Karen Gillian appears to be making some poor career choices. That show looks terrible, playing to every awful stereotype. I just saw her in Guardians of the Galaxy and while the movie was great, a lot of fun, she wasn't very good. I thought her delivery was really stiff. I think a major part of the problem is that she's struggling to do an American accent and she is having a lot of problems getting the right emotions in her voice with it.
August 6, 2014 @ 7:05 am
Wait are you doing The God Complex on Monday or Wednesday?
August 6, 2014 @ 7:13 am
I'm not sure it's fair to say that the Doctor gave Rory the decision in any meaningful way. He had already guided Rory and young Amy back to the TARDIS and deliberately left old Amy outside the TARDIS, and it's pretty safe to assume he knew which Amy Rory would choose. The point of Rory's speech and, in part, that whole scene was, in my opinion, to show that the Doctor gave Rory the choice to shift the blame of old Amy's death onto Rory and off of himself. The Doctor (or at least, the 11th Doctor) can no longer take responsibility for his actions the way the 7th Doctor did.
August 6, 2014 @ 7:15 am
Ordinarily the complete insanity of the Two Streams premise would bug me, but here it doesn't; its Twilight-Zoney creepy eeriness gives it its own aesthetic justification.
August 6, 2014 @ 8:05 am
Indeed… especially since Haynes is technically the first director Moffat "promptly grabbed him for himself", doing that straight flush of five episodes along with "The Reichenbach Fall" (especially since the only other Who director contracted for Sherlock has been Euros Lyn, for the obvious stop-gap episode "The Blind Banker").
August 6, 2014 @ 8:09 am
Yeah… was wondering why part of her forehead was purple. :-/
August 6, 2014 @ 8:14 am
He should've done this on Monday, as good as his wife's post was. I'm frustrated that he's admitted to having a backlog of posts, but he's just piddling them out. 🙁
August 6, 2014 @ 8:33 am
Don't really know where to begin with this one. I think I'll start by pointing out that you're just about flat-out wrong in saying that "Moffat as misogynist" believers avoid this episode–it's an episode in which Amy's emotional life revolves around a man to the point where she's pretty much willing to bend the laws of space and time to be with her husband, and straight up ends with the Doctor telling Rory, "She's your wife, so you should be the one to decide what happens to her." If you're so inclined to do a reading of the series under Moffat as sexist, this is practically Exhibit A for the Prosecution.
Second, I think this is exactly the kind of episode that Tom McRae is capable of. Something that he thinks is fresh and unique and original, but that actually jams every time travel cliche button so hard they break off. Literally within thirty seconds of the start of the episode, I knew every single plot beat simply from extrapolating the most obvious, hoary sci-fi cliche imaginable. "Oh, they're split into two time streams. So the Doctor will show up too late, and Amy will be an embittered warrior woman, because that's what always happens when the hero gets to see the results of a future they didn't stop. But there are good things too, so there's a Moral Dilemma of Do I Have the Right, because that always kills the middle act without having to work too hard. And then the future people are conveniently put out of the way, say like charging the handbots in a final blaze of glory, so that nobody ever has to deal with the consequences of the whole mess and everything gets back to normal." If I was grading this as a short story, it'd get a D-.
And third, even by the standards of reset buttons, this was an amazingly ham-fisted reset button. Rory watched his wife grow old and die because of the Doctor's mistakes…but hey, next week's show is coming along, and the show's not called "Nurse Rory"! Coming as it did right after "Rory and Amy's baby is stolen–but let's go straight to a story about a creepy alien child and have the baby NOT MENTIONED ONCE!", this is the point where it becomes clear that Moffat's commitment to tossing out the "soap opera" angle of Davies' era is coming at the expense of characterization.
In short, this one felt like such an embarrassment to me that I can't even parse all the praise it gets. 🙂
August 6, 2014 @ 8:46 am
Reservoirdogs – Monday. No more Torchwood to do, so next week will be God Complex and Closing Time, with The Wedding of River Song on the 18th. Then we'll have some other stuff to wander through before we get to Season Seven, most of it predictable (the last three Sarah Janes, Sherlock S2) and a few bits surprising (a numbered Outside the Government, two Pop Between Realities, and a pair of guest posts). Which brings us to…
Matthew – I don't have a backlog of posts. I used to, at times, have a two week buffer – I would do a week straight of writing Eruditorum posts (well, six days) and then switch to other projects, and at the apex of the buffer it would run to two weeks. But I've abandoned that workflow for greater flexibility, which also means I rarely have more than a week's buffer here. Indeed, I was still writing this post at 1am last night.
There is an extent to which I am deliberately dragging out the end of Eruditorum. Part of this is that there's a project I want to have done for the end of Eruditorum that I'm kind of frustratingly behind on, part of it is a desire to maintain the site's most popular feature for as long as is feasible, and part of it is that I decided to reduce posting to twice weekly because I was about to go completely mad with thrice weekly and had to.
But I'm not going to ditch side posts, especially not when I think they're interesting, as I think Jill's post was. And given its response, I think I'd have been mad not to run it. I'm no more "piddling them out" here than I was in the late Tom Baker era, in the late Virgin era, or at any other point. I recognize that the episode posts are the big tentpoles of Eruditorum, but it's always been a project with an interest in being thorough, and I'm not going to shortchange the tail end of the project just so I can finish faster.
August 6, 2014 @ 8:48 am
I think the story is pretty adamant that Young Amy is the "primary" Amy, and thus the one whose decision it is. Given that she is unconscious at the time, I view Rory making the decision on how to save her analogous to medical power of attorney.
August 6, 2014 @ 9:01 am
I think Haynes is marvelous, but I don't think he pioneered a new style in the same way that Hurran did. It's not just that Moffat grabbed him for himself, it's that almost every episode in Season Seven feels like it was written in the hopes that Hurran might direct it. And that Hurran was in a real sense promoted – he started directing some mid-season ballast episodes, elevated both of them to season highlights, then got picked as Moffat's go-to, including getting the plum job of the Moffat era with Day of the Doctor. Haynes directed a run of five very good episodes, but for my money, and I'll be making this case in detail, Hurran fundamentally changed how Doctor Who looks and feels. I really do think The God Complex is ultimately as important as Caves of Androzani in terms of announcing "here's a new way to do things." Although to be honest, Harper just made Doctor Who more like a film, whereas Hurran pushed Doctor Who into borderline experimental territory, to the point where I think these days Doctor Who's sense of shot composition and editing is somewhat often more complex and nuanced than a lot of film. Certainly Hurran used 3-D better than almost any film director of the last decade, to the point where I think Day of the Doctor is one of maybe half a dozen films to come up with a bit of storytelling that can only work in 3-D. For my money, the way in which 3-D is used to portray the pictures as uncanny spaces and thus to visually realize the way the TARDIS feels in a way that had never been shown before is on par with the phenomenal "reaching for the scissors" shot in Dial M for Murder in terms of actually justifying stereoscopic film. So yes, Haynes is great, but he's not Hurran, at least for me.
I'd also point out that Reichenbach Fall is (at least on paper) not a Moffat episode, and that the only time Sherlock has gone for a non-Who director other than McGuigan is Jeremy Lovering. Of the five non-mcGuigan episodes, four are directed by Who veterans.
August 6, 2014 @ 9:17 am
Nope, forgot I'd used it. At this point in the project it's nigh-impossible for me to remember which lines I've used. Thankfully in this case I can cheat to solve the problem easily enough, although really, I should just rename Girl in the Fireplace, and probably will for the book. This is by far the better place to use that line.
August 6, 2014 @ 9:54 am
I do want to point out, though, that Nick Hurran wasn't really a film director of much note beforehand; he was a film director, yes, who'd directed minor rom-coms (including the rather unfortunate Little Black Book [which, yes, I've seen]). I can see Moffat reaching for the brass ring of a film director in choosing Hurran, but Hurran wasn't a "name" — so the ironclad direction of his episodes came completely out of left field, least of all for me, although I was expecting some difference with his.
August 6, 2014 @ 9:55 am
I hope you use "I Can't" as a title, at some point (you probably knw why…).
August 6, 2014 @ 9:56 am
Oh, I'm sorry. I apologize; didn't realize you no longer had a buffer. I'm sorry, Phil; that was reall rude of me. 🙁
August 6, 2014 @ 9:59 am
…you are totally and completely wrong, in so many ways I can hardly parse them right now. I'll let either Phil or jane do the talking, but for now, I'll just say I'm astonished. Astonished, and disappointed.
August 6, 2014 @ 9:59 am
It'll have to be jane. I have a personal policy of letting Mr. Seavey stand unopposed. Professional courtesy. 🙂
August 6, 2014 @ 10:00 am
@storiteller – That makes sense in principle, and that's probably the best explanation of that line of thought that I've heard so far (probably because I haven't seen a lot of people actually explain it).
I'm not sure that I agree that Ten's companions don't get the opportunity to have those reactions. Off the top of my head there are Rose's painful losses in Rise of the Cybermen and Doomsday; in Last of the Time Lords, as much as it's about Ten's angst, it's also about the fact that for Martha and Jack leaving the Doctor is unambiguously the right thing for them to do; For Donna, the plot of Journey's End necessitates that she not be able to come to terms with what happened to her, but leading up to that we got lots of examples of her traumas and critiques of the TARDIS life being focused on (Pompeii, the Ood planet). Of course they don't get focused on in that detail every week, but neither do the companions in the Moffat era – the whole point Sandifer makes here is that The Girl Who Waited is a needed corrective to a series where Amy could have easily become marginalized in her own story.
I guess my point is that of course I don't want the companions to be marginalized – I love this episode, love the focus on Amy, and love that the Doctor's role is more off-center this time. However, I think sometimes people swing too far in the other direction and start proclaiming that any angst from the Doctor is inappropriate or out of character or a narrative failing. For me, I like the Doctor and companion being given equal weight in the course of a season, with them occasionally taking turns as to whose "feelings" are being focused on on a given week. Again, none of this needs to be the focus all of the time – the fact that there is such a variety to choose from adds to the richness of the story, so I don't like to see any particular angle or approach discounted.
August 6, 2014 @ 10:14 am
"I knew every single plot beat simply from extrapolating the most obvious, hoary sci-fi cliche imaginable. "Oh, they're split into two time streams. So the Doctor will show up too late, and Amy will be an embittered warrior woman, because that's what always happens when the hero gets to see the results of a future they didn't stop."
I would put this under CS Lewis' theory of "surprisingness" rather than straight surprise. Even if the plot is cliche (and I don't think it is), the focus isn't on the surprise twists of the plot but on the surprisingness of seeing how it all plays out. It's far more interested in examining the characters involved than in trying to keep the audience in suspense. The tone is meditative, rather than exciting. In Lewis' terms, this is why re-readings are enjoyable – we love seeing again how the writer pulled off his tricks and all the details that are easy to miss the first time, rather than reading/watching just for the "thrill" of wondering what's going to happen next. I mean, it's great to keep your audience wondering what will happen next, but I don't think that's the only virtue a story (especially this story) has to offer.
August 6, 2014 @ 10:31 am
I have a few comments on this.
an episode in which Amy's emotional life revolves around a man to the point where she's pretty much willing to bend the laws of space and time to be with her husband
Does this matter? People of both sexes can be like this, so why is someone having a huge emotional connection to their partner problematic in fiction? Give me the choice and I'd bend time and space not to lose my wife, but that wouldn't make a story about such an event in my life misandrist. It's just what a lot of people would do.
literally within thirty seconds of the start of the episode, I knew every single plot beat simply from extrapolating the most obvious, hoary sci-fi cliche imaginable
Firstly, I have to say that this sort of world-weary "oh it was so predictable is not a very appealing way of arguing about the faults of an episode. It comes across as "I, with my superior knowledge, knew exactly how this would pan out before the opening credits, and all you who liked it are morons". And lets face it, that's never going to be an endearing way of getting your point across.
Secondly, and specifically in this case, it ignores the fact that the target audience of Dr Who is not hardened SF fans with decades of reading and viewing experience, it's people who haven't been exposed to 'cliches' before. You wouldn't sit a 12 year old down in front of a Troughton base under siege and then point and laugh at them afterwards for not identifying the trope.
And thirdly, even if if IS a collection of cliches, so what? There's one standard 12 bar blues chord sequence, but a million songs based on it; you can vary the key, the tempo, the lyrics, the arrangement, the riff, the solos, the dynamics. People are coming up with fresh new songs based on the 12 bar blues all the time. So just because the writer hasn't rearranged the bones on which the meat of the story is hung does not in itself make the story boring or predictable or cliched.
August 6, 2014 @ 10:50 am
That's a good point, Callum, and a nice solution too. I've always thought this was one of my favorite endings in all of Doctor Who, classic or new, in part because it does end on such unresolved tension. I think it's brilliant, but I can't deny it does gloss right over the part where the Doctor convinces them this was the best choice (and, in Amy's shoes, I'm not sure I wouldn't agree with him). It's funny that you mention The Silurians; the only other classic series story I can think of offhand that ends on this sort of note is, er, Warriors of the Deep. (Needless to say, this is MUCH better.)
August 6, 2014 @ 10:58 am
All of this is so terrific, jane. As much as I admire this episode, as much as I'd like to see more like it (in terms of art direction as well as story), I rarely think to rewatch it because it's emotionally taxing in a way that other episodes I like rewatching aren't. But between Phil's excellent essay and your excellent comments, I think I need to go back to it and soon.
August 6, 2014 @ 11:06 am
Looking back at his filmography (and I haven't been able to watch his early rom-coms, so I'm mostly taking your word for it, Matthew), it would seem that the unusual scripts and ideas of Doctor Who have given Hurran the opportunity to shine and explore his talents. Perhaps he's someone who Doctor Who itself found to unlock previously unknown potential.
August 6, 2014 @ 11:35 am
@Bennett Aww. You beat me to it.
August 6, 2014 @ 12:34 pm
Jane. I knew you wouldn't disappoint. Bravo!
August 6, 2014 @ 12:39 pm
"between Phil's excellent essay and your excellent comments, I think I need to go back to it and soon."
Quoted for Truth. Great post and great series of comments about a story I already loved. At this point I am just a gushing fanboy of the show, Phil, and Jane…
August 6, 2014 @ 1:17 pm
Everything is misogynistic in one way or another. Best to avoid the issue entirely by not writing about women at all. >_>
August 6, 2014 @ 1:39 pm
What Amy and Rory, and also the viewer, cannot escape is that the Doctor put Amy and Rory's lives on the least horrible of the two courses. He did them a favour. And all they lost was an uncanny version of Amy who they only knew for about a day, who might even fade like a dream, who no-one else will ever know about…They're not Ace having love ripped away. Maybe they'll have a few existentially sleepless nights over it, but they get a far, far easier deal out of letting Old Amy be erased.
The fact they don't leave the TARDIS, rather than contradicting the premise of the series Silurians-style, is a grim, unspoken acknowledgement of that very human inner selfishness and complicity, the willingness to overlook and rationalise. The ugly reality. I think it's brilliant that a TV story would dare do this to the companions – having the Ponds up and leave behind all the adventures at the end (out of some great moral principle that overrides all their real desires) would ruin it.
And if the Ponds gloss over this black hole of moral uncertainty because they want to keep having adventures with their beloved Doctor, the viewers do the same thing by tuning in next week. If they can enjoy the next episode in the knowledge that Old Amy got erased, they're finding some way to rationalise it so that the Doctor, Amy and Rory aren't all abysmal creatures they want nothing to do with. Which is exactly what the Doctor, Amy and Rory are doing. The moral uncertainty stretches out of the screen to include the audience and the very existence of the series.
My franchise experience is far from comprehensive, but the only other story I can presently think of that does anything like this is Creatures of Beauty (albeit in a very different and far more brutal way).
August 6, 2014 @ 1:42 pm
"And then the future people are conveniently put out of the way, say like charging the handbots in a final blaze of glory" Exactly. The main bulk of the plot acquires its tragedy through inevitability–you know that Amy will get stuck, you know the version which involves less make-up time will survive–but rather than the predictable cop-out of Old!Amy sacrificing herself to save Rory and her younger self, it drives straight into the fact that saving both is a lie.
And there are consequences. "After all the time I spent with you"–Rory has mentally already left the TARDIS next episode, only there because Amy, who came out of the episode alive and not stuck in Two Streams for 36 years, is still there. The viewpoint that her faith breaking next episode is unrealistic because it's somehow survived so far doesn't make sense to me; it's a final straw, everything piling up until she's forced to push through the denial.
August 6, 2014 @ 2:39 pm
@Triturus: You are absolutely correct. It wasn't bad because it was a series of cliches, it was bad because it felt like a series of cliches. It felt like McRae felt like he'd worked hard enough coming up with the idea to begin with; it wasn't his job to come up with something new or interesting to say about it. I couldn't bring myself to care about Future Amy because she was so obviously there to die by writerly fiat at the end; it's not a tragedy if you're not emotionally invested in the characters, and writing a time paradox as a way of killing your lead and having them live too completely removes the emotional investment for me. "Bad things don't happen to someone because they never existed" is kind of the same problem I had with 'Journey to the Center of the TARDIS', and it's a real flaw in Moffat's era. Nothing ever has consequences because the Doctor can always pop back and undo it.
@Phil: But then I'll never get the pleasure of arguing with you about things! 🙂
August 6, 2014 @ 3:09 pm
"The Girl Who Waited" didn't feel like a series of cliches to me — either I don't read enough science fiction (entirely possible — I genre-hop a lot) or I felt the specifics of the story (the visuals, the characters, the setting, etc.) overcame any sense of triteness in the basic structure. I can't argue with the way it felt to you, but it didn't feel the same way to me.
That said, I think I'm with you on the problem of emotional investment, not so much in this story (which had to sell me on the idea that the "wrong future" is real enough to matter even if it can be undone, and succeeded at least enough to make me respond emotionally) but in the Moffat era overall. For me, this is one of the few stories that made that work; so many of the others didn't, quite. I think it hinges on the acting; the death of Jenny in "Name of the Doctor" only works at all for me because the actor sells it. But then I'm dissing Arthur Darvill if I say that the various deaths of Rory don't register as emotional events (oh no, a character I like has died!) but as plot mysteries (how will he get out of this one?). Yes, of course no one seriously thinks the Doctor has died in "Impossible Astronaut," but "what clever loophole has Moffat written in?" is just not that compelling an alternative. What I want is for the not-death to change something, to mean something, to cost something, when so frequently it doesn't, so I don't care. I don't want Amy to suffer meaninglessly for the "loss" of River, especially since what we're shown is that it's not a loss; but when people look for that, they're trying to get emotionally invested. The time paradoxes ramp up the challenge, force you to really think your way into the characters' heads and untangle what they must be experiencing vs. what you're experiencing watching it, and sometimes that work disconnects you too much and by the time you've done it you can't really care anymore, just think about why you would have cared if you'd figured all that out in the moment.
This was sort of the opposite. I didn't leap ahead like you did (I didn't figure out The Sixth Sense or The Crying Game either — I'm lucky and dumb that way, I guess) so I got to worry about Amy in the moment — even imagining her living through those years was dismaying — and I genuinely wasn't sure where it would go. Yeah, odds were she was doomed…but then the Doctor's "daughter" lived, and Moffat seems even less concerned about loose ends than RTD. It seemed just conceivable to me that Old Amy could have stayed there, or else blasted off to parts unknown, or even teamed up with River. Again, I might just be credulous. If so, lucky me.
P.S. The redemption of Gallifrey is one of those "pop back and undo it" moments for me. I've read some beautiful arguments about why it's entirely justified and fitting and better than okay, one of them here as I recall, but every time I think about it I still come back to feeling really uneasy about how comic-booky the situation is becoming. Gallifrey can never be threatened again, for example, nor can the Doctor ever appear to die again. Wolf has been cried and those bridges are burned.
August 6, 2014 @ 4:12 pm
That face Matt Smith made at the end of the episode is more Sylvester McCoy than even Sylvester McCoy.
Also… the interesting thing about this episode that nobody ever really seems to mention is that it's probably the second-best "Doctor-lite" episode of the series (after "Blink", of course); yes, it's "Doctor-lite", because it was shot after "The God Complex" (which may be partly why some people feel there's a disconnect between the two; they were shot out-of-order) and double-banked with "Closing Time", so Matt Smith did maybe only five days of work total on "The Girl Who Waited" — the first day of which, unheralded, marked the first appearance of the long green jacket. Since the back-half of Series 6 was shot completely out-of-order, despite chronologically being introduced in "The Girl Who Waited" (albeit as though it has already been set up), it shows up without comment in "Let's Kill Hitler" as seen in airing order.
Always disappointed me that the long green jacket never got the same sort of in–story "set-up" the tweed and purple ensembles did; perhaps it's the stickler in me. Ah, well.
August 6, 2014 @ 6:35 pm
The look of this episode – vast white spaces, rounded machinery, eerie video screens – very much make me think of the science fiction of the early 70s. It's an aesthetic that Kubrick helped promote with both 2001 and Clockwork Orange. To varying extents it was seen in THX-1138, Silent Running, and Logan's Run as well. It faded later in the decade under the combined influence of Star Wars (pulp sci fi illustrations come to life) and Alien (dark, rusty and cramped.) So visually "The Girl" feels like the Doctor and his companions have gone 40 years into the past, but not the past of Doctor Who as it was. The Pertwee and early Baker years mostly had a scruffier look.
Interesting that an upcoming episode also takes visual cues from Kubrick, but a different sort of Kubrick.
August 6, 2014 @ 7:18 pm
I've always felt the central moral dilemma of the episode was a bit weak. Surely Old Amy would just wake up in bed with Rory in New York and, perhaps for a second, feel that she'd jumped a track in time, then hug her aged husband and go back to sleep.
In fact, given the math involved, her daughter could be sleeping down the hall as well. What a wonderful thought…
August 6, 2014 @ 8:47 pm
Brilliant insight, xen trilus – I like the idea that we're as (perhaps horrificly) complicit as the Ponds in moving on from this so easily.
August 6, 2014 @ 8:56 pm
My goodness I was expecting this too, but not looking forward to this except in some morbid fascination way… perhaps some sort of diatribe on how Amy "lacks agency" or something? I could never comfortably put my finger on exactly why.
August 6, 2014 @ 9:05 pm
Once all the books are published there should be an Companion Volume: the best and most insightful comments from the blog to cross-reference with the other books. It'll be 90% Jane, but I won't mind that one bit.
August 6, 2014 @ 9:08 pm
…but the line appeared in both "Flashpoint" and "The Five Doctors", so you're in the clear 😉
August 6, 2014 @ 9:15 pm
And then they would have all danced The Macarena together
August 6, 2014 @ 9:33 pm
The most interesting thing to me about the story is how Old Amy fights for her right to existence despite the possibility of rescuing Young Amy and undoing the tragedy of her time spend on the planet. Imagine that when you were 21 something horrible happened to you that ruined your life. Now, imagine that at the age of 40, you had the chance to undo that horrible something and everything that happened later. Would you do it, knowing that as a result you would cease to exist and be replaced by another version of yourself that you might not even recognize? Or would you cling to your current existence despite a lifetime of unhappiness that could be averted, simply because your life, no matter how shitty, is yours and you don't want to lose it even to yourself? For myself, I can think of a half-dozen decision points in my life that are nowhere near as traumatic as what happened to Amy, points where, had I done something different, I would be such a different person that I can't imagine what I'd be like. And despite that, for at least two of those half-dozen decision points, I would make the change if i could, knowing that it would mean oblivion for my current self, simply because my regret at the road not taken is so great.
August 6, 2014 @ 11:46 pm
Totally with you on the complicity here.
I love this episode but I remember on first viewing being very aware of the issue mentioned by several people below that clearly old Amy, whilst an incredible performance by Gillan (and to be perfectly honest the only time that I ever really bought her as Amy) was only there in the episode to die.
Recognising her as something that would be simply resent at the end of the episode, I wasn't emotionally invested in her until Rory was. Darvill's performance here completely sold it for me and made me aware of how I had been treating her.
It was him who made me aware of my complicity. My assumption had naturally been, as Phil says somewhere in the comments, that clearly young Amy was primary-Amy and so there wasn't any real moral dilemma with stakes here.
Rory changed that for me, and it was him who made me appreciate old Amy as something other than a (beautifully acted) one-episode sci-fi glitch who I would so easily move on from.
Instead he exposed the fact that I'd been complicit in plotting her murder from the moment she arrived on-screen.
From that point it did seem as if maybe the end would go differently – maybe we could have both Amy's after all, or maybe we could lose young-Amy and stick around with old-Amy instead, which I would have loved to have seen.
It was Rory here who made those even fleeting possibilities for me.
August 7, 2014 @ 1:06 am
This is a fault now?
It always has been.
If ludicrous sci-fi that has only one purpose (to create a dilemma for the heroes to solve) is a problem, we're going to loose (sic) an awful lot of speculative fiction trying to fix said problem
If the speculative fiction we lost had any merit that would be unfortunate but as my subjective criterion for them not being good is the reason we are losing them that loss would, in my opinion, be justified.
I suspect the 'problem solving' type stories which people enjoy in the SF genre are a legacy of the hard science, pulp short stories of the Gernsback era where 'solving' the story's premise was considered the sole purpose of the exercise; in the same way that working out 'whodunnit' was the sole purpose of the 'detective' genre. The perception being that the 'Science' bit of the label 'Science Fiction' meant the stories had to behave like empirical experiments whose 'problems' must have provable solutions. This is why Ballard coined the term 'Speculative Fiction' precisely to differentiate New Wave SF from its pulp beginnings.
Doctor Who, as this blog consistantly demonstrates, has far more affinity with 1960s New Wave SF than with the old 'Popular Mechanics' templates. From the beginning, from the swirling video op-art titles of An Unearthly Child its focus has been on the alchemy of imagery and metaphor over hard science. The cinematography,of , the Kubrick visuals and innovative directing style, speaks to this aesthetic rather than the to the empirically analytical.
Which, in this story, is what gives the 'ludicrous Sci- Fi technobabble mise en scene' its power. Here Doctor Who is doing what it does best – crashing into a genre (or two) to see what happens. In this case, interestingly, the genre is a classic hard Science Fiction time travel conundrum set in a 1960s/70s New Wave style Speculative Fiction dreamscape. The 'space' it explores is inner space. The 'solution' it presents, rather than neatly tying up the resolution creates its own moral ambiguities and leaves the viewer feeling complicit and uneasy.
This is why I love this episode.
August 7, 2014 @ 1:12 am
Sorry, the last line of the penultimate paragraph got mangled. It should read.
The cinematography of The Girl Who Waited , the Kubrick visuals and innovative directing style, speaks to this aesthetic rather than to the empirically analytical.
August 7, 2014 @ 2:15 am
I just rewatched the episode for the first time since it aired and I thought exactly the same thing. Here she is effectively saying "I've had 36 years and hated it, but I wouldn't want to miss a minute of it". It feels like a weak rationale for setting up a moral dilemma, in an episode that was already a paper thin set up for the moral dilemma.
August 7, 2014 @ 2:37 am
For something described as an Amy-centric episode, the fact that she's conveniently knocked out and so doesn't actually get to participate in the grand moral dilemma that the whole episode is spent setting up, and which is actually about her, is exactly the kind of faux-empowerment we get so much now. It's a bait and switch that gives a female character all kinds of strength and agency, and then at the climax either completely sidelines her, or turns her into a victim to be rescued. I just watched Despicable Me 2 and the same thing happened.
August 7, 2014 @ 2:45 am
Not wanting to be consigned to oblivion is a weak rationale? Old Amy may have hated the last 36 years of her life, but as far as she was concerned, she still had a future. She mentioned that she'd go travelling, and visit them at Christmases and maybe Easters.
It's not that she didn't ultimately view it as better for Young Amy to take her place, because the ending made it very explicit that she did. It's simply that she didn't want to die. Even if you wouldn't have shared her position, it's not difficult to understand.
August 7, 2014 @ 2:56 am
Jane, do you have a blog please, and if not why not?
August 7, 2014 @ 5:22 am
Amy's been fighting for her life, continuously, for 36 years. That shows a tremendous determination and will to live. At any time, she could have gone to a handbot, given up on her life, and let them euthanize her painlessly. But she fought on, in the hopes of being reunited with Rory and the Doctor.
She's not going to be able to turn off that habit of fighting for her life on a moment's notice. Her survival is a triumph.
It is only once Rory recognizes that triumph, and acknowledges that he loves her, even while old, and that he's willing to let her in to the TARDIS if she chooses, that she is able to let go of that fight to live.
Older-Amy did, in the end, choose to let Younger-Amy leave in the TARDIS, unwriting her life. But that doesn't mean that she considered herself disposable, or that she could bear having Rory think of her as disposable. She needed to know that she was loved in order to let go, because only if she was loved could she be sure that her younger self would be loved as well.
August 7, 2014 @ 5:46 am
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August 7, 2014 @ 6:01 am
@Marionette – You do realise that it's Amy who actually decides how it ends, didn't you? It's kind of a basic part of the episode that there's more than one of her there. The Doctor may see fit to exclude the Amy who is actually conscious from the decision, taking it upon himself/laying it on Rory to represent the interests of the other one and choose between them, but that's not what McRae does at all. Rory is going to open the door, and then Amy overrides his decision, insisting that he not go through with it, and she gets her way.
I also don't think it is primarily about a moral dilemma, which is partly why I don't agree with John Seavey's criticism. It's a tragedy. The point is not so much whether or not there is any real doubt about whether old Amy is going to get wiped, but the fact that it hurts so much. (Which means that this is not a story that can simply be walked through its paces – it can only work if it is really done well, and it is.) The sheer howling desolate unfairness of her situation is that in the end, even she can't deny that scrubbing herself from existence is the least bad outcome all round. Her reward for half a lifetime of endurance and hard-earned survival is to cease to be and in large part to cease to have been, and not only that but when it comes down to it she doesn't even get to fight it, to rail against the injustice of it all and go down kicking and screaming. From a certain point of view, trying to let her live inadvertantly amounts to the cruellest thing Rory could do to her at that moment, because it forces her to make the decision, to be the one who signs her own death warrant. Not even to have the consolation of being able to blame someone else. And she does it, being noble, bowing out gracefully, doing all the stuff she insists she won't do even as she does it, because sometimes life is utterly merciless and being the good one really sucks. And in strict prosaic fact I don't actually cry, but I come pretty close. "Show me home."
And it wouldn't really work if young Amy had been the one faced with the decision, because for all that she wants to help her future self, ultimately for her it would be a matter of choosing a future for herself, and I don't think she could credibly be presented as choosing a miserable one just because she happens to have met the might-have-been version of herself who will suffer through it and not the might-have-been version of herself who won't. From the inside, it's easier to look at it rationally. However sad it made her, she would never go to open that door, and so the other her would never have to stop her. For Rory, looking in from the outside, it's different. For him, they're both people, and however much it might be rationally the right thing to do, killing one of them is beyond him. And so through him we get the painful affirmation of the worth of a human life that can't even be allowed to happen. Common sense, logic, the universe in general and ultimately even herself are against her. Someone should be on her side.
August 7, 2014 @ 7:33 am
She's not going to be able to turn off that habit of fighting for her life on a moment's notice
But she isn't; older Amy and younger Amy, are the same person. She's not 'giving up on life', and she's not being 'consigned to oblivion', and nobody is taking anyone's place, because there is only one person involved here. It's not like it's a choice between two people, only one of whom can survive. Amy, the same Amy, the only Amy, is going to survive whatever.
The only question is whether she is going to survive with the memories of her years in the centre, or without those memories. That's all Amy loses, in the end: not her life (she survives!) but her memories.
And yes they are memories she fought hard for, so it makes sense that she would be attached to them and not just immediately want to give them up, but it's stupid to frame it in terms of anyone giving up, or being obliterated, or dying when what it is really about is memories.
Amy is a single individual, and Amy survives the story. It is in fact (yet) another story where nobody dies. Somebody loses a load of memories as a result of their past being changed, but that's a completely different thing to dying (and is hardly uncommon in modern Doctor Who).
August 7, 2014 @ 9:52 am
i see this as not sexist but leaving choices up to a life partner/wife/husband. I would make that choice for my wife is she was unconscious, and i would expect her to make if for me if the situation was reversed.
@callum – i read it differently, with regards tothe 7th vs the 11th doctor. McCoy's Doctor was ruthlessly manipulative, and only aplogized for it after the fact, but the fact was that he was so sure it was the right thing to do that he made everyone else essentially dance his dance. Smith's Doctor gives a much greater degree of freedom to his companions with regards to their own choices in their own lives. Part of this i think we can chalk up to the nature of fiction in 2014 – the secondary characters are far more well rounded than they were in 1969 – and partly to Moffatt's decision to have The Ponds and River Song essentially get almost equal billing along with the Doctor for two seasons.
August 7, 2014 @ 10:07 am
I definitely see your point here, see above.
August 7, 2014 @ 10:15 am
Rory to the Doctor: You're turning me into you.
Rory to Amy: I'm sorry, I'm so sorry.
I feel that there's something to be observed regarding the constant comparisons made between Rory and the Doctor when The Angels Take Manhattan. I'll save it for that episode's comments, but the short version is that Rory's fate in Angels directly predicts the 11th Doctor's.
August 7, 2014 @ 11:00 am
Alan, SK: excellent comments. I would absolutely let my younger self switch tracks. Particularly if I had the opportunity to first deliver a "look, here are the stupid mistakes you're going to make if you don't listen to me" lecture and the smallest hope that it would be heeded.
How do we feel about what happens here vs. what happens in "Turn Left"? Is there anything interesting we can say about such a comparison?
August 7, 2014 @ 11:10 am
older Amy and younger Amy, are the same person
That's a highly debatable philosophical proposition. Rationally speaking, I'd say it's easier to argue the view that each moment's change, each transition from one irretrievable present to the next, makes you a different person/s and that the notion of a continuous personality is an illusory construction arising from memory, and particularly from our ability to remember the past but not the future/s, than it is to argue the reverse.
But even taking the view that old Amy and young Amy are the same person, because the one arose out of the other, that does not mean that this old Amy and the person young Amy will become if she doesn't get stuck in Two Streams are the same person, and that's what is at stake here. If a person does exist continuously over time then they do so as a process; change the process and you have a different person.
Somebody loses a load of memories as a result of their past being changed
Going by this post, you seem from this to regard memory as something like a browser history – an inert record of past activity that can be looked at from time to time but doesn't really have much to do with the person doing the looking. But it's mostly our current state of memory that makes us who we are at any given moment, or more precisely it's the accumulated effects of experiences which have reconfigured us, whether we retain an informational record of them or have been modified by them in other ways. Prevent the experiences from happening and the person produced by them ceases to be.
There would still be an Amy Pond, but that's not at all the same thing as there being the same person as Two Streams Amy Pond. Think of it in parallel universe terms (like most long-running sci-fi series, Doctor Who cheerfully switches back and forth between the idea of a single reality that can be changed by time travel and the idea of a branching infiinity of alternative realities). Suppose the Brigade Commander from Inferno had managed to hitch a ride with the Doctor on his way home, and to send the Brigadier back to his own universe to perish on the combusting Earth. Given that there would still be an Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart, would that mean that Brigadier wasn't dead, had not been replaced, but had merely "lost a load of memories"? It's effectively the same thing.
August 7, 2014 @ 11:18 am
Aylwin put it best.
SK and Jarl's position seems to stem out of the narrative logic of stories such as A Christmas Carol and Continuity Errors, which are perhaps the philosophically sanitised version of having one's past changed, that let us gloss over the problem of the person being overwritten (Carol even goes as far as to let Kazran have two sets of memories). In both of those it's just a case of one person sitting in place and having their memories altered, and everything's dandy.
But Old Amy outright says that unwriting the 36 years means that she "will die". She "will cease to exist". She "doesn't want to die". Her words. This is McRae setting out the logic of this story, which is not the same as that above. The emotional thrust of TGWW would become substantially less effective if she was just going to wake up in New York (or, since TATM hasn't aired yet at this point, "wherever") in bed with Old Rory, after some pleasant ethereal transference of the consciousness across time and space. Applying the Carol/Errors view to this story is not what you're supposed to be doing, and doing so is a waste of time akin to wondering where all the flying time bats are or why Kazran's self-reconciliation wasn't interrupted by a massive Blinovitch explosion.
August 7, 2014 @ 12:48 pm
Agreed. And this episode is standout brilliant within a lot of the entire new series.
There is the other worrying implication – though I can't be certain of it, not having watched the episode some or aired – that Rory might not choose to tell Amy. Thus leaving him complicit and Amy a victim in the Doctor's petits price paternalism. That's even darker though, and personally I can't see Rory making that decision.
However, when we come to the next episode and it seems that for some reason Amy needs to be taught the overt lesson by the Doctor that she can't rely on him to always solve her problems….
I know that my wife and I found the God Complex pointlessly repetitive firm a series theme perspective. Why would she even consider that she ought to rely on the Doctor, after the events of the previous (this) episode?
Yes. Can we please agree to reverse the order of these episodes? I like Callum's version much better.
August 7, 2014 @ 2:22 pm
Why would she even consider that she ought to rely on the Doctor, after the events of the previous (this) episode?
You might indeed ask why she considers that she ought to rely on him after the events of "The Eleventh Hour."
The answer might involve having grown up with him as her imaginary friend, with all the complicated feelings that entailed. Even if he didn't come back when he said he would, you don't get through four therapists who can't make you stop insisting he's real without a pretty tenacious attitude toward him. And when he gets you through scrape after scrape after scrape, including the collapse of the universe and the invasion of your home planet by at least one alien race and one native race, you're probably willing to grant him one free pass. He probably doesn't even need it in this case, considering that the Amy who goes with the Doctor and Rory to the spooky hotel has no memory of having waited 36 years for the Doctor. She's just met the strange unfamiliar older version of herself that does.
And why does she? Because, 36 years prior, she fell behind, having forgotten her cell phone, and pressed the wrong button. Because her husband didn't realize he needed to be specific.
This isn't a situation the Doctor is really to blame for, except insofar as he could have maybe tried harder to protect everyone from the dangers of the universe even he didn't know were there. He forces everyone to face a hard but inevitable choice at the end; that's it. That's actually a pretty rock-steady thing to do.
Given that, maybe the question is why was it so easy for her to break that faith.
August 7, 2014 @ 3:21 pm
But it's mostly our current state of memory that makes us who we are at any given moment, or more precisely it's the accumulated effects of experiences which have reconfigured us, whether we retain an informational record of them or have been modified by them in other ways
Well that's obviously bollocks, because a week ago I hadn't had the accumulated experiences of this week, but I was the same person as I am today (and if that were not the case then there would be no such thing as death, because the person who died would not be the same person they were the instant before they died because they hadn't had the experiences of that instant, hence the whole idea of death or obliteration would have no meaning for the story anyway).
So for the idea that 'Amy can die' to be meaningful there must be some essential 'Amy-ness' that connects Amy-now and Amy-one-millisecond-from-now such that the ceasing-to-exist of the latter is relevant to the former. If they in fact are completely different people, then in fact we are all, constantly, dying, as we gain new experiences and become different people; in which case death is not a big deal and why does either Amy care so much about it? They will cease to be in a moment anyway in fact, they have already ceased to be a million times in the time it took to write this sentence.
But Old Amy outright says that unwriting the 36 years means that she "will die". She "will cease to exist". She "doesn't want to die". Her words. This is McRae setting out the logic of this story, which is not the same as that above.
True, but it is worth pointing out when the logic of a story contradicts the entire universe. This isn't, for example, a case of an author getting the rules of a game wrong so we accept that if the character can get X points then they can progress to the next round even though in reality that would be impossible. Or even a case of an author getting the laws of physics wrong, so we accept that such-and-such is true for the sake of the story.
No, this is a case of being fundamentally mistaken about the core nature of human existence — that I am the the same person I was last week, and that I would be the same person even had the events of last week happened differently — and, as such, it rather weakens the story, especially when the story involves the question of whether it is right to change the (relative) past.
August 7, 2014 @ 5:12 pm
Well I just have to chime in here.
(Caveat: third glass of wine (Pinot Noir (DeLoach)))
Point One: Does Amy get to make her own choice, based on her own values? I'm not in the business of judging the values of other women — which is to say, that Amy's choice is based on her consideration of Rory (or any other human being) does not indicate a misogynistic bent one way or the other. A misogynistic bent would hate on Amy for making a choice that's rooted in her womanhood. A sexist bent would prescribe a certain set of choices over others, based on her womanhood. Taking away those choices altogether is likewise problematic. But as others have noted, Amy is actually the one who's making the choice.
And, notably, both Amys choose the same way, in the end. Young Amy is making a choice by convincing her older self to re-evaluate her values, and of course Young Amy doesn't want to spend 36 years living alone becoming embittered and disconnected from the people she loves. She's absolutely choosing a particular future for herself when she tells Older Amy to think outside of herself and consider her impact on other people — this is, at the heart of the story, the true morality play, the true moral dilemma.
And the thing is, there's no truly right way way to answer it — it's very contextual, depending on the nature of one's relationships. Sometimes it's absolutely the right choice to forego a certain future upon consideration of others, and other times it's absolutely the right choice to grab that future regardless of how it will impact others. So the heart of the moral choice isn't picking the "right way" so much as it is picking the "right process" — consideration for others being a part of the process.
The choice is emotionally driven, not out of some "logic" or "rationale." And in both cases, it's Amy's choice. Young Amy makes a choice to influence Older Amy to reconsider her position; Older Amy wrests Rory's choice away from him, and importantly, she does it without choice, but through an "emotional" argument.
And, of course, it's a mistake to conflate the Doctor's choices with the show's choices, or the writer's.
August 7, 2014 @ 5:35 pm
Secondly, it's a rather glaring mistake to assume that you think you can glean MacRae's reaction to his own writing. You assume that MacRae thinks it's "fresh and unique and original" but this is an attempt to subsume the authorial voice. It's ultimately a pointless critique — you can see that it "isn't" any of those things, and be perfectly in the clear, but to position the argument as a refutation of what MacRae "thinks" as someone critiquing his own work is pretty much worthless as a critique in of itself. It's a critique more concerned with the perceived social standing of the author than it is a critique concerned with the art that's been produced, good or ill.
As a critique, this line of thinking says more of the critic (and at that it doesn't speak well) than it does of the work itself. It would surely need a great deal of bolstering (including to references outside the work) just to have any kind of critical standing, and even then it's a weak line of critique. As it is, it's completely in the realm of projection, and scarcely deserves the mention I've given it.
Furthermore, as others have noted, to approach the story as a series of "plot points" as opposed to emotional textures is to fundamentally mis-read the story. The story is ultimately concerned with the emotional reactions of the characters, not with the mechanics of plot.
And this is born out of the directorial choices Hurran employs. For example, the scene where Older Amy dispatches the Handbots so Rory and Younger Amy can escape. On the surface it's a rather ludicrous scene — the Handbots are slower than Romero Zombies, they're predictable, and they're, well, not unarmed exactly, but not exactly packing much in the way of weaponry. They're glorified nurses. They're stupid, and the narrative goes out of its way to highlight their stupidity — they fail to recognize statements of truth that beyond the bounds of their understanding, on multiple occasions: "Statment… rejected," they say.
So when Hurran employs every trick in the book to depict Older Amy's vanquishing of these foes in a heroic way, it's ultimately to serve Older Amy's emotional reality, which is rooted in her selflessness toward covering the backs of other people rather than herself.
What's truly surprising, though, is how the story plays against the "heroic moment" by shutting the ostensible "hero" out of her reward. This is squarely against the Campbellian Journey, which would have Older Amy escaping Two Streams with her Boon to bestow on humanity, that she could become a Master of Two Worlds through her acquired wisdom. And this doesn't happen. Rather, it depicts heroism with its proper ambiguity — yes, you'll be helping others, but you'll be paying a heavy price that cuts to the fibre of your very being, and indeed cuts out the very fibre of your being. Older Amy's heroism ultimately earns her nothing but death, and not even death, but non-existence in terms of the story.
Nor is Older Amy's death "convenient." Not to the emotional reality of Rory, who suffers through it. Who will have to explain to Younger Amy what happened — note that Amy's first question upon waking after the aftermath is to ask, "Where is she?" And from the last shot of the disturbed Doctor walking away, it's clear that he's not exactly comfortable with what's happened, either; indeed, the self-hatred he seems to harbor ends up informing a large swath of the upcoming arc.
Which leads me to the third point.
August 7, 2014 @ 5:56 pm
The third point being, of course this story plays into the overall arc of the season, and indeed into the very storyline that so many people thought got short shrift — namely, the emotional fallout for Amy and Rory after the loss of their child.
It's hardly short shrift at all, because The Girl Who Waited is a perfect exploration of the emotional consequences of their desire to rescue Melody from her fate. It's a way to explore those consequences without damaging Melody herself.
And that's because The Girl Who Waited is in so many ways a metaphor for River Song. River, who is technologically adept. River, who has to wait over and over again for the Doctor to show up in life. River, who understands the implications of time travel.
River, who as an older woman with a certain set of experiences that makes her who she is, is directly analogized by Older Amy. Older Amy is a metaphor for River — indeed, the whole nomenclature of Two Streams points to River. But here we see what would happen if Amy and Rory actually rescued their baby from the Silence: they would lose River. And as the episode strives to depict, that loss would be devastating.
Especially since, as we know (but Amy and Rory don't), from the audience superior position of having seen The Library, that River has already chosen to accept her years of solitude from the people who love her. Time can be rewritten, but "not those times. Not one line. Don't you dare," River said.
And as I said before, either choice is defensible, to accept one's suffering and not rewrite one line, or to change it all. River in the Library has made her choice, with full understanding of the consequences, and as a feminist and a human being I have to honor it. I have to honor her experience above my own "rational" considerations. So does the Doctor, and so, ultimately, do Amy and Rory.
Which is what makes The Girl Who Waited so effective — because it provides catharsis for their own repressed desires, and for the desires of those in the audience who can't accept River's choice not to be rewritten, because they can't accept a parent letting any kind of suffering befall their offspring, despite the absolute fact that everyone will suffer.
Better to suffer the suffering we know we can accept, through our own personal experience of having suffered it, I say.
Anyways, The Girl Who Waited (and really the whole of Series Six) ends up exploring something that is pretty common to the human experience, but in a way that's honest to that experience: namely, how the experience of repressing our traumas. Repressed traumas aren't spoken of. They are buried. And because they are buried, they emerge only in unspoken ways, in ways that force us to confront those emotions but at an angle — in a way that's sideways.
To depict repression dramatically, therefore, one can't go at it headlong — because then the repression isn't depicted as repressed. Artistically speaking, the most honest way to depict repression is through metaphor. And sure, it's frustrating for literalists, and for authoritarians who want canonical expressions of inner truths, but repression in itself frustrates, and is a frustrating experience.
(And all this, without even even getting to how The Girl Who Waited is aesthetically connected to the rest of Series Six, and indeed the Moffat ear.)
No, the idea that the immediate text has to be mentioned outright (the baby!) as opposed to being left for interpretation in the subtext, that's what's truly… embarrassing.
August 7, 2014 @ 6:04 pm
"…a week ago I hadn't had the accumulated experiences of this week, but I was the same person as I am today (and if that were not the case then there would be no such thing as death, because the person who died would not be the same person they were the instant before they died because they hadn't had the experiences of that instant, hence the whole idea of death or obliteration would have no meaning…"
The Tralfmadorians have an entire philosophy and way of life built on the premise that death is ultimately a joke, an illusion, at least from the subjective point of view.
And despite their fictionality, they might have a point. Death, it is assumed most pessimistically, is the gateway to nothingness. But does nothingness really exist? It's certainly considered the antithesis of "existence," but can the antithesis of existence even exist in the first place?
And then we must consider the supposed state of nothing in relationship to the rest of the Universe. Thinking back to the causal existence of the Universe (and/or God/Goddess/whatever) we come to a fundamental conundrum: either everything has always existed, in infinite perpetuity, in which case there never was a "nothing" to begin with, or we must accept the fact that "something" (be it the Universe and/or Deity) came from nothing — in which case "nothingness" is in fact so tremendously creative it can spawn universes and divinity all in one go.
So really, there's nothing to fear from death, because it's either an illusion, or the gateway to something wonderful.
August 7, 2014 @ 11:17 pm
"This is the episode to show to critics of Gillan's acting skill. If you'll allow the drama teacher in me a moment, she gives a masterclass in physicality, character building and through line work that is pure Stanislavski.
Hurran's direction is superb. Innovative and tension building. I'd also lavish some praise on the production design too. Classy and stylisly clinical in an almost retro -futurist nod to Tarkovsky and Kubrick but also reminiscent of many Hartnell/Troughton era Doctor Who sets."
This also is a large part of why I love this episode and yes the genre clash that results in real character impact and moral dilemmas either way.
August 8, 2014 @ 12:08 am
"I really do think The God Complex is ultimately as important as Caves of Androzani in terms of announcing "here's a new way to do things." Although to be honest, Harper just made Doctor Who more like a film, whereas Hurran pushed Doctor Who into borderline experimental territory"
Oh golly I love this stretch of episodes! Nick Hurran's work blew me away to the point where I felt that this and the next were the best two episodes of Who I had witnessed. Stories that touch on the possible effects and consequences of the Tardis life, told with an incredible flair that met each tale's own alchemy and got to the heart of visually portraying the beauty, disassociation, otherworldliness and visceral experience of the worlds we were led into. For me the world of Doctor Who changed here too.
All I can do is gush as I am just back from running 3 straight weeks of outdoor activities for kids – tired and happy to read the new essays and comments!
August 8, 2014 @ 12:18 am
Yes jane and that was also the problem with Miracle Day, the fact that it fetishised our fears. In Jack Torchwood has always it seems been obsessed by the 'nothingness' of death, so maybe that's why they kept on running the other way.
As you say death is a gateway, a door and perhaps aspects of our world have a lot to do to before they can accept this – as shown by the last two stories/essays. Thanks for your comments as ever, good reading after a busy time. I may not always get time to comment but I feel very much in accord with your way of expressing/understanding symbology.
August 8, 2014 @ 1:22 am
“And sure, it's frustrating for literalists, and for authoritarians who want canonical expressions of inner truths, but repression in itself frustrates, and is a frustrating experience. […] No, the idea that the immediate text has to be mentioned outright (the baby!) as opposed to being left for interpretation in the subtext, that's what's truly… embarrassing”.
Thank you for these comments, Jane. The parallel between River and Older Amy is absolutely what the episode was aiming for. As Phil said in his A Good Man Goes to War and sexism posts, what do people really want to see? Explicit suffering & trauma? Amy and Rory’s emotional journey is absolutely there but it’s sublimated into metaphor to allow the show to continue telling other interesting stories, and to allow those emotions to be explored in a grown-up, natural way rather than raising them only to force upon them a pat conclusion 45 minutes later.
It really is depressing how literal TV viewers and Who fans in particular seem to be. I was reading the comments on the Den of Geek spoiler-free Deep Breath review and the amount of people still complaining about Moffat’s “unexplained plotholes” that have been explained is truly staggering. There’s a literalist there who’s seriously suggesting that if only there had been an extra 5 minutes of running time The Eleventh Hour would have had a duck pond explanation scene.
August 8, 2014 @ 4:44 am
Okay, a few more bits of praise for what Hurran does with this story.
For example, in the teaser we get introduced to the Looking Glass. Hurran does a masterful job of using it as an uncanny window into another space. Uncanny, because the perspective through the glass into the space on the other side is impeccable, but the images within are all distorted in some way: figures in the background become blurred, closeups are wide-angled, time is chopped up, and so are the people by the brass boundary of the glass itself.
And when we finally focus on Amy in the Red Waterfall after a few seconds have passed — which is a week for her — we get a pair of very interesting shots: She is crouching under the Red Waterfall symbol, in the lower right-hand corner of the shot's frame, at 90 degrees to the camera. She's been made small, and as far from the center as possible. After a quick cut back to the Doctor and Rory, we get another version of this Red Waterfall shot, only this one has time head-on, and in the lower left-hand corner of the frame. "And where have you been?" she asks, looking straight at the camera. At us.
This kind of direction communicates so much more than plot. The framing of Amy indicates her emotional state — how she feels after a week of abandonment, and of course being "small" harkens back to her childhood issues. Positioning her under the red logo reinforces the episode's symbolism. Finally, having her speak to the camera suggests that we, the audience, are complicit in her fate.
August 8, 2014 @ 4:58 am
Another thing Hurran picks up on is some of the overall aesthetic choices that make Series Six and indeed Moffat's run distinct in its own right.
Of course there are all the mirror-shots. The show is filthy with mirror shots, reflections, visual twinnings and the like, and both here and in The God Complex this aesthetic comes to the forefront. (Indeed, it becomes explicit in TGC when the Doctor constructs a labyrinth of mirrors in the beauty parlor.)
Other choices are more subtle. Amy hiding from the Handbots in the "steam vent thingy" in the basement, for example, shows her standing behind a square lattice, directly evoking the visuals of the Tesselector, which was also used as a metaphor for Amy's repressed emotions; all the little boxes, of course, are another recurring motif in the series.
But the most devastating choice, I think, is gestural. In The Impossible Astronaut and The Almost People, we start getting Smith and Gillan using a particular gesture to signify the relationship of the Doctor and Amy: placing the palm of the hand below the other's cheek. It's warm, familiar, intimate — but it's also rife with danger. In The Impossible Astronaut, it's the Doctor's signal that he trusts Amy's invocation of Fish Custard, which tears Amy up, because she's withholding the Doctor's death from him. In The Almost People, the gesture is a precursor to the Doctor's melting of Amy's flesh avatar.
And this is exactly the gesture used by the Handbots to anesthetize Rory, Younger Amy, and finally Older Amy.
And which is perfectly realized in Time of the Doctor, and his final vision of Amy before she says goodnight.
August 8, 2014 @ 6:39 am
To me, if anyone in the universe understands Old Amy's dilemma, it's The Doctor. Even though he does keep his memories (unlike Old Amy), it's been made clear that every regeneration something very personal and very unique dies. The 10th Doctor was a bit dramatic about it, but there's no question that regeneration is always a very traumatic process that involves a complete rebuilding of identity. And like Old Amy giving up herself for the potential for a different life, The Doctor has had to make that choice over and over again to save others.
Which makes me think The Doctor is being a bit demeaning to Old Amy by giving Rory the choice, but not out of sexism. Rather, he doesn't want her to have to suffer the way he has when he has had to make the same choice. But Old Amy very purposefully indicates, "No. This is my choice to make."
August 8, 2014 @ 10:54 am
@Ombund: I really think Moffat brings much of that on himself, though. When you go around telling people, "Every tiny detail is significant and everything will be explained," then that just begs nitpickers to come along and point out things you got wrong or missed. Obviously, the duck pond is significant, but the end point of being told repeatedly to note down things that seem unimportant at the time because they'll take on later significance is to wind up in a rubber room screaming, "What about the ducks??!?!!?" 🙂
@Jane: Sorry, I'm not buying it as subtext. It's too big to be dealt with subtextually. Rory just watched the Doctor kill his wife. That is kind of a breaking point in any meaningful relationship. 🙂 The Doctor needed to be explicitly and textually called to account for his actions, because they aren't the kind of thing you can just let go. Either they're important, in which case Rory's actions after that don't make any goddamn sense because apparently he just continues to hang out with the irresponsible guy who killed his wife, or it's not, in which case why did I spend a solid hour watching an episode whose whole purpose is to build up to the death of Future Amy?
If they were going to do this episode, they shouldn't have ended it with a reset button. I'm of the opinion that it wasn't good enough to justify the consequences (realistically speaking, this should have been the last Rory and Amy story), but if you're going to do it, you stick to your guns and play it out. Not doing that revealed this for the hollow sham it was.
August 8, 2014 @ 2:28 pm
"After all the time I spent with you on the TARDIS—"
What reset button?
August 8, 2014 @ 10:37 pm
Young Amy doesn't want to spend 36 years living alone becoming embittered and disconnected from the people she loves. And suddenly, I notice the parallel to the Christmas Carol episode, in which the thing that finally gets through to the embittered old character is the prospect of being judged by his younger self.
August 10, 2014 @ 1:48 am
Well that's obviously bollocks, because a week ago I hadn't had the accumulated experiences of this week, but I was the same person
Similar, not identical. Different assorment of matter arranged in a different pattern and generating a different subjective reality. Therefore not in any straightforward or unambiguous sense the same. We're verging on the venerable philosophical conundrum known to the ancient Greeks as Trigger's Broom, after the memorable Aristophanean sitcom character.
and if that were not the case then there would be no such thing as death, because the person who died would not be the same person they were the instant before they died because they hadn't had the experiences of that instant, hence the whole idea of death or obliteration would have no meaning for the story anyway
Oh, indeed. Funnily enough, I made the same point myself, the last time this sort of question came up around here. I did not mean to imply that this was a seriously pertinent issue regarding this episode, though I may not have been terribly clear about that distinction. But since you were talking in terms of metaphysical absolutes and underpinning your remarks by asserting highly disputable and widely disputed philosophical opinions as self-evident and incontestable truths, it seemed to be worth pointing out in passing that it's not actually that simple. Still, that's a side issue.
As I said, the key point (and one which you have noticeably avoided confronting) is not the relationship between this old Amy and young Amy but that between this old Amy and the old Amy resulting from young Amy avoiding this sequence of events. I repeat: if we have an ongoing existence it is that of a process, a continuous flow. The alternative Amy who follows from this episode does not flow on from this episode's old Amy. She is not a continuation of her, therefore she is plainly not the same person. This old Amy ceases to be.
If you start declaring that they are the same person just because they arise out of the same person, you start putting yourself into some very wierd positions. By that logic pairs of identical twins, who start out as the same individual entity but diverge from one another, and who are of course very similar in all sorts of ways, are one and the same person.
"I would be the same person even had the events of last week happened differently" is not "the core nature of human existence". It's your personal interpretation, one that an awful lot of people would disagree with and would have very strong grounds for doing so. The fact that the writer of this episode presents as one of them is not a weakness of any kind.
August 10, 2014 @ 2:41 am
And we were agreeing so well for two and a bit posts! Ah well.
We disagreed about the handling of the wider story in a previous discussion, so presumably I fall within the ambit of your Olympian pejoratives. I shall labour to support the burden stoically.
I won't go back over all that again, but I will say that I have problems with the idea that this is catharsis for the characters. The audience has the option of viewing a story like this primarily in symbolic terms, but for the characters it's not a metaphor or an allegory or a commentary on anything, it's another real and distressing thing that happens to them. They look along the beam, not across it. If they recognise a likeness between this and their other trauma, I suspect it would more likely be received as a cruel irony rather than a valuable learning experience that helps them grow as people.
It may well be that there are people for whom, say, a major part of the experience of watching a friend die young could be that it helps them work through their unresolved feelings about watching a sibling do the same. But my hunch is that that would not be a very common response, and as such it seems a questionable thing to impute to characters without direct evidence from the text.
There is also a specific objection to do with Amy's (though not Rory's) actual response to this comparable situation. Because her decision in this case is actually to rewrite things, the opposite of the course of action to which she is, on this reading, supposedly being reconciled. That leaves wide open the possibility that the experience makes no serious change to her attitude to the case of River.
If her response had been "Even though this is my own life I won't change it because of what would be lost", that would rather rule out the possibility of her continuing to hanker after rewriting River's life. But what she actually does is perfectly compatible with "If only it were my life, and so up to me, I would change it, but it's hers, so it isn't, so I can't – but I still kind of wish I could". It can be hypothesised that the pain involved nonetheless changes her attitude to River's case in some fundamental way, but I see no actual evidence of that.
Also, I have entirely unreasonable and rationally indefensible grounds for reluctance to see this story primarily as a reflection on the larger one, however much the structural hierarchy might mandate that. For one thing, I find it so much more effective and affecting than the back end of the arc story that it feels like a kind of inversion to give it a subsidiary significance. For another, it just seems like adding insult to injury where old Amy is concerned, a kind of indignity. It's not enough that she has to get the utterly comprehensively raw deal inflicted on her here, but to top it off it turns out that it isn't even really her story at all, it's just an adjunct to somebody else's – and, to make matters even worse, someone who does get to keep her life, and, just in case any more rubbing in were possible, to have a happy one. What, as they say, do you want from her? Blood?
August 10, 2014 @ 4:57 am
Yes, the catharsis here regarding Melody Pond is primarily for the audience. I distinctly remember how many people were clamoring for the Doctor and the Ponds to go rescue Melody, without consideration for what would happen to River Song. Now, of course some won't get any catharsis from this story, and the catharsis available to the characters I would agree is debatable. Regardless of any catharsis involved, however, this story is a great metaphor for what would happen if that desire to save Melody was indulged.
And in that respect, I do think there's something gained by the characters that's cathartic regarding their loss of Melody — and granted, "cathartic" might not be the right word; I'm not a psychologist by training, so perhaps there's a better word and/or concept for it and I just don't know what it is.
Amy and Rory have already chosen to let Melody go, to have River in their lives as she is, which means they've had to repress their desire to save their baby. They didn't indulge that powerful parental desire. Here, though, Rory (at least) gets to indulge it, with Younger Amy serving as a proxy or surrogate for Melody and Older Amy standing in for River. So Rory's "catharsis" is in actually being able to do what he wants but can't let himself do — not in the subsequent trauma that results.
And Rory doesn't have to even be aware of the likeness between this situation and the one with his child for this psychological process to play out. Given that we're dealing with repressed emotions, he likely isn't. In which case, the trauma of losing Older Amy will serve to keep in check any desire to save Baby Melody he might harbor.
Amy's process is necessarily different, being that she's the surrogate for Melody/River. She gets to empathize with her daughter's experience, and both sides of the experience at that. Rory is her proxy for playing out the parental emotions. And yes, Amy would make a different choice than her daughter did, and likely still wishes she could go back and save her daughter. That her position hasn't changed isn't the point, though: the point is that she got the opportunity to play it out as she would have had it played out, to play out the scenario that is otherwise verboten.
And that last line of the episode speaks to Amy's inner conflict: "Where is she?" she asks, which means that Amy wants both, wants both her daughter back and the River Song she knows.
Of course, as you say, the story functions perfectly well on its own, regardless of the structural congruence that lends it to a metaphorical reading. To be clear, I'm not saying it's primarily metaphorical. But I do think anyone who says it doesn't serve the larger arc of the season has to be willfully ignoring the obvious metaphorical coherence of the story. To cast away the metaphor would be, well, like pretending that Older Amy never existed in the first place.
August 10, 2014 @ 7:59 pm
Yeah encyclops – but that's why I said we found it repetitive from a "series theme perspective". I get it from her character's perspective, but as a viewer it felt like we were getting the exact same theme as this one revisited the following week.
Although that might not have come through amongst all my hastily phone-typed and auto-corrected thoughts.
Anyway, we both agree with Callum's concept of reversing the episodes.
August 11, 2014 @ 1:05 am
Did anyone see her in "A Touch of Cloth III"? There was some review criticism of the actress being wasted (not in the drugs sense) and to a certain extent I can see what they mean. Although the character she is playing (Kerry Newblood) is specifically designed to be little more than a one-dimensional comedy cypher, it is telling that she has gone from a major hollywood movie to a very underplayed bit-part. I'm not sure if she's in the programme specifically to riff off of her Amy Pond character, or whether he acting chops are as limited as they seem to appear (which considering The Girl Who Waited can't be the case). It may well be simply that, like so many ex-Who actors, she is finding it difficult to escape her type-casting.
August 11, 2014 @ 8:39 am
The reset button of, "Oh, but the Amy who died wasn't the real Amy, so everyone forgives and forgets the whole mess by the start of the next episode." It makes it pretty clear that for an episode that was supposed to be about how momentous and tragic the death of Future Amy was, it wasn't actually supposed to be momentous and tragic enough for anyone involved to care about a week later.
And if they don't care, why should we?
August 11, 2014 @ 10:58 pm
@ John – I don't think anyone does forgive and forget. Rory has had enough and pretty much says it outright and is looking for the exit so strongly it's shown to him. Amy appears deeply distressed and the Doctor drops Amy and Rory back down on earth to not travel with him anymore, believing he is too dangerous. The God Complex is about the consequences and dangers of travelling with the Doctor for me.
September 15, 2014 @ 11:05 am
Wow. That was outstanding.