In the tenth episode of the sixth series of Doctor Who, the Doctor attempts to take Rory and Amy to the planet of Apalapucia, but is unaware that a virus has taken over the planet. When Amy is separated from the group, all three characters are faced with a painful decision when it becomes clear that Amy can’t be saved in any normal way. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Doctor Who.
When Matt Smith said that the sixth series would explore more of the Doctor’s darker side, he really wasn’t lying. This might be one of the bleakest episodes of Doctor Who and SURPRISE I LIKED IT A WHOLE LOT. Who would have guessed????? In all seriousness, there’s so much that I do love about the way this was written, despite that it had to have been uncomfortable to pull off.
“The Girl Who Waited” is not about the Doctor, and first of all, I love that Tom MacRae did not make him the focal point of the story. This story would not have worked if it had not been about the girl who waited (AGAIN) to be saved, and about Rory’s heartbreaking choice. On top of that, the story doesn’t ignore that Amy’s choice is just as valid, and we are also not given a cop-out ending regarding the existence of two of the same story. The choice is made, and Rory, the Doctor, and Future Amy cannot avoid the consequences of that choice.
The anesthetic cleanliness of the Two Streams facility is deceptive at first. It’s one of the strangest sets we’ve seen because it’s technically on another planet, but we never see that planet. Combining a freakishly sterile hospital with an airport, the place is made all the more creepy by its pervasive vacancy. It’s not even until later that we even see any other life forms here aside from the Handbots. Has the whole planet been annihilated by the plague that affects beings with two hearts? Are we seeing the remnants of a facility that merely continues on out of habit, overreacting to any life form that appears inside its walls?
It’s not long before Amy is separated, and it’s not long after that that the horrifying reality of this place is made clear to us: Amy’s time stream is moving faster than the Doctor’s and Rory’s. There seems to be an endless parade of meanings for this place, and this is one of them: the Two Streams facility allows you to spend a day with a loved one who is dying, and it can “accelerate” that death out of kindness. And that’s the word that appears over and over again, not just from the Handbots, but from the larger forces at work here in “The Girl Who Waited.” Who operates out of kindness in this story? Is the Doctor acting out of kindness when he forces Rory to choose Future Amy or Present Amy? Is Rory acting out of kindness when he chooses them both? Has Future Amy abandoned the entire concept of kindness after spending thirty-six years in this place by herself?
I still can’t fathom that, and it gets even worse when you consider that Amy has waited for the Doctor before: Amy was stuck in solitary confinement for thirty-six years. Rory discovers this when he returns to rescue his wife, adorning a set of glasses he should never take off because they truly do make him goddamn handsome, while the Doctor stays behind in the TARDIS to avoid the Chen7 virus that might infect him. He doesn’t rescue Amy, though; she rescues him, and we see how she’s aged, building a uniform of sorts out of pieces of destroyed Handbots. Sure, she’s got makeup to age her beyond her current age, but let’s just state it plainly: Karen Gillan sells this through her acting alone. From her dismissive and rigid body language, to her inflection, to the way she refuses to look in Rory’s eyes for the bulk of the episode, Karen gives us a performance of a woman who has lost hope, who has given up on waiting for anyone to save her, who only rarely thinks of the days of her husband and the TARDIS, and when she does, she is filled with an unending rage for the Doctor who made her the girl who waited–again.
And let me just trot this opinion out there, because I’ve seen it pop up a few times online since the episode aired: Amy waiting is IN NO WAY THE SAME as Rory waiting. And I am so happy Rory did not bring it up once, or hint to it, because there’s probably not many ways to do that without it seeming tacking. Rory chose to wait, Rory can’t really remember it, and Rory chose to wait. Amy has been trapped against her will for nearly four decades, forced to fight off an unending supply of robots, initially understanding that someone will come get her, and then gradually losing that sensation, submitting herself to an all-encompassing nihilism.
If anything, the only thing I’m comfortable with when comparing the two comes at the end of this, but we’ll get there in s second. What’s important about the existence of the Future Amy is how I began to assume that we’d see an end similar to “The Almost People,” or perhaps “Journey’s End.” I hoped otherwise, and there was so much emphasis on the fact that Amy chose not to help her past self, assuring that the character had agency, that I really wanted this to follow through to the end. And I know I haven’t said much about it, so it’s probably time I admit it: “The Girl Who Waited” turned me into a hot mess. I don’t think that any companions in the past have quite gotten the same treatment from the show itself or from the Doctor. This specific episode posits the companions as being more important than the Doctor, if only for one episode. Additionally, I’ve never seen so much rage and frustration being directed at the Doctor and having it justified on screen. When you stop and think about it, Eleven has taken Amy and Rory on some fucked up adventures, constantly separating them, watching both of them die, turning one to goo…you get the point. I wouldn’t be surprised if there wasn’t some continuity in the future to Rory’s statement that he doesn’t want to travel with the Doctor anymore. Who could blame him at this point?
All of this leads to a final moment, and the choice that Rory faces reflects on the larger issues of his relationship with his wife. There is no doubt in my mind that Rory loves Amy more than anything in the world, more than anyone who has ever existed. Given that Future Amy does not wish to erase the thirty-six years of her own life, she has refused to help Rory save her past self. Even when faced with herself (which she remembers happening already), she is stubborn. I knew that the idea of keeping both Amy’s alive and in the TARDIS would not eventually work, and I began to worry how Tom MacRae was going to pull this off. These two Amys are both very different from one another. Rory loves them both, but it’s an impossible situation. Do the two versions of Amy feel jealousy for one another? How long can the paradox be maintained?
The Doctor is the one who finally forces Rory’s hand, and when they finally get Amy back in the present (using the Macarena, which is the best fucking thing on the planet), the Doctor kills Future Amy…with kindness. Literally and figuratively. Remember, the Doctor always lies, and there was no way that he could keep both versions of Amy alive, so he slams the door on Future Amy and then EVERYTHING IS AWFUL AND EVERYTHING HURTS. It’s when I knew that MacRae wasn’t going to give us a cop out. Rory would have to sacrifice one of the versions of his wife, and she would have to die. I am expecting many GIFs from this episode, but the one that will destroy me the most is Rory turning to the Doctor, his eyes overflowing with tears, crying that he cannot make this choice. That is the moment that we know just how much Rory loves his wife. He cannot even bear killing a future version of her, even if the present one survives.
And so Amy dies. Time can be rewritten, it seems, and I wonder if the Doctor forced Rory’s hand so that he could show him that even something as immutable as his own death could be changed. For Rory, though, the joy of getting his wife back is bittersweet, and he lost something in the process. His wife waited for him, and she gave up. He had to see what her life was like without him, without the Doctor, and left to survive in a dangerous world. He saw a version of the woman he married, and even if her lack of hope scared him, he loved her anyway.
sweet christ, this show.