Cold Star Ponytail
We open in the idyllic setting of a small country town, complete with rolling hills, sprawling pastures, and honking geese. Inside the kitchen of an especially charming house, an extremely pregnant Amy prepares food in a mixing bowl. She appears to go into labor and calls for Rory, who - now sporting a ponytail - rides a bicycle up to the house and rushes in to help her. It was a false alarm. "I don't know what it feels like. I've never had a baby before, she tells him."
The familiar sound of the TARDIS (with its parking brake on) emanates from the front yard, and Rory and Amy rush out to greet the Doctor. The Doctor reveals that it's been five years since he left Rory and Amy, and he's very surprised to see Amy with child. The three of them take a stroll through an unsettlingly quiet upper Leadworth. The only sign of life that we see is an elderly woman peeking out a window at them.
They take a seat on a bench and share an uncomfortable silence. The Doctor asks what they do to alleviate boredom, and Rory says that they simply relax and live. They listen to the birdsong together, which quickly puts the three of them to sleep.
All three awake back in the TARDIS - the Doctor oddly having passed out on the floor - and discover that they have all had the same dream (or nightmare, as the Doctor first called it) of what takes place in Leadworth in the future. The Doctor dismisses it as some sort of psychic side effect of time travel, but the same sound of birdsong fills the TARDIS, and the three of them wake up again sitting on the bench in Leadworth. They are now convinced that what just transpired on the TARDIS was a dream as well. The Doctor warns them not to trust anything going forward. Which is the dream? Are they flashing forward or backward?
Back in the TARDIS, the three continue to squabble over what is dream and what is reality, with their senses indicating in each case that the current experience is true. The Doctor scrambles to repair the TARDIS, which is malfunctioning, and as the console goes dark, the birdsong sends them back to Leadworth. There an elderly woman in the street greets Rory as "doctor," a perhaps telling development given Rory's unfulfilled ambition to advance from nurse to doctor. The Doctor is suspicious of the unusually high elderly population in the town, and they pay a visit to the local nursing home. The Doctor is given an obnoxious sweater freshly knitted by one of the residents (Mrs. Poggit), and he looks deep into her eyes to try to ascertain this town's secret. Birdsong puts the three of them on the floor.
The heater in the TARDIS has deactivated, and the ship is drifting uselessly in space. Enter the Dream Lord, played by Toby Jones, sporting a bowtie of his own. He materializes on the deck of the TARDIS. With no solid form he teleports about and taunts the three of them. He mocks the Doctor for his eccentricities, he accuses Amy of waffling on whether Rory or the Doctor has her ultimate devotion, and he refers to Rory as a "gooseberry."
Aside: I had to look that one up. Per wisegeek.com...
The term playing gooseberry is used in an idiomatic expression unique to the British and the Canadians. To play a gooseberry is very much like being referred to as "the third wheel." The gooseberry may accompany a romantically linked couple on a date. It is hard to determine if the expression derives from the fact that the single person may blush from the romantic doings of the couple, thus resembling a gooseberry. Alternately, perhaps the single person is too "thorny" in nature to procure his or her own date.
The Dream Lord tells them that in each universe they will face a deadly danger. Their task is to determine which place is reality. The Dream Lord puts them back to sleep, and they wake up back in the Leadworth nursing home, where the Dream Lord smoothly reappears posing as a doctor. He tells them that death in the dream world will simply cause them to wake up in reality.
"Ask me what happens if you die in reality," the Dream Lord prompts.
"What happens?" Rory asks.
"You die, stupid. That's why it's called reality," the Dream Lord quips.
Amy notes the Dream Lord's familiarity with the Doctor and wonders about his identity. The Dream Lord disappears, the three of them note that the nursing home has emptied, and they rush outside. After a round of banter, they note that Mrs. Poggit is ominously eyeing children playing in a park. Birdsong sends them back to the TARDIS again, where the Doctor attempts repairs, and Amy and Rory find differences over which reality they prefer. Rory wants their settled family life immediately, and Amy wonders why they ever could have given up adventures on the TARDIS. They discover the peril the Dream Lord mentioned: they are drifting closer and closer toward a cold star, and this is the reason the heating seemed to have failed. They will freeze to death within the hour. The Doctor has never encountered a star like this, and Rory asks if this proves that they are in a dream. Rory also comments that a strange new phenomenon and a limited time to save the day seem like a delusion the Doctor would have.
In Leadworth Mrs. Poggit is gone, and piles of dust sit where the children were. They spy an entire phalanx of the ominous but slowly moving old people. As they approach to investigate, the Dream Lord once again appears to mock the Doctor and Amy especially. The Doctor reveals that he knows who the Dream Lord is. "I have no idea how you can be here, but there's only one person in the universe who hates me as much as you do." ("Surely we have not brought The Master back already," I think to myself.)
Mrs. Poggit and her friends are actually the Eknodine, an ancient race of aliens that were driven into hiding on Earth. An eyeballed tentacle protrudes from each of their mouths. Amy and Rory flee at the Doctor's order, and Mrs. Poggit spits a deadly breath that vaporizes a passing postal worker. Amy is slowed by her pregnant condition, but she and Rory manage to take refuge back in their house, where they begin an anti-zombie-esque barricade from the slowly approaching Eknodine and their walkers. The Doctor stumbles into a butcher shop as the birdsong returns. The Dream Lord plays the role of the butcher and welcomes the Eknodine inside. The Doctor barely manages to lock himself in the freezer so that sleep will not leave him vulnerable to death.
On the TARDIS, the Doctor suggests they settle on which reality to give their full defense. The Doctor is inclined to believe in the TARDIS, while Rory still supports Leadworth. The Doctor wonders if they are having a disagreement based on observation or if they are simply competing over Amy. The Dream Lord reappears, and this time he only puts Rory and the Doctor to sleep. The birdsong does not reach Amy's ears.
Rory drags the sleeping Amy up the stairs of their Leadworth house and locks them in the nursery. Outside the Eknodine attempt to enter the TARDIS and are preparing to storm the house. The Doctor escapes the butcher shop and hitches a ride with a van of survivors. Back in Amy's waking time on the TARDIS, the temperature continues to drop. The Dream Lord pressures Amy into choosing one of her men and casts doubt on her belief that the Doctor has complete faith in her by pointing out that he has not even told her his name.
The Doctor drops off the survivors in Leadworth at a church where they can hide from the Eknodine. He speeds down the road in the van on the way back to Amy and Rory, his "friends." The Dream Lord places himself in the van's back seat and questions whether or not the Doctor's companions truly are his friends. Why does he never go back to visit so many of them and become so dependent on the new companions? The Doctor arrives at the house and watches as the Eknodine lay siege to it in their slow elderly manner.
In the nursery Amy wakes up to find Rory keeping watch over her. Rory chops off his ponytail as a display of affection, and the Doctor leaps in through the nursery's second-story window. Unfortunately, one of the Mrs. Poggit has also made her way to the roof, and her deadly breath hits Rory, turning him to sand. Amy is so distraught as to ask the Doctor what his point is if he cannot save Rory. Amy decides that this must be the dream, and if it is not, she does not care to live without Rory regardless. The Doctor and Amy go outside the van; the Eknodine no longer have interest in attacking. Before driving the van into a direct collision with the house to seal death in that universe, Amy tells the Doctor that she never told Rory she loved him. (This seems completely out of place if meant literally and was the only major misstep in the episode for me. Surely a dreaming Amy had told her fiancé that she loved him by the time of their wedding, and even more surely would the pregnant Amy of five years later have told him.)
Impact with the house sends them back to the TARDIS, where ice has encased the console and covered all three of them. Amy and Rory have enough strength to reach out and hold hands. The Dream Lord returns and congratulates them for choosing correctly. He directs them away from the cold star, and the heat returns. The Dream Lord disappears, and the Doctor decides to blow up the TARDIS, as he is convinced that this reality is a dream as well. Amy and Rory are skeptical, but the Doctor says that he knows who the Dream Lord is, and the insistence to choose one reality was a con.
The explosive flash of light brings all three of them safely back to the bridge of the TARDIS and the present time that we know. The Doctor reveals that psychic pollen from an earlier journey had fallen into the time rotor and induced a dream-state for the three of them. Furthermore, the Dream Lord was a manifestation of the accrued darkness in the Doctor - all 907 years of it - as psychic pollen feeds on the darkness in minds. Amy asks why the pollen was not able to take advantage of Rory and her as well, and the Doctor replies that he chooses his companions well. Does the Doctor believe all those horrible things about himself that the Dream Lord spoke, Amy asks? The Doctor is reluctant to answer and is saved by Rory's realization that the end of the other dream was induced by Amy's own despairing suicide in response to Rory's death.
Thus, "Amy's choice" is that she would rather die than live without Rory, regardless of whether they are in the present or the future. The work of the "Love TARDIS" from the previous episode seems to be complete. The Doctor is happily willing to give them their space, but as he glances down at the console, he sees the reflection of the smirking Dream Lord looking back.
The guest spot by Toby Jones made this into a stellar episode that was arguably the strongest of the season thus far. His performance and attitude stole the show. Additionally, the pacing of bouncing back and forth between the two worlds was quite suspenseful. Although I immediately guessed that both predicaments were dreams, I was completely invested in their efforts to attack each of the problems, and the inability to be awake in both places at once while time continues to pass was a compelling conundrum.
I did not, however, correctly guess the identity of the Dream Lord, in spite of the bowtie. We might guess that the psychic pollen exaggerated the Doctor's darkness to some degree, but the Dream Lord was so villainous as to raise serious questions about the Doctor's self-image. Certainly we have detected guilt and remorse in the Doctor's actions before, but it is jarring to see that manifested to this degree with such a sneering, self-deprecating tone.
Whereas "Vampires In Venice" introduced the Doctor-Rory-Amy dynamic with a superficial, rushed, and perhaps too humorous tone, "Amy's Choice" maintained the humor but gave the relationship between Rory and Amy credible depth. I suspect the majority of the Doctor Who fandom breathed a collective sigh of relief having moved past Amy's brief lustful advances toward the Doctor.
C. Robert Dimitri spent many of the prime Saturday nights of his youth staying home to watch syndicated episodes of Doctor Who on PBS, and his social skills might be beyond repair as a result. He's not the most hardcore Whovian, but he's a respectable representative. The first episode he remembers watching was Tom Baker's "The Creature From The Pit." At one point he obsessively watched all the Hartnell, Troughton, and Pertwee episodes that were available to him, and sometime around the age of 14 he dragged his mother to a Doctor Who convention. All he truly has ever wanted for Christmas is Perpugilliam Brown, but he would be almost as content with K-9.
If presented with two apparent dreams, he has a simple test to determine which is the truth. The one with less sex and less bacon is unfortunately the reality.