By C. Robert Dimitri | TV | September 12, 2011 |
By C. Robert Dimitri | TV | September 12, 2011 |
“I don’t care that you got old. I care that we didn’t grow old together.”
With the promise of the amazing vistas of planet Apalapucia, voted the second favorite destination among intergalactic travelers, The Doctor, Amy, and Rory arrive there instead to find themselves within an antiseptic facility built to house victims of a virus run amok. The place has shades of George Lucas’ THX 1138 with the appearance of both its plain white décor and the faceless handbots that help to care for the patients.
Right out of the gate, Amy is separated from Rory and The Doctor. It’s a rather careless error on their part that separates them. If I’m on a strange planet faced with a bright red button and a bright green button, particularly ones labeled with the distinctive symbols of a waterfall and an anchor, respectively, I’m going to be certain to specify which one I mean when I say to press a button.
Careless or not, Amy ends up in the red waterfall room, a place where the timestream moves at a considerably faster clip than the anchor room, which looks identical to the other in all other ways. Through means of a special looking glass, The Doctor and Rory are able to see Amy, but they cannot reach her. As The Doctor explains to Rory, those not affected by the virus are able to watch the entire lives of their quarantined loved ones who are patients as opposed to being limited to the viewing of one day on a deathbed that a timestream moving at the same rate allows. I can see how that would be useful and a substantial improvement for the patient, as the virus that kills in a day instead takes several years to kill, but I do also find the premise of being able to watch a loved one on “fast forward” slightly creepy.
The Doctor promises to rescue Amy, but there are a couple catches. First, while Amy and Rory are immune to the virus, The Doctor is entirely susceptible, so he cannot enter the facility proper. By means of a special pair of glasses worn by Rory, The Doctor can monitor what Rory sees and hears and guide him in finding Amy. The other catch: the automated handbots are there to help the patients, but the medicine they deliver would be fatal to Amy and Rory, and as carriers of microbes from outside the sterile facility, the handbots will be extremely eager to “help” them. The Doctor locks onto the timestream he believes to be correct and sends Rory after her.
Inside, Amy finds that the facility is extremely accommodating in terms of delivering all manner of simulated entertainment. She begins to gain an understanding of the computerized systems governing the clinic, but with the other patients living independently within their own timestreams, hers is a completely solitary existence in the facility, even if all patients share the same physical space. The handbots do not leave her much time to explore her leisure options, as they teleport almost on top of her with deadly medicine at the ready. She manages to elude them by hiding within some timestream exhaust, and from there she forms a methodology to her survival that spans the next thirty-six years.
Yes, the timestream lock was not quite correct, and when Rory meets Amy again, as she saves him from one of the handbots, she is in fiftysomething Amy samurai mode. “Samurai” is not an exaggeration; she has created makeshift armor and wields a sword.
Old Amy is mightily bitter. She does not blame Rory; she blames her raggedy Doctor, and she tells The Doctor this through Rory’s time-spanning glasses with great spite. She waited for rescue, and it comes far too late. In the interim she has gone a little stir crazy in her loneliness. She created a pet robot Rory from one of the Handbots as her only companion. That said, she also has demonstrated that her experiences on the TARDIS and with The Doctor have taught her much. She is adept at avoiding and dismantling the handbots (and at beheading and impaling handbots), and she has constructed her own sonic screwdriver to wield control over the facility. She insists on calling it a “sonic probe” to distinguish herself from the hated Doctor.
Rory is disturbed by this encounter with his wife but also sympathetic, as you might imagine, given that he’s “the boy who waited” a couple millennia for her. (Plus, Amy saw an illusory or alternate version of him die under similar circumstances in the halls of the TARDIS earlier this season in “The Doctor’s Wife.”) He is determined to rescue his Amy minus the thirty-six years, but this prospect does not appeal to samurai Amy, as rescuing that Amy will erase her from existence. It might have been a miserable thirty-six years, but she still values herself and has no interest in self-destruction.
Rory expresses as much frustration with The Doctor as he ever has and hurls the glasses to the ground. The looking glass, though, reveals young Amy back across time weeping in the corner at that spot in the facility. Young and old Amy have a conversation through the looking glass, and old Amy states that she remembers this moment, thus proving that she will not erase herself. Armed with the knowledge of her own future, young Amy is capable of changing that future, and she appeals to old samurai Amy on behalf of the love that she has for Rory. Samurai Amy agrees to help on one condition: The Doctor must rescue both of them. Allowed back into the conversation, The Doctor agrees to these terms; supporting such a paradox will be very difficult, but the TARDIS should manage it.
Rory reroutes some of the timestream circuitry with The Doctor’s guidance and Amy’s knowledge of the facility. As each Amy thinks of the strongest possible positive thought they share on different sides of the looking glass but in the same location, they are able to reunite in the same timestream with Rory. Said thought, by the way, was a remembrance of her first kiss with Rory accompanied by the 90s pop abomination “Macarena.”
Young and old Amy retreat with Rory back to the TARDIS, dodging handbots and trading quips. At their destination, they are overwhelmed by handbots, and young Amy is anesthetized but not harmfully medicated by them. Rory carries her safely into the TARDIS while samurai Amy holds off the handbots.
Then The Doctor locks samurai Amy out.
She pounds on the door, begging to be let in, but The Doctor tells Rory that the paradox cannot possibly be sustained. Rory is outraged once again, telling The Doctor that he cannot be like him. Nevertheless, the reality is that he must choose one Amy. Unable to ignore the pleas coming from outside, he begins to unlock the door, but samurai Amy commands Rory not to let her in; let young Amy have him and their lives together. The handbots overcome samurai Amy peacefully as she reminisces about her past with Rory, and the TARDIS departs.
Young Amy awakes, and The Doctor moves to leave the couple alone. The strain this adventure has placed upon the friendly bonds of their travel together is palpable. Young Amy asks where her older self is, and The Doctor exchanges a look with Rory that speaks the volumes that strain carries.
I know there are many Doctor Who fans that are not excited about Amy and Rory these days, and I was skeptical going in about this episode based on the trailer. Thus, it was quite the pleasant surprise that it is among the best episodes of the Matt Smith era. (Personally, I would rank it somewhere between third and sixth best in that list, depending on whim of the moment.) It is to Karen Gillan’s credit that this episode succeeds, as she creates a memorable alternate version of herself that is cynical, hard-edged, and brilliant. Arthur Darvill also rises to the task of going against The Doctor and fighting for Rory’s marriage. Matt Smith is relegated to the background at the TARDIS console but performs well in those unspoken moments in which Rory and Amy rage against him, forcing him to ponder what he hath wrought in their lives.
The fact that this plot gives us yet another iteration of alternate selves and characters forced to endure the long waits that time travel can cause makes its success even more notable. There is no substitute for a good story, and this one strips Amy and Rory down to their basic elements that finally have been fully developed, as opposed to having them driven by the phantom parentage of River Song. Amy and Rory fight for their relationship as never before, with the possible exception of the events of last season’s finale. The little details about their past that are revealed give the whole affair resonance that simply was not established yet in the similarly themed “Amy’s Choice” of last season.
As a stand-alone episode, it was excellent and genuinely affecting, and as it relates to the direction of this sixth season serial, perhaps we are seeing the seeds planted for the ultimate departure of Amy and Rory. It is a cold universe, and time after time the very nature of The Doctor’s travels - always fun to companions in the beginning - reveals that.
C. Robert Dimitri says that if you are not a Krzysztof Kieslowski fan, then you can pretend this column is titled Sliding Doors: The Amy Pond Edition. On a long enough timeline, Gwyneth Paltrow might become a samurai too. He would never jettison the karaoke bar from the TARDIS, so there’s no telling what Gwyneth would do to entertain herself if she traveled on the TARDIS with her alternate self in a Duets/Huey Lewis mood.