Amy has often be described as the ‘Girl Who Waited’, the name of this very episode, making her sound like something out of a fairy tale. Here we see there are limits to that fantasy, that a person can only wait so long.
Tom MacRae has penned a script that wouldn’t have been out of place in the Virgin line of New Adventures novels. All the flaws of the Doctor, great and small, are on display here. He makes mistakes, he places his companions in danger, he doesn’t always save them and the number 1 rule is that the Doctor lies.
Visiting the planet Apalapucia during a plaque outbreak Amy is separated from Rory and the Doctor, forced to fight for her life for 36 years. During that time she comes to hate the Doctor.
She has always been the girl who waited but that was never her choice. The Doctor’s carelessness can be exhilarating but it can also be thoughtless, robbing people of time. Rose experienced this as well, losing a year of her life due to a simple miscalculation.
The episode examines the changes that happen to a companion, what they have to go through just to survive. Fulfilling Davros’s taunts in ‘Journey’s End’, the Doctor has changed Amy into a weapon, a solider with her own sonic screwdriver.
Karen Gillian steps up to the challenge of portraying an older, hardened version of Amy and puts in her best performance to date. Even under the brilliant prosthetics she manages to communicate the turmoil that Amy is feeling, both at seeing her husband again and being able to address the Doctor, the man who keeps abandoning her.
For me the best scene is at her hideout where she is about to apply her lipstick but changes her mind. In a single, subtle gesture we are told volumes about her. She wants to appear attractive for Rory and is all to aware that she is much older than the woman he knew. Yet part of her has matured, moved past such things.
The scenario is an interesting one, using time as a tool to solve a problem. It gives people a chance to live a whole life time before their illness kills them. Particularly effective is the use of the looking glass to peer into the other time streams, Rory witnessing ghostly after-images of people and wondering if they were happy.
The other-worldly white void waiting rooms and themed zones make Apalapucia feel like an after-life. The well meaning white robots are an ever present threat, able to appear in a blink of an eye. It is only the limitations of programming that make them dangerous to the time travellers.
We have seen quite a few polite killer robots recently in Doctor Who. Only recently we saw the anti-bodies in ‘Let’s Kill Hitler’ reassuring their victims.
Here the robots have a distinctive design and movement. I particularly enjoyed their ability to split open their heads to reveal an arrangement of hypodermic needles, bringing to mind the sentry guns in ‘Portal’.
Rory is highlighted well this episode. He has also waited, far longer than Amy, but his vigil was by choice. It was amusing to see him act as the Doctor’s agent, while the Time Lord was trapped in the TARDIS.
Arthur Darvill has always done a good job of making Rory more than just a love sick side-kick. Rory is still insecure, hardly surprised that Amy named the robot that does anything she says after him but his passion and commitment to Amy is the key motivation he needs to overcome challenges.
As the story progresses there is more and more emphasis on him to get things done. Older Amy won’t listen to the Doctor so it is up to Rory to make her reconsider. Of course by the end he has to make a terrible decision.
The dynamic between Amy and Rory is one of the strongest in Doctor Who’s long history. Here we see how they are insuperable and how important they are to each other. When the Doctor looses contact with Rory he realise he isn’t alone, he still has his wife.
Doubles of the main character pop up a lot in science fiction. We can see this in the creation of Thomas Riker in ‘Star Trek: The Next Generation’ or the two John Crichtons in ‘Farscape’.
The expectation is that one of these doubles will be eliminated, such as in the ‘Star Trek : Voyager’ episode ‘Deadlock’. Here there was always that possibility but ‘The Girl That Waited’ puts an interested spin on it.
We are presented with the possibility that both might continue to exist. Only at the last minute does the Doctor suddenly slam the door in older Amy’s face. This leads to a very emotional ending.
One of the main themes in the Virgin New Adventure books was that the Doctor could do terrible things for the greater good. He would sacrifice people, worlds and whole realities because that is what had to be done. This led to several companions leaving him, disgusted with his methods.
We see this idea revisited here. Amy comes to hate the Doctor for leaving her and Rory expresses anger at the Doctor for not knowing about the time period he had placed them in.
All of which culminates in the Doctor lying to his companions, telling them that he could keep both Amy alive. We later find out that he only told older Amy that in order to get her help.
He did what he had to and knew Rory would hate him for it, so he made it his decision. Is it cruel for the Doctor to put Rory into this position or was it important for his companion to know what the Doctor goes through every adventure?
Even in these last moments older Amy is still shown as a character, rather than an aberration. The Doctor might say she isn’t real but Rory certainly feels the emotional impact of her words.
All of this takes place while the younger Amy, our Amy, sleeps. Both men are complicit in condemning her other self. They saved Amy but it doesn’t feel like a victory.
Even as Amy dies we realise how hollow the words they speak are, how little comfort they bring. “Do not be alarmed, this is a kindness.”
Director Nick Hurran has given this episode a great visual look. From the framing of the opening waiting room, where we look through the doors into the TARDIS, to the image of Rory and Amy on either side of the TARDIS door, so close yet so far.
The final battle with the robots, slow motion used to emphasise the action, is rightly used in the promotional trailers. It is artistic flair like this that makes an episode special and visually pleasing.
‘The Girl Who Waited’ is a weighty story about tough moral decisions. Like ‘Amy’s Choice’ it uses science fiction to force the main characters to make difficult decisions, and in doing so changes our feelings for them.
Such an approach to Doctor Who does threaten to alienate the younger demographic but does ensure that stories such as these endure.
I was only in my early teens when I watched the 7th Doctor stories. Stories such as ‘Ghost Light’ and ‘Curse of Fenric’ might have contained ideas that went above my head but I still enjoyed them. Re-watching them you gain more and more understanding of them, increasing my appreciation of them.
I think ‘The Girl Who Waited’ will gain a similar status and I hope we see more stories with this level of maturity.