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such a nasty woman | by maryann johanson

‘Doctor Who’ blogging: “The Girl Who Waited”

Doctor Who The Girl Who Waited Matt Smith Karen Gillan

(all spoilers! don’t read till you’ve seen the episode! this is a love fest only — all complaints and bitching must come from a place of love / previous: “Night Terrors”)
After two weeks in a row of complaining and bitching and moaning, I was afraid that something had changed between me and the Doctor, that I was gonna have to start thinking about whether it was over between us. And it definitely would have been a “It’s not me, it’s you,” thing, because it was looking like Doctor Who was going in a direction I didn’t want to follow.

Turns out it was just a weird spell.

It’s been a goodly while since Doctor Who made me cry. It was definitely back in the David Tennant era. I didn’t sob here like, oh, “School Reunion” made me do, but there was certainly some welling up about the eyes. Poor Amy, marooned in realtime! Left to fend for herself, all alone, while the Doctor and Rory blithely pass mere moments! What a most peculiar and poignant horror.

(Update: I have been reminded that “Vincent and the Doctor” is a sobworthy episode. So please don’t call me a heartless bitch. At least not for this.)

But I’m gonna nitpick a little first.

Doctor Who Girl Who Waited green anchor red waterfall

I shall be generous and presume that there are some deeply beautiful and poetic cultural meanings behind “Green Anchor” and “Red Waterfall” that make them a Kindness to the people of Appleappachia, something wonderfully Darmok that is so much nicer than spelling out: “Push here if you’re attempting to diminish your grief at the impending death of a loved one” and “Push here if you’re dying and would like to fool yourself into thinking you’re postponing that.”

But that cannot account for why Rory doesn’t say to Amy, “Push the green button, like I did.” That cannot account for why the Doctor lets Rory and himself get separated from Amy in the first place… though perhaps the fact that he believed they were at the No. 2 Beauty Spot of the Galaxy, which is generally considered safe, might just about account for that.

Mostly, though, me being generous and the Appleappachians being all Darmoky cannot account for the fact that the No. 2 Beauty Spot of the Galaxy, which is presumably visited by millions, perhaps billions of alien tourists per year from all over infinity, would not have an automated medical system that is able to determine whether its patients are actually even ill, or actually even of a species that is capable of harboring the illness it is designed to protect against. That one handbot can detect “unregistered bacteria” about Amy’s person, but not that Amy isn’t a dual-cardio species the likes of which can catch this one-day plague?

The setup here is way too facile, and could so easily have been fixed with just a few simple bits of dialogue. It’s all the more frustrating because, once past the setup, the writing here is beautiful, and the story is not easy. It raises all sorts of philosophical questions that cannot be answered, only asked. Like this: Isn’t older Amy’s life worth honoring by, you know, allowing it to continue on instead of being erased? Older Amy is a genuine survivor — she’s learned tough lessons the hard way, and surely she has a wisdom that is valuable. (She taught herself sonic engineering and computer programming!) Isn’t it wrong for the universe to lose that? Is it selfish of Rory and the Doctor to want young Amy back? Isn’t there something deep-down wrong about them insisting that younger Amy is “their” Amy, and thereby disavowing older Amy? Is it wrong for Amy to be so bitter for having waited 36 years for Rory when he waited 2,000 years for her?

On the other hand, is older Amy even really real, or is she just a sort of simulation of Amy? After all, if the Two Streams were designed to “condense” time, so that a full life could seem to be happening over the course of only a single day, then how much of it actually happened? (Amy wasn’t hungry after spending her first week in the other timestream, and so she probably hasn’t eaten in those 36 years, which would be impossible if 36 years had in fact passed. Also, her clothes haven’t disintegrated, which they should have.) Or maybe none of that matters. If older Amy has actually lived only a day but has memories of 36 years, does it make any difference?

Doctor Who Girl Who Waited two Amys Karen Gillan

Older Amy confronting younger Amy and all the possibilities of younger Amy’s life — should younger Amy be rescued — is a marvelous metaphor for the regrets and second-guessing that we all do about our lives. Except here older Amy can in fact change things. So maybe we should not mourn older Amy, especially since she made the decision herself to let younger Amy be rescued. (I’m so glad it worked out that way — I was afraid older Amy would be killed, and the dilemma thereby conveniently eliminated, by some method that was not her choice.)

More powerfully affecting moments:

Doctor Who Girl Who Waited Amy's message

Doctor Who Girl Who Waited show me Earth

“Show me Earth, show me home.”

Doctor Who Girl Who Waited older Amy TARDIS Arthur Darvill

And of course Amy’s speech about beautiful people who are boring and ordinary people who are beautiful is one of the loveliest bits of dialogue from the entire 48-year history of the show.

Then there is the dark side to all of this. The dark side is always the same, but not every story seems to realize that. The dark side is the Doctor himself. He lies again, naturally, but we expect that. Rory’s complaint to the Doctor — “You’re turning me into you” — is bitter and pointed. The sense that the Doctor is not the hero we make him out to be hasn’t been so strong in the Steven Moffat era before now.

Take a look at this. It’s something I don’t think we’ve ever seen before:

Doctor Who Girl Who Waited Matt Smith

This is the Doctor’s “Oh shit, I really fucked up this time” face. Not that he doesn’t fuck up on a regular basis — he just never admits it to himself. Even Doctor No. 10’s constant refrain of “I’m so, I’m so sorry” wasn’t of this quality. That was a commiseration at the unfairness of the universe, something that is clearly out of the Doctor’s control. This is recognition that it really is all his fault this time.

Now he knows what a bastard he is. And he won’t change. He won’t check to see if there’s a plague before he lands somewhere. That’s not how he travels.

Doctor Who Girl Who Waited Matt Smith

(Unless there’s something else at work here. Or something in addition to all this. Like: Does the Doctor know that they’re in some bubble reality or through the crack in the universe or something, and that the only way to fix everything will be to negate everything about Amy back to childhood, or even before, anyway? Amelia was a girl who waited, too. Does he know that he’s going to have to do this same sort of reset on Amy’s life again, soon?)

Random thoughts on “The Girl Who Waited”:

• Speaking of… This episode bears some vague similarities to Vernor Vinge’s 1986 SF novel Marooned in Realtime, the plot of which revolves around someone “murdered” by being stranded outside a time bubble, left to live out a full life alone while the rest of civilization jumped ahead millions of years. I read the book back when it was new, when I was a teenager, and its particularly timey-whimey dreadfulness has haunted me since then.

• “Glasses are cool!”

Doctor Who Girl Who Waited Matt Smith glasses are cool

All over the U.K. a million parents just breathed a sigh of relief, secure in the knowledge that their kindergartners will no longer put up a fight over the specs.

Now, parents are hoping for Matt Smith, in character, to say that broccoli is cool…

• Amy in Wonderland?

Doctor Who Girl Who Waited Karen Gillan Amy in Wonderland

This looks lifted directly from Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland.

• This place:

Doctor Who Girl Who Waited Wales Millennium Centre Cardiff

is totally the lobby of the Wales Millennium Centre in Cardiff. Which is this place:

Wales Millennium Centre Cardiff

as seen in Doctor Who and Torchwood. Click over to roath_park_mark’s flickr to see what the lobby usually looks like.

• Wait. Appleappachia? Apple… app… achia? So, from I, Robot to iRobot?

Doctor Who Girl Who Waited handbot

• Shades of the classic episode “City of Death,” which features a hugely amusing scene in which the TARDIS, which has materialized in a Parisian gallery, is mistaken for a work of art:

Doctor Who Girl Who Waited TARDIS as art

And another reminder:

Doctor Who Girl Who Waited ruined Mona Lisa

Thanks to “City of Death,” we know that that copy of the Mona Lisa — there are lots — most likely has “THIS IS A FAKE” written in permanent marker in the Doctor’s handwriting directly on the board underneath the painting.

• Wilson!

Doctor Who Girl Who Waited Rory robot

• Great quotes:

“I bring you to a paradise planet two billion light-years from Earth, and you want to update Twitter?” –the Doctor

“Ah, that’ll be the small-act-of-vandalism alarm.” –the Doctor

“I think I can now safely say: I hate him. I hate the Doctor.” –Amy

“Maybe if I shunted the reality compensators on the TARDIS, recalibrated the doomsday buffers, and jettisoned the karaoke bar… the TARDIS could sustain the paradox.” –the Doctor, working the technobabble and, as he does, lying

“It’s hardly rocket science, it’s just quantum physics.” –the Doctor

“Amy, you always say cooking Chrismas dinner you wish there were two of you…” –Rory

(next: “The God Complex”)

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