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film criticism by maryann johanson | since 1997

‘Doctor Who’ blogging: “Amy’s Choice”

(all spoilers! don’t read till you’ve seen the episode! and no comments from party poopers — this is a love fest only / previous: “Vampires of Venice”)
This is how I do my Doctor Who blogging: I watch each episode three times. The first viewing is just to enjoy the novelty of a new episode. The second is to catch things that might not have been meaningful the first time around but now make more sense knowing how things turn out. Those first two viewings I enjoy from the comfort of my sofa on a Saturday evening, usually with wine and other comestible goodies close to hand, and while I’m starting to formulate what I’m going to write about the episode, I’m only just thinking about it. The third viewing, on Sunday, is the intensive one: I’m sitting at the computer, taking notes, grabbing screencaps from the episode, really finally doing the work of hewing some sort of sense out of the episode.

I can’t remember another episode of Doctor Who where my perception of it changed so dramatically from the first viewing to the second. The only other TV experience that even comes close to how a second viewing changed everything is the episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine“Whispers” — in which Chief O’Brien suspects everyone around him of keeping a big secret from him, perhaps even conspiring against him, and at the end of the episode we learn that he’s not the real O’Brien at all but a “replicant” sent on its own mission to do bad.

The first time around, it appears that “Amy’s Choice” is just another villain-of-the-week episode, someone/something evil being mean to the Doctor and his companion just because it’s a fun way for an evil entity to pass the time. But there’s no villain, it turns out. There’s no bad guy out to do bad. There’s just the Doctor… and this is all his doing (however inadvertent). This is just the Doctor not merely talking to himself but berating himself. I’ve noted repeatedly that Doctor Who was never about the Doctor in the classic show, and what made the reboot so enjoyable and so different is that it’s actually about the Doctor as a character. And the reboot has never been more about the Doctor than it is in “Amy’s Choice.”

We don’t know how much about the Doctor these two dream scenarios are: Are Amy and Rory contributing psychically to the dreams? Are the dreams really drawing on their imaginations, as the Dream Lord says? Or are Amy and Rory merely participating in scenarios that the Doctor’s imagination has created entirely on its own? I mean, the whole thing about Rory’s ponytail does seem more like something the Doctor would imagine for Rory, because he thinks Rory is a twit, rather than something Rory would imagine for himself. (Though perhaps we don’t know enough about Rory to know that for sure.) And there doesn’t seem to be enough of the reverse — Rory imagining something twitlike about the Doctor — like we might expect if all their imaginations are involved. Or maybe it’s mostly the Doctor and just a little of Amy and Rory…

We can’t know, either, whether those bits of psychic pollen allowed the Doctor some sort of direct access to Amy’s mind. Can he really have “seen [her] dreams, some of them twice,” and that they’d make him “blush”? Or is he only supposing this, based upon what she’s said and done (like attacking him in her bedroom)?

In any event, though, even if the Doctor, Amy, and Rory are each contributing equally to the form the dreams take, the fact that the Dream Lord is a manifestation of the Doctor’s personality is more than enough to make this the most significant insight into the Doctor’s psyche that we’ve ever seen. (I had guessed, somewhere along the way, that the Dream Lord might be a future Doctor; I wasn’t too far wrong there.) It’s interesting that early on, the Doctor appears to assume that the Dream Lord is the Master — “I know who you are… No idea how you can be here, but there’s only one person in the universe hates me as much as you do” — but then we learn, in a roundabout way, that the appearance and demeanor of the Dream Lord means that the Doctor hates himself.

I suspected that already anyway, since the beginning of the rebooted show. But here’s him saying as much about himself. We already knew he was totally flummoxed by ordinary life — here he turns “white as a sheet” at the prospect of Amy going into labor. We already knew he was delusional about himself: “You know me: I don’t just abandon people when they leave the TARDIS.” But here’s the first evidence that he’s not unaware of what a mess he is, and that he doesn’t like it.

I think this episode is a little bit about, too, responding to fans who don’t want to think about the Doctor as a man, who aren’t enjoying, for instance, the innuendo that isn’t even innuendo about the Doctor having a sex life. “Don’t be jealous,” the Dream Lord tells Amy, “he’s been around, our boy.” The same could be said of the fans who want him, for some reason, to be “pure.” And the Doctor hints at the same thing, that he is a man with physical desires and needs of all sorts: The Dream Lord, the Doctor says, before he has caught on to who the Dream Lord is, may be motivated to do what he’s doing “because he’s got no physical form. That gets you down after a while. So he’s taking it out on folk like us, who can touch and eat and feel…” The Doctor is more like us than some fans want to think about, though I’m mystified as to why they would prefer not to think of the Doctor that way. Isn’t it more interesting if he’s a man and not a monk? And wouldn’t a man with a physical form — that is, the Doctor — get a bit down after a while if he wasn’t able to enjoy all the perks that come with being corporeal?

And yet it’s the only dark side of the Doctor — the Dream Lord — who suggests that he’ll “keep” Amy (“our companion,” he calls her, and maybe that’s when the Doctor catches on), and that “anything could happen” between them:

(echoing Jackie Tyler’s clumsy come-on to the Doctor…)

I don’t think, however, that the Doctor has any trouble at all propositioning anybody he fancies. I don’t think the Doctor would be very much bothered by the notion that Amy might be engaged back home. If the Doctor was interested in Amy in a sexual way — and I don’t think he is — the idea of Rory at home would not stop him. There has got to be something much bigger going on. This episode cannot — simply cannot — be about the Doctor waiting for Amy to choose him over Rory. If it is, then these two scenarios do not resolve the matter. First off, we can’t know if Amy had “chosen” the Doctor, and that’s why Rory “dies,” or if that was just the Doctor hoping (and as I said, I don’t think that’s the case) and so, because his mind is constructing the dream, that’s what he “makes” happen. It does appear as if Amy hasn’t chosen the Doctor — “if this is real life,” she says, with Rory dead, “I don’t want it.” Except we all know that people may consciously say one thing while subconsciously wanting something else. But how on Earth could Amy be married to Rory for five years and never told him she loves him? (Or are real people more horrible than even cynical I believe?)

What is clear, I think, is that the Doctor is conflicted about Amy, but it’s not about romance. It’s about reality. I’ve been assuming for a good few episodes now that Amy is not merely a victim of the crack in the universe but is the crack in the universe herself. But what if it’s even more insidious than that? What if Amy is a manifestation in the crack in the universe, and the Doctor is starting to realize this, and everything that has happened since he met Amy is suspect?

I started assuming somewhere along the way during this episode that both scenarios — Upper Ledworth and the frozen TARDIS — could both be dreams. And so it turns out was the case. I usually end up thinking, midcourse through new episodes, too much about what I’d do if I were the writer, if I were Moffat… and now I’m wondering something new: What if everything this season has been a dream?

I’m increasingly unable to buy Amy as a real person. Can she really be so naive as to imagine, as the Dream Lord taunts her, that she’s “the only girl in the universe to whom the Doctor tells everything”? Since the Dream Lord is the Doctor, could it be that this is the Doctor questioning the veracity of Amy as a person?

And the more you turn over just about every other line of dialogue in this episode, the more it all sounds like it’s taunting us, the viewers:

= “Look for all the details that don’t ring true,” the Doctor says, part of which is noting elements of his clothing changing from moment to moment:

Which is what we’ve been doing with every episode, from the apparently wrong date on Rory’s hospital ID badge to the Doctor’s missing/not missing jacket. “Trust nothing you see, hear, or feel,” the Doctor says. Well, we’re not trusting anything.

= “What’s this? Attack of the Old People? Oh, that’s ridiculous,” says the Dream Lord, which sounds like a commentary on the absurdity of Doctor Who plots in general. Also: frozen sun.

We’re used to accepting the most ridiculous things on Doctor Who. And now the show is telling us that they are, indeed, ridiculous, and not to be believed.

= “Who’s your friend,” one of the old ladies asks Rory, “a junior doctor?” Which could well be the pinnacle of all the “Matt Smith is too young to be the Doctor” criticisms. What if he is too young to be the Doctor? What if he isn’t the Doctor? What if when we come back next season, Matt Smith-the-actor is still portraying the Doctor but the Doctor is entirely unlike what we’ve seen during the first season, because he was only a projection of the crack in the universe? “What is the point of you?” Amy wonders. A real person doesn’t need a point, but a fictional character does. What if this is a fictional version of the Doctor — within the metafiction of Doctor Who — who has no point?

Even the Doctor mightn’t know that everything since he regenerated could be a dream: “I can’t know everything” (even though he usually acts like he does).

Could it all be “dreams, delusions, cheap tricks”? There was birdsong in seemingly inappropriate places in “The Eleventh Hour.” Could it all have been a dream?

What if Steven Moffat is tweaking the very foundations of the metafiction by positing that the Doctor and Doctor Who have no point at all?

Random thoughts on “Amy’s Choice”:

• Toby Jones is made of awesome. That is all.

• I love how the Doctor, when he comments that “this is gonna be a tricky one,” has a little smile for himself:

He loves the tricky ones…

• Matt Smith is working so well as the Doctor in small part because while he may be very young, he doesn’t have that bland, unfinished, characterless face that many young people have (through no fault of their own: older faces simply get more interesting through all the living they show the evidence of). It’s only once in a very rare while that it’s suddenly, strikingly obviously how young Smith is. Like in this moment:


• That jumper:

is criminal. It’s like something Mrs. Weasley would make Ron for Christmas, and he’d be forced to wear it at Hogwarts lest Ginny report to home that he didn’t appreciate all the love and effort that Mom put into it.

• The plaque under the console, which the Doctor has to hit to open, because the handle breaks off:

All I can make out is:





I tweaked the image in Photoshop to crisp it up, but this is as good as I could get. Anyone got a clearer screengrab?

• Sarn Residential Care Home. The name “Sarn” set a Doctor Who bell ringing in my head, and sure enough: Planet Sarn was a former colony of Turlough’s homeworld of Trion, and it’s the planet the Doctor and Turlough visited in “Planet of Fire.” It’s probably just a coincidence — there’s also a village in Wales called Sarn — but Steven Moffat has taught us not to ignore what appears to be coincidence…

• Oh, gosh, we’re more than halfway done already with Matt Smith’s first series? How can that be?

• Great quotes:

“If you had any more tawdry quirks, you could open up a tawdry-quirk shop. The madcap vehicle, the cockamamie hair, the clothes designed by a first-year fashion student… I’m surprised you haven’t got a little purple space dog, just to ram home what an intergalactic wag you are.” –the Dream Lord, to the Doctor

“There’s something that doesn’t make sense. Let’s go and poke it with a stick.” –the Doctor

“This is so you, isn’t it? A weird new star, 40 minutes left to live, and only one man to save the day?” –Rory, to the Doctor

“Is no one gonna mention Rory’s ponytail? You hold him down, I’ll cut it off?” –the Doctor, to Amy

“If we’re gonna die, let’s die looking like a Peruvian folk band.” –Amy

“Loves a redhead, our naughty Doctor…” –the Dream Lord (I will note again that I have red hair, and it’s not even dyed or anything to get it that way)

“Ice can burn, sofas can read: it’s a big universe.” –the Doctor

(next: Episode 8: “The Hungry Earth”)

MPAA: not rated

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