SPOILER ALERT for Doctor Who series 6.
The Girl Who Waited was a brilliant example of why we love this show so much. Because when Doctor Who gets it right, it gets it right. At its core, this show is not about time travel or aliens or sci-fi or even saving the world. An episode doesn’t need to have a monster or a villain -- all it needs is a situation that puts the companions and the Doctor in a place where they discover painful things about themselves and have to make difficult choices.
When we first heard the episode title, I naturally assumed it was going to be all about Amy, and perhaps a reflection back on her childhood. It never occurred to me that Amy would have to wait, again. Yet wait she did. "You could spend a lifetime in here.” And she does. It’s progressed from "twelve years, and four psychiatrists,” to thirty-six years, and a lifetime of bitterness and loneliness. To me, the whole episode was an exploration, a magnification, of that small but nonetheless emotionally powerful scene in The Doctor’s Wife, where House manipulates Amy to stumble upon an aged Rory, and then his rotting corpse, surrounded by horrifying graffiti -- HATE AMY.
Yet the difference between Amy’s waiting, and the House’s manipulation of Amy’s mind to see Rory’s waiting was the way that she reacted. Amy waited 36 years. And though bitter, she never forgot him, never cursed him. She may have been bitter towards the Doctor. She may have forgotten who she was and what, really, she was fighting for. But she never really forgot why she was waiting. The note she wrote on the door was for the Doctor to come save her. But in the end, he couldn’t. Only Rory, and the reminder of just how much she loved him, could make her want to save her younger self.
And that speaks volumes about their relationship. They have come so far since we saw them first, in The Eleventh Hour, when Amy was ashamed to admit that Rory was her boyfriend, or Flesh and Stone, where Amy snogged the Doctor, or even the end of The Pandorica Opens, where they finally got married in the rebooted universe. And it is one of the greatest compliments I can give to Steven Moffat to say that he has managed to keep their relationship as a married couple extremely dynamic. Rory was the friend. The occasional boyfriend. The fuckbuddy. And now, He is the one thing, the one person who she will change time, blow apart the universe, and stop her past self from enduring years of loneliness for.
“The look on your face when you carried her... me... her. When you carried her, you used to look at me like that. I'd forgotten how much you loved me. I'd forgotten how much I loved being her. Amy Pond in the TARDIS with Rory Williams.”
This episode has some truly spectacular character development for all three of the leads. We’d love to go into all of them, but let’s start with the episode’s title. The Girl Who Waited. Amy Pond. Now, I have heard complaints from some people in the past about Amy’s character. That even though she’s fun, and funny, and quirky, she has very little personality or substance underneath it all. I have never agreed with that viewpoint, but what we are presented with here leaves no room for argument regarding the vibrancy of Amy’s character. You do wonder, sometimes, about how many times the Doctor and Rory have to come and rescue her, but what happens when there is no one to rescue her? She perseveres. She fights. She learns how to take care of herself, and it’s so amazing to see. And yet she keeps the same bits of her that she’s always had--her stubbornness, her insistence on impossible solutions. Her quirks of humor. And when we see those scenes between Older Amy and Young Amy...oh my lord. There is nothing more to say. Except that this is absolutely the best acting from Karen Gillian we have ever seen.
And the most important aspect of Amy’s personality is her resiliency. Her ability to fight. We see this most clearly when Older Amy is presented with the magnifying glass and the younger version of herself. The two Amys look at each other, and they see what has been and what could be. Older Amy realizes that to erase her existence would mean that Young Amy would get to spend those thirty-six years with Rory. She would have Rory. And that is worth sacrificing herself.
But then. But then. She doesn't let them do it. She insists on saving herself, on keeping her own existence intact. Two Amys will exist at the same time, she says, and paradoxes be damned. It was so perfect and so characteristic of Amy and I loved her so much for doing it.
Although Amy and Rory’s relationship has grown into something deep and powerful enough for Older Amy to consider sacrificing herself for it, in the end she is not willing to give up her existence--to erase those thirty years. Yet we all knew from the get-go that it was not as simple as the Doctor was making it out to be. We knew that they wouldn't be able to sustain a paradox, that something would go horribly wrong. And I--oh innocent me--assumed that Older Amy would die valiantly in battle or something. But of course the writers won’t give us something as cut-and-dry as that. Instead, we see her running towards the TARDIS door desperately. As if she knows what is about to happen. And the Doctor just looks at her with this eerily familiar, all-knowing look of pity on his face, and then he shuts the door on her.
That act, and the look of fury on Rory’s face, were the two most heartbreaking moments of the entire episode. And even though he knows in his heart that there was no way to maintain the paradox, Rory is still so angry at the Doctor. And justifiably so. He doesn’t care if Rule #1 is “The Doctor Lies.” For him, the fact that the Doctor has so blatantly lied and manipulated everyone’s emotions, only to play God at the end--and then to force Rory to play God at the end--is completely unconscionable to him. ”This isn’t fair. You’re turning me into you.” And I am curious to see how long it will take Rory to forgive the Doctor. Because this is the moment where he realizes, perhaps more clearly than he ever has before, just what it means to travel with the Doctor. Yes, he has his wife back safely with him, and Older Amy has given him permission to do what he does. But in that moment, he does become the Doctor. And it breaks his heart:
“I love you too. Don't let me in. Tell Amy—your Amy—I'm giving her the days. The days with you. Days to come. The days I can't have. Take them please. I'm giving her my days.”
“I'm sorry, I'm so sorry.”
And the consequences of that go deeper than either of them ever could have imagined. I think ending with Amy’s last line: "Where is she?” was the perfect way to go out. Because the end of this adventure is not like the end of all the other adventures they’ve had with the Doctor before. To use that tried and true Internet phrase: nothing is beautiful, and everything hurts.
Yet that’s always been what it’s like, traveling with the Doctor. When a companion steps into the TARDIS, their lives irrevocably begin to change, and they can never be who they once were. Companions become weapons, lose their families, their minds, their loves, their lives. It wasn’t just Ten who "screwed up” his friends. There’s a deeper reason that companions can’t stay with him forever, deeper than the long lifespan of a Time Lord. After awhile, it becomes too much. I wonder if Rory is beginning to think that it is too much. It’s not a statement about the Doctor, really, so much as it is a fact. ”The monsters and the Doctor. It seems you cannot have one without the other.” Sometimes, the Doctor can be a monster of his own.
But in the end, it’s not an experience anyone would forget. ”The girl who waited. Was it worth it?” “Don’t be stupid, of course it was.” As Benjamin Cook claimed, "If the greatest thing in the world is to travel with the Doctor, the worst possible fate is to have that taken away from you.” But as Sarah Jane pointed out, “Some things are worth getting your heart broken for.”