Friday, February 4, 2011

"Amy's Choice"

Why has Doctor Who not done this kind of thing before? Certainly not in the New Series, and not a great deal in the Classic Series, with the nightmare world of the Matrix in "The Deadly Assassin" and "The Ultimate Foe" being two possible exceptions. The notion that both worlds are dreams is a clever way of avoiding the "it was all just a dream" conclusion and it's reassuring to see the return of the dark side of the Doctor - I don't think anyone who's anyone failed to notice the evocation of the Valeyard in the concept of the Dream Lord.
A lot of the Leadworth stuff was obviously done on the cheap but it's appropriate and I think if you've ever been to one of those tiny English villages there is something depressingly small and quiet about them; it's excellent for reinforcing the uneasy sense of this dream state. On the flipside, I'm glad that the Doctor ended up judging the other world as being a dream based at least partially on the cold star because that's nonsense and he knew it. It's nice to see a bit of ridiculous pseudoscience being debunked rather than confirmed in an episode.
Of course it's most important for the relationship between Amy and Rory. Surely we never thought that Amy would choose the Doctor over Rory, right? Not only was that the choice Rose made, which I always felt came across as a kind of delusional one, obviously the relationship between Amy and her fiancee is completely different to the one she has with her 'imaginary friend' as it were. The Doctor is a time-travelling alien scientist, and while his lifestyle may seem intriguing and glamorous he's not exactly relationship material. The fact that it takes Rory's death to make Amy realise that she loves him is clearly a rather significant piece of development for her. But of course choosing Rory doesn't mean a life of stultifying tedium in Leadworth in reality, and this is where the Dream Lord comes in.
I think it's a lot more effective to have the Doctor's darkest thoughts manifest as an entity rather than have him angsting and tearing up all the time. We have to understand that the Doctor's jealousy, his disbelief, his disdain and his self-loathing at the way he treats his companions are not dominant aspects of his personality but at the same time after nine hundred years of time and space they've kind of accrued to a significant degree and he has a lot to draw from. It's important to know that the Doctor is troubled by these aspects of himself and that they're possibly even dangerous yet at the same time he can overcome them and they can be dispelled.
There are a lot of good metafictional nods to the concepts of the show beyond the Fifth Doctor's cricket ball being under the TARDIS. The whole plot with the alien Eknodine hiding inside old people is a very effective pastiche of these sorts of 'sleepy town invasion' type stories and the way the Doctor is inclined to believe them to be real because of it is a telling reminder of the nature of his adventures and how they often seem to repeat themselves. Nonetheless the sight of shambling old people works as a bit of Father Ted-style humour whilst actually being a rather intimidating image.
Arthur Darvill's performance as Rory is top notch in the bits where he obviously yearns for the Leadworth dream and Amy's question to the Doctor after Rory is disintegrator and he's helpless "Then what is the point of you?" ought to silence those nay-sayers who have problems with Karen Gillan. Amy may be funny and fiesty but her serious side is good too, and her conviction to crash the van after losing Rory is quite a powerful one. Nonetheless there are plenty of funny lines, in regards to the Doctor's "I'm getting on a bit, don't let the cool gear fool you," and the ponchos, although a lot of the best, and particularly menacing, jokes go to the Dream Lord. We're left with the mystery as to who the Dream Lord is, and when the Doctor says that it was him at the end we couldn't face a better resolution.
The whole episode is a great way of exploring the Doctor's character, as well as Amy's and the whole Doctor/Amy/Rory dynamic. It reinforces how much the series has changed and I think while there are obvious similarities there are some astounding differences from the previous series. A lot of people see the younger cast and the lack of angsty in-your-face emotion as more child-friendly but actually I consider this a much more mature series than what has come previously. There's more exploration of issues, more variety and stronger characterisation. There's more ambiguity and it's certainly more imaginative. This is probably one of the strongest episodes of the entire New Series along with "The Eleventh Hour" and it's a relief to see these kinds of stories being made.

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