Sunday, September 11, 2011


You know how it goes. You press the wrong button and suddenly there you are fighting for survival for the next thirty-six years in a quarantine facility for sufferers of a rare disease that only affects dual-hearted races, chased by medical robots whose treatments will be toxic to you because their designers, despite being avid collectors of human cultural treasures, apparently neglected to program their nurses to make any distinction between their own species and other identical single-hearted races. (Robots who, by the way, see with their hands – which has to be the most dumb-as-a-stump sensory apparatus since the Dalek eyestalk.) Ah well, never mind, it’s not like you have any great story full of dramatic and emotional import to convey, so why not base it on such a foundation of layered absurdities?

Oh, wait.

The Girl Who Waited smacked of a missed opportunity. Like last week’s Night Terrors, there was a much stronger story dying to break free of its writer’s limitations. Too many dumb contrivances piled on top of one another managed to disengage me from proceedings long before the real substance of the story showed its weight.

Such a shame too, because the cast really gave it their all. The culmination was a brilliantly played Pyramus and Thisbe scenario to outdo the Rose/TennantDoc one from Doomsday. Arthur Darvill especially was acting his socks off and my only reservations about Gillan concerned her old age version, where I couldn’t quite determine whether the stiffness of features was down to the makeup or an acting choice.

You could cynically boil down Rory’s choice to one between his beloved, youthful, spirited, chipper, sarcastic Amy and the old, wrinkly, selfish, deeply embittered one who kept a robot effigy of himself as a pet. Not exactly a dilemma to task Solomon. But given a much stronger setup, I would have totally bought into the situation.

She was, after all, his Amy, but one who had suffered, one he felt he had let down or betrayed. That’s bound to plague the conscience of a softy like Rory. And from Amy’s POV, well, of course she’s not going to want to ‘die’. It’s potent stuff.
But it suffers, I think, because it’s built like a house of straw.

As with his Cyberman two-parter which tried so hard to be a Hollywood action blockbuster and ended up just being a mechanical trudgeathon, MacRae’s inventiveness apparently fails to match his ambitions. There’s some creativity on display, with the fantastic imagery of the giant temporal magnifying glass, for instance, but there seems to be two streams of effort at work here: one where the writer has tried hard to make this scenario work, the other where he’s either been lazy or just not up to the task. I’m going to take the charitable view and assume these scripts are produced in a hurry to tight deadlines. But even then I can’t quite believe that nobody – say, a script editor or someone of that sort – looked at this and thought, hang on, Tom, don’t you think this is a bit weak? There's a worrying "It'll do" attitude that seems to creep into Doctor Who now and again. And again.

Never mind that we’ve already had alien medical AIs who haven’t a clue about human medicine (The Curse Of The Black Spot) in this same season. (Yawn.) But channeling one third of the TARDIS party into a separate time stream by virtue of an erroneous button press is pathetic. Disbelief is compounded by the way neither Rory or the Doctor recall that there are two *completely different buttons* when they shout instruction to Amy to “press the button”. Getting past that, we then have to buy the notion that Amy has survived for thirty six years against what must have been a vast army of robots before any programming kicked in to register that, what with all these robots getting knocked out and the ‘unidentified bacteria’ still present, perhaps some alternative approach was needed on the part of the administration.

Fair enough, Interface didn’t seem that bright. But for such a contrived and ‘advanced’ system for humanely dealing with this terrible disease, you might expect a few more complex protocols to have been built in to handle the occasional hiccup. Thousands of time streams all overlapping, we’re told, and yet the system is to all intents and purposes a one-trick pony, with absolutely no grasp of events outside the norm.

All the while, outside of Amy’s machine-room safehouse, we’re only shown one garden, a check-in area, a gallery and one stretch of corridor. We can assume she ranged a bit further afield in her thirty-six years, but the overall effect is to portray an extremely limited quarantine area and a consequently less convincing impression of the time that has supposedly passed.

And to top it all, the Doctor singularly fails to spell out to Rory that the rewriting (here we go again) of Amy’s timeline will actually spare her ever having suffered this ordeal. And nobody even mention that Rory waited two thousand years for Amy not all that long ago. And he still has memories of that.

In retrospect, I wonder if the tale would have worked better had the facility been a form of prison. The stretched time stream being some form of extending a sentence indefinitely, the different areas being different ordeals – a choice of hells, as it were, as opposed to gardens and theme parks etc, the robots being guards. And the Doctor and Rory are left in the time stream designed for visiting hours, as you’d have in a prison or public viewing – perhaps the victims’ families, who might wish to view the criminal’s suffering as some form of closure.

All decidedly nastier, but for my money simpler and more believable.

Obviously it’s just one idea I’ve come up with off the top of my head and it would need work, especially at the beginning when it came to how to separate Amy from the Doctor and Rory. But in that respect it’s no different to the episode we got.

All in all, another story that looked much better in the trailer. And ultimately one fine example of why actors are often more celebrated than writers.

Thankfully, there’s always next week.


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