Amy: I’m gonna pull time apart for you.
One of my favorite episodes from Matt Smith’s run on Doctor Who is, ironically, one that features very little of the Doctor. It’s a story that focuses on his companions Amy and Rory, and their love. A story about time and broken promises and romance that overcomes bitter memories.
This is the Series 6 episode “The Girl Who Waited.”
What starts out as a side trip to a vacation on the planet Apalapucia becomes a nightmare when Amy finds herself separated from the Doctor and Rory. At the Two Streams Facility, she ends up in an accelerated time stream, making her think the Doctor abandoned her for thirty-six years when he and Rory were only gone for a few minutes. To protect herself from this alien hospital, Amy has grown bitter and violent, defending herself for what seemed like decades from deadly but well-meaning robots. In the end, Rory has to deal with what his wife has gone through in her own time stream, the Doctor has to face a Companion who’s learned to hate him, and Amy has to reconcile her bitter memories with her deep-rooted love for Rory–all while trying to deal with the deadly hospital robots.
Honestly, when I watched this episode, the first thought that popped into my head was, “So, this is what happens when Doctor Who meets Portal.” I mean, there’s a female protagonist who’s trapped inside an automated and well-lit facility, having to steal technology and fight against faceless robots and a supercomputer with a synthetic female voice. Just swap out “time travel” for “teleportation” and it’d be the same story. Not that I’m complaining, being a huge fan of both Who and Portal.
Beyond that geeky comparison, this story is low on monster scares and larger-than-life villains. Its real strength is the tension between Rory, the Doctor, and Amy. We’ve seen how the Doctor’s companions grow to trust him during their travels, and how some of them can even step in when the Doctor starts to go too far. But what happens when a Companion thinks she’s been left behind or betrayed by the Doctor? Karen Gillan’s performance as Amy gives us quite a stark answer: strong and resourceful like so many other companions, but without the compassion or friendship that defines them.
I also think Arthur Darvill brings a little more depth to Rory in this story. While his role as a fighter is cemented thanks to his history as The Last Centurion, we get to see Rory more on his own. The Doctor has to stay in the TARDIS, so Rory is the one using the sonic screwdriver and wearing “brainy specs.” He’s the one who has to find Amy and then find a way to fix the time stream problem before they can all leave on the TARDIS. It’s easy to sympathize with his plight, trying to reconcile what Amy goes through in her time stream with his faith in the Doctor and in her.
“The Girl Who Waited,” being a deconstruction episode of Who, gives the audience a lot of reasons to feel sad. Watching three good friends fall apart over a time travel accident is hard, but the story is solid and so’s the acting. And it wouldn’t be Doctor Who if the final act didn’t give us a solution that brings more tears.
Doctor Who is available on BBC One and BBC America.
Bibliography: “The Girl Who Waited.” Doctor Who (Series 6). Written by Tom MacRae. Directed by Nick Hurran. Produced by Marcus Wilson. BBC TV. Original broadcast: September, 10, 2011.