NERDERY: My First Doctor Who Blog

This was meant to be posted Saturday night, but technical difficulties prevented it. From now on, Who blogging will be posted on the night or the next day.


Steven Moffat is clearly a sadist. If there is anything that gives him pleasure, and you can see it in his work with Doctor Who, Sherlock and Jekyll, it’s presenting an audience with a nearly impossible dilemma and not giving them the easy way out. There’s always a price, always a loser, and…well…not always a winner. The blueprint was set in what must be considered one of the classic Who episodes, and the first time most viewers sat up and wondered, “Who on earth WROTE this?”: The Girl in the Fireplace. The blueprint is as follows: Doctor throws himself headlong into an adventure, second party falls desperately in love, Doctor and second party crash headlong into practicalities making said love an impossibility, choice must be made to either do the thing that feels right or the thing that is right. It’s almost evil how effective a formula it is.

"And now you will cry. Yes, let me taste your DELICIOUS TEARS."

In many ways, it’s the anti-Davies. Davies loved setting in motion a thousand-car pile-up of temporal insanity and then resolving it by saying, “Well…he’s the DOCTOR!” What makes Moffat an often-divisive figure among the Who fanbase is that any wish-fulfillment is hard-earned. Look at his portrait of Van Gogh (an underrated episode if ever there was one). Even written by professional fluffer Richard Curtis, the episode ends on a hard truth: want to take Van Gogh into the future and show him how much joy his work brings the masses? Terrific. He’ll still kill himself, but his life will have one more tiny, infinitesimal increment of joy in it. The big finish to Moffat’s first season? A massive, euphoric happy ending tempered only by the knowledge that Rory waited all alone for Amy for thousands of years, and the Doctor was imprisoned in a claustrophobic space-box for the same length of time. Take the win where you can find it, Moffat seems to be saying, and decide if it was worth it.

(By the way, this episode was written by New Who veteran Tom MacCrae, but it is DRIPPING with the Moffat house style)

All of this is by way of saying that the tenth installment of the 6th season, The Girl Who Waited, is one of the most emotionally grueling Who episodes in recent memory, and one of the best. Moffat’s been on a dream run, building an entire season around the twin intricacies of River Song’s origin and the Doctor’s growing reputation as an intergalactic menace. In fact, Moffat may be the first writer to devote this much time to debunking the myth of the Doctor as some charming, shambling intergalactic hobo (despite the lovely shades of Troughton that Matt Smith colors into his portrayal) who brings a bit of sunshine and danger into the lives of his fellow travelers. This season, it’s been made clear: the Doctor has fucked up. A lot. And the cost has never been more apparent. The River Song origin story has tied into this quite neatly. After all, what sort of man is so horrifically dangerous that an alien society breeds a weapon to get rid of him?


All of this makes it sound like this episode is not also packed with AWESOMENESS, which it most assuredly is.

Let’s back up.

The story: the Doctor takes Rory and Amy to the planet Apalapucia, one of the top tourist attractions in the universe (not the top one, the Doctor explains, because “everyone goes there”), only to find that the Tardis has landed in a “kindness facility” designed to quarantine and treat victims of the Chen 7 virus. Amy is separated from the group and, having been mistaken for a virus victim, placed in an alternate, and much accelerated, timestream. She grows old in a matter of minutes. The rest of the episode is about Rory and the Doctor attempting to rescue her.

Except that it’s really about so much more. Amy, by the time Rory and the Doctor find her, has spent nearly 40 years as the only sentient being in a facility full of robots who unwittingly try to murder her with alien vaccines her body won’t accept. She’s old, she’s tired and she’s bitter. For the first time, she truly hates the Doctor.

And you know what? Maybe she ought to hate him. Amy’s first exposure to everyone’s favorite Time Lord was based on a betrayal: he dangled the promise of adventure right in front of her eyes and then vanished for years. This time, however unintentionally, the Doctor has left her out to dry in the worst way possible. Her youth has been drained away, her sense of adventure hardened into a grim survivalism. The Doctor, through his capricious noodling, has essentially killed Amy Pond.

Of course there’s a way out. Through the usual “timey-wimey” thingamajigging, it is possible to rescue young Amy and thus erase old Amy. Old Amy, however, may have survived too long to submit to that very easily.

Okay, this is complicated.

If there’s a star this week, it’s not Matt Smith, who spends most of the show in his own little bottle episode entitled I Fucked Up, trying to fix his errors from inside the Tardis. Nor is it Karen Gillan, who gives her usual sterling performance and ages herself smartly. No, this week belonged to Arthur Darvill. Rory has, over the course of the Moffat run, established himself as one of the first “boyfriend companions” to not immediately make me break out in hives from irritation. Starting off as a bit of a drippy smart-alec, Rory has revealed himself to be a courageous, intelligent and challenging match for Amy. In other words, a totally reasonable alternative to the Doctor. I never spent hours wondering if Rose would ditch her kick-ass adventures around space and time to settle down with poor, butt-hurt Mickey. Even Davies seemed to know that, eventually finding an excuse to make Mickey bad-ass, by which point we’d all forgotten about him anyway. No, Rory is key to the success of the current series, and Darvill’s been given a lot to play in this episode.

He rises to the occasion, to say the least. Darvill’s usual “JESUS CHRIST WHAT HAVE YOU DONE” panic plays beautifully as he searches for young Amy, but when he finds old Amy, it turns into something else. We see that he would take old Amy if he had to, but when the great big honking Sophie’s Choice at the heart of the episode shows up, Darvill’s performance goes from sweet to heart-rending. The climactic minutes of The Girl Who Waited are almost impossibly moving, and it’s all down to Darvill. He’s earned his spot in the opening credits, no mistake.

Just one of the many faces of Arthur Darvill


And it really would be, but the episode is packed tight with just the sort of nimble thrills that Who delivers at its best. It’s lightspeed storytelling, throwing loops and curves at regular intervals, and steeped in the kind of talk-as-action that makes me think Moffat may actually be the science-fiction Aaron Sorkin. But it’s not all wordplay and puzzle-cracking. Amy Pond gets a sword. Think about that for a second. Ever thought it might be fun to watch Amy Pond slice through a battalion of robots with a samurai sword? Turns out you were right. Another sweet little kick: Imelda Staunton is the pleasantly unhelpful voice of the facility. Apparently Umbridge has found work in alien healthcare.


The design may also be a new high for Who. The sterile, blindingly white facility and the vast alien topiary are lushly envisioned. For action, pace and visuals, director Nick Hurran deserves top marks. This is spectacularly confident television.

It all comes back to this, however: how long can this last? There’s no real comfort in the closing lines of The Girl Who Waited. The Doctor is still on the run. Amy’s been to hell and back several times over. Rory has displayed more patience than any boyfriend in the history of the world. There’s a reckoning coming, and one more clearly defined than any threat in the post-Davies era. Is the Doctor going to have to pay? And how dearly?

Of course he’ll make it through. Just. But there will be a price.

Doctor Who really is the best fucking thing ever.

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