Tom McRae has – somewhat surprisingly – delivered what for my money is the clear class of the second half of season 32 thus far. It was a nice showcase for Karen Gillan as Amy (she’s been wearing on me somewhat this season) but even more, feeds the growing body of evidence that Arthur Darvill’s Rory is the best companion since the Baker (Tom) days.
For starters, I’ve always felt the dynamic of multiple companions worked better than one – especially when they comprise both genders. Sarah Jane and Harry, Jamie and Zoe (my favorite companion pair), even Adric, Nyssa and Tegan – all of these dynamics worked well, despite each having its own limitations. With just The Doctor and a pretty young girl, romantic subtext invariably gets in the way and because The Doctor tends to get “humanized” in those situations by the writers so as not to completely dominate the show, he’s reduced as a character in the process. Amy and Rory work well as a pair because they can play off each other, allowing The Doctor to be the more remote, alien figure he should be. Amy on her own, not so much (at least for me).
An interesting premise by McRae here, and he uses it well. Amy trapped in a kind of temporal hospice where victims of a terminal disease that kills in a day (and only affects two-hearted victims) can live a full but isolated existence in their own personal time stream. Nothing about the set design was expansive but the show looked good – exactly what you’d imagine that sort of sterile, pseudo-luxurious facility would look like. The “nurses” – the handbots that Amy must avoid to survive as their two-hearty medicine would kill her – were humorous and ominous at the same time. And Gillan did a fine job expressing what it would have been like for bright young Amy to survive 36 years on her own, feeling abandoned and fighting for survival every day, turning into a kind of female “Braveheart”.
I don’t blame middle-aged Amy for being pissed when The Doctor and Rors showed up 36 years late, though I certainly wanted to scream at her that Rory had waited 2000 years for her once already. Nevertheless, the dilemma that McRae set up was a fascinating philosophical, moral and emotional one – which Amy to save? Of course Rory guessed correctly – The Doctor knew full well that the TARDIS would never abide two Amys existing side by side. I suspect old Amy knew it too. For me, the most powerful part of the episode came when Rory lashed out at The Doctor “You’re turning me into you!” That was a justified reaction at being forced to make a decision no one should have to face, but it was cold and surely struck The Doctor at her very heart(s).
It’s remarkable the degree to which the 28 year-old Smith has slipped into the Doctor’s skin – the difference in the last year is stark. This is an old soul, this actor, and more so than any Doctor since Colin Baker he embodies the “otherness” at the heart of this character. He’s also shown himself quite capable of messing up, as indeed he did in forcing the sadness and drama this week, perhaps more than any Doctor we’ve seen in the role. It’s an interesting element to the character, being both vulnerable and remote at the same time, yet overtly emotional as well. More than any Doctor, I think, Smith’s Doctor rises and falls with the strength of the material. In the right hands, he’s poetry – a tragic and eternal figure. But with a weak script, the house of cards comes tumbling down rather easily.
Next week is “The God Complex” by Toby Whitehouse. The creator of “Being Human”, he’s written two previous “Who” stories including the superb “School Reunion in 2006, which featured the return of the late Liz Sladen as Sarah Jane Smith and led directly to the creation of “The Sarah Jane Adventures”. This one looks like a haunted hotel story of some kind.