THIS EPISODE TAKES
PLACE BETWEEN THE
TIME" AND "THE
'THE COMPLETE FIFTH SERIES' LIMITED EDITION STEELBOOK BLU-RAY DVD
(BBCBD0130) RELEASED IN NOVEMBER 2010.
It's been five years since Amy Pond last travelled with the Doctor and when he lands in her garden again, on the eve of the birth of her first child, she faces a heartbreaking choice that will change her life for ever...
15TH MAY 2010
When the pool of writers for this season was announced, one name stuck out li- ke a sore thumb: Simon Nye. Writer of the raucous 1990s sitcom Men Behaving Badly and, more recently, a frighteningly well-observed modernisation of David Nobbs’ Reggie Perrin, Nye’s is hardly the first name that springs to mind when one thinks of Doctor Who. However, as a particular 1997 episode of Men Behaving Badly betrays, Nye has a good working knowledge of science fiction plots (well, that of Star Trek’s City on the Edge of Forever, at least), and this understanding is put to startling use here with Amy’s Choice – probably the season’s cheapest episode, yet definitely one of it’s greatest successes.
““So what do you do around her to stave of the, you know… Oh look, a bench.”
Nye’s story is essentially a TARDIS ‘bottle show’, albeit with some delightfully picturesque jaunts into an imaginary ‘Upper’ Leadworth, five years hence. The premise is simple: the Doctor, Amy and Rory are being thrown from one reality to another. An impish being calling himself ‘the Dream Lord’ (deviously portrayed by Toby Jones of Harry Potter fame) advises them that one of these realities is real, and the other is fake. In each a “deadly danger” awaits, but our heroes can only be harmed in the real world. Accordingly, all they have to do is work out which world is an illusion, throw themselves under a bus in it, and wake up in the real world to put paid to the danger that threatens it.
“One reality was always too much for you, Doctor. Take two and ring me in the morning.”
Now in itself, this is an intriguing concept. The invisible line that divorces dream from reality is one that’s often been probed through drama, and never more beguilingly than in the currently concluding BBC series Life on Mars / Ashes to Ashes. Amy’s Choice is inevitably much lighter in tone and far less labyrinthine than Matthew Graham and Ashley Pharaoh’s peerless police procedural, but it still poses those same unsettlingly unanswerable quest-ions; it still provokes the same sense of unease.
This disquiet is then exacerbated by the dangers lurking within each scenario - the TARDIS is on a collision course with a distinctly frosty-looking sun, and it’s central heating is broken. The Leadworth of 2015, meanwhile, is teeming with nonagenarians that have murderous alien Eknodine poised to spring forth from their gobs and disintegrate folk. Clearly the latter are the episode’s biggest draw: they’re resplendently traditional and endearingly effective Doctor Who monsters, and quite rightly their killing spree is afforded the lion’s share of the forty-five minutes.
“Would you really give him up for a bumbling country doctor who thinks the only
thing he needs to be interesting is a pony tail? Amy’s men. Amy’s choice.”
However, what ultimately marks Amy’s Choice out as a 2010 episode as opposed to, say, a 1967 episode is the near-heartbreaking character drama that fuels every scene. The very fact that Nye called this episode Amy’s Choice (as opposed to something like “Nightmare of the Dream Lord”) reflects what’s at the crux of his story; the epiphany waiting to happen. Ever since Amy Pond first ran away with the Doctor, she’s been waging an inner war, torn between the comfortable, safe and loving life that Rory could give her, and the universe of danger and excitement that the Doctors offers. Until now, she’s had the luxury of running away and leaving her impending marriage to Rory in abeyance, but now Amy must choose: a world in which she’s married and pregnant, or a world in which she’s travelling the stars.
Naturally, Nye’s script is heavy on humour as the Doctor and Rory are each convinced that the reality that favours them is the real one. Matt Smith and Arthur Darvill outdo even their delectable performances last week with some exceptional acting, each striking the perfect accord between mordant humour and near-profound severity. This is an especially remarkable achievement for Darvill, who spends the preponderance of the episode looking like Rodney Trotter in his infamous yuppie wig.
“I didn’t know; I honestly didn’t until right now. I just want him.”
It’s Karen Gillan, however, who leaves the truly lasting impression. Though Smith and Darvill overshadow her for nearly three quarters of the episode, when the time comes for Amy to make her choice, Gillan’s performance is absolutely off the page. Having watched her future husband literally crumble into dust right in front of her, Amy suddenly realises that she can’t live without him. And so, irrespective of which world is real, Amy wants the reality where she’s travelling with the Doctor to be the genuine one - not because she values the Doctor more, but because Rory is alive in it. With this in mind and the Doctor in tow, Amy drives a milk van into her house at full speed. She makes a leap of faith.
It’s a resoundingly satisfying conclusion, particularly as I’ve found myself really championing Amy’s hapless fiancé over the last two weeks. Had Rory gone on to be another spurned companion lover like poor old Mickey Smith, not only would this have felt a little tired, but it would have been quite hard to stomach too. After all, for all the virtues that he’d eventually exude, Mickey was an unlikeable idiot at first. Rory, on the other hand, is your textbook nice guy who invariably finishes last. Well, not today...
“There’s only person in the universe hates me as much as you do.”
But with only moments left, Nye has one final, damning card to play – a sting in the tale that offers us a fascinating, fleeting glimpse into the darker part of the Doctor’s psyche. In a last-minute twist, the Doctor reveals that neither of the Dream Lord’s realities were real, and that, in a sense, he was the Dream Lord all along. The devilish being was a distillation of the Doctor’s dark side (sort of a watery, nebulous Valeyard) conjured up by a few specs of psychic pollen that had infected the TARDIS’ time rotor. Thus the two realities and all the quandaries that they posed - not to mention all the Dream Lord’s brutal, caustic digs at the Doctor and his many “tawdry quirks” - were all the invention of the Doctor’s own neuroses; his own suppressed self-loathing. Provocative stuff, to say the very least.
And so, whilst I should really be weighing this one against the likes of Boom Town and Fear Her rather than the high-octane blockbusters that we’ve had so far this year, for me Amy’s Choice has been the highlight of Matt Smith’s short tenure. The special effects may be sparse, but the performances are absolutely untouchable; the story is loaded with perfectly-proportioned heart, humour and horror; and, unless you’ve made the schoolboy error of reading this spoiler-laden review before watching the episode, it’ll keep you guessing right up until the end.
Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2010
E.G. Wolverson has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
And it was all just a strange dream…
There’s a fine episode hidden somewhere in Amy’s Choice, but sadly it seems that the choice by the writer and the director was to fluff it. This could have been a great surreal comedy episode, or a chilling slice on unreality, but as it is it falls between those two stools. Simon Nye’s script has some great lines, to be sure - it’s the Doctor’s mumbled comment about self-harm that made me smirk the most - but there’s nothing laugh-out-loud funny, which is a surprise coming from the man who gave us Men Behaving Badly. The darker elements of the script are underplayed, never truly convincing, and Catherine Morshead’s pedestrian direction doesn’t help here. Events like the siege of the possessed OAPs, which could have been a triumph of threatening, surrealist imagery, never feels as if it embodies any danger. The reveal of the wormlike aliens hiding in their bodies, and their power to reduce their victims to dust, are let down by mediocre effects. The most exciting thing on offer here is an escape by VW shag-wagon, which is a giggle, but shouldn’t be the action high-point of an episode. Altogether, I’m sorry to say, the overall cheapness of the episode betrays its origins as a mid-season money-saver.
“How interesting, your dream wife, your dream job. Probably your dream baby…”
It’s a shame, because there are some great elements on offer. All three regulars provide the fine performances that we have already come to expect. Arthur Darvill’s Rory is fast becoming one of my favourite characters in the series; a wonderfully ordinary man who we can all relate to as he’s immersed into the Doctor’s bonkers world. It’s satisfying to see him starting to give as good as he gets, though, as he begins to stand up to the Doctor’s alpha male presence. As usual, Matt Smith is excellent as the Doctor, thriving in the quirkiness of the episode and giving an agreeably ratty temper to the old Time Lord. Karen Gillan, as the focus of the episode’s dilemma, handles some really meaty and emotional scenes with grace and believability.
“Your friends never see you again once they’ve grown up.
The old man prefers the company of the young, does he not?”
However, the episode belongs to Tony Jones as the mysterious(ish) Dream Lord. A snarky, sarcastic hobgoblin, the Dream Lord brings a Blackadder-ish waspishness that the Doctor struggles to answer back to. However, although his comments on the Doctor are naturally well-observed, he’s not actually given very witty dialogue. Thankfully, Jones is more than capable of bringing the role to life with his performance, creating a memorable character. The grand reveal of the nature of the Dream Lord is a real winner, although not entirely unexpected; while I was thinking maybe the Toymaker or something, the fact that he arrives wearing the same style of costume as the Doctor is an immediate clue to his origins, so obvious that I missed it. A fan-pleasing touch would have been to cast Michael Jayston, but that would tip off the geeks in the audience, and rob us of Jones’ performance. As it is, we can add Toby Jones to the ever-growing list of actors who have played the Doctor, in some form or another. However, as a reflection of the dark side of the Doctor’s nature, the Dream Lord is a little limp. For a man with the blood of countless millions on his hands, the dark nature of the soul should surely have been something a little more threatening.
“If this is real life, I don’t want it.”
That’s the whole crux of the problem with this episode. The entire story lacks threat. Is there anyone who, even for a moment, thought that the five-years-time world of Upper Leadworth was genuine? Doctor Who hasn’t the balls to do something like that, jumping five years ahead in the main characters’ lives and bringing babies into the equation. The illusory dream world is something that almost all fantasy series try at some point, and the only one that ever stood a chance of convincing the viewer was Red Dwarf with the classic Back to Reality, and that wasonly because it was a comedy show at the end of a season. Doctor Who simply wouldn’t do something so bold with its ongoing cast. As it is, the revelation that both worlds were illusions isn’t the great twist it’s clearly intended as; it’s fairly old hat in itself.
That said, I wasn’t certain whether the TARDIS world was real or not till the very end. The obvious clue, so obvious that it’s pointed out by the characters, is the cold star, which is astrophysical nonsense (I did start thinking of a possible way to explain it by using exotic matter with negative energy, but there were two problems with that: one, the gravity would be repulsive and would push the TARDIS away; and, two, it was bollocks). Of course, most of the science in Doctor Who is nonsense, so how were we to tell? Still, the reveal that everything we’ve seen has been a dream robs the episode of its relevance. There was never any threat, so it’s hard to care about the episode.
“If we’re gonna die, let’s die looking like a Peruvian folk band.”
Perhaps this is missing the point. The focus of the episode is on the relationship between the characters, and this is intact at the end. It’s interesting to explore the Doctor’s feelings for Amy, however confused they may be, and the notion that she seems to have imprinted herself on him as much as he on her. It’s good to see Amy take a step towards growing up and genuinely making a decision about her relationship with Rory, and good to see Rory fleshed out further. Nonetheless, all of this could have been explored in a ‘real’ adventure, with something more than the characters’ peace of mind at stake, and it could have been a more effective episode as a result.
Copyright © Daniel Tessier 2010
Daniel Tessier has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
What I really love about Series 5 is that Steven Moffat is really trying to make each episode very different. It reminds me of is the series’ first three seasons, where the producers deliberately plotted their years with stories that went backwards, forwards and sideways. Amy’s Choice is a really good example of a sideways Doctor Who story – it doesn’t head into the past or explore the future, it is simply a very well done character drama told within the confines of the TARDIS. It’s closest relation is The Edge of Destr-uction, but it is far more imaginative and gripping than that story.
As a way of getting our three regulars to confront their feelings for each other it is outlandishly clever, and the way that the story hops between two dreams gives the piece a real sense of scale and pace. The idea of what is real and what is an illusion is a fascinating and frightening one and we are offered two very plausible (well, plausible within Doctor Who confines) scenarios for our heroes to decide which is the dream and which is real. The two threats, the TARDIS drifting towards a freezing star and the attack of the Eknodine are both presented in such a way that either could be reality. Questioning your perception of reality has been explored very effectively in science fiction before (Riker’s nightmarish trials in Star Trek: The Next Generation’s Frame of Mind is an especially good example) and Amy’s Choice can join their ranks handsomely.
“Amy’s men. Amy’s choice.”
Amy’s Choice begins in such an ordinary fashion that you don’t question its integrity; you simply accept that, rather cleverly, Simon Nye has decided to take us five years into Amy’s future where she has left the TARDIS and settled with Rory in Upper Leadworth, but thanks to some clever direction filmed with a heightened sense of reality the picturesque village takes on a menacing atmosphere all of its own. I found the Leadworth scenes to be some of the episodes finest with some lovely horror touches: just look at the advancing geriatrics or those stuffy scenes set inside the butchers’ and Amy and Rory’s house. I love the way that the pollen drifts through these scenes, subtle enough to be rain, in retrospect makinh perfect sense.
This is also a story that bravely tackles some very adult themes such as a sense of self-loathing, having feelings for another man and fear of the elderly. The Doctor mentions self-harm, sweet old women are abused terribly, and Amy even commits abortion in her final decision. It is certainly one of the most adult Doctor Who stories for the horrors it implies. The laughs are there too, with some sumptuous shots of old dears pursuing the Doctor down the street on their zimmers and Mrs Poggit being knocked from a second storey window – at times it’s laugh out loud hilarious!
“There’s something here that doesn’t make sense. Let’s go and poke it with a stick.”
The TARDIS scenes are visualised beautifully and utilise the fairytale horror that we have enjoyed this year. The idea of a freezing star is absurd, but it is presented in a believable fashion and Doctor Who has made less convincing leaps before. The console room is slowly iced up to suggest the extreme cold, and the final shot of the console encased in an ice shell is awesomely powerful.
This story is not about its lovely visuals though, and it is through the wonderful characterisation that we are rewarded and Amy’s Choice has much more to say about the regulars than most. The relationship with Amy and “pointy nose” Rory has been bubbling with tension over the last couple of episodes, and now we finally get to see just how much Amy does care for him. Rory wants to accept the Leadworth delusion because it sees Amy and him expecting their first child and his delight at walking in on the nursery really brings home how much he wants to set up house with his Scottish kissogram. When the Doctor is trying to hold on to the TARDIS reality and Rory the Leadworth one, the Doctor perceptibly asks if they are disagreeing or competing. Amy doesn’t even look at Rory when she admits it is Rory that she would choose between the two of them and she casually remarks that they can get married some day. You cannot help but feel for Rory who has been dragged into these madcap adventures simply because the Doctor crash landed in his fiancée’s childhood garden and captured her heart before he was even on the scene.
“I want the other life, where we’re happy and settled and gonna have a baby.”
Rory’s death sequence is probably my favourite in the episode because it allows all of the pent-up feelings to explode, rendering Amy mute with pain at the thought of never seeing him again. The Doctor tentatively approaches Amy and is too afraid to touch her and she turns on him viciously and asks what the point of him is if he cannot save the people she loves. Matt Smith is especially sweet in these scenes, the Doctor silently accepting Amy’s choice to kill herself and destroy this reality. When they emerge from the dreams it is quite touching to watch Rory slowly realise that Amy could not bear to live without him. Rory’s dying line “I’m not ready” is devastating.
“Dream Lord – it’s in the name isn’t it? Spooky, not quite there.”
Whilst the episode masquerades as being all about Amy, it actually has more to say about the Doctor and the one questioning his sense of self is the aptly-titled Dream Lord, played superbly by Toby Jones. In turns he is witty, sinister, incisive, mischievous and insulting and he cuts at the Doctor’s fears with the precision of a surgeon. He admits that he doesn’t just abandon people when they leave the TARDIS but the Dream Lord suggests that the people he “acquires” never see him again once they have grown up. One of the things that really bugged me about the Russell T Davies era was the constant love letters to the Doctor where he would get applause for his actions or stand up and bark out about how wonderful he is. Amy’s Choice is the antithesis of this, and once we discover that the Dream Lord is actually a representation of him we see that perhaps he doubts his reputation and sees himself as a flop haired wuss with tawdry quirks aplenty; an old man who enjoys the company of the young. That last shot of the Dream Lord staring back at the Doctor from the console suggests there is more darkness to come. Whilst some might criticise this episode for its New Adventures-esque dip into the Doctor’s soul, it works wonderfully with Matt Smith’s fairytale incarnation.
My initial reaction to the psychic pollen revelation was one of disappointment though. I wanted the Dream Lord to be something fan-pleasing like the Celestial Toymaker, but on reflection it is a great answer and far more intriguing than any returning villain could be. With it we are exposed to the Doctor’s insecurities, treated to a gorgeous ‘sideways’ adventure that in reality is set entirely within the TARDIS and get the chance to see Rory and Amy reconcile in a chilling (ha ha) adventure.
“You’ve swallowed a planet!”
Altogether then, Nye has written a very impressive debut script and proved to any nay-sayers that he was more than up to the job. As well as writing a script that is full of substance he ensures that the laughs come thick and fast as well and there are some very witty lines. Pregnancy is what happens when “worlds collide” and Amy’s size makes her look as if she has “swallowed a planet”. I laughed my head off when Rory admitted that he couldn’t hit a sweet old woman and Amy turns and spits “Whack her!” It’s another episode where the teaser isn’t rushed; it is an extended prologue rather than a cliffhanging moment that expertly leads you into the story.
Amy’s Choice is an episode that is bigger on the inside than the outside with a real sense of scale, but actually no scale at all. Stylishly imagined by Simon Nye and incredibly well-executed, this episode is one the biggest surprises of the year so far.
Copyright © Joe Ford 2010
Joe Ford has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
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