"Trust nothing you see, hear or feel," says the Doctor. "This is going to be a tricky one." Which neatly sums up my reaction to this latest episode.
On first viewing a couple of days ago, I was distinctly underwhelmed by Amy's Choice. With its low-budget scale and lackadaisical pace, it felt like one of the more disappointing episodes of The Sarah Jane Adventures.
I was unengaged by the nightmare dilemma facing the Doctor's party, and didn't believe in their emotional responses, especially Amy's after Rory's dust-to-dust "death". I was disappointed that, although a lot of action is set within the Tardis, we don't get to see any more of the new set. Without sound effects and lights, it looks like the pump room of a swimming baths.
I particularly disliked the demonising of elderly people. Are children supposed to look twice at their grandparents now? When Mrs Poggit – infested by an Eknodine – attacks Rory, Amy barks, "Whack her!" Which he does, with a log, sending the old girl sideways into the shrubbery. The Doctor, later, sends her tumbling from a first-floor window. It's almost comical, but in dubious taste.
But in the time-honoured tradition of the long-term Doctor Who fan, I am always more than willing to give an episode another chance – even if it's only a few days later. I haven't quite come to an instant re-evaluation. My previous gripes still stand. But here's what I did appreciate.
The birdsong between dream states. A more subdued backing track from Murray Gold. The realisation that, for the first time, the Doctor is travelling with a couple in love. And Simon Nye's script actually has a tight structure and several amusing lines (Amy: "If we're gonna die, let's die looking like a Peruvian folk band").
Nye reinforces the idea that the Doctor is an old man who "prefers the company of the young"; his friends are just "people you acquire" never seen again "once they're grown up". Curiously, the Dream Lord and both dream worlds are drawn from the Time Lord's psyche. The Doctor admits the "psychic pollen" is a mind parasite, which "feeds on everything dark in you. Your inner voice. It turns it against you". And Toby Jones is perfect as the Rumpelstiltskin nightmare emerging from the Doctor's paranoia.
And, back to the thwacking of old folks, I am mollified to realise that the geezer twice sent flying is seasoned stuntman Nick Hobbs. His association with Who is immense. Way back in 1971, he was the Unit lorry driver hypnotised by the Master in The Claws of Axos. He also played cuddly/ferocious Aggedor in the two Pertwee Peladon stories and a Wirrn in The Ark in Space (1975). That's the stuff of nightmares.