What a cracking episode! Dazzling, clinical design (including deft use of the Wales Millennium Centre). Natty, surgical “Handbots”. A clever concept – our heroes separated by “time streams running parallel but at different speeds”. And, more importantly, horrible dilemmas for a much older Amy - who understandably doesn’t want to surrender her years of experience, no matter how grim they were - and for Rory: “So I have to choose – which wife do I want?”
On the surface, even the casual Who-ologist should instantly draw parallels with the Patrick Troughton classic, The Mind Robber (1968). Set in a white void (or “opaque nothingness”), its first episode also featured solely the Doctor, two companions and a disembodied voice. There were White Robots, too, whose hypnotic chest probes look very similar to the “secondary delivery system” emerging from the heads of the Handbots.
The narrative also plays like an episode of one of those ancient American sci-fi anthologies, or even an original Star Trek, where a couple of Enterprise crew would beam down to a strange new world and become ensnared in a role-playing scenario.
But Tom MacRae’s script provides so much more emotional depth, as we are presented truly with The Girl Who Waited. Amy: “You told me to wait and I did. A lifetime!” The make-up job on Karen Gillan is brilliant in its subtlety. If only her hair could have been cropped or grey, not just stripped of its usual lustre.
The thought of Amy marooned alone for 36 years is appalling, and naturally she’s furious with the Lord of Time. “It got a bit harder to stay charitable once I entered decade four… I hate him more than anyone I’ve hated in my life,” she tells Rory. The story forces us to consider how anyone would feel confronted with a spouse 36 years older or younger. Empathic Rory yearns for his youthful, fitter Amy, but cannot deny puffy, senior Pond her decades of experience.
Older Amy is, of course, an even tougher mare than her junior counterpart. “I call my life what it is – hell.” A sword-swishing Ripley type, she’s even worked out how to improvise a sonic screwdriver. Delightfully, she softens when Rory says something funny: “I think that’s the first time I’ve laughed in 36 years.” And there’s fleeting humour when Rory asks the Time Lord: “Two Amys together. Can that work?” The Doctor: “I dunno. It’s your marriage.”
I’ve quoted so much of MacRae’s dialogue because it works so beautifully and is delivered to perfection by Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill, who have never been better. I adore the scene with the two Amys conversing through the looking glass. Old Amy: “All those boys chasing me but it was only ever Rory. Why was that?” They put into words the appeal of Rory, which so many of his fans will already appreciate. When both young and old Amy say together “Rory’s the most beautiful man I’ve ever met”, it’s extremely touching.
The most moving scene is when Rory and older Amy touch hands either side of the Tardis door and she urges: “If you love me, don’t let me in… Tell Amy, your Amy, I’m giving her the days. The days with you. The days to come. The days I can’t have. Take them, please.”
And I love that simple ending, as younger Amy awakes and asks one question: “Where is she?”