Crickey I am behind on these! It's not for lack of enthusiasm either. Unless The Big Bang is a Big Flop this has been the best season of new who outside the perfection that is season 3.
This episode certainly had "Low-key" written all over it in the previous. I was basically anticipating a sub-star trek, Brannon Braga-esque "what's really real" type of story. Up to a point that is exactly what we got and yet I found that outside of the first ten minutes, this was something quiet new and different too. In some ways that's a typical pattern for New Who. In the writers tale RTD comments on one story (can't recall which one) and points out that for all the advance publicity, everything after the first ten minutes was unspoiled.
The rather basic SF "what's real and what's not" plot was at least given a clever twist by having all of it be not real. This at least would put it ahead of 7 years worth of Star Trek Voyager for a kick off. Fundamentally, the plot wasn't the point. It was instead merely the pre-text for some fantastic dialogue and even better exploration of our key characters.
It's perhaps not surprising that this had its funny moments given that Simon Nye was the writer. This was however a more bitter and introspective form of humour than we have seen in the show before. I loved the "Self-harm" and "goodmare" lines, but the greatest gags in the episode:
"If you had any more tawdry quirks, you could open a tawdry quirk shop! The madcap vehicle, the cockamamie hair, the clothes designed by a first year fashion student... I'm surprised you haven't got a little purple space dog, just to ram home what an intergalactic wag you are!"
takes on a new meaning when you discover that the Dream Lord is the Doctor's own internal commentary on himself. Yes kids we are in Timewyrm: Revelation territory, only this time the story takes places in the companions psyche as well as the good Doctors. The notion of the Dream Lord as being some kind of proto-valeyard is as tawdry as the aforesaid quirks. This is an old man's bitterness and self-loathing made manifest, not some black hatted continuity-wank, poor man's Master. The brilliance of the episode is such that the you have to connect the dots to realise this. The Doctor's rather glib admission that the Dream Lord was him comes half an episode after he states there's only one person who hates him as much as the Dream Lord. If there's a flaw at all in this its that reflection at the end to help out the slower viewers.
All of which brings us to the subject of the episodes' title. Amy had, to this point, felt lacking to me. Whether you like Rose, Martha or Donna (and I do) or not, the fact of it is that they started out as well fleshed out characters and continued to develop from there. RTD really beefed up the quality of writing for the companions even if this was sometimes achieved by reducing the emphasis on the Doctor at times. The writing for Amy has simply not been as strong. To some extent this is arguably inevitable with a new, practically unknown, lead actor taking on the role of the Doctor. Nevertheless it's noticable that Rose is out of character is The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances and Sidelined in the Girl in the Fireplace. Similarly Donna got stuck with a stock Trek storyline in Silence in the Library, albeit a particularly well executed one. It's clear that the Moff has a bigger interest in the Doctor than the companion. This has certainly been to eleven's benefit but poor Amy has seemed rather generic and surplus to requirements at time. This episode corrects that in a large way. The Doctor (or Simon Nye) forces the issue of her relationship with Rory with the effect that we get to see a lot more of what makes Amy tick.
I simply loved the scene with Rory dying and Amy begging the Doctor to bring him back, followed by her angry "Then what is the point of you". Again a mark of the brilliance of the episode that its followed by an even better scene with the Doctor agreeing to drive into the cottage. Again, its what isn't said here that's important. The Doctor may well have figured it all out by then and if so he has clearly helped Amy to make her choice. But equally, he may not have it figured out, in which case he is prepared to take the risk of dying for nothing other than making a gesture to his new best friend.
I can see why this episode won't be to everyone's taste. On an objective level I couldn't say its a classic like Human Nature/Family of Blood. But it provides the heart and soul for this season in the same way that Turn Left did for season 4 and I LOVED it to bits because of that.
Also the snowy TARDIS was gorgeous.