Now this is much more like it. A massive improvement on McRae’s (and RTD’s) reintroduction of the Cybermen in season 2. If the last episode was a Missing Adventure, this one is a New Adventure, with a fallible and morally ambiguous Doctor once again acting in a highly questionable and manipulative way in relation to his companions. Some won’t like that and some won’t like another timey-wimey plot, but this was a proper and necessary examination of our three regulars.
Amy and Rory once again suffer because the Doctor gets things wrong. He doesn’t intend to do so, but that is scarce consolation to Older Amy or Rory. Rory has to choose between the Women he loves and the woman he loves and Amy and Amy have to decide which of them is to die. All the time the Doctor is lying to them all. This is pretty dark and heady stuff for a mainstream Saturday evening audience and it speaks volumes that the show is able and willing to take the risk of going into this territory. The New Adventures swam these waters regularly, but its arguable that the TV series has not presented us with such a difficult position for the regulars since the ‘60s.
Older Amy is beautifully judged by Tom McRae and Karen Gillan. She is “the same but different” in just the same way that we are all the same but different to our younger selves. Her refusal to assist her younger self and sacrifice herself is completely in keeping with the selfish streak that runs through Young Amy, but with an extra helping of bitterness and scepticism. This is an Amy that must have some understanding of Rory’s endless waiting and it is no coincidence that she naturally falls back into her relationship with Rory in spite of her own best efforts not to do so. Tellingly, she does not fall back into the relationship with the Doctor. It is open to interpretation as to whether she actually believed that the Doctor could find a way of the two Amy’s to co-exist or if she ultimately decided to sacrifice herself for the sake of Rory.
Rory’s understated decency in this episode is a wonderful. You could see him settling down with Older Amy in an alternative ending. He cares about whether she is okay and he cares about the prospect of loosing a life with Amy, but it is obvious that he is not about to dump Amy because she has piled on the years. His condemnation of the Doctor is pitched perfectly too. The Doctor spends his life having to make awful decisions; it is an inevitable part of his lifestyle and consequence of his own life history. Rory sees this because his is in the TARDIS for Amy, not for the adventure. He has every right to call the Doctor to account on this, particularly as he had already raised the risk Amy is subjected to in Vampire of Venice. The Doctor is found profoundly wanting for a good reply to Rory’s indignation.
All of which brings us to the Doctor himself. The Eleventh Doctor shown here harkens back not to Troughton but to Hartnell and McCoy at their most callously alien. It is evident from the get go that the Doctor is aware that a choice will have to be made between Older Amy and Younger Amy. It seems equally clear that the Doctor decides very quickly that the survivor must be Younger Amy. The Doctor’s actions throughout the rest of the episode are calculated to manipulate the Amys and Rory to achieving this end. On the one hand this is a logical and “necessary” decision to make. Both cannot survive, one must live to the exclusion of the other. Older Amy’s life appears to have been pretty awful and traumatic. Younger Amy can have a happier, safer life with Rory. The survival of the Younger Amy would correct the Doctor’s mistake also.
Against all of the moral issue that Older Amy is the original time line. Younger Amy’s life requires a re-writing of the time line with the effect that Older Amy will effectively die. Older Amy clearly sees enough worth in her life to want to carry on living. In no way can it therefore be said the Doctor has made the “right” decision. There is some sense of the Doctor realising this himself in attempting to “give” Rory the choice, but for the feeling that in doing so he is attempting to relieve himself of responsibility for the choice.
Looking at the more superficially aspects of the episode for a “cheap” “Doctor-lite” show, this has some fantastic design work. The Handbots are as effective in their own way and environments are the arty robots in The Robots of Death. Some of the CG was really beautiful, albeit reminiscent of Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland film.
The only thing I can really hold against the episode is the same problem as The Girl in the Fireplace. It is not really clear how the multiple linked time streams should really work and they fail in precisely the way needed to ensure the story takes place. But some dodgy technobabble is easily forgiven when it allows for the innovation of a such an excellent tragedy.