Who vs. Who vs. Who
Of the five items on the Best Dramatic Presentation (Short Form) category for the Hugo awards, there are three episodes of Doctor Who. I recently received season six on DVD for my birthday, which means I’ve been able to watch and rank all three.
Third Place: A Good Man Goes to War
I feel like this should have been the best of the three episodes. The setup was there: Rory and the Doctor have to rescue Amy and newborn Melody from a heavily guarded space station. To paraphrase River Song, this was an episode that was supposed to show us the Doctor’s finest moment, and then his darkest.
I wasn’t feeling it. It felt like the show was trying too hard, and cramming too many plot revelations into the episode. The Doctor was certainly clever and efficient, and it was interesting to see him calling in debts and putting together an interstellar A-Team. The Silurian and her human companion were my favorites. But it all felt rather by-the-numbers.
There were some great moments. Badass of the Year award goes to Rory for the scene when he marches onto the bridge of a Cyberman ship. I liked the “Melody Williams” vs. “Melody Pond” exchange between Amy and Rory. And I think it’s good for the show to explore the consequences of the Doctor’s “Basically, run…” reputation. But ultimately, while it was a quick-paced and exciting plot, I think that worked against the emotional side. It never stopped long enough to let me feel.
Second Place: The Girl Who Waited
I loved the central problem of this episode. After arriving at Apalapucia, we discover the planet was quarantined due to a disease that kills two-hearted species within a day. Through timey-wimey manipulation, they split off multiple timelines that allowed the sick to live entire lifetimes in that day, while healthy people could look in on them. Amy accidentally enters an accelerated timeline, and lives 36 years on her own before Rory and the Doctor find her. And since the robotic doctors would be deadly to a human, Amy spends those 36 years fighting to survive…
This was a “smaller” episode than “A Good Man Goes to War”: just our three main characters and a bunch of robots. I loved seeing Karen Gillan’s older, harder version of herself, complete with armor made up of the shells of old medibots, armed with a sword and club, and even her own cobbled-together sonic screwdriver probe. I loved seeing how she changed, and her hatred for the Doctor who once again failed to return for her. I loved that she stopped waiting for rescue, that she saved herself.
The last ten minutes or so were incredibly powerful. The Doctor can yank young-Amy from the timestream, but it would erase old-Amy from existence. I loved that old-Amy didn’t want to die. The moment when the Doctor shuts the TARDIS door on old-Amy was brilliant. I love that the show didn’t take the easy way out, that the Doctor knew what he had to do and did it. It showed the alien Time Lord side of him in a way I hadn’t seen in a while.
I did have some nitpicks. How did Amy learn to make a sonic screwdriver or a katana capable of decapitating a robot? What’s with this season trying to bypass the Doctor’s regenerations? (The plague would kill him permanently. Another episode referred to his regenerations being “offline.” Huh???) But overall, I thought it was a very good episode.
First Place: The Doctor’s Wife
I loved it. The plot itself was pretty typical — sentient superbeing called the House lures the Doctor past the edge of the universe in order to feed on the TARDIS. But first House has to remove the TARDIS’ matrix, and tucks it into a human form.
The relationship between the Doctor and Suranne Jones’ personified TARDIS was amazing. I loved their early conversations, when her perceptions were out of synch with normal time. I loved the history between them, and their obvious joy in one another. I loved the smaller moments, like when the Doctor is looking out at ruined TARDISes and seeing the parts he can use to rescue his friends, and Jones’ character points out that she sees the corpses of her sisters.
It was the ending that pushed this into the number one spot for me. Because a human body can’t hold the energies of a TARDIS for long, as we learned back at the end of season nine. And that means the Doctor will never again be able to talk to and interact with his longest companion the way he has in this episode.
In those last minutes, when he’s all but begging her not to leave, you see just how powerfully lonely a man the Doctor really is. It’s heart-wrenching, and it’s some of the best acting I’ve seen from Matt Smith so far.
For the Doctor Who fans out there, what do you think? Agree or disagree, or is there another season six episode you’d rank higher? (I haven’t seen the final few episodes of the season, so please don’t spoil those for me…)
April 30, 2012 @ 9:52 am
Same order I would rate those episodes. I loved The Doctor’s Wife and all the views we get of the “inside” of the TARDIS. The girl who waited was the first episode of this Series to make me cry, but admittedly the last Christmas special had me bawling. I hate how much they’re delaying Series 7, but I’m sure it’ll be as fantastic as ever.
April 30, 2012 @ 10:14 am
Absolutely correct order! The only problem I had with the Doctor’s Wife episode was the Rory/Amy scenes in the Tardis when we’re supposed to believe that Rory hates her for leaving him. Why wouldn’t she have been holding onto him after the first time they got separated? And it felt too much like reusing the The Girl Who Waited plot-line. (I might have seen them out of order, but still, how many times do you need to recycle the theme of “people who get left behind get pissed off about it”?) But the scenes with the Doctor and the Tardis so made up for it. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a more moving, but also purely clever, episode of television. The dialog is brilliant.
Jim C. Hines
April 30, 2012 @ 10:17 am
The Doctor’s Wife actually came before The Girl Who Waited, which was another unfortunate point against the latter, since you’re right that it was a plotline we had just seen a few episodes earlier.
Jim C. Hines
April 30, 2012 @ 10:17 am
I’m new enough to Doctor Who that I’ve been catching up by buying or borrowing the DVDs. I’m not going to be happy once we finish up this batch and actually have to wait with the rest of the world 😛
April 30, 2012 @ 10:19 am
I pretty much agree with you, although I keep changing the order on “The Doctor’s Wife” and “The Girl Who Waited”. I will not be at all unhappy if either wins (and, looking at the competition, completely and totally gobsmacked if neither does).
Jim C. Hines
April 30, 2012 @ 10:22 am
I haven’t seen the nominated episode of Community yet, or the Hugo acceptance speech. I know the latter is online, and I’ll check that out, but I’m very doubtful I’d end up voting for it. What I’ve read of the Community episode sounds interesting, though.
Dark Matter Fanzine
April 30, 2012 @ 10:27 am
The Doctor’s Wife hands down. Doctor Who isn’t what it used to be but this episode recaptured the spirit of Doctor Who. It’s also written by Neil Gaiman, ’nuff said. I mean man, the guy has over 1.7 million followers on twitter, any Doctor Who episode he writes would go platinum a few times over if it was a CD. My favourite of Neil’s works is Stardust (so far, I haven’t read them all) and this episode of Doctor Who is also the most Stardust-like of the episodes.
Jim C. Hines
April 30, 2012 @ 11:02 am
I tried to separate the fact that it was written by Neil Gaiman, in part because I’ve already seen people talking about how that episode is going to win because hey, it’s Neil Gaiman! But he’s Neil Gaiman for a reason, you know? And it was just a very well-written episode.
April 30, 2012 @ 3:40 pm
I’d have to nice The God Complex before A Good Man. I’m torn between The Girl Who waited and the Doctor’s wife. I loved the latter but thought the former was more compelling and it had Gillians best acting on the show. However the ending infuriated me and still does all this time later, which is an indication of the quality of the writing.
Jim C. Hines
April 30, 2012 @ 3:42 pm
Haven’t seen The God Complex yet, but it’s next up for late-night viewing.
What about the ending infuriated you?
May 1, 2012 @ 12:53 am
I agree with your assessment completely.
Best line of any episode I’ve ever seen: “Biting’s excellent. It’s like kissing. Only there’s a winner.”
May 1, 2012 @ 6:18 pm
There are two main issues I have with the episode. The first is the way it played on Amy’s emotional issues (particularly her abandonment issues). The bigger one is the ending, which I think was poorly thought out. The set up was incredible, but then it seemed to me like the writers couldn’t figure out how to resolve it. (This bugged me a great deal about the River Song/Melody Pond plot line too).
1.) Amy’s abandonment. The poor girl already has abandonment issues. First there was the growing up in the empty house by herself. Sure it wasn’t her parent’s fault that they abandoned her, but she was still abandoned. Then there’s the Doctor showing up with his magical box and promising the universe and then abandoning her again. Then the Doctor shows back up to save the world, and leaves her yet a third time, before showing up on the night before her wedding to take off with her.
As a side note I think this explains a great deal of how Amy treats Rory through the course of the series. Her inability to commit to him and the desire to chase adventure is, in my opinion, a reflection of a fear that he’ll abandon her, so if she abandons Rory first then it won’t hurt so bad.
2.) After everything that the Doctor did in A Good Man to get his friend Amy out of trouble the last thing you’d think he’d do is cause her harm. amy taking off and getting trapped in the slow time line isn’t the Doctor’s fault–it’s her own for going off wandering, but when the Doctor condemns Amy to die alone, that’s cruelty and it’s worst. He can justify it to himself by saying that the young Amy is alive, but the old Amy was every bit as much Amy as the young Amy was, only she was old and not young, and who wants to go adventuring with an old person?
3.) The way that the Doctor did it was despicable. Rather than present his arguments to those most concerned with the decision (Rory and both Amy’s), he made the decision himself, and old Amy and Rory were basically forced to come to terms with it. The lessons from A Good Man Goes to War were apparently short-lived, because the Doctor doesn’t know best, even if he thinks he does.
4.) Killing Old Amy was incredibly hypocritical of the Doctor based on attitude during The Rebel Flesh/The Almost People about how the gangers are real people too who deserve to live every bit as much as the “originals”. Yet here he’s willing to lock off Amy in Purgatory without a problem.
If I’d been writing the episode I would have saved both of the Amy’s, based on information available to us from Classic Who, as well as Moffat’s Whoverse.
First, the Whoverse has established that both Amy’s could live at the same time. There are episodes of Classic Who where there are multiple Doctors in the same room together without anything dangerous happening to anybody else. Beyond that it’s inconceivable to think that the Doctorr hasn’t crossed his own timeline at least once or twice before.
It’s also established that people in Moffat’s Whoverse can have memories of different timelines. This is particularly evident with Rory and his memories of being Rory and a Roman soldier, but Amy and River Song both exhibit this a bit.
Finally this episode already established that something was wonky with time because of the hospitals.
So, in the last scene we’ve got young Amy unconscious on the floor. Rory joins her to check on her. Old Amy joins the group after disabling the time warp field. Due to the interference of the hospital’s time warm, the two Amy’s in the same room, Rory, and the TARDIS, a bunch of time-wimey stuff happens and old Amy’s memories are transplanted into Young Amy’s body. Thus both of them live, but young Amy has two sets of memories.
May 1, 2012 @ 6:18 pm
Best line of any episode is “Everybody lives Rose! Just this once everybody lives!”
May 1, 2012 @ 6:19 pm
The Doctor’s Wife also reminded me a great deal of Stardust. It had that same kind of whimsical feel to it that Stardust did.
May 2, 2012 @ 1:29 am
“The Girl Who Waited” shows Doctor Who‘s difficulty (verging on inability) in writing female characters in non-sexist ways. How the Doctor, and later Rory as well, decided they had to “save” Amy despite her telling them explicitly multiple times that “saving” her would be killing her and she didn’t want to die. How the Doctor lied and manipulated Amy into cooperating with her own execution. How Amy agrees to assist in the plan in large part for Rory and to save Rory from being alone – I am so sick of the women on this show only being motivated by the men in their lives.
The entire episode was an exercise in manpain. Amy’s pain wasn’t important because she had a rough time, it was important because she became another person the Doctor failed to save and he’ll be able to redeem himself if he completely overrides her wishes and resets her like a broken toy.
Or, everything John said.
May 2, 2012 @ 3:19 am
Everything you’ve said is one of the main reasons that Donna remains my favorite nuWho companion.
May 3, 2012 @ 9:05 am
You hit it on the head. Doctor Who never seemed like a show I had to think critically about, but Moffat’s reign has been piling on the sexist squick enough that I can’t ignore it.
After watching The Girl Who Waited, I told one of my friends that I couldn’t decide whether to cry or vomit. Yeah, ok, Old!Amy was kickass. She made weapons and survived all those years without help. However, she couldn’t rescue herself. She was stuck in that lonely hell until The Doctor got his act together.
Also: what Earthling picks a red button over a green one?
May 3, 2012 @ 6:42 pm
I agree that Dr Who has occasional trouble with female characters, but The Girl Who Waited didn’t bother me. I didn’t see it as being about Rory – in fact Rory was pretty useless, wasn’t he? He ran around all distressed, needing to be rescued from robots several times by Old Amy, unable to solve or even really tackle the problem. Young Amy used him as a means to emotionally manipulate Old Amy into letting her have a better life, but that’s hardly his fault. (And his being male is incidental to that – he wasn’t The Man, he was A Person You Care About Who Will Be Hurt By Your Decision.) Really, Amy was tough and independent and eventually selfless (which doesn’t *have* to be a weakness, does it? The Doctor tries to sacrifice himself for people all the time, and no one thinks “There he goes, sacrificing himself for the humans, this show totally thinks Time Lords don’t matter”), while Rory and The Doctor were next to useless.
The Doctor absolutely decided for Amy, but that’s what he does. He’s an over-controlling alien with little-to-no trust in people’s ability to choose for themselves. He does it for everyone he meets, male or female, human or alien.
My main quibble with that ep was the buttons. Why in the world wouldn’t Amy say, “Hey Rory, there’s two buttons, which one do you mean?” (I know, then there would be no episode, but still!)
May 4, 2012 @ 1:14 pm
I’m pretty sure that Old Amy said that the “central computer” taught her how to make the sonic probe; it was programmed to answer questions and help the residents. IDK about the katana, but my guess is that she found it somewhere in the complex.