2MTL 235: A Discordant Note on "The Girl Who Waited"

On paper, "The Girl Who Waited" was brilliant. Karen Gillan? A revelation. So why did I take a 45-minute walk around the neighborhood, grinding my teeth, trying to figure out how I felt about the episode?

Thanks to Huw at thirteenfaces.com for linking me to Emily Asher-Perrin's essay at tor.com on the relationship of the Doctor, and Doctor Who, to children. It was the whack on the side of the head that helped me understand my reaction.

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  1. You say your Doctor is humane, I say my Doctor is human. The possession of a human nature comes with a capacity for cruelty. We've seen it before, though not so cleanly cutting, during Journey's End. The "other" Doctor, the "human" copy formed with Donna, is a duplicate of the Doctor and he commits genocide. This time it wasn't some broad, misty idea of something we intellectually know is bad, it was a precise moment that carved its way into our hearts and forced some of us to ask ourselves if we could make the choice – the Doctor's or Rory's.

  2. Interesting perspective, Chip. I'm not sure I disagree with it, but I do think that the discomfort you felt was not only intentional but crucial—not just for this episode, but for the season as a whole. As I argue in my review of the episode, this entire season is, thematically, about exploring the darker side of life with the Doctor. "The Girl Who Waited" is not, to my mind, the stand-alone episode most of fandom seems to have taken it for. It's essential to the season's thematic arc, and an extension of the same ideas we saw in "A Good Man Goes to War": how the very word "doctor" has become corrupted, and how destructive the Doctor's presence can be to the humans he travels with.

    From the Two Streams facility (which is really just a huge TARDIS metaphor), to the Handbots (who are themselves "doctors", and just as blind—literally and figuratively—as the Doctor himself can be), to Rory's angry statement "You're turning me into you," MacRae is elaborating on Moffat's theme that there is a high price to pay for life with the Doctor.

    In my review—which I'd love you to read—I say that Old Amy is a representation of what life with the Doctor would do to someone who stayed with him too long: the people he screws up (as he said in "Let's Kill Hitler,") and the people he turns into weapons (as Davros accused him in "Journey's End"). Something your recording made me realize is that we can view the Doctor's willingness to "undo" Old Amy's life as an attempt to erase these mistakes, and to purge himself of the guilt of what he has done to his companions, and what he is continuing to do to this couple.

    It is indeed dark, and troubling, and perhaps your point is that you think it's too dark and mature for Doctor Who. But I give Moffat and Co. a lot of credit for going there: he's making room to allow this 900-year-old character to actually grow, and–though I could be wrong–I think the payoff is going to be worth it.

    Sorry to ramble so long, but your recording provoked a response. My review is here, if you're interested; I'd love to hear your thoughts: http://unaffiliatedcritic.com/2011/09/doctor-who-s6e10/.

  3. Hey Chip! I understand your disdain for the Doctor's choices in this ep, and the way it put Rory in a position of false hope. I also feel that this very notion may have been the point. We've been hearing all season about how "terrible" the Doctor is, according to "The Silence" organization. And we've seen him take out a race of beings (that WE THOUGHT WAS CALLED THE SILENCE)by posthypnotic suggestions to have humans "do the dirty work" for him. Well, his biggest "crime against all" to me has always been his meddling with re-writing history. My point being that more important than Rory's heartbreak in "Girl" I think we are supposed to take note of his descisions in this episode.

    Doctor: "that is not how I travel"
    Rory: "Then I do NOT want to travel with you!"
    Doctor: "it's your choice'
    Rory: "This isn't fair. You're turning me into you."
    I think those two lines from Rory lead us to a place where we will see the departure of Rory and Amy as main companions, as well as hint at the underlying theme of the entire of series 6. That being:

    Yes, the Doctor lies, but more disturbingly, the Doctor always has, and in a darker way these days, the Doctor plays God.

    – Great show as always Chip! Take care!

    Matt Murdick

  4. The previous commenters have made great eloquent posts, that I have to agree with. This note in the Doctor's portrayal I believe is calculated and very intnentional. He is racing to avoid his death, he has been manipulating and withholding information from Rory and Amy (the crack, the pregnancy, the flesh, and now the knowledge of his own death), nearly all that has ever shown up on that view screen he has kept to himself. It is the double standard that has been part of the tension since Moffat took over, in the Beast Below he rails against Amy for attempting to keep information from him, while at the same time lying to her about why came back for her.
    The Doctor was very sinister in this to me partly because I also suspect him of in someway setting up this situation with Amy to test a theory he has about how he will be able to rewrite his own death.
    The episode was incredible, fantastic character development for Rory and Amy and racheting up the tension for the Doctor journey to his death.
    I can see how it can turn you off, but I want to see where it is all going. Will eleven be able to not only rewrite time, but his own abuse of his power, and what will be the cost?

  5. Chip — Thanks for your reactions to "The Girl Who Waited." It took me most of the week to process my reactions, as well, and in large part they sound a lot like yours (I studiously avoided any fan commentary before posting, though: http://thescifichristian.com/2011/09/tardis-talk-%e2%80%9cthe-girl-who-waited%e2%80%9d-series-6-10/)

    I think, though, that your reaction, like my dismay at Amy-Then's demise and the Doctor's irresponsibile and, as you say, inhumane behavior, do actually fit into the arc of this season. Isn't such behavior the very kind of thing that River is warning him about in "A Good Man Goes to War"? "Look at what you've become!" I agree with you: in this episode, the Doctor is not kind, is not trustworthy. Perhaps not even good. But I trust that, when all is said and done, he will rise again from "how far he's fallen." Have faith!

    As always, yours continues to be some of the most incisive and compelling Who commentary on the Web. (Largely because, I suspect, you have the self-discipline to keep it short, unlike my ramblings above!) Thank you and please keep up the outstanding work!

  6. I guess the shady role the Doctor had in this episode was designed to play up the much-vaunted darker side of the character. It worked for me and I would suggest that it is by no means without precedent in the New Series.

    In Utopia, Jack accuses the Doctor of being ‘time-prejudice’ without realizing it. He cannot come to terms with an anomaly like Jack, just because of the way he sees time and space. In a similar vain, killing-off old Amy does not cause him much grief, since once the TARDIS leaves that godforsaken amusement park planet, time is rewritten and she literally never existed. Problem solved. The same goes for his impartiality in Cold Blood, when the timecrack swallows Rory’s body. ‘Out of time, out of mind’ seems to be a valid Time lord rule.

    The Doctor can understand Rory’s woe, but he cannot feel the same guilt and pain over leaving old Amy. Being humane requires being human, which the Doctor is not. Doesn’t mean he can’t be compassionate and loving, but only within the restrains of his own, time lord perception of the world.

    Thanks Chip, for this episode. I always appreciate thoughtful dissent from the crowd and yours is usually thought provoking.

  7. I agree with what others have said… this is the episode that makes the opposition we saw to the Doctor from everyday people in A Good Man Goes to War really click into place. I think back to Amy being incredulous at Lorna's idea of the Doctor as a "dark legend"… "the Doctor's not dark, have you met him?" After she thinks of him as her silly wonderful childhood friend — and we by extension are inclined to think the same at that point It's important dramatically that the companions begin to understand that the Doctor does have a dark side and what I really loved about this episode is that it really brings the source of that darkness into focus: he's the one who takes it on himself to make choices, even when there are no easy answers. And that means overruling the agency of others. I think the Unaffiliated Critic really nails it when he says the Handbots represent this aspect of the Doctor. They themselves are "doctors" and they decide what is "kind".

    It's supposed to make you uncomfortable but in the end it fits in to the Doctor's character arc this season. In a way it harkens back to the original Hero's Journey of the (William Hartnell) Doctor in season numero uno. Don't worry, he will be a hero again. But first the question of What is a Hero? (the oldest question?) needs to be answered.

  8. Chip, I'm curious what the "humane" solution in this situation would have been. Here's how I saw it:

    1. The Doctor makes a terrible, accidental mistake (in trying to fix Amy's terrible, accidental mistake).

    2. He misleads Amy and Rory about whether two Amys can exist in the TARDIS at the same time. (Who canon is divided on this question. We'll assume he's not lying and that it is incredibly dangerous if not actually impossible.) From what I recall of the circumstances, telling the truth at this stage would mean not rescuing young Amy at all. More humane?

    3. He prevents old Amy from boarding the TARDIS. From (2) we're assuming this is not by choice but by necessity.

    4. He forces Rory to choose which version of Amy to save. Not very nice, but at least he does leave the decision in the hands of (old) Amy and her husband. The alternative (again, given 2) is that he makes the decision and Rory just has to accept that, from his point of view (but maybe not from a Time Lord's), the Doctor has just cloned and killed his wife. More humane for the Doctor to do it?

    5. Suppose (2) were false and there really were some way for the Doctor to save both of them. (Remember, if he leaves one of them alone in the facility he not only has to find that one again after dropping the first one off, but also has to come back the instant after he leaves or else the problem repeats. And his steering wasn't so hot the first time. So the only way this works is if they really can coexist on the TARDIS.) Old Amy claims she won't stick around — she'll go be sword-wielding River's Mom somewhere out in the cosmos. And she gets to think every day about Rory being married to some version of her that's not her. More humane? Maybe. Definitely not happy. Old Amy realizes this, and that's why she doesn't let Rory open the door.

    One fascinating thing about this episode is how deeply it explores perspective and relativity: not just the difference between Amy's timestream and the Doctor's/Rory's, but also the difference between human perspectives on time and a Time Lord's. The Doctor has created a point of view that feels it will "die," but in fact he's changing history by rescuing Amy and that point of view presumably has never existed. I'm not sure whether the author saw it that way — logically old Amy should have vanished as soon as it was certain that young Amy had been rescued. But to even countenance the idea that old Amy could have zipped off to explore the universe on her own, you have to assume this isn't a paradox and that old Amy can exist even when young Amy has been rescued. I can see where a Time Lord might recognize this, perceive these as two points in a timeline, where a human might just see two people, one old, one young. If we're to take seriously the idea of time travel at all, we have to grapple with this contradiction, and this was a great framework to do it.

    So I guess you don't actually have to come up with a humane solution here to still be angry that the writer backed everyone into a corner where there really isn't one (which I think makes for excellent storytelling, even if it makes hero worship more difficult). If you can, though, I'd like to hear it. I have a (purely speculative and unspoiled) feeling we'll see this situation again in a different form later on, and you might find it more palatable then.

  9. I really enjoyed your thoughts about TGWW. It seems to me that the only Doctor who has had positive character development in the new series is the Eccleston version. Through his interactions with Rose we see this battle-scarred and world-weary Doctor gain a new lease on life. Both the Ninth Doctor and Rose become better people as a result of their interactions with each other and the challenges they face. Tennant’s journey, on the other hand, seemed to lead downward to darker things – culminating with the out-of-control Time Lord Victorious and the self-absorbed, drawn out dread about his impending death. Now we seem to have gone even further along the lines of the deteriorating Doctor – with the 11th Doctor as superhero/supervillian (depending on how he’s behaving and who’s the judge) beginning to blur the line of whether our protagonist is really the good guy or not. Just how much further are we going to have to watch him fall?

    I miss the days when the Doctor roamed the universe relentlessly doing the right thing. I miss the Doctor who consistently inspired his friends – and by extension the audience – to be better people day in and day out. Who, on an ugly planet full of petty people, with no hint of glory or grandstanding, gave his life for Peri, a companion he had only just met and wasn’t even sure he liked yet. There are flashes of this in the recent series – LKH being an especially good example where a dying Doctor spends his every last breath trying to redeem River Song and thereby save both her and her parents. But still, the overall trend seems to be downward. I hope this is a temporary character arc. I, too, miss my hero.

  10. Thinking back in order to take in the Doctor's arc over the whole of the revival, I have come to the conclusion that the character is on a ruin to redemption road. The hero must fall, else he is not credible as a hero.

  11. this is one episode i felt like defending the doctor- wanting to put words in his mouth to rebut rory.

    You can't accuse the doctor of playing god in a situation like this. "Playing god" would be to keep both amys. Characters expect so much from the doctor- that they protest when he is unable bend the very laws of nature to accommodate their wishes. Is it sad that older amy doesn't get to exist? Yes! But there can only be one Amy. And the doctor lied so at least one can survive.

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