Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Doctor Who Story 212: Amy's Choice


Why Do Birds Suddenly Appear...

When I learned that there was going to be a Doctor Who story called Amy's Choice where Amy Pond (Karen Gillan) was pregnant, alarm bells rang furiously within my mind.

I was already irritated with certain Doctor Who episodes like Tooth & Claw (where The Doctor is none-too-subtle in his--and the production/actors--hatred toward Margaret Thatcher--to hell, Russell T. Davies was saying, to any and all Conservative Doctor Who fans; they don't matter, only those that agree with them do). I worked hard to erase these wicked, wicked thoughts from my mind. Yes, the title was suggestive when one thinks of her pregnancy, but I was reading far too much into it. 

Once I collected myself, I then decided the best thing to do was to actually watch the episode in question. I got a good surprise: no politics here (the way I like them). Amy's Choice does have something unique to it: it is, after Rose and Smith and Jones the third episode to have the Companion's name in the title. It also has a remarkably good story, thanks to Simon Nye's script (and frankly, a better turn than The Vampires of Venice).

The Doctor (Matt Smith) visits his former Companion Amy Pond (Karen Gillan), and her now-husband, Rory (Arthur Darvill) in their home of Upper Leadworth. It's been five years since they parted and Amy is apparently minutes from going into labor...or so we think. The sound of chirping birds apparently put them to sleep, and they awaken inside the TARDIS, where they discover they all had the same dream, one where The Doctor visits his former Companion Amy Pond and her now-husband, Rory, in their home of Upper Leadworth, where it's been five years since they parted company.

They jump around between these two worlds, and this is all the machinations of a figure who calls himself The Dream Lord (Toby Jones). He tells them that one of these scenarios is reality, while the other is a dream. He gives them (or should I say, Amy) a choice: they must decide which one is the dream and which one is real. Choose right, and they live. Choose wrong, and they die.

The decision is made more difficult because in both universes they face a threat: inside the TARDIS they may freeze due to a frozen star which the TARDIS is fast approaching, while in Upper Leadworth the senior citizens are really ancient alien beings called Eknodine which live inside the seniors and who turn all other humans into dust (ashes to ashes, one might say). If they choose the dream world as reality, the real danger in the real reality will kill them. Decisions, decisions.

I have to say that I had decided early on in Amy's Choice which was the dream world (no clues, but I would argue this would be a good time for a pregnant pause). I was concerned that all the bouncing around between the two worlds would become a bit idiotic, but they were handled well, especially when we had the audio cue of the birds (though I confess I didn't see how the birds were connected).

I also kept wondering who the villain actually was. At first The Dream Lord made me think it was The Celestial Toymaker (from the eponymous story), which would have been quite a twist. Considering that this was some sort of game for him, it isn't too far-fetched to believe it. Once we are told who The Dream Lord actually is, it shifted my thought to another villain: The Valeyard. That is a strong possibility, especially given the history of that character, but it does open up a curious train of thought. The Doctor tells The Dream Lord that he knows who he is because there is only one person in the universe who hated him as much as he did. If we accept The Doctor's explanation for who The Dream Lord is, does that mean The Doctor has more issues than he can handle?

It's a credit to director Catherine Morshead that she maintained the balance between both worlds quite well. She directed her performers effectively: what little bits of humor melded into the overall drama and tension without sticking out (as opposed to The Vampires of Venice...the more I think of it the worse it gets in my memory, but I digress). She actually managed to make the elderly scary, though I will say that at times Upper Leadworth did come off a bit like a geriatric Village of The Damned.

The greatest performance isn't from the main cast but from Jones' Dream Lord. I remember him as The Duke of Clarence in Amazing Grace and as Truman Capote from Infamous (which I say might have had a wider audience and earned him an Oscar nomination if Phillip Seymour Hoffman's Capote hadn't beaten them to the theaters first). He was menacing and at times, even funny. If they had kept things where we thought they ended, The Dream Lord would have been a brilliant villain. Alas, the story did not go that way, so there you go.

Darvill and Gillan had an unenviable task of having to play two versions of themselves, and they managed to create variations on a theme of Rory and Amy extremely well. Smith improves in this episode after his last one, and here, he has a more manic manner to him. I think this comes from the fact that it's not the Doctor who saves the day, but Amy.

Well, I take that back. In the end, The Doctor does save the day, and here's where I would argue is when Amy's Choice became a misnomer and a bit of a cheat. What would have been wrong with ending it when we thought it had ended? It wouldn't have affected the way the story ended or how good it was. Did this twist at the end have to occur to have The Doctor at the center of the story once again? Did it happen to have one final twist?

I argue they all aren't good reasons and that it would have worked fine without all that. I also digress to wonder why we continue the bow-tie bashing. What is the point of constantly making fun of the bow-tie?  Maybe they should give it a rest.  Given some of his previous sartorial choices the bow-tie is the least ridiculous thing he's had on. I just don't understand why the production staff continues to think this is remotely funny.

I also have an issue with thje cause for all the hallucinations. Brought back memories of the "fast return switch" from Inside the Spaceship. It was a bit too pat, too simple, taking away from any otherworldly explanation. However, it doesn't take away from some truly poignant moments in Amy's Choice, especially when Rory faces death. That was a beautiful moment.

I also digress to congratulate the art direction and make-up in the frozen TARDIS section, which were well done.

Amy's Choice was a leap from other episodes, and while some of the directions the story took weren't the greatest, they did create a good, strong story, maybe not the best one of the season but overall, one that worked like a dream.


Next Story: COLD BLOOD

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