If The Girl Who Waited wields sentimentality like old-Amy does a sword, the emotions on display ring true, and it’s impossible not to be moved during the scenes between her and Rory. The ending is fairly predictable, but only in the way that tragedy always is, and in this sense reminds of Pete Tyler’s fate in Father’s Day. Comparing Tom MacRae to Paul Cornell might seem blasphemous, but I should remind that he was responsible for the undervalued Rise of the Cybermen/Age of Steel, which was a sequel of sorts to Father’s Day, and which frankly I thought just as powerful. All bets were off in the parallel-Earth story, as we got to see familiar characters die (Jackie), others confounded by “relatives” they never knew (Pete), and a long-time favorite choosing exile when he finally realizes that his girlfriend will always choose the Doctor over him (Mickey). The Girl Who Waited does something a bit different as a parallel-character story, but allows MacRae to cover another “What if?” scenario with returns almost as great.
The story is minimalist in every way the Cybermen epic was maximalist. There are no characters aside from the three leads; the Two Streams Facility has been cleaned out by plague. White sterilized rooms are balanced by lush topiaries and gardens, adding up to a weird futuristic look which aligns perfectly with its purpose: to allow infected people to live out their few hours in a quicker time stream, while their loved ones can observe them effectively living a life from the slower one. Whether this is merciful or morbid depends on one’s point of view, and Rory’s human one stands, I think, for most of ours. I would be sickened to watch a friend or family member grow old fast, and not be able to physically interact. Yet the Doctor counters with (what is to a Time Lord) common sense: “Why? At least you’re not watching them die.”
Time Lord quip isn’t appropriate here, however. The simple press of a wrong button costs Amy half her life: lagging behind the Doctor and Rory, she walks into the same room but in quickened time, and ends up spending 36 years waiting for them to rescue her. This puts her in her fifties by the time Rory manages to locate her only hours later in his timeline, and she’s pissed to say the least, bitter and battle-worn, an empty shell of her former self. She’s spent all these years in survivalist mode, with nothing more to look forward to than fending off “benign” androids programmed to administer lethal cures, since as an alien she would be poisoned by their antidotes. With the Doctor remaining in the TARDIS and communicating to Rory via a looking glass that accesses alternate timelines, the dilemma becomes one of how to rescue the younger Amy out of the past so that she never has to grow old in this horrifying life of isolation. And of course, when the solution presents itself, she naturally doesn’t want to go through with it. To save her past self would mean killing her present self, which no living creature willingly accepts.
This warrior-Amy in her fifties turns out to be a great character and critical to the story’s success. We haven’t enjoyed the spectacle of a TARDIS companion kicking ass so professionally since the days of Leela, and it gives Karen Gillam a chance to show off new acting skills. The Doctor is also in fine form, unloosing his dark manipulative side, and unlike Rory we’re not fooled by his promise that he can save both Amy’s by resolving the paradox of them co-existing in the same time stream. There is a slight problem with Rory here, however, that he would want to save old-Amy as much as “his” Amy. Let alone for a moment calling into question the sanity of any man who would want to be saddled with two wives, one of them old enough to be his mother, it just doesn’t play authentically. More natural would be Rory aghast by the thought and willing to do what it takes to make the horrible mistake cease to be. And this would have worked wonders for the story, making old-Amy’s heartbreak even worse and putting Rory in touch with a darker side he constantly slams the Doctor for. Even so, his desperate attempt to save both Amy’s works despite the problems, and the emotional farewell through the doors of the TARDIS is a kind of scene we haven’t seen since Rose went wreck in Doomsday.
The Girl Who Waited is completely defined by its title. Amy’s tragedy from The Eleventh Hour is repeated, but infinitely worse, hinting at a full circle with her story arc. In fact her swan song is just around the corner. This episode exposes the Doctor’s destructive nature as she faithfully, eternally, waits on him; the next one demolishes that childlike faith altogether.
Rating: 4 stars out of 5.