Here we are, more or less mid-season, and as someone who’s recapping this block of episodes week in and out, as well as someone who’s been deconstructing this series for years now, I’m frankly a bit flummoxed by Steven Moffat’s inaugural year. It’s starting to feel as if the season is only going to make total sense once it’s over and done with. Some time ago, long before the season began, Moffat was saying that he wanted the season to be referred to as Season One, rather than Season Five, and that’s starting to make a whole lot more sense. Aside from the occasional references to the past, everything about this year feels as if some kind of reset button has been hit, and yet it remains difficult to watch without bringing the baggage of the last five years into the equation, even though I’m fairly certain Moffat would prefer that we didn’t. I mean, it’s hard to picture a character like Mickey Smith, for instance, fitting into any part of this narrative in any kind of believable manner, and yet you almost want somebody like him to turn up in a scene just to remind you that you’re still watching the same show.
I continue to want to compare this material to stuff from seasons’ past, and yet this nagging feeling keeps telling me that’s just an unfair thing to do. I wonder if Moffat’s even got some kind of grand master plan that extends beyond this block of 13 episodes? None of this means I’m not enjoying the season, just that it’s a much different kind of enjoyment than what I’ve become accustomed to during the Davies years, which began feeling predictable about three years in. Say what you will about this season, but, at least at this stage, it is most certainly not predictable. In some ways watching this season is as disorienting as the predicament in which our heroes find themselves in this week’s episode. As viewers, we’re experiencing a new reality of the series, while we keep thinking back on what we came to know prior to this season’s start. Which is the real “Doctor Who?” The Davies or the Moffat era? Both, or maybe neither? I’ll likely elaborate on all of this further during the final recap of the season.
Moving on to “Amy’s Choice,” which is a story that seems primarily designed to screw with your head. It seemingly takes place in two different realities – one is set five years in Amy and Rory’s future, and the other is set in the TARDIS of the present, assuming the word present can ever be used in relation to the TARDIS, anyway. In the future storyline, Amy and Rory have long since left the Doctor behind, and they’re living in Leadworth, married and expecting a child. A surprise visit from the Doctor leads to bad things, as is to be expected, and the trio discover that an alien race called the Eknodine are disguised as the elderly townsfolk, and these creatures have the ability to kill simply by breathing on people. In the other reality, the trio is stranded in a dead TARDIS, which is drifting toward a burning, frozen star.
The Dream Lord appears, played by Toby Jones, an actor who’s becoming a ubiquitous screen presence, which is odd to say the least, as he’s a very funny looking little man, whom one might assume would have trouble finding work based on his appearance alone. That doesn’t seem to be the case though, as he even managed to land a villainous role in the upcoming “Captain America” movie. The Dream Lord, who at first is dressed like the Doctor, appears to be operating on several levels. On the surface is the dilemma of the two realities which he’s presented to the crew, but beneath that resides something more sinister and complex. He seems hell bent on causing a rift amongst the TARDIS trio, by exposing the weaknesses of each character.
Once again, the idea that either the Doctor or Rory is an interloper in Amy’s life is a theme, although this is clearly the hardest the point has been hit home yet. It’s certainly an interesting proposition, because even though the Doctor is the main character of the series, and the one with whom our sympathies naturally lay, I think we want to believe he’s the “gooseberry,” since he’s the one who’s interrupted Amy’s life time and again since she was a child. And again, because we know the drama of this series in a way that Amy does not, we as viewers are well aware of how south events could possibly go for Amy should she continue on with the Doctor and his travels. But then again, hasn’t the Doctor been a more important part of her psyche for a longer period of time than Rory? Why isn’t Rory the interloper here? The conundrum is much like the episode itself. Surely the Leadworth storyline is the false reality, and the TARDIS scenario is the truth? Or is it? Both scenarios fit in equally well within the universe of “Who,” and both are presented as equally real. Eventually, the Dream Lord turns the situation into Amy’s choice, hence the title. Which reality would she rather live in? Soon enough, the decision is practically made for her when Rory is turned to dust in the Leadworth scenario, and she chooses the TARDIS reality in lieu of losing Rory forever, based on the idea that life isn’t worth living without him.
Back in the frozen TARDIS – which, by the way, is a lovely sight to behold – all three characters wake up. Clearly this was correct choice, right? Well, assuming you’ve seen the episode, and I can’t imagine you’d be reading this if you haven’t, you also know that there are two final twists in “Amy’s Choice.” The first is that both realities were the result of some psychic pollen that got stuck in the TARDIS console, and the second is that the Dream Lord was some sort of psychic projection of the Doctor himself, an idea which really takes the entire episode to a whole different, malevolent level: Some twisted, self-loathing part of the Doctor’s persona caused all of this.
This is an idea that was previously explored back during the Colin Baker era, in the “Trial of a Time Lord” season, with the character of the Valeyard, who was said to be an amalgam of the darkest sides of the Doctor’s persona, that came from somewhere in between his twelfth and final incarnations. Of course, the new series has yet to ever mention the previously established 12-regeneration limit, and since the term Valeyard was never used here we can’t be sure it’s the same creature, but the Dream Lord sure seemed comparable to the Valeyard, and even the way he flitted around by disappearing and reappearing was identical to how the Valeyard moved in the final episodes of the Baker serial. Further, the fact that the Doctor knew who the Dream Lord was all along would seem to lend the idea that they’re one and the same some credence. I’d like to see more of this being and hopefully this isn’t the last of him, as the idea seems ripe with possibility. Hopefully Toby Jones doesn’t become so immensely popular that he doesn’t have time to return to the part should the situation arise.
“Amy’s Choice” is a deceptively tight episode. How good it is doesn’t really come home until the final moments. It was written by Simon Nye, who’s best known in the U.K. as the creator of the classic sitcom “Men Behaving Badly.” Of course you wouldn’t know that this was written by a comedy writer any more than you’d know that “Blink” was written by the same man who wrote “Coupling,” such is the versatility of the people who work on this show. While “Amy’s Choice” does have some humor (all the stuff with the old folks was hilarious), it remains a fairly dark and disturbing, highly emotional episode, loaded with character. Granted, the birdsong that signaled the switching of realities as well as the crew falling asleep and waking up got a tad repetitive after a while, but such is the nature of a piece of TV like this. The overall idea behind the episode isn’t terribly original and in fact when it was all over and done with, I couldn’t help but think back on it and feel that the whole thing smacked of fanfic (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing), but ultimately the execution of it was done well enough to justify having made the episode in the first place.
NEXT TIME: It’s the return of a classic “Who” race known as The Silurians, in “The Hungry Earth.”
Classic “Who” DVD Recommendation of the Week: Do I or do I not recommend “Doctor Who and The Silurians”? I think I do. It stars Jon Pertwee and it rocks, even at seven episodes.
(Thanks as always to Sonic Biro for the screencaps.)