Written by Tom MacRae, directed by Nick Hurran, 2011
Okay, so, despite the white void and white robots, this isn’t 'Return to the Land of Fiction'. But – that’s okay, because this is the good stuff. And, yeah – the miraculousness of that doesn’t escape me, coming as it does from the writer of The Age of Steel – aka, THE WORST NEW SERIES STORY EVER.
I’m wary of openings as hackneyed as ‘the Doctor promises a location which he doesn’t deliver,’ but this makes it all the more astounding that The Girl Who Waited has almost immediately become located alongside my favourite episodes of Moffat’s era, Amy’s Choice and The Doctor’s Wife. That is (the latter's fannish grandstanding aside), stories which rely on strong premises and sense of place over flimsy ‘return of the Daleks!’-style concepts; which hold to their internally consistent rules (the failing of Night Terrors); and which are low-key enough to be able to explore that situation.
It’s no coincidence - and I'm aware I always bang on about this - that the ‘cheap’, limited episodes are the ones which are often most satisfying, having as they do to rely on compelling storytelling rather than sloshing money around on special effects. Having said that, this episode does look good, but all the more for being as controlled as the plot itself is. Equally, there really isn’t a lot to the plot, but, akin to mysteriously-opening stories like The Space Museum or The Web Planet, the situation is opaque enough to remain interesting and not develop in an entirely predictable way.
Plus, a major point in its favour: a DIY-samurai Amy, taking a leaf out of River/Liz 10’s book – fabulous! (ACTION FIGURE!) The makeup is even nicely underdone, while her hatred of the Doctor and her embittered outlook on life is convincingly brutal. And the climactic fast/slow robot slice-and-dice is pretty sexy.
The idea of characters ‘waiting’ has recurred repeatedly with Amy and Rory, but rather than feeling repetitious, it’s become a trope that lends some continuity to the characters, and is genuinely expanded upon here rather than simply being referred back to as a smug little nod. The various moral dilemmas here also don’t seem false or rote either, and the emotion seems to develop naturally - as opposed to the inevitable re-establishement of the ideal (and highly predictable) status quo in Night Terrors.
Obviously emotionalism has become a tenet of the revivied series, yet often its development can seem as textbook as a lazy pre-titles death, so it’s something of a joy when that emotionalism creates something genuinely moving, given how absurd a series it is we’re talking about.
I don’t have a great deal to say about The Girl Who Waited because I liked it so much it seems counterproductive to pick over it too much. But, a sincere development of Rory and Amy’s relationship is always going to be welcome, as is a return to a more authentically ‘adult’ tone adult tone. On this evidence – unlikely though it feels to be typing this – Tom MacRae is more than welcome to return for future seasons.
(Also, the reference to ‘Disneyland, Clom’ made me laugh more than anything else so far this season.)