Arriving in the middle of Series 5, “Amy’s Choice” is written by Simon Nye, who (like Rob Shearman, Matt Jones, and James Moran) has regrettably only ever penned one episode for Doctor Who, considering how much talent he showed in his single script. “Amy’s Choice” has a pretty ambitious and high-concept idea for its core premise, that grabs your attention right from the teaser: the Doctor, Amy and Rory spend the entire episode jumping around between two different realities, two different scenarios, trying to determine which one is real and which one is fake (working out their issues with each other in the process). “Amy’s Choice” is an episode that’s all about what our main characters dream of, so it’s an excellent opportunity for a character study and a fascinating one to read into: everything we see in this adventure is a reflection of who these characters are – their doubts, their fears, their hearts’ desire.
Considering where we last left our heroes in “The Vampires Of Venice“, and considering we’re only halfway through this season, it should be blatantly obvious that the Leadworth reality, where we flashforward to a future where the Ponds have decided to retire to the British countryside, must be a dream. However, the final twist that both worlds were dreams, as a cruel and elaborate trick by the Dream Lord, is a nice touch that genuinely catches you off guard on your first watch. I mentioned in the last episode that Matt Smith, Karen Gillan, and Arthur Darvill were all cast well as their characters and they have a lot of chemistry with each other as a trio. In “Amy’s Choice”, that chemistry carries almost an entire episode – since 75% of this story is the Doctor, Amy and Rory bickering and bantering amongst themselves, and the other 25% is Toby Jones’s character showing up periodically to insult them all – and the dialogue consistently crackles. Notably, “Amy’s Choice” also contains a lot of foreshadowing for how Amy and Rory’s futures will pan out (whether it was done intentionally or not). In this episode, Amy grows pregnant with her and Rory’s child, she briefly grows disillusioned with the Doctor when he lets her down just when she needs him the most, and when Rory seemingly dies, she chooses to follow her husband (wherever he goes) over staying with the Doctor. These are all things that will wind up happening for real in Series 6 and 7, oftentimes with massive consequences with the TARDIS crew, so that makes for some intriguing food for thought.
While the focus is kept primarily on Amy and Rory, as the ones who patch up their relationship and undergo an emotional journey in this episode, we do get some interesting insights into the Eleventh Doctor’s (Matt Smith) personality this week. The Doctor is a character with an insatiable wanderlust who never sits still for long and never looks back once he’s moved on – Eleven in particularly can be very twitchy and impatient when he’s forced to let time pass naturally in a mundane setting, as “The Power Of Three” illustrates. So naturally he finds Amy and Rory’s quiet, tranquil village to be on the boring side, making catty remarks about how tedious Leadworth is frequently in this episode, as his way of coping with being stuck there. As the genius of the group, the Doctor spends this entire episode trying to figure out the predicament they’re trapped in and a way to beat it, but it doesn’t seem to make sense, even for him. And every time they jump back and forth between the worlds, their situation only seems to grow more dire, with their chances of survival growing even slimmer. The Doctor is put under a lot of pressure again to be the man who will save everyone, and he lets his frustrations show by snapping at Amy and Rory several times, something he’s not particularly proud of (Eleven gets very sassy and sarcastic when he’s stressed). Eleven mainly acts in a supporting role in this episode: trying to keep everyone safe, letting Amy and Rory work out their couples’ issues among themselves, and later helping Amy commit dream-suicide so she can be with Rory again. He has a heaping helping of verbal abuse hurled his way by the Dream Lord, which messes with his head even further. The malicious, villainous little troll knows him better than anyone else in the universe, and for good reason, so despite his best attempts to ignore him or block him out, he keeps getting under the Doctor’s skin, pissing him off.
The Dream Lord (Toby Jones) is the main psychological threat of this episode, as well as the one who instigates all the physical threats our heroes have to face in their dreams – whether it’s the TARDIS drifting towards a cold star, putting everyone onboard at risk of freezing to death, or the main trio being hunted down by murderous old people with disintegrating powers. A snide, mocking man with a sour disposition, he wants to put our heroes to the test by tormenting them frequently. He does more than just insult them, he also hits them with a lot of hard truths to make them confront deeply-rooted flaws about themselves that they would otherwise like to avoid. For most of this episode, long-time viewers would probably assume that the Dream Lord is some new incarnation of the Master who’s come to cause trouble, since their personalities are quite similar, but the final truth about his identity is actually more unsettling. Thanks to a run-in with some psychic pollen, the Dream Lord turns out to be the Doctor’s literal shadow self – a physical manifestation of all his self-doubt, all his self-loathing, all his regrets – who airs all his dirty laundry to the Ponds that they haven’t really been privy to before now. Eleven seems to accept this information a bit too quickly and easily for comfort, while Amy is understandably alarmed by it. Eleven has seemed pretty outwardly cheery over the last seven episodes, and the show hasn’t touched on his inner angst in a while: “Amy’s Choice” confirms that, beneath the surface, the Doctor’s opinion of himself is still just as low as ever. And in true horror movie fashion, just when our heroes start to feel safe, the episode’s final sting leaves the viewers in doubt over whether or not their ordeal is truly over yet. The Dream Lord was born from the Doctor, and right at the end, the Doc seems to realize a part of him will always live inside him.
Amy Pond (Karen Gillan) is already a boisterous young woman with a fiery temper, but she’s in a particularly grouchy mood this week, as a result of her having to deal with unwanted pregnancy hormones (in fact, there’s one scene where she decides to pretend to go into labor to get back at the Doctor for insulting her life that is just comedy gold). In the Leadworth dream, Amy and Rory have retired from traveling in the TARDIS and have planted their roots in the sleepy British countryside, with a kid on the way soon. This is clearly the simple, humble life Rory wants them to have, but not necessarily the one Amy wants, even if she’s lying to herself and claiming that it is. The previous six episodes have all hinted at it, but “Amy’s Choice” makes the source of Amy’s fear of commitment perfectly clear. She finds life in a little village in the middle of nowhere to be boring: she’s not really ready yet to settle down and raise kids as a housewife without doing anything meaningful with her life. That’s why she ran off to see the universe with the Doctor when he offered it. When it comes to her infatuation with the Doctor that she’s trying her best to ignore or repress, that stems from her old girlhood fantasy of running off and seeing the universe with her Raggedy Doctor, combined with her present day attraction to a handsome and courageous hero who can seemingly do anything: Eleven is arguably more of a symbol of adventure than anything in her eyes. Amy clearly loves Rory and she wants to be fully committed to their relationship, but deep down, in the furthest reaches her mind, her heart still strays a bit when she knows it shouldn’t, planting a seed of doubt in her head. Plus, even before the Doctor came back into her life, she’s always kept just a little bit of distance between herself and Rory, due to her abandonment issues.
Amy grew up with Rory, and he’s one of her oldest friends: he’s funny, reliable and loving. She’s always felt plenty of affection for him, enough to accept his marriage proposal, but she never knew just how much he meant to her, until she loses him, when he dies in her arms and the Doctor (her Raggedy Man who can pull off miracles) can’t do anything to bring him back. When that happens, it’s not even a competition anymore who she would pursue in a romantic sense. The Doctor is a fantasy, a surface-level infatuation, while Rory is reality, her feelings for him are so much deeper and so much more meaningful to her. Over the course of several seasons, Amy proves to be a ride-or-die spouse. Amy can live with losing the Doctor, but if anything fatal ever happens to Rory, she will do whatever she has to so she can follow him wherever he goes and get to see him again. In return, Rory, at one point, waits outside a box for 2,000 years, keeping her safe from harm for all that time, so never it let be said that the Ponds aren’t willing to go to extremes for each other. Amy and Rory still have their share of couple’s fights after this episode, but now that she’s sorted out her feelings about the two most important men in her life and fully accepted Rory as the man she loves, Amy never undervalues him again and their relationship is stronger than ever. Throughout this episode, it looked like Amy would be forced to choose between Rory’s world or the Doctor’s world: normal life or life in the TARDIS. In the end, she rejects that ultimatum and takes a third option. Amy and Rory still have their whole lives ahead of them, and they don’t have to rush into settling down yet. By bringing an eager Rory along on the adventure of a lifetime, Amy gets to have her cake and eat it too. For now, anyway. Amy will still have to make a more permanent decision about her future eventually, but “The Angels Take Manhattan” is still a good long ways off for the Ponds.
In the Leadworth reality, Amy and Rory have settled down in a little village with a kid on the way, Rory has become a well-liked figure as the village doctor, and he has (strangely enough) grown his hair out into a ponytail. All of this is very much Rory Williams’ (Arthur Darvill) dream life. He’s always wanted to be a proud father, something Amy is well aware of, and that shot of Rory gazing forlornly at his baby’s crib, feeling completely uncertain about the future, feels a lot more sad in retrospect, in light of what winds up happening to Amy and Rory’s first child, Melody, in the next season. Rory is quite an awkward and bumbling character, but he once again demonstrates how his loyalty and devotion to his girlfriend is one of his most defining traits. With her dream pregnancy slowing her down, Rory tries to keep Amy safe to the best of his abilities, which leads him to confront killer zombies more than once in this episode. Their dream-hopping experience causes each one of our three main characters to realize they’ve all been selfish in different ways: the Dream Lord throws all of the Doctor’s dysfunctional relationships in the past and present back into his face; Amy’s been taking Rory for granted as her boyfriend and allowing her heart to stray to someone else as of late; and Rory has been so focused on what he wants for their future, his own ideas of what married life should be like, that he’s never once considered that Amy might feel differently. As this episode progresses, Rory is faced with the possibility that maybe he and Amy just aren’t compatible, maybe they’re just not meant to be together, and if that’s the case, then he’ll have to let her go. “Amy’s Choice” has the first of several death scenes for poor Rory (who becomes very well acquainted with the Grim Reaper over the next few seasons), and it is a legitimately sad one.
He’s ripped away from the woman he loves when he least expects it, and he only has enough time to tell her to look after their kid before he’s gone, leaving Amy devastated. Once their nightmare is finally over, Rory is surprised and touched to learn how Amy handled his death, and for the first time in quite some time, his faith in their relationship is completely reaffirmed. After having two episodes devoted to it, the main ‘love triangle’ of Series 5 has mostly been resolved, and as it turns out, it was never much of a triangle at all (since the Doctor certainly didn’t reciprocate Amy’s crush on him): this arc was mainly about a young woman sorting out her heart’s desire, and a young couple maturing together. There’s a reason why most of Series 5 is set on the night before Amy and Rory’s wedding: this whole season prepares them for the reality of married life, and they both still had some emotional growing they needed to do before they could be ready to exchange vows. Amy and Rory bare more than a passing resemblance to Rose and Mickey, when we first met them in Series 1. A young woman who’s unsatisfied with her life, who wants to see and do more with her time on Earth; a young man who’s willing to settle for a regular, humdrum existence so long as he can share it with his girlfriend; and an other-worldly hero who winds up coming between them. Except, while Rose and Mickey genuinely weren’t compatible, and they eventually made the mature decision to break up when they realized that relationship wasn’t working, Amy and Rory present a road untraveled for that set-up. Regular, dorky Rory actually is the guy Amy wants to spend the rest of her life with, and we wind up getting a happy, committed couple traveling in the TARDIS for the next few seasons of the show. It’s a fun dynamic that we’ve never really seen before in NuWho, and it opens up a lot of new doors for what kind of stories can be told during the Smith years.
“Amy’s Choice” is directed by Catherine Morshead, who employs some pretty impressive camerawork this week – like the rotating shot of the Doctor, Amy and Rory in the pre-titles sequence, or the various, quickly-cut scenes of the Doctor driving all across Leadworth, trying to save as many villagers as he can from danger. She also uses steadycam to good effect to heighten the tension and queasiness of the story’s mood – like the attack of the Eknodines, when a whole mob of senior citizens attack Amy and Rory’s home like zombies. Compared to the last six episodes, which have all been much larger in scale, “Amy’s Choice” is partially a bottle episode, since half of it is set entirely inside the Doctor’s TARDIS (allowing the series to show off all the layers of the beautiful new set that was built for the console room this season. It’s always a pleasure to see more of the interior of Eleven’s TARDIS, particularly the underbelly of it, beneath the glass floor). CGI is used minimally in “Amy’s Choice”, and as a result, all of the special effects shots from the Mill are rendered well, whether it’s the disintegration effects, when the zombies turn people into dust, or the establishing shots of the cold star in space, looming over the TARDIS forebodingly. Murray Gold’s score is more downbeat and ominous this week: the main motif of the episode, “This Is The Dream“, makes heavy use of ominous synthesizers to amplify the uneasiness of the episode’s direction, with some sinister horns tossed in as well for extra flavor. And since this is an Amy-centric episode, Mr. Gold also sprinkles in a few quiet reprises of “Amy’s Theme“. Notably, “Amy’s Choice” has the first appearance of “The Majestic Tale (Of A Madman In A Box)“, a proud, souped-up variation of “I Am The Doctor” that symbolizes the Doctor and his friends’ drive and determination, as well as “The Patient Centurion“, a warm and contemplative piece of music that’s basically Rory’s unofficial theme and is used a lot during the latter half of Series 5.
“Amy’s Choice” is a very effective character study from Simon Nye that shows off just how talented the three lead actors are in Series 5, and like “The Beast Below” before it, the events of this episode contribute a lot to fleshing out Amy Pond’s character.
* “ROOOORRRRRYYYYYYYY!!!” Man, Karen Gillan has some lungpower.
* “Doctor!” “Rory! I’ve crushed your flowers” “Oh, Amy will kill you”.
* “So. What do you do around here to stave off the, you know…” “Boredom?” “Self-harm” Doctor, what the hell?
* “Yes, I was huge. I was a boat” “So you had the same dream, then? Exactly the same dream?” “Are you calling me a boat?”
* “But we’re home” “Yeah, you’re home. You’re also dreaming. Trouble is, Rory, Amy, which is which? Are we flashing forwards or backwards? Hold on tight. This is going be a tricky one”.
* The Doctor almost breaks his foot when he kicks the TARDIS console in frustration. That’s what you get, Doc.
* “You threw the manual in a supernova? Why?” “Because I disagreed with it! Stop talking to me when I’m cross!”
* “No, this is real. I’m definitely awake now” “And you thought you were definitely awake when you were all elephanty” “Hey. Pregnant!“.
* “There’s something here that doesn’t make sense. Let’s go and poke it with a stick”.
* “Now then, the prognosis is this. If you die in the dream, you wake up in reality. Healthy recovery in next to no time. Ask me what happens if you die in reality?” “What happens?” “You die, stupid. That’s why it’s called reality”.
* “Have you met the Doctor before? Do you know him? Doctor, does he?” “Now don’t get jealous. He’s been around, our boy”.
* Oof, that angry coat zip from Rory says so much without a word spoken.
* “After all I’ve done for the over-seventies in this village!”
* “She’s just an old lady. I can’t hit her” “WHACK HER!” “NNGGGHHHH!!!” I feel just a bit awful for laughing at that gag.
* “Here we go. My boys. My poncho boys. If we’re going to die, let’s die looking like a Peruvian folk band”.
* “Poor Amy. He always leaves you, doesn’t he, alone in the dark. Never apologizes” “He doesn’t have to” “That’s good, because he never will”.
* “Oh, is that who you think you are? The one he trusts?” “Actually, yes” “The only girl in the universe to whom the Doctor tells everything?” “…Yes” “So what’s his name?”
* “Pick a world, and this nightmare will all be over. They’ll listen to you. It’s you they’re waiting for. Amy’s men. Amy’s choice”.
* “Bye, I need to find my friends” “Friends? Is that the right word for the people you acquire? Friends are people you stay in touch with. Your friends never see you again once they’ve grown up. The old man prefers the company of the young, does he not?”
* I like how Rory’s ponytail is given some somber death scene music before Rory himself. Speaking of which, rest in peace, Rory’s ponytail. You were too young and beautiful for this world.
* “Save him. You save everyone. You always do. It’s what you do” “Not always. I’m sorry” “Then what is the point of you?”.
* “So, well then, where now? Or should I just pop down to the swimming pool for a few lengths?” “I don’t know. Anywhere’s good for me. I’m happy anywhere. It’s up to Amy this time. Amy’s choice”.