“The Girl Who Waited” is Tom McRae’s second contribution to Doctor Who, following his debut two-parter, “Rise Of The Cybermen” in Series 2; and compared to his last action-packed story, where he had to handle the daunting task of reintroducing iconic monsters from the classic series of Doctor Who, here he’s tackling a much simpler subject matter and working with a much smaller cast of characters. With a title like the one this story has, this episode could only really be about one person. “The Girl Who Waited” is a character study of Amy Pond, who’s been the Doctor’s main companion for the last two seasons: exploring all her strengths and her weaknesses, all her vices and her virtues. It’s also a love letter to her relationship with Rory Williams, which has helped to form the emotional backbone of Series 5 and 6, and gradually become one of the more charming aspects of the show. I think I would single out “The Girl Who Waited” as the definitive Amy episode – in the same way I would describe “Father’s Day” as the definitive Rose episode, or “Turn Left” as the definitive Donna episode, or “Flatline” as the definitive Clara episode – because this story really does sum up everything Amy has to offer as a character, and all the rich character development she’s received so far, since she started her journey in the TARDIS. When it comes to the overarching story of Series 6, regarding Melody Pond, the Silence, and the Doctor’s apparent ‘death’ in Utah, “The Girl Who Waited” is a standalone episode that doesn’t reference those events in the slightest, which means it can easily be watched in isolation. But when it comes to the emotional core of Series 6 and the character arcs the Doctor, Amy and Rory are given this year, “The Girl Who Waited” is a pivotal stepping stone in their journey, as the Doctor’s relationship with his beloved Ponds is fractured even further.
To fully put the events of this episode and what they would mean for Amy Pond (Karen Gillan) into perspective, we need to take a look back at where she got her start in “The Eleventh Hour“. When Amy was a little girl, her parents were consumed by a crack in time, and because of the way the cracks work, even if she didn’t consciously remember them, their deaths would have still had a massive impact on her. It’s implied her aunt Sharon wasn’t the best caretaker, and their relationship was distant at best (the night Amy first met the Doctor, her aunt left a seven year old girl home alone by herself, which is incredibly irresponsible, and apparently not an uncommon thing for her to do). The Doctor changed her outlook on life and promised to show Amy a brand new world, and then he accidentally ditched her for twelve years. Afterwards, all her stories about her Raggedy Doctor were dismissed and ridiculed by her neighbors and her family. Amy basically learned from a young age that you shouldn’t bother getting attached to people, because they will either leave you or disappoint you or both, and she developed some serious trust issues and abandonment issues. It took Amy quite a while to start trusting the Doctor again when he returned to her, and it took her about half of Series 5 to fully commit to her relationship with Rory and let him into her heart as the person she knew she wanted to marry. But Amy’s grown a lot over the course of two seasons: she’s become wiser and more compassionate, she’s grown a lot more comfortable in her own skin and more willing to put her faith in the people she loves, her relationship with Rory is stronger than ever, and she’s been having loads of fun traveling through time.
In “The Girl Who Waited” though, Amy accidentally gets stranded in a hospital in the future, and the Doctor and Rory promise to bust out, so long as she hangs tight in the meantime. Amy has always been a survivor: she’s a very resourceful and adaptable lass, so she combines her own street smarts and intuitiveness with the skills she’s picked up from traveling with the Doctor to survive the hostile environment she’s trapped in. So after a few decades pass, of course she would become a full blown warrior woman. Poor Amy has to endure some absolutely hellish circumstances, spending all her time trapped in Two-Streams having to fight off Handbots: robotic doctors who could quite literally kill her with kindness, by trying to forcibly inject her with medicine that would be lethal to humans. The Handbots keep showing up wherever she is, they can follow her anywhere in the building, and they never stop coming – so she always has to stay alert. She’s completely isolated and alone as the only person around, so she’s denied human contact that would help her stay sane. With every year that passes, she grows older and older, and as a result, slower and slower as well – so she’s really only fighting off the inevitable until the Handbots eventually take her. She doesn’t know when her promised help will arrive, and as the years go by, she steadily loses hope, until eventually, she accepts that the Doctor and Rory must have abandoned her. Because they got the timing wrong, they don’t return until she’s a woman in her fifties. Amy has made a lot of progress with overcoming her old pessimistic outlook on relationships, but in this episode, she regresses massively and closes herself off once again – and honestly, no one would blame her for doing so in her position. It’s a miracle that Amy has even managed to stay sane for thirty-six years.
As you would imagine, Amy has grown bitter and resentful. She doesn’t have a lot of kind things to say about her husband and her Raggedy Doctor when they finally return, thirty-six years late. In fact, she has plenty of contempt for both of them, and she finally has an opportunity to vent all those feelings of betrayal that she’s had on her mind for years. Keep in mind, the Doctor is more than just her best friend, he’s her childhood hero as well – so by rejecting him, Amy is also rejecting a part of herself, denouncing her old, youthful self as being a naïve fool for believing in him and everything he symbolizes. When the Doctor and Rory devise a way to rescue her past self from Two-Streams, so they can still make good on their promise to save her, Amy refuses to help them. In her opinion, what’s done is done now, and she understands the mechanics of time travel well enough to know that trying to change her past would result in her current self being erased from history – her whole life will have meant nothing. Amy missed her husband Rory more than anyone else in her life during her thirty-six years in isolation – she even named her pet robot after him, as a way to remember him. Her old affection for him still lingers in the present, even as she tries to keep it buried out of stubbornness. One of the most beautiful scenes in “The Girl Who Waited” happens at the end of the second act, when Amy has a talk with her past self, who helps her remember how she grew up alongside Rory, how she was at her happiest when she married him, and why she fell in love with him in the first place. Amy’s love for Rory can’t be extinguished easily, and it’s basically the only reason why she decides to risk her own existence in the last act – at which point, she fully unthaws again.
“The Girl Who Waited” is one of those episodes like “Father’s Day” or “The Fires Of Pompeii” where there isn’t a clean and easy fix to this week’s moral dilemma that will ensure everyone walks away happy. There isn’t a third option to be found if our heroes are just clever enough or courageous enough to look for it – just an ugly, brutal choice that somebody has to be make eventually – and this story doesn’t shy away from that. Over the course of this episode, Amy had to once again learn to trust the Doctor, and after falsely accusing him of betraying her several times, she gets massively backstabbed for real during the climax. The Doctor got her hopes up that he could bring her along with her past self in the TARDIS, but really he just told her what she wanted to hear so he could save our regular, contemporary Amy – and only her. When she’s literally locked out of the TARDIS and left to die, Amy finally accepts that two Amy Ponds can’t exist at the same time, it’s just too big of a paradox. So if there can really be only one, she allows herself to be erased from history, so her younger self can have another chance to live out the rest of her life with Rory – exactly the way she would want it to be, and in her eyes, exactly the way it should be. Now that Amy and Rory are officially a married couple, their relationship has been front and center throughout Series 6: we’ve seen it grow in strength, we’ve explored various different faucets of it, we’ve seen it be put to the test by several different challenges, and “The Girl Who Waited” is the culmination of all the focus its been given: this episode really cements that Amy and Rory are two halves of the same whole. I also have a lot of respect for Karen Gillan, who carried the bulk of this episode on her back by playing a double role: two distinct versions of her usual character who are very different from each other and yet still recognizably the same person.
In “The Girl Who Waited”, the compassionate side of Rory Williams’s (Arthur Darvill) personality and his core principles are once again emphasized when he’s confronted with the Two-Streams facility, which makes a lot of sense, since he is a modern day nurse learning about the utterly alien standards of a futuristic hospital. Rory thinks the way the facility is run is pretty awful, and unlike the Doctor, he’s the only one to stop and question if anyone there is really okay with this set-up (the families of terminally ill patients getting to watch them live out the rest of their lives within a day), or if they’re just making do with the bad hand they’ve been given. When Amy gets trapped in there, Rory and the Doctor both hope it will be a simple enough task getting her out, especially compared to how they stormed Demons’ Run a few episodes ago, but their rescue attempt goes horribly wrong. “The Doctor’s Wife” conjured up a pretty chilling notion earlier this season: being separated from the person you loved, only to find them again, decades later from their perspective, when they’ve grown to resent you. In “The Doctor’s Wife”, that scenario was thankfully just a nightmare – a cruel figment of Amy’s imagination that the House designed to torture the Ponds. In “The Girl Who Waited”, that predicament is very real, when the Doctor and Rory arrive thirty-six years later than they intended to to save Amy. Rory is absolutely horrified that he missed out on the chance for him and Amy to get spend the best years of their life together, and he hates the fact that Amy had to go through all that pain, peril and mental anguish alone. Once the shock of Amy’s plight wears off, Rory’s grief and devastation gives way to a burning hot anger when he lashes out at the Doctor, something that’s probably been coming for a while.
For much of this episode, Rory is completely out of his depth, so he mostly follows the Doctor and Amy’s orders and hopes for the best, but he’s perfectly willing to put his foot down and stand up for what he believes in, whether it means calling out his wife or his best friend when they’re both being bullheaded. Once he gets over his shock about how much Amy has changed, Rory finds she is still the same person he’s always known, and he still loves her, whether she’s young or old. He winds up helping her rediscover a part of herself that she had long since forgotten: for thirty-six years, Amy had just been surviving from day to day, but for a few glorious moments during the last act, when she has hope, she finally started living again. In Doctor Who, time travel can be a beautiful thing – a wonderful, fantastic thing – but it can also be painful and cruel, as Rory discovers during the climax. The Doctor royally betrays Amy, but locking her out of the TARDIS is also a massive betrayal to Rory too, especially since Rory has been putting more and more of his trust into the Doctor’s methods this season, under the assumption that they’re on the same page. Rory spent most of this episode growing to accept that this middle-aged version of his wife is still Amy, his Amy, so leaving her behind to what he knows will be her death absolutely emotionally destroys him, even as she decides herself that it’s right thing to do. Rory certainly lets the Doctor know exactly how he feels about the man backstabbing him, and by the coda of this episode, it’s pretty clear that Rory will never quite look at him the same way again, now that he knows what he’s capable of. The battle of Demons’ Run dealt a blow to the Doctor’s friendship with Amy and Rory, but this episode truly marks the beginning of the end for the Ponds traveling full time with the Doctor.
“The Girl Who Waited” is the annual Doctor-lite episode of the season, where the lead actor is given a break in his filming schedule due to the Doctor have a smaller role than usual. In “The Girl Who Waited”, the Eleventh Doctor decides to take his two best friends to a vacation hot-spot in the far future, only to discover the whole planet is under quarantine for a deadly plague when they get there. While human beings are safe from it, the disease is especially lethal to time lords, so the Doctor is officially confined to the TARDIS for most of this episode, acting as Amy and Rory’s technical support and their mission control. Matt Smith doesn’t have a lot of scenes in this episode, and almost all of them take place inside the TARDIS’s console room set, allowing him to film them quickly and easily. However, the Doctor still manages to influence the plot of this episode in a really big way: he’s really the one who sets the events of this story in motion, and he’s certainly the one who decides how they turn out. For the first act of this episode, Eleven is in a pretty jovial and light-hearted mood. Even when our main heroes find themselves in a tight spot, when Amy gets trapped inside of Two-Streams, Eleven still has hope that they’ll be able to pull off the rescue quickly and smoothly, treating it like business as usual – until things get unexpectedly real. Previous episodes like “The Eleventh Hour”, “The Vampires Of Venice“, “Amy’s Choice” and “Let’s Kill Hitler” have all made it pretty clear that the Doctor unwittingly screwing up Amy’s life because of his influence is one of his greatest fears, and in this story, that fear comes true. Amy is subjected to thirty-six years of absolute hell because of him. Because he brought her along with him to see the universe. Because he was reckless and irresponsible with his devil may care approach to traveling through time, rarely ever planning anything through in advance.
Sometimes the Doctor forgets that his friends aren’t as durable as he is, and they have much shorter lifespans than he does. All it takes is one slip-up, one bad decision, to bring their lives to a screeching halt forever – as we saw last season in “Cold Blood“, where the Doctor’s poor choices led to Rory getting shot. The Doctor views Amy’s unthinkably long exile in Two-Streams as a massive personal failure that he needs to correct, and when he devises a way to rescue her past self and rewrite her timeline, he sees it as his chance to make things right – so he does something terrible. He lies to Amy and Rory and tells them what they want to hear, so they’ll cooperate with him until he gets his intended results. The TARDIS can’t sustain the paradox of two Amy Ponds existing at the same time, so the Doctor decides to leave Amy’s older self behind in Two-Streams to die: justifying it with the fact that she won’t even exist for much longer once they leave the building with present day Amy. Back in “The Rebel Flesh“, I noted that the Eleventh Doctor is always at his most interesting as a character when he’s portrayed as someone you shouldn’t entirely trust, and the ice cold climax of this episode is an excellent example of that. The Doctor claims old Amy isn’t real and dehumanizes her to distance himself from the awfulness of what he’s doing, but she sure as hell was real, and her whole life was a tragedy, right up until the day she died. By the episode’s end, the Doctor has restored the usual status quo and put everything back to normal, but at what cost? The Doctor has just crossed a major moral line and he knows it, and he’s damaged his relationship with Amy and Rory as result. The Doctor’s friendship with the Ponds has been growing more and more strained as of late, for very good reasons, and that particular conflict is about to come to a head in the next episode, “The God Complex“.
“The Girl Who Waited” is directed by Nick Hurran, and it’s pretty apparent that this episode is one of the lower-budget stories of the season. The main setting of this episode, the Two-Streams facility, is pretty minimalistic: with plenty of plain, white, sterile environments to be found, and a few grungy, industrial areas thrown in as well. The overall feeling of emptiness that this episode radiates can be pretty unsettling, but it does make it easier to focus on the small, core cast. Murray Gold’s score is full of musical callbacks this week. Since this is an Amy-centric episode, he revisits a lot of the leitmotifs that were associated with her in Series 5, like “Little Amy“, “Can I Come With You“, “Amy In The TARDIS“, “Amy’s Theme” and “The Sad Man With A Box“. The last act also features “Day Of The Moon“, an exciting and unused piece of music from the Series 6 premiere that underscores Amy, Rory and Amy fighting off a horde of robots to try to get back to the TARDIS in the climax. Old Amy’s death scene is backed by “Loving Isn’t Knowing (The Almost People Suite)“, which eventually builds to a tender, longing reprise of “Amy’s Theme” – and that musical choice creates a subtle bit of irony. Amy used to spend years dreaming about leaving her village home and finding out what life was like out there in the universe. The first time we heard “Amy’s Theme” flourish fully with wonder was when the Doctor took her to see humanity flying out there among the stars at the start of “The Beast Below“. She finally got to live out her dreams and they were wonderful – even better than she could ever have imagined. At the end of this story, a much older Amy looks back on her life – including all those wasted years in Two-Streams – and right before the end, all she can think about is her home world, her old life there, and how much she misses it. She’s come full circle, in a way that is both beautiful and painful.
“The Girl Who Waited” is a very strong character study for Amy Pond and Rory Williams. While it’s definitely not the best episode Amy appears in during her tenure as a companion, it is perhaps the one where her character shines the most.
* “I bring you to a paradise planet, two billion light years from Earth, and you want to update Twitter?” There’s a running gag in the Matt Smith era that the Doctor apparently looks down on Twitter, and honestly, I can’t say that I blame him.
* “Will you be visiting long?” “Good question. Bit sinister. What’s the answer to not get us killed?”
* “Bit of Earth, bit of alien, bit of whatever the hell that is”.
* “Are they happy?” “Oh, Rory. Trust you to think of that. I think they’re happy to be alive. Better than the alternative”.
* “This is so wrong” “I got old, Rory. What did you think was going to happen?” “Hey, I don’t care that you got old. I care that we didn’t grow old together”.
* “It’s like you’re not even her” “Thirty six years, three months, four days of solitary confinement. This facility was built to give people the chance to live. I walked in here and I died. Do you have anything to say to that?”
* “What is it?” “I think that’s the first time I’ve laughed in thirty six years”.
* “You told her to leave us a sign, and she did. She waited. Oh, Amy…”
* “You being here is wrong. For a single day, an hour, let alone a lifetime. I swore to protect you. I promised”.
* “This is your fault! You should look in a history book once in a while, see if there’s an outbreak of plague or something!” “That is not how I travel!” “Then I do not want to travel with you!” Hell yes.
* “You know when sometimes you meet someone so beautiful and then you actually talk to them, and five minutes later they’re as dull as a brick? Then there’s other people, and you meet them and think, not bad, they’re okay. And then you get to know them, and their face just sort of becomes them, like their personality’s written all over it. And they just turn into something so beautiful. Rory’s the most beautiful man I’ve ever met”.
* “I’m going to pull time apart for you” I ship it like Fed-Ex.
* “Sometimes knowing your own future is what enables you to change it. Especially if you’re bloody minded, contradictory and completely unpredictable” “So basically, if you’re Amy, then?”
* “She’s doing the macarena. Our first kiss…”
* “Rory, you’ve got eight minutes left. I’m sorry, but you’re on your own now” “I’m not on my own. I’ve got my wives!”
* “Look, we take this Amy, we leave ours! There can only be one Amy in the TARDIS! Which one do you want?! It’s your choice” “….This isn’t fair. You’re turning me into you!” Somewhere in the universe, Davros smirks in satisfaction, feeling completely vindicated.
* “The look on your face when you carried her… me…. her… when you carried her away. You used to look at me like that. I’d forgotten how much you loved me. I’d forgotten how much I loved being her. Amy Pond, in the TARDIS, with Rory Williams”.
* “Amy, I love you” “I love you, too. Don’t let me in. Tell Amy, your Amy, I’m giving her the days. The days with you. The days to come. The days I can’t have. Take them, please. I’m giving you my days”.
* “Interface?” “I am here, Amy Pond” “Show me Earth. Show me home. Did I ever tell you about this boy I met there, who pretended to be in a band?”