• 21st May 2010 • Review by Jonathan Capps •
Episode sevens occupy a curious place in a typical series of New Who. That is to say, the criminally underrated Long Game aside, they’re always a load of fucking shit. Or, at least, a lot of people perceive them that way. They represent that worrying and slightly odd period mid series when the head writer isn’t taking the main writing duties and you’re in the hands of a string of ‘others’, so it’s always a nervous time and the unseemly gap between the first and second two-parters of the series are nearly always a bit rubbish. Last week Vampires of Venice was probably one of the most successful episodes to occupy the screaming mid-series void and now we have Amy’s Choice, an episode that could easily be regarded as one of the best single episodes New Who has had.
If you ever find yourself talking to a Doctor Who writer for an extended period of time, you’ll probably end up hearing something about the best thing about writing for the show is that it’s “based on ideas” which allows them to go places and do things that other shows don’t allow. All too often, though, the ideas can get lost under (or even entirely consist of) the monster that has been dreamt up and lovingly (quickly) rendered by The Mill that week. At worst, New Who can often feel like a thoughtless procession from one monster to the next with actually very few ideas driving this supposedly ideas based show and this is a problem normally associated with these mid-series episodes.
The central concept of the Dream Lord (even before The Big Reveal at the end) is a superb frame to hang a weird and limitless story on. That’s what Doctor Who is when it’s running at its absolute best; it can take an idea a perfect and simple as “a baddy can control dreams so you have no idea what is reality” and in the hands of a writer as supremely skillful as Simon Nye from that you can tie up an ongoing love story, absolutely destroy and expose your central characters, all the while giving yourself the freedom to create exciting, weird and funny set pieces and situations. With Doctor Who you need to keep planted in your internal logic to allow the story to progress effectively and, ultimately, make sense but that original idea that is at the core of each episode and from which the rules of the story are defined, can be as a weird as wonderful as you like, but picking the right one is very, very difficult. Getting this right is the biggest quality Moffat Who has over pretty much any telly ever, and Amy’s Choice absolutely this quality from start to finish.
It’s been very brave of The Moff to bring another Doctor/companion romance to the forefront of the ongoing story. Not because they’re traditionally unpopular with certain areas of fandom, but because it’s something that’s already been done and very recently, ending with probably the most mentally shit conclusion to anything, ever. The answer to that is, of course, he’s taking a different approach and The Doctor’s willingness to reconnect Amy with Rory have been a very endearing character trait. That story comes to a head (it seems) in Amy’s Choice as it forms the backbone of the whole episode. The two dream scenarios have a very clear difference and that is whether The Doctor is in Amy’s life or not. After dithering about whether to get married, or whether she wants to just fuck off with the Doctor for good and whether she really loves and wants to be with Rory are things she has to find answers for during the episode, which is a neat way to give a character a lot of emotional progression in a very short space of time. Amy’s indecisiveness about which dream is actually reality (back when she thought one of them *was* reality) could be less about the confusion caused by the Dream Lord, and more to do with her own internal conflict about which one she wants to be real. When she’s eventually forced to make the choice after the apparent death of Rory (brilliantly acted by Karen) it nicely and neatly ties up her and Rory’s relationship issues but also advanced the main situation to a point where The Doctor can conclude the main story and deliver the big reveal the Dream Lord was him, casting the whole episode in a new light and also further developing the Doctor’s dark side. This episode has very a skilfully implemented central idea serving lots of different threads.
This was also another episode where all aspects of the production seemed absolutely spot on. The simple but effective idea of the birdsong carrying over between dreams lent a nice surreal and dreamlike feel to the episode, and the the frozen TARDIS was superbly realised. This was a smart and incredibly funny story, complimented by the continuing fantasticness of Matt and Karen and a guest performance from Toby Jones that has to be ranked among the best in the show’s history. Not bad for episode seven.