Review by Neil Perryman
Blimey, this season of Doctor Who is turning out to be a bit erratic, isn't it? It's currently as reliable as the Liberal bloody Democrats.
After the barnstorming Eleventh Hour we've had to endure the glorified toy advert that was Victory of the Daleks and the woefully uneven Beast Below. And then, just as the series appeared to have hit its stride with a fantastic Weeping Angel two-parter, we were subjected to the unholy mess that was The Catfish of Croatia, an episode so banal I couldn't bring myself to review it (space fish are supposed to be scarier than bona fide vampires? Are you absolutely sure?).
And then Amy's Choice comes along.
I suspected that I was in for a bit of a treat when Den of Geek gave the episode a distinctly lukewarm preview - they are usually wide of the mark so this ramped up my expectations to a ridiculous degree. And I wasn't disappointed. In fact, it's the first time since Blink that I've felt compelled to watch an episode twice in the same evening. You have to - it cries out to be experienced again with the benefit of hindsight, even if the catalyst for the threat is utter bobbins. But who cares about improbable specks of psychic dust when the ultimate revelation is so damn potent.
Toby Jones was the Doctor all along!
Yes, Toby Jones was the Doctor all along. Or maybe he was the Valeyard. Whatever floats your boat. Either way, it was a powerful reveal (made even more disturbing by the flippant manner in which it was delivered) and I honestly didn't see it coming, even if the giveaway line about no one hating the Doctor quite so much seems painfully obvious in retrospect. It's also the second time that this show has postulated the premise that our hero has the innate potential to be a complete and utter bastard. Not to mention a sexual predator with some serious self-esteem issues.
In Star Trek this would be the result of a quaintly segregated parallel universe or a bizarre transporter accident but in Doctor Who we are told to accept the fact that the villain of the piece is buried deep within the psyche of our hero. And still is.
How macabre is that?
Toby Jones' performance as the Doctor's dark side is delicately balanced; it could have been disastrous in lesser hands but Jones manages to colour the role with just the right shades of menace, charm and sadism, which can't have been an easy task given the increasingly surreal brief he had to work with. He even manages to give Matt Smith a run for his money (which is really saying something) and practically every line he says is quotable; his rant about the Doctor's endless list of tawdry quirks elicited genuine applause from this quarter. I'd love to see him return for a re-match soon.
A sexual predator with some serious self-esteem issues...
I was also impressed at how deftly Simon Nye managed to keep me guessing when it came to working out which world was the real one. It says a lot about Doctor Who when a spooky village possessed by marauding OAPs could quite easily be the plausible threat, and while it's admittedly a bit of a cheat at the end of the day (the fact that it's impossible to correctly work out which reality was "real" really irritated me initially) the concept at the heart of the story is one of the funniest, scariest and most complex ever devised for this programme.
The Mid-afternoon of the Practically Dead siege plays into our collective fears about old age and impending death with a potency that alarmed me. You could almost smell the stale piss and Werther's Originals as they advanced on the house in a twisted parody of Assault on Precinct 13 and Cocoon, and while I should have been laughing at the marching Zimmer frames I found myself gripped by a increasingly morbid horror. Sadly, while grannies up and down the country are reported to find themselves with tingling nipples and a warm glow whenever they run into Tom Baker, Matt Smith will probably end up with a chorus of scornful tuts and cold shoulders as a generation of children start treating their grandparents with suspicion.
Mid-afternoon of the Practically Dead
I've noticed that some Pond/Gillan scepticism has reared its head over the last couple of weeks. I just don't get it. Yes, she's full of contradictions, kooky mannerisms and bouts of selfishness but that just makes her feel like a fully-rounded character to me. Even if the crack of doom isn't exerting a malign influence over Amy, her actions seem perfectly reasonable when examined in context.
Amy's lack of compassion for her unborn child, as she hastily cobbles together s suicide pact with the Doctor, could simply be interpreted as yet another subtle clue that the OAP world wasn't real, even if I'm still surprised that the Doctor would go along with her plan considering that he didn't know for sure that she was right, and she wasn't exactly thinking straight having just seen Rory crumble to dust like that.
Just think, there's an alternative reality out there where the Doctor is painfully regenerating next to the twitching corpse of his pregnant companion. Assuming of course that crashing a bus into a wall at 5 miles an hour doesn't result in anything more serious than whiplash and a bruised elbow.
It's a turning point for Amy Pond and it concludes her opening mini-arc beautifully. For the last few weeks I haven't really understood what Rory and Amy were doing together. Rory is certainly a likeable, if vaguely pathetic, character but I've been labouring under the impression that Amy was simply settling for second best until someone better came along. Yes, it's an immature attitude to have but it's also very, very real. Her realisation that she really does love the daft bugger felt right and truthful because In the words of Joni Mitchell, you don't know what you've got till it's gone... Trite, maybe, but it felt right to me. How she'll develop from here remains to be seen of course...
I adored Amy's Choice. Just writing about it now just makes me want to watch it all over again and even if Chris Chibnal's effort turns out to be utter rubbish tomorrow (Den of Geek seem to like it) I really won't care. Stories as good as this only come up once every 2 or 3 weeks so I'll savour them while I can.