Tom McRae has previously written for new-Who
back in 2006 when he was credited with the two episodes that relaunched the Cybermen. But I always had the impression those were among the episodes that Russell T Davies did a massive amount of rewriting on, and "The Girl Who Waited" seems to have a lot more individuality to it. It's an impression I've had a lot over the last two years, that whether it's because he's running two shows and doesn't have time to rewrite everything, or more likely a difference in personality that means he doesn't like to be a micro-manager, Steven Moffat's series so far have allowed the writers to display a lot more of their personality in their scripts. Although on balance I prefer the latter approach I'm not saying this is always a good thing - some of the duller episodes could have done with someone doing some script-doctoring to pep them up a bit. But in MacRae's case it mostly seems to have been a good thing and the episode is a hit overall.
Not that I loved it as unreservedly as many people seem to have - despite the attempts to liven up the visuals a bit with trips to the alien garden, there's a hell of a lot of running around bright white rooms which becomes monotonous and there definitely were
scenes where I lost interest (funnily enough, more so on the first viewing that the second.) Once Old Amy appeared there was only really one way that the story could end so there's a certain amount of treading water to get there. Plus the internal logic of the Red Waterfall stream doesn't work: When they first discover the discrepancy in times, Amy lives through a week but doesn't need to eat because it's really just a few seconds, made to feel like a week. So why does she actually
age by 36 years when 36 Red Waterfall years pass?
Still, it's an episode heavy on big ideas and that's to be applauded, and most of the ideas work. Karen Gillan will never be the most versatile actress but she does up her game here and as for the old age makeup, I don't think I've ever seen it done better - it's maybe a bit generous if she's pushing sixty but it's almost convincing as what Gillan will really look like when she's older. It's subtle
, which I think is what tends to be lacking when people do old age makeup. And speaking of big ideas the exploration of the survival instinct is interesting - that Old Amy would rather live a life she herself describes as "hell" than cease to exist.
I wonder if the references to Rory pretending to be in a band were an in-joke about Arthur Darvill's other career as a musician who's even had his own musical produced
? In any case Darvill remains the stronger actor of the two companions and carries much of the episode. It's interesting how one of this series' themes is "Rory is worth making sacrifices for" and the way it mirrors last year's "Amy is worth making sacrifices for." I wonder if it was always planned that way, and I also wonder if it's easier to agree because we've already seen Rory give so much. I think the difference in the characters and the actors' abilities is part of it, but I do think last year's theme was harder to accept because we hadn't seen Amy be the selfless one until this year (and she's still the more selfish of the two by far.)
Then there's Matt Smith whose Doctor continues to be not only as alien as Four but as dark and ruthless as One, Seven or Nine. People used to talk about David Tennant's Doctor going "dark" but I don't think that ever happened - he went emo, which isn't the same thing. In fact Ten was so "human" a Doctor he made Five look like Four¹. Eleven though, can be so casually ruthless as to provide the one surprise available in the otherwise inevitable ending: When it looks like Old Amy will sacrifice her own existence and stay behind, it's actually the Doctor who shuts the TARDIS door in her face. And Rory's comment that making him choose which Amy lives is "turning me into you" is very
telling. Oh and the comment about how Amy knowing her own future may be what makes her able to change it: A possible throwaway hint at the fact that the Doctor now knows about his own death? (Of course, the Doctor we saw die in "The Impossible Astronaut" did
clearly know he was going to his death so it doesn't entirely change things.) Anyway, lots of interesting food for thought in an episode which maybe doesn't work all
the time but which I imagine could keep many a conversation going.
¹now that calling Doctors by their number has become an accepted shortcut, comparing them is a bit like describing a New York Subway journey, reeling off a load of numbers that only make sense in context.