You would have thought that Ms. Pond had spent enough time gallivanting around time and space to know that, when presented with the choice of pushing a big green button or a big red one, simple semiotics suggests that the green one is going to be a safer option. This week we find The Doctor and his companions washed up on the mysterious, and somewhat sterile planet of Apalapucia; a sort of inter-galactic Dignitas, resembling something between the retro 70's sci-fi furnishings of Duncan Jones' Moon and the Westfield Shopping Centre. Amy's aforementioned lack of button-pushing judgment see her separated from Rory and The Doctor, trapped in a different, faster time stream. Rory sets off to rescue her, but when he finally locates his wife, he finds an older, embittered Amy who has been fending for herself for 36 years, transformed in appearance and personality. As The Doctor helpfully explains, "time has gone a bit wibbly".
This week's episode is the closest we've come to the "Doctor-Lite" shows of the RTD era since 10 became 11, with a virus that only affects two-hearted races prohibiting the Doctor from entering the fray and giving writer Tom MacRae an opportunity to further explore the relationship between the two companions. There have been times over the last two series at which Amy's unfaltering affection towards her lovably devoted, but somewhat nerdy husband has been difficult to understand. At times this was an intentional plot device and at others it became a tad problematic, but The Girl Who Waited puts any doubts about their love for each other to bed. MacRae's script gifted Karen Gillan the opportunity to show her acting muscle, and she repaid him it by turning in her best performance on DW so far. Both Gillan and Arthur Darvill have really grown into their roles in this series, and both get an opportunity to shine in this week's outing. According to show runner Steven Moffat, the original plan was to cast an older actress for the role, but Gillan insisted on playing it with prosthetics; a decision that really paid off as she finds the subtle distinctions between the young and older Amy perfectly. In tweaking her vocal intonation and modifying her trademark girlish saunter, she does a great job of creating a believable and recognizable Amy well into her fifties. She really sells older Amy's resentment at being abandoned by The Doctor one too many times, as well as showing us glimpses of the innocence she has lost, as her love for her husband starts to dilute her bitterness. The robot Rory is also a great touch.
With the exception of a stunning scene set in an astonishingly beautiful country garden with a DW twist, the episode is a relatively low-buget affair by Doctor Who's standards, and the focus is very much on our central couple. The love story builds through much robot-bashing and lens flare towards the biggest emotional climax of series 6, as The Doctor leaves Rory with another characteristically impossible decision to make. The resulting tear-jerking exchange through the doors of the TARDIS is wonderfully played, and Murray Gold's score soars to ensure there's not a dry eye in the living room. All in all, in an episode that looked in danger of being a mid-season filler, Tom MacRae's emotionally charged screenplay and a pair of career performances made The Girl Who Waited the most enjoyable of the second half of the season, showing that you don't necessarily need big special effects, or even The Doctor to pack the biggest punches.
Next week: a Minotaur, a clown, David Walliams and some really dodgy wallpaper.