Hello, my old nemesis. For anyone who doesn’t know, this one episode of Doctor Who has bothered me since it first aired. As a kid I found it boring, then when I tried watching it properly I found it absolutely dreadful. It was contrived, boring and lazy and proudly became my least favourite episode. At least that’s what I thought when I was younger. Having not seen the episode in a few years, I decided to watch it again, with the assumption that it was a good episode I was too stupid to understand. I must thank the Twelfth Doctor era first of all for giving me several new choices for worst episode ever, making me view every Eleventh Doctor episode I didn’t like (except the stupid tree episode) in a much better light, including this one. Having now watched The Girl Who Waited again, my final thoughts are…
Yeah, it’s pretty good.
The reason I couldn’t get into this one is simple, and it’s a problem that still stands and almost ruins every viewing I have of the episode. The opening ten minutes are some of the most contrived rubbish I have ever seen.
Amy needs her phone (facepalm) so the Doctor and Rory go into a room, without waiting for her. Really Doc, isn’t this your first rule? Don’t wander off? I know he likes exploring, but he knows there’s something odd and wouldn’t leave Amy on an alien planet without telling her. Then, Amy has her phone and Rory, who has suddenly forgotten he is supposed to smart, tells her to press a button to meet them- without telling her which one! She doesn’t ask which one either, so all three regulars have taken stupid medicine. On top of that, the dumb behaviour continues when the Doctor advises Amy to wait in the facility, where there are Handbots and unknown dangers out there, instead of the waiting room which is a lot safer. Dumb dumb dumb. I get the point Tom McRae is making here, that the Doctor’s actions are what causes the events, but could it have been done in a less idiotic manner. The very next episode has him making a mistake based on the fact that he doesn’t fully understand the situation and endangers everyone, but here he seems to know the planet and has suddenly forgotten basic communication and common sense. It’s so contrived.
But the rubbish doesn’t end there (don’t worry, I do like this episode now but I have to finish dissecting this opening). Why doesn’t the system identify that Amy isn’t infected and have the Handbots pursue her? Why don’t the Handbots scan her to make sure she isn’t infected? Why doesn’t the Doctor scan the planet beforehand like he always does to make sure there’s not a plague? This last point gets raised in the episode, but it still makes no sense. A quarantined planet should not be so easy to access, and access to the hospital should be completely restricted to anyone who isn’t infected. Who designed this planet?
Here’s what I would have done. Have the trio explore the facility Hartnell-style and Amy can open a door to the outside, infecting the Doctor who has to rush back to the TARDIS. The Handbots then arrive and judge Amy as a threat, because she opened the door, so they grab her and put her in quarantine, assuming she has the disease. So now Amy is in quarantine and in another time stream, and Rory and a TARDIS bound Doctor have to rescue her, just like in the actual episode, except done less stupidly.
So, after the mindbogglingly stupid first ten minutes, the contrivance machine stops and from this point in the episode starts getting good. This is such an odd episode, especially for the revival, as it is quiet and subdued, with not much action or plot and with only the regulars. I admire this, and wish more episodes would be like this. This kind of episode is exactly what Series 8 and 9 were missing- slow, character based, simple and built upon emotion and character, not continuity. Series 8 wanted to be Series 6 with Clara and Danny instead, but the lack of episodes like this killed the relationship. I love the idea that old Amy hates the Doctor and it’s great buildup to the following week. Rory gets the spotlight and it’s one of his best episodes. For the first time he gets to truly challenge the Doctor and gets caught up in his machinations. This is a great episode to rewatch, as you know the Doctor is lying and there can’t be two Amys. It gets even better when the arc of the series is applied- the real reason why the Doctor does not want old Amy is because he doesn’t want an Amy whose faith in him has been shattered. He refuses to come to terms with the fact that he has failed Amy and does everything in his power to stop old Amy from ever existing. This all comes to a head the following week, where the Doctor realises he cannot save Amy no matter what, and that their relationship and travels are dangerous to each other. The Girl Who Waited and The God Complex (my favourite episode) make a great double bill and make Series 6 emotionally satisfying. The actions of the Doctor in The Girl Who Waited are built entirely on a desire to remain Amy’s raggedy man, not the failure that he is in The God Complex.
This is also one of the best episodes when it comes to Amy and Rory’s relationship. They’re two of my favourite companions and their married status gives them a unique dynamic when it comes to the companion pantheon. This episode brings out the best in Rory, as he still loves old Amy despite her cynical behaviour. He believes that both Amys can exist and he is happy with both, wanting to grow old with one and make up to the other. It’s powerful stuff when he confronts the Doctor at the end and snaps at him, reminding the Doctor that they are human. Old Amy loses faith in everyone and everything, but young Amy still has hope. The amazing scene with the two of them talking through the glass brings the episode’s themes full circle- that Amy and Rory are inseparable and will do anything for each other. At this point in their tenure, the audience care about them immensely, and an episode like this challenges perceptions of who they are.
Really, that’s all there is to discuss. There isn’t much plot and everything else about the episode- the Handbots, the world, the disease- are all just background. I don’t mind there not being a villain as it’s clear this isn’t an episode where it’s the focus. The Handbots are a serviceable threat but don’t derail the episode like many Twelfth Doctor “villains”. If the Handbots (which are a cool design) were evil and had an evil plan, then it would have been disappointing and resulted in a rushed plot. Remember the robot owl thing from The Caretaker or the spider germs from Kill the Egg? They were just there and were a waste, whilst the Handbots make sense in the story and add to the experience.
In conclusion, this episode is pretty good. It has an awful first ten minutes, an amazing final ten minutes and a decent middle part. It’s weird, unique and adds a lot to the series. I have a soft spot for Series 6 (The God Complex, The Impossible Astronaut, The Doctor’s Wife and A Good Man Goes to War are all masterpieces) and The Girl Who Waited is a pretty great entry into a series I ultimately think has more good than bad. It’s not an episode that brings the series down as I initially thought, it enhances it, and Chris Chibnall should be looking at episodes like this to make Series 11 as good as can be.