Low self-esteem reaches new heights.
Leadworth, circa 2015, Rory and Amy Wiliams (nee Pond) are on the verge of having their first baby when the Doctor returns to their lives, five years after leaving them.
Not everything is as it seems, though as they all wake up aboard the TARDIS back in “regular” time. The Doctor is confronted by the mysterious Dream Lord, who hates the Doctor, and he sets him a challenge: One of the two worlds is real, one a dream. If they die in the dream world, they awake in the real world. If they die in the real world, they die. To add an element of urgency to the proceedings, the TARDIS goes powerless and begins plummeting towards a “cold star” while in the Leadworth world, the OAPs reveal themselves to be alien-infested invaders and begin killing everyone in town. Ultimately, Amy must decide if her future lies with the Doctor or with Rory.
This is an unusual Doctor Who story and one that deconstructs along interesting lines, but ultimately, the story fails for me, but only just.
We are presented with two different Doctor Who stories; the Leadworth and TARDIS stories. Their dilemma is to figure out which one is real, but as presented to the audience, there can only be one choice: Leadworth is the fake. (You’ll note, I said “…as presented to the audience” Consider, with Leadworth we have to take the most untold story to set it up. We know that the Doctor, Amy and Rory were on the TARDIS at the end of the previous story and Rory was going to travel with them. We have to accept that they’ve skipped five or more years to accept that they’re living back in Leadworth.
Also, the TARDIS storyline is fatalistic, in that (it appears) that the Doctor is powerless to stop them from dying and doesn’t even try. It is, in effect, the ticking clock on the time bomb. In 40 minutes, you die.
However, in Leadworth, they could go on forever, simply by escaping the town, or finding their way back into the TARDIS. From the standpoint of the story, this means that a decision needs to be made in Leadsworth.
It seems painfully obvious to me that you were supposed to decide that Leadworth was the dream and I came to that conclusion as soon as the nature of the threat was revealed in both storylines. There was just minor thing niggling at the back of my mind: Whenever something is “painfully obvious” I’m always suspicious that the writer is trying to trick the audience. The writer was “tricking”us, both worlds were dreams but in all fairness, I did not figure that out.)
On second viewing, I liked the story better, partially because it got to spend a little time examining what I call, “The Companions Dilemma.” The moment of a companion’s departure has always been problematic. The Doctor literally dumped his granddaughter, forcing her to stay on Earth with the man she fell in love with. Ian and Barbara finally got to go home back in the days when the Doctor could never, ever arrive when and where he wanted to be. After that, though, the companions rarely show any indication that they’re going to leave until moments before they do.
I ask you, is that what you’d do? I don’t think I would. I think I’d stay aboard the TARDIS forever. Why would you leave it? It’s the very question Amy asks Rory, “Why would we give up all this?” Since the series’ revival, this has become a very sticky problem, because the companions are obviously a lot more emotionally invested in the Doctor as a partner rather than as a father-figure. It’s terribly sad (and I’m not looking forward to it) but all little girls grow up and leave their fathers. There is an inevitability about it that we must expect. When someone leaves their chosen partner, it is a different dynamic. Few people go into relationships with the idea that someday they will leave and so when they do, it’s often a time of acrimony and disappointment.
In a TV series, no one wants to see a beloved companion depart on acrimonious terms – we want to remember our TV friends as they were, and so the departures of Rose and Donna were contrived to make it impossible for them to stay. The departure of Martha was so poorly realized that to this day one would think she’d been fired on the spur of a moment rather than as a planned departure from the show.
In any case, Amy’s Choice is partially an analysis of why people stay and what might make someone leave. Clearly Rory prefers Leadworth and Amy prefers the TARDIS. When she finally realizes that she really loves Rory and can’t live without him, she grows up a little bit right in front of our eyes.
The other major plot, and part of the reason the story ultimately fails for me, is the Doctor’s self-loathing. The Dream Lord is himself; his own deep, dark side that dislikes what he is and how he treats his friends. The story would have a lot more impact over the course of the episode if we knew this from the start, but instead, the reveal that the Dream Lord is the Doctor comes tacked on at the end like an afterthought.
If someone is making snide remarks about someone else, it has a certain weight to it. If they’re making comments about another person and you recognize those things to be to a certain degree truthful, it has more weight, but if a person is making comments about themself it opens up a whole insight on that person. By saving the reveal of the Dream Lord’s identify to the end, you have to go back and re-evaluate what you’d seen earlier. That’s why this episode is better on second viewing. What the Dream Lord says is much more important the second time through.
If I had to rate this episode on a scale of 0 to 100, where 50 equates to “approval”, I’d have to give it 49.9999. It just misses by the smallest of margin.
Ben and I chatted about this episode in greater detail over at the Fusion Patrol Podcast. You can listen to the episode here: