Saturday, May 15, 2010

Amy's Choice: Such Stuff as Dream Are Made Of

'Five years later and you haven't changed a bit. Apart from age. And size.'

If you're going to throw viewers - head first - into the deep end in a piece of drama then, it has to be said, the Amy's Choice way is probably the best way to do it. No messing about. No faffing around. No establishing shots, no surrealist discombobulated malarkey or knowing winks to the audience, just hammer to the nail. An English country village idyll, a heavily pregnant Amy Pond-Williams, a charming domestic scene straight out of some twee middle-class fluff and ... the TARDIS arrives. And, Rory with a mullet and a pony tail. Obviously a fantasy, then! As a starting point for an episode about psychic experience and the shattered fragments of harsh realities, it's got a lot going for it straight off the bat. It doesn't take the Doctor long to suss out that something is wrong with this entire scenario. 'What do you do around here to stave off the, you know, self harm?' There's something majorly not right here. 'Hold on tight,' he tells his companions with what might be glee, 'this is gonna be a tricky one.' And, so it proves.

The first thing that Amy's Choice has going for it is a real sense of a TARDIS crew that interacts with each other in an entirely believably three-dimensional dynamic. There's a lot going on here beneath the surface and not all of it is just bitchy oneupmanship games between The Doctor and Rory. Even though a lot of it is. Take the little conversation between Amy and the Doctor about trying to fix the malfunctioning TARDIS. 'You threw the manual in a supernova? Why?' The Doctor's reply is a beautifully tetchy one. 'Because I disagreed with it. Stop talking to me when I'm cross!' Subtext rapidly becoming the text, there. That's a Tom Baker line as well, that is. Just as 'don't let the cool gear fool you!' is a David Tennant line and 'Now, we all know there's an elephant in the room' is a Pertwee line. Simon Nye's first Doctor Who script has a lovely degree of velvety familiarity too it. A writer who grew up watching a TV show finally, in his fifties, getting to write for it and having many years of accumulated 'wouldn't it be cool if he said...' one-liners ready to go. Amy's Choice has just that kid-let-loose-in-a-sweetshop feel to it.

He's a witty bleeder as well, is Mr Nye - making his enemies for the episode, firstly Horrid Old People and then, quite unexpectedly, aspects of The Doctor himself. In The Dream Lord (a tremendous performance by little Toby Jones), The Doctor is given an uncomfortable look into what he soon realises to be a deep, dark, truthful mirror. 'There's only one person in the universe who hates me as much as you do,' takes on a quite chillingly sinister additional level with hindsight when the audience realised just whom The Dream Lord really is. 'I'd blush' If I had a blood supply. Or a real face.' For all The Doctor's 'tawdry quirks', he's swimming out his depth when faced with a horribly accurate critique of his own failings. 'Your friends never see you again once they've grown up.' That a writer like Nye - best known for blokey sitcoms and classic literature adaptations - can fit in so comfortably to an entirely different world (or two, as it happens), is a tribute not only to his own talents but also to the versatility and flexibility of the Doctor Who format. That he can get into areas of self-loathing and dramatic despair is even more remarkable. Gary and Tony in Men Behaving Badly never, to the best of my memory, sat around on the sofa discussing the meaning of - and inherent ludicrousness of - existence. Just, which lager was best and what colour Deborah's bush was.

At heart - despite yet another great performance by Matt Smith (I make that seven in a row, now), and another really sharp and likeable turn by Arthur Darvill, this is Amy's episode. Conceptually as well as emotionally. As the title of the episode would suggest. 'If we're going to die, let's die looking like a Peruvian folk band,' has but two challengers for the funniest one-liner of the episode. 'They're not going to be peeping out of anywhere else, are they?' being one. The other is the witty little exchange between The Dream Lord and a confused Rory on the subject of death in dreams. 'Ask what happens when you die in reality,' dares The Dream Lord. 'What happens?' 'You die, stupid. That's why it's called reality!' Now, that sounds like the kind of thing Gary would say to Tony. After a discussion about the qualities of Kylie's ass. Probably. The Dream Lord's pithy series of savage put-downs concerning the Doctor's perceived inadequacies had a certain incisive charm to them, too. I particularly liked 'you're probably a vegetarian aren't you? You big-haired wuss!'

So. Weird one, this. A psychological examination (which veered perilously close, at times, to outright masochism. As psychological examinations often do). A story about perception and dealing with ones inner darkness. About the rationality of fear and the wholly irrational nature of love. A story about loss and strength and trust. A story about truth. Necessary, truth. A mate of mine reckons, in a phone call five minutes after the episode finished, that it's the best single piece of Doctor Who since Blink. I'm not sure I'd go that far, personally. I'm not even sure it's the best Doctor Who episode of this series. But it was good. Very, very good. Different. It felt like a show searching for the beginnings of a new direction. Not, necessarily, because it needs to but, because, it's always wise to have another trick up your sleeve should Plan A go tits-up. Amy's Choice, for better or worse, was a classic example of what happens when Doctor Who tries to do something that little bit different. It usually works, to a greater or lesser degree, but it always invites criticism from the more naturally conservative end of its audience. I expect, in about fifteen years time, this one will enjoy the sort of reputation that The Deadly Assassin has now but didn't have in 1976. One can, after all, dream of such things. Dreaming, as Blondie once noted, is free.


Anonymous said...

I have to say, I found the Dream Lord's jab, "has he told you his real name?" a tantalizing question. It just hung in the air, of course, but it leads to all manner of speculation.

Carl said...

Superb, and pretty miraculous for someone's first Doctor Who script. All credit to him.

And Karen Gillan is a force to be reckoned with! Choice line for me was "well you do have a history of being... [stern look]... lovely" - just because it's the sort of thing I say to my other half all the time!