The Good: Good character development, Wonderful performances, Generally good plot, Pretty neat special effects
The Bad: Somewhat predictable, Disappointing motivation for the Eknodine
The Basics: "Amy's Choice" is the first slam-dunk episode of Doctor Who since Matt Smith took over as The Doctor.
When it comes to reality-bending episodes of television that try to explore the nature of truth and fiction, all television lives in the shadow of the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode "Duet" (reviewed here!). There are plenty of shows that attempt to make a compelling episode out of figuring out the truth of a situation, but "Duet" is pretty much the gold standard. The Doctor Who attempt to create an episode that truly challenges the viewer's understanding of reality is "Amy's Choice."
Sadly, the set-up for "Amy's Choice" makes it virtually impossible to believe there is any real choice in that to accept one option would require the viewer to completely redefine their perception of all the Doctor Who episodes that preceded it in the season. I'm not saying that Doctor Who fans could not adapt to the idea of a complete right turn in the narrative - hell, I'm often on Doctor Who forums advocating for the idea of Peter Capaldi as a Dream Crab-inpired vision based on how the last shot of "Last Christmas" (reviewed here!) makes no rational, in-series sense - but the writers and executive producers of the show do not have the courage to build a mindfuck for that long. Besides, attentive viewers of "Flesh And Stone" (reviewed here!) knew that there was a temporally-displaced version of The Doctor in the episode, which pretty much guts the menace of episodes like "Amy's Choice" until that reality is revealed.
Opening in a small village - Upper Leadworth - on Earth, a very pregnant Amy Pond is stirring custard when she things she is going into labor. Rory arrives in time to deal with the false alarm when The Doctor arrives. It has been five years since Amy and Rory traveled with The Doctor on the TARDIS. Sitting on a bench in the village, the trio falls asleep and wakes up on the TARDIS which has some red flashing lights The Doctor does not recognize. The three realize that they were having the same dream . . . and they begin to hear the same birds. That triggers The Doctor, Rory and Amy to wake back up in the village, where The Doctor questions which of the two versions of reality is real.
When returning to the TARDIS, the power goes out and The Dream Lord appears. The Dream Lord defines the terms of the engagement; the trio must decide which of the two settings is reality and they will face a deadly danger in each. The Dream Lord challenges The Doctor, Amy, and Rory to choose which reality is real before the danger in the true version of reality kills them. The Doctor is instantly suspicious of the senior citizens in the village, but on the TARDIS there are weird incongruities that make him suspect freezing to death there is a dream. As The Doctor attempts to reason his way out of the situation, Amy and Rory begin to experience tension in their relationship over Amy's choice to run off with The Doctor in the first place.
"Amy's Choice" opens with The Doctor feeling very awkward in visiting Amy and Rory and Matt Smith manages to find the right balance to play that moment as something other than his trademark goofy. "Amy's Choice" might be the first episode of Doctor Who since Matt Smith took over as The Doctor where Smith plays The Doctor like an individual clever enough to credibly be the latest incarnation of The Doctor. For a premise that could be ridiculous, Matt Smith manages to play the part with a sense of gravitas that he has not possessed in the episodes up until now.
As the name suggests, "Amy's Choice" manages to make the reality-bending episode into a character struggle for Amy. Amy is deeply conflicted over her relationships with Rory and The Doctor and it manifests itself in both realities. The idea that The Doctor might have loved prior Companions opens Amy up to the feeling that The Doctor, whom she has obsessed on for more than a decade, might love her. That creates a fundamental conflict for her with Rory, who still wonders why Amy ran away on their wedding night.
Arthur Darvill is good in "Amy's Choice," playing both an educated doctor and a very realistic human who grounds the surreal aspects of the episode. Darvill is not given a lot of time to play off of Toby Jones, who plays The Dream Lord. Jones is articulate and frightening as The Dream Lord as he repeatedly challenges the protagonists. Jones has a gravitas that allows him to hold his own against all of the regular stars of Doctor Who and he is wonderful in the one-shot role.
"Amy's Choice" is damn near perfect, but the problems it has are enough to noticeably undermine it. First and foremost, The Dream Lord appears in both "realities" and he challenges the trio from the first moment he appears. But none of the characters challenge the basic premise: the Dream Lord sets the terms and declares that the protagonists have to choose between the two realities, but the premise is a ridiculous dialectic. The moment the Dream Lord appeared in the second of the two realities, I found myself asking what the characters never explicitly ask, "Why do they not believe that both realities can be dreams?!" Beyond that, the Eknodine are an interesting alien race in the village with one line too far to keep their characterization compelling and interesting. The Eknodine are an alien race that was hunted and the victims of a genocide and their use of the senior citizens for shells is interesting. But when they turn into victimizers, they exhaust the viewer's empathy for them. Just once, it would have been nice to have an alien race, hunted near extinction, that wanted to survive and would just use the bare minimum of bodies needed to keep their race alive, as opposed to becoming killing machines themselves.
Ultimately, "Amy's Choice" is a solid episode that makes the gimmick into a chance to grow the characters and allow the performers to expand their on-screen range. And the episode works in a way that other episodes with dreams, most notably "Last Christmas," do not.
[Knowing that single episodes are an inefficient way to get episodes, it's worth looking into Doctor Who - The Complete Fifth Season on DVD or Blu-Ray, which is also a better economical choice than buying individual episodes. Read my review of the debut season of Matt Smith as The Doctor here!
For other works with Toby Jones, be sure to visit my reviews of:
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
"Valediction" - Agent Carter
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
Snow White And The Huntsman
The Hunger Games
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
My Week With Marilyn
Captain America: The First Avenger
Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows, Part I
Harry Potter And The Chamber Of Secrets
For other Doctor Who episode and movie reviews, please visit my Doctor Who Review Index Page!
© 2016 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.