Sunday 29 May 2011

Village People

A (positive) review of 'Amy's Choice'.  Because not even I can complain all the time.

Okay, that's better.  The best episode for quite some time.  The first really good one since 'Turn Left'.  Nothing major... but genuinely clever and verbally playful, with nice imagery and a texture of ideas, hints and suggestions.

Simon Kinnear called this, with his customary acuity, a "Freudian farce".  The Dream Lord is the truth of the Doctor as an older man, lusting after a young redhead... or at least, lusting after her attention and loyalty and esteem.  He and Rory compete over her as though she's territory.  The Doctor wants Amy's bump to disappear so that the bumpless reality will prove to be real.  Meanwhile, the ancient beings inside the elderly Ledworth residents annihilate the village's children.  The aliens are even 'oral'.  "They're not going to be peeping out of anywhere else are they?" asks Rory pertinently.

This is all played for laughs and, refreshingly, it's actually funny.  (Thinking back, I remember quite liking How Do You Want Me? whereas Chalk just made me want to kick things.)

The unreal tweeness of Ledworth, which was such a bore in 'The Eleventh Hour', here becomes the perfect figurative backdrop to a story about people who are negotiating and renegotiating (with themselves as much as with each other) their emotional priorities and allegiances, their desires, etc.  In this story, Ledworth manages to be less the unironic cutesy St. Mary Mead / Avengers setting and becomes a bit more... well, it's funny but here they manage to make it both more real (with the snobbery of "Upper Ledworth" for example) and more genuinely dreamlike.  All the more dreamlike for being sparing with the wanton surrealism.

There's a witty aesthetic connectedness about it, even down to the way the shifts in reality (which seem like multiple awakenings from dazed unconsciousness) are heralded by the sound of birds tweeting, which recalls the cartoon way of signifying concussion as much it reminds us of Ledworth's rural pleasures.  The first instance of this sort of thing even has a neat verbal pun.  The Doctor slips into and then wakes from oblivion as he tries to say the phrase "good old days"... or should that be "daze"?

There's something smart about the way the three characters compare their different interpretations of the same dream.  The differences in emphasis are telling.  Amy's "little village" becomes Rory's "sweet little village".  The Doctor's "nightmare" becomes, for reasons of tact, "a really good... mare".  These are gags, but also failures to communicate.  For once, the constant quipping seems to actually be playful with language rather than just showoffish... and actually serves plot, concept and characterisation (at least some of the time).  And then, just as the puns are about to get tiresome, the episode realises this and starts playing them self-consciously, with the Dream Lord complaining that they're lost on the Doctor (and us).

Toby Jones is excellent... and his character is effective, not least because he seems more like the old Doctor (I mean the old, prehistoric, C20th Doctor) than any of the new fellas, least of all the latest incumbent (who is good, by the way, given something interesting and not-entirely-glib to do).  In some ways, the Dream Lord isn't just an aspect of the Doctor as he is now, he's also like a ghost from the cheaper, pre-HD, pre-Cardiff past come back to haunt the present.

Mind you, he also takes on the aspects of bourgeois village life, masquerading as the posh pin-striped consultant, the tweedy squire, the whingeing petit bourgeois butcher...

This is a bit of a blast from the past in other ways.  Entropy, such a longstanding preoccupation of the 'classic' series, comes centre stage again here.  Ledworth has a ruined castle, an aging population, people instantly dessicated and turned to piles of dust... meanwhile the TARDIS has stopped working and is losing all its heat as it drifts towards a cold star.  Even Amy's bump becomes significant... because life is the only thing that can fight a temporarily successful battle against entropy by creating and re-creating its own structure.  And via the pensioners-as-zombies imagery that it borrows from Father Ted's 'Night of the Nearly Dead', the episode makes time into a predator that relentlessly stalks you and threatens you with dissolution.  Life is a dream that passes in an instant, before you've had a chance to figure out what you really want... and the zimmer frames are chasing you.

There are all sorts of these half-glimpsed resonances, along with lots of gorgeous or amusingly callous imagery - the ice-smothered TARDIS, the lonely box drifting towards the cold star, the gleeful violence by and towards frail old people - but, in the end, this is a character piece.  Rory's gesture by cutting off his pony tail, Amy's shocked reaction, the Doctor's hurt look of bruised subjectivity when Amy asks "Then what is the point of you?", the Doctor's squirming as his other self taunts him with uncomfortable half truths, the moment when he and Amy clasp hands to seal a pact on the newly settled nature of their relationship...

One serious gripe though... why did the nature of the Dream Lord need to be spelled out so crassly and literally?  Couldn't we have been trusted to construe him in our own way?

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