Warning: spoilers throughout.
I’m having a hell of a time wrapping my brain around “Amy’s Choice,” and I think that’s precisely the way Simon Nye wants it.
Nye, a veteran comedy writer (best known for creating “Men Behaving Badly”), is an odd choice for penning any “Who” episode, and an exceptionally odd choice for penning this particular tale, with its constant juggling of two distinct realities and the puzzles that bind them. But he pulls it off quite nicely indeed. Within ten minutes, you realize this is going to be one of those episodes you’ll need to watch a good seven or eight times before all the pieces reveal themselves.
At first glance, it looks to be an updated tweak of the season four story “Left Turn” – the Dream Lord (Toby Jones, in a genius performance worthy of, well, Toby Jones) could very well be a the Trickster, the otherworldly baddie who feeds off of what-ifs and alternate world temptations that force characters to face their desires. Our villain shows Amy and Rory a possible future (or is it a possible present?) where they’ve traded traveling with the Doctor for family life in a quiet village. But why give up such wondrous things for everyday boredom? The Doctor is puzzled by the quiet life – and so, too, is Amy, who, in the present (past?), figures there’s no rush to return to normalcy.
So, yes, at first, second, even third glance, the episode is all about whether Amy will choose Rory’s small-town future over the Doctor’s fantastic-worlds present. And on that level, it’s a lovely tale. Amy chooses death over life without her fiancé, not even caring which of the Dream Lord’s two worlds is “reality.” (As with many of this season’s episodes, the specific dangers themselves hardly matter. Alien zombie grannies and a sun that burns cold are terrific concepts, pure “Who,” but here, they’re simply a means to an end, a way of pushing our leads to challenge what they think they hold most dear.) It’s a lovely choice, revealing Amy’s true heart, making us love her all the more – especially as we ponder when, exactly, she made her decision. Was it after Rory died, the grief allowing her thoughts to become clear? Or did she realize her true desire before?
And Rory! If you didn’t love him before, you do now, what with his valiant ponytail snipping. To this point, he’s been mainly comic relief. A nice guy, sure, and with noble intentions, yes, but a bumbler all the way. “Amy’s Choice” allows us to truly understand why Amy would choose him over the Doctor. The ponytail scene is played for laughs, but there’s a sweetness underneath that finally reveals he’s not the loser we thought he might be.
Now let’s take a fourth glance at the episode. This time, from the Doctor’s point of view, knowing full well that the shared dreams – both of them, it turns out – have sprung from the mind of the Time Lord. The Dream Lord is now an invention of his own self-loathing, teasing him over the lives he’s lost and the companions he’s long since abandoned. Is Amy’s choice, then, the right thing for her, or for the Doctor?
This is the Doctor confronting his own deepest wishes and darkest thoughts. He knows he can’t keep his companions forever, especially not the human ones, who grow old so quickly. He needs friends, but eventually they must leave, no matter how much they remain enchanted by the TARDIS and its endless possibilities. Amy’s choice – Rory over the Doctor, the quiet life over adventure – is ultimately the Doctor’s choice. Some day, sooner or later, he must move on. They’re leaving him for a good life, right? He most certainly hopes so.
The Doctor takes some heavy convincing, however. He’s utterly baffled by the dreary trappings of small town, go-nowhere life. Quiet is dull, peaceful is dull, relaxing is dull. And a baby? Oh, dear. Granted, the Doctor is no stranger to pregnancy; he’s a grandfather, after all (unless you believe the fan theory that suggests Susan called the First Doctor “grandfather” only as a nickname). And he’s a fellow who celebrates life in all its messy wonder. But he’s not flustered with the notion of childbirth. He’s flustered with the notion of a companion moving on enough to be a mother – like running into an ex-girlfriend and her kids and realizing that her life didn’t stop the minute you left.
Is the Doctor fully convinced by episode’s end that he’ll be happy when Amy and Rory leave, whenever that may be? Tough to say, what with the Dream Lord popping up in reflections and all. The Eleventh Doctor is still a cipher. But at least, for now, he’s happy – happy to see Amy and Rory together, happy to be moving on to new worlds and new dangers, happy to put some introspection behind him and return to business as usual.