Right. Get your mental split-screens, because this is going to be one hell of a ride.
One hell of a tragic tale, at that.
After landing on Apalapucia, the Ponds and their Doctor expect fun and a bit of wandering off. What they get is heartbreak, trust issues—and proof that holding on to your memories can save you.
Amelia Pond—the one the Doctor hasn’t screwed up yet. This episode is another explanation for why that scene in the TARDIS in Let’s Kill Hitler is so central in any analysis of Eleven’s character. There were always moments when Amy struggled to trust him, when she recoiled from him (when he was unable to save her baby in A Good Man Goes to War, and, before, when he couldn’t save Rory in Amy’s Choice). And now, 36 years of solitary confinement, hoping for the rescue, have pushed her over the brink. She lost faith in him, she hates him—and that’s the one thing that mustn’t happen to him. Even after what he did to them, most of his companions still loved him, didn’t blame him—they complained and voiced their hurt, but they certainly never told him they hated him more than anyone else in the universe and categorically refused to help him because he had proven to be the ultimate disappointment to his face. Or, well, through Rory’s specs. This is because the hatred Amy feels 36 years on is NOTHING compared to how much the Doctor hates himself—he manages to balance it, just barely, by holding on to his companions. Sometimes, he needs someone to stop him: in this case, to stop him means to give him the will to keep going, by preventing him from spiralling down into loneliness and self-loathing. Eleven’s alienness and quest to do something right—simply to do right by his friends—is his own mind and hearts’ violent reaction to the Time Lord Victorious.
To think that he failed his little Amelia, too, is more than he can take, and the only reason it doesn’t tear him apart entirely in that scene is because he knows he can fix this. He can’t let himself believe that he couldn’t always fix it. This lifetime of his is about rewriting time—he is rewriting his own mistakes that he keeps making with her. As he reboots the universe, she actually never met him that night, but she still remembers it. She remembers being left behind by him, her not-so imaginary friend. And while he can’t do anything to change that, he can go on and show her that he can do better. Until the inevitable happens: he gets the time a bit wrong again, and Rory has to pick up the pieces. The Doctor wants Amy to be the one thing he did right, the one he did right by, by swearing an oath on fish fingers and custard.
As alien as the Doctor truly is, he is fascinated with the love and affection his two companions feel for each other. Just watch his face when Rory hands over the glasses and makes old Amy laugh for the first time in all those years simply by reliving one, tiny, ridiculous memory of a fez. Of their Doctor in a fez. The fact that humans feel so deeply, cling to tightly to their hopes, dreams, and memories, is what made the Doctor from Gallifrey fall in love with us so long ago. In the depths of his hearts and his own feelings, he aspires to be human—because most Time Lords were boring old farts with a decided lack of emotions—and although it hurts him so much—the guilt, the darkness within himself—and despite varying success, he’d never stop trying. He may not allow himself a proper relationship with a human—maybe River can be the one. She’s not going to last longer than he is, either, but she’s already dead…—but it doesn’t stop him from caring and appreciating the love he recognizes in his friends’ actions.
The way young Amy and Rory got through to the old Amy when he himself couldn’t because she simply wouldn’t listen or talk to him teaches the Doctor a lesson as well: don’t stop remembering. Your memories make you who you are, and even if they’re painful, they’re precious. No matter how much guilt he feels as Rose, Martha, and Donna appear as voice interfaces in the TARDIS, no matter how much he may regret what he did—he’s never going to forget, and he’d never dare try. There’s a reason why every single one of his good-bye speeches entails a, ‘We had the best times together’ in one way or another. He never asks to be thanked—all he wants is to be remembered by the people he loves; the way Amy’s memories of Rory save herself is mirrored in the way she brought back the Doctor after Big Bang 2. That one time, he did something right, and he’s fighting so hard not to mess it up again.
I don’t care that you got old! Just that we didn’t grow old together.
The man fighting at his side, steadily and determinedly, is Rory Williams, and the two make a formidable team—precisely because Rory is even older than the Doctor, now, and doesn’t hesitate to challenge him. Because he understands the Doctor better with every passing adventure. The Last Centurion, the boy who waited. He defied time and the universe to stay at Amy’s side, and now, she’s going to pull time apart for him. If there are still people out there who doubt Amy’s feelings for her husband, please step forward—I’d like to gently smack you. Old Amy couldn’t care less about what the Doctor wanted, but what her husband wanted, what he needed—she couldn’t disregard that.
It’s rare that the companion has to make the kind of Catch 22 choices the Doctor encounters every time they’re in trouble—but when they do, they shine. Rose in World War Three, and possibly The Satan Pit. Martha in the entire finale of Series 3 and, before that, in Human Nature/The Family of Blood. Donna in Fires of Pompeji and Turn Left. Amy did it in The Beast Below, in the aforementioned Amy’s Choice; and Rory did it over and over as the Last Centurion. Now, there is a horrific decision to make—and the Doctor simply can’t be the one to do it. And how do you rewrite 36 years of your wife’s life, even though you know that the manifestation of those years isn’t going to have existed (nice juggling of tenses, eh?) now that you’ve gotten the earlier Amy out?
If you love me, don’t let me in. […] Tell her I’m giving her my days.
Except old Amy then takes it off his hands—because she knows that there can’t be two of them, that the TARDIS can’t sustain the paradox (Rule One: The Doctor lies). Her desperate need to hang on to this timeline’s existence is fuelled by her grief and sorrow, and once she has regained her faith in her husband and, by extension, in her Doctor, she’s ready to let go—and fade away into nothingness.
I’d forgotten how much you love me.
When Rory tells the Doctor that this isn’t fair, that he’s turning Rory into him by moving his hand to the lock on the TARDIS door—it’s not an accusation. It’s Rory’s realization of what the Doctor’s life has become: making the decisions no-one else is willing or able to make. Making impossible decisions that hurt and that take a little chunk of his soul with them. Rory knows what kind of a life it is to live and live and live for thousands of years, and he had to fight over and over again to protect the Pandorica; but he didn’t have to make the kind of decisions the Doctor’s been making ever since he left Gallifrey to stay out of other people’s business—badly. With great age comes great responsibility, and now the nurse is learning what it’s like to be a doctor. He calls the Doctor out on his bullshit: hell, no-one’s asked the Doctor to shoulder the universe—but he knows that he can’t deny that the universe needs the Doctor. He aches for security, at least where his wife is concerned, but he understands that the Time Lord doesn’t do history books to steer clear of trouble. He hates it when his family’s in danger, but he knows himself well enough to know that the Doctor’s recklessness is part of what he loves about him, same as Amy.
One last point: can we talk about how amazingly Amy handles her imprisonment practically? Needling information out of the Interface—voiced by Imelda Staunton, by the way—and building her own Sonic, assembling weapons and learning how to fight. As Rory says: to bend the very fabric of reality to your will, and achieve more than anyone might have thought her capable of, you just have to be Amy.
Next: The God Complex.