I’ve got an admission to make; I’m not taking the imminent departure of the Ponds very well. The past four episodes, rather than weening me off of them, have only reinforced my love for them. No matter the shoddy writing and convoluted, circumstantial storylines they were forced into due to Steven Moffat’s ego, the actor’s portrayals and dynamic with the Doctor have managed to rise above, creating likable, charming and interesting characters. So, as the minutes passed in the most recent episode, I wasn’t just thinking about plot implications and story arcs, but of the time I had left, the time audience had left, with our Mr. and Mrs. Pond. What a thought to carry for nearly an hour.
The episode begins with a voiceover from Amy talking about how she and Rory had two versions of their life. A life with the Doctor—cut to a quick montage of clips that includes monsters, aliens, explosions and a lot of running—and a normal, peaceful life—cut to a scene of them emptying out a fridge riddled with spoiled food. They sit and ponder what to do about their dual lives, how they handle the mayhem and the polar opposite, quiet normality. Well, as Rory says, they must choose. But then, the whirring noise of the TARDIS is heard and they give each other a look, full of mutual understanding. They need to choose, but not today. Today, another adventure awaits. In the voiceover Amy mentions how they were always running off with the Doctor, until the time that he came to stay.
That time he came was during the slow invasion of the small black cubes, boxes that have turned up all over the world, amounting to millions. People love the mystery of them and collect them as if they’re a new iPad or new iPhone; they’re a new gadget of sorts and the individual’s job is to consume and question the new. Rory’s dad Brian Williams is back, played by the ever charismatic Mark Williams, and he yells for Rory and Amy to wake up and come see the commotion. It’s then they realize that the Doctor comes for a visit in order to take a closer look at the mysterious, black cubes.
Inside the Ponds’ house the Doctor begins rushing about, making plans on how they’re going to solve the issue, when things halt for a moment as Rory announces he needs to be getting to work. The Doctor is confused and Rory, exasperated, explains that he and Amy don’t always just sit around waiting for him to appear, they have real jobs and obligations to attend to. The Doctor, mollified, allows them to go about their daily business, until a military unit barges in, scientific head Kate Stewart in the lead. They’ve been searching gatherings of the cubes and decided to investigate. Finding nothing suspicious, they leave until another day.
The Doctor decides that they must inspect the cubes, just sit around and watch them until something of interest happens. Nothing does. And after four days of lying around the Doctor is restless and in a humorously put-together sequence, decides to occupy his mind with household tasks such as painting the fence, fixing the car and vacuuming the house. He even bounces a soccer ball around a bit, a callback to his skillset in the sport in season five, and Matt Smith’s own prowess of the game. However, when he sits back down he realizes it’s only been an hour. Frustrated, he leaves, promising the Ponds that he’ll be back soon, and to keep an eye on the cubes.
In our intermission from the Doctor, we get a peak at the Ponds’ real life; their “normal” life. Two seasons in and we get the most character development out of the Ponds, outside of the TARDIS, in one episode. Do you recall the Rory that wore the scrubs and intelligently snapped the photos of Prisoner Zero is the premiere episode of season five “The Eleventh Hour?” Well, he’s revisited and is now, apparently, despite the disappearing acts he pulls, a highly regarded nurse at the hospital and is being asked to take a full-time position. Amy? She has gone from kiss o’ gram to model, and is now a travel columnist for a magazine. Both the Mr. and Mrs. have friends, one of whom asks Amy to be a bridesmaid, requiring Amy to think about future plans and obligations. Oh, and by the way, it’s been a full ten years since Amy first stepped foot into the blue police box, going off on her first adventure.
The exposition was nice, I am one of the many viewers who enjoy knowing more about the characters being followed, since it gives them depth, purpose, and heightens the interest level. However, it almost seems a little too late. A character’s identity deserves to be explored, but next time, sprinkle it throughout the episodes, rather than have it forcibly injected into one, in order to manipulate a viewer (such as myself) into being all the more emotional during their goodbyes.
Time is rarely in linear form when it comes to Doctor Who. It typically involves time jumps, alternate universes, and the Doctor always, always being late. So being thrown into a timeline in which progress is seen with the Ponds’ home life, and when we are forced into a chronological set of events, it’s jarring. Writer Chris Chinball, who also penned Dinosaurs On a Spaceship, manages to keep the story flowing though, so despite the differences, the audience doesn’t feel lost amid it all.
Back to the plot, we’re in the local hospital now where we see an apparent young girl holding a cube that begins to glow a bit and we realize it’s she who is controlling at least a portion of the operaration. We watch as a first victim is taken by the invasion.
Real life continues on with the Ponds until the Doctor returns, bearing gifts (it’s their anniversary) and whisks them off to a romantic getaway that turns foul and they end up on the run for a while until they turn back up. No one realizes they’ve ever been gone except for Brian who realizes they’re wearing different clothes. In reality, they’ve been gone for seven weeks. Brian speaks to the Doctor about such occurrences and the scene turns somber. They look on as the Ponds mingle and laugh with their friends and family and Brian asks him what has happened of his previous companions. It’s one of the moments where Matt Smith’s face transforms, allowing a tired exterior to surface. Some (companions) have left him. Some have been left behind. Some, very, very few, have died. But, he assures Brian, not the Ponds, not his duo because they’re all he’s known in his new regenerated body. He’s dead set on allowing them to be human and to keep them breathing.
It’s after this confession that the cubes begin to set off. Brian’s and Rory’s begin to move, Amy’s takes her pulse, and the Doctor’s hovers. All cubes have been activated at once. Rory is called into work and brings along his Dad to help the situation and Amy and the Doctor go to meet Stewart. They’re facing an alien invasion. They learn there’s no pattern to the cubes. Some burst into flames, some cause mood swings, some, to the Doctors distaste, play the Chicken Dance and then, all go quiet. They play at being dormant.
Amy and the Doctor sit and wait. He can tell Amy and Rory are planning on stopping the traveling with him and while he respects it, he doesn’t understand. She says there were years where all she would do was wait for him to swoop in and take her away, but ever since the house they’ve built a life. She confesses that running around with him has begun to feel like running away. He, impassioned, waxes poetic about why she’s wrong. In his eyes she lives in but a small corner of a small portion of the world, of the universe. How can she possibly sit still when there’s the magic of exploration awaiting her, pockets of life that she has yet to experience?
“I’m not running away from things, I’m running to them,” he says. We often forget that at the core of this character is an explorer, seeking the unknown, the utterly bewildering and fascinating. Yet, he’s soft with her, hers was the first face his ever saw, so he’s determined to hold onto her and Rory with all of his might until they fade away from him. Karen Gillan and Matt Smith play this scene perfectly, allowing their affectionate, platonic chemistry to bring an already well-written scene to new heights.
Back inside, the cubes have awoken, causing cardiac distress across the world—because how best to destroy a human than attack their heart. And as one of the Doctor’s hearts begins to falter, the recurring theme of the Ponds being his heart comes to focus, and really how else does one get to the Doctor? They attack his best asset.
They rush to the hospital where Rory has already disappeared onto a spaceship following his Dad. We’re privy to one of the funniest scenes when Amy charges his heart and he lets out a scandalized yelp as Amy rips his shirt open. They’re then on the ship and we’re given one of the most haphazard ends to an episode. The last ten minutes were poorly-paced and too confusing. (Can anyone adequately explain to me who was actually attacking and why? Or was everyone as confused as I was.)
The problem was solved, far too easily; all he needed to do apparently was wave his screwdriver around a bit. And then they sit around, eating dinner together and with Brian’s blessing, run off for another adventure to save other worlds and species because not many people are allowed that chance.
This episode was problematic largely due to the fact that I was distracted by the “what could have beens.” The fault in the episode was the wasted potential and I couldn’t help but be distracted by it rather than celebrate the storyline—which was on most counts rather good. I was left to lament the underutilization of Matt Smith’s talent; I was left reflecting the lack of focus on the lives of the Ponds, and the promising storylines that could have stemmed from it had they been given episodes to explore the possibilities.
They’re very strategic in how they run things over in Who-ville. This episode left us on a high, on a moment of clarity, an “ah ha” of sorts, albeit, a realization we could have come to without laying the sentimentality on so thick. It was a moment when we realized how truly valuable the three characters are to each other, just how significant they’ve been in each other’s lives. In Amy’s case, the Doctors been around since she was just a child and like the Doctor said, her face is the first his saw. The show was also smart, if not mildly manipulative, in allowing references to past episodes be used. Whether it be the Doctor’s soccer skills, or the three hovering over a bowl of custard, and routinely dipping their fish sticks into it. Maybe it was the usage of one of the most recognizable pieces of music of the Moffat era, “Amy’s Theme,” that was used heavily in the fifth season and then in other significant moments such as “The God Complex” when the Doctor had first realized the damage he could possibly cause. And as the crescendo of the piece hits, the nostalgia follows in waves, and the showrunners have us hooked. Because no matter the anger we hold for particular storylines, or the resentment for missed moments and opportunities, all it takes is a bit of heart, a bit of sweetness that reals us back in.
I often get asked why I love Doctor Who, and I always have to think for a moment. It’s not for the writing, it’s not for the campy yet lovable CGI, it’s not even for the pure investment this show has in keeping the Sci-Fi genre alive. I watch it, and I love it, because of the characters and the little moments they give us; because this show, the Doctor, the Ponds and the many others, give off such warmth that it’s hard to turn away. This show isn’t a masterpiece, but it will gut you and drag you in, and sometimes all it takes is a tinkering of musical notes, or the whirring noise of the TARDIS taking off for yet another adventure.