When, as a viewer, you’re told from the outset of the story that it is taking place in “dreams” you know that you’re in for something fairly consequence free. And that’s the primary problem with this story. Once the notion of anything we see not being “real” for the characters, we know that they’re safe. Nothing’s really at stake.

The attempt to get around this problem by suggesting that one of the “realities” presented to the characters is the really real one fails to be convincing, as an astute viewer will have noted that the antagonist is styling himself “the Dream Lord” and he’s able to manipulate both realities. That it takes the characters forty-five minutes to clue into the fact that this means that both realities are false suggests that episode writer Simon Nye doesn’t think much of Amy or Rory’s intelligence.

It’s safe to say that I didn’t think much of this episode. At least on the plot level, it’s a bit of a cheat, falling into the same traps that all dream menace stories tend to fall into. But apart from that, there are a few things here to like, or to at least find interesting. The ongoing efforts by the production team to scare the living hell out of British children with mundane things are well represented here, with a horde of evil grand-parents who disintegrate people with their breath. And the suggestion that the Dream Lord is a representation of the Doctor’s own dark side, particularly his self-loathing and anti-social personality traits is enough of a call-back to the idea of the Valeyard, the potential future evil version of the Doctor, that I’m going to go ahead and presume that this was the intent all along. It may not actually be fan service, it’s probably not, but at the very least it will keep people arguing on message boards and in blog comments, and the entertainment value of that alone is worthwhile to me.

The real crux of the story turns out to be development for Amy, then. Her relationship with Rory has frequently come across as one-sided, with Rory showing far more devotion to her than she has to him. Her treatment of Rory, her casual approach to their relationship, the way she appears to take him for granted, has been her most notable personality flaw. Establishing that Amy doesn’t consider life worth living without Rory goes some way towards fixing this problem. It makes Amy less flighty, and strengthens the interpretation of her last-minute departure with the Doctor in “The Eleventh Hour” as a sign of her fulfillment of her childhood dreams.

Whether or not devoting an entire episode to clarifying a characterization problem that only existed because of imprecise motivations in previous episodes was a good use of resources is another issue entirely.

13 Responses to ““If you had any more tawdry quirks you could open a tawdry quirks shop.””
  1. M.A. Masterson says:

    For whatever reason, I continually misheard the “rules” and thought that if you died in the dream, you died in reality. So for me, it was very high stakes, since there was death either way! (Dialogue that contradicted that I dismissed as poor editing, like when the Doctor says he “told” the fish lady “you can’t go back and change time” when he did no such thing.)

  2. Tim O'Neil says:

    OK, maybe I’m an idiot (always a possibility) but I didn’t get hep to the possibility that *both* realities were dreams until they characters themselves figured it out. I mean, yeah, he’s a Dream Lord, but at the outset of the episode who the hell knew what kind of undisclosed powers and abilities he might have had? Anyone who can get into the Doctor’s head and construct an intricate shared dream consciousness for three people might just be powerful enough to do any old thing, he just *likes* manifesting to people in dreams.

    I would go so far as to say that this was a Very Good episode, especially given the distinct possibility (from those last shots) of the Dream Lord showing up again in a slightly more concrete fashion. A great new bad guy who isn’t just an old friend from the first series? Yes, please.

  3. JauntyJohn says:

    For whatever reason, iTunes (my vehicle for Who consumption) has not made this ep available for downloads yet. (And if you want to see some angry — no, make that furious — message board comments, you should peek at those. No worries that anyone at Apple will be offended though, I’m sure that behind the great vast glass walls of the central chambers of the orbiting Apple Deathstar, no one is reading them, or even terribly upset about this gaff.)

    So although I’ve not seen the episode, I could not resist reading your assessment, Dorian, or the comments already posted here.

    Not because I was looking for spoilers.

    Only for the fact that I was desperately hoping there would be some good explanation for Rory’s dream hair.

    Seriously, w.t.f.

  4. Mark Clapham says:

    I thought they were going for the other potential twist, that both realities are real and one has to be sacrificed to save the other. So I was surprised.

    TBH I would watch a 45 minute adaptation of the DWM strip ‘Salad Daze’ (in which the companion has a bad dream with whimsical vegetables) if it had Toby Jones as the villain. He was great.

  5. I still don’t really believe that Amy’s love for Rory is in any way as strong as she pretends it is. I do rather like Rory, though (although there’s something OCD-baiting about their resistance to making any kind of reference to The Doctor finally travelling with a Nurse).

    I also thoroughly enjoyed Toby Young’s performance, and look forward to seeing him again, as surely we must.

    //\Oo/\\

  6. Prankster says:

    I’m with Tim, I didn’t assume that they were both dreams, because who knows what the Dream Lord could do? I will agree that it was pretty much a given that the future would turn out to be fake, but since I didn’t see “they’re both dreams” coming, there was enough of a twist that I was entertained.

    And I really liked Gillen’s performance here; call it character spackling if you like, but it worked as far as I’m concerned.

  7. Evan Waters says:

    @JauntyJohn: I don’t think it’s aired here yet. BBCA took a Saturday off, presumably because of the holiday and showed a WHO/TREK marathon instead.

    Surprised this is up already.

  8. JauntyJohn says:

    Thanks, Evan.

    Now … the hair?

  9. Scott says:

    I think the hair was just a easy way to distinguish him from the TARDIS dream. Amy is pregnant in one dream, and the Doctor noticed that he was swapping between his red and blue outfits when they fell asleep(you see him pull and look at a suspender when he wakes up). Story-wise I suppose it’s a shorthand way to definitely show the change between the two realities, but if you want to go for the no-prize I suppose you could say the Dream Lord wanted them to feel each other self was somehow wrong(Not pregnant, old hair, etc).

    What I kept waiting for was some explanation for why they didn’t account for lost time in the future dream(When did we leave, where have we been, why don’t we remember this, etc).

  10. Martin Wisse says:

    The best characterisation of this new series is the Amy/Rory relationship, totally believable, as was Amy’s realisation here that actually, he was important to her…

    Bit of bad news later on though.

  11. Julius Seizure says:

    The better half and I just got back from 3 weeks in the UK and, each Saturday, I made sure BBC1 and I kept our “date” and was able to see this ep and the next two “live” as it were.

    I have to say, I’m really not having a great deal of fun with the series this year. I won’t argue Moffat doesn’t have an idea about where he wants to go – I’m just concerned where he’s going isn’t anywhere I’d like to tag along.

  12. Rocco says:

    Again, I presumed that the real world was the TARDIS. I also thought “The Dream Lord” was going to become a Mxy/Batmite type character of some sort. I rather enjoyed this episode overall. In fact this was the first episode I watched and found myself accepting the new Doctor.

  13. JauntyJohn says:

    Ah, FINALLY got to see it. Liked it much more than I thought I would.

    I guess it’s the Dennis Hopper obit I read recently, which went on about “Easy Rider” in a very literate way, comparing it to medieval lit (a famous Chaucer bit, I think) who’s central question is about the freedom of the road with its unending adventure vs. the stability and comfort of a rooted life — I thought of that a lot during “Amy’s Choice.” (If you think that sounds pompous, you should have read the obit. Sheesh!)

    The issue with any fan watching Who is that we want to be a Companion. Who among us (not trying to be cute there) wouldn’t race out into the street if we heard the wheezing squee-thump of the Tardis phasing in… JUST in case… Once you’ve tasted Anywhere and Forever, why choose to get off the ride? (Martha had the best answer for that, I think — both her personal reason, and in the warning she gave Donna — though Donna didn’t jump, she was pushed.)

    So this ep chews on those bits, and frames it nicely against, literally, Amy’s choice between Rory and Who, the catalyst for Realization basically being a Joni Mitchell, ‘Big Yellow Taxi,’ you-don’t-know-what-you’ve-got-till-it’s-gone kind of moment. Fair enough and well done, given how out-of-balance the choice is. (And they put in the great out, in Amy’s observation, “It’s a time machine, it can be the night before our wedding for as long as we want.”)

    For me Amy’s best moment is when she spanks the Doctor quite smartly when he calls her life dull. There’s a rolled-up-newspaper-swat-on-the-puppy’s-nose element to Amy/Who that I am liking more and more. Different than the kind of push-back between Donna and the Doctor. (Donna was tough on everyone, in a way. Amy’s more just tough on the Doctor — so far.)

    Getting tired of those “I don’t know! I don’t know! Why does everyone expect me to know!” moments they keep giving Doctor 11.

    Preview for next week (or this week, for some of us, now that we’re seemingly out-of-synch) looks excellent.

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