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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.

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Over at the Bureau Chiefs, Ken Lowery and I look at the trailers for several films releasing in June. It’s a dire looking month, to be honest, but hey, watching Ken rip into the trailer for Grown Ups is probably more entertaining than reading yet another gay-baiting Sex and the City 2 review today.

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I had pet kangaroo rats when I was little. They also fuck constantly. But that might not go over so well in a Dell comic.

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Having Toby Whithouse, the creator of “sounds like the set-up to a really painfully bad nerd joke” series Being Human, about a vampire, a werewolf and a ghost sharing a house, (which is actually really quite good, and I’m not just saying that because it features Russell Tovey in the nude from time to time) write an episode of Doctor Who that features the fourth distinct vampire-like creature in the show’s history, sounds at first like the sort of thing that might potentially be a little too on the nose to really work. Instead we got a very strong episode, and a surprisingly comedy-driven one at that, given the subject matter.

The lighter aspects of the episode are apparent from the beginning, with a pre-credits sequence in which the Doctor interrupts Rory’s bachelor party in a particularly memorable way, and catches the audience up on the cliff-hanger from the previous episode by choosing the exact wrong moment to tell Rory, and every other man in Leadworth apparently, that Amy has been kissing him. Matt Smith has been given a fair amount of comedy work in the series to date, but his delivery here nails a perfect mix of naivete about the faux pas he is committing and a very Doctorly smug satisfaction with having been kissed impressively by a pretty girl. What’s even better, though, is Arthur Darvill getting the chance to make Rory a real character, and not just a rehash of first season Mickey. The interplay between Rory and the Doctor is rather prickly at first, notably with the Doctor’s visible annoyance at discovering that Rory has actually sat down and taught himself about aliens and dimensionally transcendent vehicles, and Amy’s none too subtle comparisons in which the Doctor is clearly favored in her mind don’t help.

The story itself is, well…fish aliens disguising themselves as vampires is certainly a novel approach to inconspicuous infiltration of another world, but it’s not a plan that holds up to much scrutiny. Whithouse seems to have noticed this too, though, and the pretense is dispatched with fairly quickly in favor of a story about the Doctor’s attempts to infiltrate the alien base and undo their plan. The obligatory “tragic sacrifices” necessary to resolve the story end up feeling a little tacked on after that, though, almost as if a traditional Who “pile of bodies” ending was felt to be needed somewhere in the season.

But quibbling over plot feels like a good way to miss what seems to have been the point of this episode. The structure here is on reintroducing Rory and giving us a reason to care about him. From what we see of him here, he’s brave and clever, intimidated by the Doctor but also not afraid to speak his own mind. He’s also stupidly devoted to Amy, a devotion that she may not entirely deserve. The comparison some have made of Rory to Mickey isn’t fair to Rory; Mickey, at least in the first season, was a bit of a prick. He cheated on Rose and tended towards the selfish in his behavior. In a certain sense, then, Rory is the anti-Mickey. However, the Rose/Mickey dynamic, at least from the Rose side, is somewhat replicated in Amy’s attitude towards Rory. She takes him for granted and clearly favors the Doctor and otherwise gives a general air of having somehow “settled” for Rory or simply fallen into a relationship with him out of a lack of other options. It’s still an obnoxious character flaw for Amy.

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