The love story between Amy and Rory has never been more sweeping or moving than here, and it becomes a fuller and more wonderful tale than it ever hinted at before.
Much of the story rests on the performance of Karen Gillan, playing not only the Amy we know, but a version who's been left alone for more than thirty years, aged but toughened. It's a difficult challenge, requiring her to be convincingly several decades older and delve into a much darker but still totally recognizable version of the same character. It's a terrific performance.
Arthur Darvill is terrific, of course. Darvill hasn't had material this good before, and plays it to the hilt. The Girl Who Waited is an original and involving love story, and Darvill is our entry into it. As expected, he's wonderful.
Smith, on the other hand, gets to really be the Dark Doctor, something he's rarely shows more than a glimpse of before, but something he does brilliantly. A Good Man Goes to War was supposedly about the Doctor's dark side, but utterly failed to show that to us; this shows it in a painful, powerful climactic sequence. The Doctor's way of seeing things is not only alien, but sometimes feels cruel. It's understandable what he does, but it doesn't make it hurt any less.
Writer Tom McRae (Rise of the Cybermen) creates a fantastic, one-of-a-kind world for this deeply affectiving story, and director Nick Hurran brings it to life with wondrous visuals.
Where Hurran - and, consequently, the episode - stumbles is with the antagonistic robots. Their insistence that their attempts to kill Amy is a "kindness" is unsettling, but Hurran nonetheless fails to make them threatening. They seem clumsy and ineffective where they should be terrifying.
Hurran particularly trips up during the finale; the concept and overall visual of old Amy killing off dozens of robots with a Samurai sword is fantastic, but Hurran's Zach Snyder-style slow-motion/fast-motion cutting and ham-fisted choreography stifles much of the impact. The concept, story, and acting is so good the scene is somewhat thrilling anyway, but it does stop the episode just short of greatness.
Nonetheless, it's a deeply moving and highly original romance, set in an amazing world, and its finale packs a wallop. A genuine highlight of an uneven but nonetheless impressive season.
* * * ½
- Gillan sells the age brilliantly, and her makeup is very convincing, but shouldn't she have at least a few gray hairs? Not that I want to see any of that magnificent red go away, but where did she scavenge the hair coloring? I'll give her the katana because, hey, Amy wielding a katana, but... okay, actually, I have the same reasoning she should still have her red hair. Nevermind, carry on.