All companions of The Doctor are subject to psychological torment in one way or another, and it only makes sense that the husband and wife duo of Amy Pond and Rory Williams would be subject to double the trouble. They’ve been through a lot these past few episodes, and their difficulties only get another dimension with “The Girl Who Waited.” The title refers to Amy, but much of the burden of this episode is all on Rory’s shoulders.
The Doctor and his companions are off traveling again, just like the good old days, but when The Doctor promises them a planet full of natural wonders, they arrive instead to find a white-walled room and a door with two buttons attached. The Doctor and Rory press one button, and when Amy comes to the door a bit later, accidentally pushes the other. The trio is now split up, on two different timelines, and able to communicate only through large magnifying glass-like devices.
It turns out they’re in a quarantine zone, and Amy’s timeline (meant for people who only have a little while left to live) is moving at a rapidly accelerated rate. The Doctor and Rory pilot the TARDIS into her time stream to pull her out, but they arrive too late. Amy has aged 36 years, and has spent much of that time living on her own and battling the robots who roam the area, waiting to inject her with alien medicine that would kill her human body.
As The Doctor tries to figure out where he went wrong and locate the Amy they know, Rory realizes he has to make a choice: does he save the woman he knows, or the same woman 36 years later, who’s been waiting for him (grown ever more bitter and lonely) all this time?
It seems like a simple choice, but when you factor in the philosophical implications of what he’s doing, Rory’s dilemma becomes much more complex, and it’s this choice that makes up the brunt of the episode.
While this emotional core is what gives the episode its weight, it’s also in some way its downfall. It’s intriguing to watch Rory weigh what he must do, and watch The Doctor try to find a compromise in which everyone will win. Loyal viewers of the series know that it’ll work out in some way, but the cast (particularly Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill) is able to dig deep into the moment and generate some of the best performances of their tenures on the show so far.
That aside, the episode’s pace is in some places nearly a crawl. It’s designed the way, so you can savor the suffering of the characters, weigh their decisions along with them, ponder the implications the story will have not just on their lives now, but on their lives later. That never goes away, and it’s interesting enough, but apart from one action sequence in the final act, “The Girl Who Waited” is an episode that requires more patience than many of the season’s other episodes combined.
Amy and Rory have been suffering the peril traveling with a Time Lord has placed on their relationship for quite some time now. “The Girl Who Waited” is the purest distillation of that so far. There’s no future or present child to deal with, no imaginary love triangle with The Doctor, just a profound and very difficult choice that will say everything about where their future goes. The result might be hard to watch, but then again that might also be the point. Writer Tom MacRae shows courage in breaking down the monster chasing in favor of a meatier episode, and even with much of the show’s wit and action removed, “The Girl Who Waited” is still a solid addition to the season.