Doctor Who season five is a pretty uniformly good season. Matt Smith is excellent and, with arguably only a couple low points, it definitely started the Eleventh Doctor’s tenure with a bang. After watching it through a second time, I’ve once and for all picked my favorite episode, and it might not be one most people would expect. “The Eleventh Hour,” the Weeping Angels two-parter, and the final two episodes were all in contention, but for me, the best episode was smack dab in the middle of the season, episode 7, “Amy’s Choice,” written by Simon Nye and directed by Catherine Morshead.
Why “Amy’s Choice,” you ask? Well, Internet, I happen to think it’s a nearly perfect 45 minutes of sci-fi. The story is quite simple; A mysterious figure calling himself The Dream Lord places The Doctor, Amy, and Rory in two disparate realities, each with a deadly predicament for them to solve. They are told that one of these scenarios is real, and the other is a dream. In one, Amy and Rory are married and expecting a child in a quiet little village five years after travelling with the Doctor and the elderly in town end up being alien-possessed and on a killing spree. In the other, the trio are still aboard the TARDIS in what is their personal present, though the ship is broken and drifting toward a cold-burning star. Rory assumes the pleasant life is the real world, as it would be his ideal existence and the Doctor assumes the TARDIS scene is the real world because that’s really the only life he knows. So which is it? INSERT TITLE OF EPISODE.
The episode is truly all about a character facing a fork in the road of her life. For the first six episodes, we’re shown how Amy is a girl of two minds about the men in her life. Part of her would love to settle down with Rory and have a big family, while the other side is enamored with the time-travelling lifestyle and the strange hero that goes along with it. Those two sides of herself are quite literally forced to collide and confront each other. Amy is very much at the center of the whole season, and the very center of the very center of the whole season she has to choose, ultimately, which man she wants to spend her entire life with. It’s an important decision and one that shapes the rest of the season.
The Dream Lord casts a wonderfully eerie shadow on the proceedings. The Doctor seems to know who he is, but it’s left a mystery for us until the end. Played by Toby Jones, the Dream Lord is like Q from The Next Generation with an even more malicious streak. He’s toying with the crew for really no other reason than it tickles him. He also knows exactly what everyone’s thinking at any given moment. There’s probably nothing more unsettling than an omniscient antagonist. It’s also through this villain that the Doctor is forced to examine his own worth, as his actions have great repercussions on his companions. It finds the Doctor in a place we’re not used to seeing him, which is completely out of control of the situation. Rory, also, has to question himself, and whether he fits in Amy’s world. He’s a brave, loving man, but is he enough for Amy?
While both potential realities offer their own set of dangers, the more menacing in my mind are the monstrous pensioners whose spit can turn people into piles of dust. Morshead gives us wonderful shots of these old people shuffling in a pack or through a field closing ever-slowly in on the heroes, images one finds in so many zombie films. Let’s face it, the elderly are creepy enough on their own, but when you add murderous and alien to the mix, they become truly terrifying. As the action picks up pace, the heroes find themselves in a cottage, surrounded by the freaky old things and that’s when things get really hairy for them. Watching this again after seeing the first few episodes of “The Walking Dead,” I find the parallels to the type of storytelling they both offer quite enlightening. Zombie horror is best at allowing personal dramas play out in a horrifying setting. By using that basic model for this episode, Simon Nye offers a life-or-death external struggle that echoes the internal one going on within the characters.
In the end, it’s the interplay between the three leads that makes “Amy’s Choice” my favorite episode of the season. Science Fiction often needs to strip away the flash and examine real people’s issues, and here we’re allowed to see the characters battle their own uncertainties and shortcomings on a larger scale. The Doctor has always been afraid to fail and lose his companions, but here we can see it writ large. For a show that’s been around since 1963, it’s remarkable when it can do something so different and yet so in the wheelhouse. While not as grandiose in visual scope as some other stories, it gets right to the crux of each of the characters and offers excitement and mystery to boot. This will be one I show non-fans when they ask me that age-old rhetorical question: “Why should I watch ‘Doctor Who?'”