I will be spending the next few weeks counting down my favorite episodes from Matt Smith’s time as the Doctor. Click here for the first blog post in the series.
10. Amy’s Choice: Decisions, Decisions and self-loathing
Being alive requires us to constantly negotiate the decision making process. Daily, many of us face a number of choices, most of which aren’t a matter of life or death. What movie should I watch? What clothes should I buy? Which book should I read? Other decisions have the potential to change the course of our lives: should I get married? Should I go to school halfway across the country or halfway across the world? Should we get separated/divorced? Each choice we make necessarily means that we have closed the door, at least temporarily on a different set of outcomes and a different future. If I go to school in Texas, that means I am not going to school in Massachusetts, if these two people get married they are negating the possibility of marrying other people, if they then get divorced they are saying goodbye to a future of shared relationship with one another.
Making a decision can be fraught with anxiety and worry, especially if we are aware of the stakes involved and that making a decision might involve giving up other possibilities. Many of us are tempted to avoid making complicated, difficult decisions, especially those that involve a measure of self-reflection. Instead, let’s keep perpetrating the status quo and let’s pretend that we don’t have to make a decision-at least not right now. Let’s keep moving forward trying to navigate between our various options until we are forced to choose.
Throughout her time on the show, Amy Pond finds herself conflicted between the man she loves and the bumbling fool, (descriptions which fit both the Doctor and Rory at varying times). On the one hand she has the Doctor, her “imaginary friend” who drops into her life, disappears, then returns years later and whisks her away on adventures. He rescues her from her life that up to then was filled with a sense of purposelessness and a longing for his return. On the other hand, she has Rory, her best friend and fiancé (later husband) who stood by her throughout her childhood and even allowed her to dress him up as the Doctor and who listened to her talk incessantly about the Doctor. Rory is also unquestionably loyal and while at the beginning of his tenure on the show he comes across as a (lovable) fool, as time progresses we notice his strength, conviction, and love for Amy.
When Rory starts traveling with her and the Doctor, it’s as if she no longer needs to make a choice. Why should she, she has both the Doctor and Rory by her side. And being in a time machine they always have the option to go back and get married and resume their “normal” life, if ever they so choose. (Or more accurately, if ever Amy so chooses). Yet, like in real life, avoiding unpleasant or uncomfortable choices work only for a short period of time. At one point life is going to force us to make a decision and stick by it.
At the beginning of the episode, it seems clear what decision Amy would make. When discussing with Rory the difference between life in the TARDIS and life in Upper Leadworth, where Rory is a doctor and Amy is pregnant with their child, Amy asks:
AMY: But don’t you wonder, if that life is real, then why would we give up all this? Why would anyone?
When Rory points out that if their being in the TARDIS was reality, they would face death, Amy dismisses his concerns and states, “The Doctor’ll fix it.”
Rory wants to get married, Amy, without completely dismissing the idea, leaves the option open as some event in the future (or past) but not a choice or decision that needs to be made at the moment.
Earlier in the episode the Doctor explicitly points out that a nice house in the country, a good job with a beautiful wife and a baby on the way is Rory’s dream. Dreams not compatible with the dangerous and high paced life that Amy, Rory and the Doctor have in the TARDIS.
DOCTOR: Your dream wife, your dream job, probably your dream baby. Maybe this is your dream.
Growing up does not necessarily mean that one needs to get married or have children, but it does entail making decisions and giving up some things for the sake of other things, choosing one path in lieu of another. But how does one decide what is right? Rationally? The Doctor, at his best, is rational and is able to pursue an action or course to its logical conclusion. Furthermore, he at least attempts to understand the possible consequences that would occur if one performs one action over an other. Yet when questioned about what to do in this situation, he, at least at the beginning is just as unsure as Amy and Rory.
AMY: So this must be the dream. There’s no such thing as a cold star. Stars burn.
DOCTOR: So’s this one. It’s just burning cold.
RORY: Is that possible?
DOCTOR: I can’t know everything. Why does everybody expect me to, always?
RORY: Okay, this is something you haven’t seen before. So does that mean this is the dream?
DOCTOR: I don’t know…
Yet logic isn’t always enough. While rationality should always play a role in our decision making process, what we consider to be rational and true is always subject to our personal notions of context and reality.
In the end, Amy is forced to make a decision and she doesn’t shrink from it. When Rory is killed she is forced to confront what’s most important-who’s most important.
AMY: This is the dream. Definitely this one. Now, if we die here, we wake up, yeah?
DOCTOR: Unless we just die.
AMY: Either way, this is my only chance of seeing him again. This is the dream.
DOCTOR: How do you know?
Amy is forced to grow up and examine herself. What does she want? Who does she want? Yet sometimes decisions aren’t a onetime deal. Sometimes we need to constantly ask ourselves the same question over and over again at different points in our lives and determine whether our current context changes our options and choices. Amy recognizes that she truly cares for Rory and she in effect choices him over the Doctor, but is that a choice she would make again?
Another fascinating aspect of this episode was the character of the Dream Lord. Throughout the episode there are hints left as to who he is:
DOCTOR: I know who you are….No idea how you can be here, but there’s only one person in the universe who hates me as much as you do.
Later on the Doctor explicitly states:
DOCTOR: No, no. No. Sorry, wasn’t it obvious? The Dream Lord was me. Psychic pollen. It’s a mind parasite. It feeds on everything dark in you, gives it a voice, turns it against you. I’m nine hundred and seven. It had a lot to go on.
But what darkness is the Doctor talking about? Again, this goes back to the importance of decisions. Throughout his extended lifetime the Doctor has had to make some terrible choices: he has to decide who to save and who to let die, who to show mercy on and who to kill. Decisions come with consequences, positive or negative and even when we make the “right” decision, for the “right” reasons that does not mean that the consequences we experience will be positive. The Doctor’s darkest day was the day he made the decision to commit double genocide and kill both his own people and the daleks in order to end the Time War and prevent the deaths of millions of others. He made what he believed was the right choice yet his life afterwards can be viewed as both an attempt to atone for his decision and run away from it. Decisions aren’t always clear cut and we sometimes have to choose the best option among a lot of devastating and terrible ones. But sometimes, very rarely we are given the opportunity to start again…Sometimes, very rarely, we are given a ‘redo.’