"Amy's Choice" certainly has to be the strangest story of this particular series of Doctor Who, and certainly reminded me of the Patrick Troughton story, "The Mind Robber", and to some extent, the Hartnell story, "The Celestial Toymaker". However, first, a plot synopsis... The episode opens with Amy and her boyfriend, Rory, back home in Leadworth, England. It's been five years since their last adventure with the Doctor, and Amy is very, very pregnant with child. Life is good, if dull. Then, one day, the Doctor drops in for a visit. They reminisce about the good times, listen peacefully to the birds chirping around them, fall asleep - and wake up back in the TARDIS. It was all a dream...or was it? A peculiar little man who calls himself the Dream Lord appears before them, and tells them they are moving back and forth in time, between a real world and a dream world. Which is which? Choose well, and they get to live. Choose wrong, and they will all die.
Did I like the episode? Yes, I did, very much. This episode was a dream episode of sorts, but not the lame type where things get all weird and the protagonists get out of it by telling you what happened at the very end. This was one where the viewer is told that one of two realities is a dream and the viewer has to guess which. I was inclined to think that the TARDIS reality was the real one, even though I got somewhat suspicious when the "cold star" element was introduced to it. In retrospect, it should have been obvious that both "realities" were dreams. Very neat, and more than a little bit creepy. One of the things that I rather liked about "Amy's Choice" was that the dreams were not really just dreams. In normal dreams, everything is unreal, including the people you interact with, even if they're people you know in the waking world. In this episode, it was established early on that Amy and Rory were having the same dreams and sharing the Doctor's reality, so their interactions were real even if the environments were false. The Dream Lord wasn't entirely unreal, either. By the end of the episode, it was implied that the Dream Lord was part of the Doctor's subconscious mind. The problem is that the final scene with the Doctor staring at the reflection of the Dream Lord in the clear TARDIS console, and then blinking, and seeing his own face, indicated to me that the Dream Lord was *not* the Doctor, but another being or entity.
Be that as it may, for the reasons stated earlier, the episode did more than most of the previous ones in developing the characters' story arcs. Amy is not in love with the Doctor, thank Goddess, she's conflicted between the life of adventure he represents and a secure life of domesticity represented by marriage to Rory. It's emphasised more than once that this is a life that the Doctor would find very boring. His comment about having had a "nightmare" about Amy and Rory and his remarks on the bench bear this out. So, of course, Amy can't have it both ways.
Then there's the characterisation in this episode. In many ways, "Amy's Choice" is very much a pas de quatre, with the focus being on the relationships between the Doctor, Amy, Rory, and the Dream Lord. Matt Smith did his usual great job of playing the Doctor, and it was interesting here to see the Time Lord being relatively ineffective and seemingly out of his depth for half of the storyline. His interaction with both Amy Pond and Rory didn't do much for me, but his scenes with the Dream Lord were positively scintillating. Karen Gillan was much better in this story than she's been for most of the series to this point, and her character gelled somewhat nicely for me here. The guy who plays Rory was pretty decent in this episode, as to be honest, I wasn't sure how the addition of the new character was going to work in the mix of the TARDIS crew. He was pretty decent in his first crew story, "The Vampires of Venice", but in "Amy's Choice", Rory's true nature and personality stood out quite a bit. More on the Amy and Rory stuff in a bit. Toby Jones, who played the Dream Lord, brought a sense of mystery to the character, but was very creepy in his portrayal as the villain of this piece. While there were quite a few good lines of dialogue in the episode, I rather enjoyed the verbal sparring between the Doctor and the Dream Lord. I rather enjoyed the stuff about his companions leaving him when they grew up (reflected in Amy and Rory's exchange about the same thing), and also enjoyed the digs about the Doctor's togs. The scenes between the Doctor and the Dream Lord was where the strongest writing in this episode occurred. Of course the Dream Lord would be able to really get under the Doctor's skin, and the taunting of the Doctor in his new form was more funny and effective and sobering than anything that occurred with Amy and Rory.
I thought the birdsong was a brilliant device for switching between the dream scenarios. That, and the fact that they were always in sync, and that the
Dream Lord appeared in both of them, should have clued folks in, but I still didn't quite get it before the Doctor did. Amy solved the first, false dilemma (which is a recurring theme in this series) by refusing to believe in the one where Rory was dead. I thought Karen Gillan's acting in the sequence was pretty good in this sequence, and actually gives me some hope that she really can act. Then the Doctor got it, possibly because he realised why he hadn't been able to find any logical reason to believe in one scenario over the other - because there wasn't one - yet he'd supported Amy's decision even when he couldn't possibly have known she was right.
If I had a real problem with "Amy's Choice" it was that, for me, there was never any real feeling of impending doom in either of the worldscapes. The old people weren't truly scary and the TARDIS turning into a freezer just seemed a little boring, considering that we've seen it burn up so many times of late and in the Classic Who series. The old folks could have been more interesting, more of a real threat, and when one takes into account the eyes-and-tube aliens inside the old people (never caught what the Doctor called them), well...Steven Moffat seems to have a thing for eyes in this series so far, doesn't he? The Dream Lord was deliciously creepy for the most part, but it was more of a threatening manner at times that never really amounted to much. As I said, Toby Jones was quite good in the role. My own personal conclusion at the end is that the Dream Lord may well have been the Master of the Land of Fiction (first encountered in "The Mind Robber" back in the Troughton days), but I could well be wrong about this, and that is certainly not the conclusion that episode wants us to come to.
One of the things to note about "Amy's Choice" is that in the world where Amy and Rory were together, the Doctor was at his most helpless because the one thing he couldn't do was bring Rory back when the latter died in the supposedly safe world. Rory's death was an odd one in this episode, and to be honest, it felt to me like a form of foreshadowing the way it was handled and stuff that was said. I wasn't exactly expecting Amy to break down in tears, but her muted response certainly caught me off guard. It took this episode to show her how much she loved the bloke, and while Amy technically wants both worlds that were shown here, Rory turned out to be the man that she wanted romantically, not the Doctor. And that led to the other bit of this episode - the Doctor's world. The Doctor has been letting Amy down since she was seven years old by abandoning her, and the Dream Lord knew how to play on that. Amy took a certain level of pride in her relationship with the Doctor, and the Dream Lord came close to knocking it down by revealing that the Doctor has a far more intricate history than she's aware of, even alluding to a certain redhead and not the one that I wanted him to reference. Importantly, Amy was the only one in the TARDIS who got to talk to the Dream Lord by herself. Rory and the Doctor were rendered back to the land of nod and there were some interesting moments. It was her choosing to technically kill herself in the Leadworth world that seemingly defeated the Dream Lord.
Something else that was odd was that this was the second time in the current series with Moffat as the lead writer that the Doctor's relationship with Elizabeth I was mentioned. I've had the wild thought that if the Doctor got her (Bessie) pregnant, and didn't know about it when he left her, Amy might be descended from their child. Nah, just a dumb theory on my part. :)
In terms of mystery, however, this episode gave us something else to think about - Leadworth. Is it really the village that time forgot? Is that why Amy's memories are sketchy and there's a general sense of weirdness surrounding her? The Doctor in the dream world might have bleated on about Leadworth being dull but perhaps it's not, perhaps subconsciously he must suspect that something is up with that not so quaint little village.
Overall, "Amy's Choice" was a psychological romp and tour de force that had the viewer guessing as to what was going on for most of it, and that proved to be a story that I suspect will have long-term ramifications. I think that by the end of the episode, Rory's role among the TARDIS crew is clearly established, and the Doctor and Rory have truly become friends as opposed to the the mildly antagonistic and competitive relationship they had prior to this. Sure, there were things in the episode that I didn't like, and the two "menaces" that the Dream Lord confronted the TARDIS trio with were somewhat lame in the end, but what will make this episode stand out is the Dream Lord himself and the type of threat he represents to the Doctor. The Dream Lord character could be considered to be a New Who classic menace. I really hope we see him again.
I give this episode 9 out of 10.