Any attempt I make at a critical analysis of this episode is doomed to failure.
I think this episode may have been entirely without flaw.
This is not just my favourite non-Moffat penned story: at the moment it is simply my favourite episode of Doctor Who.
Recognisably my Doctor Who, the same show I watched as a small child, back in 1982, this was much cleaner yet darker, and more affecting. Having avoided time travel as a plot device, under Moffat’s stewardship we’ve explored paradoxes and alternative timelines galore (eg. The Pandorica Opens and Big Bang) but what sets this apart is the unflinching focus on the human consequence, pared down to the heartbreaking core.
And Karen Gillan’s performance.
Gillan is amazing in this. The 55(ish) year old Amy is so well characterised that from the moment the story bravely makes a complete switch from day 1 in “two streams” to Rory discovering his abandoned wife 34 years later, I wanted so much for her to survive as ‘our’ Amy (despite knowing how unlikely it was the Gillan would continue to play the older version of herself). Gillan is remarkable, an astonishing actress.
It seemed impossible that an emotionally satisfying resolution could be wrought, but devastating as it was the proof of “Rule 1” was awful perfection. There were so many beautiful touches in the writing (by @TomMacWriter, author of Rise of the Cybermen and The Age of Steel) and all of the performances in what was essentially a three-hander that I shall not even begin to list them, but I will mention the superb design work. I’m not a fan of the new TARDIS interior, but even here some of the details and photography were sublime, while the blending of the studio sets and the sequences shot in Dyffryn Gardens created a distinctive atmosphere.
This year’s Doctor Who is remarkable. The first year of Moffat’s tenure was notable for its consistency. Now after having reinvented the format with that breathtaking opening two parter, The Doctor’s Wife and the traditional but first rate Rebel Flesh/Almost People we have a story that exceeds all.
I’ve only watched the episode once, and it coincided with my seeming to have something in my eye; I may need to pause and recover before I watch it again.