Simon Nye has to be one of the most interesting choices of writers in recent years for Doctor Who. Even Richard Curtis doesn’t seem that odd a choice after previous head-writer Russell T. Davies delivered a Four Weddings style rom-com episode (Love and Monsters). Nye’s episode is funny but deadpan, and whether he is a fan I have no idea but he treats the show extraordinarily sensitively.
Back in School Reunion the Doctor’s relationship with past (human) companions was touched on when Sarah Jane asked him why he never came back for her. The response he gave was nothing like as convincing as the Doctor’s sheer boredom in Amy and Rory’s company in the opener to this episode and it is easy to imagine what a gooseberry he may have imagined feeling coming back to attend a dinner party thrown by SJS and whoever he imagined she would have settled down with. Amy, sharp as ever, is quick witted enough to realise he’s stumbled back by mistake.
One again the theme is giving up travelling with the Doctor (always a tricky subject, as its so hard to imagine many reasons why one ever would). But Nye takes it one step further by placing both worlds side by side and flipping the trio between one and another. The scenario is reminiscent of the hallucinations induced by the despair squid in the Red Dwarf episode Back to Reality (this was not the only time I though of the small rouge one – the piles of dust in the playground reminded me of the remains of the crew in that show’s first episode). Nye’s Upper Knebworth, although a lot more Welsh, bears so many similarities to Snowle (the Sussex village in his excellent sitcom How Do You Want Me?) that I keep expecting Peter Serafinowicz to ride round the corner on a lawn mower. And the scenes where our heroes are menaced by slow moving pensioners on zimmer frames is not dissimilar to scenes in Shaun of the Dead. As with that film, there is flirting with poor taste (whacking the elderly lady with a bat) and like that film comical aspects this conjures undermine, to some degree, any air of menace. Matt Smith never seems to be that frightened, even when he is on the point of being overpowered in the butcher’s. Although Matt Smith’s comic timing is once again amply demonstrated (and Arthur Davill too has some great comic moments) this is a showcase episode for Karen Gillan and she is great. Funny, fierce, angry, heartbroken and love-struck it’s a wonderful performance. Toby Jones never quite managed to seem that threatening as a villain either – there wasn’t the presence to carry the threat. It would have elevated the episode beyond criticism, for me, if Michael Jayston had been cast in the role. And ultimately the village world never made a convincing case for being reality (which made me think how brave it would have been if it had turned out that in fact it was).
It was one of those episodes where the setup made it almost impossible to have a suitably surprising conclusion, and having shied away from the interesting option the ending is reasonably satisfying. I’m hopeful that Nye will write for Who again, as it was never less than interesting, and I suspect when I go seeking others’ reviews I will find (as with Love and Monsters) that it’s also one of those marmite stories the fans either love or hate.