They’re either going to love this one or hate it. I’m pretty sure I loved it.
At first, taken in parts, it really seems a bit naff. You’ve got two realities, at least one of which may be a dream, each appearing to reflect the fantasies of one of “Amy’s boys.” You’ve got the Dream Lord, a weaselly little impresario reminiscent of Q, the omnipotent plot device from Star Trek: The Next Generation who amuses himself putting the Enterprise crew into period costume and “unintentionally” helping them demonstrate the resourcefulness of humanity. And you’ve got the choice itself, which amounts to Amy choosing Rory or the Doctor. “Contrived” is too mild a word.
And yet, as a whole, it’s great fun, starting as always with the dialogue and delivery (“I’ve crushed your flowers.” / “Amy will kill you.”), but even the Doctor Who-in-miniature of the two realities is pretty terrific. The freezing TARDIS you saw in the trailer is the lesser of them, perhaps, but features an impressive spectacle on the scanner and a spooky Silent Hill: Frozen Memories mood when the console ices over. The monsters in Leadworth (excuse me, Upper Leadworth) seem like standard stuff at first — comfortable familiar objects/people who open their mouths to reveal what look like eyes (rather than teeth, as in “The Eleventh Hour,” “The Beast Below,” “The Time of Angels,” “Flesh and Stone,” and “Vampires of Venice” — but they’re deadly eyes, at least). But as the Dream Lord’s plot becomes clearer, the symbolism of these old people capable of turning young people into dust hits home.
Some fans will most likely find the symbolism obvious or familiar; the series began asking these kinds of questions about itself back in the Seventh Doctor’s era, possibly earlier, and I recall finding them a bit contrived even then. Not that I didn’t think it made sense for the Doctor to have a dark side, or that I minded a bit of mystery coming back, but I wanted it to feel natural and authentic. (The revelation of the mystery, in Marc Platt’s novel Lungbarrow, was just godawful nonsense as far as I was concerned.) Here the contrivance of the plot doesn’t matter so much because the dark side it explores feels perfectly natural and authentic. As does Amy’s actual choice.
The strength of a show like this, the freedom that allows it to feel fresher than ever 47 years after its birth in 1963, is that it can be anything it needs to be. Fending off menacing aliens might be its stock in trade, but in the back room you can always find the underrated gems: space/time riddles (“Castrovalva”), psychological/philosophical parables (“Kinda” and “Snakedance”), sociopolitical satire (“The Sun Makers,” “The Happiness Patrol,” “The Greatest Show in the Galaxy,” and more recently “The Long Game” and “Bad Wolf”), and even commentary on itself (“Love and Monsters,” a tough pill to swallow for many reasons). These are the episodes that really stand out and stick with me after they’re over. I’m happy to rank “Amy’s Choice” among them.
Oh, P.S.: what I’ve been saying about Amy and Rory being no Rose and Mickey? It’s true, they’re not, but I finally like them just about as much. They’re great here and it almost makes me sad to think they’ll be just fighting monsters in the next episode. Then again, considering who the monsters are, this could be fantastic.