Losing Companions is a fact of being a Doctor Who viewer. We know it will happen. It always does, it always has. The trick to making us care is in how they leave, why they leave, and how The Doctor will go on. It’s Steven Moffat first such story as showrunner, and he chose his signature monster to bring it home. The result is one of the series’ most emotionally resonant episodes, by which I mean it made me weep uncontrollably for a good 15 minutes.
WARNING: There is no possible way I can write about this without spoiling stuff. So, if you haven’t seen the episode, best to turn back now.
The Doctor (Matt Smith), Amy (Karen Gillan) and Rory (Arthur Darvill) are in New York having a leisurely afternoon in the park. But when Rory is suddenly zapped back in time by a Weeping Angel, the trio are thrust into a perilous adventure alongside River Song (Alex Kingston. It’s all a bit complicated, filled with very Moffat-y moments of time locking and futures and what River would call “spoilers,” but the important thing to know is this: Amy and Rory are in deep trouble, and they might not make it out alive.
As far as I can tell through my tear-filled haze, this episode was really about two things: The Doctor’s hatred of endings and Amy and Rory’s raw, honest love for one another. The Doctor’s lost Companions before, many times. He’s lived through that all, as we have, but there’s something different about this one. Earlier this season I talked about the co-dependency he seems to have developed with the Ponds. He’s there to rescue them when they’re in trouble, and to show them adventures beyond their wildest dreams, but in the end it seems that he needs them more than they need him. He needs the company, the affection, the sense that he can still grow close to someone even as hostile forces overwhelm his forever chaotic life. The Doctor has reached a point where, though Companions have come and gone before, he can’t imagine life without the Ponds in it. He hates endings, and he spends this entire episode refusing to confront them, until he has no choice any more.
But as The Doctor worries about what might happen if he loses Amy and Rory, Amy and Rory are both more worried about what might happen if they lose each other. Moffat’s spent the last three years joking about Amy’s affections for The Doctor and Rory’s house-husband vibe. He’s more than happy to poke fun at the threesome feelings going on in the TARDIS. But mixed in with all that there have always been moments of true, powerful love. Rory’s constant vigil over Amy as The Centurion, Amy’s unwillingness to let go of Rory when true crisis strikes. They need each other more than they’ve ever needed The Doctor, and here, at the end of their adventures, Moffat’s making sure we know it. That’s the real power of the episode, outside of all the Weeping Angel theatrics and the time leaps and the efforts to escape. At the end it all comes down to two people who need each other.
But that doesn’t take The Doctor entirely out of the equation. His goodbye to Amy (or rather, her goodbye to him) is perhaps the most devastating moment of the episode. When Amy and Rory declare their love for one another you cry, but you cry because of how beautiful it is. When Amy says goodbye, you cry because of the sacrifice she’s making. You cry because the “raggedy man” she grew up idolizing and loving and finally standing on equal footing with can never again be part of her life. You cry because they both know this, and you cry because they both understand the choice.
We know the Doctor will find another to travel with very soon (in a couple of months, in fact). We know Doctor Who will go on as it always has, but I can’t remember a time I ever felt so sad to see two characters go. You can make the case for a flimsy plot or an overwrought conceit to bring this ending about, but when it came to the goodbye itself, when it came to the heartbreaking end to Amelia Pond’s story, he nailed it.