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The First Face This Face Saw

[crossposted at tansyrr.com]

I know that most of us are thinking REALLY HARD about The Angels Take Manhattan right now, but I wanted to step back for a moment and talk instead about a thought that emerged from the previous episode, The Power of Three.

“The first face this face saw,” the Eleventh Doctor said to Amy, explaining why it is that he has been so very emotionally attached to her, and by extension, Rory, over the last several hundred years. Much like “I always took you where you needed to be” from The Doctor’s Wife, this one line throws the whole history of Doctor Who into a new light.

I’ve always subscribed to the idea that the Ninth Doctor was freshly regenerated in “Rose,” and that he went off to have a bunch of adventures in that instant before he and the TARDIS came back for her and he upped his offer: “Did I mention it also travels in time?” Not only is this a nice thought because it means he got to have a bunch of adventures on his own, but it allows him to appear at various points through history in his leather jacket, thereby catching the attention of Clive.

But Rose could well have been the first face that his Ninth face saw. At least, the first non-Auton, non-dead face. The first person he talked to, the first person he told to “Run.” Extending this thought further, this could be why he came back for her at the end of the episode, once he thought of something new to tempt her with. And maybe even that “run” was the first word he said, also imprinting itself upon the destiny of his incarnation of the Doctor.

Yes, I’m arguing that the Doctors set their own themes in the first moments of life. Bear with me.

I know that many fans are annoyed by the perceived “specialness” of Rose, while others love her best and most above all others. Well, she is special. Because she may well be the only person whom the Doctor saw first in two incarnations. With the Ninth, it’s arguable, but it’s definite with the Tenth. He regenerated in the TARDIS, and the first face his face saw was Rose, crying and angry and bouncing emotions off the walls. Rose, who loved him.

Yep, this explains a lot about the Tenth Doctor.

But does the theory hold up into the Classic series? I had a long walk this morning, which always does ferocious things to my brain, and I’m here to tell you that maybe it DOES.

Some are drawing a longer bow than others, I’ll admit. The first face the Eighth Doctor saw was that of a morgue technician screaming at him for being alive. But the surgeon who killed him, Grace Holloway, certainly can have had an effect on who he was as a Doctor. Did he see her through the anaesthesia? Does his grogginess explain the weird hallucination about being half human?

The Seventh Doctor is a way better example. The first face his face saw was his old enemy the Rani, pretending to be his companion Mel. No wonder he spent his whole incarnation as a sneaky, suspicious and manipulative dark version of himself! Apart from the whole spoon-playing phase which was obviously caused by the strobing effect from Mel’s psychelic apricot striped outfit.

The Sixth Doctor tried to kill the first face his face saw, the argumentative Peri, and his incarnation was certainly characterised by bickering and violence.

The Fifth Doctor saw three young people he barely knew: Adric, Nyssa and Tegan, and spent the rest of his regenerative crisis freaking out and impersonating his former selves. I have no idea what effect this had on his personality. But it does explain why he and/or the TARDIS failed so utterly to return Tegan to her workplace over and over again, despite her stated wishes.

The first faces the Fourth Doctor saw were Sarah Jane Smith and the Brig. Interesting then that he set out to distance himself quickly from UNIT and his previous life on earth. A born contrarian? Still, there’s no denying that he remained more closely attached to them both than almost any other companions of the classic era. He sent Sarah a K9, after all, and he always came back for Alistair Gordon.

The first face that the Third Doctor’s face saw was a random squaddie who shot him. He then spent five years living with and working for the military, despite the fact that this was dramatically against anything established for the character previously.

And finally, the Second Doctor. His very first regeneration, and the first people he saw were Ben and Polly. There was nothing particularly special about them, though it is worth noting that he spent his entire incarnation with companion pairs of a boy and a girl, except for the one time that Jamie stowed away.

The first faces that the first regenerated Doctor saw were human, though. And in fact, apart from Nyssa, Adric and the Rani, every first face his faces have seen have been human. No wonder he’s so attached to us all, to the humans who live on Earth. The First Doctor despised humans, and if he had any control over the TARDIS, would not have chosen to land on Earth nearly as often as he did. But the later Doctors… every one of them called Earth his home away from home.

And there we are, proof that I think about this stuff way too much.

Love After The Doctor

“Well… there was this one guy. I traveled with him for a while. But he was a tough act to follow.”
- Sarah-Jane Smith, School Reunion

With this quote, Russell T. Davis points out why he shouldn’t have made The Doctor a romantic hero.  From Mickey Smith to Rory Williams, nu-Who always had the competition for the companion’s attention, attractive men with decent qualities of their own, but did they stand a chance when The Doctor were ruining all other men for these women?

Sarah-Jane herself, had one canon relationship in her spin-off show.  That storyline opened with the kid companions tracking her on a date because they were freaking out by her ‘strange behaviour’ lately.  This shows that Sarah Jane has pretty much given up on love after The Doctor but the quote implies that she has seen other men between Doctor 4 and Doctor 10 and none of them interested her.

I don’t really have a problem with Sarah-Jane not being boy-crazy as she’s not fourteen years old and she was the feminist companion but then she goes all giggly and bashful when Captain Jack ‘says Hello’ in Journey’s End.  What?  Is she fourteen?

Likewise, Rose seemed to close herself off to love, determined to get back to The Doctor.  On one hand, I hate Rose’s return as it’s re-finishing a storyline that is finished already.  Doctor Who is not about The Doctor and Rose Tyler and with Davis, it really just making all episodes without Rose filler.  On the other, this is an incredible young woman knowing what she wants and through impossible odds she gets it.  Well a duplicate of it with half the hearts and some Donna Noble throwing in to the mix but it was close enough for her.

Martha Jones is a woman who tracked down the deliciously handsome and heroic Doctor Tom Millican who is good with children and does relief work after the year that never happened and within half a year they are engaged, the relationship lasting at least a year after Martha calls him in the hospital and then we next see her married to Mickey Smith.

Wait, what?

Well …because both Martha and Mickey change and grew through their experiences with The Doctor they were the better suited couple while Tom seems lacking the same way Sarah-Jane found other suitors lacking before she gave up on love.  So one could argue that The Doctor ruined normal life for her: she wanted it but she was working with UNIT and when on to freelance rather than strictly training in medicine so even in normal life she still yearned for what she had with The Doctor.  Likewise Donna Noble rejected The Doctor’s offer of time and space and then spent a year searching for him after just a taster of what his life had to offer and she had no romantic attachment to The Doctor whatsoever.

When it comes down to it, experiences changes people and traveling with The Doctor would be quite an experience. We’ve seen characters that change just because their lives were touched by The Doctor: Harriet Jones, Craig Owens, Sally Sparrow, Amy’s friend Jeff, Lady Catherine de Souza and the members of LINDA.  The experience made them see the same things at a different angle and that will apply to what they look for in a partner and their relationship.  It’s not all about love.  Love is just a part of it.

Love is a powerful story telling tool but the stories of Sarah-Jane’s return and Martha could be told without the romance.  At least with Sarah-Jane it’s undertones to appease the shippers but Martha’s story could have been so much stronger if her story wasn’t mutually conclusive with a love story.

It does make sense that Martha was ‘the rebound companion’ as she was always good, but finding that self-belief that one could argue she had in Smith and Jones and The Doctor’s been chipping away at since making her feel second best.  However having her interest over The Doctor and jealously over Rose be romantic it makes Martha slightly petty.  When Donna meets Martha, Donna sees how good this young woman is and ups her game, not competition with Martha but to earn her place on the TARDIS which she does in one act.  Having a series with Martha trying to prove that she is worth that ‘one more trip’ and make that a more stable position on the TARDIS would be far more interesting, speaking to anyone who ever felt ‘not good enough.’

I hope with the new companion we see new interesting character arcs being explored and experiences change her without it been driven by romance.  It’s not needed, it’s been done more than once and rather than building up a doomed romance they can put in fresh plot and character moments.

Two Women in the TARDIS

So the TARDIS is a lady. We’ve always known that, right?

The Doctor’s Wife, which made concrete the Doctor’s characterisation of the TARDIS as female, and a living being with her own thoughts and feelings, makes re-watching older episodes a fascinating exercise. It brings an extra layer of meaning to almost every story since 1963.

But crucially, it shakes up the Doctor Who “formula” which, to so many people, sums up what the show is about: One Doctor, One Female Companion.

If you actually watch the show for any length of time, you know that this formula isn’t actually essential at all – but it’s amazing how often the media surrounding the show, official or otherwise, prioritises this depiction of how Doctor Who works. We all know that Jack, Mickey, Rory and River count companions (there hasn’t been a single full season of New Who in which the Doctor has one lone female companion at his side) and yet somehow they disappear in the way the show is pitched to the audience, in the newspaper and blog coverage, and even the merchandise (Arthur Darvill, after one year as occasional companion and a second year as a billed co-star, is only just receiving his first action figure).

[Ritch discusses why this might be the case in one of his Ritch and Space YouTube vids: New Companion, Old Companions]

It happened in the old days, too. JNT, a previous generation’s RTD, famously set up all manner of sexy photo shoots for the Doctor’s co-stars, to the point that you would easily believe that Sarah Sutton’s Nyssa or Janet Fielding’s Tegan travelled with him alone. Most non-diehard-fans remember a Doctor-companion combination that is singular. There’s a kind of mythic resonance to the concept of the “Doctor Who girl” and yet for huge chunks of the show from 1963 all the way through to the present, the Doctor travelled with more than one companion, often a man and woman together, but sometimes as many as three.

In fact, only the Third, Sixth and Seventh Doctors followed the ‘one Doctor Who girl’ format for their whole TV run, and considering that the Third Doctor had an ensemble cast as well as his female companion, it’s really only the late 80’s (and a few chunks of the Fourth Doctor’s era, depending on whether or not you count the robot dog) which completely support the ‘crew of two’ concept.

Now, of course, we know that the TARDIS *always* made three.

But I thought it was worth talking about one of my favourite companion combinations: when the Doctor has two women in his life at at time. (Well, okay, three.) Having more than one woman in the regular cast allows for multiple “types” of female character (yay diversity) plus we get to see them gang up on him, and when is that not fun?

So here are the best examples:

SUSAN AND BARBARA:
The Doctor’s grand-daughter and her history teacher, worlds apart in so many ways. It was Barbara’s curiosity about (and concern for) Susan which got she and Ian into this mess in the first place, and she often takes on a motherly (or at least, cool auntie) role with the alien teenager. I particularly like that they both have such different spheres of expertise, and often have something to learn from each other.
From The Unearthly Child (1963) to The Dalek Invasion of Earth (1965)

BARBARA AND VICKI: Just as Vicki was the substitute granddaughter figure for the Doctor, she had a similar relationship with Barbara as had Susan, though perhaps they erred closer to be being friends rather than teacher-student. It didn’t hurt that Vicki was human, if from the far future, which meant she had extra reason to think that Barbara (and Ian) were like, SO OLD, MAN. When the crew split up (as often happened back then) it often meant we had the Doctor and Vicki going one way and Ian and Barbara going the other, but we still get plenty of great scenes with these two very different women working together.
From The Rescue (1965) to The Chase (1965).

TEGAN AND NYSSA: After a very long gap including the entire Troughton and Pertwee years (and most of Tom Baker) the Fourth Doctor accidentally took on a random assortment of urchins and orphans in his last stories, including two women: Tegan, a mouthy Australian air stewardess and Nyssa, a demure alien aristocrat with mad science skills, along with alien boy genius Adric. While the scripts didn’t always give them the best material to work with (often the writers dealt with the three companion dilemma by making one fall mysteriously asleep for a whole story or otherwise disappear) we did get to see the forging of a strong friendship between these two young women, which was further developed after Adric left and we got to see them working together as the Doctor’s companions. More recently, in Big Finish, their friendship has been further explored with a series of adventures based on the premise that a much older Nyssa has returned to the TARDIS crew – fifty years have passed for her, while only a few weeks for Tegan.
From Logopolis (1981) to Terminus (1983) [TV]
From Cradle of the Snake [Big Finish Audio]

PERI AND ERIMEM: Not only does Big Finish provide us with a bunch of new stories for Doctor-companion combinations that didn’t get much time in the TV show (like Five-Peri) they also create new ones! Erimem, the feisty female Pharaoh who chose a different destiny for herself by leaping into the TARDIS, makes a great offsider for Peri, and their stories involve a lot of girl talk as well as culture clashes between them – for the most part it’s a warm, supportive friendship. I haven’t listened all the way through to Erimem’s end, though!
From: The Eye of the Scorpion [Big Finish Audio]

DONNA AND MARTHA: After two years of Rose, it felt like Martha Jones left too soon, and so it was lovely to have a story in which the Doctor returned at her summons to help with a UNIT mission that turned out to be a Sontaran attack. Even better, we got to see new companion Donna join forces with her predecessor without a hint of jealousy between them. The scene in which the Doctor watches, baffled, as they hug and shriek and mock him, is pure Doctor Who gold. It’s particularly nice because Martha’s era had been overshadowed by her cranky jealousy of her own predecessor Rose, and it’s the first time we get to see a Martha who isn’t in love with the Doctor any more. The Doctor and Donna then manage to kidnap Martha for at least one more spin in the TARDIS.
From The Sontaran Stratagem to The Doctor’s Daughter, plus Journey’s End

AMY AND RIVER
While River’s travels in the TARDIS are rarely chronological, she does manage to pop in quite often when Amy is there – and as we realise in Season 6, it’s not all about the Doctor’s charisma. Even before we learned that Amy and River were mother and daughter, we saw them as friends. The lack of jealousy (so crucial) between them was evident from the start, and Amy is delighted at the weird possibility that River might be the Doctor’s future wife. We also see River work to save Amy by her own methods, proving the Doctor wrong and showing her own capability. The two of them come into their own as a team many times over, across several adventures, often overriding or challenging the Doctor.
From The Time of Angels on and off until The Wedding of River Song.

HONOURABLE MENTIONS:

MEL AND ACE: In the story Dragonfire, we get a rare overlap/handover from old companion to new, but most of the story actually has Mel and Ace working together as a team while the Doctor does his own thing. At the end, it’s Mel who nudges the Doctor to take Ace along on his adventures.

ROSE AND SARAH-JANE: In the episode School Reunion, New and Old Who collided, and Rose discovered she wasn’t the first young woman to be important to the Doctor. Sadly, jealousy was a big issue in this story, though Rose and Sarah-Jane did work through their issues and boy, wasn’t the Doctor worried when they started laughing at him together?

ROSE AND JACKIE: Obviously this mother-daughter team had been hanging out for a long time, but it wasn’t until Army of Ghosts and Doomsday that Jackie actually hopped aboard the TARDIS and came for a ride. Only across the city, but still… it was very cute to see the Doctor claim Jackie as an aged Rose, and while the mother-daughter team were mostly separated (as they were also in Journey’s End) it was enough evidence for me to claim Jackie as a companion.

DONNA AND ROSE: In Turn Left, Rose became the Mysterious Enabler of Donna’s adventures – with the Doctor nowhere in sight! Lovely to have two companions get a story entirely to themselves. Donna was always a bit of a Doctor/Rose shipper, and while they didn’t get to recreate their Turn Left relationship in Journey’s End, we do get to see the two of them (and Jackie and Martha and Sarah-Jane) all jammed into the TARDIS together. Five women in the TARDIS!

ACE AND BENNY: While Bernice Summerfield was introduced in the Virgin New Adventures novel that wrote Ace out, the two of them didn’t stay strangers. Ace returned several times, the two of them wrangling over all kinds of issues (including I think some rivalry over Jason Kane – boo for jealousy but yay for it not being the Doctor in the pointy end of the triangle for once). Big Finish recreated the Seven-Ace-Benny team a few times, and will be bringing them back together again for the anniversary of that first story, Love and War, later in 2012.

EVELYN AND MEL: in the Big Finish audio Thicker Than Water, the Sixth Doctor brings Mel back to meet Evelyn, the companion who has had the most effect on how he lives his life. And the two of them get into all kinds of trouble together!

LUCIE AND SUSAN: Rose wasn’t the first companion to be faced with the Doctor’s distant past – in Big Finish audio Relative Dimensions, she cooked Christmas Doctor for the Eighth Doctor, his granddaughter Susan, and great-grandson Alex! Together, Lucie and Susan discussed what it meant to travel at the Doctor’s side… and whether it was something either of them wanted to do now.

SARAH-JANE AND JO: In the Sarah Jane Adventures episode Death of the Doctor, these two iconic 70’s companions met and were delighted to do so, even if it was at the funeral of the man they both thought of as their best friend. There was a hint of jealousy here and there, but not of the romantic kind – plenty of wistfulness too, especially when Jo discovered that the Doctor’s current companion got to bring her hubby along on the adventures. But mostly it was two awesome women who had fabulous lives, with fond memories of that crazy bloke they both knew in their youth. And I would have watched whole seasons of them together!

LEELA & ROMANA II: in another spin off series, Big Finish’s Gallifrey, two of the Fourth Doctor’s companions work together in war, death and politics, and barely even mention that crazy bloke they both knew in their youth. Luckily for us, there are whole seasons of them together!


HARDLY WORTH MENTIONING:

But for completion’s sake…

VICKI AND KATARINA – a hand-maiden introduced late into the Trojan story The Myth-Makers was sent on her way to the TARDIS by Vicki, who had a better offer.
DODO AND POLLY – They got along quite well in the opening episodes of The War Machines but Dodo was sent “to the country” halfway through, leaving Polly to carry on with Ben instead.
ROMANA I AND PRINCESS ASTRA – liked each other so much in The Armageddon Factor that Romana stole her body – well, the intellectual property surrounding her body, anyway. She wore it better, too.
ROMANA II and CHARLEY – Disapproved of each other mightily in Big Finish’s Neverland mostly because Romana II had a problem with Charley’s status as a time paradox. How awesome that they didn’t conflict over their feelings for the Doctor, though!

Domesticating the Doctor II: The Missus, the Ex and the Mothers-in-Law

In the last Domesticating the Doctor post I talked about various instances from Classic and Big Finish Doctor Who of the Doctor being domesticated against his nature. Now it’s time for the New Who story! Or the RTD years, at least, as it got a bit longer than I expected.

The Ninth Doctor puts his cards on the table right from the start. “I don’t do domestic.” No previous Doctor had ever had to make such a statement, but right from the start, the writing team of New Who seemed to relish throwing kitchen appliances and chips and the telly at the Doctor’s head, to watch him squirm.

“I’ve never been slapped by someone’s Mum before,” he complains in Aliens of London, one of the stories that most deeply explores the collision of the Doctor and domesticity. He’s never had to deal with anyone’s Mum before – he’s met a few companions’ Dads, but they’ve mostly got themselves conveniently killed before the credits rolled.

Imagine, oh imagine, if Jo Grant’s Mum had turned up to see what her new boss was like? Or if Romana’s Mum had arrived in the TARDIS to demand the Fourth Doctor tell her why her daughter’s postcards home had suddenly stopped…

Jackie Tyler, even more than Rose, drags the Doctor kicking and screaming into a world where you watch the alien invasion on the telly, and the TARDIS needs to start considering a regular parking space in London. He allows Rose phone access to him, something we’ve never seen him do before – and even occasionally, as in Father’s Day, marvels at the “ordinary people” life that he is completely not a part of.

For the most part he stays that way, largely because Rose is so desperate to escape her life on the housing estate that she doesn’t push him to embrace her home life (except for occasional day trips to catch up with her Mum and get her laundry done). This is a Doctor who breaks the rules and thumbs his nose at any kind of domestic restraint: quite literally, in Bad Wolf, when he is trapped in the Big Brother house, he escapes using rudeness and an inability to follow social conventions.

Rose’s own journey is one of choosing the Doctor over a domestic everyday life: not just once in the first episode, but several times, as she regularly returns home and then leaves with him all over again. This is key because we have never seen companions do this before, except those of the Pertwee era where the Doctor himself had a home on Earth, and being a companion did not mean being tied to the TARDIS.

When the Doctor changes, his relationship to domesticity is one of the key personality shifts. The Tenth Doctor embraces Jackie and Mickey instead of snarking at them (well, he does that too, but he hugs them first) and he is perfectly willing to stay and eat Christmas dinner with Rose’s family rather than sulking in the TARDIS or insisting they leave right away.

Indeed, the time lapse between The Christmas Invasion and New Earth suggests they have hung around the Powell Estate for several days or weeks – certainly long enough for the snow to melt and for Rose to have her hair done! She no longer has to choose between her family and her Doctor… though of course, she chooses travelling, every time.

Season 2 is the one where the Doctor and his companion are at their cosiest, and he is at his most sympathetic towards domesticity – he still doesn’t really understand how humans work (witness the licking of the jam in Fear Her) but he is actively interested in trying to do so. Also, like the Third and Seventh Doctor eras, this is a season with several stories that themselves portray the domestic world as a source for horror and fear: we see families torn apart by the technology they take for granted in The Age of Steel and Rise of the Cybermen; alien dinner ladies and school children turned into computers in School Reunion, ordinary people having their lives destroyed merely because they are fans of the Doctor in Love and Monsters, and alien invaders causing havoc in suburban streets in Fear Her and The Idiot’s Lantern.

All this, and Rose learns through the return of Sarah Jane that the Doctor doesn’t have a habit of keeping his companions in the TARDIS forever – he leaves them behind, and doesn’t look back. In the same story, we see her unsettled when the Doctor allows Mickey to join them – her domestic life and TARDIS life have suddenly got a bit too close together, and it’s clear that she’s not ready to have both spheres of her life collide together.

(I was disappointed they did so little with this, ridding the TARDIS of Mickey the story after next – there was so much story potential in this clash of Rose’s two worlds)

It’s the spacey two-parter The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit that really brings home the limitations of the Doctor’s relationship to domesticity: when it looks like the TARDIS has been lost forever, Rose tries to plan for a life without her, in which she and the Doctor live in a house… and it’s clear from his reaction that the thought is utterly unimaginable. It’s the first time it sinks in to Rose that the Doctor’s travelling life, onwards and upwards forever, is not something that has a use by date.

Jackie also has concerns that her daughter’s relationship with the Doctor is turning her into something less than (or more than) human. While her own relationship with this Tenth Doctor has become that of a mother-in-law who accepts the new bloke into her family, warts and all, she also feels threatened by Rose’s alien experiences, and worries for her daughter’s future – understandable, considering Rose isn’t past 20 yet and doesn’t realise what ‘forever’ actually means!

Ultimately, the Doctor chooses that Rose will stay with her family and lose him forever; Rose, not liking that choice, chooses to never see her family again in order to stay with him forever, and almost dies; finally, Pete saves Rose which also means she stays with her family and loses the Doctor.

While this can definitely be read as the two men in her life making patriarchal decisions about what’s best for her, it’s hard for me as a parent to wish it had gone any other way. The thought of Jackie stuck in that other universe with her husband returned to her, a new baby and never seeing Rose again is every bit as devastating.

The Doctor’s own loss is conveyed not only through David Tennant man-paining at the cameras, but also by the fact that he never tries to embrace domesticity again. He takes far less interest in the families of his next two companions, Martha and Donna, with the exception of Wilf who becomes a friend in his own right rather than someone who comes with the Donna package.

One of the big differences between Rose and Martha as companions is that Martha has nothing to run away from. Travelling with the Doctor is temporary, an adventure and an experiment. She’s not only settled in her career and flat and studies, but she is completely wrapped up in her family and their problems – indeed, getting a break from those problems can be read as one of the reasons she hops ship upon the TARDIS, though she wasn’t looking for more than a brief holiday from responsibility.

Francine, Martha’s mother, is also very different to Jackie: influenced by the Master and his cronies (though this isn’t obvious at first) she never embraces the Doctor as a necessary evil, but sees him as the enemy right from the start. She’s that other kind of stock character mother-in-law, the one that won’t even pretend to be nice to the strange man her daughter brings home. It’s Tish, Martha’s bubbly sister, who welcomes him into the family, assuming he is Martha’s new man.

It’s Martha, not Rose, who actually does experience a TARDIS-free domestic life with the Doctor, but this happens offscreen in Blink – all we really know about it is that she is the one working to support them.

When Martha leaves the Doctor, after a horrific year in which she thought of little but him and how important he was to humanity, in which she fought a war with words and lost part of herself, she makes the opposite choice that Rose did: she chooses the needs of her family over the Doctor. She’s not choosing to never see him again, but she is making it clear that her family’s general welfare is far more important to her than travelling in the TARDIS. It’s also fairly clear that the Doctor doesn’t entirely grasp why she needs to stay with them – it’s not life or death, it’s about those squishy human feelings, and he’s falling short.

And yes she does cite her romantic feelings for him as being another reason why she has to stay behind, but that is a secondary revelation, not the primary one. It also has the benefit of keeping him from making too much of a fuss about losing her.

Donna brings a wave of domesticity with her – she chats endlessly about the kind of social details and gossip that the Doctor has never had to deal with, because Rose never tried to make him care about her life or her friends. Donna is confident enough in herself that when she’s interested in something, she’ll just MAKE him listen to her.

At the same time, there’s little about Donna to challenge the Doctor’s disinterest in domestic issues, because like Rose, she wants something bigger. She’s an even more enthusiastic space tourist because for her, it’s far more about the adventure than it is about the Doctor specifically. As Courtney noted in her post about poverty and the companions, the financial freedom is a pretty major carrot offered by the Doctor, too.

But you get the impression that if Donna was stranded in another time and place, she would keep travelling and having an awesome time – any place except her own time and place. And that is the tragedy of her ultimate end. She has every memory of her extraordinary life wiped from her, and is literally stuck in a small domestic setting. She looks and thinks she is happy, and it’s only because we know she wanted something different that her ending feels so awful.

There’s nothing wrong with her finding a nice guy and settling down (and never having to worry about money again thanks to a certain lottery ticket) but the fact that it goes against Donna’s previous dreams makes it heartbreaking, and makes the wedding scene in The End of Time seem far more grim than it appears on the surface. Donna has come full circle, replacing the bad fiancé of her first story with a good one (according to her granddad, anyway), but losing her adventurous spirit.

Sylvia has less of a direct relationship with the Doctor as his “mother-in-law” or equivalent for most of Donna’s run, mostly saving up her antagonism for her actual daughter, though she does flap at him a bit by association. While Turn Left shows us Donna’s strength even without the Doctor around (something that makes her loss of memory and character growth even more sad later on), it’s only when the Doctor finally brings Donna home that Sylvia gets to have a proper confrontation with him.

And it’s absolutely fair that she should be not only furious, but fiercely determined to rid him from her daughter’s life once and for all – after all, he has himself told her that Donna will die if she recognises him. While Wilf is gutted at Donna’s loss of her adventures and her history, it’s Sylvia who protects the Donna she knows, the one who isn’t a hero, valuing her daughter’s life over anything else, and oddly it’s something that puts her entirely on the Doctor’s side.

It’s pretty clear that the Tenth Doctor, towards the end of his time, has become so embittered that he avoids any kind of domestic entanglements. He wouldn’t have checked in on Donna at all if Wilf hadn’t drawn him back, and has actively avoided taking on the commitment of a regular companion.

Still, this is still the Doctor who once tried to understand humans and their families, and in providing the lottery ticket for Donna with a pound borrowed (given) by her late father, he reveals that he’s not completely dense when it comes to understanding humanity. Sylvia, proud as she is, would have rejected anything that smacked of charity, but comes undone in the face of him using time travel to allow Donna’s dad to give her a wedding present.

It makes you wonder how often the Doctor is in fact faking it when he pretends to be so very alien.

When the Tenth Doctor regenerated, so did the production team making the show. And all of a sudden, domesticity in Doctor Who was about to look a lot less scary…

Domesticating the Doctor WILL RETURN in Domesticating the Doctor III: Marrying the Ponds

Framing and Writing The Companions

For my first post on Doctor Her, I would like to present a conundrum I’ve been mulling over on and off since watching the first series in 2005: what would it take to reconcile character motivations to get a different type of companion into the TARDIS?

There are some basic similarities in the basic characteristics of The Doctor’s companions over the run of New Who (2005-present): she is young, without clear purpose and unsure of herself. This presents us with a problem from a feminist perspective. Once is a character choice, when the pattern repeats it becomes more of a troubling trend, something that the writers should be trying to solve as the series continues.

Rose was nineteen when she left her job in a shop to jump into the TARDIS with Christopher Eccleson’s Doctor, leaving her Mum and Mickey for worlds and times unknown. As the audience, we accept this premise. The time after leaving high school, especially for those young people who choose not to go on to University, or cannot afford to is one fraught with uncertainty, a lack of purpose, and perhaps a nagging sense of something better waiting for us out there. As an audience, we can understand how Rose would choose to leave a dead end job and a (not too serious) boyfriend when such a unique opportunity presents itself.

Martha, a medical student, also leaves behind her family, but this time she also leaves behind her studies, her hard work towards being a doctor in her own right, for the chance to travel with David Tennant’s Doctor. Martha has more concerns with leaving her life behind for adventure, needs reassurance that she could be back to the same day or only lose a few days in the process of this adventure. It is the family drama she wants to escape from, the demands of siblings and being caught between her parents’ divorce. Martha eventually leaves and goes back to her studies, and we later on see her become what she set out to be, in episodes of Torchwood. As an audience we understand this decision, with Martha’s caveat of returning to the time when she left, not losing any time towards her goal, and later returning to what she set out to do.

Donna at first declines the Doctor’s invitation but later on, still working as a Temp, living with her mum and grandfather, she accepts when The Doctor waltzes into her life again. We accept this, as the audience. We can understand why a woman, who’s relationship has recently fallen apart (spectactularly and because of aliens), who is working a dead-end job, and unsure of what she wants to do with her life, would take the opportunity to see the world.

And then we have Amy. Before we met Amy, we saw photos of her in a police uniform. What an interesting take that would be, a policewoman who chooses to travel with The Doctor? We were excited, but were unsure of how the storytellers would work their way around this one. Then, when the episode aired we found out that Amy wasn’t a policewoman, instead she was a kissogram, the police uniform carrying not power with it, but fantasy. She leaves on the eve of her wedding night, unsure enough of her decision to risk it all to leave with the man in the Blue Box. With Amy though, we have a history. Her life has been building up to this moment. Young Amy waiting in the garden for the man in the Blue Box to come back for her, suitcase packed. Then again when she’s in her early twenties, working as a kissogram, Matt Smith’s Doctor barges into her life. So even though Amy is happy enough to be soon married, we have a background that leads up to her willingness to run away with The Doctor. 

Though their stories are all slightly different, the similarities are a troubling aspect of this type of storytelling. As writers, there has to be an explanation of this character’s motivation in leaving her (or sometimes his) life behind to travel in space. I would very much like to see a different type of companion to The Doctor. Someone sure of herself, established, less naive or easily persuaded. But how would she get into the TARDIS in the first place. Would we accept the premise of a companion with a career, a family, children? leaving everything to travel with The Doctor?

Another interesting moment to consider comes in series two, with the episode School Reunion, where Sarah Jane Smith gets her chance to return to the TARDIS. After the adventure of the episode, which takes place on Earth. The Doctor offers Sarah Jane the chance to travel with him again. She declines. She has a son, a life on Earth that she can’t leave. But I for one, can’t help but wonder how that would have played out, what it would be like to have someone established and comfortable with herself and her convictions travel with The Doctor.

So, my friends of Doctor Her (Doctor Hervians? Can we make this a thing?), what do you think? Is there a way we could accept a different kind of companion leaving her life and traveling in the TARDIS? As a storyteller, how would you reconcile this? I’m honestly curious, as it’s something I’ve puzzled over for a while now.

NuWho, poverty, and class: Or, the poor women are totally screwed

Kate’s great post on Rose Tyler reminded me of my own love affair with Rose. Rose gets a lot of flack in the fan community (mostly because she had the gall to be loved by the Doctor), but for me, she was revolutionary. I had never before seen a show that featured a working-class young woman as its heroine. When I was growing up poor, the best representation I got was Roseanne.

In Doctor Who, Rose’s background is never swept under the rug, or made the butt of a joke. Even when Cassandra calls her a “chav” in “New Earth,” the show doesn’t align us with her opinion. Cassandra making negative comments on Rose’s appearance after she jumped out of her own body, a trampoline of skin, appears almost laughable. Further, she has always been depicted in the show as a snob. She is, after all, Lady Cassandra. Her classist remarks come off as petty, not observant. And I loved this about the show. Rose was poor and a heroine. She was depicted as bright, adventurous, and badass.

Unfortunately, as I watched Russell T. Davies era end, I noticed a pattern in the stories and outcomes of the poor vs. privileged companions in NuWho. And that pattern was not nice to the poor companions.

Rose lives in government-subsidized housing. She has an entry-level retail job in “Rose” (2005), and no higher education to speak of. She is stuck in a dead-end job, with a dead-end boyfriend, and not a lot of prospects for the future. Then the Doctor comes along. With his infinitely-large house, the TARDIS; his unlimited possibilities for travel and adventure; and his obliviousness about money.

That last bit always got to me. I think that the Doctor thought it was charming of him, how he never understood money. But I couldn’t find it charming at all, any more charming than I find rich people in the U.S. who say things like, “But $500,000 isn’t even that much money!” Not having to think about money is a privilege the Doctor shares with the upper class in Rose’s world. Not bothering to think about money and the effect it has on this race he claims to care so much about? That felt pretty cruel to me, as I watched him travel with a companion who was poor.

So Rose is saved from a bleak future by a Daddy Warbucks with a time machine.

Compare this with the story of Martha Jones. Martha has her own problems, being stuck in the middle of her parents’ bickering after a nasty divorce. But Martha is also in a position of extreme privilege. Her family clearly has significantly more money that Rose’s, and Martha can even afford to live alone. She is going to medical school, and loans are never really mentioned, even when she jets off with a time traveler. (That would be my first concern: Am I going to have bill collectors on me by the time I get back?) Martha doesn’t have to be saved by the Doctor, but that’s not just because she’s older or more mature than Rose. It’s because she doesn’t have too much to be saved from.

Donna’s story, on the other hand, is very similar to Rose’s, only Rose is 19 and Donna is played by 42-year-old Catherine Tate. Donna is living in a multi-generational home, for financial reasons. (We can tell this in part because Donna’s mother seems very unhappy with Donna living in the house, but never seriously suggests she moves out, probably because she knows that’s a financial impossibility.) Donna’s career looks like what Rose’s probably would have been 30 years in the future; she works a series of dead-end temp jobs, without much hope of a “real” career. Donna is smart, but we don’t hear about her having a college education. Her best hope of a normal, middle-class life is getting married to someone better off than herself.

Is it any wonder that both Rose and Donna say they will stay with the Doctor forever? I’ve heard fans say that this is out of character for Donna, because she isn’t young and in love. But Donna has as little to look forward to in her working-class life as Rose does. Of course they both want to stay with the Doctor; he represents a life unburdened with thankless and unfulfilling work, living paycheck to paycheck. It’s not just adventure that companions get to look forward to, it’s a life in which money doesn’t matter.

Being poor and on food stamps myself, I can see why Rose and Donna would jump at the chance to stay forever.

Unfortunately, neither of them get to stay forever. While I understand that has to be a production decision, I railed as a viewer against what I would term the “classed outcomes” of the companions in NuWho. I can’t include Amy in this analysis, because her ending is still up in the air, so let’s look at the other companions’ outcomes.

For Rose, the privilege the Doctor carries offers her a “happily ever after” ending. Her father returns (sort of), she gets the lover and partner she wanted (sort of), and is returned to her world (sort of) with new-found family wealth and influence. I would argue those “sort of”s are important, however. Rose is still trapped in an alternate dimension. I don’t know if we can gloss over that quickly just because her mom and best friend are with her. She doesn’t even officially exist in this world, so how can she thrive there? Is she going to be able to go to college without a birth certificate or ID? Is she going to be able to work? Are we supposed to believe her father’s money will smooth all that over? And this universe was supposed to be a dystopia, and now we’re to believe everything’s fine and awesome for her?

Rose’s dad is not really her dad; this man never even fathered a child, and had completely different experiences than her real one would have had, if he had lived. And Rose’s Doctor is not the Doctor. He is supposed to be an improvement, a man who can make a real life with her, but last time I checked, Rose wasn’t hankering for a white picket fence and children. She won’t get to live in the TARDIS again, or have time-traveling adventures, or get to help save the world. And none of that was a choice made by her.

Donna’s fate is even worse. Donna forgets everything, and thus everything good that came from her experience with the Doctor–her growth and her friendship with him–is gone. She returns to her unhappy life and her temp jobs. She loses her zest for adventure. And in the end, the best we can hope for her is a happy marriage to someone richer than she.

Compare these fates to Martha’s. Martha returns to the security she always had. (I would argue that security is precisely why Martha can leave the Doctor, while Rose and Donna had to be forced out.) She gets her medical degree and has her choice of careers. She is in a position of power at UNIT when we see her again. And had she forgotten the Doctor, like Donna did? She still would have been fine. It would have been sad, but it wouldn’t have devastated her life. She would still have gotten her M.D. She would still have gotten a rewarding job. She still would have had her independence and security.

On one hand, I think that the fact that the poor companions get shafted in Doctor Who is the result of their being shafted in real life. How much can adventuring experience help you if you don’t already have the security of a good education and financial stability in real life? But on the other hand, Donna didn’t have to be the one to lose her memory. Rose didn’t have to be the one trapped in an alternate dimension. Martha didn’t have to be the one hired by UNIT. And yet.

For the Russell T. Davies era at least, the poor women are totally screwed.

Is Rose Tyler “fantastic” for our daughters?

 

The excitement in our household was palpable in the Spring of 2005 when Doctor Who returned to the BBC. My husband a life-long fan, me a fresh convert and our impressionable two-year old daughter—who we said had to watch it with us or go to bed. You always remember your first Doctor.  In the case of my daughter Christopher Eccleston came and went too quickly. Her Doctor will always be David Tennant, though she has embraced Matt Smith’s Time Lord incarnation. Rose Tyler will always be her first companion. And so I choose to place Rose first under my Feminist Fan Girl Icon Microscope because, like my daughter, Rose was my first companion.

Investigating the impact of Dr Who on the developing feminist consciousness of my daughters requires me to do some rather difficult things. I must first step outside of myself and re-connect with little Kate. I have to look at these female characters from a juvenile view point in order to truly assess the cultural communication taking place. I also need to place Dr Who in the context of other forces muscling in on this conversation, attempting to shape the characters of our children. All this I shall attempt whilst sticking to my previously established success criteria.

Does Rose embody a positive body image? I believe she does. She is not unreasonably skinny nor is she unattainably glamorous (excessive mascara notwithstanding). When I compare her with characters from the Disney Channel shows my daughters watch, Rose seems positively radical in her disregard for fashionable footwear and hair extensions. She does not appear interested in cultural standards of beauty, a fact emphasised on Rose’s first trip in the Tardis. At The End of the World, she meets Cassandra: “The Last Human”. “You’re not human,” says Rose to Cassandra. “You’ve had it all nipped and tucked and flattened till there’s nothing left. Anything human got chucked in the bin. You’re just skin, Cassandra. Lipstick and skin.” (The End of the World 2005) What a marvellously eloquent and witty comment, worthy of science fiction’s long tradition of exploring the extremes of human society in order to shine a laser beam on our foibles and follies. Even when enjoying the attentions of Captain Jack, The Doctor and Mickey, Rose never gives the impression her desirability is rooted in her body or in her ability to accessorise.

Does Rose use her intelligence and is she valued for it? First impression reports a negative on this issue. Rose is not a medic in training nor an accomplished reporter or a brilliant scientist. In the very first episode (Rose 2005) she loses her low status retail job and confesses to having no academic qualifications. However, her keen observation and deduction skills capture The Doctor’s attention right away.

Rose Tyler: Very clever, nice trick. Who were they then, students? Is this a student thing or what?
The Doctor: Why would they be students?
Rose Tyler: I dunno.
The Doctor: Well you said it, why students?
Rose Tyler: Cos… to get that many people dressed up and being silly… they gotta be students.
The Doctor: That makes sense. Well done!

Class plays an important role in determining the value of Rose’s intelligence. Marxist Feminist theory would say Rose has a high level of intelligence based on her relatively far out position in the concentric socio-political hierarchy since she is a working class woman of little education. She also possesses a great deal of emotional intelligence. Perhaps Nu Who has a theme of valuing alternative intelligence in its female characters, creating a dramatic balance to the Doctor’s supernaturally logical mind? While this is not the post for examining in detail the relationship between the Whopanions and the concept of Multiple Intelligence, it would be an intriguing topic to explore at some point.

But all this gets rather lost on the under-ten crowd.

To my daughters, Rose exemplifies a kind of homespun common sense intelligence throughout her travels with The Doctor, as does Donna’s character in Season Four. But is Rose truly valued for it? The honest answer is probably: Sometimes Sort Of. Obviously Rose is no Hermione Granger (the Feminist Fan Girl epitome of being valued for your intelligence), but she receives far more respect for her brain power than Lisa Simpson or Katniss Everdene. The Doctor himself vacillates between praising the alternative intellects of the women around him, while also making it clear that no one can possibly possess more wisdom and intelligence than the last timelord.

Does Rose sometimes “save the day”?  The answer to this is an unequivocal: Hell Yeah! From her first episode to her last, Rose’s stubborn courage saves the day over and over again—and she does not give up easily. She swings heroically on a rope, absorbs the heart of the Tardis, abandons her family to help save the world, convinces The Doctor to spare the life of a dying Dalek, infiltrates a Cyberman factory and risks everything to break through dimensions in order to save The Doctor and The World. She makes my childhood hero Princess Leia look like a bit of a wimp in comparison.

Does Rose show spunky independence? Again, the answer has to be: Yes. All Whopanions show a certain level of spunky independence. If they simply did as they were told, the program’s narrative would lose a great deal of its dramatic conflict.  Rose is no exception.  When did she ever just “stay in the car”?

Does Rose strive to stay true to her beliefs? In the beginning, Rose does not really appear to have any beliefs. She comes across as a Little Girl Lost—dissatisfied with her career prospects, disaffected with her education, disinterested in her relationships. One thing she does appear to believe at the start is the dignity of working class women. She converses freely with maintenance worker Raffalo in The End of the World. In The Unquiet Dead 2005 she even attempts an East End London Chav’s version of Consciousness Raising with Victorian servant girl Gwyneth. However, as Rose was likely absent the day her College Life Skills course addressed the topic of Respect, she handles Gwyneth in a way that clearly shows an ironic lack of appreciation for the servant girl’s own intelligence.

Gwyneth: Don’t I get a say, miss?
Rose Tyler: Well, yeah… look… you don’t understand what’s going on.
Gwyneth: You would say that, miss, because that’s very clear inside your head, that you think I’m stupid.
Rose Tyler: That’s not fair!
Gwyneth: It’s true, though. Things might be very different where you’re from, but here and now I know my own mind.

These early attachments to working class women have more to do with Rose’s need to connect with familiar circumstances and people in the mad world she has thrown herself into than with promoting social equality. What Rose truly believes in is The Doctor. The same can be said of most Whopanions. Does she stay true to this belief? Every single time.

In the end, Rose Tyler passes my Feminist Fan Girl Icon test. She may not be an adult fan’s idea of a feminist character but, where our daughters are concerned, she presents a positive image. It was not until later in life that I associated the changes in Princess Leia’s character with the cultural backlash against second wave feminism. As a little girl, I thought she was incredibly brave and powerful. Adult Me has cultivated serious righteous indignation at the desexualisation of Velma, but kid me loved the fact that a smart girl always solved the mystery. So it is with Rose. Flawed though she may be, I believe she is a feminist force for good among the under tens.

Doctor Who quotations courtesy of Doctor Who Reference Guide.