In re: The Doctor, and love.

One of the reasons I find it irksome when someone's main story arc is "desperately wants to make out with the Doctor" is that I have a long-running bone to pick with media in general about depicting romantic love as the only kind that counts.

Finding someone to love is excellent character development; it needs conversations, maybe some verbal sparring, glimpses into the armored bits and vulnerable places of the characters involved. It gives people motivation. It informs their decisions in a way that (ideally) furthers the plot. Deciding to have an intimate relationship with someone else explores matters of choice and experience and emotion and how they intertwine, and how blind circumstance can shape lives. Bonding with someone as a mentor, a surrogate sibling, a working partner, or a best friend is no less influential in this regard than bonding with someone as a lover.

But falling in love with someone is depicted as the sine qua non of character development, as if it inherently represents the peak of their personality evolution and interestingness, and it's all downhill from there. So much so that in many stories that are nominally about something else, the romance is forced into the limelight to make up for there being no particular reason for anything to be happening otherwise. Friends and family are relegated to 'not important' while people are debating whether to start snogging now or in the next episode. This is not to say I'm rejecting all love stories as overflowing with cooties -- I love a well-written romance. It's just that 'well-written' to me means it happens between two otherwise complete characters who meet and discover that they fit together very well, and I get to watch the feeling blossom in between all of the other scattered moments of their lives

I did believe the Doctor falling for Rose. I was twitchy at first, but it grew quite organically out of the reasons the two of them were otherwise hanging together as friends. The Doctor does take other people on as TARDIS crew for exactly the reason Eleven gave Amy: because the universe is much more joyful for him when he gets to see it reflected in someone else's eyes. (Amy takes this (correctly, I think) as a declaration of "You're special," but in human fashion also tries to read into it, "No one else is special like you," which is not actually what he's getting at, and her inability to bang that out of her head again is mostly what drives the parts of her plot that annoy me.) Rose comes along after he's been through some pretty horrific things, and has shut down out of survivor's guilt, convincing himself that being alone is his penance. She makes him change his mind. As a character, she does give him that reflected joy of being an adventuring wanderer -- but she also has a lot of personality traits that aren't 'hanging on the Doctor's every word', and the lengths she goes to in order to save him teach him the very important lesson that even though 'his people' are gone, his people are still around this funny old universe somewhere.

Romances in which the object of affection forces change from without make me yell at the TV. Romances in which the object of affection serves as motivation for someone to change from within -- those, you can do well. Rose, who knew little about what had happened to him, prompted him to realize that he could still catch happiness from other people. It's no surprise that when he died on her, he regenerated into a Doctor who was able to enjoy being himself again. He really didn't want to go.

The rest of this stuff, where the Doctor is such a huge and influential part of their lives that they for some reason fall head over heels for him because, has started to make the show feel kind of claustrophobic, which is a funny thing to say about a program which is routinely set on alien planets that can't even be realized without CGI. One of the things I like about the old series is that, though there are plot arcs from time to time, the serials do manage to stay largely unconnected. It gives you the sense that the Doctor really is just a wanderer in a much wider universe, dropping in on other people very much in media res. There are infinite people with infinite problems out there, and sometimes he can solve them when he trips over them. All of these things with River crossing his timestream all over the place and Amy fixating on him forever and Clara being whatever the hell Clara is, makes it seem like the entire universe is stalking the Doctor. He'll never break out and go somewhere new. It'll all just forever be falling in on his head, no matter where he is.

The universe does not actually revolve around the Doctor, no matter what the Sixth one says. I mean, I like the back-references to the classic series, and some of those involve legitimate established stalking -- the Master has always been obsessed with the Doctor, even though there are a kerjillion other Time Lords he could be swiping regenerations from, and the Daleks inherited their bitter hatred of him from Davros even before he tried to obliterate them. But this business about everyone being connected to everyone else is getting ridiculous. You might as well be reading X-Men.

All this focus on getting the Doctor paired off with his own ladyfriend (or ladfriend, if Jack has anything to say about it) also, I feel, presents an unflattering counterpoint to the relationships he used to have with his companions. He was quite exceedingly fond of most of them, and very broken up when he lost them -- was it really more difficult to leave Rose than the others, just because he also wanted to kiss her? Or was it because being with her was what finally made him feel less alone, and she will always be special for that? He is an alien; no one knows how he thinks of these things, mostly because he doesn't share. The only real cultural context for Time Lord society has been when he gets dragged back home to do something he doesn't want to; they do not appear to be an overly-affectionate culture, to say the least, and they definitely don't approve of his habit of picking up stray humanoids.

The Doctor is aware that most humans make a distinction between romantic and platonic, but there isn't a lot to say that he does -- only that he respects the fact that they do, and worries much about not intentionally breaking anyone's heart.

The new series Doctors will flirt where the old series ones wouldn't, which is mostly down to BBC policies at the time of production. The series was seen as a children's show, politically, long past any point where it actually was, and I know Peter Davison was specifically told he wasn't allowed to put an arm around any of the female companions, lest anyone think there was hanky-panky going on in the TARDIS. (He also notes rather dryly that he was allowed to put his arm around Adric, with a suggestion that they didn't quite think that through all the way.) They did eventually rescind that, but not without some arguments about blocking on the set. In the books and audios, which are reasonably well-sanctioned by whoever's handling all this at the Corporation now, they do occasionally play banter ping-pong in accordance with what you'd expect from their personalities. One is mostly too imperious, Two and Four are far too distracted to notice when people are trying it, but Three can be quite the grand gentleman, and the rest of them have found it either useful or amusing enough at various points. It's strongly implied that Eight has occasionally gone along with being bedded, although it's never his idea -- Benny managed it by giving him champagne, making it clear this was her idea of goodbye and thanks for the memories and also she was dying of curiosity, and then shoving him onto the bed.

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