Monday, December 10, 2012

Doctor Who: A Murky Pond


The end of the 2012 portion of season 7 occurred two months ago. Ever since I've wanted to do a write-up on Amy Pond but I've been too busy with work to pull it off. Things aren't slowing down any, but I miss blogging to the degree that I'm going to write this post anyways. You'll get this post on Amy today, and at some point in the near future I'll write a comparison post or posts on Amy and Rory vs. Rose and Mickey.

As you can probably tell, I love Doctor Who. I'm a fan. I like almost everything I've seen. That doesn't mean that I'm not critical at the same time. I MUCH prefer the writing of Russel T. Davies over that of Steven Moffat. There are several reasons for that and I want to focus on one of them in this post. While writing strong episodes, Moffat struggles to develop his characters. In fact, I would say that Amy is neither believable nor, honestly, very interesting, or perhaps, better put, important.

At the start of season five I had high hopes. David Tennant and Russel T. Davies were gone, but the new Doctor seemed ok, and he had a gorgeous and flirty companion,[1] Amy Pond. Much like Rose Tyler, she was just a regular girl. And much like Rose she was conflicted over which of her boys she wanted.

Amy also brought two other things to the table. Unlike Rose and Martha Jones, travelling with the Doctor did not harden her. She upheld the value of life from her second episode (The Beast Below)[2] all the way through her end on the show (A Town Called Mercy).[3] The second thing that she brought was an unshakable faith in the Doctor. She adored him and knew he could always turn the worst situations around. And this is where things began to fall apart.

By far the worst episode in the history of the modern Doctor Who is The God Complex.[4] It's the clearest example of Moffat's biggest weakness as a writer. He loves brilliant ideas for episodes and he's going to implement them regardless of the violence they do to the character. In this episode, the Doctor and the Ponds end up in an unusual hotel. It's a hotel that seeks to create fear in its 'guests.' The beast who runs the hotel feeds on the faith of those trapped in it. Presumably, the invocation of fear will lead to clinging onto whatever one has faith in. For Amy, this is the Doctor. Even more than Rose did, Amy believes in the Doctor. Her steadfast belief in the raggedy man is brought up repeatedly throughout season five.[5] It forms the resolution to season five when her steadfast faith saves the Doctor when she brings him back to reality on her wedding day.[6] Nothing, not witnessing the future death of the Doctor nor the failure to rescue her child from the Silence (more on that shortly) can shake her faith in him. So, of course, the beast desires to feast on her faith in the Doctor, perhaps the greatest feast it will ever have.

So how does the Doctor save her from the Beast? He breaks her faith. Very easily, actually. The Doctor utters a monologue about how he really only brought Amy along to feed his vanity, because he wanted to be adored and that he led her to her death, more or less knowingly, because it's what always happens. Voila, Amy’s faith disappears and the threat is over. The Beast dies. Granted, there is some truth to those claims by the Doctor, particularly about him feeding his vanity, but I doubt that they would have the effect of shattering Amy's faith. Was she disillusioned slightly? Sure, but after this episode you see the continuation of faith in the Doctor, especially in the Pond Life shorts. Only one person can save Amy and Rory's marriage, the Doctor, which he in fact does, vindicating her faith. While waiting on the Doctor was a common theme in Amy's life, she never seemed to lose faith in her Doctor. Thus, while an interesting concept, this episode violates Amy's character. Amy wouldn't have lost her faith that easily, in less than a minute, just because of what the Doctor said. Her faith was too rich and too strong. She would have realized that he was only saying those things (however true they were) to save her once again. Moffat was using her and her faith as a device to advance a plot for a single episode while utterly disrespecting her character. This wasn't the only time that happened.

Season six centered on the Silence and their plan to kill the Doctor. In many respects it was a brilliant season, but there is (at least) one major problem that is never adequately resolved. The secondary focal point of season six is the search for Melody Pond, Amy and Rory’s child conceived in the Tardis, while the Tardis was in the Time Vortex. This post is running long, so I’ll cut the discussion somewhat short. In essence, outside of a single episode, A Good Man Goes to War, there is never more than a pretense of a search for the missing baby. And by the time the season ends the whole issue is dropped. Now there are two explanations for this, but I don’t find them ultimately satisfying. One could argue that Amy had virtually no conscious interaction with her child, therefore her bond is weak and finding her lost child doesn’t matter to her as much as it should. I find it hard to believe that this argument would hold even for the shallowest of characters. The second, and more interesting option, is that while Amy and Rory didn’t get to raise Melody, they did grow up with her.[7] Perhaps for a different couple this might be a satisfactory answer, but definitely not for this couple, whose marriage falls apart because of the inability to have children. The real explanation is that finding the child would have destroyed Moffat’s idea. He needed Melody Pond to turn out the way she did. It didn’t matter that he never tried (perhaps because he couldn’t) to even resolve the search for the missing child. While that would have concerned a real person, it didn’t matter to characters whose primary purpose was to advance a plot.

In the end, this is the strongest argument I have for why Moffat should not be the lead writer on Doctor Who. He has brilliant ideas, but his ideas run roughshod over his characters, and at times, major plot elements are left largely unresolved and are forgotten. Things that, in real life, would never be forgotten. That’s a problem because the whole point of Amy and Rory was that they were supposed to be real people, much like the companions under the writing of Russel T Davies. That’s not hyperbole. Davies was brilliant, fantastic.[8] I’m not expecting Moffat to rise to the levels of his genius. No matter how entertaining Moffat makes the show, I find his shortcomings unacceptable. I would like to see the show look in another direction.

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[1] I was originally going to include a discussion of Moffat’s portrayal of women but this post ended up being too long and that probably deserves its own post anyways.

[2] In The Beast Below, Amy stops the Doctor from an act of genocide by euthanasia. The Doctor was going to kill the last of the star whales to liberate it from the horrible life that the people of Great Britain had given it.

[3] In A Town Called Mercy, the Doctor was acting quite unmercifully in the name of mercy, ready to send the villain, the other alien doctor to his death. The Doctor did not want the innocent to die because of the mercy he showed to the guilty. Amy upbraided him for his hardness and inconsistency.

[4] I realize Moffat didn't write this episode but as the lead writer he did ok it. For the record, the worst under Davies was Love & Monsters, but that's just because it wasn't interesting.

[5] The one interesting part of this episode is how it juxtaposes Amy’s faith with religious faith. Moffat throughout is perhaps more explicit than Davies on the quasi-deity of the Doctor.

[6] A fascinating instance of believing something to be true making it true.

[7] I’m not even going to try to deal with the logical problems created here.

[8] I currently am watching classic season 16 and was thrilled to find the source of Eccleston’s and Tennant’s signature word in a single sentence in the closing scene of ‘The Pirate Planet.’ In the span of a year (I’m about 8-9 months into my Doctor Who fandom) I should be able to watch every episode that is available on Amazon. It’s a rewarding experience because I am able to connect classic and modern episodes more easily because it’s all so fresh. In January, assuming my work schedule frees up some to take some time off, I will do some comparative work on a classic episode that got a complete rewrite by Davies. Stay tuned.

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