On the real problem with the Doctor’s companions.
Binge watching a show like Doctor Who can be a very confusing experience for your body. Your system must be on emotional high alert for almost an entire month. There’s no time for you to process feelings or form healthy emotional bonds with characters on the show (This, by the way, is a myth for just about every show ever. No relationship formed with a TV show character can ever be considered “healthy”*). I’d still not quite gotten over Eccleston (
hipster authentic fans scream, “IT’S BEEN 9 YEARS!!”) and I didn’t feel like I’d quite warmed up to Matt Smith yet either ( hipster authentic fans taste tears mixed in with their custard and fish fingers).
Since Doctor Who is a show you can never fully catch up with (much like Law & Order and its myriad spin-offs), I decided to at least give it a go after Peter Capaldi was cast as the new Doctor. As fascinating as the various incarnations of the Doctor are, I’m personally always more fascinated by his companions. It turns out that the Doctor’s longest serving companion was actually a man – highlander Jamie McCrimmon, who, for some reason, I have imagined wearing a kilt on his adventures (I might never really know for sure, since the BBC taped over old episodes once it was done broadcasting them. Why, BBC? Were you running out of tape??)** Granted, this status of “longest serving” includes a brief interlude as a life-sized cardboard cut-out of himself, so there’s that to consider.
The men of the Whoverse are often at a disadvantage, because unlike with the women, the direct comparison with the Doctor always lands them in second place. They must be written as complacent, happy with their mundane lives, so that it seems plausible for more adventurous women to ditch them (if only temporarily) to spend extended periods of time away in a tiny time-traveling blue box. Frustratingly though, the writers very rarely offer enough back story to buy into any of these personality traits, whether it is the complacence, the lack of motivation or even cowardice in certain cases. The men who manage to break this mold tend to fall on the wrong side of moral ambiguity, often being too flamboyant or more stupid than brave, and fail to earn the Doctor’s seal of approval. Neither Mickey nor Rory, the two most prominent male companions of the modern era, don’t impress the Doctor at first. Viewing either man through this hard-to-please lens colors the opinion of the women they date, and only after proving their devotion at some super-species level are they considered worthy. Not that the women don’t have to display extraordinary courage and compassion on their own, it’s just that the Doctor (by proxy of the writers) tends to be more forgiving of their human failings.
It would be easy to say that writers have been more diligent in developing female companions than their male counterparts, but recent writing hasn’t been all that favorable towards them either. Clara Oswald still hasn’t progressed beyond her status as a “plot device” and the Doctor’s fascination with her (still) amounts to seeing her as a “human puzzle” rather than a well-rounded personality with something to contribute. River Song is the Doctor Who version of the quintessential Manic Pixie Dream Girl. She has been given character traits that allow writers to manipulate her to fit the plot requirements without any real justification. Why’d she do that? She’s a psychopath or she loves the Doctor OR she’s a psychopath who loves the Doctor and that explains everything! This will be a very unpopular opinion, but I’m certain if Alex Kingston weren’t playing her, it would be very hard to get behind the show makes her relationship with the Doctor to be. (She’s basically that terrible Twilight baby, who eats her way out of her mother’s womb and then the weirdo werewolf imprints on her.***)
With every regeneration comes an opportunity for the writers to reboot characters, remap some of the problematic corners they’ve written themselves into, or cut their losses and have companions disappear from history altogether (and everyone can conveniently forget they ever existed, audience included) It would be interesting to see if the writers have the confidence to let the Doctor travel solely with a male companion and manage to keep the audiences engrossed, or better yet, write a female Doctor with a male companion. I know I can’t be the only one looking forward to that.
- Sorry Clara; it’s not you, it’s the writing.
- I really wanted the Doctor and the Master to have at least one adventure together on the TARDIS. It’s not feasible as far as the plausibility of a longer symbiotic relationship between them is concerned, but a Christmas special could certainly be doable.
- Since the TARDIS is the Doctor’s real true love, is she jealous of River Song? Or does the fact that River knows how to drive her mean she has the TARDIS’ approval?
- We could all use some more River Song development in general. Did the Doctor have to marry River Song? Couldn’t he just have talked to her and kissed her without marrying her? Is River Song married to the Doctor or a robot? Is she immortal, a la Face of Boe?
- When I think of problematic writing w.r.t female companions, I’m always reminded of the time Donna’s biological clock began ticking and made her feel maternal about those fat babies. Sure, they were cute, but no way Donna wanted to raise one.
* There are support groups in the basement. Bring snacks.
** Clear indication, this is not a well-researched post, I’m not sure if BBC taped over his episodes or not (cue fandom outrage)
*** I mean c’mon, the parallels between the two series are too great to not be commented upon. Amusingly enough the Doctor is both Edward and Jacob (albeit different reincarnations).
Shazia is part bionic, part crazy (parts not mutually exclusive), and would be happy conversing solely in TV quotes, forever hopeful she’ll be one-upped in her obscure TV references. She blogs here and microblogs here.