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Oh but I was so much older then, I’m Younger than that Now

I just read a beautifully written reunion fic, perfect in just about every way. Except that she goes home to her own world at the end, and it’s a happy ending. It works in the context of the story and it’s kept IC on both sides and certainly doesn’t come out of the blue. A good few people commented praising the writer for her honesty and I can certainly endorse that. It’s a great story. It’s just, I don’t feel happy after reading it.

I don’t have to feel happy after reading a story for it to be good, of course. I didn’t feel happy at the end of Hamlet or King Lear. I’m actually rather embarrassed that I crave an unrealistic happy ending on this one and it makes me wonder if I actually want honesty, whatever that may be, when I watch DW and read the fanfic.

I’m dealing with this one as a writer, too. I’m struggling with my latest. It could go all kinds of ways – OT3, Ten/Jack, Jack/Rose, conventional reunion, everyone moving on, happily or unhappily. Arguably, the Ten/Rose reunion is the least realistic option. I don’t worry about a story having fantastic elements so long as the characterisation is consistent – and yet there’s another issue here, consistency of tone. For me, the acid test is whether I can credibly see any post-S2 narrative as a continuation of Doomsday, remaining true to the tone and the values of that particular script.

I suppose I also look for a certain amount of wish-fulfilment. You see, as far as I’m concerned, DW is a modern myth, maybe even a reworking of older ones (Odysseus and Penelope?) And to me, myths are aspirational. They are larger, and somehow less complicated and messy, than real life. It’s not just a matter of fluff. A tragic myth is a powerful and wonderful thing. But at the core of DW there is something indefinably hopeful, something that kind of simplifies the issues. Does that make sense?

It’s enormous fun, as writers, to explore all the intricacies of whether Rose and Ten could make a go of it long-term, how you deal with the wither-and-die thing, and whether Jack could reasonably be expected ever to trust the Doctor again. But to me, those stories are in the realm of thought-experiments. The bottom line is that I want Ten and Rose back together because any other outcome would, for me, break faith with the essential optimism of the show, and the emotional catharsis of Doomsday. In short, I’m only prepared to accept that degree of pain as a viewer if I can trust that my emotional investment will not be (a) trivialised or (b) betrayed by a tragic ending.

I feel a bit worried when I listen to people like RTD going on about how much they love the Lonely Doctor image. It is very compelling, but I’ll feel cheated if the Doctor doesn’t sort himself out eventually and not by happily going back to a kind of sexless serial monogamy. I feel New Who opened up that Pandora’s box and now they owe it to us to reach the kind of conclusion that most people would find hopeful and uplifting. After all, if I wanted realism across the board, I wouldn’t be watching a show about an alien in a blue box. There’s a kind of cynicism that descends on a lot of people in their twenties, it seems to me. It’s as if we go through three stages – first, we believe everything we want to believe, then we believe nothing for a while, and then we return to a limited hopefulness. Because, face it, we really do need a bit of that in our narratives, particularly the more fantastic ones. I  need a story that leaves me uplifted and ready to face the bitch that RL can sometimes be, and if that means it isn’t completely honest, so be it.

After all, is East Enders completely honest. VOTD aired on Xmas night sandwiched between two drama and angst-filled episodes, and I haven’t yet come across anyone saying there was anything wrong in plumbing the unlikely depths of domestic and romantic misery on Christmas Day.

In one of the S3 commentaries, DT and JB point up the contrast between their reading of certain scenes and fandom’s. For example, they see Martha’s farewell to the Doctor as entirely positive. Another example – in a recent interview, JB is asked what Jack will be like in TW S2, and he says unequivocally that Jack’s sorted things out with the Doctor now, so he’ll be a changed man. That’s what I mean by simplicity. We fans can see all sorts of “realism” issues with both those readings – the Doctor and Jack still had loads of stuff to deal with, Martha’s exit sold her short, etc. But we aren’t making the show, and sometimes we overthink things. Myths, and TV storylines, arguably make a sort of pact with the viewer that a certain amount of emotional shorthand will go on.

Of course, that frustrates many of the fanfic writers and we need to be honest about where we come in – a lot of the time, we’re putting in the complexities they leave out, in the name of “realism.” As long as we all know the rules of the game, that’s fine. But it’s come as a surprise to me to realise that, because I tend to write a certain type of story, people expect me to. Is that a bad thing? I’m not going to whine about my artistic integrity being compromised, I’m just glad some people are enjoying my stuff. And I shall try to deal with them the way I hope the BBC will deal with me. Not automatically assuming a fluffy happy ending, but following through on what I’ve already done. If I’m smart enough, that is.

18 thoughts on “Oh but I was so much older then, I’m Younger than that Now

  1. I feel a bit worried when I listen to people like RTD going on about how much they love the Lonely Doctor image. It is very compelling, but I’ll feel cheated if the Doctor doesn’t sort himself out eventually and not by happily going back to a kind of sexless serial monogamy. I feel New Who opened up that Pandora’s box and now they owe it to us to reach the kind of conclusion that most people would find hopeful and uplifting. After all, if I wanted realism across the board, I wouldn’t be watching a show about an alien in a blue box. There’s a kind of cynicism that descends on a lot of people in their twenties, it seems to me. It’s as if we go through three stages – first, we believe everything we want to believe, then we believe nothing for a while, and then we return to a limited hopefulness. Because, face it, we really do need a bit of that in our narratives, particularly the more fantastic ones. I need a story that leaves me uplifted and ready to face the bitch that RL can sometimes be, and if that means it isn’t completely honest, so be it.
    YES YES YES YES.

  2. feel a bit worried when I listen to people like RTD going on about how much they love the Lonely Doctor image. It is very compelling, but I’ll feel cheated if the Doctor doesn’t sort himself out eventually and not by happily going back to a kind of sexless serial monogamy. I feel New Who opened up that Pandora’s box and now they owe it to us to reach the kind of conclusion that most people would find hopeful and uplifting.
    I get concerned as well, but we are talking about the same man who will concoct all sorts of pseudo-mystical nonsense to make sure he’s not killing a companion (Turning Astrid into an Isolus-type creature? Hello!). I do think the Lonely Doctor image can be compelling, but if the point of RTD’s tenure is to take his character on a hero’s journey, then at some point Odysseus has gotta come home to Penelope.
    What the next team does with the Doctor will be up to them, but I suspect that RTD will at least want to bring the Doctor to some sense of peace/acceptance with his unique status, versus abject misery.
    Another example – in a recent interview, JB is asked what Jack will be like in TW S2, and he says unequivocally that Jack’s sorted things out with the Doctor now, so he’ll be a changed man.
    I do think, from the level of these shows’ emotional complexity – not to mention Jack’s in particular – that that’s fairly realistic. Not necessarily that all is solved, but Jack’s had the confrontation he wanted, has seen the Doctor undergo far more/worse punishment than he probably ever contemplated even in his darkest moments, and knows Rose is alive. Is it everything? No. But is it enough for him to move on? Yep.
    Of course, that frustrates many of the fanfic writers and we need to be honest about where we come in – a lot of the time, we’re putting in the complexities they leave out, in the name of “realism.”
    Nowhere is that more true than in a lot of the AU/missing scene fics out there – more ink has been spent on trying to explain WTF was going on between TaC and RotC, for instance, than the Who production offices probably use on running all their script copies for a given episode.

  3. Sometimes, because of this same phenomenon that I have also seen in fanfiction, I feel as if I’m leaving something out or not doing the characters justice if I don’t add in all of this emotional complexity and such. Sometimes even things I know are good.
    In fact, I almost think emotional complexities are more interesting to explore one at a time. Because if stories were like life we’d go mad trying to keep up with them–or write them.
    We fans can see all sorts of “realism” issues with both those readings – the Doctor and Jack still had loads of stuff to deal with, Martha’s exit sold her short, etc.
    Also, isn’t “real life” just a little bit like this? (At least, as I see it.) We have all of these issues underneath the surface (because we’re real people) but they’re not necessarily a part of the narrative of our everyday life or our interactions with those people (excepting, of course, those people who happen to be extraordinarily good at holding a grudge).
    ‘Course, I haven’t hit my twenties yet, so I’m still in that whole believing what I would like to believe stage. :)

  4. n short, I’m only prepared to accept that degree of pain as a viewer if I can trust that my emotional investment will not be (a) trivialised or (b) betrayed by a tragic ending.
    Exactly right. It hurt. I need it to not be for nothing.

  5. I know exactly what you mean about wanting that (unrealistic) happy ending, the emotional payoff that leaves us uplifted and happy. I think for me it’s because I know I won’t get it on-screen that I want it in fic ;) I suspect I know which story you’re referencing in your first para, and that’s my reaction exactly: it left me unsatisfied because I didn’t get the happy ending.
    That’s not to say that I want the romantic hearts-and-flowers, stay-with-me-forever kind of fic – there are too many completely OOC reunion/happy-ever-after fics out there as it is. What I really like about your current fic and Tale of Two Doctors is that you’re taking a very realistic, hard look at events and people – even more so, as you say, than the series itself. All Jack’s issues with the Doctor sorted? No bloody way! Martha’s exit did her proud? Um… no. I like that you’re confronting these, making the Doctor realise that he treated Jack badly and so on.
    And yet… and yet. I want the happy ending and I want it OT3. Nah, I’ll take what I can get – and, actually, Jack/Rose (once she slaps him for shagging Astrid ;) ) with the Doctor as a friend who drops in from time to time I would consider a happy ending, just as Doctor/Rose or Doctor/Rose/Jack would be. For me, too, though, a happy ending doesn’t have to mean all tied up in a pretty bow with fluffy bunnies. There can be unresolved issues. There can be the shadow on the horizon of what happens when Rose gets older. There can be things they’re still not talking about – because that’s how people are. None of us have perfect lives, even when we’re with the love of our life and happy together.
    Anyway, be true to your story and your instincts and write the ending that feels right to you. I’ll feel free to grumble to myself and maybe smack the characters if it’s not the happy ending my reader heart wants, but it’s such a well-written story that unless you kill Rose or have her marry someone else in the parallel universe or have the Doctor dump her finally I’m still going to enjoy it :)

  6. (Here from the spdn, and because I’m an avid reader of your fic :D)
    What really bothers me about Who at times is where they choose to be realistic and where they don’t. The Doctor mourns for a year after losing Rose but Jack is all hunky-dory after being tortured for a year by the Master? It feels a bit too contrived to me, at times.
    I feel a bit worried when I listen to people like RTD going on about how much they love the Lonely Doctor image. It is very compelling, but I’ll feel cheated if the Doctor doesn’t sort himself out eventually and not by happily going back to a kind of sexless serial monogamy. I feel New Who opened up that Pandora’s box and now they owe it to us to reach the kind of conclusion that most people would find hopeful and uplifting.
    I agree with this. I don’t think they necessarily “owe” it to us, but it would make dramatic sense and I would prefer it.

  7. (got here via )
    In short, I’m only prepared to accept that degree of pain as a viewer if I can trust that my emotional investment will not be (a) trivialised or (b) betrayed by a tragic ending.
    Exactly! I’ve seen people who are worried about the spoilers say that they don’t necessarily want Rose back because they don’t want the angst of Doomsday to be ruined by a happy ending. But I feel like you do – Doomsday really fucking hurt, and if there isn’t payoff for that pain, then what’s it worth? Without more resolution than an unfinished sentence on a lonely beach, the Doctor/Rose story ends in tragedy, and that is pretty much the opposite of what they were about.
    I have a tendency as a writer (and as a reader, for that matter) to want to stick with either pure fluff or ending-with-fluff. All the fic I’ve written for this fandom has either been pre-Doomsday or reunion!fic. If you’re referring to the fic I think you are, then my reaction to it was basically along the lines of an internet macro: “REUNION FIC: YOU’RE DOING IT WRONG!”
    (Also, I personally believe that no matter what happens to Rose in Pete’s World, it will always be out of character for her to choose not to stay with the Doctor given the chance. Except maybe if she had kids who were still school-age or younger. Other than that? Pfft. She made her choice a long time ago.)
    As it is the thing that worries me most about season four is that if Billie’s really only back for a small handful of episodes, I have to be scared that in an effort to leave it open for her to come back again, they won’t give the Doctor and Rose the proper sort of closure that they deserve.

  8. Well, I can’t get inside Billie’s head, but I suspect that she’ll be likely to move on from DW completely once DT goes – to rebuild a relationship with yet another Doctor would look very permanent, and I can’t imagine she’d want that.
    There are some tragic endings that leave you with a sense of closure – the very similar fate of Will and Lyra in HDM for example. I bawled at it, but both knew it was coming, made that decision with their eyes open, and had a proper opportunity to say goodbye. But S2 was so much about denial and avoidance, and there was something about their characters that screamed WIP to me.

  9. Oh, absolutely. If I read one more TGIF fic it’ll have to be very good to impress me. I think throughout DW, both classic and NuWho, fan writers have taken on the challenge of pulling very conflicting views on the character of the Doctor together and trying to reconcile them into a coherent whole. But unless the same team wrote, produced and directed every episode, those tensions would always be there. Time Crash, for example, was a joy, but bore absolutely no relationship to whatever place the Doctor was in post-LOTTL or pre-VOTD.

  10. I had the same feeling about Jack in LOTTL, but from the TV producer’s POV there are lots of kids watching, and it’s easier to show the emotional fallout from a broken heart than the trauma following prolonged torture. Also, TW exists as a more adult place to explore some of those issues with Jack. We know we actually get to see his return to the team in TW2/E1, and it’ll be interesting to see how that gets handled. It looks as if the rogue Time Agent we’ve been promised could be a similar dark mirror for Jack.

  11. I don’t have a moral or aesthetic problem with OT3 at all. In fact in many ways it’s the natural place for the characters to go if they’re ever going to fulfil the potential of the relationship. I just suspect I wouldn’t write it very well, since I’m inhibited enough just about writing straight, conventional sex!
    I love writing the story that starts with the “happy ending” – the one about learning to live together and make it work. Probably that comes from a long and occasionally difficult married life.
    I wouldn’t say no to hearts and flowers on TV though. Or, more probably, real snow and snogging.

  12. Yep. My biggest fear is that they could be seduced by Tennant’s wonderful talent for playing the tragic hero. Save it for Stratford on Avon, please!

  13. Well, any narrative involving people tends to go through a simplifying filter, doesn’t it? Otherwise every TV show would be like an endless Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and that wouldn’t do well as an Xmas special. But fanfic is an interesting exercise, because it arguably exists to remove that organising filter and put back the little nuances.
    I think the clever thing about DW is that, with the occasional slip-up, they generally keep it coherent on both levels. The narrative satisfies as escapism, but we know there’s so much more.
    And that’s what bothered me a little about VOTD, which I confidently predict is an unofficial movie pitch. The Doctor walking through the flames, Die Hard style, is picking up a cinematic shorthand that I don’t think quite suits him. I enjoyed the show, but I much preferred the spikiness and character development of the Ten/Donna interactions, with the Doctor’s heroic actions shot through with the complexities of his grief. It was dark, but it had heart and, at times, even humour. I’m not convinced you could say that about LOTTL.

  14. I feel compelled to make an icon that says ‘sexless serial monogamist.’
    I write fanfic for the character interactions and development rather than for plot. A story only has a plot twist once, and it’s the quality of writing and presentation of the characters that makes people want to read it again. I like watching TRB again because of how the Doctor reacts to things in his grief, but moves through it; the spider plot is secondary. The Doctor in LOTTL has shut himself off again, for his trauma’s no longer just a part of his past (he opens up to Martha in Gridlock, but in the next episode the Daleks are back in his present and he shuts her out); the reset button plot is cheap and almost forgettable.
    I think Doctor Who inspires me, partly for its optimism and partly for the emotional/character development gaps my Muse wants to fill. LOTTL tells us that a lot can change in a year. For a Ten/Rose reunion, we have to think what’s changed between them. Having lived a fantastic life, does Rose really still want to be with the Doctor when her short life will cause him so much grief? I suppose I don’t mind how things end up, as long as it’s true to the narrative. According to RTD, Doctor Who is about human hope, but with respect to the shows format of this restless wanderer who’s lifestyle perpetuates itself. Rose certainly hasn’t been forgotten by the Doctor, but does he want closure beyond the beach in Norway?
    On a cheeky note, can I have a link to the story that inspired this entry, please?

  15. My biggest fear is that they could be seduced by Tennant’s wonderful talent for playing the tragic hero.
    *sighs*
    Yes, indeedy; hopefully, though, that will not mean we end up with another resolution as heart-rending as Doomsday turned out to be.

  16. I hope you don’t mind me responding at such a late date; you got me thinking!
    I feel a bit worried when I listen to people like RTD going on about how much they love the Lonely Doctor image. It is very compelling, but I’ll feel cheated if the Doctor doesn’t sort himself out eventually and not by happily going back to a kind of sexless serial monogamy. I feel New Who opened up that Pandora’s box and now they owe it to us to reach the kind of conclusion that most people would find hopeful and uplifting.
    I agree and disagree. I’m among those that finds the Lonely Doctor to be incredibly compelling, but I he needs to get himself sorted out. Where I’m not quite with you is on the reunion stuff. I know there are both good and bad reunion!fics out there; it’s just not really my cuppa. I like Who for its uplifting qualities, its fundamental hopefulness–but my hope is that those can be fulfilled in a way that’s, well, not involving splitting the universe apart to get Rose and the Doctor back together. Or getting the Doctor and Rose back together, period.
    That ship has sailed. I didn’t reach a full-fledged obsession with New Who (haven’t seen Classic Who, just so you know where I’m coming from) until S3. I enjoyed S1, loved S2, and then S3 got in my brain and just wouldn’t get out. So much of that I attribute to the working through of the Doctor’s grief and how all that informs his relationships with Martha, Jack and the Master. And to address some of the comments above re: the Doctor mourns for a year for Rose, I read his grief over her to be related to his grief over everything he lost in the Time War. In some ways I think it’s less about Rose herself than it is about having his aloneness in the universe driven home in a very real way. Nine was in a totally different place re: the Time War. He was much more of a stoic about it, much more prickly, even a little bit cruel. (Let’s face it: it was incredibly callous of him to bring Rose to see her planet blown up on her first trip out.) Ten has his darkness, and his edge, but he’s grieving for what he’s lost in a much different way. He made himself vulnerable with Rose that he wasn’t before, which made it that much more painful to lose her.
    Hmmm I’ve rambled on and lost the thread of what I was saying. Which was, I think, that I want to see Ten’s issues resolved, but I want to see *him* resolve them. I agree that we go to shows like this because they aren’t realistic–but I think we also go to them because they help us see ourselves. I suppose I’m unsatisfied with Doomsday fixits because they frequently propose that, well, everything would be fixed if the Doctor could just get Rose back, and I don’t think that’s true. Certainly not at this juncture, canon-wise. But also because no one else can ever fix your problems, and, as I noted above, I think the depth of Ten’s grief is only partly to do with Rose.
    Lastly, this should in no way be taken as a criticism of you for writing reunion!fic, which I would actually quite like to check out, but won’t have time for a week or two. I hope you won’t mind if I friend you in the meantime. The quality of your meta here bodes well. :) Thanks again for stopping by and, erm, sorry I rambled on for such a long time.

  17. Thanks for such a thoughtful review.
    I think the problem I have with the general argument that the Rose ship has sailed is that they just didn’t write S3 that way. It seemed to hammer us over the head with it at regular intervals. By the end of it, we saw a Doctor who was less capable of sustaining a meaningful relationship with anybody than ever. The two people who could have helped him chose to give up on him, in Time Crash he seemed to be on the brink of a breakdown and in VOTD he was still, apparently, chasing the nearest blonde as distraction therapy. If the intention was to have him working through his general issues with grief and the past, it was a terribly bleak picture.
    I would love to have seen him start working through a healing process with Martha, and after Gridlock I had high hopes. I think that would have been a truly uplifting story. I think my main problem with the end of S3 wasn’t the lack of Rose, it was the lack of hope. I could live quite happily with him never seeing Rose again if there was any real evidence that he was moving on and healing. But it seems to me that the people who make the show are actively encouraging us to see reunion, or at least closure, of that relationship, as the only happy outcome for him.
    As far as my own fic goes, I tend to take a very realistic view of the D/R relationship. I don’t see it as the answer to everything, more as the start of a load of interesting new questions. If Rose has changed and matured, then the next series could be very interesting. My Rose continually challenges him – about Jack, about his moral decisions in S3, about whether he could ever really settle down and open up with anyone.
    I wrote quite a bit of Martha fic as well, because I do like her, but I got a bit of a rough ride from certain fans who could only handle me as a D/R shipper. But anyway, it’s there on catsfiction if you ever fancy checking it out.
    Thanks again and please do friend me – sensiblecat for my ramblings in general and catsfiction for my stories. Nice to hear from you.

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