The Bits In Between – or why the word ‘Mate’ still hurts.

(Do I need a warning for S5 extra scene spoilers? Consider youselves warned, then).

So, SM prefers to write his own fanfic, and the two little scenes between episodes that are leaking out of the S5 DVD set show him doing just that – giving us the character development many of us missed from S5.

What really intrigues me is that for the first time (unless you count ‘That wasn’t a very good day,’) re the Time War in The Beast Below, here we see the first sign that Eleven still feels a sense of loss towards a previous companion. And it isn’t Rose, but Donna. Shipper that I am (for D/R that is), this all helps to build up a credible narrative that by the time we reached S4 the Doctor had, in a significant sense, come to recognise his relationship with Rose as something atypical, part of his general desire to pass as human just after the events of the Time War. After he lost her, his alienness began to reassert itself, mostly in situations where he found it hard to stop himself resorting to arrogance and excessive violence. First the Rachnoss (where Donna restrained him), then the excessive despair and death wish when confronted by the Daleks for the first time since the events of Doomsday, then the disturbing coldness and rage of the end of FoB, the first few minutes of ‘Utopia’ with his disturbing rejection of Jack and finally (in S3) when the Master’s death clearly means so much more to him than the sacrifices of his human companions.

The wonderful thing about his relationship with Donna is that she seemed to be able to integrate those two sides of his identity, thus helping him to reinhabit his alien-ness in a healthy way. The first example of this was that lovely moment in PIC where he’s getting in a state and Donna says, calmly and softly, "What do you need, Doctor?" We saw the new dynamic in action in the wonderful Pompeii scene where she took joint responsibility for the decision he had to make, but also she had the insight to see that if he didn’t save someone he wouldn’t be able to live with himself. By the time they see Wilf again (in TPS) the Doctor is actually able to say, with an uncharacteristic honesty, "She looks after me," and we’ve already seen how much he fears losing her.

But really, that dynamic had been set up as early as TRB, when Donna had the wisdom to recognise that he needed someone to stop him. In the cafe scene with Wilf in EOT1, just before he breaks down, the Doctor begins a sentence when he reflects on the events of WoM:  "Something happened. I need…" I felt that the obvious words completing that statement, taking us right back to his first meeting with Donna, were, "…someone to stop me." Another deeply significant unfinished sentence summing up a companion’s role in his life, but only after he’s lost them. RTD was good at that, wasn’t he?

By the time we reach Midnight the Doctor is behaving very much as someone who isn’t human – not always the case with the Tenth Doctor. In fact, his alien attitudes here land him in a heap of trouble and nearly get him killed; they also show RTD’s increasingly pessimistic take on humanity in general. In JE, the Doctor actually splits himself into two people, one human (physically at least) and one not. But this isn’t a solution, because with nobody to temper his Time Lord identity, the Doctor is adrift. He’s already dangerously out-of-touch with himself, brittle and falsely cheery, in POTD, and it’s all downhill from there.

I suppose you could even claim that he fell for another ginger on the rebound…she just happened to be rather a high-profile one – Queen Elizabeth. It’s my personal canon that the two of them fathered Shakespeare and had him fostered out to a glovemaker in Stratford-upon-Avon. Explains why Will wasn’t fooled by the psychic paper, anyway.

Ten was pathologically bad at dealing with his emotions, but it was still very obvious that they were there. Eleven is much more buttoned up, avoidant in some very typical British male ways. He certainly doesn’t give off the waves of sexuality and flirtatiousness that we saw with Ten – flirting became his default setting when he wanted something (maybe he learned that from Jack?) By contrast, the thought of sexual intimacy freaks Eleven out – it’s a lot easier to imagine him, rather than Ten, embodying DT’s notorious remark, "No shagging in the TARDIS – that would just be weird." And I get the feeling that his aversion to getting romantically involved isn’t simply because he got his heart broken with Rose, but because he’s an asexual being – seems to me that Moff is very clearly reinstating that after the up-front romantic element of the RTD years. It might be that Amy’s going to turn out to be the Doctor’s daughter, and he’s avoiding the incest squick, but I think it’s likely that SM just sees the Doctor that way.

But with that word ‘mate’, with its significant double meaning, both sexual and emotional, we see something very unusual – that litlle flicker of pain that might well never go away. A chink in the armour that makes me hopeful for the future. And I’ve one further thought to throw out. I’m not gay, and I might get pulled apart for even suggesting this. But it strikes me as rather interesting that under RTD’s flamboyantly gay tenure, the Doctor was reconceived as an alien trying (and mostly failing, post-Rose at least) to pass as human – the outsider craving what he saw as normality. Sadly, in the end that line seemed to be resolved by the Doctor splitting himself and locking his aberrant, unacknowledged self away in an unreachable AU, where his doppelganger would be free to pursue the sexual relationship he couldn’t allow himself to acknowledge openly.

I’m not sure RTD even consciously realised what he was doing there. If he did, it’s really rather sad. In the end passing as human turned out to be a hugely painful cul-de-sac that almost destroyed the Doctor. It would work perfectly as a parable that coming out of the closet is the only way to be a complete, functioning individual, if we’d seen both halves of the Doctor do it rather than hanging around while the half that was left fell apart. Or if Donna had been around, to keep him company in the kind of asexual intimacy you’d expect a gay man to have with his best female friend. (It’s an interesting inversion of the usual situation, isn’t it, that the character who disappeared off-screen to have a heterosexual relationship appears as the deviant one in the metanarrative?)

With Moff, it’s back to business as usual – and the Doctor needs a mate. Not that sort of mate – a friend, and he still mourns the best one he ever had. Not that he intends to talk about it. At least he’s managed to hang onto a couple of companions for more than one series, and that suggests a healthier emotional future for him.

13 thoughts on “The Bits In Between – or why the word ‘Mate’ still hurts.

  1. River’s line of surprise/shock in “Silence in the Library” upon meeting Donna (words to the effect of “Oh my god, you’re Donna”) carries some not insignificant weight about Donna’s role in the Doctor’s emotional life.
    In one way, an out-of-the-box way, you can look at the line as foreshadowing about Donna’s great sacrifice at the end of the season. It’s RTD intended that, and Moffat acquiesced when he wrote the script.
    But, in an in-the-box way, that a River who didn’t really know the tenth Doctor would be awed by his companion but not be awed by a later companion (Amy) suggests strongly that Donna was the subject of some serious heartfelt conversation(s) between the Doctor and River at some point in their lives. Kind of like a guy who can’t stop talking about an ex- with the current girlfriend to the point where the current girlfriend feels like she’s competing for his heart.

  2. How true, and how ironic – that’s exactly where Martha was in S3. (Though I’ve a feeling River will handle it better).
    Moff’s been quite canny with River. He’s given the Doctor a love interest that effectively declares him off-limits to everyone else. By doing that, he’s allowed us to have our cake and eat it. The Doctor is asexual, or more correctly he appears not to do sex with humans, either by inclination or by choice (we can’t be certain River is human in any sense we’d define humanity right here in 2010 because her way of life is so far beyond everyday human experience). But, as I’ve argued before, River is shrouded in a highly erotic aura of mystery. She is the archetypal mistress, never around long enough in linear time for her to become completely predictable.

  3. Rose will always have been someone important to the Doctor. Recently (enough that I don’t think you’ve heard it before) I’ve come to say, I don’t ‘ship Doctor/Rose but the Doctor and Rose sure did.

  4. You make some very good points – as always. I’ve only had the chance to watch each scene once, and the second one has definitely created the more lasting impression. The thing that’s stuck with me is Eleven’s admission that everything is “just stuff” after you’ve lived as long as he has, and we get to see that his slightly nutty professor thing is as much a mask for him as the flirty, cheeky-chappie thing was for Ten.
    I definitely agree with in that it seems that the Doctor has told River about Donna somewhere along the way and judging by her reaction to Donna, it was clearly A Big Thing. My inner D/D shipper also likes the explanation about the ex- and the “rebound” ginger *g*
    He’s given the Doctor a love interest that effectively declares him off-limits to everyone else.
    *nods* I’ve thought that since seeing the Library episodes. Modern telly seems to demand some sort of romance for the central character(s) along the way, and Moff has – cleverlly, I have to admit – worked out how to have his cake (not have the Doctor falling for a companion) and eat it (having that romantic element AND write it with his own personal fantasy woman).
    It’s my personal canon that the two of them fathered Shakespeare and had him fostered out to a glovemaker in Stratford-upon-Avon. Explains why Will wasn’t fooled by the psychic paper, anyway.
    Bwahahahah! Awesome :-)

  5. I was struck by how Eleven’s default setting is lying, just blocking any personal questions. And he makes it quite obvious that he’s lying, whereas Ten relished his ability to take people in and fool them (another reason why he needed Donna, who wouldn’t tolerate that shit).
    Eleven blocks out all intimacy, and yet he does it in a way that doesn’t seem dysfunctional. I think it’s connected to Matt Smith’s uncanny ability to convey immense age – a gulf that nobody could cross. In a way, the very elderly inhabit a different planet. Every now and then they’ll say something that shows you how totally different the world they grew up in is to the one that we inhabit.
    It makes for rather flat viewing after the histrionics of RTD’s Who (two episodes of SJA were enough to remind me how exhausting it was!). But it does allow for some kind of resolution to take place. I still find that thinking too hard about Ten’s era, or even overdosing on the meta, can depress me for days on end. It’s the price you pay for that level of emotional investment, I suppose.

  6. I suppose that’s what couples do, isn’t it – falling in love with the narrative of their own romance? Making their own little world, their own reality? We saw that from the first moments of S2, where a simple outing to get chips had morphed retrospectively into “our first date.”
    And it’s the best explanation I’ve heard for the strange “How long are you going to stay with me?” scene.

  7. I miss Donna so much. While I (like you) am a D/R shipper, there is something so intensely right about the way the Doctor and Donna were together that I don’t think he’d get over it. He always expected to lose Rose and braced himself against that fact, holding always that little bit back from her. With Donna, he never did (or more properly, she never let him).

  8. As an Appendix to my PhD, perhaps? I wonder what the Shakespeare Institute would make of that! I think Greg Doran might sue me for tainting the Bard with popular culture.

  9. TRB remains my favourite episode. The two of them are so vulnerable, so heartbroken and so determined to put on a brave face, and then they’re thrown into intimacy in this crazy situation. If you’d asked me at the time whether I’d have bought into the Doctor moving on from Rose so soon, I would certainly have resisted the idea. But in retrospect, it’s a lovely acknowledgement that life does go on and we find new beginnings in the strangest places.
    I’ve never understood the Donna-hate in that episode. Yes, she’s stroppy and loud, but so could Ten be when he was struggling with emotional pain. And she shows the most remarkable sensitivity to him. The final scene of TRB is Russell at his very best, and CT and DT both step up to the plate magnificently.

  10. Donna was an abrasive character from the start, and I get why there was a negative reaction – IF you only consider the first five or ten minutes. Watch the whole episode, though, and it’s a different story.
    I am so glad that I got one of my wishes in that Donna came back as a full-time companion.

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