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.