“Not if they’re blonde.” The story of Penny.

In the beginning (the beginning of S4, that is), there was Penny.

Penny was going to be the Doctor’s new companion, and she was about the first thing concerning S4 to come into focus in RTD’s mind. He writes about her with real affection and excitement, and some of the things he says are quite interesting.

“Thoughts I’ve had about Penny…..a bit older, maybe 30+, smarter, sassier. All of us loved CT and that sort of repartee with the Doctor….also, Penny is Northern {English Northern, that is, like Nine}. It’s my love of Northern, and my ability to write that speech pattern….Sheridan Smith? A younger Sarah Parish? That ability to really banter with the Doctor, to match him. And to love him, actually. Under all this is my need to write The Doctor in Love again. I think we’ve handled it exactly right for Series Three; he’d never fall in love with Martha, because he can’t just love the next woman to walk through the door after Rose. That would cheapen the whole thing. Martha’s unrequited love for the Doctor is beautiful. She deserves to grow out of that, so leaves, giving us a nice year-long bridge. Penny is walking into the Doctor’s life at just the right time. The first time that the Doctor sees Penny, it should be like – wham! Both hearts.”

Isn’t that interesting? It’s almost as if RTD seems the Doctor being in love as the Doctor’s default state – a gateway to his reading of the character is that emotional openness, a kind of innocence of the heart. I’ve a theory that RTD’s never really been at home writing sexually predatory Doctor. He struggled with it all through S3, which never felt as if it was really flowing in the right direction, except for the episodes where the Doctor’s longing and loneliness took centre stage – the HN/FoB two-parter for example, and parts of “Utopia” – which was, in a sense, back to the Doctor in Love template anyway, since it was filled with his unacknowledged love for Jack and their longing, together, for Rose, and Martha was on the outside of all that.

Certainly RTD knows a thing or two about flirting and he can write it – and boy, can Tennant act it – but it doesn’t feel of a piece with the Doctor’s charcter, at least not in RTD’s work. Moffett is clearly more comfortable with it. There’s something very sad about the Doctor as seducer in the RTD episodes – it’s as if he’s settling for second best. It’s interesting that RTD wrote Casanova in a similar vein – he loved serially, adored woman and sex, but beneath it all had one great love and was attentive to the emotional needs of all his lovers in a way unusual for the period he lived in.

RTD loves tragedy. He loves unrequited love, and it’s fascinating that the seduction of Martha at the end of S&J leads directly to that tragedy developing – a couple in love, but not with each other, both longing for the unattainable. And, rightly or wrongly, RTD saw that as beautiful.

Well, as we all know, Penny had to be killed off when CT showed an unexpected interest in reprising Donna. RTD knew that would work well for the show, but he killed off Penny with great regret – and I think that was because he knew he’d lost his chance to recreate the Doctor-in-Love dynamic.

He wrote to Benjamin Cook:

“….you must be the only person in the whole world who will miss Penny. No one else had that stuff described to them. I don’t like to flog it, because it sounds daft, but I really do miss her too. That lovely, lovely wistful scene of her walking past the TARDIS, late at night, in a city centre in the rain – I know I hadn’t done much with her, but that moment was crystallised perfectly. In a really strange corner of my mind, I believe that she sort of exists somewhere.”

Ben suggests: “Shall we light a candle for Penny?”

RTD typically replies, “You light a candle. I’ll light a cigarette.”

Anyone who writes knows that such images resurface in unexpected ways. We do get our TARDIS in the rain at the end of JE, but it’s not a beginning, it’s a sad and hollow ending, with the Doctor bidding farewell to every love he’s lost. Unconsciously, maybe, in the construction of that little scene, that list includes Penny.

One pleasure of the book is that RTD has a lesser-known string to his bow – he’s a brilliant cartoonist. He draws Penny quite a lot (smoking at one point, very unofficial) and she really does look like Rose. Same face, same hair. Same, some would say, funny mother. Penny’s mother was a very highly developed character in Russell’s mind by this point – Northern, funny and Lottery-winner posh. (That last point is revealing – it’s more or less where Jackie Tyler is post-Doomsday). Penny also had an alien-watching grandad who cheered for Penny when she boarded the TARDIS. The pivotal scene in “Turn Left” with mother and daughter in the car arguing was already very clear in RTD’s imagination, and was later adapted for Donna. The number of times he sketched Penny showed she was dear to his heart.

So, the effect of all this was that, for RTD at least, yet another blonde ghost hung over the TARDIS in S4. Later on he did a wonderful picture of his imagined finale; the Doctor and Rose standing before a sea of “every creature we’ve ever had, Krillitanes stomping, Slitheen farting, maybe even an Isolus flying past…” It’s the Shadow Proclamation, imagined by RTD unfettered by any financial constraint, and we see the Doctor and his companion from the back. Since the crowd includes the Nodes created by SM, this sketch must have taken shape well on into S4. But the companion by the Doctor’s side doesn’t look, to me, like Donna. It’s Rose, or possibly Penny.

Illustrations here: http://s144.photobucket.com/albums/r167/sensiblecat/?action=view&current=hellopenny.jpg
(Click "Next" for two more)

How much did this influence the way RTD wrote Donna, and particularly the way he wrote her out? I’ll return to that in another post.

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5 thoughts on ““Not if they’re blonde.” The story of Penny.

  1. Huh. It’s interesting that RTD’s default seems to be in creating a sort of love story between the Doctor and companion. Though I wonder if he would have eventually changed his mind about having yet another companion in love with the Doctor considering the great lengths he went to show that Donna Does Not See Him Like That. Did he decide on The Doctor In Love again before or after he knew BP was coming back? I’m thinking a story like that would have dramatically changed parts of S4.

  2. Did he decide on The Doctor In Love again before or after he knew BP was coming back?
    I was under the impression that RTD knew Billie was coming back the day she left – that they both lied to the public to keep that a secret. So I really don’t know where RTD would have gone with a “Doctor loves Penny” story, knowing the season would end with the return of Rose. I agree, that would have made for a very different S4, and a very, very different series finale!

  3. I wondered about that myself. I think the answer is that he’s a pretty instinctive writer who tends to deal with problems as they come up. My interpretation is no better than anyone else’s, but I think that emotionally he wanted to recreate the S2 feel of the Doctor in love with a companion who is, in many ways, similar to Rose. That could well have come up to bite him in the ass when he had to write the big finale. Some of his other decisions did.

  4. In principle they knew BP was returning, but they weren’t sure how many episodes they could get her for. They expected one, or two at most. In fact she agreed to four – whether we’ll see a fourth one is debatable, of course.

  5. I didn’t see your “click NEXT” on the illustrations…or read that part properly, maybe (:grin:), but now I have…and YES…that is Rose. And as I said before…not having even seen the shot of Penny in the rain with the cigarette…THAT is Rose when she comes back. The strap over her shoulder…the lonely attitude. This is why RTD saw his hearts squeezed…because in the deep recess of his mind…RTD knew. That all Rose needed was that time alone…to come into her full womanhood as the Doctor’s companion.
    That woman…doesn’t leave the TARDIS…or him. And HE doesn’t leave her behind. And THAT woman…is Rose Tyler. This is the thing…this is the core problem…RTD was trying to recreate what he’d already created, the Doctor’s true love.
    Rae

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