Beds and Wardrobes (2/2) Meta (contains spoilers up to TBB)

Part One – The Age of Not Believing

Maybe what the Doctor tells me

Isn’t altogether true
But I love every tale he tells me
I don’t know any better ones – do you?

(Leslie Bricusse – from “Doctor Dolittle”)

Every time I think about Jack and Rose’s first meeting it reminds me of Disney’s Peter Pan. You know, the bit where they fly around Big Ben? Moffat’s an old softie really – he loves that stuff. Rusty put the cheese up there on the screen. With Moffat it’s still there, but it’s out of sight, shaping our responses. I grew up with Disney’s London – Peter Pan, Mary Poppins and all that. I knew it better than the real place. And there it is in TEC/TDD, unashamedly romanticised.

I suspect Moff saw a lot of Disney movies as a kid. Seen the Vampires In Venice trailer – that mirror? Pure Snow White. Ditto, the apple. Peter Pan we’ve already discussed. Amy’s bed is straight out of Bedknobs and Broomsticks, and just in case we miss the point we see it festooned with fairy lights. Here she is on her last day of childhood – Wendy about to grow up. It’s now or never, Doctor. Luckily, he steps up to the plate.

A dream is a wish your heart makes

            When you’re fast asleep.

            In dreams, you lose all your heartaches,

            Whatever you wish for, you keep.

Geeks tend to be lonely people – and a lot of DW fans started out that way –too bright to fit in, a step out of line in the dance of social interaction. I can imagine the Doctor being one such kid himself and I might write the conversation he has about it with Amy sometime. And before geeks there were similar people, rather odd and rarely good at games, who wrote children’s books. Lewis Carroll, Robert Louis Stevenson, Kenneth Graheme …some were very odd indeed, but that’s another story. Then there were all the books with lonely, thoughtful children in them – kids, again, who didn’t quite fit in, because if they did they’d be out there in the fresh air.

Amy references all those little boys and girls. She lives in one of those odd, parentless households that tend to make adults think nervously of calling Social Services these days, but used to be essential to the plot of any half-decent adventure.

Amy’s first encounter with the TARDIS is suffused with the sort of innocent joy that attends the first big musical number of a Sixties family blockbuster:

My friend the Doctor says
            The stars are made of lemon drops…

Hands up if you remember those movies? Before the age of DVD, or even VHS, the family gathered to watch them on Christmas Day. They were an event.

People have asked, reasonably, how could Amy know that the Doctor’s very old? She knows because Moffat’s watched those movies. Back then in the 60s, children’s guides to the realms of imagination were steampunk eccentrics closer to your grandparents’ age than your boyfriend’s. They wore top hats and frock coats, they carried canes, and their cottage homes were filled with Heath-Robinson type inventions. Most were gentlemen with a private income who muddled through without having to do anything tedious like earning a living. The Hartnell Doctor was firmly in that tradition. These were the days before Willy Wonka looked like Michael Jackson, or people worried about the local weirdo offering the kiddies sweets. Everyone existed in idyllic English countryside in a perpetual pre-1914 summer. 

One by-product of having kids is that you recall your own childhood entertainments and feel a connection to them even as you realise how different things are now. For my generation that means Disney, Shepperton Studios and Tommy Steele warbling Half a Sixpence, all mixed up with Blue Peter and, of course, Doctor Who. It has its limitations, of course, as a cultural model for the 21st Century. How many black people did you see in those movies other than the inhabitants of exotic faraway places? For all the recent colour-blind casting, scratch Doctor Who and you find a nostalgic throwback to late-Victorian colonialism. It’ll be intriguing to see how Stephen Moffat will deal with that, because deal with it he must, sooner or later. 

Another big reference for classic Who was the Second World War narrative – the Daleks as Nazis stomping over London Bridge and so on.  I was intrigued to find that Bedknobs and Broomsticks actually shows us kids and fantasy winning WW2. Here’s Wiki on The Age of Not Believing:

            The song works on two levels, both on the microcosmic, personal level and also thematically for the whole film. For it is an insecure, adolescent Britain, entering into a new, more rational age who must learn to borrow from its own past magic in order to overcome the tremendous challenge which is before it. When the characters in the film finally learn to trust in Eglantine’s magic they are able to achieve their goals and Britain is saved from the Nazis.

So we’re back to pixie dust, and to Eleven showing Amy the magic apple and saying, “Trust me.” He’s in charge, he knows what to do and he’s emotionally opaque. You wouldn’t want your granddad breaking down and talking about the things he saw in the war. We don’t see Eleven’s inner conflict; it’s terra incognita and we can’t even be 100% sure it exists. Shut up, Amy, and do as you’re told.  I don’t want to hear your excuses. That moment in TBB took me right back to the Headmaster’s study and it was an absolute shock. I could almost feel Amy choking back the indignant tears.

The way that Amy saved the day, naturally, was all to do with children. The Doctor Dolittle figure exhorts us to see the universe with the eyes of a child, to believe in magic even when everybody over twenty is behaving like The Grinch or Shrek before he met Fiona. The dynamic between them is essentially paternal – that was definitely not a romantic hug and very little was said on either side.

RTD eviscerated the Doctor and put his pain out there for us all to see – we ached to comfort him, but even at one of his darkest moments a fairy princess in a wedding dress turned up to make him smile again. But the only place that Doctor could go, ultimately, was back through the wardrobe into life as a human. The Doctor couldn’t continue to do what he does if he thought about it too deeply and the story of him thinking about it was the one RTD enjoyed telling. The only alternative is to have humanity start to grow up and try to take over the Doctor’s role in-house, and CoE showed us that such a move would make riveting drama but take us far beyond the territory of a family show.

Does Eleven resent Amy a little bit? It’s a fair bet. Peter Pan resented Wendy – he was foul to her at times, utterly scathing of her motherly attempts to look after him. And of course, any companion who goes too far along that road finds herself in direct competition with the TARDIS. The TARDIS is like the invisible housekeeper in Dr Dolittle’s cottage. Amy might fancy herself as a bit of a Truly Scrumptious but she’s likely to get left in a parallel world if she pushes it:

            My life now has a plan

To someday make him see

That I need him as much as he needs me

Oh what a love

Oh what a lovely lonely man…

(R SHERMAN – from ‘Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’)


That’s quite enough of that. It’s the posh travelling life for me.

It remains to be seen whether Moff can sustain the Mary Poppins view of Doctor Who if  we journey into darker territory. He may sidestep it altogether, or he may deal with the darkness briskly and with a minimum of fuss. (Tennant’s last recorded words in character were “Spit-Spot, come along!” – a portent of things to come?) But for now, there’s very much a feeling of getting back to business as usual, with Nine and Ten securely tucked away in a pocket universe where the moon, most definitely, isn’t made of cheese. It was RTD’s idea to open Pandora’s box and, knowing RTD, he probably did it on a whim and didn’t think about where it would end up. Moffat knows that you can’t tell the kids everything and that it’s wrong to expect them to make the moral choices that even adults struggle with. Take the Doctor’s hand as you fly through space and don’t ask him too many questions. Amy’s task as companion is to reject adult responsibility and remind him, every now and then, that a little pixie dust works miracles.

Of course, it’s all baloney, but that doesn’t make it unemotional. If it was, nobody would ever choke up at the first notes of When You Wish Upon a Star. The kids just go with the flow and look forward to the monsters, and the adults are tapping into the childhood they remember. Make the Doctor sexy and tortured and the whole thing falls apart. You have to feel safe, and Amy does feel safe with the Doctor. In fact, he seems a much safer bet than growing up and getting married.

And what melts the heart of a very old, sad man? A simple hug from a child, a smile and the glimmer of hope in her eyes. The sentimentality flows two ways. Amy knows her place in the story, so she knows the Doctor’s very old. Just like we know Father Christmas is.
















18 thoughts on “Beds and Wardrobes (2/2) Meta (contains spoilers up to TBB)

  1. I’ve been watching the beginning and the end of Eleventh Hour repeatedly and the more I see them, the more I find them gut-wrenching. Something I haven’t seen many people point out is that Karen’s acting has been very important so far; while Matt’s doctor seems to be more restrained than Tennant’s (which is not very hard considering what you said regarding Tennant’s expressiveness), in these two first couple of episodes Amy seems to be a much more expressive companion than either Rose (who always tried very hard to appear self-assured) or Martha (who knew her love was not corresponded and chose to hide it away to avoid being hurt), and much more emotionally connected to the Doctor than Donna. More than any companion before, she truly is herself only when she’s with The Doctor. The amazement she shows when entering the TARDIS, you just can see in Karen’s face this is what she had been waiting for through all her childhood and her teenage years. But then again she’s only human and after being left behind so many times in the past, she has to switch back to her Donna-like defensive mode because she can’t help expecting the Doctor’s going to fade away into the future again any time soon; after all, that’s what he always did to her. And in episode 2 there’s the “gotcha” moment, to the man that had grown to mean so much to her in the past, only to run away every single time they met. Don’t think of the Doctor as one of your exes: just like you said, this time the Doctor’s a sort of grandfather.
    RTD wrote the Doctor’s story as our story: our losses, our loves, our loneliness and our need for company. With Moffat, we are Amy: she is our longing, our dreams, our heartbreak for every broken promise we have been made; and our hope that some day we will meet somebody who will keep every promise made, just like a grandfather would do. Of course, most of us grownups do not have grandfathers anymore; the great thing in Doctor Who Series 5 so far, is that it’s daring us to remember how having a grandfather used to feel like.

  2. Absolutely. She is very good, and perfect for the role. I had no problem at all believing that the little girl we saw would grow up into Amy, and her quiet determination as she sat and waited in her woolly hat was a memorable image.
    Interesting that Amy says “Gotcha,” but Rose told Nine at the same stage, “You’ve got me.”

  3. But this is breaking my heart. I had very similar feelings to you near the end of the RTD /Tennant era that although the suffering Doctor was the one who twanged my bones, it would not be credible after a while that he could continue on like this, especially with a smile; and having established Rose as the OTP, it seemed impossible to reset to a place where the Time War and all that would not hurt quite so much. (What if somehow Gallifrey could have stayed, sans Rassillon but with, perhaps, the ordinary “good-ish” Time Lords? I’d like to have seen that alternate world.
    The bit I hadn’t thought through which you seem to have, more fully, is that the only way for Who to proceed is to turn back into a tradirional kid’s show, with a hero we don;t suffer with, don’t really know intimately (in as you say te best traditions of kid’s lit. But hang on; in kids lit, paternal charactes are mostly ABSENT – as uyou say – so the kids can have unreasonable adventures – everything from Narnia to every orphan and boarding school book (which I adored.) Grandfathers are indeed there – just as in Narnia – but are a sorce of counsel, like Merlin – not heros. How can Who become this kind of story again and still have the Doctor at its centre, if he is to be grsndparent or uncle, not child?? Tho i agree with you that the Amy/Eleven hug was definitely avuncular, if not grandfatherly.
    Whatever, this discussion is so good it is making me feel i’ve even lost more with Ten than i felt I had already. Ten’s emotional translucency vs Eleven’s emotional opacity – exactly. And I find emotionally opaque people scarey – I am very WYSIWYG. Hmm, This may enhance my fear factor with Who but not my pleasure.Therapy may need to follow in fact:)
    Incidetally your writing is really superb; having done a PhD supervision today (with me the supervisor i wish my student took as much from comments as you did from yours – I can see where you have picked out points from last time’s response,critiqued them and integrated them. Bravo!
    Final thought : so given Tennant’s emotional translucency but Moffat’s old school Brit opacity, how do you think series 31 would have played if Tennant,as he so nearly did, had stayed on for a year with Moff??

  4. Been re-watching some of Eleventh Hour (my one year old daughter loves it, at least the scenes she’s allowed to see, which are the non-scary ones) and her acting is so spot-on the second time Amy sees the Tardis leaving; lump in the throat, indeed.
    I’ve also just re-watched the ending of The End of the World, and there is another interesting coincidence. There’s the scene you mention where the Doctor and Rose, back in the present, get out of the Tardis and stand in the middle of a walkway, and he explains her his story and his motivations. And do you know what’s the first sound that’s heard the moment they open the Tardis? The sound of a baby, crying.

  5. I think the difference between parents and grandparents is key. Parents have to take day-to-day responsibility for kids but grandparents are freer to be more indulgent. They have more time, more perspective and may well live in places more attractive to a child (the seaside, for example). So it is quite possible to return the Doctor to his original Grandfather role, as he was way back in ‘An Unearthly Child’. But he can’t be sexually involved with the companion at the same time, of course.
    Thanks for the compliment on my writing. I wish I found my MA essays on Shakespeare came as easily. Interesting how many academics are into this show, isn’t it?
    Re your last question – I just dunno. I think we have to wait and see how the story with Eleven and River Song pans out. I did wonder if one of the reasons DT finally turned down S5 was because he felt, artistically, it was better to be ‘faithful’ to the relationship with Rose that defined his tenure. If so, I salute him for it.
    Of course, the cynics say he left because the BBC couldn’t pay him more. Take your pick.

  6. I believe just what he said; fear of type casting, leave at height of success, move on to new challenges. He doesn’t strike me as remotely driven by $$$ from all his interviews. I do believe he’d have been terribly conflicted about wanting to stay to work with SM – they’re both from Paisley for heave;s sake! (Plus frankly I think Beeb would have paid anything – this is their biggest worldwide cash cow.)

  7. No, the BBC (which is Government funded, mostly) has been compelled to put a strict cap on star salaries – I think he got £1m for S4 and they weren’t able to go higher than that. There had been a string of scandals involving BBC stars behaving badly and getting paid a fortune just before.
    Having said that, I don’t think Tennant is the type to chase the dollars, myself. Interestingly, he’s coming out now at election time very strongly in favour of the Labour Party, something he wouldn’t have been allowed to do while playing the Doctor. I know his politics really matter to him and that might have been another factor.
    In the end, I think he just felt completely linked to the RTD era – the fact that he decided to quit alongside everyone else shouldn’t be interpreted as any hostility to Moffat at all and I hope I didn’t give that impression.

  8. ps i keep thinking that Nu Who is the Tories’ worst nightmare – run by successively a gay man and a Scot and featuring Scots!! No wonder the latest Lab vid is basically a Dr who homage 🙂

  9. In the interviews I’ve seen so far – which have really only been those in the DWCs (there’s so much out there, I think if I tried to keep up with everything, I wouldn’t have time for anything else!) SM has taken a lot of care to stress the whole “fairy tale” thing, hasn’t he? And the things that have been in his two scripts have fitted that bill closely – that whole “corner of your eye” thing in TEH and the ventriloquist-dummy-like smilers im TBB, to name but two. And that seems very much his thing, and exactly the sorts of things which frighten kids and adults alike, albeit sometimes for different reasons. It’s the power of the imagination, which is what made something like Blink work so well – my youngest (now 7 and a half) wouldn’t watch it for some time, and once when she did, it gave her nightmares. It’s also what made RTD’s Midnight work so well, although again, I think it works on different levels for different age groups.
    I think I’ve agreed with you before that we did need to move away from the “trials of Ten”, because RTD really had taken that as far as he could. Even had he and David stayed for a further season, Ten would have ended up where he ended up I think. I know that rationally – but I nonetheless miss it.
    I do think Moffat is taking us somewhere different though – and I’m still looking forward to the journey, even if – right now, anyway – I don’t feel as emotionally imvested as I did before.

  10. I agree with you – Ten was the emotional heart of DW for four years but things really couldn’t have continued with him being constantly beaten down. I think Moff &Co are doing the right thing in changing the look and feel of the show, even though I was initially worried about “change for change’s sake”. SM is clearly not trying to wipe out the last five years – he’s made that clear in just two episdoes and with the Daleks, Cybermen and other old enemies due for a return, it’s clear he doesn’t intend to, which is something I’m very pleased about. I’ll be pleased to go back to a more ‘avuncular’ Doctor/Companion relationship for a while.
    It’s interesting to ponder what might have happened had DT stayed on. Only three of the episodes Moff wrote for DW under Rusty were for David’s Doctor (I don’t really count Blink) and I think he wrote him well, although whether the emotional thrust would have been the same, I really don’t know. And it’s that emotion, and those ‘moments’ that we discussed here before that I think defined Rusty’s/David’s era – they just seemed to be a perfect fit.

  11. I think that’s a good point actually. David looked pretty knackered at times during those last specials – of course make-up can do a lot, but in pics of him that have been taken since he “retired”, he looks about ten years younger!

  12. I officially delurk in the name of Peter Pan
    I loved this two part essay with a passion — wonderful, just wonderful.
    No doubt about it, I relished RTD’s triple chocolate, whipped cream, all-out, angst/joy roller coaster, messy and very *human* drama of DW. I will confess that Rose was my point of entry for New Who — I loved her dearly and I was thoroughly invested in her journey. I’d seen DW as a child, and while it was amusing, it didn’t capture my attention — but Rose, ah, Rose and the Doctor I related to. I think Rose’s departure and the way it was handled helped me establish a measure of distance from the writing — at a certain point, the show felt like it was moving into a territory that’s a personal deal-breaker for me, the whole Hero and His Series of Bond Girls thing. So, I agree that in a way, it’s a relief to be less invested and just go with some less emotionally complex, madcap romps.
    Moff developed an interesting frame with the steampunk-Victorian-Peter Pan vibe; it is indeed enchantment and nostalgia, the classifiable world of the Victorians, yet always mildly threatening to ravel out of control at the edges. And as far as that goes, I think that’s a fine goal and Moff did a fantastic job of building that universe in Eleventh Hour. His micro-sensibility and his appreciation for careful atmosphere will help create this new clockwork pocketwatch of a world. His vision is less about the agony and the ecstasy — it seems to be more about the charm and the wistful… the vigor of new industrial-technical possibilities and the fae in the romantic English countryside… Alice in Wonderland and the eccentric Victorian adventurer-scholar winding their way up to the heights in an elaborate hot air balloon Tardis, around the universe in 80 days.
    In the first eps, I do see fairy tale (red/white, children without parents, woods and shadows, children who vigil and quest) and I see Alice in Wonderland (for me, my one true archetypal story) — you can see that for me, I’m already linking S5 to the heroine! But most of all, I think I see Peter Pan — the world of “Oh England, My Lionheart.” Any Kate Bush fans in the house? Her Lionheart album was filled with this energy:
    Oh! England, my Lionheart!
    Peter Pan steals the kids in Kensington Park.
    You read me Shakespeare on the rolling Thames–
    That old river poet that never, ever ends.
    Our thumping hearts hold the ravens in,
    And keep the tower from tumbling.
    If — and I realize that’s one honking mountain of an “if” right there — that vibe is executed well, I think I’ll enjoy the ride and for me, DW will function as more than just a kid’s show. To that if, I’ll add a big “but.” But… it seems certain to me that they’ll play with sexual tension between Eleven and Amy. I don’t think our introduction (or Eleven’s) to child-Amelia inoculates the narrative against it. I’d like to think that’s a clever nod to the dangerous but fascinating sexual world of Victorian imagination. That is, the dreamy, strange landscapes of children caught between innocence and adult knowledge — the impulse to play with sexuality (is Wendy a mother? a sister? a wife? a daughter? to Peter Pan — I don’t know, but even as a child, I felt *strange* about that story on some level) while simultaneously offering an eternal childhood where the promise of growing up and becoming a sexual married being is forever deferred.
    I’d like to think if Moff plays with tension, it’s for all those reasons, but I realize that DW is a commodity and it pleases the general audience to show lovely people who are attracted to each other. If they do go down this road, I sincerely hope they find a good way to do it, without making the fairy tale either forced or icky. I’ll keep watching, and see what happens. Personally, I find a Superhero God less compelling than a fallible immortal being who can love and live and lose, but I agree that the DW franchise is afraid of anything that might somehow suggest “an ending.”
    Eek, I didn’t know I had all those thoughts in me! The original essay and the discussion truly did inspire me. Thank you, thank you.
    PS. Is River Song Tinkerbell? 😉

  13. Re: I officially delurk in the name of Peter Pan
    it seems certain to me that they’ll play with sexual tension between Eleven and Amy.
    We already got that eat-him-up gaze Amy gave Eleven as he got his shirt off in TEH…
    I don’t think our introduction (or Eleven’s) to child-Amelia inoculates the narrative against it. I’d like to think that’s a clever nod to the dangerous but fascinating sexual world of Victorian imagination. That is, the dreamy, strange landscapes of children caught between innocence and adult knowledge
    Quite. There was that sheer bizarreness in TEH of Amy’s strippergram job and the sexy policewoman outfit, which had me going “WTF? Is this purely a feeble sexist excuse to gratify the adolescent male section of the fanbase?…” I hope your explanation’s right, I’d certainly feel more comfortable with it!

  14. Re: I officially delurk in the name of Peter Pan
    Just seen this. What a brilliant essay. Steampunk is very much flavour of the month just now – Philip Reeve’s “Mortal Engines” and, more than a little, the Dark Materials series.
    I’d like to keep up with your stuff – is it okay to friend you?

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