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.
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?
MY FRIEND THE DOCTOR SAYS
THE WORLD IS FULL OF FANTASY –
AND WHO ARE YOU AND I TO DISAGREE?
LET’S HOPE AND PRAY
THAT IS THE WAY
THE LIFE WE LOVE WILL ALWAYS STAY
FOR MY FRIEND THE DOCTOR