The Lonely Little Boy and the Little Girl Lost

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I’ve not been posting much lately, mostly because I’ve been frustrated and disappointed with DW S5 for the reasons expressed by many others – flat characterisation and an inability to care about the Doctor himself. It seemed pointless to add to the discussion when I’d little of interest to say.

 

Though Amy’s Choice briefly rekindled my interest, I was away when THE aired and nothing I heard about it encouraged me to watch it later, so I haven’t. I still feel that neither Eleven nor Amy give me anything to hang onto. Eleven is behaving like a man without a backstory, which at least makes a change from Nine and Ten, I suppose, but the emotional echo chamber frustrates me. Maybe he’s repressing it all – SM is on record as saying that the Doctor should never cry so that might be the way he believes the Doctor should behave, and it’s been a popular decision in some quarters. And a recent discussion of whether Amy is an abused child, or at least a neglected one, (where the hell was that aunt on the night they met?) made me wonder if there are some deeper parallels between the two of them.

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Moff seems very keen to separate the sexualised Doctor from the asexualised one – they are both there, but one is in a box labelled River Song and he only comes out to play on  very specific occasions. It occurred to me that from Amy’s POV, the Doctor and River Song are a bit like your parents – you can’t quite imagine them doing it, and you’d rather not think about it. Amy picks up the dynamic of their relationship, but as an old married couple rather than lovers, just as most of us recall our parents arguing over day-to-day stuff more than what they did in the bedroom. As we try to piece together the world of adult sexuality, it’s a bit like (a) a Pandora’s Box and (b) a Rubrik’s Cube – we manage to get bits of the overall design to line up but every time we do so, it involves disturbing the neat pattern someplace else. That sounds like the overall plot of the whole series, and SM might well intend that.

RTD’s Doctor was the wanderer in search of a family, a place to belong. It was SM who first called him a lonely little boy, using another lonely child to say the words. RTD didn’t like the Time Lords, he thought they were tedious and, to a large extent, his Doctor was born from the ashes of the planet he destroyed. What’s past is prologue. In S5, however, we are moving away from the dynamic of two people screwing up a romantic relationship, the recurring theme of RTD’s interpretation. Instead, we are seeing two deeply damaged and emotionally maimed children clinging to each other. The Doctor possibly sees his childish self in Amy, whether or not he realises it, and she very much wants a father figure and pushes at that need constantly, though on one occasion at least she’s made the mistake of throwing herself at him because she’s absorbed the lesson that her sexuality makes her a little more powerful.

It wouldn’t come as any surprise to me if it turned out that she and Rory had never consummated their relationship – I can imagine the intimacy of sex deeply frightening her, since she hasn’t really experienced a nurturing relationship since, we assume, her parents died. (I’m leaving the Amy’s Choice scenario as an alternative future, and discussing her behaviour at the point her travels in the TARDIS begin). Amy’s learned that, in a world where few people really notice her, acting out is the best way to get attention. She’s quirky, shocking, awkward, needy, impulsive to the point of suicide and, despite the occasional flash of idealism, she’s also high-maintenance and self-absorbed, treating the one person brave or unfortunate enough to really care about her like shit. Sounds familiar, as she told the Doctor in The Beast Below.

Canonically we know little of the Doctor’s childhood, though there is the interesting spin-off Lungbarrow that suggests his extended family (or House) was very dysfunctional indeed. A certain amount can be inferred from bits and pieces of canon, plus obvious parallels with the way upper-class English boys were raised in the first half of the 20th Century. The word House is in itself revealing – not a family, so much a part of a boarding school, bounded by ritual loyalties rather than affection. The Doctor’s childhood seems to have been moulded by this environment and long periods of academic cramming, plus a kill-or-cure exposure to the Untempered Schism at an abusively tender age. Women seem to have been conspicuous by their absence, and mother figures were absent altogether. Children were Loomed, not parented, and immersed in a culture that eschewed compassionate involvement with other conscious beings. So far so English, and Edwardian.

So similar experiences have formed these two wandering misfits. They’ve become observers, travellers, commitment-phobes. War has robbed the Doctor of his children and his own culture barricaded his hearts against the tenderness of parental love. In many classic children’s fantasies, this is presented as the ideal background for adventure and romance. (In her most recent novel, The Children’s Book, AS Byatt argues that in the late 19th and early 20th century an entire generation suffered from arrested development and neglected their children’s emotional needs, leaving them woefully ill-equipped for the baptism of fire that was the First World War). It is no coincidence that this was the golden age of children’s fantasy, much of which was written by emotionally retarded adults.

In The Doctor’s Daughter we saw a highly compressed narrative of the Doctor discovering, initially rejecting, then embracing and ultimately losing the experience of fatherhood. You could say that it’s a truth universally acknowledged that people who have never grown up themselves are the kind of parents that children dream of having, but in fact they don’t do the job awfully well – they have too many issues of their own. Can Amy force the Doctor into growing up – something that none of his previous companions were able to do, since his lifestyle condemns all his relationships to a premature conclusion? It would be more than Rose Tyler ever managed to do (and I speak as an unrepentant shipper). If anything, Ten seemed to become more childish and out of touch with reality throughout the Specials, and his final words were a whining protestation of entitlement. It seems impossible that such a character could be locked inside Eleven’s tweedy exterior.

There’s a fascinating story to be told there. My personal reservation is that Moffat may lack the skill to tell it. However, he could prove me wrong. The last scene of GITF showed that, when he puts his mind to it and when the actors are skilled enough to do something with his subtle signals, he can rise to the occasion and offer the kind of emotional depth that many of us are missing from his take on the show so far.



 

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8 thoughts on “The Lonely Little Boy and the Little Girl Lost

  1. I agree that there seems to be some emotional depth missing. I’m enjoying Season 5, but there haven’t been any scenes that have really grabbed at my heart, or got me all teary-eyed.
    But like you said, Moffat is not completely incapable of showing us an emotional episode –I really liked GITF. We’ll see.
    I just watched The Hungry Earth this morning, and I quite enjoyed it. Don’t really know why everyone is so down on it.

  2. Another very interesting assessment! I was coming along a somewhat similar path with regard to Amy, but hadn’t extrapolated to the point of speculating on what her childhood actually had been like. We do know that someone was worried enough about what she was saying and her insistence on saying it to send her to those four psychiatrists. That in itself could be traumatic, if they are attempting to treat as disturbed a child who has only been terribly disappointed.
    I have wondered a lot about the aunt. We can infer that she still lives from Amy’s comment that the Doctor’s disapproval of the kissograms sounds like her aunt, but also that she doesn’t seem to live in the same house anymore (or else is never, never there.)
    One does wonder what, besides the Doctor, turned young Amelia into Amy. Did the aunt at some point have a boyfriend? Did he live with them, perhaps? The number one risk factor for child sexual abuse is the presence of a stepfather or mother’s boyfriend in the home. And Amelia would have been a child that people would be even more likely than most to accuse of making things up.

  3. when the actors are skilled enough to do something with his subtle signals
    That, I believe, is a truly big problem. Matt is clearly an accomplished actor, but he’s no DT or CE. I’ve definitely seen something in his performance occasionally which leads me to think that he’s got a bit more in him than we’ve seen – that conversation with the Silurian in TEH springs immediately to mind – but I do think he’s being held back by a)poor direction in some cases and b) Karen Gillan’s lack of acting ability. She gives him nothing to bounce off, which is one of the reasons I’m so glad we’ve got Rory on board now. The dynamic between Eleven and Rory is far more interesting than the one between Eleven and Amy.
    I think you make a good point about two damaged children clinging to each other. The thing is, the more I see of Amy, the more I wonder why her? As an adult, she’s all the things you say she is and to my mind the Doctor deserves better. Little Amelia on the other hand was special.
    I just hope that whatever happens at the end of June, it’s all made clear. Given that Amy’s on board for another season (meh) I hope whatever happens really does sort her out and turn her into a likeable character.

  4. IA with a lot of this. Amy is entirely baffling to me. She seems so incomplete, but I can’t decide whether it’s as a character or as a person. Is she actually meant to be as impulsive and childish as she appears to me? I haven’t watched the last two episodes yet, though I will, and it’s because the show just doesn’t have as much of a draw when I feel like the writers are stumbling through the characterization, failing to draw a consistent picture. *Rory* is the most consistent and grownup of the three.
    On Eleven…I’m not sure I see the child in him that much(but then I don’t see the child in Ten at all, nor do I think his fear of death was whining). To me, Moffat is regressing him, not to a child, but to a much more distant, uncle/professor figure. His emotions are opaque. There’s nothing of the veiled threat that came to light when Nine or Ten got angry. His anger is almost ineffective. I guess more than anything, Moffat is regressing the audience. We’re supposed to be kids and enjoy the fairytale. But it’s not convincing me.

  5. I find it really sad that you are not enjoying this current series as much as the previous one. As I’ve commented before, your blog contains the most brilliant pieces I’ve read on Doctor Who, and it’s a shame for series 5 it will not enjoy your insight.
    Your remark about Moffat lacking skills to tell the story of the Doctor growing up puzzles me. The story we’ve been watching so far is the story of a grown-up Doctor; or at least a more mature one. Think of RTD’s main love interest, Rose Tyler, and the relationship she had with the Doctor. It was an intoxicating infatuation, the kind you can only find when you are a teenager; back then when you are discovering romance (and, arguably, the Doctor only discovered his romantic feelings during his tenth incarnation) and you can’t manage relationships; they possess you. You don’t know how to flirt, how to court; you only realize you are in love when it’s too late to help it. And he did have to grow up afterwards: he had to learn how to live alone, how to leave people behind, how to be left behind. After all that, he may not have been a different man, maybe not even a wiser man, but he sure was older.
    Now think of what seems to be building up to be Moffat’s answer to Rose; River Song; and how she relates to the doctor. They meet once, they flirt, they say goodbye (tragically the first time), then they meet again, they keep flirting, they say goodbye again. This is how romance works for adults; you keep meeting occasionally until a date is arranged, and you know where and how the story ends. You can see it in the look in Eleven’s face when he’s speaking with River Song at the end of Flesh and Stone; and what a beautifully acted exchange that is. It goes all the way back to the end of Forest of the Dead, and the look in Ten’s eyes when he found out he could open the TARDIS with a snap of his fingers, just like River Song had predicted. It’s not excitement; excitement was what Ten felt when he took Rose to New Earth. It’s a different thing: River Song makes the Doctor mystified, they way adults feel when they meet somebody and they feel they instantly click, but they still know nothing about each other; a mystery begging to be solved.
    Matt’s acting has been key so far. He’s as good as Tennant though his take is completely different. Think of his age; he’s way younger than Tennant, however his Doctor seems 20 years older. Without any kind of make-up, he’s making us forget how young he is while creating the illusion he’s 20 years older than he really is. That alone should be enough proof of his acting chops.
    It’s also a very good time to go back to Forest of the Dead and watch the final dialogue between Ten and River Song. Before she sacrifices herself, he tries to convince her she lets him take her place and rewrite the timeline. “Time can be rewritten” he says; but River Song knows a rewritten timeline may result in her never meeting the Doctor, and she quickly dismisses him saying he shouldn’t even dare changing it. For the rest of the episode, until discovering her in the sonic screwdriver, the Doctor remains heartbroken. And it is only under the light of this heartbreak that you can fully grasp the meaning of the way Eleven smiles at the end of Flesh and Stone, when he says, again, “Time can be rewritten”, this time showing relief. Matt’s acting there was spot-on: subtle, gentle and translucent; you know what he feels, and you know he feels he should be hiding it, but he can’t help it. He’s the Jackie Brown to Tennant’s Pulp Fiction.
    (Other beautiful moments that come to mind: the way he laughs when he hears River mentioning the Pandorica, their dialogue in the interior of the TARDIS in the beginning of TOTA, his delight when he says “This is going to be a tricky one” in the opening sequence of Amy’s Choice…)

  6. And he did have to grow up afterwards: he had to learn how to live alone, how to leave people behind, how to be left behind. After all that, he may not have been a different man, maybe not even a wiser man, but he sure was older.
    I think what frustrates me is that we never did see him moving on from Rose. We saw him locked in grief and illusions about himself – then Eleven comes along and we’re supposed to accept him as someone who never refers back to that journey. It’s the lack of continuity.
    It’s clear that something in the love story with River resonates for you at a very deep level, but I’m afraid it does nothing for me. I saw a lot of deep, mature feeling in the Doctor/Donna relationship, and I truly believe that the relationship with Rose had the potential to grow and mature, that was what was starting to happen when they were parted and I’ll never stop regretting that we didn’t see it happen. I agree that Smith and AK do act very well together but I still find his portrayal of an older man deeply unconvincing. I will acknowledge that I underestimated the latest two-parter though. I watched the whole thing today and thought it was much better than I’d expected.

  7. I agree with you on the Doctor’s relationship with Rose ending in a very abrupt and unfair manner; the story of the Doctor and Rose was going somewhere else, it deserved better. Both the Doctor and Rose gave up too easily; I can understand the Doctor accepting Reinette’s death and then leaving, but I can’t really believe him, the Doctor, the man who never gives up, leaving Rose behind without ever trying to reach her again the way he did in Doomsday. And I can’t really believe Rose would ever find contempt in a consolation prize the way she did in Journey’s End.
    You may notice a pattern here: these somewhat undignified endings are all related to actors leaving the series. I’m hardly saying something new here, but a writer’s creative freedom in TV is much more limited than in literature; they are always at the mercy of the career choices actors make. A romance may be plotted, but if Billie Piper decides she’s had enough, Rose must leave. Their relationship never lived up to some of the audience’s expectations, but none of the writers involved had much of a choice.

  8. Fair comment about actors leaving. But didn’t Rusty go out of his way to make things difficult for himself, first by continually referencing Rose in S3 and making such an issue of the Doctor’s grief for her, and then constantly hammering home the theme that he loses everybody? Astrid and Jenny, for example, both died in tragic circumstances that ripped him apart emotionally – and then there was the Human Nature two-parter, just in case we somehow missed the point that the Doctor couldn’t have a normal life? I do wish that if he’d no intention of resolving all that, just revelling in the angst, he’d never gone that route in the first place. I suspect he couldn’t resist the chance to write to Tennant’s strengths.
    On another point, I think I’ve figured out why River just doesn’t work for me. It’s the male fantasy of a Great Love – just drifting in and out of each other’s orbits at long intervals with all the mystery preserved and no commitment required on either side. A perpetual state of seduction and excitement. To me, that’s far more immature than the Doctor/Rose arc. Just my 2c.

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