Having enjoyed some brilliant meta, mostly centered on Donna, over with and others, I turned today to beta work on a very promising story by an flister on the same theme. It says a lot about Donna’s story that even after over two years, I find it very difficult to think about other things when I’ve been reflecting on it. It continues to grieve, upset and enrage me in a way that Rose’s does not, and I know I’m not alone.
Today my copy of The Unsilent Library arrived. Although I bought this book because I know one of the contributors through LJ, it wasn’t her piece that immediately grabbed my attention. Instead I turned to “How Donna Noble Saved the Multiverse (and had to pay for it)”, by Sydney and Andy Duncan, and that alone was worth the tenner I’d paid for the book. I can recommend it to everyone who still struggles with what happened to Donna. It pulls no punches. The authors point out that there are earlier examples of amnesia being the fate of powerful female characters in SF, but goes on to point out that Donna’s is particularly disturbing because it is in effect a return to the bondage that the whole of S4 shows her escaping. What we see is, in effect, a lobotomy, and they observe, “She doesn’t even realise her bondage exists, so no heroic struggle or tragic acceptance is even possible.” And they go on to say:
“…a careful viewing of S4, perhaps the most carefully constructed, most written series of DW to date – suggests that the real problem posed by Donna is one of power, power to rival the Doctor’s.”
But the clincher of their argument, for me, was not their analysis of New-Who but their comparison to a Classic Who algorithm. I had forgotten, if I ever knew, that it wasn’t the Doctor who mindwiped Jamie and Zoe in The War Crimes – it was the Time Lords. Having finally caught up with the Doctor, they punished him by depriving him of his companions and exiling him to Earth by taking away the Doctor’s memory of how the TARDIS operates. This all gets handwaved later on – in The Two Doctors Jamie appears to have his memories restored (the authors comment drily that, “…there is no hint of any such restoration for the absent Zoe, even though a 21st century mathematical genius would seem to be of more potential use to the Time Lords than a Jacobite piper.”) Here is their conclusion (the italics are in the original):
This odd sidelining of another brilliant female character aside, the climax of The War Games makes clear that, in this instance at least, the memory wipe of a companion is an elective form of punishment, something the Time Lords choose to do and could choose not to do.
If I ever saw these Classic episodes, it was a long time ago and I’m not in the ideal position to compare the two sets of circumstances. Of course, it could reasonably be argued that the Tenth Doctor acts out of mercy. But is it quite that simple? A feminist might well point out that the male equivalent of the DoctorDonna, the Duplicate Doctor, actually commits genocide but is rewarded with Rose to keep an eye on him. Donna, the oldest female companion to travel with the Doctor, one of the few not to be clad in sexually alluring clothing, has to forget how powerful she ever was – unless being remembered and worshipped rather like the Virgin Mary consists of power. David Langford has pointed out (see “Memory Wipe” in Clute and Grant, eds. The Encyclopedia of Fantasy, 1997, p 25) that the presence of memory wipes appears frequently as a condescending, paternal trope in children’s fantasy and remarks, “It seems slightly unfair that children who have helped defeat evil should have even the memory of their achievements taken away.”
In summary (back to the Duncans’ essay, p90):
Long-term DW viewers are reminded, however, that when Time Lords last wiped a companion’s memory, it was presented as a judicial sentence, a calculated, wilful act of punishment and Time Lord self-protection. This leads us to ask: who really was suffering, who was most threatened by, this metacrisis?
If the rest of the book is this good (and it looks promising), it looks like I’m in for a treat. Meanwhile, any comments?