There’s No Point in Growing Up (Amy’s Choice)
|This happens more often than you’d think. Trust me, I know.|
My wife’s a hospice nurse.
It’s May 15th, 2010. Roll Deep are at number one with “Good Times,” a song that sounds from the title very much like it is about sober and responsible behavior. Plan B, Aggro Santos, and Professor Green also chart. I’m going to go ahead and admit I’ve not heard of any of these. News I remember – BP continues to do a very bad job of stopping the Deepwater Horizon spill. Gordon Brown announces that he will resign as head of the Labour Party, which precedes David Cameron forming a coalition government with Nick Clegg. The Queen approves of this, apparently. Oh, and Eyjafjallajökull’s ash cloud started wandering by again.
While on television, the midpoint of the season, Amy’s Choice. Let’s start with the end, since its implications are easy to overlook. In amidst the revelation that the Dream Lord was just a twisted reflection of the Doctor (which is to say, literally what he appeared to be all episode, as opposed to merely figuratively), it is easy to overlook the larger point, which is that Amy’s choice was always a false one. The episode spends most of its runtime positioning Amy to make a choice as to which of the two worlds is real, with this choice symbolically standing in for her choice between Rory and the Doctor. The final revelation is that this choice was illusory.
This is not a small thing. The conventional wisdom, after all, would hold that Amy and Rory getting married would bring about the exact result it seems to in this story: they’d settle down in Leadworth and stop having adventures. Because growing up is antithetical to adventures. That’s the entire point of the Amy/Amelia dichotomy and the whole “run off with the Doctor the night before her wedding” idea. Instead of your Mickey-esque terrestrial partner you fall in love with a madman with a magical box. Of course for Amy, for whom sexual confidence is one of the first traits given, this was always going to be somewhat less chaste than the Rose Tyler era. Especially once she’s met River, and thus been tacitly invited to view the Doctor as a sexual being.
And this logic is hardly unique to Doctor Who. Just over two years prior to this story Marvel Comics went to great lengths to undo the marriage between Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson in the Spider-Man comics, saying that “When people get married, they tend to settle down — life slows down and you gain different responsibilities, grown-up responsibilities, boring responsibilities. You go out to dinner less, see fewer movies, your social life is curtailed and revolves, as it should, around your significant other. In short, life hands you a mini van. While marriage makes for an okay story, there is less drama in a (healthy) marriage than in a single relationship.” Just over two years after it, DC did a big reboot of its universe and, in the process, undid the Clark Kent/Lois Lane marriage before, eventually, clarifying that they were simply opposed to the idea of any superheroes being married, saying, “heroes shouldn’t have happy personal lives.” And these are just a handful of examples of the general maxim that putting characters in any sort of stable relationship is a bad thing for adventure stories.
All of which is to say that the iconography and message underlying Amy’s situation at this point in the series is screaming that this is a story about choosing between adulthood/marriage and childhood/adventures. So when it turns out that this is not even remotely what the story is about, it’s non-trivial, and a development with some real and significant points and consequences. For one thing, it forces a reevaluation of what it means that Amy is no longer a little girl. The Eleventh Hour calmly let us fall into the trap of thinking that the substantive part of Amy’s maturity was that she’s a sex worker (albeit a strangely antiquated kind – an attempt to search for “kissogram” in fact gets mostly Doctor Who results and results related to the musical act, the role being essentially obsolete now). And, of course, this is at the heart of why marriage and childhood adventure are instinctively opposed. A married person is sexually active, and thus no longer allowed to have childish adventures.
But this is Steven Moffat, who wrote his first Doctor Who story as a rousing defense of sexual freedom. The idea that he was ever going to declare, to any extent, that being sexually active meant you were no longer worthy of adventures, thereby pulling some good old-fashioned Problem of Susan bullshit, was always ridiculous. That’s just not the way that Moffat works. And that is absolutely a part of what’s going on in Amy’s Choice – hence the decision to have the Leadworth dream include Amy’s pregnancy, a detail that is significant only because it makes the “choice” unambiguously between Amelia Pond, the girl who waited and who now has fairy tale adventures, and Amy Pond, the woman who has had sex.
But, of course, the story is about more than just sexuality. It’s about the notion of adulthood, and while sexuality is certainly a part of adulthood that Moffat has a career-long interest in, it’s not the only part. The real issue here is that Amy is led to try to choose between a normal adult life and life on the TARDIS, with the clear implication and point being that a normal life where you get married and have kids is incompatible with going on adventures. By rejecting the existence of that choice, Moffat is flying in the face of an entire logic that growing up in a practical sense means that you can no longer tell a certain type of story. This returns to one of the basic moral themes of the Moffat era – that the solution to being trapped in a bad story is to tell a different one. Life with Rory and having grand adventures aren’t incompatible at all – the only thing necessary to have both is to decide to do just that – that is, to recognize that the choice offered is a false one.
This point works in two different ways. On one level, it’s a valuable and genuinely liberating bit of social commentary. The truism that people get more conservative as they get older is an oft-declared one, and more broadly, the idea that growing up is akin to growing banal and boring is a fundamental part of the culture. Indeed, this is part and parcel of reproductive futurism. The act of valuing “the children” in the abstract is fundamentally to argue that there is something vital that is lost between childhood and adulthood. Growing up and being a responsible citizen, in other words, means abandoning childhood and consciously becoming a less valuable person. The message that growing up in a practical sense of falling in love and getting married does not mean the abandonment of the fairy tale is a real and important one. Being adults doesn’t mean we don’t still get to be extraordinary. And thus, more importantly, being adults doesn’t serve as an excuse for not being.
But on a second level, it’s a comment and a condemnation of the entire set of tropes that creates the false choice in the first place. One might fairly ask why anyone would assume that marrying Rory precludes going on adventures. “He doesn’t want to” is certainly one answer, and one that Amy’s Choice gestures at, but equally, Rory was enthused just last story about traveling on the TARDIS. Indeed, this quickly becomes one of the most fundamental aspects of Rory as a character: while on the one hand it’s clear that traveling on the TARDIS is not, in fact, his first choice in life, he is not by and large hesitant about it. While he’d never have accepted the Doctor’s offer, the fact that his fiancee and then wife does and therefore has an entire fairy tale second life is not actually something that phases him. Indeed, he’s so accepting of it that he doesn’t even stumble over the TARDIS being bigger on the inside. His wife has a weird second life as an adventure heroine, and he embraces that because he loves her.
And, of course, there are the ideological answers we’ve already dealt with – the Marvel and DC arguments that suggest that adulthood is necessarily boring or that the ethos of adventure is necessarily opposed to reality. But, of course, Moffat rejects those logics actively and consciously. Which leaves a bunch of arguments about how the stories just don’t work as well if the protagonists are in stable relationships – that the tropes and rules of the genre mean that Amy has to choose the TARDIS over Rory. That, in other words, the choice exists in the first place. But from a storytelling perspective, not falling into that choice really is as simple as just writing something else. The suggestion that marriage marks the end of being able to be the subject of interesting stories is morally abhorrent, yes. But the way to combat it is to simply tell a different sort of story.
And notably, over the course of Amy’s Choice, that is exactly what happens. At the start the audience assumes that the TARDIS dream must be real, as it follows with seeming continuity from the end of The Vampires of Venice, whereas the Leadworth dream puts all of the characters in wildly different places in a way that would be narratively jarring. The revelation that the TARDIS scenes have been dreams as well is, in other words, significant because it amounts to a sudden refusal to tell the story that the episode has been pretending to tell. And it’s notable that the Doctor’s decision to blow up the TARDIS really is sudden, and comes after the story’s seeming resolution. The Doctor sees the apparent story through to its end and then concludes that this is not an adequate story and that he will need to tell another one.
Except, actually, he’s clearly worked it out long before that point in the narrative. We even see it happen on screen, when he tells the Dream Lord that he knows who he is. (Although this is telegraphed carefully in advance, most notably with the Dream Lord’s initial outfit.) And the resolution makes clear that knowing who the Dream Lord is in turn means he knows neither world can possibly be real. (If it even takes that long – he suggests he never bought the freezing sun bit, which would make all his claims that the TARDIS was the real world a lie.) Which means that everything the Doctor does surrounding Rory’s death and after is, in point of fact, him manipulating Amy.
As with much of the Moffat era, it’s a case of hiding an answer in plain sight. Just last episode we saw the Doctor actively attempting to repair Amy and Rory’s relationship. Here, for much of the episode, he seems to be trying to tear it apart by forcing Amy to make the false choice. But at some point in the narrative it becomes clear that he is trying to do something different, as he knows that the choice is false. In fact, it seems as though he’s trying to push Amy to realize that the choice is false in the first place and that she can in fact have an adult relationship and a life of adventure at the same time. He allows Amy to realize that she would choose Rory over adventure if she had to choose, then removes the need to choose so that she can carry on having both.
But the detail that the Dream Lord is in fact the Doctor pushes this observation even further. After all, the resolution of the episode has the odd effect of clarifying that absolutely nothing that happened in the episode was actually a danger. Since there was no “real world” in which to die, nobody was ever actually threatened. Which ever world they died first in, they’d wake up in the other one. Perhaps the goal was simply to ensnare them in a dream, but this seems an inferior interpretation that is clearly not what’s suggested by that final appearance of the Dream Lord’s reflection in the TARDIS console. No, if the Dream Lord is in fact the Doctor then the most sensible assumption is that the Dream Lord’s entire scheme in this episode was simply a sadistic and manipulative effort to fix Amy and Rory’s relationship. The rejection of the false choice was always the goal. And whenever the Doctor figures it out, all he’s doing is, in effect, simply figuring out his own subconscious plan.
Given The Time of Angels/Flesh and Stone and the turn towards making components of narrative itself into foes, this has significant implications. Haunting this entire story is the possibility that the Doctor, even if he does good things, does them by being a bit of a bastard. He admits this point himself at the end, saying, “I choose my friends with great care. Otherwise, I’m stuck with my own company, and you know how that works out.” This is an important point in its own right: for all that our ordinary lives are made better if we decide to be stories, so are our stories made better if allowed contact with ordinary lives. The presence of Amy and Rory in the Doctor’s narrative is what keeps the darkness implied by the Dream Lord at bay. What keeps a narrative threat at bay is people, and what makes people extraordinary is their stories. The only villain the story ever had was the idea that there might be some sort of choice between people and stories in the first place.
April 14, 2014 @ 1:10 am
Thing is, neither this story nor the larger one go the whole hog. The reconciliability between adventuring and growing up is a very limited one, and one that is socially rather particular to the here and now, in that it permits sex but not its natural consequence, children. Amy does make an actual choice, and a highly significant one, but not between Rory and the Doctor – she chooses Rory, and an adventuring life with both him and the Doctor, over their child.
The Moffat approach may transcend some aspects of the Problem of Susan, but it remains entangled in a major chunk of it – call it the Problem of Melody. The resonances between the jarring offhanded callousness of the Doctor's abandonment of Susan and Amy and Rory's shrugging-off of their being deprived of their daughter are not coincidental – this is character being strained (and sprained) by the iron demands of story in much the same way, though in the case of Melody the dissonance is muted by relieving the characters of much of the responsibility for the actual decision. You can have adventures while being in an ongoing sexual relationship, but not if you have children (well, having them in a meaningful sense involving playing any significant part in raising them – with sufficient money and emotional detachment you can largely wall yourself off with nannies and boarding schools. Some have rather mystifyingly described what happens to Amy as "sci-fi rape", but it's more like involuntary sci-fi Victorian elite parenting). The contradiction between the freedom, spontaneity, excitement and danger sought by the adventurer and the parent's need to provide stability and safety remains unbridgeable, or at any rate unbridged.
So you cannot actually have it all, or at least this version of Doctor Who does not believe you can. The version of adulthood which is proposed as being compatible with adventure is one that is recognisable and widespread in the West today, but not one that people in a lot of other places and times would recognise as being genuinely grown-up. What it deprives you of is not an ideological construct called "reproductive futurism" but the actuality of reproduction and all the elements of the human experience that spring from it.
April 14, 2014 @ 1:23 am
Oh, and of course the point is later underlined by making Amy infertile, so as to rule out the possible inconvenience of any further offspring, while again absolving the characters of responsibility for the choice.
April 14, 2014 @ 1:44 am
Yes, that's true: parenting and adventures are still largely portrayed as irreconcilable, though Craig comes closer. (I disagree about the "callously shrugging off" bit; that regaining Melody would mean erasing River and, as we later discover, Mels, has always been obvious to me, and undesirable. River goes to consider lengths to keep her timestream intact and unedited.) Maybe in Sherlock they'll go that extra step.
April 14, 2014 @ 2:19 am
But the "monster" of the story is the fear of growing old – which is only averted within the dream by dying young.
April 14, 2014 @ 2:34 am
I was thinking more of their lack of visible emotional disturbance than the failure to change the course of events. Even so, while there is a rationale behind that decision, it is still about the requirements of the story prevailing rather than the working through of any particular emotional logic coming from the established characters. Storytelling both demands that River remain as she is and demands that Amy and Rory remain childless, so that is what must happen and rationalisations are to be tacked on afterwards.
Certainly it is not the application of a principled approach about how you ought to treat people in the context of a time-travel fantasy (and hence about any real-world question to which that question could be metaphorically connected). That is clear from the fact that when we get to The Girl Who Waited, Rory makes the opposite decision (and, OK, she does help him out with that to an extent – cushioning the responsibility again). Yes, one can supply a justification of that difference in decision in utilitarian terms – despite an extremely traumatic childhood, River has turned out happy, whereas Two Streams Amy has had a thoroughly miserable and barren time of it so far, so replacing her with an alternative Amy is more clearly a means of making a happier world than replacing River with an alternative Melody. But there are less moral logics at play as well, and these are the non-negotiable ones. River's timeline is allowed to stand because the story wants her and so do the regular characters. They do not want a middle-aged Amy, so she doesn't get to live or to have lived. "Because that's a better story" is an impulse that can be merciless to characters.
See also Tom Stoppard for a "down with this sort of thing!"
April 14, 2014 @ 2:48 am
I have to say, whilst I enjoyed the episode on broadcast, I found the first dream resolution pretty disturbing – if Amy is wrong, not just her but also her unborn child will be killed. Of course grief can lead people to awful and dark places, but to have that resolution validated as the 'right' one feels problematic to me (and I'm pro-choice so it's not for that reason). I think since becoming a parent maybe I just have a fundamental issue with pregnancy/parenthood as metaphors, as opposed to actual real things with heavy consequences (and again I say that as someone who loves being a dad).
April 14, 2014 @ 3:56 am
I don't think Kissograms are essentially obsolete, that's just Google Search screwing with you – if instead you search for Kissogram Hull (or any other UK city or large town) you'll get plenty of results for Kissograms in that area.
I do not live in Hull.
April 14, 2014 @ 4:41 am
their lack of emotional disturbance
I could never square away how Amy and the Doctor reacted after the events of "A Good Man Goes To War" – the Doctor is giddy with elation, and nips off in the TARDIS seemingly to very easily rescue Melody.
Then in "Lets Kill Hitler", something has obviously gone wrong: no rescue possible, and by the end of that episode we get the full hollow force of the "lack of emotional disturbance".
What rarely gets mentioned is that between episodes a prequel to "Lets Kill Hitler" aired that set up a very different vibe – Amy calls the TARDIS phone, begging for news of her baby. And what she says cuts right to the core of the entire situation: baby Melody being River is great in that she's safe in the long run, but that's not nearly enough for parents who have just had their baby snatched away:
"You said you'd find my baby. You said you'd find Melody. Have you found her? Because you promised. I know she's going to be okay, I know she'll grow up to be River… but that – that's not the point – I don't want to miss all those years, you know? And I can't stand it. I can't. Please Doctor, please."
The Doctor just listens to the answerphone, too distraught to talk to Amy – he's obviously made a discovery that means rescuing Melody is impossible, and breaking the news to Amy is going to be a devastating event.
That event never really happens – not just leaving the audience hanging as to what is going on, but leaving us without the required emotional fallout to truly believe in these characters any more. While this prequel hits all the emotional notes I expected the series to continue to address, it's an anomaly. How can they craft this prequel so well, the completely drop the ball in the series proper? Not until "Asylum of the Daleks" do Amy and Rory seem like relatable characters again, the gulf was too wide for a while there with this issue niggling away unaddressed in the background.
Here's the prequel for those that didn't catch it – it's quite affecting:
April 14, 2014 @ 4:47 am
As soon as the choice was presented in the episode, I told my then-fiancée, "It's a shell game." She gave me a funny look, and not wanting to spoil the episode, I told her I'd explain when it was over: The point of a shell game is to get you to pick a shell, when really I've palmed the ball. To buy into the premise of the choice is to be trapped by the logic of the choice, and all of the options end up the same. Paradoxically, only by refusing to choose any of the presented options does it become possible to make genuine choices with varying outcomes. Real adventure requires that you venture beyond the menu you're given.
April 14, 2014 @ 4:53 am
In addition to Craig (mentioned above), we'll be seeing Clara in multiple child-rearing stories, though they aren't hers, and the Doctor's turn as Father Christmas. Personally I'd place the emphasis in Eleven's run not on reproduction but on growing up. That's what most fairy tales are about, which is why they are both written for children and "unsuitable" for them in a Mary Whitehouse way. And the fascinating bit isn't seeing companions with a daughter, but seeing the Doctor offer Amy and Rory a way to be adults and keep having adventures, before confronting his own circumstances and the ways in which his own adventures delay, defer or deny his own maturation. Key here is the degree to which Moffat adds years to Eleven's age, possibly more than 500. Growing old and even dying can't halt the Doctor's adventures; maturation therefore cannot be a threat to him, and that includes having a sex life and children.
The problem with how much of this plays out is that River offers a model for having adult children and having adventures. The Problem of Susan is more the problem of Amelia now.
April 14, 2014 @ 4:59 am
@Aylwin – I was thinking more of their lack of visible emotional disturbance than the failure to change the course of events.
I see what you're motioning at, and agree with a lot of it, but this part in particular is a well-worn criticism that is not borne out by the text.
The events of A Good Man Goes to War and Let's Kill Hitler are separated by several months (both diegetically and extra-diegetically). Though we don't see the long process of grief and recovery the Ponds go through over that time, it is made 'visible' in the oft-forgotten Let's Kill Hitler prequel (not to mention that Amy's first words to the Doctor on their reunion are "Have you found her?", followed by the condemning line "But you haven't yet.".)
The Wedding of River Song gestures towards repression of this grief. In the heat of the moment Amy is prepared to murder the woman responsible, though she comes to regret her choice. And at the end of that story we learn that she and River share a relationship away from the Doctor that helps her overcome this.
Of course, in between these stories little mention is made of Melody's loss. But that's not untrue to the nature of grief – eventually everyday life intercedes, and the grief goes unspoken. It's just that for the Ponds, 'everyday life' is a series of madcap adventures in dollhouses, temporally engineered hospitals, and bonkers outer space prisons disguised as 80s hotels. (Note that here we're playing the game of in-Universe justification. There's also no shortage of "Doyleist" reasons.)
Now, the lack of emotional connection to their unborn child in the story at hand is another matter entirely.
April 14, 2014 @ 5:07 am
Ah, ferret's comment wasn't on the page when I wrote mine. But yeah, the prequel is a necessary part of the story and should have been broadcast. I have no idea on the viewership the prequels get, but I can assume a fair portion of the general audience went into Let's Kill Hitler without having seen it.
April 14, 2014 @ 6:59 am
@Bennett – "Yes, but that was ages ago! Why would she still be upset?…..Not good?" "A bit not good, yeah."
All the points you make are fair enough as far as they go, but as implied above, I don't personally buy them as adequate justification for the appearance of equanimity restored. Apart from anything else, there could surely be no question of seriously coming to terms with anything until after LKH. At the start of that episode they're still in suspense about just what has happened and what it is ultimately going to mean.
Also, that "visible" was key to what I was saying – I am less preoccupied here with "in-universe justification" than with the story as experienced by the audience, including me, so to some extent we may be talking past each other. Anyone who is bereft will seem fine a lot of the time, but then there are those times when they don't, and not showing us any of those times is a creative choice that affects how we experience those characters. I think the reliance of the case for the defence on allusions to the passage of time offscreen and online add-ons just underlines the way that character is being bulldozed by the exigencies of storytelling here. What we do not see, or even hear about, cannot convey much weight at all; as for the prequel, as you suggest, what happens in non-broadcast content is of dubious visibility to a large proportion of that audience. Like Phil's Kickstarter goodies, such material should be an optional extra that adds something new to a broadcast story sequence which is complete and fully satisfactory without it. When you start secreting fundamental chunks of your emotional logic and character development in such nooks and crannies, leaving a gaping hole in the story as experienced by most people, something is clearly amiss. And for me the Kovarian incident just leapt out of the blue because there had been so little to lay the groundwork for it.
The prequel shows that the writers were aware of the emotional problem here, but the lack of anything like it in the broadcast episodes indicates that they were determined to keep any acknowledgement of it out of the main body of the season, apart from a momentary flicker at the last gasp – presumably on the grounds that it would be too disruptive. Toying with the idea of Doctor Who companions having a child was an explosion that scattered cracks across the surface of the series, which they proceeded to paper over.
Anyway, I have managed to take this lengthily off-topic. As you say, the treatment of the generic child in Amy's Choice is itself distinctly problematic. The child effectively functions as what we are told marriage need no longer be, the thing that forces you to become boring and grow old. The writer's distaste for it in those terms carries over to the characters and it gets brushed aside without much consideration.
Incidentally, where questions of growing up are concerned, there must be something to be said about the fact that that writer is Simon "Men Behaving Badly" Nye. Not sure what, mind you.
April 14, 2014 @ 7:07 am
By now it should be clear that the show is taking a Jungian approach to Myth. The monsters and situations that are presented to our heroes are reflections of their psychology. The Dream Lord is a manifestation of the Doctor's self-hatred. Rory's insecure about how he compares to the Doctor (hence Rory's becoming a physician.) Having to choose between two realities is what Amy grapples with; even Leadworth monsters reflect her first encounter with the Doctor — the eyes sticking out of their mouths iconically mirror the Atraxi Eye peering through the Crack in her wall. (The freezing TARDIS, on the other hand, reflects the cast and crew's struggle with winter production.)
This is a thing. Prisoner Zero in The Eleventh Hour copies people from a deep place of dreaming, and is defeated by Amy's subconscious. The Beast Below, and its poem in particular, points to the Beast/Angel dichotomy of the collective unconscious. Churchill, representative of British mythology, resides in an underground bunker below London. An Angel gets into Amy's mind, and the Crack is revealed to affect memory. The sexy fish vampires reflect what Amy was running away from.
Also a thing is the show's continued use of repeating motifs. Once again we have significant Eye symbolism, and the repeated imperative to "pay attention" and "observe details." The Dream Lord appearing in a reflection of the TARDIS console, a reiteration of the Mirror, as is the Doctor positioning himself behind one of the TARDIS roundels, which also features a Mirror (combined with an X motif). There's the continued use of Red and Blue, here in the costume choices — in both "realities" Amy wears both colors, while the Doctor and Rory are "blue" in Upper Leadworth and "red" in the TARDIS; the story is ultimately concerned with Amy figuring out how to balance her polarities.
And once again, there's The Chair. Up in the baby's room (the baby, we now know, is River, whose introduction introduced The Chair as a symbol for Ascension) Rory props a chair up against the door after dragging Amy up the stairs — Rory has become "heroic" in saving Amy's life. He sits in the Chair, and in the next scene, defending his wife against monsters, he gets dusted. His self-sacrifice, in turn, leads Amy to rebel against the constructs of the story.
I also find it interesting that the real "culprit" is represented as a handful of snowflakes. The Atraxi Eyes in the Eleventh Hour, it should be noted, had spaceships that resembled giant snowflakes. There's a running theme in this era that's concerned with Water. Water, as I've said, is a reflective surface. But water is also one of the primary metaphors we have for Time — Time is a River, it is said. The Ponds may be time-travelers, but they represent "still water" and they ultimately cherish a certain amount of stability, unlike their daughter. The danger of water becoming frozen or too still, in this metaphor, is that people can become "fixed" in their ways — this, then, is the real problem with "fixed points" in the timey-wimey sense.
The snowflake aliens, interestingly, kind of bring both meanings to the table. On the one hand they perform the mirror function of revealing identity and the subconscious. On the other, the time periods seen here aren't really happening at all; our heroes are in limbo, in lost time. And it's only when Amy and the Doctor finally break through the false dichotomy (unifying the opposites) that proper time is restored.
So it's interesting that the "TARDIS dream" of the episode is explicitly alchemical. The sun they orbit "burns cold" — a complete reversal of polarity, but also a unification of opposites in itself. Funny how this is suggested as "waking up" — a common metaphor for the expansion of consciousness, heightened awareness, even Ascension. Open your eyes, indeed.
April 14, 2014 @ 7:36 am
This comment has been removed by the author.
April 14, 2014 @ 7:40 am
I'm with Aylwin here. They already made all the points worth making, but I'd like to reiterate: if your characters are having significant feelings or undergoing development off-screen, you have a real problem with conveyance on your hands. If the Ponds are total wrecks as soon as they step off the TARDIS after an adventure, the audience needs to see that for it to be a part of the narrative. After all, a story can only be what's told. If you start filling in the blanks yourself, that becomes a different story, which in this case would be known as "fan fiction."
April 14, 2014 @ 7:53 am
Love this comment. Thanks, Froborr.
April 14, 2014 @ 8:03 am
I think perhaps the worst aspect is that Amy never even mentions her unborn baby either. It's a case of "right, no Rory? Definitely don't want this." No consideration (shown at least) regarding their unborn baby. Not even a moment to consider.
April 14, 2014 @ 8:05 am
I recall how many folks disliked this episode after its first airing. I never understood why. I think Phil highlights some of the reasons here although he lists them as positives rather than negatives.
Hmm. Perhaps we're at the mid-point of the season and middles are supposed to be boring parts. Of course, that's why TV shows and movies typically put in chase scenes amid character/story revelations. Interestingly, it's the same thing here. However, switching back and forth between the two "choices" can be a drag to some viewers.
Notably, this is the first episode where we see the Doctor's interior. I guess he's done "cooking" now. As Phil noted, this is also the first time in Series 6 where the Doctor gets ahead of the game well before the final act.
Particularly enjoyed Toby Jones, who would have made a great Doctor. He and Matt Smith very much remind me of the Seventh Doctor in this one.
It's this episode when the TARDIS control room first reminded me of Number Two's lair in "The Prisoner."
In hindsight, this episode points forwards to "The Almost People" and "A Good Man Goes to War."
This episode also highlights continuous themes/concepts of absurdity, The Absurd, and Absurdism in the Moffat/Smith era. I wanted to detail this earlier but I've been busy elsewhere lately.
April 14, 2014 @ 9:04 am
Does it muddy the waters a bit that the "growing up and settling down" part of the story is the one that's most like a typical Doctor Who episode — that is, it contains monsters and running and people being killed? The TARDIS sequence is rather dull by contrast, with the only monster in the room being the Doctor's skeevy subconscious flirting with Amy.
And those first monsters: old people that turn young people to dust, as WM Keith noted above. I don't take any kind of a "growing up is OK" message from this story.
I'm also not convinced that "adventures" and "stories" are interchangeable. The idea that all the books I've read in my life are, if you like, "adventures for the mind" is pleasant in a self-serving sort of way, but the handful of real adventures I've had weren't anything like books.
And the idea that adulthood and stories are incompatible is silly on the face of it; if you believe adulthood is when you settle down and do safe things for the rest of your life, stories are what you have instead of adventures.
The types of stories change, sure, if you're convinced some stories are for kids and some are for adults, and I think that's what you mean. But the conflict between adulthood and adventure, which to be fair is what I think you were actually addressing most of the time, is a meatier one. Apropos of which:
AMY: This is my life now and it just turned you white as a sheet, so don't you call it dull again, ever. Okay?
I liked this episode a lot — if it weren't for "The Lodger" it might have ended up my favorite of the season.
April 14, 2014 @ 9:47 am
This one is my personal favorite of Series 5.
April 14, 2014 @ 10:04 am
I think the problem with Superman and Spiderman being married isn't so much an adventure logic excluding marriage, as a soap logic excluding marriage. A soap logic depends on characters having aesthetically interesting emotional relationships to other characters over an indefinitely prolonged period. However, it cannot handle any irreversible change in a character's emotional relationships, nor can it handle any emotional relationship that is not aesthetically interesting. By 'aesthetically interesting' I mean both in the Hegelian-Kierkegaardian sense of considering life as a succession of intense experiences and also in the 'what happens next – will they or won't they?' sense. As such no permanent relationship can last in any soap opera setting. At some point the demands for continual crisis in relationships require that the relationship break down; if the writers are rightly or wrongly unwilling to handle depicting that (writing a divorced couple is aesthetically problematic in soap as well), you get the kind of retcon evasions we get with Spiderman and Superman.
April 14, 2014 @ 12:14 pm
This is extraordinary. Philip, you have topped yourself. Again.
April 14, 2014 @ 1:32 pm
When I first saw this episode on broadcast, I thought it was average, but interesting, though it has grown on me since then. But I think it's the first sign of a critique that our friend keeps mentioning on the blog's comments, and that I've seen percolating in a few various negative accounts of the Moffat era. This is the notion that Moffat's stories remove narrative stakes and character development. Basically, because this story turns out to have taken place entirely in the Doctor's shared hallucination, then it was a waste of time, because nothing actually happened to the main characters and they were never in danger. It was the first sign that Moffat would create a narrative where nothing in the show mattered because everything negative would be wiped from history. No one has to deal with Rory's death because he gets brought back to life. Same with Amy. Nothing about the Doctor's death at Lake Silencio matters because the entire affair turned out to be a fake-out. By the end of the Smith era, even the Time War and the Doctor's own end to his regeneration limit was written out of existence.
Now, as you can tell from my various posts here and on my own blog, I believe none of this. Phil's entire argument for the virtue of the Moffat/Smith era, as he has going to lay out in his Time of the Doctor post, rests on this very ability to resolve the intractable conflicts the show's narrative sets up by retroactively writing them out of existence.
This doesn't work for conventional drama, where the characters are irreparably shaped, quite often in corrupted, broken, and twisted forms. Now, we love these broken, twisted forms. That's why we all love Mad Men, Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones, and all the popular tragicomedies that define our contemporary cultural landscape on television. But on these programs, brilliant though they are, the tragedy ultimately overcomes any levity, or even hope. Their predominant, defining moods are existential emptiness (Don Draper), straining dignity from the clusterfuck of modern life (Walter White), and the perverse joy of nihilistic Machiavellian violence (everyone on Game of Thrones). There is a spirit of cultural gravity dragging us to hopelessness, and Moffat's Doctor Who fights this spirit by developing characters that can take control of their own narrative, rewriting their stories to trick tragedy and defeat into playing out as a happy victory.
There's a reason why I never really liked Mad Men, Breaking Bad, and Game of Thrones that much, even as I recognize what brilliantly crafted television they are. I, and I think all of us, need some hope.
April 14, 2014 @ 1:53 pm
So you can't have hope unless you can not only overcome your obstacles but make it so that they never existed in the first place?
I have no problem with a happy ending. Battlestar Galactica made its way to what you might consider a happy ending, though I could see how all the tragedy they had to navigate through might have soured it for you. But that, to me, is more the kind of ending that speaks to hope. Hope is "bad shit is happening now but we may be able to overcome it without a miracle." What people complain about in the Moffat era, and I see their point, is that it's more "bad shit is happening now but it's probably all a dream, so don't sweat it." There's nothing wrong with enjoying the latter, but for me it's very far removed from the kinds of problems I can relate to.
In fact, while there are a few problems in my life I strongly suspect are all in my head, which I could plausibly eliminate by writing myself a new story from here on out, almost none of them are things I could retroactively write out of existence. For me, that seems to matter when I try to get invested in the big set pieces of much of the Moffat era. For you, it doesn't, and that's fine.
For what it's worth, I agree with your entertainment priorities. I haven't watched Mad Men or Breaking Bad yet, and couldn't really get through Six Feet Under; I recognize the skill and talent involved, but it's hard to voluntarily sign up for that many hours of depressing tragedy.
Game of Thrones is different for me. There's quite a lot of hope kicking around in there, though perhaps more of the BSG kind than the Doctor Who kind. So far I've got my fingers crossed for Jon, Dany, and Arya, and while I wouldn't be shocked to get burned on at least two of those, that's keeping me going. Perhaps some people are watching it for the "perverse joy of nihilistic Machiavellian violence" but I'm not, and I don't think that describes "everyone" on the show. Quite a few of those characters believe in something and are not nearly as Machiavellian as they ought to be. It's working for some of them so far and failing others spectacularly.
Oh, and I'm also rooting for the dragons, those beauties.
April 14, 2014 @ 1:55 pm
"Filling in the blanks" is what we do in all fiction (the "blanks" are referred to as lacunae). It's an essential part of the process of following a story.
Which isn't to say that there may not be problems involved: many uncharitable misreadings of stories emerge from inferences from lacunae.
April 14, 2014 @ 1:58 pm
(To be fair: BSG needed a miracle to get to its ending. Bad example.)
April 14, 2014 @ 2:30 pm
I don't think it's true to say nothing is at stake in Amy's Choice. What's at stake isn't the lives of the main characters. What's at stake is the relationships between the main characters (especially Amy and Rory). And since that all depends on things that the characters remember none of it is undone.
April 14, 2014 @ 3:42 pm
It also points forward to The Angels Take Manhattan, at the end of which Amy makes a very similar choice.
April 14, 2014 @ 4:56 pm
Thank you for bringing up the true nature of the Dream Lord's plan. This is what pushes the story over into ingenious for me, and while I love that it's implied rather than stated, perhaps the episode could have teased it out a fraction more.
The Dream Lord, who was cruel, callous, manipulative, dismissive of life and other people's pain…ultimately aimed to achieve a positive outcome, and succeeded.
In other words, roughly consistent with where post-Classic writers pushed Seven. And even a bit reminiscent of War*. If the principle behind the Doctor is that he helps, then the dark Doctor is he that helps but does very unpleasant things in the process. Things we hope the net positives will let us forget about. Never mind the Valeyard – this is truly frightening, because the line is so easily crossed…
Speaking of which, if the Dream Lord likes to confront the Doctor with his various foibles and flaws, what if the entire game is also a form of that? Is he perhaps forcing the Doctor to experience firsthand how it feels to be subject to this form of 'helping'?
*Fun to see how much of Moffat's run can be glimpsed in this single episode. Another example: Amy and Rory alternating between home life and TARDIS life becomes a reality in Series 7.
April 14, 2014 @ 5:26 pm
The problem with the gap between AGMGTW and LKH is that the Doctor left Amy and Rory with the promise that he'd reunite them with their daughter, while leaving them with their daughter.
As far as the Doctor was concerned, he was keeping his promise, as they were being reunited with their child.
But for Amy and Rory, it's more complex. They already know and care for River as a friend and mentor. But they also want their daughter back as a baby.
And River has this obsession with spoilers, so she may well hesitate to tell them too much about what happened to her as a child, because a lot of that lies in their future.
I suspect that the Doctor was hoping that River would do the hard work of explaining that she was okay now, but would not be reunited with them as a baby. And, to be fair, it might be easier coming from River, knowing that it is their own daughter telling them that she's okay, rather than taking someone else's word for it.
As for reactions, Amy and Rory have always tended to run away from their problems. And that's what we see after LKH – escapism and denial.
In the meantime, the TARDIS takes them where they need to go – including a lesson in the need for parents to love an alien changeling child, and an exploration of who has the right to choose whether an older person will be unwritten to save their younger self.
April 14, 2014 @ 5:43 pm
I've mentioned points similar to David's in my other comments about these discussions too. The ability to rewrite the past doesn't make the challenges disappear because the characters still remember those events. Remember the end of The Big Bang, where it looks like the climax is that the crack-eaten timelines were restored and everyone's memory of the last season was forgotten. Amy and Rory proceed to their wedding ceremony as expected (Arthur Darvill's expressions as he was brushing his teeth sell his general obliviousness). Then once Amy remembers the Doctor, both of their memories return. The character development is restored.
So the characters have still overcome obstacles because they remember those obstacles and the difficult process of their overcoming. But the Doctor, Amy, Rory, and Clara can also change the past to reduce the damage that was done. They still overcame the tragedy, developed from it because they remember it and incorporate it in their narrative, and get the extra victory of writing the tragedy out of history. It's a win-win(that was a loss).
April 14, 2014 @ 6:43 pm
This business about rewriting time is really about rewriting stories, and especially the stories that reside in the subconscious — which, lo and behold, is where sorrow and joy are actually generated. It's difficult, however, to do this by fiat, by conscious "willpower" as the subconscious is by its very nature resistant to the conscious mind. No, it takes stories — and, perhaps, Myths, stories that could never have happened but which are always happening. The absurdity of a myth makes it easily dismissed by the conscious rational mind, but those very same qualities make them quite accessible and accepted by the subconscious.
Of course, such stories won't help with certain "real world" problems — but some, such as those which can be ameliorated or even solved through a change in psychology, through a different perspective, such problems are not exactly rare.
April 14, 2014 @ 6:46 pm
For some people, the unborn don't yet exist, not as distinct personalities for whom consideration is due. To imply a moral failing on Amy's part for lacking such regard is treading awfully close to a reactionary colonization of the female body. It is, in fact, the default position of the anti-abortion crusades. This line of criticism, I think, is deeply sexist.
April 14, 2014 @ 6:59 pm
@Aylwin: "Anyone who is bereft will seem fine a lot of the time, but then there are those times when they don't, and not showing us any of those times is a creative choice that affects how we experience those characters. I think the reliance of the case for the defence on allusions to the passage of time offscreen and online add-ons just underlines the way that character is being bulldozed by the exigencies of storytelling here."
But how do you properly tell the story of people who are constantly repressed, who bury their difficult emotions and run away from them? To show their bereavement as on ongoing concern isn't being true to their characters, it's indulging the audience with an expected narrative that completely elides the problem of repression, which is the human concern that this era of the show attempts to address.
Again, for those who've followed this era closely, it's very clear that most of the time we get insight into character psychology not from direct representation of emotion, but through metaphor. In LKH Amy starts to shut down emotionally as the revelations of her daughter's life become apparent. This repression is shown to us metaphorically through the Tesselector, which absurdly dramatizes repression — when the robot plays Amy, there's absolutely no emotional expression given whatsoever.
Likewise, the emotional consequences of intervening in River's life are given plenty of room in The Girl Who Waited, and indeed that whole episode functions to provide catharsis for those pent-up emotions, for both the characters (Amy by proxy, for she's always more removed than Rory) and ourselves.
April 14, 2014 @ 9:50 pm
So the characters have still overcome obstacles because they remember those obstacles and the difficult process of their overcoming. But the Doctor, Amy, Rory, and Clara can also change the past to reduce the damage that was done.
I see what you mean, particularly with regard to this story. I think that can be satisfying. I don't always feel satisfied by it. With "Amy's Choice," yes. With other stories — "The Wedding of River Song," for instance, and honestly, in some respects, the sainted "Big Bang" — instead of catharsis or victory, I'm kind of left going "Huh. All right, I guess."
It kind of goes beyond our TARDIS crew, too — I remember after "The Big Bang" I was trying to figure out how many of the foregoing adventures the rebooted universe rewrote. It's all well and good for them to learn, hug, and grow, but did they change what happened to the Saturnynes? Or the Silurians? Or the Angels? I guess per "Time of the Doctor" that crack somehow never really went away, but I thought it had. And the more of these questions I'm expected not to take seriously — the more I'm supposed to just smile and nod and assume that if Moffat doesn't spell it out, it doesn't matter — the harder it is for me to feel anything's really at stake.
That might mean I'm the Mayor of Simpleton. But I don't think we'd be having this conversation if the population of Simpleton were 1.
April 14, 2014 @ 10:04 pm
But how do you properly tell the story of people who are constantly repressed, who bury their difficult emotions and run away from them?
I guess I haven't followed this era closely. I've never gotten the sense of Amy as an unusually repressed person. Most of the time she seems quite willing and able to express herself and her emotions. Maybe only a few of them are actually "difficult" for her?
April 14, 2014 @ 10:18 pm
Jane – I'm with you on the above regarding the approach to myth in this season (and those after for my mind) in Moffat's era being Jungian. Indeed once we break the stories down each element could easily be seen to be a reflection or expression of the characters' psychologies. There are not many of us who are completely emotionally literate (all the time) in our sharing of our psychological states – some of us want to run away from where we are and maybe we would find some kind of refuge with a mad alien and his magic box? If that opportunity arose many of us would run off, or if we got traumatised then continue running?
April 14, 2014 @ 10:32 pm
I agree Adam we need hope – that's certainly something I believe in and part of why I love Doctor Who as it generally has that as a foundation.
I feel that for me there is often a lot at stake in these stories as reflecting Jane's thoughts above – I would say that within the characters I feel and witness that struggle between the conscious and subconscious to accept new stories, and move on from that which is known.
This lyric from Aimee Mann's "Momentum" could be Amy talking at various points in her journey, and why the madman tries to be the Doctor for her:
But I can't confront the doubts I have
I can't admit that maybe the past was bad
And so, for the sake of momentum
I'm condemning the future to death
So it can match the past.
April 14, 2014 @ 11:02 pm
Jane, for once I'm not with you on the abortion argument. Amy is heavily pregnant, well past the point where abortion would be allowed in most jurisdictions. It's a hard line to draw, but at that stage – when the baby stands a good chance of survival outside its mother – I think it is a moral failing to completely disregard the baby. This doesn't mean Amy shouldn't make the choice she does, just that the episode should show that she has some awareness that she is making the choice for two lives. It would take two seconds for her to glance down and give her belly a stroke, and it would defuse the discomfort many people felt at that moment (myself among them).
As a man, it's not really for me to say whether this is a sexist viewpoint; but it feels more universal than that, like thinking about your passengers before you deliberately crash your vehicle.
April 14, 2014 @ 11:55 pm
Jane, I'm pro-choice and feminist. As elvwood notes, however, Amy is well into the final stages of the pregnancy. Providing all is well with the child, it is incredibly likely to be both viable and healthy, even if delivered immediately. I'm pretty sure under such circumstances that, while the life of the mother would always (correctly, IMO) be the paramount concern, some 'consideration' would indeed be 'due' to the unborn child. Abortion law tends to reflect this view, with term limits set in large part around the concept of viability. Of course you are correct that ‘some people’ don’t agree with that, but to cite my disagreement with such people as being anywhere near a ‘reactionary colonization of the female body’ let alone ‘awfully close’, is something I find both troubling and insulting, frankly.
I also fail to see textual justification for the idea that Amy is a person for whom 'the unborn don't exist' and who would therefore consider her unborn child unworthy of 'consideration'. There's no indication she is baring the child against her will, or that she is unhappy with the idea of motherhood. If the idea was that the death of Rory pushes her to such a state of grief that she can see no viable future for her and her child okay, but a)that's very bleak b)I wasn't at all sold on it being her state of mind be either the script or the acting and c)for all that I'd be tempted to applaud the decision to explore the horror inherent in that decision in another context (suicidal depression is a thing, after all) this is Doctor Who and it's a terrible fit, IMO. Of course, I don't seriously think they were trying to do that – they were relying on no-one really taking Amy's pregnancy seriously because of course, we the audience know she can't be pregnant so that has to be the dream. Which raises that old problem that if they won’t take their internal fiction seriously, why should I?
April 15, 2014 @ 1:45 am
"But how do you properly tell the story of people who are constantly repressed, who bury their difficult emotions and run away from them?"
Well, supposing that that is actually an accurate description of what is meant to be going on with Amy and Rory both, then you offer some acknowledgement of that repression through interactions with other characters. And repressed does not necessarily mean invisible. In the latter part of season 5 they managed to accommodate some very clear intimations that Amy was hurting at losing Rory, when she didn't even remember he had ever existed (how's that for repression?). If you actually want to communicate these things, there are ways and means, and Moffat and his writers were more than capable of finding them, if that had been their aim.
"Again, for those who've followed this era closely, it's very clear that most of the time we get insight into character psychology not from direct representation of emotion, but through metaphor."
For real? I mean, perhaps I wasn't paying enough attention, but I find it hard to credit that anyone's reaction to watching, for example, The Beast Below, Flesh and Stone, Vincent and The Doctor, The Big Bang, A Good Man Goes to War, The Girl Who Waited, Asylum of the Daleks, The Angels Take Manhattan or indeed Amy's Choice would include the thought "I say, there's remarkably little emotion on display here!".
April 15, 2014 @ 1:47 am
Also, I strongly reject the notion that this is a sexist line of criticism. Very many male and female humans feel very protective towards heavily pregnant women and the children they are carrying (again, I am pro-choice – I use the word 'children' in the context of 'heavily pregnant' to denote viability). The loss of a child that fails to reach full term is very rarely treated by people as something to shrug off or be indifferent to because 'the unborn don't yet exist'. For the vast majority of people affected by such a circumstance, it is a tragedy. That's the context of my objection, and gender politics forms no part of it.
April 15, 2014 @ 2:24 am
I understand the nature of your disappointment, Encyclops, even though I don't share it. But I think it's based on expecting Doctor Who as a text to operate just as chronologically as every other TV show, where earlier seasons set up a story that finds its conclusion in later seasons. But I think the radical, and difficult, nature of Moffat's approach is that he screws with the chronology of how continuity is established.
For instance, your point about the crack in The Time of the Doctor. It isn't that the crack came back, making The Big Bang's conclusion worthless. The moment is addressed quickly (like a lot of Time of the Doctor, it moves really fast), but Trenzalore is actually the origin of the cracks. Because the signal they're transmitting is looking for the Doctor, Kovarian's group thinks that killing the Doctor before he reaches Trenzalore will prevent the centuries-long war there. The Time of the Doctor isn't just when the Doctor discovers the origin of the season five cracks and the motives of Kovarian; it's the actual origin of Kovarian and the cracks. So the arcs of the Smith era literally flowed backwards. It doesn't matter either if Moffat planned all the details of the arcs from the beginning, or if he made them up as he produced each season. As far as the show is concerned, its chronology went backwards. So the Smith era consists of the Doctor discovering and clearing up these complicated messes (the cracks, his murder by Kovarian's Silence faction), and then getting roped into the conditions of their origin.
What did this do to the Silurians and the Angels? Probably a lot of collateral changes to the timeline of that universe, actually. But the continuity and chronology of the show has been rewritten in the past. That doesn't deny the validity of the episodes that came before, erasing their dramatic meaning. Think on this: If you watch The Daleks (1963-4) today, would you scoff at it, as if the story had no dramatic stakes? Its continuity was overwritten in 1975 by Genesis of the Daleks. Or do you think every novel of the Eighth Doctor era is dramatically worthless because Paul McGann only lists Big Finish companions in The Night of the Doctor, overwriting the EDAs? I don't, because the drama of a given piece of Doctor Who lies in the experience, in its presence, not in its preservation as an inviolable element of continuity. It parallels a philosophical element of the Davies era as well, that what we do with our current lives, not our ultimate conclusion, is ethically most important. We should know by now that Doctor Who is a show that overwrites itself all the time. And I think Moffat is the first producer to take that mandate seriously in his narratives for the show.
It may be that in the future, we'll get a production team that's a little more sloppier with the show's flexibility and actually does engineer situations that remove the dramatic stakes of the stories. But Steven Moffat is not that sloppy producer.
April 15, 2014 @ 2:47 am
Whether there is a problem with Superman and Spiderman being married surely depends on whether Metropolis has legalised same-sex marriage.
April 15, 2014 @ 3:37 am
I'm a rate-paying constituent of encyclops' little town. I voted for him.
And the point he is bringing here is what I was saying (not the first to say it) in the Time of the Doctor replies thread. Someone there challenged me to answer what I felt in TotD invalidated all the history of the show that had gone before.
The answer is several things, but I think the most important one is Moffat's approach to story continuity and plot. By the time we reach TotD, and Moffat is apparently dismissing whole giant threatening bad guys from previous seasons of his as "some mixed up faction of a poorly articulated church, and not that important so forget about them" (not an actual quote, obviously), along with a whole bunch of other things… I find it hard to care about anything that is going on.
I know he will just fail to explain the bits he doesn't want to, and hand-wave away the bit he absolutely has to, and then smile winningly and say "But the important thing is, we can tell any story we like here, and it's only the journeys of the characters that matter. Isn't that great!?"
And I find that unsatisfying. I need some firm ground to stand on, or I can't engage with those journeys. When the sands are always shifting, then I never know what is going to be ret-conned or dismissed, and it is almost impossible for me to care about any of it. The stakes just slip under the sand and disappear.
This episode (which I really quite liked when it aired – haven't watched it since, so I guess I still like it) is where we first see that tendency. As a dad of a teenager and two small kids, I really liked the message that Phil has outlined in his essay.
But then at the end, it turns out that it was all just the Doctor, aware on some level, trying to teach Amy and Rory a lesson – that they don't have to choose between growing up and adventuring. Even if I had seen that as a dilemma they faced (news to me, really) then the reveal at the end makes it all feel more like George Bluth using a one-armed man to teach his kids a lesson:
"And THAT's why we always leave a note on the fridge!"
Those lessons are fraudulent. They FEEL like they're real at the time, but once revealed, you feel deflated. And a day later you only find yourself resenting the person who tricked you.
April 15, 2014 @ 3:45 am
@encyclops: "I've never gotten the sense of Amy as an unusually repressed person. Most of the time she seems quite willing and able to express herself and her emotions. Maybe only a few of them are actually "difficult" for her?"
Yes, it's the difficult emotions that get repressed, or the feelings about difficult situations. Running away from her wedding day, that's certainly a dramatization of repression — she's not dealing with her difficult emotions, she's avoiding them. Wanting to jump the Doctor is another way. In both cases, she isn't actually expressing what she's afraid of — she can't, because she may not even know, as that's how repression works.
Amy's Choice provides another example — it's only after Rory dies that the true depth of her feelings for him becomes apparent to her. Love isn't typically thought of as a difficult emotion, but it would be to Amy, because Amy has abandonment issues (which the Dream Lord explicitly invokes). She lost her parents as a little girl, neglected by her aunt, and of course the Doctor stretching five minutes out into twelve years. In her case, feelings of love will stir up all kinds of monsters in her subconscious. No wonder that the monsters in Upper Leadworth share the same iconography as the one she saw in her bedroom as a little girl!
April 15, 2014 @ 4:32 am
@Aylwin: "Well, supposing that that is actually an accurate description of what is meant to be going on with Amy and Rory both, then you offer some acknowledgement of that repression through interactions with other characters."
In Let's Kill Hitler that acknowledgement is shown through the monster of the Tesselector. Rory even lampshades this as a metaphor!
This is not to say that all forms of repression entail emotionlessness. It's in the particular case of LKH that this facet of repression is explored — which makes sense to me, since the pain of losing a child and the shocking way in which Amy realizes she won't ever get her back seems a perfect recipe for not wanting to deal with those emotions at all.
It's clear at the beginning, though, that Amy still cares — not only is the first thing she asks the Doctor at the beginning of the story a plea for the return of her daughter, she's gone to the desperate lengths of carving out a crop circle to get the Doctor's attention: this is, once again, "showing" emotion through dramatized action, rather than "telling" through direct representation like dialogue and its attendant acting.
As to the other stories you mention, repression is at work in all of them. The Beast Below features Amy wiping her memory of the terrible truth of the Star Whale. Flesh and Stone introduces how people lost to the Crack are wiped from memory, how the Angel in Amy's mind (another metaphor) gets her to do things she isn't aware of, and of course Amy wanting to have sex with the Doctor rather than actually dealing with her near-death experience or, indeed, her ambivalent feelings about marriage.
Vincent and the Doctor: Amy's trauma of losing Rory breaches her repressed memories of him. Asylum of the Daleks: Amy and Rory's breakup is due to Amy's repression of her fertility issues, and it's only through the Doctor's intersession (and, indeed, being in the deep underground of a monster's lair) that she can bring these issues to the surface.
The Girl Who Waited is an extended metaphor about the consequences of wanting to save their baby: Not only does the story itself function repressively, keeping the underlying purpose at a distance, so much of its iconography suggests repression itself. The monsters in this case are, yup, emotionless robots, with no faces, and older Amy adopts this iconography like armor. It's no mistake that The Garden is featured here, which is where little Amelia was first abandoned by the Doctor. The Handbots' hands deliver an anesthetic — they are agents of numbing.
The finales function differently, as they're oriented towards the breaking down of repression. The Big Bang has the Doctor confessing to Amy, provoking plastic Rory (another metaphor) to an emotional outburst, and of course Amy's tearful remembering of the Doctor accompanied by the breaking of social conventions at her wedding. A Good Man has Amy using storytelling at the beginning to ameliorate the imminent theft of her child, but the end of the episode shows her completely breaking down and exhibiting all that pain when the story fails to measure up. (And people want to see more of this suffering?)
Angels Take Manhattan completes the cycle: Amy is no longer repressed, she knows herself and what she's about, and accepts all the trauma in her life. Even here the theme of repression is still in play: we get River's instinct to repress her frustration with the Doctor's emotional immaturity, but she can't maintain the facade. And, of course, Rory shoved in the basement with "the babies" is a nod that his desire for children is still bubbling below the surface. And finally, there's the Doctor's repression about the facts of aging and loss, which can only be made explicit through River.
April 15, 2014 @ 6:43 am
The other reason why character emotion isn't particularly carried well from one story to the next is, I suspect, down to the fluid nature of the story order. The Ponds lack of emotional turmoil was particularly noticeable in "Black Spot", and picked up by fandom. Of course we now know the reason for this was that "Spot" was picked up and relocated from later in the series dues to (I believe) the unavailability of Steven Fry's script.
April 15, 2014 @ 6:45 am
With regards to the crack in TotD, it's briefly mentioned that it's a piece of 'scar tissue' left over. Quick handwavey explanation in order to have a crack there without ignoring the bit where the Doctor fixed them all, and without it eating anything
April 15, 2014 @ 8:38 am
But the stakes of seasons five and six were real when we experienced them in transmission, and they're real when we watch them again. The story of the Kovarian faction is the story of a group that, in all good conscience, split from the organization that had given meaning to their lives and embarked on a path that turned them into epic villains. We saw their defeat in the batshit mad enormously universe-shattering story of The Wedding of River Song. The Time of the Doctor goes back to their origins, so of course they aren't epic anymore. The Kovarian Silence has been defeated already, at the end of season six. At their place of origin, of course they seem like nearly nothing. This small moment in the packed-to-the-gills Time of the Doctor reveals how humble their origins were.
So in this way, Moffat is increasing the scope of Doctor Who's world by showing us how much continuity develops off screen. It's not always a narrative technique that works (I have an unsold novel manuscript that has gone unsold precisely because I used this technique too well, burying the most interesting story in these interstitial details), but it's fascinating for suggesting scope and impact.
As for the "It was only a dream" ending being compared to J. Walter Weatherman, I always thought it revealed a fascinating perversity to George Bluth's character that he would engage in such elaborate manipulations to teach his children such trivial lessons. Likewise, it adds to the fascination of the Doctor (and the particular perversity of the Eleventh's personality) when we realize that his subconscious personality is twisted enough to engage in this kind of hallucinatory activity.
April 15, 2014 @ 9:34 am
Do you mean "Night Terrors"? Or are we talking about emotional turmoil from seeing the Doctor "killed"?
April 15, 2014 @ 10:03 am
I think this is largely going to come down to the fact that I find a lot of these experiments intellectually sort of cool but dramatically pretty uninvolving. It's different for you, and that's great.
I don't think it's just a problem with time travel, though that does complicate things. I remember how I reacted to the first episode of Sherlock. Once the motivation of the criminal was revealed it was a huge letdown for me. I'm not sure how to discuss the reasons why without spoilers, except to say that changing the motive to "the scriptwriter told me to do it" would not have materially altered the story. And that changes the way I relate to it.
To address a few of your examples:
"The Daleks" vs. "Genesis of the Daleks": I don't really think too hard about the contradictions when I watch these. Partly that's because I almost never watch "The Daleks" if I can help it, and so don't remember many of the specific details that lead to contradictions between them. But also I think it's easier for me to "forgive" since they're clearly different writers working in different eras with far less access to older stories than we have today. Here we have time being rewritten over the course of three years by the same writer, so the answer to "why are things different?" can't be "they either forgot the details of what came before or they didn't care." We're more obliged to think of it as a single long narrative. I do think that as Dalek history went on, I became even less engaged with it than I'd ever been, and really can't be bothered to care about the various factions or their trifling conflicts or their relationship with Davros. The parts of a Dalek story that are vulnerable to rewriting are typically not the parts that engage me emotionally.
EDAs: I see what you're driving at, but I didn't assume that just because the dying Eighth Doctor didn't take the time to list ALL of his companions didn't mean he didn't travel with some of them.
The Kovarian faction: I find it very difficult to take them seriously as "epic villains" in the first place, and the humbleness of their origins didn't help matters.
Anyway, we could go round on this stuff forever, and I don't know if we need to. I do generally find the Moffat era enjoyable, but rarely emotionally engaging, so in this respect it actually is more like classic Who for me than the RTD era was. It's great that it seems to do both for you.
April 15, 2014 @ 10:25 am
Yeah, I think Fry's script was abandoned for good somewhere in the Season Three range. The logic behind Black Spot moving is far more idiosyncratic: Moffat felt like the entire first half of the season was set indoors, and he wanted something outdoors.
April 15, 2014 @ 10:52 am
I'll go ahead and say that while it makes sense to me to have consideration of a viable fetus, I would under no circumstances whatsoever accord that personal feeling as the basis for rendering moral judgment upon another woman. Until birth, she has absolutely every right to disregard a fetus in her body — and any position otherwise is to compromise her agency. So I do consider any and every kind of abortion law ever to be inherently reactionary, as well as sexist (as men don't give birth — well, unless they're transmen).
That said, sure, most people would feel differently about a late-term pregnancy, and especially their own. So I think it's entirely fair to point out that Amy doesn't make this consideration, and that this is a salient reflection of her psychology — especially when the text has highlighted it through Rory's actions: upon entering the nursery he's immediately drawn to the baby's crib, and plays with the mobile; with his last breath before dying, he asks Amy to take care of their baby. And it's just as fair to point that Amy suggests she got pregnant because she was bored.
I think it makes sense that, having decided that this reality must be false, Amy would no longer give consideration to a fetus — perhaps because, if she did, she might not be able to gather the resolve to do what she does. Amy is good at many things, but she's a pro when it comes to this kind of repression.
April 15, 2014 @ 11:45 am
One of the reasons it didn't initially occur to me to be overly concerned with Amy and Rory's alleged lack of OMG QQ sadz over what goes on with their daughter is that their daughter appears to them as three or four different people, out of order, and if it's difficult for the viewer to piece them all together into a whole person who's easy to regard as "Amy and Rory's daughter," it's got to be difficult for Amy and Rory as well. I think the order they meet her in is something like this:
1. Mels, when they all were kids.
2. River Song, in "Time of Angels" or "Pandorica".
3. Melody the kid, in "The Impossible Planet / Day of the Moon".
4. Melody the baby, between "Almost People" and "Good Man."
All four look pretty different from one another, except maybe #3 and #4 at a stretch (since one's a newborn). They've spent WAY more time with their childhood friend and their childhood imaginary friend's wife than they have with their baby. It would be more surprising if they felt genuinely attached to her as their daughter.
As I wrote about "Let's Kill Hitler" in my own review:
…there’s not a lot of time for Amy and Rory to convincingly register the surely-mind-blowing situations they’re in: they’ve had a daughter, lost her, then realize they’ve grown up with her, and that she’s an assassin trained to kill the man they’ve trusted with their lives, and that they’ve narrowly saved both from certain death in the space of about a half hour. Generally they react not as they would, but as we do: as though this were a story they’re living in, and they’re impatient to get to the next chapter to see what happens to the characters they’ve come to care for.
I think for some people that bold part (emphasis added) is the key to the Moffat era's brilliance. For me, despite the fact that I've enjoyed a lot of the era (I was generally positive about "Good Man" and "Let's Kill" even though I had my complaints), it's at best a liability.
April 15, 2014 @ 11:48 am
Forgot the asterisks.
* Unless Mels is a retcon. Was there a point at which Amy and Rory's childhoods changed such that they grew up with Mels, or had that "always happened"? If the former, when?
* (was supposed to be two asterisks; oh well) It just occurred to me that "Day of the Moon" is a really bizarre title for all sorts of reasons. And also that I meant "The Impossible Astronaut." Sigh.
April 15, 2014 @ 5:40 pm
Also one of my favorite episodes to rewatch. Love the interaction of the three actors when they wake up from the first dream and check to see if Rory has a ponytail. I wish Clara had episodes like this.
April 15, 2014 @ 5:53 pm
It's not so much they've lost their daughter and regained their daughter in many forms, they've lost their baby – and lost it to a bunch of kidnappers who will spend it's days being brainwashed into a killing machine. Having the child/adult versions suddenly appear as proof the baby survived this horrific upbringing is cold comfort to a parent that wants to hold, love and protect their baby.
"I know she'll grow up to be River… but that – that's not the point – I don't want to miss all those years, you know? And I can't stand it. I can't. Please Doctor, please."
April 15, 2014 @ 6:24 pm
April 15, 2014 @ 11:17 pm
@Jane – It seems churlish to say this after such a long and detailed response, but that's not quite answering my (implied) question. While expressing doubts, I didn't actually challenge the suggestion that the observed reactions of both Amy and Rory were wholly explicable in terms of repression, let alone suggest that repression was absent from the era generally, merely proposing that this would not in itself exclude direct acknowledgement of submerged disturbance of the sort seen elsewhere in the Moffat era. What I could (and still can) not make head or tail of was your suggestion that we should not expect direct representation of emotion on the grounds that that is just not how Moffat-era Doctor Who does things. My point in gesturing at some particularly emotion-heavy episodes was that it does it in bucketloads. Direct representation and symbolic allusion are not mutually exclusive.
Incidentally, I think that to call The Girl Who Waited merely an extended metaphor is selling it very short, and I don't think it actually functions as some sort of therapeutic catharsis in any case. But best to leave that for when it comes around.
April 16, 2014 @ 2:22 am
"The Daleks" vs. "Genesis of the Daleks"(…) they're clearly different writers working in different eras with far less access to older stories than we have today
Both stories were written by Terry Nation. The first in 1963 the second in 1975 but even by their second appearance in I964's Dalek Invasion Earth Nation had rewritten their history. Actually I'm also totally uninterested in the convoluted factions of Dalek politics but I'm not quite sure what your point is (though I tend to agree with you regarding Sherlock). I suspect the crux of the matter is that these are fictional histories of imaginary people and a consistant unchanging backstory is not the prime concern of this type of writing. That's not to say that a historically scholastic approach can't produce good narrative work. Tolkien might be a good example and George RR Martin clearly emulates him in world building from a foundation of made-up history. Doctor Who however, with it's inherently mercurial and chaotic narratives which have to be simultaneously serial and discrete, just can't contain that level of continuity. Hell, it couldn't even keep its 'real' histories consistent in the old 'historicals'.
If you need an 'in-continuity' justification for historical anomolies it's the fact that the central dramatic conflict of this show about a busy-body time traveller and his pesky meddling friends has always been the struggle between "You can't rewrite history. Not one line" and "Change my dear! And not a minute too soon".
April 16, 2014 @ 5:25 am
Both stories were written by Terry Nation.
You're right, of course — I must have let my mind drift into thinking about the general case (which includes things like differences in the way Time Lords are portrayed), or else stumbled on the part of my memory that still remembers "Genesis" as having been mostly Bob Holmes even though it isn't. So I guess what's really going on in my mind with those two stories and with respect to most of Dalek history proper (including Dalek politics) is that I'm so bored by Daleks in general that I'm never invested in anything they do or whether they were invented by an increasingly tedious megalomaniac or sprang fully formed from the brow of Zeus. 🙂
Like I said, I'm okay with Doctor Who changing over time. I don't always think the changes are for the better, and they do affect the way I relate to the stories, both individually and taken together. I can intellectually accept those changes as the inevitable consequence of centuries of time travel, but it means I'm not emotionally invested in what's going on the same way I am with, say, Game of Thrones, which is what made me open my big mouth in the first place. I assume, though I never got past the first episode of his show, that if Walter White's family situation changed repeatedly each season, you could say "it's just a show, you should really just relax," but it would turn people off and limit their emotional engagement, and I think reasonably so.
That said, for continuity to change from season to season during the Moffat era is a deliberate choice. "Rebooting the universe" is a pretty big deal, as is closing the cracks in time that caused numerous things to happen during the preceding season ("Flesh and Stone" and "Cold Blood" being the biggest examples I can think of), and I'm interested in knowing what Moffat intended — was there ever a Prisoner Zero? do we now assume Amy and the Doctor never met the way they met, but that she just remembers having met him that way? and so on down the line — not just handwaving it away as unimportant.
April 16, 2014 @ 5:46 pm
I drew the same conclusion because I've read a series with the opposite set-up: both realities were 'real'. If the realities are equal, choosing "which battle to lose" is a false dichotomy.
April 16, 2014 @ 5:53 pm
Ditto. In fact, it's astonishing how much of this episode plays out in seasons six and seven. Rory and Amy being married, their child…
"Why would we ever give this up?" Amy's Choice
"The traveling is starting to feel like running away."–Power of Three
April 17, 2014 @ 9:27 am
It's like 'Restless' from Buffy, but without that much surealism.
April 20, 2014 @ 10:11 am
I love your idea as well, and also, great commentary, Dr. Sandifer.
April 20, 2014 @ 10:18 am
Yay, Adam! Love your response.
April 20, 2014 @ 10:26 am
I love the bit about the freezing TARDIS representing the cast and crew troubles with winter production, but the snowflake comment is good–and The Snowmen absolutely started out with the snowflake, evil snowflakes at that, which brought the frozen dead nanny, who killed Clara, essentially freezing her. And Clara was frozen with fear when she was confronted by the Snowmen until the Doctor talked her out of that fear. The Chair symbolism is also interesting as well.
April 20, 2014 @ 12:03 pm
This may be slightly off topic and veering more towards the feminist/anti-feminist debate about New Who, but there is a slightly interesting article that I read (through a link on io9) that deals with the sacrificial, martyrdom issues of Doctor Who's female companions, including that part where River suppressed/repressed her pain at breaking her wrist so that the Doctor wouldn't suffer at seeing her hurt.
It's an interesting angle, and Amy's repression, while not entirely tied to this issue as there are different causes, triggers, and metaphors for her repression, does show the possibility that it could be linked to or similar to this issue.
April 20, 2014 @ 8:50 pm
Adding to the cavalcade of foreshadowing, my favorite call-forward in the show:
"And you could be giving birth right now. This could be the dream, I told you."
Another favorite from this episode is the visual of the Doctor flinging whatever it was at the Dream Lord's face and watching it flicker through him. A very childish part of me immediately imagined "Oh man, what if he wasn't illusionary."