Last week was intense: Holy Week, Passover, and the beginning of the new season of Doctor Who! Also, my friend Marshall’s birthday. The moon is in the seventh house, and Jupiter aligns with Mars…
Charlie Jane Andrews wrote a great post at io9 about how Matt Smith owned his role as the new Doctor (Matt Smith is the New Doctor), and comparing “The 11th Hour,” Stephen Moffat’s first episode as showrunner, with the first episode of Russel T Davies’ tenure, “Rose.”
Andrews claims that RTD’s episode benefited from its firm grip on reality – Rose’s job in the shop, football-loving boyfriend, angry shallow mum, and so forth. Meanwhile, Moffat’s new companion, Amelia Pond, has a job as a “kiss-o-gram” that involves her dressing up as a sexy police officer (among other things) and going into parties to kiss people. According to Andrews, there’s no “normal” for Amy, which makes it harder to identify with her and by extension to enter the episode.
I didn’t get that sense at all. At the end of one episode, Amelia’s character exists to a degree Rose’s only reached after a whole season of running with the Doctor. Rose was so hyper-generic that she could have had anyone’s childhood; she could have been any girl soon after graduation from any high school. Amelia is a specific woman. She’s kept her Scottish accent through ten years of life in suburban England; she has a nasty aunt, an on-again, off-again relationship with a nebbishy cameraphone-obsessed male nurse in her home town; everyone on her street recognizes her as the pretty, and pretty weird, Pond girl from the end of the row, and most spend hours listening to her make up stories about her adventures with the Doctor. She’s a firebrand, an adventuress, and a shapeshifter — one gets the sense that she’s taken the kiss-o-gram job as much because she likes dressing up in costumes (and pretending in general – she makes a very effective policewoman before she reveals she’s not) as because she needs the money. She’s been with four psychiatrists and bit them all because they doubted her. I could write you a story, right now, about Amelia at any age, in any situation, with monsters or without, and you’d recognize her. Rose, age 14, is an enigma.
That was part of Rose’s appeal, to be sure – she was so nebulous that viewers could pour themselves into her, and over time she evolved the spunk that every sci-fi fan hopes she’d develop in Rose’s situation. Her character grew up like ivy around the edifice that was the Doctor. Still, she had no trunk of her own. It’s as hard to tell specific stories about her life post-Season 2 and pre-Season 4 (when the Doctor was out of the picture) as it is to tell stories about her life before his arrival. Amelia, on the other hand, has a trunk. She’s survived, and thrived, without the Doctor twice already by the end of her first episode.
Stephen Moffat’s strength has always been bringing particularity to characters that could just as easily be general: even the orphans in “The Empty Child,” and the soldier who holds Rose prisioner in “The Doctor Dances,” have their own personalities, though they don’t need them for the story’s sake. I’m excited, but not surprised, to see he’s given such character to the new Companion, and ecstatic that Karen Gillian has made her come alive on the screen.
Tomorrow: costumes, shapeshifting, identity anxiety, oh my!