The Weakness of a Companion – Welcome to the Moffat Era
Where do I begin?
I was super psyched to put together this series focusing on the companions of Doctor Who (or more accurately, of “New Who”, the series since 2005). If you haven’t read the previous installments, I am a fan of all the Russel T. Davies era companions (Rose, Martha, Donna) and was thrilled to come to their defense as so much more than the Doctor’s arm candy. Companions are awesome!
But I’ve been slow to write the next installment.
The next two as a matter of fact.
I know that there is a lot of love out there for Amy Pond and Clara Oswin Oswald, so it might come as a surprise that I’ve been less than enthused with them.
::ducks to avoid projectiles::
It’s not their fault, poor characters. And it’s not as if they haven’t had their moments where I felt some connection.
Like the time Amy Pond was discerning enough to save the Star Whale and the people who relied on it before the Doctor did. Or when Clara…when Clara…well, I’m sure if I had the stomach to re-watch her episodes there would be a moment I connected with.
Sadly, both Amy and Clara are products of Steven Moffat writing women.
That being the case, I’ve decided to cover just a few of my issues with the Moffat era companions in one post, rather than covering Amy and Clara individually. I’ll do my best to limit my Moffat ranting to their characters specifically, since Moffat misogyny is best covered in its very own post (which I may have to write soon for catharsis).
Girl, You’ll Be a Woman Soon: Amy meets the Doctor when his TARDIS falls out of the sky just after he regenerates into the Eleventh Doctor. It really is a bit of a cute scene, the little girl afraid of a strange crack in her wall, praying to Santa to send someone to help, and lo and behold the Doctor falls from the sky.
It’s less than cute when we meet Amy minutes (but really years) later, as a leggy kiss-o-gram who throws herself at him.
Clara also met the Doctor as a child (albeit out of order), only to later travel with him, making jokes about being his girlfriend, and confirming her crush on him in a land that forces her to speak only truths.
Aside from the fact that you can argue that these girl-to-woman relationships indirectly sexualize the little girls these characters once were, it also leads to women with lives that center around one man. Their identities are linked to the Doctor, arguably taking away from who they could be as individuals.
The Male Gaze: I don’t take issue with the fact that Amy Pond runs around in short skirts throughout much of her tenure as companion, or a Victorian England Clara showing a bit of cleavage in her barmaid dress. Choices and all that.
But you know the camera pan from toe-to-head that introduces us to Amy Pond, who is “affectionately” referred to as “Legs”? Or the convenient down shot when Victorian Clara is all corseted up?
There’s a difference between a female character choosing to be sexy, and being sexualized. When the audience is given that certain camera angle, that pan upwards, or the offhand comment blaming female outfits for distracting male characters, it’s hard for me to hear an argument that those outfits were about choice.
Well, at least not the choice of the female character.
People as Plot Devices, Not People: The Girl Who Waited. The Impossible Girl. Amy and her crack in the wall. Clara popping up here and there throughout the Doctor’s timeline.
Interesting stories? Sure. But are they interesting characters? I’d argue they could have been. Could have.
We know a lot of timey-wimey stuff around Amy’s growing up, believing in this Doctor who others thought was make believe, the resulting years of therapy. But do we really see much of that in her character development? Do we get to see what years without parents did to her? What having a baby from a forced pregnancy only to have it stolen did to her?
Nah. That’s not important. Let’s get back to fast-talking sass and dinosaurs!
And Clara, who’s been scattered across time to save the Doctor, who’s lived and died numerous times, what has that done to her?
With the Moffat companions, we seem to only get the slightest glimpse of backstory and emotional reaction from these characters, then we move right along as if nothing affects them.
The Damsel in Distress: I’m not against needing saving. I’ll be honest, sometimes it’s nice being saved. Whether it be by a dashing dude or lovely lady, we all need saving from time to time. But it’s interesting to compare the amount of saving Moffat era companions need against the RTD companions.
There are Amy era episodes where I’d probably need a new liver if I based a drinking game on the number of times she yells “Doctor!” in a panicked state.
You want the data? Someone actually made a graph. Go see for yourself. (It only covers Amy v. previous companions, but it’s an interesting read nonetheless.)
View From the Cheap Seats: One of the reasons, in my opinion, that the “reboot” of Doctor Who in 2005 was such a success was the focus on the companion. (The first episode is, after all, titled “Rose”.) Why?
Because we, the audience, are seeing the Doctor’s world as his companion. I’m not saying that we don’t imagine how cool it would be to be the Doctor himself, but we relate to this ordinary human chosen to travel with him.
But what happens when we don’t relate or connect with the companion?
Amy and Clara both have lives that are full of mystery and holes. We don’t really know much about their families, what they like/dislike. Those holes may make for decent plot vehicles, but as the audience, it leaves us a bit disconnected.
In the time period that the Doctor travels with Amy and Clara, he also does a lot of traveling without them, far more that we seem to be privy to than past companions. Instead of true companions, they just seem like toys that he occasionally stops to tinker with when he’s bored.
If the companion is designed to be my stand-in, I’m far less interested in being something for the Doctor to figure out or play with, than an actual friend and helper.
And I guess that’s the real issue I have with Amy and Clara. I wanted to relate. They had moments I did like. The actresses seemed likeable enough. But I could never connect with their characters. I never emotionally invested.
After traveling with the Doctor through Rose, Martha, and Donna’s eyes, Amy and Clara’s times with the Doctor left me feeling rather empty.
It’s not all their fault. Their characters aren’t the only ones that failed me in recent seasons. But that’s a whole other post full of Moffat rage for another day.
Doctor Who fans, did you love Amy and Clara? Bring me your favorite Amy and Clara moments! I need to be reminded of their good moments. Or, if you’re like me and find yourself cringing over quite a few of their scenes, I’m all ears and down to commiserate.