Pond Life

The best way to prevent spoiler leakage? Pre-empt it by doing it yourself. You dictate your own terms, control the information that you want given out and gain tactical advantage. It’s like the conclusion of 8-Mile, which sees Jimmy Rabbit obliterate his opponent by listing his own failings before said opponent gets the chance. When the time comes to swap the microphone, the hard-as-nails, puffer-jacket-wearing Clarence (who goes to public school and whose parents are still together) is absolutely lost for words.

I don’t know if Steven Moffat’s an Eminem fan, but I wonder if something like this was going through his mind when he announced the imminent departure of the Ponds. The timing – a week in advance of the Christmas special – cannot be ignored. Nor indeed can Moffat’s rant about spoilers earlier this year, a moment in which he completely lost his rag, and a fair bit of my respect for him. The problem, of course, is that you can’t court the press and then expect them to play ball; nor can you tease the fans with shoot access and stills and then expect them to keep quiet. These are the days of instant file transfer, of photos being passed round the world faster than Polaroid development speeds, of tweeting and blogging and –

Sorry, where was I? The point is it’s easier to share information than ever, and as much as Moffat may rail against the people who choose to do such, to create and promote a culture when such controlled leaking is standard practice in your own institution hardly gives you the moral high ground. And what’s more, as various people have pointed out, if you cultivate a show whose success depends crucially on the retention of certain information – in other words, if spoilers are your be-all and end-all – then you’re in serious danger of writing yourself into a corner.

But that’s neither here nor there. I’ve touched upon it before and others have done so with more eloquence and attention to detail than I have the time or energy to commit to screen. For all our ranting about spoilers, the news of Amy’s departure is neither particularly surprising, nor (as such) is it particularly newsworthy: it was going to happen sooner or later, because no one wants to travel with the Doctor forever, unless they happen to be Rose Tyler, who couldn’t have been more irritating in her final episodes if she’d donned an orange fright wig, raised her voice a couple of octaves, lost the Danny Baker sheen and impersonated Mel. (Yes, I know she was better in Big Finish. But I still remember her for ‘Time and the Rani’, and that’s simply no fun.) Characters who never want to leave are in serious danger of wearing out their welcome, and it’s a good thing, in a way, that Amy lacked the see-the-stars wide-eyed schoolgirl wonder that her previous companions seemed to possess in abundance. When it came to dealing with time, and the consequences of time (perhaps that should be the Doctor’s campaign slogan: “Tough on time, tough on the causes of time”) I always got the feeling she learned to cope remarkably quickly.

Perhaps that was part of the problem some people had with her. Amy seemed to divide the viewers like no other companion before or since. Some people loved her. I did. Amy’s a character who’s been messed up by the Doctor and it shows. She’s crazy and that’s understandable, and the complex she gained after the fish custard incident has given her a wonderful zaniness that is consistently fun to watch (Amy is arguably at her least interesting, I’d suggest, when she’s being normal). Many have expressed a view to the contrary, but I don’t think her innate goofiness lessens our ability to relate to her, unless it means that those who can are in some way quietly crazy (“Oh yes, sir. Every time sir!”). Gillan has a wondrous gaze about her, and Amy speaks to the Doctor in a manner that no other companion has chosen to adopt since the revival, and whatever she’s doing, she always lights up the screen.

But there’s a flipside to this, and while many people found her a breath of fresh air, others found her irritating, kooky, with skirts of inappropriate length for a family show (hello? Leela? Peri?) and her treatment of Rory in rather poor taste. They may have a point about that – certainly the young Mr Williams (whom, I have to say, Arthur Darvill plays brilliantly) has the patience of a saint to have put up with Amy’s treatment of him over the past few years; it’s clear that he and Amy love each other, but he seems to alternate with the Doctor when it comes to playing gooseberry, and that’s no way for a marriage to survive. It was, finally, the Doctor who realised this come the end of ‘The God Complex’, and Rory and Amy’s subsequent exit was refreshing in its brevity and (relative) understatement; I remember wishing at the time that that could be it for them, but of course it was not to be.

Because, you see, companions don’t just leave in New Who. They have the most ridiculous, protracted departures imaginable. It’s strung out over three or four episodes (in the case of Donna, almost an entire series) and when it happens, you’re so anxious for it to happen that you can’t wait. This in itself is nothing new. I can recall, some fourteen years ago now, sitting in a darkened cinema on the outskirts of Reading – where I was living at the time – watching Leonardo Dicaprio clinging to an iceberg and muttering something incoherent and rambly through chattering teeth. James Horner’s music was building to a swirl, Kate Winslet was all doe-eyed and the girl behind me was sniffling through an entire box of Kleenex, and my only thought at the time, I can well remember, was “Will you please hurry up and fucking DIE???”. This was not, I’m sure, what James Cameron had in his mind when he filmed it, and concordantly this makes the scene, and indeed the film at large, a spectacular failure – although it is a visual spectacle, even now, with the sinking of the boat rendered effectively and with appropriate emotional pathos for many of the passengers. Take out the wraparound love story, and clean up the historical detail, and you’ve got yourself something with serious potential.

What irritates me most about New Who, though, is the way that death is trivialised. This has become particularly prominent under the obsession with ontological paradoxes that has epitomised Moffat’s two-season reign. One of the most beautiful moments in ‘Blink’ was the death of Billy Shipton, the police officer who dies in the hospital in the company of Sally Sparrow, because such a death has since become so rare. It’s terminal in a literary as well as literal sense: the character is never mentioned again, despite the fact that ‘Blink’ is a story that essentially eats itself. Conversely, the death of Miss Evangelista in ‘Silence in the Library’, and the subsequent ghosting scene that follows – one of the most glorious moments in the post-2005 canon – is seriously undermined when she re-appears in ‘Forest of the Dead’ dressed as a Photoshopped Woman in Black – before being magically restored, in the episode’s closing scenes, presumably no longer thick, and in the company of the ever-irritating River Song.

I remember my first entry to this blog was a brief discussion on the Classic Who episode I recall with most clarity – that of Adric’s death – and as I may have said then, I loved the fact that it’s final, at least in the official continuity. So when Moffat says that the exit of Amy and Rory will be “heartbreaking”, I am resolutely sceptical about what he actually means, but personally I would dearly love to see the death of a companion. And ideally I would like it to be Amy, and for Rory to blame the Doctor. Because that would be the right way to get rid of her. Take the inappropriate relationship to its logical conclusion: have her choose him, in that she’d die to defend him. Elton Pope, way back in ‘Love and Monsters’, talked of what happens when you touch the Doctor, and while the self-congratulatory Doctor Who Confidential has always spoken of taking the show “to dark places” (oh, thank the love of God it’s been canned), what I really want is for them to do something truly dark, and just have someone die. And when I say “die”, I don’t mean

  • Die in the sense of getting trapped in a parallel universe, separated from the man you love, with your records expunged so you’re legally dead
  • Die in the sense that you’ve had your memory wiped
  • Die, with subsequent erasure from existence, only to find yourself resurrected as plastic
  • Die, only to be resuscitated
  • Die, only to be resurrected inside a computer mainframe
  • Die, only to take astral form and drift out among the stars
  • Die, only to find out it’s a hallucination by your other half
  • Die, only it turns out to be an act of fakery to get you into Area 51
  • Die, only to later reveal that you were hiding inside a robotic head
  • …I don’t think we need any more
 
 

This would be grown-up. The audience can handle it. Transformers and the X-Men are constantly killing people (and later bringing them back, but that’s another bugbear of mine for another day). But at least they die and stay dead. You don’t see them again a few episodes later as a disembodied head, in a scene of pointless comic relief that provided no relief nor any sort of comedy.

Gareth has alerted me to a suggestion on the Big Finish forum that goes like this:

What could happen that would give the pair a “heartbreaking” end to their story?

DOCTOR: Ah, here we are on the planet Fixedpointintime. Oh no, Rory, look out for that falling piano!

AMY: Sigh. How long till he comes back to life this time?

DOCTOR: Ah. Well. You know what I said the planet was called….

It could work. It really could.

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Categories: New Who | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

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3 thoughts on “Pond Life

  1. I agree with you on the point about having a finality to death that the new show hasn’t necessarily seen before. Something that does handle death really well is the Harry Potter series. I that, death is one of the only things unpreventable by magic and that gives each death a very profound meaning.
    I would say though, that there are plenty of episodes where the dead do stay dead – it’s only a handful of episodes in which “everybody lives”.
    In the Girl In The Fireplace, one of the greatest and most tragic moments is when the Doctor returns through the fireplace to find Renette and discovers she has, in fact, died due to the gap since his last visit (“loose connection, you need to get a man in”) – that is an example of a real death. Granted, she isn’t a companion but real death is present in the show; just not with companions.

    I’d like to see Rory die, even though I love him as a character, because he has to sacrifice in place of Amy who has put herself in danger to save the Doctor. That way, he would be right in his predictions about how the Doctor puts people in danger, but eventually become a victim of it himself. This would also deeply effect Amy, who would be forced to come to terms with how her life of risk taking alongside the Doctor – the unstable life she craves – has cost her the stable part of her life and the person she loves.

    Great post! 🙂

  2. *Though actually, I suppose that final part of my comment actually happened in “Amy’s Choice” didn’t it? Ah well, that remains one of my favourites from Series 5 anyway.

  3. reverend61

    Yes, I absolutely agree that there’s a lot of death in Doctor Who. The whole thing with these shows is that it’s very difficult to kill the leads so the best you can hope for is to generate sympathetic supporting characters and then kill *them*, which I’ll admit Who does pretty well (and you’re right about Girl in the Fireplace, which is one of my favourites for that very reason). I think what irks me a bit is that they constantly go on about death for major companions, and rarely actually follow through on it – there’s always a get-out clause or something, presumably so they can leave things open and bring them back (as they did with Rose, which I thought was frankly unforgivable – it undermined any emotional pathos that we might have had during the original separation).

    It’s almost as if they get to a certain point and then chicken out, and that irritates me. I’d like to see them do another Adric. But I suppose, also, that I’ve been spoiled by the likes of 24, which had no qualms about killing off major characters with barely a moment’s thought (they’d be emotionally compromised and then die fifteen minutes later; it was quite splendid as you were constantly on edge). I’d initially thought Amy should be the one to go, but your suggestion about Rory makes a lot of sense – the problem is that we’d never buy it as an audience because he’s been resurrected so often, and even if you were to kill him permanently there’d always be the possibility of a get-out clause somewhere along the line. Really, Moffat’s written himself into something of a corner with this one…

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