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Tansy Rayner Roberts

Domesticating the Doctor IV: Marrying the Ponds

January 10th, 2013 at 8:50

Originally published at Doctor Her on 16 April 2012, which is why it doesn’t reference Season 7 at all.

The Eleventh Doctor crashes literally in Amelia Pond’s back yard, and from that point on is irretrievably tangled in her life and her family – though with the exception of dancing with them (presumably) at her wedding he remains largely apart from, and free from any association with her parents and aunt. Indeed, the whole of season 5 not only has Amy’s family literally removed from her life (a mystery to be solved by the Doctor) but frames the Doctor himself as her imaginary friend, a character who, in the land of child logic, would never interact with her parents and guardians anyway.

The Doctor has always been an abductor of young people, but in The Eleventh Hour we see him set up as an ostensible kidnapper of children. He not only gets himself invited into her house at night, he agrees to take young Amelia off on adventures with him, without any kind of permission from the adults responsible for her.

The Eleventh Hour is for me one of the most perfect pieces of Doctor Who storytelling of all time, but my inner parent is still going, HANG ON A MINUTE. It also raises all kinds of interesting questions of where he got hold of Susan in the first place, back in the 1960’s…

The Doctor’s first main scene with young Amelia, in which he tries all the foods and spits them out in dramatic fashion, demonstrates quite clearly that he is still a fish out of water in a domestic environment (and shouldn’t be let out in public).

Like Rose, the adult Amy alternates between dragging the Doctor into her domestic life, and using him to escape it. Amy’s house is a symbol of domesticity gone wrong: the house with missing family members and too many rooms. In that first episode, there’s a monster hiding in a room she can’t even remember, let alone see – and the Doctor can see her house more clearly than she can.

At the end of the Eleventh Hour, the big reveal is that Amy, who may or may not have “something” to come back for in the morning, has hightailed it out of her spooky house with the Doctor, leaving behind a certain wedding dress. We return later that same night, at the end of Flesh and Stone, because Amy thinks the best place to proposition the Doctor is back at hers, rather than the far more convenient TARDIS. Why there? Was she expecting him to dump her and wanted to make sure she was back where she started? Or was the TARDIS emanating some kind of ‘no unmarried nookie in here thank you’ magnetic field?

It’s fascinating that the Doctor goes to so much trouble to set up Rory and Amy in The Vampires of Venice, in response to her failed seduction. I know there are some who might view this as him being all patriarchal, but I think his general comedic incompetence balances out his assumption that he knows what’s best for them. He doesn’t understand how humans work, especially the romantic aspects, and his bumbling attempts serve to show how alien he really is. It’s certainly preferable to how the Tenth Doctor dealt with Martha’s feelings for him by ignoring the issue.

The Eleventh Doctor isn’t completely dense, though. He figures out that Amy and Rory’s relationship won’t survive her having otherworldly adventures without him (much as travelling in the TARDIS changed Rose into someone her mother almost didn’t recognise) but he is still flailing blindly in the dark. The obvious solution – to leave Amy with Rory and start again with a new companion – doesn’t occur to him. Instead, he’s determined to keep Amy even if that means bringing her feller along with him. Something he never offered any of his previous companions… and a good thing too, really, or (back in the 70′s) Jo Grant would have had a TARDIS full of alien toyboys by the time Cliff Jones came along.

Amy’s Choice is one of several stories in Season 5 to deal overtly with the issue of the human desire for domesticity vs. The Doctor’s aversion to it. There are two dreamworlds created in this story, one recreating the TARDIS and the other recreating the life that the Doctor thinks Amy and Rory want for themselves. You’ll note that he’s already thinking about the fact that someday, Amy and Rory will leave him to settle down planet side. Of course they will. The companions always do.

So dream Amy is pregnant, dream Rory is a qualified GP with a silly ponytail, and they are living in an idyllic but deeply boring country village. The dullness is accentuated by the fact that the characters actually fall asleep as they shift between dreamworlds.

The ‘choice’ of the story title is implied to be Amy choosing between the Doctor and Rory, as symbolised by the two dreamworlds. But that’s a cheat, because the village dream isn’t something Amy craves at all (and it could be argued, is only tangentially what Rory wants for them). Her choice has nothing to do with the Doctor – it’s about figuring whether she loves Rory. She chooses a future with him, regardless of where they are, and that’s a choice she holds to from that point onwards, even when she doesn’t remember him.

Arguably the most important story of the Eleventh Doctor vs. Domesticity is The Lodger, which has nothing to do with Amy Pond at all, but crystallises this particular Doctor’s interest in how humans work.

Stranded without the TARDIS, the Doctor investigates a new creepy house which, like the house Amy grew up in, is not what it seems. Again we see him trying to fit in with humans by parodying their behaviour, not always successfully. Where he does succeed, it’s often by accident – he cooks and plays football brilliantly, but is less than convincing when it comes to toothbrushes, money or emotional signals.

The story revolves around the top floor of a house that lures and kills people – a floor that was actually never there. It’s a neon sign as to what has been going on with Amy all along, but also represents one of the greatest horror tropes, the idea that the place where you live might not only not be safe – but might be trying to kill you.

It’s interesting really that this trope is so rarely applied to the TARDIS itself, the Doctor’s hearth and home. Though of course it is, many times during this season, and Amy herself is finding out how dangerous the TARDIS can be while all of the Doctor’s tea drinking and footballing is going on.

The mystery of Amy’s house is unravelled in the finale of Season 5 (though the mystery of the TARDIS blowing up is not) and she leaves the house behind without a backward look, wending her way into the universe with “her boys” as a married woman ready for adventures. This felt revolutionary at the time – the idea that a wedding doesn’t have to be the coda for ‘time to stop having fun’ or ‘second best to travelling with the Doctor’. I think it’s dangerous to only imagine weddings are the end of a story, a happy ending to strive for rather than the beginning of something new. We need more pop culture that says you can have your domesticity and swashbuckling at the same time.

It was a magnificent end to a great season of Doctor Who, but I’m not convinced that what followed was anything close to the married-in-the-TARDIS hijinks we were promised.

Having a married couple in the TARDIS (and a baby of sorts) is a huge change of focus for the show, and while it’s good that it didn’t change the format too drastically (we don’t actually want the show to turn into The Pond Sitcom however cute that YouTube trailer was) it also felt like the show didn’t change enough. A cute married couple can absolutely bomb along with the Doctor in his rackety old TARDIS without making him change his habits too drastically, especially as they were doing so in the previous season as a romantic couple anyway – but why do something different with the companions only to then NOT do anything different with the companions?

The Time and Space comic relief scenes are actually the closest we come to seeing ‘married person chatter’ or any real acknowledgement that something has changed. The funny revelation in The Doctor’s Wife that the room the Doctor set up for Amy and Rory features bunk beds (and he can’t imagine why they might not think they were awesome) and his embarrassed discussion with Madam Vastra about the conception of the baby go to show that actually, the Doctor has not had to compromise in order to make space for the Ponds in his life. They are still travelling with him on his terms, and he’s not even letting them partly set up home for themselves.

Indeed, we see that Rory is still unsure of where he stands with Amy well into Day of the Moon, and episodes like The Rebel Flesh two parter still prioritise the relationship of Amy as the Doctor’s main companion, with Rory as a sidekick. The controversial kidnapping of Amy by Madam Kovarian may put Amy in a traditionally passive role, but at least it forces the Doctor and Rory to work as a team, something we haven’t seen nearly enough of, and makes the TARDIS crew feel more united by the second half of the season.

Then there’s The Doctor’s Wife, another story about houses that are trying to kill you. It is a loving tribute to the TARDIS as the Doctor’s faithful companion (or rather, the Doctor as her faithful companion) and makes it clear that the show is really about the two of them. Companions come and go, but the TARDIS, the Doctor’s hearth and home, is always going to be there for him, and vice versa. The reason he has always fled domestic spheres in the past is not necessarily because it scares him or confuses him, but because he already has a wife and house waiting for him within those blue doors, and no one else compares to Her Indoors.

Wait, I’ve forgotten to address something.

The baby.

But that’s okay, because the show forgot to address it too!

I’m all for babies in my science fiction and fantasy. I’m a mum, and I love to see motherhood explored in my favourite genres. It’s not done nearly enough… and of course, it’s rarely done well. It drives me batty when a pregnancy or baby story is introduced to an ongoing science fiction series, usually to a female character, and then whisked away again, leaving little to no emotional ramifications. Think Deanna Troi and “The Child” in Next Generation. Also there’s the rapidly ageing baby trick, as with Connor in Angel or Eve/Livia in Xena. I don’t even like it when the show in question properly acknowledges how horrible an experience that is for the parent/s, because I’m well aware that the emotional trauma is a side effect of a cynical production choice, to dabble with a baby story but not bother with the realistic long term issues of how that would change a character’s life and priorities.

Which is relevant in the case of Season 6 of Doctor Who, because not only did they take the easy escape by writing the baby out almost as soon as it was born (and indeed skipping the inconvenient pregnancy period too) but they didn’t properly address the emotional ramifications of this to Amy or Rory for a full half of a season. Especially Rory, actually, as Amy at least gets to express her feelings in The Wedding of River Song, while we have to read his loss as a father from subtext in stories where he openly expresses other reasons to be dissatisfied with the Doctor.

It’s a shame, because one or two sentences per episode throughout the second half of Season 6, to show the characters were still thinking about and dealing with this enormous loss would have made it a far more powerful, worthwhile storyline. My only hope is that the story isn’t over yet, and there’s a twist still to come. Recent revelations about the setting of the episode in which the Ponds will be written out only further support my theory that the story of baby Melody is not yet finished. (And you can see HERE my argument for why Amy Pond should not be killed off)

[another reminder that this essay was written before Season 7 screened! I decided to leave this piece as is and write a follow up rather than edit it with new perceptions]

Domesticity and parent-child relationships are a huge part of Season 6, despite the baby-fail. The Doctor can barely turn around without being faced with more children, daddy issues and haunted and/or murderous houses. In Closing Time, he slapsticks his way through Two Men and a Stormageddon, and we are treated to a fun comedy of errors which deals with all kinds of great issues to do with the clash of domesticity, danger and dads. I particularly enjoyed the whole issue of – how do you save the world if you can’t get a babysitter?

So… why couldn’t this be done with Melody Pond? Why couldn’t we have a baby in the TARDIS, stick a robot nanny in with the Gallifreyan crib, and tell the story that way? It’s not like we were going to be stuck with her forever, they’re only keeping the Ponds another five episodes into Season 7!

James, a regular commenter on Doctor Her, expresses fan frustration with this issue beautifully in a comment on another post, which had me punching the air in agreement:

Night Terrors looks particularly bad owing to its position in the series. One episode after Amy and Rory have realised that their baby’s not going to grow up with them, the Doctor takes them off to rescue a complete stranger’s son. You do have to wonder why one of them doesn’t just lamp him. Probably just as well they’re not around for most of “Doctor, Widow and the Wardrobe”. You can imagine the dialogue.

“So, Doctor, where are we going?”

“Well, Amy, there’s these two children of a woman who I met once for 10 minutes and I want to put a disproportionately huge amount of effort into getting them Christmas presents.”

“RORY! Get Romaned up and fetch a shovel. You kill him and I’ll dig the grave.”

So, the Doctor has a married couple in the TARDIS (mostly) but he doesn’t have to change his spots. They have a baby, but while there are all manner of timey wimey consequences, it’s hardly even worth the Doctor dusting off that old cot of his. Then, to cap it all off, the Doctor gets married (to someone who isn’t the TARDIS though you could definitely say River is TARDIS-approved) and is in no way expected to live with, change or compromise anything for his new bride.

And yet… maybe he isn’t living as fancy free as we think – at least, not by choice. If we learn anything from The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe, it’s that this Doctor rather likes playing house. He creates a Christmas home for Madge and her children, and afterwards, goes home to Amy and Rory – the same home he bought for them, something he’s never done for a companion before. Another Doctor at Christmas dinner, but this time it’s all his idea.

Somehow, the Doctor has ended up with a real family, not one he visits in order to placate his current companion, but one that includes him as official, full fledged son-in-law. It’s not a permanent thing – Amy and Rory’s days with the show are numbered, and they’ll be gone by Christmas – but it’s hard to imagine that the Doctor hasn’t somehow been irretrievably changed by this development.

Looking back over the Seasons 5 and 6, I wonder if maybe all the kids and killer houses were not about showing us what the Doctor (and those who travel with him) can’t have, but about what this Doctor might be looking for in the future. Eleven didn’t have to marry River, or provide a home and car for Amy and Rory. He certainly doesn’t have to fly through space with a cot in his TARDIS, all ready for some future occupant. No once forced him into doing those things.

Is this as domesticated as our hero is ever going to get, or is it the beginning of a new direction for Doctor Who? As long as Moffat is involved in the show, it’s pretty clear that it will be daddy issues ahoy. And that means there’s one fairly obvious next step that the show could take.

Could the Eleventh Doctor become a parent – a real, involved, doing-the-dirty-jobs-while-saving-the-world parent – without breaking the show irretrievably? It would certainly make a change from all those romantic companions, if the next woman to join him in the TARDIS was his daughter…

"Booties... doesn't look too hard!"

PREVIOUS DOMESTICATING THE DOCTOR POSTS:
Cocoa, Test-tubes and the Classic Years
The Missus, the Ex and the Mothers-in-Law
John Smith’s Human Nature

Come back next week for two new posts in this series: Divorcing the Ponds and Souffles in the Tardis!

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2 Responses to “Domesticating the Doctor IV: Marrying the Ponds”

  1. Faith Says:

    “The obvious solution – to leave Amy with Rory and start again with a new companion – doesn’t occur to him.”
    I don’t think that’s obvious at all! It would imply that companions are interchangeable and that it’s only company he wants, not Amy herself. Also, it would be taking the choice out of Amy’s hands, the way he did with Susan – which, after all he’s learned about humans over the past 700 odd years, would be too appalling for words.
    I couldn’t agree more about the pregnancy story, though. What a tragic waste! I was so hoping they’d show us River growing up, with the Doctor popping in and out of her childhood in much the same way he did with Amy herself, giving the Pond/Williams family dynamic some space to grow. Instead we get a flashback sequence, a failed assassination, and…that’s it? It isn’t just a truly horrible thing to do to Amy and Rory, it messes up River’s character too. She’s the girl who never got a chance to properly grow up.

  2. Doctor Her » Domesticating the Doctor Part V: Divorcing the Ponds Says:

    [...] Previously on Domesticating the Doctor, we looked at our hero’s distaste of the domestic sphere throughout the Classic Years (with a brief holiday from it when he was Jon Pertwee), we looked at the three Mother-in-Law characters from the RTD era and how this new, rebooted version of our hero coped with jam, Christmas dinner and housing estates, we delved back into pre-war Britain with a very human Doctor, and finally we poked holes in his new Moffat era family with Marrying the Ponds. [...]

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