The First Face This Face Saw

[crossposted at Doctor Her]

I know that most of us are thinking REALLY HARD about The Angels Take Manhattan right now, but I wanted to step back for a moment and talk instead about a thought that emerged from the previous episode, The Power of Three.

“The first face this face saw,” the Eleventh Doctor said to Amy, explaining why it is that he has been so very emotionally attached to her, and by extension, Rory, over the last several hundred years. Much like “I always took you where you needed to be” from The Doctor’s Wife, this one line throws the whole history of Doctor Who into a new light.

I’ve always subscribed to the idea that the Ninth Doctor was freshly regenerated in “Rose,” and that he went off to have a bunch of adventures in that instant before he and the TARDIS came back for her and he upped his offer: “Did I mention it also travels in time?” Not only is this a nice thought because it means he got to have a bunch of adventures on his own, but it allows him to appear at various points through history in his leather jacket, thereby catching the attention of Clive.

But Rose could well have been the first face that his Ninth face saw. At least, the first non-Auton, non-dead face. The first person he talked to, the first person he told to “Run.” Extending this thought further, this could be why he came back for her at the end of the episode, once he thought of something new to tempt her with. And maybe even that “run” was the first word he said, also imprinting itself upon the destiny of his incarnation of the Doctor.

Yes, I’m arguing that the Doctors set their own themes in the first moments of life. Bear with me.

I know that many fans are annoyed by the perceived “specialness” of Rose, while others love her best and most above all others. Well, she is special. Because she may well be the only person whom the Doctor saw first in two incarnations. With the Ninth, it’s arguable, but it’s definite with the Tenth. He regenerated in the TARDIS, and the first face his face saw was Rose, crying and angry and bouncing emotions off the walls. Rose, who loved him.

Yep, this explains a lot about the Tenth Doctor.

But does the theory hold up into the Classic series? I had a long walk this morning, which always does ferocious things to my brain, and I’m here to tell you that maybe it DOES.

Some are drawing a longer bow than others, I’ll admit. The first face the Eighth Doctor saw was that of a morgue technician screaming at him for being alive. But the surgeon who killed him, Grace Holloway, certainly can have had an effect on who he was as a Doctor. Did he see her through the anaesthesia? Does his grogginess explain the weird hallucination about being half human?

The Seventh Doctor is a way better example. The first face his face saw was his old enemy the Rani, pretending to be his companion Mel. No wonder he spent his whole incarnation as a sneaky, suspicious and manipulative dark version of himself! Apart from the whole spoon-playing phase which was obviously caused by the strobing effect from Mel’s psychelic apricot striped outfit.

The Sixth Doctor tried to kill the first face his face saw, the argumentative Peri, and his incarnation was certainly characterised by bickering and violence.

The Fifth Doctor saw three young people he barely knew: Adric, Nyssa and Tegan, and spent the rest of his regenerative crisis freaking out and impersonating his former selves. I have no idea what effect this had on his personality. But it does explain why he and/or the TARDIS failed so utterly to return Tegan to her workplace over and over again, despite her stated wishes.

The first faces the Fourth Doctor saw were Sarah Jane Smith and the Brig. Interesting then that he set out to distance himself quickly from UNIT and his previous life on earth. A born contrarian? Still, there’s no denying that he remained more closely attached to them both than almost any other companions of the classic era. He sent Sarah a K9, after all, and he always came back for Alistair Gordon.

The first face that the Third Doctor’s face saw was a random squaddie who shot him. He then spent five years living with and working for the military, despite the fact that this was dramatically against anything established for the character previously.

And finally, the Second Doctor. His very first regeneration, and the first people he saw were Ben and Polly. There was nothing particularly special about them, though it is worth noting that he spent his entire incarnation with companion pairs of a boy and a girl, except for the one time that Jamie stowed away.

The first faces that the first regenerated Doctor saw were human, though. And in fact, apart from Nyssa, Adric and the Rani, every first face his faces have seen have been human. No wonder he’s so attached to us all, to the humans who live on Earth. The First Doctor despised humans, and if he had any control over the TARDIS, would not have chosen to land on Earth nearly as often as he did. But the later Doctors… every one of them called Earth his home away from home.

And there we are, proof that I think about this stuff way too much.

[spoilers in the comments for the Angels Take Manhattan, btw]

8 replies on “The First Face This Face Saw”

  1. […] [crossposted at tansyrr.com] […]

  2. Imprinting. An interestting theory, Tansy.

    I kind of got the sense the 10th Doctor had been imprinted, but I can see how you extend that forwards and backwards.

    The question is, now that the Eleventh Doctor’s story with Amy is done, how is he going to go forward without her?

  3. tansyrr says:

    I think he’ll be just fine. Chances are like Ten he will be written as more detached and less emotionally connected to his later companions, which will be as much to do with writers wanting to do something different as it might be because of any imprinting theory, but that doesn’t mean he can’t have awesome adventures and great fun.

    After all, he has a great friendship with Craig, a fascinating relationship with River and a long and complex history of interactions.

    I suspect that the ‘you won’t be back for some time’ line in Manhattan is deliberate to suggest less reliance on Earth for a while, which would be rather nice. A few more alien stories, etc.

    So many people are trying to challenge the idea that the Doctor “can’t” rescue Rory and Amy but I think they’re missing the point that this is the out. He is kind of free now, and can run around without being quite as anchored to the Ponds as he was. That doesn’t mean his life will be better or worse, just different.

    There’s always something new around the corner! And hopefully she’s baking a souffle.

  4. Grant Watson says:

    Now that I’ve seen their first post-marriage episode (Doctor’s POV), I really hope River keeps coming back indefinitely. I want the Doctor to go back to the library with a ganger body and give her a new lease of life outside of AI.

    I’ve surprised myself, but I *like* the Doctor married.

  5. tansyrr says:

    Hooray! I like the Doctor married too. The whole thing had a splendid Nick and Nora Charles (from the Thin Man) vibe, and I kind of loved her speech about how he insisted on having the face of a twelve year old.

    This is the oldest we’ve seen River, I think, apart from library etc., and it is rather lovely to see the accomplished, awesome version again. I had no problem with young River being as flawed as she was, because CHARACTER PROGRESSION, but we finally have the balance right.

    I actually only just (after this episode) went to my DVD and hunted down the Night and the Doctor shorts, which are also really good at answering some of the questions about the Doctor and Amy, and the Doctor and River. They are on the gangers disc if anyone wants to know – I say this because I checked EVERY OTHER BLOODY DISC first, some of them twice.

  6. Kmasca says:

    This is so interesting. I *love* the idea of the Doctor imprinting on humans – it throws up all sorts of exciting dramatic possibilities for what might happen if he regenerated in the presence of a different species.

    There’s more going on here than imprinting, though. Some of the examples demonstrate the Doctor’s emotional dependence on the first person he sees (9, 10, 11), others demonstrate introjection (i.e. the Doctor copies the behaviour of the first person he encounters, as 6 and 7 appear to), while others demonstrate the Doctor’s attempts to recreate early relationships (2, and possibly 3). All of these scenarios involve responses to a particular human. Whereas imprinting is about group identification – the Doctor feeling an affinity with humans, rather than a specific human. Yes, I also think about these things too much.

    WRT River, the Doctor and The Thin Man, I’ve been meaning for a while to write a post on Moffat and screwball. It intrigues me that there’s a great deal of favourable feminist critique of screwball, whereas Moffat’s use of screwball conventions tends to come in for a feminist kicking. I’ve yet to tease out why.

  7. tansyrr says:

    I think we have very similar brains, Kmasca!

    I also agree that a great deal of Moffat’s influences are clearly in old fashioned banter movies and similar, well, old fashioned things. Press Gang was clearly an updating of all the Rosalind Russell & Katharine Hepburn movies ever.

    I have never been able to understand myself why his current work comes in for such a full-on feminist kicking, as my own feminism has never got in the way of enjoying what he writes. (but then I am very, very good at being a fan of problematic things – my greatest achievement to date being the mental editing that allows me to enjoy Sarah Jane’s return in School Reunion – and I will forgive nearly anything in the face of excellent banter.)

    Obviously what was funny in the 1930’s is a whole lot less funny now – the ladyslapping is a good example of a trope he uses that simply doesn’t work in the 21st century – and I think many of Moffat’s more old fashioned narrative tendencies rub many young feminists the wrong way.

    But yes, Eleven, Amy, River, Rory, Canton, and even The Empty Child’s Jack Harkness certainly all feel at times like they belong in old screwball movies. Man. Now I want to see Moffatt reboot The Thin Man with John Barrowman and Alex Kingston.

    I’d love to read that post of yours! Please write it.

  8. Kmasca says:

    I could talk all day about how Press Gang is essentially His Girl Friday for kids. Like you, I remain a fan of Moffat’s writing, while recognising there are problematic bits.

    Heightened vigilance plays a part in fuelling criticism of Moffat. Now that he has the reputation as a sexist writer, a subset of viewers are primed to notice problematic aspects in his shows. Sometimes I agree with the criticisms made, and sometimes I don’t. But in general I feel his writing is roughly as problematic as the rest of current British TV, and, come to that, the rest of Doctor Who (a few outliers notwithstanding). I know there’s a place for stressing personal accountability, but I feel frustrated by critiques which treat misogyny as Moffat’s individual failing as a human being, rather than use his work as a lens through which to view misogyny as a much wider cultural problem.

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