Sexism in the TARDIS: Doctor Who’s Woman Problem (Part Two)
Last week on the first edition of Sexism In The Tardis, we discussed The Doctor’s romance with Rose, Martha’s unrequited love and Donna losing her empowerment and all memory of her accomplishments in the name of The Doctor. Uncool.
In Part Two, I unpack The Doctor’s complicated and awkward relationship with Amy Pond, why River Song isn’t the badass female role model we’ve been waiting for and how Clara, the Impossible Girl, inevitably becomes the same old story.
So our beloved Doctor has now regenerated into floppy haired Matt Smith and has now scooped up a new companion, the irascible Amy Pond (Karen Gillan). You know, the one who runs away with The Doctor ON HER WEDDING NIGHT. Sigh.
While Amy is fantastic, the first half of Season Five is littered with her awkwardly coming onto The Doctor. There’s also this constant tug of war where we have to figure out if she truly loves The Doctor or her fiance, Rory Williams (Arthur Darvill). Cool. Eventually, Amy marries Rory with The Doctor and his giraffe dance making an appearance at the wedding reception. Then they all pile into the TARDIS to explore the universe some more.
OH, and Amy makes an uncomfortable pass at The Doctor. IN FRONT OF HER HUSBAND. ON THE NIGHT OF HER HONEYMOON. And did I mention Amy is The Doctor’s mother-in-law? Cuz…
During Season Six, Amy has a baby (with Rory ALTHOUGH they do make you wonder for a minute or two) who is immediately stolen and turned into a weapon against The Doctor. We soon find out that it’s our mysterious friend, the gun toting, time traveling archeologist Dr. River Song. After slathering on poison lipstick, River does the deed with a kiss. But naturally, she is convinced that The Doctor’s life is in fact more important than her own and she proceeds to give up all of her remaining regenerations to bring The Doctor back to life.
I was determined to write an entire post about how River is a strong female sci-fi role model and yet in truth, she’s no different from any of The Doctor’s other companions. Sure, River is intelligent, she flies the TARDIS better than The Doctor and constantly needles him about it, and sure The Doctor will come answer her beckon call, but she only ever calls when he’s in danger and doesn’t know it. All of River’s strengths serve her devotion to The Doctor.
Eventually, River gets to marry the elusive Doctor, which is sweet right? Except, The Doctor only marries River to save time and the universe from falling apart. Yes, in his own way, he flirts with her. Yes, in his own way, he likes her. And sometimes even snogs her. But would he have really married her in any other scenario? I doubt it.
And then there’s The Doctor’s current companion, The Impossible Girl (please note: girl not woman). We first meet Clara (Jenna-Louise Coleman – who is dating Robb Stark btw!) in “Asylum of the Daleks,” when she assists The Doctor, Amy and Rory in escaping from the Dalek prison planet. We get some flirty banter between her and The Doctor, which culminates in the discovery that cute little Clara’s consciousness has been preserved inside of a Dalek body. Nope. The planet is about to explode and so Clara helps The Doctor escape and dies. Okay.
Then Clara pops up again in the Christmas special, “The Snowmen,” as a governess in Victorian England. The mention of her name causes The Doctor to pause but he is still broody over losing The Ponds in a poorly written Weeping Angels episode and is reluctant to investigate her or the weird psychic snow that keeps turning into carnivorous snowmen. Long story short, The Great Intelligence is back and Clara dies. And gets brought back to life so that The Doctor can defeat The Great Intelligence. And then dies again.
The final incarnation of Clara lives in modern-day London. Guess what happens in the first episode? She kisses The Doctor. And then they run off on adventures together. And The Doctor tries to figure out how this “ordinary girl” could keep popping up in his timeline. Do you want to know how? Because it’s got to be something crazy, something we’ve never seen before, right?
(Psst, spoilers ahead!)
In “The Name of The Doctor,” the Great Intelligence lures The Doctor to his own tomb from the future so that he can learn The Doctor’s ultimate secret (and we assume a tool of great power): his name. Inside, we discover that The Doctor’s body is actually intersecting strands of his timeline, which the Great Intelligence promptly steps into so that he can undo every victory that The Doctor has ever achieved. Oh no! Someone do something, someone sacrifice themselves, ANYONE BUT THE DOCTOR!
Good old Clara. She throws herself into the timeline and splinters her true self across space and time. We get a crazy montage of her running around behind all of the old Doctors, saving them, insuring that they win every time, insuring that The Doctor’s legacy remains in tact, insuring that she dies over and over and over again.
And while The Doctor jumps in after her and rescues her, the deed is done. Clara has become a sacrifice in the name of The Doctor. Sound familiar?
As depressing as Doctor Who’s recurring sexism is, maybe it can serve a higher purpose. Maybe the tired female companion will finally give way to a strong female Doctor and girls like me can finally stop waiting for a savior and go out and save the universe ourselves. Maybe this female Doctor will fall in love with her female companion and we’ll be treated to a beautiful romance that doesn’t fall into the same old clichés.
Or maybe, if we do get another male Doctor, the next companion will be male (I would’ve watched The Doctor and Captain Jack together). Or maybe The Doctor will scoop a lesbian companion who can kick some ass and not bat an eye at The Doctor.
Maybe we can start seeing female leads that aren’t reduced to plot devices in the end.
Maybe. But I think it’s about time.