Why I cannot ship River/Eleven yet, even though I want to.
Otherwise Titled: Steven Moffat and the Case of Amy de Pompasong
Have you noticed that Steven Moffat likes recycling bits and pieces of his earlier stories? As a writer, it’s one of the issues I do have with his style; recycling isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but if a writer constantly reuses motifs like the Girl-Who-Grew-Up-Knowing/Loving-The-Doctor or Random-Creepy-Alien-That-You-Can’t-Let-Out-Of-Your-Sight, it seems a bit lazy.
Madame de Pompadour is an interesting character. Although I’m not a big fan of GitF, it’s mostly due to the Doctor’s unbelievable OOC-ness as opposed to anything Reinette did or said. She’s a one-off, a character-of-the-day, and therefore her character development (the way in which she grew up knowing and loving the Doctor) doesn’t really amount to much in terms of the overall story.
But River Song is not a one-off. She’s a woman who will presumably become the Doctor’s lover, and that’s big shit. She knows his name. Moffat is setting her up to be one of (if not the) most important people in the Doctor’s (very, very long) life, and so far we only have her word to go on when it comes to her importance.
Now, I love River. I really do. I think she is a fascinating figure, and were she written by someone who doesn’t think of women as solely sexual objects and baby machines, I’d be all over River/Eleven.
The thing is, River has known the Doctor her whole life. Now, apart from that being suspiciously similar to Amy and Reinette, it’s even more frustrating that, like with Amy and to a lesser extent, Reinette, River lives for the Doctor. I’ll admit, I was all MY CREYS when I saw River talking to Rory about her past, but eventually I realized, “Wait a moment. River basically said she’s got nothing else to live for besides the Doctor.”
I live for the days when I see him, but I know that every time that I do he’ll be one step further away. The day is coming when I’ll look into that man’s eyes, my Doctor, and he won’t have the faintest idea who I am. And I think it’s going to kill me.
And I know, Rose basically tells Mickey that she’s got nothing besides the Doctor in PotW. I know. The difference is in the characterization of Rose Tyler. Rose is a 19-year-old girl when she says that. She hasn’t matured, she hasn’t lived like River has. Later, we see what she really wants: to grow old with the man she loves. And when she is (sort of) given the choice, she does choose to stay in Pete’s World. With her family, and where she has built a life for herself. She gets the Doctor (sans TARDIS and regenerations and travelling) but she also gets to move on, to let the Time Lord Doctor go because that is for the best.
I have my problems with RTD’s writing, but one thing he did well was character development. He built dynamic characters, and he fleshed them out so they had flaws and quirks and did stupid things, but were brilliant and gorgeous and relatable.
What frustrates me about River’s story is that she literally has nothing to live for but the Doctor. Like she says to Rory, the worst day of her life is not about her. It is about the Doctor. And I think it’s beautiful and tragic, but it’s also more than a bit disturbing because I’m pretty sure I know where it’s coming from.
It’s about the dependency of a woman on a man, and that’s not me making this about gender roles, that’s Steven Moffat transfusing his opinions of what women think into a character’s story.
There’s this issue you’re not allowed to discuss: that women are needy. Men can go for longer, more happily, without women. That’s the truth. We don’t, as little boys, play at being married - we try to avoid it for as long as possible. Meanwhile women are out there hunting for husbands.
Um. Let’s just accept that this is misogynist bullshit and a hasty generalization on top of that. Yes, there are women who fantasize about weddings. And there is nothing wrong with that. But what Moffat says here is actually simpler than that: it’s that woman is only worth something in relation to man. That woman lives for man, that woman exists to stand beside man. It’s a view of women that you often get from old, white men.
Imagine what happens when one of those old, white men decides to write a Strong Female Character.
I love independent women. It’s why I am so interested in River, because prior to TIA, she really did seem like a Freelancing Space BAMF, and I figured she had a life outside of the Doctor that she cherished too. But a gun and hallucinogenic lipstick do not a dynamic female character make.
What River has is superficial independence, courtesy of Moffat. And it does fit the MO: a sassy, intelligent woman in control of her sexuality who lives a life devoted to a powerful man (Reinette for the King and the Doctor, Amy for the Doctor-even if she’s in love with Rory, and River for the Doctor.) It’s the archetype of the Strong Female Character, a woman who is a badass but whose life revolves around an Even Stronger Male Character. Now obviously with Doctor Who, all of the women fit that description, and honestly that doesn’t bother me too much.
What a Strong Female Character should have is the following:
- Realistic flaws
- Stories that center on her
Honestly, a Strong Female Character does not have to be an ass-kicking, independent HBIC. But she does have to be a dynamic, solid character. Well-written and developed. And yes, I do think River’s character is developed, but I also think the way in which she has been developed is a disservice to what she could be, if Moffat wasn’t such a twat.
I want to be clear: I think that a woman who lives her life for someone else has the capability of being a dynamic character, just as a man who angsts over a lost lover does, too. It’s about characterization and real, dynamic development.
And if Moffat lets River shift away from Woman-Who-Only-Exists-To-Be-Love-Interest and into a Woman-Who-Is-A-Love-Interest-But-Has-Other-Equally-Important-Shit-To-Do-Too, the character I thought she would be, I’ll be all for some River/Eleven sexytiemz.
My kingdom for a decent female character on tv.