Flat Female Characterizations
Clara Oswald has no personality. She just follows the Doctor around. Amy Pond has no personality beyond sexy vixen. She just follows the Doctor around and drags her boyfriend/husband behind her. Sally Sparrow has no real impact on the story. She just follows directions. River Song never gets to make any choices. Shes just buffeted around by the Doctor. Moffat women are plot catalysts, objects rather than subjects, people to be rescued rather than rescuers. And all Moffat women boil down to a generic sexy/feisty/sassy character, with very little variation.
Women Whose Lives Revolve Around Men: Amy and River You know what, in some ways Moffats women are defined by their relationships with the title characters of Sherlock and Doctor Who. ALL the characters on these shows are defined by their relationship with the lead. The shows are NAMED after them: of course every characters relationship to the central figure is key to their characterization, especially in a small cast. For proof of the logic of this, take Buffy the Vampire Slayer, arguably the pinnacle of feminist television. The only characters not defined primarily by their relationship to Buffy are outliers like Anya, who spend little to no time in the spotlight. When youre dealing with a recurring cast of two or three people, their relationships with each other have to be essential to how they define themselves. In seasons 5 and 6, the Doctor defines himself by his relationship to Amy and Rory; Amy defines herself by her relationship to the Doctor and Rory; Rory defines himself by his relationship to Amy and, through her, the Doctor. If anything, Rory is much more of a generic devoted husband than Amy is a devoted spouse, a fact that repeatedly appears as the central conflict of their relationship. Amy is the Girl who Waited, a passive title. That problem of passivity is the defining conflict of her character: to avoid choosing, to choose the middle way, or to make a final decision about the course her life will take. And the fact that the Doctor made her wait is one of the greatest failures of his very long life. Their relationship was largely defined by the dynamic that she would wait for him to come, and it was horribly unfair to her and the source of enormous guilt for the Doctor. Amy wasnt happy to wait. Amy gets a lot of flak because her central life conflict is whether to settle down with Rory and be a wife and mother or whether to run away with the Doctor. What fails to be noted is that, for most of her life, Amy refused to let this choice define her. She went on the TARDIS both before and after marriage. She was the only companion to be pregnant on the TARDIS. And even her and Rorys decision to settle into their normal lives didnt mean they chose not to travel with the Doctor. Amy didnt choose until she was forced, and when she did she chose out of love for the man who was devoted to her, defined by her, who was Mr Pond. The criticism of Amy is that nowhere is there room for her to be herself. But this is just wrong. Amys choices between men may define her lifes path, but its Amy who is the agent, Amy who makes those choices. Now, a choice does not equal feminismdown that road lies Twilight. Choices are not in and of themselves agency: its their composition that matters. Amys choices appear to be a simple choice between two men, but they really arent that. Her decisions were never just about which man she loved more, they were about which life she wanted to live.
Amys essential choice wasnt the Doctor or Rory, it was life with the Doctor or life with Rory. Her story was never about herself, but it was never going to be because the essential drama of her time on the show was about how people define themselves in relation to their loved ones. None of their lives were about themselves, not even the Doctors. That was the story Moffat was telling. And criticisms and complaints should always focus on the story that was actually told, not the story the viewers wanted to be told. Furthermore, Amy and Rorys relationship is a wonderfully modern one. They both hold down fulfilling jobs, Rory in a traditionally female occupation, their marriage was not defined by whether or not they could have children, and for years Rory was Mr. Pond. Amy only became a Williams after her death, and it was then a symbol of her complete break from the Doctor. Amy and Rorys relationship stands as a fantastic foil to the Doctor and Rivers. Amy and River are very similar characters. Their dialogue is similar and their plots and relationships follow generally similar lines. But thats not an example of generic characterization: its an example of a mother-daughter relationship. Amy and River are similar because Amy is Rivers mother. Rivers story is a tragedy. She was born to loving parents, then taken from them and subjected to extensive genetic and psychological manipulation. She was never given a choice about the purpose of her life, about the person it would revolve around, or about who she would fall in love with. She was raised around the idea of her relationship to the Doctor, brainwashed until he was all she thought about. River never got a choice in her relationship with the Doctor, and her lack of agency isnt bad characterization. Rather, it is the defining element of her story. Rivers story is about a woman whose life is ruled by things beyond her control. All she could do was salvage whatever she could from the cards life dealt to her, which was why she fell in love. I like to think of the Doctors and Rivers relationship as an arranged marriage. They were both brought into it without being given a choice. The end was set from the day they met. It was more unfair to the woman than to the man, but it still sucked for both. Yet, in spite of everything, some kind of love grew.
Rivers life was always going to revolve around the days he comes for me. She never got to choose which days. She got her catchphrases and even her name from him, although of course he had gotten them from her first (talk about paradoxes). And while she was forced into a dependent role, she went to great lengths to keep it from defining her, breaking out of prison and arranging for him to meet her. Doctor would always come when she called, would always be there to catch her. It was terrible that she had little to no life outside of her relationship with him, and that was a horrible fate that no one would ever choose. The essential and unfair inequality in River and the Doctors relationship is highlighted by its contrast with Amy and Rory in The Angels Take Manhattan. Take the idea of damage, of how River believes she must never let the Doctor see her age. River goes to great lengths to hide this damage because she knows it will hurt him and therefore will distance him from her. Her relationship is defined by the lies she can get away with telling in order to make everything seem better. Contrast that with Rory and Amys conversation about aging earlier in the episode. Amy didnt know she had visible lines around her eyes because Rory didnt tell her, and he didnt tell her because he knew it would bother her. Rory lied to Amy in the same way that River lied to the Doctor. But with River the issue is deathly serious, a source of shame. With Rory, its the butt of a joke. Then theres the repeated line Changing the future. Its called marriage. River used this line to lie. She wanted to make the Doctor feel better, or to keep him from seeing the toll their relationship took on her. And it was a complete lie, because River and the Doctors marriage is all about NOT changing the future. Its about following rules, writing things down and remembering them, and bowing to the power time has to rule their lives. Neither River nor the Doctor were agents in their story, neither of them got to write the story, and neither of them got to change their future. Thats not misogyny, or shoddy characterizationits a tragic love story. However, when Amy says shes changing the future shes telling the simple truth. She chose to unite her fate with Rorys. She chose to change the future, when Rory wasnt strong enough to act on his own. She didnt get to write the options, but she always got to choose the path.