Romantic Who: Addressing The Dragon In The Room (Part 1)
Guest contributor Sam White begins to look at whether romance has a place in the Doctor’s life.
Do you feel it? The air teeming with romantic vagaries, brimming with the scent of chocolates and roses. The swift outpour of dark pink and warm white into the canvas that is life, creating a whirlpool of ardour in the hearts of the young and old alike. If you haven’t guessed it yet, it’s February 14th! The day of love! Now whether you’re ensorcelled by the glamour of the day, or simply wish to commiserate over your singlehood, one thing that can’t be denied is the cultural impact engendered by this simple notion of romantic love, the very notion which sits at the heart of this day. It draws our imagination and spreads itself in our life through songs, stories and myths. And this is where Doctor Who comes into the picture.
One of the reasons why I love Doctor Who is because of its boldness and its ability to intrepidly incorporate day to day aspects into its inherent architecture, whether it be depression in the case of the Tenth Doctor, guilt in the case of the War Doctor, pansexuality in the case of Captain Jack Harkness or gender fluidity in the case of the Time Lords. And that isn’t all there is either, the list goes on. In most cases the incorporation is very subtle and nuanced however there are cases where the issues become much more eminent. Romance and its place in the Doctor’s life is exactly such an aspect. While it is an aspect I find fascinating, it is also one which draws tremendous controversy and usually results in many fans blowing a fuse. Join me today as I peruse this captivating facet of the Doctor’s life.
The State of Affairs
Admittedly I am one of the fans who commenced their Doctor Who journey with the revived series, without any prior biases or ideas about what it should or shouldn’t be, a journey that started with the Ninth Doctor and Rose. Throughout the first series, the relationship between Nine and Rose was shown to have a strictly platonic feel to it, any romantic undertones if at all present weren’t made noticeable until the very last episode of the series.
“I think you need a Doctor.” –The Doctor to Rose (The Parting of the Ways)
In The Parting of the Ways however we witness the Doctor kiss Rose in order to absorb the energy of the time vortex from her body and save her. In my personal opinion the said scene could have been executed in various other ways to avoid romantic connotations but the associated imagery used compels one to look at things in a certain way and brings the romantic aspects into the foreground.
Things took an even more dramatic turn with the introduction of the Tenth Doctor. The Tenth Doctor while still the Doctor was much younger and more romantic at heart than the Ninth Doctor and so in the second series we witnessed a complete transformation in both, the Doctor’s portrayal and in his relationship with Rose. Their affection for each other was more pronounced and the Doctor’s ways more human to accommodate for the change in dynamic. In a way it can be said that this relationship essentially shaped the Tenth Doctor and his future endeavors.
“I love you.” – Rose
“Quite right, too.” – The Doctor (Doomsday)
In a poll conducted on this site last year, the Tenth Doctor was voted as “Doctor of the Decade” and yet he is subject to a lot of negative comments. What amazes me though is that most of the negativity against the Tenth Doctor stems from his wibbly wobbly relationship with Rose, a relationship that I consider to be one of his defining elements. A lot of such negative arguments include popular phrases like “Poor Martha”, “Rose sucks, I prefer Donna” or my favorite “RTD destroyed the Doctor!”. Nevertheless, Ten garnered a lot of popularity and love in his tenure and when the time came to pass on the torch to the Eleventh Doctor, the fans who disapproved of Ten’s ways found comfort in the hope that the overhaul would rid the show of useless romantic elements and that the show would once again return to its Sci-fi roots.
“Hello, Benjamin.” – River
“Who’s Benjamin?” – The Doctor (Let’s Kill Hitler)
Little did they know that Steven Moffat would bring an even friskier dynamic into the picture in the form of Eleven and River Song. Needless to say many such fans were scarred for life with the casual on-the-run flirting that constituted this relationship. However unlike Davies who chose to make the romantic elements more prominent and constant with Rose, Moffat chose to take the middle route, effectively incorporating them every now and then but not as a constant thing, which is why Eleven was usually shown to be shy, awkward and extremely eccentric except in the presence of River Song where he usually dropped the whole shy facade.
“I keep saying they should use this stuff in swimming pools.” – Chang
“Why?” – The Doctor (Dark Water)
Then we were introduced to the brilliant Twelfth Doctor, a Doctor who initially exhibited ineptness when it came to comprehending romantic notions. This new aromantic face of the Doctor brought hope and joy back to many fans who had given up hope of a “proper Doctor” after witnessing the abysmal romantic shenanigans of his two immediate predecessors. However a comment from Moffat again caused a lot of fans to lose their marbles and brought in a tsunami of said fans pontificating his appalling show-running skills and his long due retirement.
“When do I not see you?” -- The Doctor
“What, one face in all of that crowd?” -- Clara
“There was a crowd, too?” -- The Doctor (The Magician’s Apprentice)
Fortunately (or unfortunately), the Twelfth Doctor is also the Doctor who perhaps displayed the most pronounced development in his second series. Now only did he set himself apart from his predecessors, but also help bridge the gap that often plagues the character after a sudden change in persona. Clad in his straight-out-of-bed apparel, sporting sonic shades and wielding an electronic guitar, the Twelfth Doctor redefined his own style, now more comfortable in his own skin, and more open, both emotionally and verbally. This dramatic departure from his sharp and closed off nature evident in Series 8 came primarily due to his strange and uncategorizable relationship with Clara. Second chances, eh? This relationship brought in (and still brings) a multitude of interpretations and often acted as a prime catalyst for heated arguments among fans.
“When you love the Doctor, it’s like loving the stars themselves. You don’t expect a sunset to admire you back. And if I happen to find myself in danger, let me tell you, the Doctor is not stupid enough, or sentimental enough, and he is certainly not in love enough to find himself standing in it with me!” -- River (The Husband of River Song)
And while we’re at it, it would be a crime not to mention the zenith of the relationship between the Doctor and River Song that came to fans in the final moments of The Husbands of River Song. Instead of being an avalanche of flirtatious remarks and deceitful innuendoes, the story unraveled the deep sorrow and longing buried in River’s heart, while providing the Doctor with an honest exploration of the emotional void that he leaves behind in his wake, affecting the people close to him. While the episode focused primarily on his relationship with his wife, it is a facet that can be stretched to all his companions. Why is the Doctor so hesitant to love back? Maybe because there is no such thing as happy ever after. Or maybe because as a Doctor he understands that sometimes a painful cure is better than everlasting pain.
Who knows? For a show where forever has an end and where a heartbeat can last for an eternity, there is no one right answer, but infinity of them.