(I wrote this a little while ago, but then school happened.)
31 August 2014
I’ve been having a lot of tag-team feelings about both Amy Pond and Eleven over the last couple of days, which are only sort of tangentially related to the season 8 premiere (they started before that, but are probably related to the fact that I’ve been thinking about “The Eleventh Hour” and how quickly I fell for these two characters).
So…Amy. I guess the thing that’s breaking my heart about her at the moment is actually a realization that I had about “The Big Bang.” In “The Eleventh Hour,” Amy comments that she went through four psychiatrists, because she “kept biting them” for saying the Doctor wasn’t real. And that’s always absolutely informed the way I’ve thought about her character – both the stubbornness of her belief, which is a theme that runs right through her character arc (remembering Rory and the Doctor back into the world, being hunted by the Minotaur for her belief in the Doctor in “The God Complex,” believing in him in “The Wedding of River Song” and making all those drawings and notes so she won’t forget her memories, setting a place for him at the table every Christmas because she believes that one day he’ll come to the door), but also the sense that Amy is the odd girl in the village, that she’s thought of as a bit mad, a bit weird, a bit unstable. And so believing in the Doctor isn’t just about him; it’s also about the fact that she has to believe in what’s going on inside her own head, that all of those things are true, that she can trust her own mind. Which is actually an issue for Amy from almost her first words on the show: “There’s a crack in my wall. Aunt Sharon says it’s just an ordinary crack, but I know it’s not…” Already we see her fears being dismissed, and Amy having to hold on to her belief in what she knows to be true.
(This adds subtext to S6’s “Night Terrors”: Amy reacts to that message from scared little George by being determined to find him, while Rory brushes it off – there’s probably nothing wrong, kids just have overactive imaginations. Even knowing that Amy’s imaginary Raggedy Doctor and the crack in her wall were always real, Rory didn’t live that ridicule and rejection like she did – twelve years, and four psychiatrists – and his first instinct is to dismiss the child’s fears, not investigate them.) [I still wish they hadn’t switched around the episode order, because “Night Terrors” sits so uncomfortably after “A Good Man Goes to War,” in which Amy and Rory have had their daughter taken from them – and yet Rory has no reaction to a scared and hurting child. The Rory of that episode is pre-Melody Rory (it was supposed to be the third episode of the season), and his attitude would make perfect sense if the episode had fallen where it was supposed to. In his childhood, nightmares were just nightmares; they were never real.]
So, in “The Big Bang,” the Doctor never crash-lands in Amelia’s back garden, but she still believes stubbornly in the existence, the realness, of stars, even though they’re not visible in the sky. What struck me, when I was thinking of this episode, was how young Amelia is when she’s talking to that therapist – how quickly her aunt has decided that Amelia needs “help,” needs to be fixed. For the best of reasons, I’m sure – she says she’s worried that Amelia will grow up and fall in with “one of those star cults” – but Amelia is nevertheless a small child who hasn’t really done more than paint some stars in a painting from school, at an age when lots of kids still kind of think they can fly. And there’s so much disappointment in Aunt Sharon’s voice – “Oh, Amelia…” – when she sees that childish painting… This suggests that Amelia was put into therapy at the same age in the original-flavor, star-filled universe, after her meeting with the Doctor – when plenty of parents would still humor their child about an imaginary friend, not jump straight to professional help. I’d always sort of vaguely known that she must have seen those psychiatrists at some point during the twelve years that the Doctor was gone from her life, but I never stopped to pinpoint when that might have been. But it looks like Aunt Sharon didn’t waste any time. And even Amy’s parents, in the rebooted universe, did the same thing to her: on her wedding day, when Amy stands up and says that when she was a little girl she had an imaginary friend, only he wasn’t imaginary, her mother sighs – as if ashamed – “All those psychiatrists we took her to…” They didn’t know what to do with this little girl, so fiercely armed with her belief in something they couldn’t see or believe in, and it feels like – probably with all the love in the world – they just tried to shove all that away and make her “normal” as quickly as possible.
So, Eleven. Eleven lands in her back garden, hears about the crack in her wall, and the first thing he asks, intuitively, is, “Does it scare you?” That’s all he needs to know. Later he reiterates this; when Amelia protests that she’s not scared to be left at home all alone (oh, my girl: already so quick to put up that armor), he says, “Of course you’re not! Box falls out of sky, man falls out of box, man eats fish custard – and look at you, just sitting there! So you know what I think?...I think that must be one hell of a scary crack in your wall.” He hasn’t seen it, doesn’t know anything about it – but after a few minutes in her company, this stranger trusts her perceptions, trusts her, and doesn’t dismiss what she has to say. What a gift that is, for that little girl who’s been left alone with this terrifying secret. And I think this is one of the things that made me fall in love with Eleven so quickly, so that by the time he said, “Trust me, I’m the Doctor” a few minutes later, I was already on board. Yes, I warmed to his childish exuberance, his delight and mad energy in discovering the limits of his new personality (“Can I have an apple? All I can think about, apples…Maybe I’m having a craving! That’s new”), but the heart of that scene for me is the way he absolutely believes in a little girl. Small wonder that she grows up believing so absolutely in him.
I wrote way back during season 5 that children, and especially the Doctor’s interaction with children, had already taken on a more prominent role than in the RTD era. The reason I mention this is that Eleven is repeatedly on a child’s wavelength – and sometimes this means that he thinks bunk beds are the coolest (“A bed – with a ladder!”), and dances with all the kids at a wedding, and plays with toys in a department store. But it also means that he comforts a little boy who’s embarrassed about his dyslexia by saying, “That’s all right, I can’t make a decent meringue” – like it’s exactly that inessential to who he really is – and tells a frightened little girl that she is unique in all the universe; and when another little girl on a swing set, with red barrettes in her hair, gives him good advice, he takes it seriously, because of course good advice can come from children, why wouldn’t it? One of the things I have really loved about Eleven is that Amelia Pond is only the first child we see him believe in.