Hello, my name is Mary Ogle and I am a professional artist, designer and writer. I was raised on fantasy and science fiction in dusty spaces crammed with well-thumbed paperback books, magazines and comics. I spent hours in the brilliant glow of a flickering TV screen soaking up everything from Dr. Seuss to Doctor Who. I remember long summer nights poring over Harlan Ellison, Ray Bradbury, Madeleine L’Engle and C.S. Lewis. I had it bad. Thankfully I’ve never recovered.
“Ink Break” is my shiny new column for the ESO network and I am delighted to be here to discuss the shimmering world of speculative fiction in whatever form it takes. Please join me as we weave our way through the futuristic, fantastic and supernatural to peel back layers of story and expose the fascinating subtext that underlies plot and character.
FIRST UP: DOCTOR WHO – WRITING A BAD ROMANCE
We’re well into series eight of Doctor Who and a burning question remains – will Clara and Danny end up together? That whoosh of air you detect is the sound of a host of fans breathing their exasperation out on the flames. Clara is a character who was forced to carry a heavy burden. Inconsistent writing in the back half of series seven left her with eight different personalities, none of which were fully developed. She felt hollow, lacking a strong central core.
Series eight is different. Clara’s character is stronger because the writing is tighter. She’s vivid and alive in these scripts, her actions and reactions logical and realistic. We know Clara now. She’s a brave and intelligent young woman with an underlying vulnerability and oodles of sass. She is interesting and vibrant. Yet Clara’s in danger of slipping from person to plot device. She’s losing her autonomy as she’s labeled the romantic interest.
Romance is not always a bad thing. The tension between potential lovers can sweeten a story or add a note of intrigue and conflict. Here it seems forced. Danny is a compelling character with a rich and troubled backstory. He alternates the calm stoicism of a soldier with the awkwardness of a man learning to navigate a world he isn’t sure he still belongs to. He is an exciting addition to the cast.
The problem arises when Clara and Danny are together. None of their amorous interactions feel natural. It’s as if the writers didn’t trust themselves or their audience enough to accept a grown man and woman traveling together outside the parameters of a pulp romance novel.
It’s too easy to turn a character into cardboard. Martha, for example, was a bright and engaging companion until she turned into the poster child for unrequited love. Donna was a force to be reckoned with until it was decided the only happy ending was marrying her off. When a character is defined solely in terms of another’s influence their voice is diluted. They weaken and their ability to carry a story falters.
Can Doctor Who continue to thrive in the current popular culture without romantic elements? It’s telling this attempt to pair off companions feels curiously old-fashioned. Should we be uncomfortable with a twenty-something woman traveling with a being who’s acquired the features of a man in his fifties? Clara is not a girl. She presents as a capable and resourceful woman who can take care of herself. Perhaps the romance between her and Danny would seem more believable if it hadn’t developed this quickly and wasn’t so heavy-handed.
What’s the rush? It’s lovely to watch friendships flourish naturally as people get to know one another. Clara and Danny are both damaged in their way, apt not to trust a world that took loved ones away early and violated ethical ideals. Why not allow them to develop as individual characters and not dilute that by forcing them to act out a trite and hackneyed courtship?
Series eight is only half over and there is still time for the writers to surprise us. Let’s hope that Clara and Danny’s characters evolve into fully fleshed-out human beings rather than dissolving into cliché.