DOCTOR WHO: Examining New-Who DNA - 1. The Three R's: Robots, Rose & River

Stacy Embry starts a new series looking back over the last 10 years of Doctor Who, and many of the different characters and components that we've seen in the relaunched series.

There is DNA that beats in the two hearts of the Doctor. We can claim one organ as RTD and the other as Moffat's, but both hearts oxygenate the whole rebooted WHOverse. Over the course of the next few articles, I am mapping an artistic genome.

In America, primary education is often called the three Rs... reading, writing and arithmetic.  These three elements set the foundation for a student's academic career. So in examining WHOvian DNA, we are starting with Robots, River and Rose. Let's examine this double helix by sharing traits, stories, and arguments that resonate. I want to know what makes these three components sacred in ways I may not understand, but already appreciate.

Most recently the Doctor has encountered the Robot(s) of Sherwood, but there are two other robotic foes that eclipse any other. On Trenzalore, when the cavalcade curtain call of baddies appeared to wave goodbye to Matt Smith's 11, the two robot dynasties were there - the Daleks and the Cybermen. Both exist as archetypal opposites and emotionless mechanical/organic hybrids, and as faceless enemies we fear due to their inhumanity. But does it really matter which robot is his foe? Do either of them add anything unique to a particular story?

Often if you say 'Doctor Who' to someone the first thing they might think of is the Daleks. But does anyone find any of their episodes memorable simply because of them? Oswin Oswald hacks and destroys the Dalek Asylum, and it is her I remember, not a single one of the robots in the episode. In the fiftieth, thirteen doctors fight in the time war--- but it was Capaldi's eyes that made the biggest impression. Most recently, the 12th Doctor was called a "good Dalek." I sat in my living room thinking...he's no kind of Dalek, but I remembered him.

So, do we agree that the audience doesn't watch for the robots, but to see how the Doctor will defeat them "without a weapon or a plan"?

The unpredictable course of a river can carve out the grandest of canyons and River Song is just such a force. Alex Kingston, brilliant actress of stage and screen, is certainly memorable as Melody Pond, aka River Song. Just recently, she was being introduced on American television by Charlie Rose by saying "she is most known ... as Doctor Elizabeth Corday from ER." Kingston smiled, I laughed.  Seemed she expected to be River--- or Lady MacBeth which she was discussing at the round table with Kenneth Branagh, but ER was her biggest role in America.

Always my favorite on ER, I now only see Kingston as River. I would dearly have loved to see her build a relationship with David Tennant's 10th Doctor. Balancing each other--they would have been magic. Arguably, her best episode for me was her first: "Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead." Her sacrificing to Tennant, showing her love for a Doctor we didn't know yet was profound. 10's reaction was fragile, but it was her sacrifice, that of River Song, that made her loving the 11th inevitably tolerable for me. 

I can not honestly say they were ever believable as a couple. I just see her holding his arm when rescued from the exploding TARDIS in "The Big Bang." They looked so stilted, uncomfortable and awkward. They did good talk, but I felt no chemistry. I know many people claim "The Wedding of River Song" is her definitive moment, but I always see the Doctor saying, "I don't want to marry you" which rang true. Yet by having foreknowledge, he has to do so to save Tennant, and therefore, himself. Clearly, Smith's Doctor wants to be the man she sacrificed to save, but knowing the end of the story, he is forced to create--not live it.

Creating isn't falling in love and the misery of his obligation was actually acknowledged first in a video short planning for the "singing towers" date, and then with "if you ever loved me..." in "Name of the Doctor". The audience knows that the Doctor fulfilled his obligation, and even as I like her, River is not a touchstone for me.

Whovian's are rabid for this character. I know I'm taking my online persona into my hands by even mentioning the name Rose Tyler, but if we are doing a primer--I have to include her. Yes, people were/are actually crazy for a pop singer on the TARDIS! This premise sounds absurd and yet this character seems to be the holy grail of New Who. Most fans tell me her emotionality is the key--and she does do a reasonable cry. Mentioning either the actress, or the character, a flood of reaction opens from fans everywhere. Surely we can discuss her sensibly now? 

If she ended with absorbing the Time Vortex, I would call the character worthy to be the patron Saint of New Who. She was powerful and memorable in seeing everything at once during "Bad Wolf," and her regret in both saving, and sacrificing the Doctor, was spine tingling.

But then, in a single episode adjustment, she is off with Tennant. This flightiness, especially after being a part of all of space and time and having Nine sacrificed in front of her, set me against Rose Tyler. I couldn't get past it and am still not over it, but I enjoyed the stories in spite of her. I felt foolish-- I had accepted the fact that Billie Piper is not an actress, she is a charming personality, a lovely woman who uses a shade of sameness in all her work, but by abandoning 9 she had no standing to be traveling with the Doctor.  

Rose, as a character, just isn't worth the privilege or iconization she's received. In a fit of honesty, I must say I was thrilled when Ten's hologram cut out of Bad Wolf Bay... and she was left wondering.  Even the consolation prize of a 10b, and the full family she wanted, seems more than Rose deserved. 

So do you agree or disagree with me? Either way, I think it's time to be able to take these three Rs out and examine them.

Stacy enjoys sharing her occasionally polarizing opinions to elicit discussion. In a phrase, she states: "I don't want readers to be parrots...unless they are of the Python variety wherein a "palindrome of BOLTON would be NOTLOB." A former university professor and current secondary educator... Ms. Embry is also a writer, Educational Psychologist and Grief Counselor in Indianapolis, Indiana USA.
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