Maybe I just have a dirty mind, but when I’m watching Doctor Who roaming through time and space with his attractive female Earthling companion du jour, I can’t help but see the Tardis as a flying blue love nest and all the interplanetary adventure as a metaphor for hot, universe-rattling sex. Not that anything overt goes on between the Doctor and his companions; this is, ostensibly, family entertainment. But there’s a reason the Doctor’s women never want to leave him when their stint is up. Once the Doctor has made you see stars, how on Earth do you settle for a man who’s merely human?
“Doctor Who” finally addresses that question, and comes to terms with its sexual undercurrent, on the recently concluded season two of the Eleventh Doctor’s run. And it’s why I’ve been more emotionally hooked on this series of “Doctor Who” than any other. The Doctor’s current companion, Amelia Pond, a kick-ass, whip-smart, red-haired action heroine (one of two kick-ass, whip-smart, red-haired action heroines on the show, if you can believe that), first met the Doctor when she was a little girl in a nightgown. When she grew up and flew off in the Tardis with the ages-old yet ageless Doctor on the eve of her wedding, she was still wearing a nightgown, like Wendy embarking on her adventure with Peter Pan. But because Amy Pond is ever loyal, she returned home to marry her average nice guy fiancee, Rory Williams, even though the charismatic Doctor — on whom she has a crush — had shown her the galaxies. And because she never, ever gives up, she persuaded the Doctor to take Rory aboard the Tardis to share their time-roaming adventures.
With the creation of Amy Pond, the current series of “Doctor Who” has given serious thought to the importance of fantasy in women’s lives. Amy is a stand-in for every girl and woman who has ever swooned over the Doctor, or written Harry Potter fan fiction, or put up a poster of Robert Pattinson (or Brad Pitt or Paul McCartney or Elvis) on their bedroom wall and then had to figure out how to balance fantasy with reality.
In the rebooted version of “Doctor Who,” the Doctor’s pre-Amy female traveling companions, Rose Tyler, Martha Smith and Donna Noble, were all unattached. (While Rose did have a boyfriend, it was obvious that she and the Doctor were nursing a smoldering attraction.) But there was never any snogging in the Tardis, as actor David Tennant (sigh), the Tenth Doctor, was fond of saying.
As a hundreds-year-old alien committed to saving the universe, the Doctor might have fallen in love with his human companions, but he could never settle down. He was as untouchable to those women as any celebrity or fictional character was to female viewers in the real world. And all that unresolved sexual tension (the Doctor and Rose), unrequited love (Martha for the Doctor) and slow-blooming tenderness (the Doctor for Donna) made for an endless loop of unsatisfying resolutions. There may not have been any snogging in the Tardis, but there have been plenty of tears shed by the Doctor and his reluctantly departing companions. But even the sappiest of farewells is better than an awkward plot twist like the one devised to give the audience the Rose-Doctor union it wanted , sealing up a Doctor clone and the real Rose in an alternative reality where they could live happily ever.
In the current series of “Doctor Who,” while Amy and the Doctor love each other (a complicated half-romantic, half-father-daughter thing), they are both married to others – Amy has Rory and (SPOILERS, SWEETIE!) the Doctor gets hitched to the time-traveling adventuress, River Song, in the season finale. (River Song is also the daughter of Amy and Rory, who snogged and more in the Tardis. But that’s all too complicated to wrap my head around, let alone explain.) Amy idolizes the Doctor. Next to him, Rory is, well, Rory. But throughout their adventures, Amy comes to realize how completely and steadfastly her husband loves her. He fights for her, risks his life for her, comforts and cherishes her. He is, in his Everyman way, as heroic as the Doctor. But back home in an ordinary suburb in an ordinary marriage, life-sized love tends to look smaller than life.
It’s the Doctor who makes it possible for Amy to realize how passionately she loves Rory, by giving her adventures beyond imagining. In the extraordinary, liberating atmosphere of their travels with the Doctor , where time can be rewritten, Amy and Rory are free to experiment with new personas and tantalizing roads not taken, with fantasy pasts, presents and futures. But while each spin in Doctor Who’s exhilarating orbit allows them to discover something new and surprising about themselves, it always leads them back home to each other. Their love is one truth that can’t be rewritten.
© Joyce Millman, The Mix Tape. 2011