When I began writing about Moffat’s Women, it was out of concern for the companion Steven Moffat had created in Amy Pond, as well as concern about the focus on Karen Gillan’s physical attributes rather than on the character’s intelligence or personality. Now that we’ve had a full series of Amy, how does she stack up?
Amy breaks the mold right away by virtue of her story. While she’s not the first companion to whom The Doctor has returned, she is the only companion that’s had a relationship with The Doctor that dates back to her childhood. The moment we meet Amelia Pond in “The Eleventh Hour,” we know that she is a tough girl who has faith. After all, she’s praying to Santa quite matter-of-factly, and isn’t the least bit surprised when her prayer for help with the voices coming from a crack in her wall is answered in the form of a crashed police box in her garden.
She fearlessly leaves her house to investigate the police box while still in her nightgown, and when she meets The Doctor, she interrogates him, invites him into her home, and agrees to go away with him. In a way, she is what Madame de Pompadour should have been, a young girl rescued from a life that was less than ideal for someone of her temperament and spirit.
Except that she wasn’t rescued right away, and this becomes the thing that defines her. When The Doctor doesn’t return “in five minutes” as he promises, seven year old Amelia Pond becomes misanthropic Amy Pond. Perhaps “misanthropic” is too strong a word, but she spends much of her life challenging the world to disappoint her after that. Even when she connects with someone, as she does with Rory, it’s held at arm’s distance. In “The Eleventh Hour,” when she introduces The Doctor to Rory, the fact that he’s her boyfriend isn’t something she’s comfortable making clear, let alone the fact that she and Rory are engaged to be married!
As she begins to travel with The Doctor, she is brave to the point of recklessness, throwing herself into danger simply because she can. In “The Beast Below,” she prides herself on ignoring signs telling her to keep out. Her fearlessness in the beginning of the fifth series feels less like bravery in the face of fear and more like the genuine fearlessness of someone who feels she has nothing to lose. She has no family and no future. She doesn’t allow herself a meaningful connection with Rory beyond their shared childhood history, and so she doesn’t consider keeping herself safe for his sake. She isn’t worried about her own safety at all. The world has already so thoroughly disappointed her that she doesn’t mind taking chances with her own life, because who would really care if anything happened to her?
This attitude changes over the course of the series, however, and it is this that makes her fascinating: watching her in her struggle to become Amelia again, the tough girl who has faith.
Though often reckless, causing herself to need saving in the first place, Amy started the fifth series saving the day almost to the point of making The Doctor look ineffectual. She is competent, intelligent, and a quick thinker. However, she is able to save the day so often, primarily because she is an insightful human being. In “The Beast Below,” despite The Doctor yelling at her, she is clear-thinking enough to remember what she’s learned about him so far (he can’t resist aiding a crying child) and put it together with what she’s experiencing (the Star Whale loves the children). She acts fast, disconnects the Star Whale, and shows everyone that it would have been happy to help if only humanity had just asked. No torture required!
In “Victory of the Daleks,” Amy not only convinces Winston Churchill to use Dalek techology to modify Spitfires, but she is the one able to properly implement The Doctor’s idea of convincing Professor Bracewell, who is himself a product of Dalek technology containing a wormhole that could destroy the Earth, that he is more human than machine, which deactivates the wormhole. While The Doctor attempts to remind him of his childhood home or his parents, she in her insightful humanity knows that the most powerful thing she could help this man remember is true love.
It’s interesting that Amy reminds Bracewell, as well as The Doctor, of the importance of love. Many of her interactions with people in her travels with The Doctor are based in love, in caring for others, in reading and understanding people’s motivations, but love is a luxury she doesn’t allow herself, because love requires trust, and that isn’t something she can easily give. When she does give it, it makes her afraid.
She has the love of her life in Rory, and yet she pounces on The Doctor at the end of “Flesh and Stone,” and when The Doctor takes her and Rory to Venice in “The Vampires of Venice,” she has Rory play her brother in their plan to infiltrate the school for girls. She is sexually mature, but emotionally immature. She is uneasy with Rory for most of the episode, but finally comes to her senses and realizes that she can have the man she loves and adventure with The Doctor.
It is in the episode “Amy’s Choice,” however, where we really get to see what Amy truly cares about, and what she’s capable of. It is here where she finally grows up. When the “Dream Lord” (who turns out to be a manifestation of The Doctor’s dark side caused by psychic pollen) gives Amy the choice of a reality with The Doctor on the TARDIS and a reality with Rory in their small, but boring, hometown, she chooses Rory, realizing after a harrowing experience that she didn’t want to live in a reality that didn’t include him. Despite being brazen and badass in dangerous situations, it is this admission of love that gives her real power, strength, and maturity.
The interesting thing about the companions in the recent re-imagining of Doctor Who is that they each seem to be sometimes less-than-cultured, sometimes brilliant, but always average. The Doctor sees something above-average in them, however, and draws it out, allowing them to live to their fullest potential. Amy started out above-average, an Alpha Female in a small town. Her time with The Doctor has allowed her to be re-introduced (eventually quite literally!) to her younger self; the self that believed in people and in magic; the self that admitted when she loved. It has allowed her to find the beauty in being small sometimes. She’s taken the opposite journey of all the other companions in New Who, and yet a more profound one. Karen Gillan, by the way, is the perfect actress to take this character on, and has impressed me all season with her depth and range.
I define a successful female character as a woman with agency who is portrayed as a multi-faceted person. A person who sometimes talks about men she loves, but sometimes doesn’t. A person who is sometimes fearless, but sometimes isn’t. A person who sometimes does the right thing, but sometimes doesn’t. Amy certainly has agency. The decision to travel in the TARDIS was her own, and she could never be told to do something she didn’t want to do. She traveled with a boyfriend, and now has a husband, yet it is clear that he is only (albeit the most important) part of her life. Her life doesn’t revolve around him, or even The Doctor.
And for every time she’s brilliant, she does something dumb. For every time she saves the day, she makes a mistake. She’s complex, she’s flawed, and she’s wonderfully real and easy to relate to even though she has looks many women would kill for. By the end of the fifth series, she is also a mature woman who has learned the value of vulnerability, and that it is very different from weakness. She is sort of a modern Katherine from The Taming of the Shrew. It is for these reasons that Amy stands with Sally Sparrow as one of the best female characters Steven Moffat has created for Doctor Who.
For once, BBC America is doing the right thing and airing the Doctor Who Christmas special the same day in the U.S. as it airs in the U.K.—Smithmas! I mean, Christmas. And I’m looking forward to it, as well as to watching Amy’s journey throughout the sixth series when it begins in Spring 2011!
Teresa Jusino was born on the same day that Skylab fell. Coincidence? She doesn’t think so. Her “feminist brown person” take on pop culture has been featured on websites like ChinaShopMag.com, PinkRaygun.com, Newsarama, and PopMatters.com. Her fiction has appeared in the sci-fi literary magazine, Crossed Genres, and her essay “Why Joss is More Important Than His ‘Verse” is included in the upcoming book WHEDONISTAS: A Celebration of the Worlds of Joss Whedon By the Women Who Love Them, coming in March 2011! Get Twitterpated with Teresa, or visit her at The Teresa Jusino Experience.