June 27th, 2006
|08:07 pm - First impressions and Point of View characters|
Okay, this is an idea that originally came up as a throw-away remark in the comments to someone, and just sort of... built in my head, until I realised it sort of explained a huge amount about how I feel about the characters in Doctor Who, especially Rose.
And what it all comes down to is first impressions.
Rose was designed from the very start to be a viewpoint character - that's pretty obvious from Rose, when the story is almost all told from her POV, and for the next few episodes, which are all about her experiences as she discovers time and space. And she's the touchstone for most emotional moments throughout S1, and getting us through the regeneration.
Rose is our eyes for the show. We see what she sees, empathise with her emotions, feel her joys and hurts.
At least, we are supposed to.
As I said, the first few episodes are designed to set up Rose as a POV character, and as far as I can tell, and at that, at least, they were a great success. The response to having Rose as viewpoint is more varied - you get the rabid "I AM Rose" over-associating fangirls, who vow to never watch after Rose leaves, and write Sue!Rose shipperfics; you have the initial Rose fans, who have been struggling as of late with her because they have been seeing things through her eyes for so long, and are getting frustrated with her character developments (as in the character feels inconstant with the things that have been experienced/seen); and you have the people who would se things through her eyes, but whatever reasons can't, and thus tend to dislike her for being a jarring presence.
Now, this doesn't describe everyone, but it does account for an awful lot of people. And the groups, despite diverse opinions between and within themselves, have one constant - Rose being the viewpoint character (supposedly, at least), and thus central to viewing.
And here's where I differ from the majority, because I don't have Rose as a viepoint character, or even as a central character. Which sounds bizarre, what with equal status to the Doctor and all that, but it's true. And I think a lot of it comes from when I started watching the show.
See, unlike most people, I didn't start with episode 1.01, "Rose". The first ever episode I saw of New Who was, of all things, World War Three. Yes, that one with the Slitheen.
No, it isn't the best episode - or for that matter particularly high on the list of best episodes. No, it's not the episode that go tme hooked, that'd be the next week, with Dalek. But what it was - not alone, but in conjunction with the upcoming episodes, I will admit - was the very first episode of New Who that I saw, and thus an awful lot of my opinions about the characters was based on it.
In WW3 we see Mickey saving the day. All with huge amounts of assisstance from others, of course, but he is brave and heroic, he saves Jackie's life, he is responsible for the Slitheen's destruction, he turns down the Doctor's offer because he knows himself that well. In WW3 we see the Ninth Doctor as knowledgable, clever, alien, and also horribly manipulative, indecisive, and completely hung up on some blonde girl for absolutely no apparent reason.
And then, of course, we have Rose. Who in WW3 does what, exactly? Nothing. Well, nothing of huge value. She runs and hides and talks and answers questions, and has the Doctor obsessing over her and has people worried about her. But plot wise, she does nothing. She's just there. The only way she really seems to matter in this episode is how other people are effected by her.
I'll admit this is not the strongest episode for Rose's character. But I'll also admit that it's the first one I saw, and as the saying goes, first impressions count. And so my first impression of these characters were of Mickey as a reluctant and not too brave hero, Nine as a smart alien who obsessed over a human girl to the point of unhealthiness, Jackie as the amusing but caring mother, and Rose as just being there.
And so what was my first impression of Rose? Not as POV character like people had with the earlier episodes. I never had that chance to get into her head, and find out if I loved it or hated it or whatever. For other people who were looking on from Rose's viepoint, perhaps this episode showed her in a better light, but what I saw then? Was not a show-leading character. What I saw was a MacGuffin.
"A MacGuffin is a plot device that motivates the characters and advances the story, but has little other relevance to the story itself." Yes, Wikipedia is hardly the most reputable source. But it's description of a MacGuffin is exactly what Rose was to me in that first episode. Her importance to the story had nothing to do with who she was, but was entirely due to how she effected other characters. And the next few episodes only served to back this up.
I mean, Dalek? Rose gets Adam's attention, gives the Dalek the source of it's power, had Nine emo over her, and causes him to not fire and the Dalek to kill itself, before getting Adam invited on board. The Long Game? Um... is called the best, and is who Adam is compared to?
They didn't do a lot to change the Rose = MacGuffin in my head, and by the time Father's Day came along, where she did have an actual character part, it was too little, to late for me. Perhaps that's why that episode leaves me cold - I had no emotional investment in the Rose. She was in my head a MacGuffin, and by Hitchcock's definition of MacGuffin, even though the plot revolves around them, "The audience don't care" about the specifics of the object itself.
Quite simply, because I haven't that viewpoint character tie to Rose, because she started out for me as just a MacGuffin, I don't care about her.
I care about what happens around her, about how she effects the plot and all that, about how characters are effected by her actions, but her herself? I don't care. Which explains a lot of things about my views on her that I have had difficulty explaining to others.
For all that she has equal status in the credits, Rose has never been to me anywhere near as important as the Doctor. She was designed as viewpoint character, specifically on an emotional level, but I never got that, I never had that investment in her. The viewpoint, the emotional heart for me has been the Doctor. (Which is probably why I am less fond of Nine - his emotional states was always a sort of background emo, and so wasn't quite as Ten and his sheer exuberance and variety of emotion).
And because I have no emotional investment in Rose, I can treat her in ways that baffle some of my friends. I can ignore her when she is annoying, which has bewildered certain people who can't see how I can ignore a central character (but of course, to me she isn't central in herself but only as a device to move the plot forward). I had no problems at all with the shifting away from Rose, and towards the Doctor's POV during S2, inevitable because of Rose's departure, but has caused some problems for people invested in Rose's POV. Whereas for some of them this is new territory, and thus are less fond of the shows new angle, this is heading to what I always had going on.
And I am not sorry that she is leaving, because firstly I saw it coming way off, and secondly because I have never cared enough about her to be sorry she is going.
Of course, just as there are people like me who have no emotional investment in Rose, there are those who are over-invested in her. Those who have difficulty with the shifts in POV away from Rose, and towards the Doctor. Those who can't see how the show can possibly be good without Rose, and will quit watching then. Those certain people who believe they are Rose in that little subconcious self, and feel she is OOC if she does something they wouldn't do (or say they wouldn't do). Just as my lack of investment in Rose-as-character, and having the Doctor as POV character has meant I prefer S2 for it's Doctor focus, I can start to see why those who have invested in Rose perhaps a little too have such antipathy towards parts of it.
It can't be easy having the entire foundations on the show as you know it shift on you. It's Rose's emotions that they are keyed into, and for an episode such as Girl in the Fireplace, in which Rose's emotions are of no importance, are disregarded it must feel like a personal betrayal, almost. Or at the very least, it leaves them as cold as Father's Day left me.
The thing about POV characters is that we are supposed to empathise with them, to feel for them, so we don't just see through their eyes but feel what they feel. And to do this, a certain amount of emotional investment is required - without that, the character looses all their significance. And the introduction of the character is supposed to trigger that investment. And for Rose, I never had that.
Instead of Rose as emotional heart, I had Rose as Maguffin. Perhaps it's my fault for not watching the episodes in order, for having the wrong start. But it's interesting how different my perspective on a lot of things seems to be because of this first impression and it's results.
And I am wondering, what other people's first impressions of the characters were, who they have invested in, and how they will be effected by Rose's departure. And how the changes in show have affected them.
Wow. That's a lot of words, in which I say... not very much, really. However, I would like to hear from people on how different or similar their experiences have been compared to mine.
ETA: Read the comments. I've got some very diverse and interesting perspectives on Rose and just companions in general.
hiring someone the producers think the dads will want to ogle, but who turns out to be just kickass in the eyes of female viewers. (Leela being the classic example there.)
That may have been the producer's thinking, but I doubt it was that of the writer who created her - kickass seems to have very much been his intention. Apparently she was modeled on a cross between Emma Peel (the original kickass chick) and, of all things, a female Palestinian militant of the time (whom she was named for). In 1970s Britain, in the middle of a big conflict with the IRA, modeling a companion after a terrorist militant was not a small deal, even if it was very coded, and the writer who created her has a history of very strong female characters - he was trying to write Aeryn Sun types in several shows in the '70s (with admittedly mixed success when he allowed other writers to take them over and the producers to step in). So I don't think that was accidental at all, even if the "audience figures going up" (to borrow a phrase) was on the mind of the producers.
That's exceptionally cool. I had a vague notion that someone wanted to make her kickass, but didn't know the details.
I remember being DEVASTATED when she left, and it took me MONTHS to warm to Romana. So the writer did his job for this 7-to-8-year old. :-)
Yeah, Chris Boucher, while apparently not really a feminist himself (he was Blake's 7's script editor, and is rumored to have lost an actress in S3 when he didn't really understand her complaint that the scripts were suddenly going a bit mysogynist - there are hints it's rather more complicated, but, well, on average the scripts kind of did), still has a track record of consistently writing really rounded, strong, realistically flawed, and competent female characters, most of whom are pretty damn kickass, and who usually come from behind to take an unexpected leading role in the story. Whatever's in his head, it's hard to fault what comes out of it, especially when it's all done with quite a bit of style.
The first Romana wasn't exactly a warm character anyway; she was pretty cool and aloof. I'm still not sure I've entirely warmed to the Mary Tamm version. :) But yeah, losing Leela was a real shame, she was pretty awesome. There are still very few characters on TV who match her, I think.