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First impressions and Point of View characters - Eldritch Lacemaking and other Randomness

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June 27th, 2006

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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.

(111 comments | Leave a comment)


[User Picture]
Date:July 2nd, 2006 06:15 am (UTC)
Emo 14 year olds get a dispensation. And I'm of the opinion that if you know your OTP's fucked up, then it's okay. 'Cause fucked up is more interesting than schmoopy most of the time, even if schmoopy is what you'd rather come home to yourself.

I suppose a nice, normal relationship would probably be too much to ask for a Slayer, but Buffy definitely made sure she went to the opposite extreme.

(And Spuffy had the best porn. But the amount of 'OMG! He has a soul now and their love is so pure!' fic to come out of that ship waas way scarier than the Hellmouth.)
[User Picture]
Date:July 2nd, 2006 06:22 am (UTC)
I agree on fucked up being more interesting that schmoopy - which is why a lot of Doctor/Rose fic (in any incarnation) annoys me. It's an innately fucked up relationship, and making it schmoopy is destroying one of the whole dynamics behind it.

That said, having a fucked up OTP is a good way to develop taste for decent characterisation. If people can transfer the same messed-up-ness into fic, and yet have it still be satisfying on a shippy level, than you are generally onto a winner, fic-wise. (I will admit to reading some schmoop. But only after an epic, 30-chapter plotty thing with angst and porn, because then it sort of felt earnt)

Personally, I just think the vampires ruined her for normal men. Stamina, you know...
[User Picture]
Date:July 2nd, 2006 07:01 am (UTC)
I wish I wasn't so easily distracted. Because I know what I want to read, and I have all these nifty fic ideas, but then I get bogged down in details or plotholes and the stories never see the light of day. And then it's back to sorting through the treacle and the 'Doctor leaves Rose, and apropos of nothing she kills herself' pseudo-angst for something with a plot. (BTW, love your links lists)

Oh, and your stamina comment has me pondering the mechanics of vampire porn. Because lack of bloodflow and oxygen and whatnot would theoretically hinder some things that obviously aren't hindered. And enquiring minds want to know.
[User Picture]
Date:July 2nd, 2006 07:06 am (UTC)
I personally prefer reading fir to writing it. Which is why I have only one Doctor Who fic written - I only ever right fic when I get struck by an idea that just has to be written. But I agree with you on the digging through the muck for diamonds stuff. Luckily I have a healthy appreciation for the point-and-laugh factor of badfic.

And the links lists are appreciated, hurrah!

The bloodflow thing when it comes to vampire porn is one of thse things that obviously weren't considered - or ignored for emotional/plot types purposes, rather. I'd love to see how they handwave it, though.

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