100 sci fi women #81: Professor River Song

Doctor Who has always had a spotty kind of relationship with gender – women are usually secondary, companions, often in need of saving. But, Doctor Who has always had female characters present, and many of those women have had clear story arcs of their own. They haven’t only been a foil for the Doctor, they have changed and grown and often become quite different people. Many of his companions have had strength and determination, as well as compassion and along the way they have taught the Doctor a few lessons. Companions like Leela and Romana have defied many female sidekick approaches, while at other times the Doctor has had more than one woman hanging out with him – such as when Nyssa and Tegan were haunting the TARDIS. But River Song was a very different kind of woman for the Doctor to meet. So in honour of 50 years of the Doctor, here she is.

River Song Doctor Who

471493-river_songRiver Song is smart. Not only does she end up becoming a professor of archeology, but she is also able to think her way out of pretty much any situation. Beyond brave, she has a willingness to throw herself into adventure and danger. She has a well developed sense of fun and whimsy. Growing up separated from her parents, turned into a psychopathic killer does stop her becoming a woman of compassion, great love and humanity – if just a bit of a troublemaker. River is equally as comfortable with a gun or a book, with technology and old fashioned secrets. She wants to be a partner for the Doctor, but she has her own life to live and won’t just give it up to follow him anywhere. She can fly the TARDIS better than he can and is a fellow traveller through time and space, but she does it on her own terms. Not conventionally beautiful with her wild curls, she is charismatic,  compelling and deeply sensual. All of space and time is much more fun with her in it.

Doctor Can I trust you, River Song?
River If you like. But where’s the fun in that?

Monthly Cultural Round Up: June

Well, scary to think that we are already half way through the year. With that banal thought out of the way, onto the culture…

Books

The Dreaming Void Peter Hamilton This was interesting. Like the Peter Hamilton I have read before, this was pretty disposable entertainment. Very readable, quite compelling with some interesting characters and ideas. I do wonder why he bothered to make this Commonwealth and use old characters because it is nonetheless a completely different world, but perhaps this will become clear as the trilogy progresses. And as for that, it is in no way a stand alone book – it kind of just ends, not terribly elegantly, and if you want to get any sort of closure you will have to commit to the other two I imagine. It does suffer some of the problems of the big selling, quick to market books, with a bit of poor editing in places. And at the moment I think it has just a couple too many characters who havenn’t really gone anywhere interesting, However, despite all the disposable-ness of the book, I have caught myself thinking about the Makkathran (the void and the dreams) parts of the book from time to time. So I will definitely be progressing onto the next part of the trilogy…

Film

Iron Man I finally got around to watching Iron Man – the original version, not the sequel. I thought it was quite interesting – not quite as fabulous as I had expected from all the hype, but not bad either. Obviously Robert Downey Jr was playing a role that he could do in his sleep, and I am not quite sure what the point of Gwyneth was. I’m glad that things didn’t get romantic between them because there was zero chemistry. Overall the film was an interesting take on the super hero genre – particularly the whole foreign-war-fighting part – the usual trope of the super hero genre tends to involve urban villains who commit crimes – or who are super bad guys. So the idea of coming and preventing war atrocities in tiny Afghan villages is quite a fascinating one. I think I would have liked more of that. It was inevitable that there is a sequel though; the film felt almost entirely like a prelude to something and that further films are needed to actually see him in action. It is a challenge of the super hero genre really – superheros come from the perpetually continuing comic format, where an origin story can stretch out for a long time. So when films try to deal with superheroes, trying to get the balance right between origin story and ongoing action is always something of a challenge. But that is why sequels, and prequels, were invented. Anyway, over all quite enjoyable, even if there were a couple of really dire lines “nothing elese matters but the next mission.” Really, please.

Television

Doctor Who So I think I may commit blasphemy and say that you know, I think that I like Matt Smith as much as David Tennant, possibly even more. There is something so sweet about him, while still being very Doctor-esque. I think he is rather like Peter Davison as a Doctor. And, as was said on Sunday night, that seemed like a really fast season – which says something about the fact that it was such an enjoyable season, which was really well paced and didn’t drag. Some of the episodes weren’t stellar, but the weren’t dragging. And they did contribute to the over arching arc of the season. Anyway, I am definitely a Matt Smith fan, I like where they are taking River Song, and I thought the fact that we got Amy both as a child and a grown up added to the attraction of her, Of course, the attractiveness added to the attraction of her, even when she was a bit of a passenger in a couple of episodes, so that didn’t hurt either. I am also reasonably pleased with the way they have hopefully dealt with the whole companion-love thing – by making it really explicit, then making a choice, then getting on with it. And River adds to that dynamic. Anyway, now it is just annoying that we probably won’t have any more until Christmas…

Music

The Man in Black So, Tex Perkins does make a terrific Johnny Cash. And the show was well constructed and performed and the backing band was good and real, if you like either Tex Perkins, or Johnny Cash, or, even better, both, I definitely recommend it. The very entertaining thing about the show was the eclecticness of the audience, as there were clearly people who fit into all three of the different categories above. And certainly one where the parent-adult child thing was quite common. So really, just do it!

Companions, sexual tension and the Doctor

Maybe it was because my first exposure to Doctor Who was when I was young, or because Tom Baker and Jon Pertwee in particular never held even the remotest of sexual interest for me,  but I have always tended to think of the Doctor as somewhat outside of or beyond sex.  Sure, I am willing to recognise that there is sexual tension between Doctors and their companions, but I would never have thought about the Doctor in that way. It is just wrong. And despite the fact that our current Doctors are younger and more attractive, I still can’t bring myself to consider the Doctor an object of sexual interest.

Hence, I have felt a certain discomfort with the new Doctor Who. I loved it when it came back and particularly the way it incorporated old lore into a new shiny approach (though I did miss the old control room of the tardis. but that is a minor point). And while the Doctor and Rose were obviously close, the presence of Mickey and the general construct around the relationship allowed me to view it as a spiritual and intellectual closeness, not a sexual one. A little bit of underlying, unspoken sexual tension is fine.

But then along came Martha Jones. And I hated her. Not because she was intrinsically bad as a character. No, she was smart and attractive and capable, so all good there. But all that was nothing against the whole unrequited love aspect of the series. It was just painful. Painful because it turned an otherwise intelligent woman into a drooling idiot and because it violated that unspoken agreement that the Doctor is not there for sex. Everytime she did the whole he-just-doesn’t-care-I’m-alive rubbish it made me wince, particularly because OBVIOUSLY, he did care about her – the Doctor always cares about his companions, just NOT IN THAT WAY.

So the arrival of Donna was a fabulous relief – back to a no-nonsense Doctor-companion relationship. I wondered whether the Doctor Who powers realised they had pushed that envelope into the realm of discomfort with the running joke of the season involving people constantly assuming they were married, and the definite negative reaction from both. THe interesting thing was that the appearance of Professor River Song who seems to have had some sort of relationship with the Doctor didn’t actually worry me – she seemed so tough and businesslike, not sappy and annoying. And yet she may have been more than the usual travelling companion, signalling a time where the Doctor almost settles down, or something.

As we get an even younger Doctor with another young, attractive female companion, one wonders whether the whole sexual tension thing will again rise to the surface. Let’s really hope that no one thinks it is a good idea for him to have an actual relationship with kissing. Eewk – I might have to stop watching then!