Posts Tagged ‘Grief’

So far this year, I’ve been thinking a lot about Broken Bird characters – and apparently, I’m not the only one. Why are they overwhelmingly women? What does their popularity say about our narrative-cultural obsession with romanticising damage, and particularly female damage? Is it possible to write Broken Birds without romanticising their trauma? Can we really say that most Broken Birds are strong female characters when the trope overwhelmingly rejects femininity? And why do such heroines abound in UF and PNR in particular?

It’s an issue I’ve had Feelings about for some time. I learned and fell in love with the trope as a teenager; which is to say, uncritically and before I knew there were words for the patterns I saw in stories, let alone how to apply them. I gravitated to Broken Birds so wholeheartedly that my own early writing is saturated with them. Unconsciously, I’ve built my whole understanding of narrative on a bedrock of Broken Birds – and that makes me deeply uncomfortable, because the logic of such characters is ultimately founded on the deeply problematic romanticising of damage.

No human being is perfect. As the tattooed left arm of a recent bus driver so eloquently proclaimed, every saint has a past and every sinner has a future. Even the most well-adjusted person has hang-ups, and as conflict drives stories, it only makes sense that drama and damage be omnipresent in narrative. Traumatic origins make for interesting reading, just as terrible¬†occurrences¬†make for good story-fodder. No matter how grand or intimate the scale of events, calamity and catastrophe stalk the pages of every novel – and rightly so. Small wonder, then, that we routinely exalt characters who rise above the horrors they’ve endured while still being influenced by them. Show us tormented souls struggling for redemption. Show us travel-weary nomads, battle-scarred warriors, guardians of grey areas and hard-boiled detectives. Show us heroes with pasts and antiheroes shackled by honour. Show us doctors who can’t heal themselves and untrusting cynics searching for love. Show us unseen scars and visible. Show us pain, and that pain is survivable.

But never forget that damage has a cost.

Romanticised damage is heroin chic for the soul: no matter how angry, hurt or soulful it looks,  its expression is ultimately constrained by glamour. Real damage is rampant, inconvenient and frequently unbeautiful. Romanticised damage self-medicates, but is never addicted; represses and explodes, but never unfixably; abuses friendships, but never beyond salvation; drinks, but never vomits or blacks out;  seeks self-destruction, but always nobly; hurts itself, but never others; expresses sarcasm, but never joy. On a fundamental level, romanticised damage is an expression of authorial image-consciousness: a limiting awareness of the fourth wall that shies away from having the protagonist behave irredeemably, lest their sympathetic status or morality thereinafter be called into question.

Which is, in a nutshell, how Broken Birds work. Their tortured pasts provoke a specific empathy that their darker impulses must never negate, in order that the one continue to justify the other. It’s a precisely calibrated balancing act that annoys the hell out of me, because – among other things, which we’ll get to – it effectively hardwires the character for emotional stasis. Too much healing, and they stop being broken, which nine times out of ten kills the narrative premise; too much distress, and the dysfunction stops being cute and starts looking villainous, or at best obscenely selfish. Both transitions are narratively workable, but Broken Birds are meant to be beautiful, haunting, troubled: if they can’t rescue themselves, we have to want them to be rescued; if they can rescue themselves, then they’re not broken; and if they can but don’t, then the reason – whether selfishness or stupidity – must render them less attractive, and therefore less birdlike.

Which is where we come back to our first two questions: why are most Broken Birds women, and what does that say about our obsession with female brokenness? By way of answer, I’m going to propose a radical notion: that damage has, narratively speaking, become the go-to justification for escapism.

Consider the following hypothetical premise: a successful, happy twentysomething with a loving family, interesting friends, a good career and a caring partner is suddenly drawn into a fascinating, chaotic and hitherto unknown world of action, adventure and intrigue. This world, however, is swiftly proven to be incompatible with living a normal life. Instantly, the question becomes: Which do they sacrifice? Who gets hurt? Obviously, narratively, we know they’re going to choose whatever this new world entails, because that’s the point – but even though we’re already gunning for a particular outcome, we still want the transition to be painless. This is why so many characters in YA novels are orphans, or have distant, absent or abusive parents: because when the action calls for them to leave home and face the forces of darkness – as it invariably will – we don’t want their loved ones to be injured by the choice. Even though we’ve already chosen a thousand times over in favour of quests, we still don’t want there to be a cost to starting them,¬†because we don’t want to begin by thinking of our protagonist as a selfish, hurtful ass – which is what we, the reader, would be if we upped and left our comfortable life for one of thrills and adventure.

But damage excuses all that. If a character has nothing to lose by jumping headlong into their brave, new world – if nobody will miss them, or if they’re so broken that it excuses selfish decisions – then the usual cost is waived. The damage heaped on the characters is a way of alleviating not just their guilt at going, but our own for wanting it to be easy. For wanting to like them right from the outset.

For wanting to run away, too.

Because no matter what else they might achieve, stories with a new world component are always going to have escapist elements. Narratively, damage is used to justify that escape, to the point where trauma preceding adventure has long since become a cultural default. As a result, we readers absorb the pattern. Whether consciously or unconsciously, we connect damage with freedom; and that makes damage romantic, because it implies – however carelessly, however unintentionally – that the best way out of our everyday lives is to wait for them to implode. In the real world, enacting life-altering change takes extraordinary courage. Travel, changing careers, moving away from our loved ones, swapping partners, going on adventures, living wildly – none of this comes easy, or quickly, or free. But in stories, we can fantasise about all our responsibilities being taken away by fate, thus freeing us up to go on as many adventures as we like without ever having to justify wanting more than what we have.

And this is not a bad or unhealthy thing. The very attraction of ‘my life explodes and then I have adventures’ fantasies is that the vast majority of us never really expect – or, crucially, want – these things to happen. Their safety and entertainment value both stem from their supreme unlikelihood. We know we only get one life, and yet it’s human nature to want more than that; infinitely so. Stories, at their most fundamental level, exist to mitigate this knowledge. Like the third good fairy at Princess Aurora’s christening, we cannot alter this truth entirely, and so, instead, we soften it a little. Thus, like Aurora, instead of pricking our fingers and dying, we enter prolonged dream states and become Sleeping Beauty. We conjure up the ghosts of other existences so that we may live more, not less, continuing down internal roads when real ones are closed to us. Or, as Lewis Carroll put it:

Anon, to sudden silence won,

In fancy they pursue

The dream-child moving through a land

Of wonders wild and new,

In friendly chat with bird and beast —

And half believe it true.

But there is a world of difference between the offhand way we can treat with personal tragedy in our own private, escapist fantasies and the way we ought to treat them out loud, in reality, on paper. Because the thing we all know – the thing we must forget in order to dream our funny, broken, parallel lives – is that real trauma isn’t romantic. Without wanting to imply any necessary, absolute causation between an author’s personal experiences and the stories they write, I would suggest, as a matter of empathic intuition, that someone who has (for example) suffered the loss of their closest family members would be much less likely to casually include this fact in their protagonist’s backstory than someone for whom such personal grief remained purely hypothetical. Or, to put it another way: we respect such rights and losses as we have taught ourselves to respect, which is why good authors – or at the very least, well-intentioned ones – do research. If, on setting out to write a story, we can recognise our own cultural, sexual, historical and/or racial ignorance in areas relevant to our narrative, then why not acknowledge emotional ignorance, too?

In SFF, the simple answer is: because half the fun is making things up. If escapism is still the order of the day – if we can still tell stories where the culture, sexuality, history and races are imaginative extrapolations on the real – then why are emotions any different? And on the surface of things, that’s a fair point. I don’t have to think it’s plausible that a group of sheltered Hobbits from the Shire would find the courage to walk into the fires of Mount Doom in order to enjoy the story, because part of the willing suspension of disbelief inherent in the fictional act – and particularly in SFF – is accepting that, however rare such people might be in the real world, the majority of leading characters tend to be exceptional. Fiction is not like reality TV, shoving a metaphoric story-camera into the homes of ordinary folks in the hopes of striking an eventual dramatic jackpot. Instead, we have already decided our protagonists are different or special, because that is why we are there.

But the leeway this buys us is limited. Real-world causality must always apply to some extent, so that even if we’ve already decided the protagonist is exceptional, their actions still have to make sense. In order to create believable stories about imaginary cultures, races, gender relations and histories, the narrative has to be grounded in something familiar. And, while there’s no rulebook stating this has to be emotional content – which could easily prove impractical¬†in stories about alien, hybrid or other inhuman characters ¬†– more often than not, we mean it as a default. No matter how strange the society or how impossible the scenario, protagonists must still adhere to the rules of the world we’ve written them; and where we’ve left humanity as the default social setting, that means we have to understand their emotions.

Which is why romanticised damage comes off as an indicator of bad writing: even allowing for the fact that your mileage may vary, it still suggests a lack of emotional research; and as such damage is arguably a defining characteristic of Broken Birds, that puts them at a high risk for poor characterisation. To be clear: this is not a blanket attack on stories whose protagonists have traumatic pasts or origins or who continue to undergo suffering, for the simple reason that not all damage is romanticised. As a rule of thumb, romanticised damage is damage portrayed without realistically negative consequences, or whose consequences tend towards the protagonist being cursed with awesome. Such as, for instance, describing a character who has all the behavioural hallmarks of being an alcoholic without ever actually calling them one, or making them black out, or showing them throw up, or do anything but function at 110% while living almost entirely on hard liquor.

This is, I suspect, the main reason why Broken Birds abound in UF and PNR – or rather, the reason why Broken Birds in those genres stand out as being particularly problematic. Remembering the implied covenant of exceptional characters, it can be harder for readers to gauge how exceptional a protagonist situated in a sufficiently distant or fictitious setting actually is, comparatively speaking. If we don’t know anything about their world, its culture and history except what the story tells us, then the emotional narrative becomes something of a closed system: the only facts available to us are those the author chooses to relate, and unless some misstep of writing or characterisation makes us question that system’s integrity, then it only makes sense to accept what we’re told as true. If, on the other hand, a story is set in the present day – however altered by magic, weird technology or alternative history – then the system is automatically thrown open for comparison with our existing knowledge-base; and that’s where things get interesting. Because if the story fails to invoke the unquestioning sanctity of our private loss/escape fantasies – if we expect greater emotional verisimilitude from a published narrative than from our daydreams – then we can claim to know exactly how exceptional a character must be in order for us to believe in their survival.

And Broken Birds, by definition, are limited. Integral to their nature is the requirement of our sympathy: there are some lines they cannot cross, yet they must still be damaged and mangled by circumstance enough that the question of their doing so arises. This creates what I’ll call the Dark Side Shortfall: a contradiction between the negative emotional trajectory objectively suggested by their circumstances and the author’s desire to keep them looking beautiful. A successfully written Broken Bird is one where the writing, characterisation and worldbuilding are solid enough that this limitation never looks like a limitation, but rather the only natural course of events: one where we believe, despite the existence of the trope, that the character would always have made those choices. But if we suspect we are being shielded – if it feels as though the only reason our hero keeps faith is because the author wants them to – then Houston, we have a problem.

Which is where the gender card comes into play, because despite all the advances of feminism and equality, we still think it’s less acceptable for women to be made unbeautiful, whether physically or emotionally, than it is for men. The reason most Broken Birds are women is precisely because we’re more prone to limiting female characters than male, and especially when those limitations are designed to keep us sympathetic – and attracted – to the characters. This is not necessarily a conscious process, although it certainly can be. Rather, it’s a problem of lineage.¬†The classic literary antihero is the hardboiled detective, who, when recombined the femme fatale, becomes the Broken Bird ¬†– an incestuous bleeding together of noir’s most powerful archetypes. But unlike Blade, who inherited all the strengths and none of the weaknesses of his diametrically opposed parents, the Broken Bird is a creature of contradictions. From the detective, she takes strength, cunning and a certain maverick flare. From the femme fatale, she takes vulnerability, a damsel complex and tragedy.¬†In other words, the Broken Bird’s strengths are masculine, while its weaknesses are feminine. And, not unsurprisingly, this is not a combination that works out well for female characters.

Femme fatales, as the name suggests, are dangerous and duplicitous, with both qualities invariably tied to their gender. Classically, if they were ever redeemed, it was through love; but otherwise, while the hardboiled detective was constrained by a personal code of honour (if not the actual law), the femme fatale remained morally suspicious. She was traitor and adulteress, whore and heartbreaker, a liar on the run and a bad girl out for what she could get Рand yet, crucially, never an antihero. That mantle was reserved for the men, who worked outside the letter of the law in order to preserve its spirit. In noir, it was the women who made the hard choices, who rode their downward spirals and betrayed to stay alive; but they were also feminine, owning their sexuality and their gender even as they defied the culture and times that sought to label them.

But the typical female Broken Bird rejects femininity. Not sexiness – she’s still the femme fatale’s daughter, after all – but sorority, domesticity, and anything else that’s traditionally been deemed the purview of women. She will not like fashion; she will not wear dresses; she will not want children; she will not cook or clean or shop. She will, instead, be hard and beautiful and broken and, in the vast majority of cases, emotionally vulnerable, unsettled by her love for a man (or possibly two men) with whom, for various reasons, a traditional life is impossible. That’s a key word, impossible, because it points to a redaction of choice. Always, Broken Birds are sculpted by fate and damage: they can’t have normal lives or be like other women, they¬†can’t can’t can’t¬†– so loudly and so frequently that the question of¬†want¬†becomes buried. Broken Birds have trouble wanting. They’ve been burned so many times that they don’t (can’t) know their own desires; they don’t (can’t) know what’s possible in terms of their own happiness, except in the immediate short-term. But it’s this very confusion which frees them up for complicated, uncertain – but undeniably passionate – relationships, and for being rescued, over and over again, by white knights: men who, in a weirdly Freudian twist, quite closely resemble their hardboiled, femme fatale-redeeming fathers.

Does this make them inherently bad characters, or mean that they can’t be strong women? On both counts, no – but as an archetype that seems only to be growing in popularity and whose appeal is often taken at face value, I am much more uncomfortable with the idea of not asking these questions than with poking the trope and seeing what it means.

Footnote: I have, of late, become extremely leery of the phrase ‘strong female characters’ – or rather, of the fact that trying to identify protagonists as such invariably means holding women to higher standards than we do men, because we’re more invested in their measuring up to our personal, feminist ideals. This bugs me, because while the goal of encouraging more and varied fictional ladies is one I endorse wholeheartedly, the risk of unconscious left-wing bias actually making things harder for the groups we mean to support¬†– whether characters or writers –¬†is very real, and something I think we’re blinding ourselves to. Which possibly negates this whole post, inasmuch as I’m talking almost exclusively about the gender-oriented problems inherent in a particular trope, but still: if equality and progress is what we ultimately want from our stories, then we really need to start unpicking male tropes at least as vociferously as we do female; not just in terms of how those characters interact with women, but in terms of the negative lessons they unconsciously impart to men. That includes Broken Birds – and the romanticising of damage – across all genders.

Warning: spoilers.

I found the final episode… interesting. There were a number of awesome ideas in play – the alternate history mashup world, Amy’s train, Live Chess – and some excellent characterisation as well, which went a surprisingly long way towards redressing some (though by no means all) of the earlier problems I’ve had with the treatment of Amy in particular and River more generally. There was a cheesy-yet-delightful nod to Indiana Jones with the line about rats, the booby trap and the ravenous skulls in the temple of the headless monks, while the reappearance of some previous characters gave the whole thing a sense of catharsis, and the device of having the Silence chase the Doctor and Churchill during their conversation managed to be both ominous and creepy despite being familiar. This was definitely a showcase of Moffat’s better talents: strange and improbable settings with a dash of madcap thrown in, the action cutting between different times and places rather than being grounded to a single locale. All things considered, it was an unexpectedly positive note on which to end a season which has otherwise proved damnably frustrating, and has had the effect of calming my rage a little. Though not exactly brilliant, The Wedding of River Song is nonetheless surprisingly solid, with flaws that are more the byproducts of ambition than careless offense. Thus:

The Good

  • Amy and Rory’s alternate selves. God, YES. Amy being proactive! Rory not being a doormat! An office on a train! Finally, we see these companions as they ought to have been: all last vestiges of the Love Triangle of Doom stripped clean away, so that even though Amy isn’t with Rory in this strange new world and despite her memories of the Doctor, she neither pines for him nor expects to be rescued – in fact, she rescues/captures him, which I’m pretty sure is a first. As is Rory’s quiet love for Amy: even though we’ve seen him in his guise as Stalwart Soldier before, this is the first time he’s been neither puppyish nor Woobified¬†nor outclassed by¬†the Doctor in a blatant ship tease tactic¬†– and even better, Amy is his commanding officer. But the best thing is that, once the world returns to normal, they keep their memories of being awesome. Nothing is handwaved away by space magic, time fluctuations, dopplegangers or dream states: instead, the pair of them – but particularly Amy – actually get to level up. So when Amy sits down with River over a glass of wine, the two of them comparing time travel diaries, not only do we get a sense that this is an actual mother/daughter relationship, however bizarre, but Amy gets to carry the weight of what she’s actually done, and learn from it. Specifically:
  • Amy killing Madame Kovarian. In cold blood. And telling her¬†venomously¬†as she does it that ‘River didn’t get it all from you, sweetie.’ This is the first and only time we see even a hint of the rage and grief that accompanies the loss of the infant Melody. This is an angry mother exacting revenge for the loss of a child she’ll never see again, and fuck what the Doctor would say about it – which, given her previously slavish adherence to his morality, is almost an epic development. Even more crucially, she’s never rebuked for it: nobody comes and patronises her, and instead she’s allowed to work out the consequences by herself. This is a dark, powerful, brilliant moment fleshed out by a wonderfully chilling speech, and even though it still doesn’t balance all the terrible things that have happened to Amy and her various dopplegangers over the past two seasons, it nonetheless takes enormous strides in the right direction. Mr Moffat, if you’re listening: MORE OF THIS.
  • Holy Roman Emperor Winston Churchill in Buckingham Senate with a Silurian physician and Charles Dickens talking about a Christmas special he’s writing on a morning breakfast show, plus a train track into the pyramids. If I have to explain to you why this is awesome, you’re not doing it right.

The Meh

  • The Tesselator as the Doctor’s Get Out of Jail Free card, because honestly? Not all that shocking. It doesn’t help that we already knew he couldn’t possibly die, no matter how much they kept calling his death a fixed point – he is the Doctor, it’s his show, therefore he lives, QED – but at least they ratcheted down the angst a bit and focused on the surrounding ideas, rather than just milking the melodrama.
  • The title. Though it certainly grabbed some attention prior to the episode airing, it also contained a massive spoiler for what should have been the single most unexpected and moving event in the episode. And when I say unexpected, I mean that the only reason it happens is because the Doctor needs to convince River to let him die, and she apparently loves him so much that it’s the only way she’ll let him go (more of which later). Which is a flimsy reason, really, but still sort of cool, so I can’t quite decide whether heralding the wedding in the title was a cunning way to make the audience less skeptical and more accepting of the actual event, when it came, or if had a sort of hybridised Chekhov’s Lampshade¬†effect that unintentionally served to spoil its own twist. I guess I’ll never know for sure, but nonetheless, I suspect it might be the latter.
  • The Doctor’s beard of sorrow and craziness. Very scenic, certainly, but it feels like a cheap trick. Which it is, sort of. Still, I guess it works?

The Annoying

  • Why doesn’t Amy know who Rory is? I mean, she remembers his name, but even though the wildly idealised version she draws of him doesn’t resemble the actual product, you’d still think the name would tip her off. A comparatively small blunder that could have been easily avoided, it nonetheless niggled at me the whole way through.
  • River saying that the pain she’d feel if the Doctor died would be equal to that of everything in the universe ceasing to exist. I know it’s a time-travel romance and they’re encountering each other backwards, but River’s love has been growing more and more one-sided lately, to the point where her obvious need for him to reciprocate is actively stifling his ability to do so. More importantly, though, we seem to have a continuity problem. We’ve already seen that the Doctor plays no part in Melody/River’s childhood – he couldn’t find or save her – such that her first youthful meeting with him after the child-in-the-spacesuit incident is when Mels regenerates into River in Let’s Kill Hitler. The turning point of that episode is where all her flirtatious psychopathy falters, however conveniently and unrealistically, when she learns about her future with him, the knowledge of which is apparently enough to override all her training and make her switch sides. The next thing we see, she’s off to get her degree in archaeology – but as soon as she’s finished studying, she’s taken by Madame Kovarian to kill the Doctor at Lake Silencio, with the tacit implication being that they haven’t seen each other in the intervening years – she has, after all, been studying so she can go out and find him herself. True, it’s possible we’ll see that they’ve spoken between those points in a later episode, but as things stand, all her angst about not wanting to kill him – her choice to fracture time rather than shoot him in the final – seems to hang on the very slender thread of those previous two encounters, both chronologically and emotionally, which also makes her love for him a very suspect motive. Possibly it’s a later version who marries him, but we don’t know that for sure; and given that we’ve already seen their last ever kiss in an even earlier episode, we have to assume that this is a younger River than the one who helped him at the start of the season. The point being, as much as I liked how impromptu and brief the ceremony was, as well as the significance of the kiss – which was one of the better, more genuinely romantic moments between the two of them – I’m really wanting to see the events that make her fall in love with him in the first place, rather than just keep having their existence inferred: the fact that he’s the Doctor and therefore awesome¬†isn’t enough, not in this context. His ignorance of their history was an amazing device to begin with, but the longer that emotional truth is hidden, the more (or so I fear) it weakens River’s character, turning her from a kickass, independent and equally awesome love of his life into another companion with unrequited affections along the lines of Martha Jones.
  • As much as I loved these versions of Amy and Rory, I couldn’t help but feel disappointed at how disconnected their awesomeness was from their previous portrayals. If Amy really had been just a best friend this whole time, a clever, self-possessed, no-nonsense girl blessed with extraordinary powers of observation courtesy of growing up beside a crack in time and space, and if Rory had always been stalwart and unthreatened by the Doctor’s presence, so many of the earlier problems I had with the show might never have existed, or been ameliorated along the way. Which is irritating. But at least we’ve moved on from there, finally.
  • There was no TARDIS in this episode, except in flashbacks. Where did it go?
  • Do we really have to wait another season before the whole thing with the Silence is resolved? I like that Moffat’s playing a long game, but his mode of play is starting to grate. It’s been dangled for two seasons already now, and there’s only so much suspense to be derived from a cryptic couplet and the¬†unshakable¬†inference that the Silence fear whatever circumstances eventually prompt the Doctor to tell River his name. To quote Monty Python, get on with it!

On balance, though,¬†I’m prepared to call the episode a win. Sure, it didn’t move me to ecstasy, but it was much less problematic than its immediate predecessors, and there were some genuinely cool moments that I’m keen to revisit at some later date. I’m still ready for some new companions – but I’m definitely going to keep watching.

Warning: spoilers. 

This episode started out promisingly, and had some genuinely nice dialogue. Absent Amy and Rory, I suddenly realised just how little time we’ve spent with the Doctor since Smith took over the role – by which I mean, how rarely we’ve seen him alone – and why this has been a bad thing. As a character, the Doctor is so much a creature of his actions around, reactions to and interactions with the denizens of the universe that, paradoxically, his most important development often happens when we catch him without an audience. Tennant’s Doctor was all flashfire wit and insight when people were watching, but the performance was always tempered for viewers by our knowledge of the loneliness, rage and furious compassion that caught him in moments visible only through the fourth wall. This was a cinematic trick as much as a matter of scripting and ostensibly a simple one, but for whatever reason, it hasn’t translated to Moffat’s governance of the show, primarily (I suspect) because the little narrative spaces that used to flesh out Tennant’s Doctor have more commonly been used, with Smith, to focus on his companions. So when, in Closing Time, we were presented with the Doctor just being alone on the street, talking about what he wasn’t doing, or monologuing to baby Alfie about life, or even just physically exploring and interacting with his environment without constantly cutting back to someone else, it was genuinely refreshing. For the first time in a while, I felt like I liked the Doctor; that he was more than just a convenient backdrop for the dramas of Amy’s life. Similarly, it was nice to see Craig again; he was a good character the first time around, and his subsequent development felt consistent.

That being said, Closing Time is a far from flawless episode. The Cyberman plot is a deliberately simple background conceit whose primary function is to let the Doctor wander around talking to people, and while I’m generally in favour of that (see above), the Cybermen are such a big part of the show’s lore that bringing them in so cheaply – and at the cost of such a patently ridiculous and openly lampshaded retcon as being blown up with love – feels like serious laziness. An original villain could have achieved the exact same impact without being nearly so ridiculous, and the episode would have been stronger for it. And then there was the ending, where we see River Song confronted by the eyepatch woman (who ten bucks says is yet another future version of River) and hauled away by the Silence to kill the Doctor, which… yeah, look: is ANYONE at this point surprised by the revelation that River is the one to kill the Doctor? Didn’t we already know this? In which case, given that we’ve been repeatedly told that it’s his last day before failing to die (sorry, before dying permanently oh wait) did we really need the extra reminder? I’d feel less ambivalent towards the ending if it had fit with anything in the episode, or of it had introduced any information we didn’t already possess; but instead, it felt like textbook double-handling for the sake of filler: old setting, old characters and old motive, with only the most meager sprinkling of catharsis to justify it. Given my druthers, we’d have just cut from the Doctor being in the TARDIS to seeing River in her astronaut suit under the lake, but there you go.

But as always, and even though she only appeared for a second without actually speaking, my biggest problem with Closing Time was Amy, who has apparently gone on to become a model in a perfume ad. Now, OK. There is nothing wrong with modelling per se, although the industry itself is rife with problems. Nor is anything wrong with perfume! But consider the Doctor’s past companions: Sarah Jane, who starts out as a journalist and keeps on investigating later; Rose Tyler, who starts out a shopgirl and goes on to work with Torchwood; Martha Jones, who starts out a trainee doctor and also goes on to work with Torchwood/chase aliens; and Donna Noble, who starts out a temp and ends up brainwiped, after which she gets happily married. Donna’s arc was tragic and infuriating – she grew so much as a character, only to have all that growth and all her adventures erased. But for all the problems inherent in her removal from the show, we understand that her living a normal life is only made possible by her lack of memories. But Sarah Jane, Rose and Martha all acknowledge the impossibility of trying to adapt to everyday living after travelling with the Doctor – it’s why they all end up having similar adventures of their own. But Amy, whose whole life has been far more entwined with that the of Doctor than any of them, and whose daughter was stolen away from her because of him, can cope well enough with the change to just go off and become a¬†model? I know she started out as a kissogram, but seriously: what the fuck? I keep asking myself: do she and Rory ever have any more children? How can they not be scarred by what’s happened to them? How does any of this even work?

And that’s another thing: as much as I liked watching Craig and Alfie together, I couldn’t help but juxtapose the father/son bond as written in Closing Time – where Craig’s love for his son is so strong that it blows up a Cyberman spaceship – with the complete and utter absence of a mother/daughter bond between Amy and Melody. Which is a recounting of the point I made last time – that Amy and Rory have stopped grieving for Melody/River – but even so, when the very next episode features a dad going through hell to return to his child, I can’t help but feel the issue is being thrown into stark relief.

But, yes. Otherwise, this was a decent enough episode. But after the final installment next week, I’ll be happy to see the back of this season. Moffat might still be in charge, but there’s a clean slate in the offing, and for all the show’s faults, I’m keen to see it improve.