Steel blue cool and looking a million bucks, The Time of Angels has a killer opening sequence. An elegant woman stalks the corridors of a space ship; black evening dress, red heels, dark glasses, mean little pistol in hand. She breaks into a vault and burns a message for the Doctor (Matt Smith) into a steel box. Then she outwits the guards, blows an airlock door and flies smack into the Doctor’s arms. She’s Doctor Who’s own femme fatale, River Song (Alex Kingston).
She’s as wild, witty and adventurous as the Doctor. She’s a spinoff series waiting to happen. Some people long for a female Doctor, but you might say we already have one in River. But there’s one way in which she differs from the Doctor – she clearly signals her interest in sex.
She’s a woman who stuns unwitting guards with a kiss. She makes no secret of her carnal interest in the Doctor. “You, me, handcuffs,” she says to the Doctor at one stage. “Must it always be this way?”. On another occasion, she’ll remark that “I’m quite the screamer. Now there’s a spoiler for you.” And she’s the first companion to refer to the Doctor, regularly, as “hot”.
She’s also a walking, talking plot device. Whenever she turns up, she’s a figure of mystery. The Time of Angels is only her second appearance, and as such, much time is devoted to speculation about who she is, why she was in prison, can she be trusted and so on. It’s one of those stories where the impact it has is reduced on rewatching because we now know the answers to all the questions it goes to such lengths to pose. Like River herself, we benefit from future knowledge. Spoilers, indeed.
The audience’s speculation about River is often given a mouthpiece. In Silence in the Library it was the Doctor who vocalised the questions about her, here it’s Amy (Karen Gillan). “Is she Mrs Doctor from the future?,” she asks the Doctor early on, and later on she’s made up her mind. “You’re so his wife,” she says to River.
But then Amy has marriage on her mind.
Like a TARDIS squeezed into a modestly sized bedroom, there’s an unexpected closing sequence appended to Flesh and Stone. Amy has asked to be taken home. So the Doctor obliges and lands smack in her bedroom. There Amy admits that she’s supposed to be getting married in the morning, and in an act of last minute wild oats sowing, takes the opportunity to try to seduce the Doctor. “Have you ever fancied someone you shouldn’t?” Amy asked a Dalek-made android with a Scottish accent and a bomb in its chest in the last story (and it’s not even the weirdest part of that story). Anyway, Amy clearly has and it’s the Doctor. He’s her alternative to marital tedium.
Which is all leading to the point that this story positions the Doctor firmly as an object of desire for his two companions. One sees him as her periodic lover, the other as her clandestine final fling. They join a long line of female companions who since 2005 have held romantic feelings for the Doctor, but they are the first to openly express a desire to take him to bed.
Since 1996, the Doctor has gradually become sexualised. No longer is he the chaste figure of years past. He rarely expresses sexual desire himself (a recent notable exception was in Nightmare in Silver, where he declared Clara to be “a riddle wrapped in an enigma squeezed into a skirt that’s just a little bit too tight”.) And he quickly deflects Amy’s advances, so we’re left with River to remind us that beneath that alien exterior lies a red blooded man. The Doctor warms up over time. In The Time of Angels he still seems to gently resent River’s presence, but by the time we get to The Impossible Astronaut he’s openly flirting with her. By then, I think he’s quite comfortable, even proud of, his ability to attract women. (And it is exclusively women, and least to date)
It turns out that Amy is right, and River is indeed Mrs Doctor from the future (at least in one sense, although she actually married a lifesize replica of him, staffed by thousands of tiny people – and that’s not even the weirdest part of that story). It’s interesting that the Doctor’s long delayed sexual awakening needs to be couched in terms of marriage. Perhaps that makes it OK? And it does seem like a sexual attraction to River, whereas he seemed to have a more G-rated attraction to Rose. Amazing the difference a few little marriage vows can make. He’s an old-fashioned Time Lord at hearts.
River’s presence ends any speculation about whether the Doctor does it with girls. It even ends any sexual tension of the “will they ever get it on?” variety; she’s Mrs Doctor from the future, so they’ve already got it on. And we didn’t even notice.
It’s an example of how River and the Doctor’s sex life (really the same thing) are kept at a distance from us. She’s not a full-time companion, she comes and goes. So we never get to see what full time married life is like on board the TARDIS. Would they head off to bed after each adventure? Would there be squabbles about snoring and toilet seats left unclosed? It saddens me to say, probably. So while I’d love to see a run of Doctor/River stories, I’m also glad that domestic concerns remain out of view.
The Doctor’s sexual experiences are a recurring theme in Steven Moffat’s Doctor Who. It was Moffat who introduced dancing as a euphemism for sex in The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances. (And oops… How does that episode end? Is his relationship with Rose really so chaste?) And in his next story, The Girl in the Fireplace, Reinette takes the Doctor for a quick dance between scenes. So perhaps it’s unsurprising that with Moffat in charge, we’ve seen the Doctor increasing positioned as a sexual being.
It’s not necessarily a bad thing but it does change the show. It does tie the Doctor a little more closely to those carnal human urges above which he’s always seemed to hover. And that Olympian detachment – in the company of many, many spunky ladies – appealed, I’d argue, to a lot of Doctor Who fans. To luckless teenage boys who couldn’t get a girl. To girls – and gays – who wanted to watch a hero who didn’t want to bed his leading lady.
All changed now. In The Time of Angels he has a wife and a girlfriend, the only female characters in the cast, and both want to do the timey-wimey with him. Watch out girls and too bad gays! This guy’s a stud.
In a bow tie.
LINK to: The Curse of Peladon. Three stories in a row, deadly statues.
NEXT TIME… Silly child, silly child! We take desperate measures against a powerful enemy in The Rescue.