There’s a Doctor Who marathon on today. I watched “School Reunion,” and would have stopped there, but the next episode was “Girl in the Fireplace,” so I couldn’t resist. After watching it a hundred times on my TiVo, I finally deleted it after I wrote this post. Now, it’s back. I’m not taping it this time.
However, I’m crying my eyes out right now, and I’m not sure why. The relationship between the Doctor and Reinette just slays me utterly. The monsters are terrifying, it’s those damn clown masks, I fucking hate clowns. All the same scenes that sucked my heart into my throat on the first viewing are having just as profound an effect on me now, except it’s tears, not jumping and screaming. Fascinating. Confusing. Embarrassing.
I am reminded of an essay I wrote about a particular scene from the movie Sideways. When Paul Giamotti guzzled that prized bottle of wine in that burger joint, something snapped inside me. Everything went cold, my stomach hit the floor, I was dizzy sitting in my movie seat. For weeks afterward, every time I remembered that scene, I would inexplicably burst into tears. Even at the office. It was awfully embarrassing. People saw me do it on several occasions, and I couldn’t explain it, I had to wrench my consciousness away from the visuals in my mind and think of something else. It always took a few minutes for me to focus, and move on.
I met with my minister to talk about that damn wine bottle. I discussed it with my therapist, my boyfriend, my girlfriends, my mother, everyone. Eventually I wrote the essay, and figured a lot of it out. That pretty much fixed things. The memory of Paul’s wine guzzling doesn’t affect me anymore, at least not severely. I attained the distance necessary to resume a normal life.
What I’m going through now with this goddamn TV show is very similar. It’s the same emotional reflex, the spontaneous crying, the inability to redirect my mind quickly, the fathoms-deep sorrow that floods me, the knowledge that these images are a key to something inside me, and until I find the door that it unlocks, the tears won’t stop.
I know I wanted to be Reinette. The Girl in the Fireplace is – almost – my adolescent fantasies come to pixelated life. I’m sure I’m not the only female in the world (or male, let's face it) who can say this, and I’m sure the producers of the show know it. From the terrified seven-year-old who meets someone who can give her monsters nightmares, to the teenager who gets to snog her childhood hero, to the woman whose courage galvanizes everyone around her, and whose hero literally rides in on a white horse to save not just her life, but the day, but for all she knows, the world. Her "dear Doctor" chooses her over his life of adventure, and when he realizes he can resume his travels, invites her along.
Of course Reinette is me. (Ok, a blonde me.) This explains why the TV show thrilled me so much that I saved it on my TiVo for months. This does not, however, explain the sweeping sadness that crushes my chest, driving me to tears.
And it’s not just the Girl in the Fireplace that crushes me – I cried like hell during much of "School Reunion" as well. When Sarah Jane realizes that K9 has been sacrificed, here come the tears. WTF!?
“It’s just a daft, metal dog,” she says, but everyone knows she’s heartbroken, and she leans her head on the Doctor’s chest and weeps. The first time I saw this episode, that scene didn’t phase me, but today I wept right along with her. That daft metal dog was all she had left from those days, I realized, All she had left of the man she loved. Now she has nothing but memories.
Do we trust our memories, when they are of such a fantastic nature? We certainly cling to them, when they are the best part of our lives. Sara Jane, unlike Reinette, never had another man all her life, admitting to the Doctor that he was too tough an act for any other man to follow. She makes a comment to the Doctor that she won’t ever have grandchildren, the implication being that she never had children. Has she been celibate!? Hard to imagine… but this is a romantic story. Maybe. Sarah Jane is a career woman, while Reinette is a courtesan. Very different women, very different stories, but the love, and the dream, is just the same.
And then there’s Rose. Billie Piper’s heartbreak at the end of “Doomsday” was so palpable, I don’t imagine there was a dry eye in all of London when this show first broadcast. Of course I wept, but I was surprised at the bitterness of my tears. It’s one thing to cry at a good story, but this was something much deeper, something which caused me to examine my youth and the role Doctor Who has played in my life. Something which spawned an essay. If something causes me to dash to my laptop and work on something for three hours until I have a publishable result, it’s touched me very deeply. I mused on Rose’s choice between partnership and daughter-ship, her words to her mother, explaining her choice, and the metaphors for death that permeated the episode. Like with the Wine Bottle essay, I think I figured most of that one out.
But this business with Reinette, and Sarah Jane… still working on this one. Something to do with choices. Something to do with fantasy versus reality. Something to do with career, with love, with being rescued, with (as Lennon said) the life we live while we’re waiting for something else to happen. Something to do with dreams almost coming true, but not quite.
Reinette died without ever seeing the Doctor again. Sarah Jane did find the doctor again, but with a newer, younger companion on his arm, and with too many years of her life gone by to be able to get back what she’d lost all those years ago. And Rose, beautiful, young, blonde, sassy Rose… Rose had it all, she'd made those bold choices, and it was still all ripped away from her by an external force. Her separation from the Doctor feels most tragic of all.
What was I separated from? Where is this wound inside me that keeps getting re-opened when I watch these stories? What caused it?
All those years ago, when I watched Doctor Who every weeknight at 10pm with my parents, I didn’t see many episodes where companions left. The only ones I remember seeing were “Earthshock,” where Adric died, and “The Green Death,” where Jo Grant leaves the Doctor so she can marry a Nobel Prize-winning scientist. I never identified with Adric, and Jo left for a wonderful reason – the best reason ever. She walked away from the TARDIS toward a happy future with a man who, let’s face it, is about as good as it’s gonna get on Earth. A younger, more handsome version of the Doctor – who at that time was played by the fatherly Jon Pertwee. Who could blame Jo?
Maybe, in marrying men I met in New York rather than pining away for someone unattainable from my youth, I was emulating Jo Grant. I always felt that I married my ex-husband for the wrong reasons.
Of course this begs the question: Am I marrying G for the right reasons? Then again, what are the right reasons? Why G and not Eric, or Sam, or Jack, or any of the others I could have had? Did I turn them down for the right reasons?
Did Jo Grant ever regret her choice? Did Tegan Jovanka? Romana? Leela? Peri, Nyssa, anyone? Ladies, can we all meet for coffee next week? How did you all get over the Doctor? Or did any of you love him the way Jo and Sarah Jane and Reinette and I did?
Oops, there I go again. Looking for answers in fiction. Only a crazy person would do that.