Emma Jane Davies

Fairy Tale, Fantasy, and Science Fiction Writer

Amy Pond's Legs, and Amy Pond's Brain

21 Comments

[Edit - this is a revised and expanded version of the original post, based on the very useful feedback that everyone has given me (particularly Saxon!). Thank you.]

I like Amy Pond. I like that she’s hot, I like that she’s sexy. I would like to see more Amy Pond on the television. If Amy Pond was up for it (and she seems like the kind of girl who might be), I would.

I also like Amy Pond’s short skirts. I like her hot pants. I like her legs. I would like to see more of Amy Pond’s legs on the television.

There is however, a line, beyond which we get silly. Amy Pond in Renaissance Venice, wearing a denim skirt that barely covers her ladygarden, is SILLY. Amy Pond wearing hot pants in Wales in the middle of winter is SILLY. Karen Gillan is a redhead, a very beautiful redhead, and I can only imagine the lengths that she must have gone to, to prevent her naturally pale skin from turning lilac.

I am not a Daily Mail reader. The sight of bare skin does not shock me. The last thing I want to do is give justification to the anti-Pond prudes. I am aware that Karen Gillan has some say over her own wardrobe. However, just as I hated the way that the Who team made the gorgeous Rose Tyler look frumpy and fat (and whiny and tearful and insecure), I also hate the way the Who team (Gillan included) have made Amy Pond look like a bit of a Peri Brown.

“I thought we were going to Rio,” is not an excuse. It is a writing device to get around the fact that the Who team have dressed Amy inappropriately for the weather, in order to show off her stunning legs. This does not make it any more believable. It takes two minutes to pop back into the TARDIS and swap your hot pants for a pair of jeans. Besides, if you were expecting Rio, why the heck are you wearing a cardigan and a leather coat?

Who’s companions are notorious for dressing inappropriately in historical settings, and it’s never worked. Unless it’s part of the plot, it comes across as SILLY. Every time I see it done, my disbelief fails to suspend, especially when the natives go on with their daily lives as if they haven’t seen a semi-naked woman step out of a big blue box.

There’s a line. In the middle of Renaissance Venice, that line is canions or breeches (which, to be frank, would be far sexier than a denim skirt anyway). In the middle of a Welsh winter, that line is OPAQUE TIGHTS. It is possible to be sexy whilst wearing appropriate attire for your surroundings. Skinny jeans and long boots are sexy. A silk dress is sexy. A corset is very sexy. Unlike hot pants, they are also subtle.

Too much overt sexiness turns you into arm candy, burying your personality and hiding your intelligence, because people are too busy looking at your body and saying things like, “Fwoargh, that Amy Pond is a bit of alright.” Currently, Amy Pond will go down in companion history as “the hot, vapid one with the legs.” I’d much rather see her as “the hot, kooky one with the brain,” because she does have a brain. Did you notice?

Let’s face it. The BBC wardrobe department (Gillan included), are dressing Amy Pond for the dads. Sci-fi is a field dominated by men, and is notorious for limiting women’s representation in the genre to under-dressed, over-exposed sexpots. Frequently their characters are brainless, passive or reactive instead of proactive, require rescuing and defending (sometimes with macho fist fights), or serve no actual purpose to the plot. Take a look through a list of the top one hundred sci-fi films, and count how many of them have prominent or leading female characters with distinct personalities, see how many of their names you can remember, and try to recall points in the plot where they altered events by making a crucial decision. Now count how many films have more than one significant female character, and how many films have a female character who is not a love interest.

Even amongst the progressive and/or woman-centred science fiction, we still find the sexpot. Uhura, though revolutionary in her day, was still a secretary in a short skirt. Lara Croft may have been a female lead, but she was a walking pair of tits with an underdeveloped personality. Barbarella was, well, deliberate.

Star Wars broke ground back in the seventies. Princess Leia, although she did require rescuing, had a proactive, commanding character who actually influenced the plot. Terminator and Alien also broke new ground, simply by having a female lead (even if she was always on the defensive, running away from a violent threat).  Star Trek made huge inroads by having a female-dominated cast in Voyager – Captain Janeway, B’Elanna Torres as chief engineer, and Seven of Nine, who managed walk the fine line of being both sexy, and intelligent. Yes, the outfit was sprayed on, but the fact that Seven was proactive, had a big brain, a distinct personality, and was slightly terrifying, balanced the gratuitous one-piece. As a result of having several strong female characters, Voyager actually passed the Bechdel Test. Women spoke to one another, and not always about men!

Doctor Who made inroads of its own back in Sylvester McCoy’s day, with Ace. Ace was the first Doctor’s companion who did not scream and run away and require constant supervision in case she wandered off and died. Melanie Bush was pathetic. Leela was a walking jungle Jane outfit. Peri Brown was a screaming cleavage. On the other hand, Ace was ace. The Doctor Who team wrote her as an antidote to the companions who went before. She blew stuff up, against orders. She smashed up Daleks with baseball bats. She spouted dreadful fake slang. She was hot, without being blatantly under-dressed for the weather. The Doctor couldn’t control her, but he loved her with a fatherly affection that he rarely showed his previous companions, with perhaps the exception of Sarah Jane.

Having a loose cannon for a companion is a great opportunity for plotting and conflict. I had very high hopes for Amy Pond, first when she handcuffed the Doctor to a radiator in episode one, then when she took matters into her own hands in episode two, “The Beast Below,” and released the star whale against the Doctor’s orders. Unfortunately, we haven’t really seen any more of that side of Amy, apart from a brief moment of trying to seduce the Doctor, and, under River Song’s influence, making him look foolish now and then. To suggest that Amy’s character is poorly formed, inconsistent, and indistinct, is justifiable. The scriptwriters don’t seem to have a clear grasp of who she is. So far, Amy is largely passive and predictable. Sure, she uses her ingenuity when she needs to, for example, by training a gun on the Silurians (to no benefit, the action became irrelevant due to her immediate capture), but it’s very much a case of the plot driving her actions, rather than the other way around. She is largely reactive, not proactive.

Even “Amy’s Choice” did not give Amy a choice. Aside from the fact that her relationship with Rory isn’t believable (she’s both too hot, and too smart for him) and such attempts to justify the pairing in the script will not work, the idea of Amy, very pregnant, driving a van into a wall to kill herself? Over Rory? How Greek. How “woe is me, I shall throw myself on my husband’s funeral pyre.” Some choice. Yet again, Amy was reactive instead of proactive, responding to events beyond her control instead of taking charge of the plot. There was an opportunity for a very powerful psychological battle to take place when the Dream Lord trapped Amy alone with him on the frozen TARDIS. It could have been electric. It did not happen. In the end, the Doctor resolved the episode, not Amy.

A female character needs to have a mind of her own to justify her own existence in the script, otherwise she is a decoration. In Amy Pond, we have a chance to see a companion who can create conflict by not doing as she is told. She can be sexy and intelligent at the same time. She does not have to become a gaudy piece of arm candy put there for the dads to enjoy, with a beer, post-football, on Saturday teatime. She does not have to be a stereotype. She does not have to be Peri Brown. I’m not asking for radical feminism, or extra layers of clothing, just a believable woman who exerts her influence and makes significant decisions. Thus far, the Who writers (with the exception of Moffat) have not given her enough opportunity to be these things.

I would like the Who writers to think harder about Amy Pond, and what makes Amy Pond tick, because when she is written well, she is glorious to watch. I would like them to go away and watch Ace and the seventh doctor, and perhaps Tank Girl, or Terminator, and then get back to us, having stopped salivating over the legs, and started to concentrate on the brain.

21 Comments

  1. Jennifer Williams

    Great post!

    I too feel sorry for Amy’s bare legs, she must be freezing her bums off. I also find the “for the Dads” thing very creepy, but perhaps that’s just me.

  2. Peter

    Great post on this subject and I agree. There’s so much potential in Amy Pond and such a fun relationship between her and the Doctor that she deserves to be more of an agent in the stories. Ace and Donna are my favorite companions and, coincidentally the most clothed. Oh, don’t get me wrong, when I was a teenage boy, Leela was awesome! But I’m not a teenage boy these days and I want tough, smart, and capable companions who are well written far more than I want eye-candy.

    I’m glad to have come across your blog (thanks to Alasdair Stuart’s retweet) and look forward to reading more of your work.

  3. Adam Christopher

    Jen – I agree. It was creepy in the old series, and it’s creepy in the new series.

    My problem with Amy is her near-instaneous jumps to quirky humour, no matter what the situation. It’s like she’s never really engaged with anything going on around her, and that makes her incredibly difficult to read. I thought her attempt to jump the Doctor’s bones was totally out of character and came out of left field, but then I realised that Amy’s character is nearly impenetrable and there was no real way of knowing whether it was in character or not.

  4. Steve

    This is pretty spot on.

    However, I also think the new Doctor needs writing better. There are times when Matt Smith seems to struggle with the part because it’s under-written.

  5. Yewtree

    Yes! Agree strongly. Well said. Ace was ace. And I like Amy Pond, but I like the fact that she is brainy & interesting.

  6. Justus R Stone

    I agree. The companion I thought we had with Moffat’s initial scripts has not materialized. The writers have just gotten lazy & continue to give us the same companion we have had all too often. It seems like Amy is purely present as a plot device, and given the direction of this season, that might prove to be true overall.

  7. DanielChuter

    I miss Billie Piper, lol.

    Martha generally dressed appropriately. But I wasn’t very fond of her.

    IMO they need a male companion. Not for the gay jokes of Captain Jack, but simply because I’m kind of sick of seeing the Doctor using his TARDIS to pick up random chicks.

  8. Chris

    Spot on.

    The problem though is that at 42 I realise that I am now in the demographic of “pervy Dad” that watches Who primarily to drool over Amy……

  9. Saxon Bullock

    [Saxon - thanks so much for your wise words, I've edited and updated my post based on your comments. I hope that doesn't make what you've said here look redundant in the context of the new edit - it was all fantastically useful for clarifying what I meant and correcting the flaws!]

    Good post, although I have to admit that I don’t agree with everything you say. You’re right that Amy’s character has been rather inconsistently handled – it certainly feels like hardly anyone other than Moffatt actually has a handle on her – but the trouble is that Doctor Who is actually a really difficult show to get right. I did wonder if they’d be able to keep the initial characterisation going – and while I’d rather not be seeing as much of Amy as a generic companion as we’ve gotten (four episodes and counting, in my book), the ‘loose cannon’ companion isn’t necessarily the answer to the problem.

    Personally, I really liked Ace at the time, but she took over the show to a quite boggling extent. By the final season, it seemed like travelling in the TARDIS had turned into a gigantic (and slightly creepy) therapy session – she is the first Who companion since the Sixties (to be honest, probably since Ian and Barbara back at the beginning) to get a genuine emotional life, but she isn’t ‘the first Doctor’s companion who did not scream and run away and require constant supervision in case she wandered off and died.’ Hell, Who’s attitude to women has rarely been spectacularly progressive, but Sarah Jane Smith was holding her own pretty well in the Seventies, Leela spent much of her time in the TARDIS regularly killing people, and Romana was wonderfully brainy. Things only really sank back into ‘screamers’ during the mid-Eighties, and – as I said on Twitter – if you want to be really shocked by inappropriate companionwear, go look at some of Peri’s outfits. Ye Gods. I knew that was inappropriate when I was ten… The whole ‘For the Dads’ thing really only started with Leela in the late Seventies, and wasn’t really pursued until JNT went a bit nuts in the mid-Eighties (He was good at bringing audiences in and raising the show’s profile – not always good at making them stay…). It’s certainly not a regular part of the show’s DNA – I’m not going to deny that there’s not an aspect of it there in the show at the moment, but aside from the overdone bit in this Silurian two-parter, I haven’t had a problem with it myself – and I can’t help thinking that if it really was completely deliberate “Let’s get those Dads SALIVATING!” that they could be doing this much, much worse. Really. Like I said, go look at Peri. And then just sympathise with poor Nicola Bryant, who actually had to wear that stuff…

    (Also, the Doctor has frequently had a more fatherly attitude to his companions – in fact, that was kind of the norm pre-Sarah Jane, especially back in the Sixties. It’s not massively played, but it is there – there’s a gorgeous scene in Tomb of the Cybermen, where the Second Doctor talks to Victoria, and it’s a wonderfully played moment. (And I found it…: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QJEZMDD4hhE))

    You’re right that Amy’s clothing and the Rio excuse is a daft writing get-out clause in this episode. It’d have made more sense if they’d been immediately sealed off from the TARDIS, and if Amy had not also been wearing a jacket and cardy. And yes, they have gone in a more deliberately sexy direction with Amy’s clothes – but from what I’ve read, that’s just as much from Karen Gillan’s direction as anywhere else, as she’s apparently had quite a bit of input into the costumes. Not saying you’re wrong not to like this aspect – just that it isn’t quite as ingrained in Who. The ‘modern clothes in historical times’ is a good point, but it’s another bit of New Who engineering that happened when the BBC bosses felt The Unquiet Dead in S1 was a bit too ‘costume drama’ – that’s why they’ve largely stayed away from companions ‘going native’ ever since. To be honest, the only time it’s really bothered me was when Martha was wandering around Elizabethan London in S3 in trousers, and not once got mistaken for a boy or a cross-dresser (and considering RTD was rarely one to let an innuendo lie, it was kind of surprising). It’s silly at times, but it’s another one of those bits of New Who that you’ve just got to go with.

    New Who is, also, in a weird position – it’s got to be dramatic and exciting, but it’s also got to be brash and entertaining. It’s got to grab the attention on a Saturday night, and sometimes that means it goes in semi-ludicrous directions, and does stuff that has me thinking “WHAT?” I guess I’m just saying I get what you’re saying – but I don’t know that Who is ever going to completely deliver what you want. It’s that difficulty of the show trying to do new things, but not wanting to stray too far from the basic formula of Who and mess up what is, lets face it, a massively succesful show. They could get away with lots more with Ace back in the Eighties and be more adventurous partly because of the fact that audiences weren’t massive – success also means pressure, and can sometimes stifle experimentation.

    And just to round up (phew…), yes, Scully was an intelligent sexy and strong female character who was allowed to wear trousers. But The X-Files was also emphatically not a show that was aimed at a Saturday night teatime audience. And yes, Seven of Nine in Voyager was allowed to be smart and brainy – but let’s face it, I think the decision to put the extremely nicely proportioned Jeri Ryan in a tight catsuit for virtually her entire run on the series had nothing to do with whether it was realistic garb for her character.

    (And a note on Uhura – okay, yes, you can look back and see that she’s hardly an amazing female character, but (a) it was the Nineteen Sixties, and (b) Star Trek was actually pretty damn progressive for a US TV show at that time to have a black woman on the bridge of the Enterprise, at a time when Civil Rights was a major, major issue in America, even if she does spend most of her time answering the phone. (There’s a quote from Nichelle Nicolas where she was actually debating quitting the show, and when she met Martin Luther King, and talked about what she was thinking of doing, he actually said that she shouldn’t, that it meant an awful lot that she was there (I may be misquoting liberally)). Basically, I guess I’m just saying that attitudes change – you couldn’t do Uhura as she was now (one of the best aspects of the new Star Trek movie is that they don’t do that), but she’s a lot more important than she looks.)

  10. Tittamiire

    Good post, lots of thought and things. I do often have issue with how women are portrayed on television, however Amy Pond isn’t one of the issues I have.

    As Saxon has said Uhura was a brilliantly progressive character for her time. Both society and sci fi have come a long way since the 1960s. I don’t think it is accurate to reference her character here.

    Lara Croft is more than just a pair of tits too. They are a large and significant pair of tits, but she’s also impossibly athletically fit and very intelligent, there are other issues there, but I don’t think the issue with Lara is that she’s just a pair of tits.

    Having said that I don’t actually have a problem at the moment with Amy Pond running around in a short skirt inappropriately as long as she is also a good character to go with it. I’m a few episodes behind on this season of Doctor Who so I may yet be disappointed in her development, but I’m not yet. She just seems to be a character who likes wearing short skirts. Like many other women in the real world.

    I also don’t find ‘for the Dads’ creepy. I might find it mildly insulting if I was a ‘Dad’ that I needed a bit of flesh to be engaged, but Dr Who has much much more than that so that the flesh can be a cherry on the top, which I’m okay with.

  11. EJD

    Thanks everyone for your comments. I’ve edited and updated my post based on some of the feedback you’ve given me, and I hope it clarifies and expands on what I mean! The last thing I want to do is come across as a prude, because that isn’t what this post is about, I hope that’s more obvious in this edit.

  12. EJD

    Also, thank you to Jenni Hill, without whom I never would have remembered the name of the Bechdel Test!

  13. Girl

    Great post which I agree with on all counts but this: I don’t think Amy is ‘too hot’ or ‘too smart’ for Rory. Rory is smart and attractive and why shouldn’t Amy find a decent guy like him appealing in the end? He understood the TARDIS which few humans do; he’s brave and loyal and looks good in a Roman costume. I think he’s worthy of her and so does she.

  14. max

    well the cold welsh village was meant to be rio, which was mentioned many times

    AND HER LEGS ARE HOT, HOTTEST LEGS ON TV

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