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