The Trouble with Amy Pond: Reflections on Series 5 of Doctor Who

Major spoilers for Series Five ahead!

Christopher Eccleston was my first Doctor. And David Tennant became my favorite. I was sorry when Russell T. Davies left Doctor Who as showrunner because he had introduced me to a TV series that celebrated the best in humanity and encouraged them to look to the stars–for adventure, for wonder, for hope. Still, I was excited to see what Steven Moffat would do with the show. His episodes “Blink,” “Silence in the Library,” and “Forest of the Dead” were some of my favorites. I appreciated the tight storytelling, the suspense, the drama. What could he do with an entire season?

Series 5 of Doctor Who is undeniably more dramatic than previous seasons. It moves away from the campy and feels more like a big-budget production. Even the CGI looks better. But it’s not all show. The storytelling is tight and the characters have real, emotional moments. There’s just one glaring issue I have with the season: Amy Pond.

Amy Pond never feels like real character to me. Even though she has issues and insecurities, even though she can be brave and clever, she always feels like some sort of cardboard character who runs around following the Doctor mainly because someone writing the show thinks she’s sexy. I can never really understand what she is thinking or why she is acting certain ways because she weirdly toggles between acting childlike and being overly sexualized, as if that’s some sort of turn-on for someone: “innocence” combined with repeated references to her sexual appetites.

I’m not opposed to having sexy characters onscreen or woman who admit they like sex. However, Amy’s choices do not really feel like Amy’s. They feel like a male writer’s. Adult Amy is introduced to viewers in a “sexy police officer” outfit and she spends the rest of the season wearing short shorts and mini skirts, even when it is supposed to be cold. She says her job is a “kiss-o-gram”–that is, she goes to parties and kisses people–which basically sounds like it’s supposed to be a family-friendly version of a prostitute (Doctor Who is a family show). Then, weirdly, she spends the next few seasons acting childlike, being friends with the Doctor, saving planets and worlds with her good heart. All until the out-of-left-field moment where she sexually assaults the Doctor.

Let’s be clear. If Amy were male and the Doctor were female, the scene in which Amy repeatedly throws the Doctor against the TARDIS and tries to rip off his clothing while he protests and tries to run away would be read as an attempted rape. However, the show plays it off for laughs. Or maybe it’s supposed to be a turn-on. I’m not really sure. I just know that Amy’s sexuality was basically non-existent since her kiss-o-gram debut, until it’s revealed here in a very tasteless and uncomfortable scene. Amy and the Doctor had, until this point, seemed like the very best of friends, with Amy consistently relying on him in a childlike manner–all in keeping with the “fairy tale” vibes the season wants to give. Suddenly, she’s got the hots for the Doctor.

Her feelings for the Doctor will come up sporadically after this scene. For example, in the episode “Amy’s Choice,” the Dream Lord presents Amy, Rory (her fiance), and the Doctor with two realities and asks them to identify the dream one or be killed. He mentions Amy’s naughty dreams. Then he repeatedly asks her to choose: Rory or the Doctor. This is particularly weird because one reality has Amy and Rory married, with Amy expecting a child. (The repeated references to her size are, by the way, incredibly sexist.) In another episode, the beginning of the season finale, the Doctor makes a reference to how much trouble they can get in with Amy surrounded by a bunch of hot Roman soldiers. Her sexuality is constantly discussed (and mocked), even though it sort of seems at odds with how Karen Gillan typically chooses to play the character.

The two sides of Amy’s character–innocence and sexuality–never fully seem integrated or resolved. This, of course, raises the issue of whether sex should really be read as the opposite of innocence. In creating a disjunction between the two sides of Amy, the show (perhaps inadvertently) casts sex as potentially something bad. Yet it simultaneously is clearly trying to use Amy’s sexuality as a way to hook viewers. The result is not a character, but a mess.

Amy Pond just doesn’t resonate as a companion the way Rose, Martha, and Donna did. She has Rory, yes, but otherwise she seems to have no family, no background, no life. We do not even know how she and Rory started dating or engaged–which I would like to know, since I am consistently baffled by Rory’s obvious devotion to Amy when she treats him like dirt and runs after other men, even trying to snog the Doctor in the bushes on her wedding day! Amy has nothing grounding her and this makes it difficult to figure out who she really is or what she wants. (Well, even Amy doesn’t know what she wants.) Her main dilemma throughout the series is her impending marriage, which, once again, focuses everything around her love life. But Amy Pond could be so much more.

Whom does Amy care about? What does she want to do in life? Who does she want to be? These are questions the show never clearly asks. Instead, Amy’s character is all over the place, allowing her to be whoever and whatever the plot demands. And a lot of the time what the plot demands seems to be little more than a young woman in short shorts.

I love Doctor Who. It’s one of my favorite shows. And I want to love Amy. But I can’t help but feel that her character deserved so much more than what she was given.

What do you think? Do you like Amy in series five?

18 thoughts on “The Trouble with Amy Pond: Reflections on Series 5 of Doctor Who

  1. thepunktheory says:

    I never really thought about it like that but you are completely right! Now I feel like rewatching all the Amy-episode to further investigate and ponder on what you wrote. This character had so much potential and a lot of that just got squandered.

    Like

    • Krysta says:

      I think a lot of what made the former companions interesting to me were their home lives. How they interacted with their families, how they tried to navigate their “real” life and their life with the Doctor, how their time with the Doctor transformed them and made them more confident. Amy doesn’t have any of that in series 5 so it’s much harder to get a sense of who she is. AND she ends up lacking much of a character arc because she isn’t asked to change in any meaningful way. She’s kind of just…there to look good. I think that changes a little bit in series 6 and 7 once Rory becomes a more prominent part of the series, but we never really do get a strong sense of what Amy does when she’s not in the TARDIS, and I think that is ultimately a weakness in the show.

      Liked by 3 people

      • thepunktheory says:

        It’s been quite a while since I watched those episodes, so I hope I’m getting this right. Wasn’t there an episode where Amy was a model and she and Rory weren’t together anymore? I was sooo confused by that. Like where did that come from? Why? Had that always been one of her aspirations? And we never really get any answers to that.

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        • Krysta says:

          There is an episode where she is a model! And then one where they are going to get a divorce. Then she leaves modeling and becomes a travel writer, I think, even though there’s no indication she travels. Unless she’s using memories from visiting places with the Doctor? She seems to have no real idea what she wants to do with her life, but it would be more meaningful if she would discuss this with Rory or the Doctor, instead of us seeing her changing careers every few episodes without any explanation.

          Liked by 1 person

  2. lulucatherine says:

    These are such good points – it’s been a while since I’ve watched the Amy episodes, but you’ve inspired me to give them a rewatch!

    I think you’re right that the companions’ home lives add some nice dimension to the characters. Donna is my favorite, and I always loved her relationship with her grandfather.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. bookbeachbunny says:

    I love Karen Gillan but have to agree with you. Heck, I forgot about half the stuff due to how badly it went off the rails (further off the rails anyway) with the whole Melody thing and Amy and Rory’s actual ending.

    I completely agree with the above to Donna was always my favorite companion (though Gillan my favorite actress) but I hated her ending to. Thinking about it I totally understand the people who think maybe Doctor Who should have taken a break for a bit!

    Like

    • Krysta says:

      I like Karen Gillan, too! I just don’t think she got a lot to work with, particularly in the earlier episodes. I didn’t mind her ending so much, aside from the fact that I kind of think they just made up that the Doctor couldn’t do anything about it. I’m…pretty sure he can?

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  4. Isobel Necessary says:

    You’re so right that neither the kissogram nor the almost sexual assault scene belong in Doctor Who, and it’s not a prudish thing to say so. I hadn’t thought about Amy’s innocence/sexuality dichotomy before but that’s a great explanation.
    Rose and Donna are looking for an adventure, Martha’s story ends because she knows she isn’t getting what she wants, and both Clara and Bill are genuinely frustrated by the way the Doctor’s actions complicate the rest of their lives. But Amy sort of never had a choice, because she was a child, or because it was all fated (or because it was all plotted out by writers to create the River Song myth).

    Like

    • Krysta says:

      Yes! Amy did seem to lack a lot of agency! And I think that is partly because she has no backstory. She’s just the girl with a crack in her wall. She’s a riddle to be solved by the Doctor. She’s the answer to River Song’s story. She’s not, however, really a person.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Michael J. Miller says:

    You…you’ve just blown my mind. I’ve been rewatching the Doctor’s time with the Ponds over the last month or so and I agree with everything you’ve said. But I’ve never seen it before! I mean, I noticed how needlessly she’s presented as little more than “a young woman in short shorts” (I love how you put that, by the way). And I was annoyed by the paper thin narrative excuse for her to be dressed “for Rio” (like why wouldn’t she change when it was that cold?). And the references to her size while pregnant in “Amy’s Choice” have always bothered me. But I’ve never seen it all together like this! How have I not seen this??

    I tend to have an odd relationship with Moffat as showrunner. I enjoy many of his episodes. But I loved Russell T. Davies so much more and I am adoring what Chris Chibnall is doing now. Watching Moffat’s episodes I always tend to find myself wrestling with the Doctor feeling like this galaxy-wide warrior hero. It always seemed to clash a bit with what he was trying to get away from in Series 1-4. So maybe how poorly Amy was developed just didn’t fully click (until you spelled it out for me) because I was looking at other parts of the narrative.

    But I have similar problems with lack of development with River Song – or, rather, her relationship with the Doctor. I adore her character! I love her sass and snark and the short story collection ‘The Legends of River Song’ is one of my favorite Doctor Who novels. But I never felt they did much to develop her relationship with the Doctor outside of making them flirt with playful banter. It was fun…but it was nothing like the emotional connection with Rose.

    I will never look at Amy Pond the same way again and that’s a good thing! Thank you for this post. I’m going to be thinking about it for a long time after I walk away from it. It will forever shape how I see her character. I’m just about to start rewatching the episodes with Clara and I’m going to pay closer attention to how’s she’s presented in the wake of reading this, too.

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    • Krysta says:

      Yes, I also have problems with the Doctor as warrior! I think I reflected a little on that with another post on my feelings on series 6. It’s especially confusing because River, at one point in the library episode, celebrates the Doctor who can make armies run. Then, suddenly, she’s chastising the Doctor for “becoming too big.” Do you want him as a super warrior or not? But, even after he “erases” himself, he’s still, at heart, a soldier, and that’s a theme that plays throughout Eleven’s run. It’s hard to know what to make of it since it’s so contrary to the transformation we saw in series 1-4. I just know I don’t like it because I thought part of the show’s power was the Doctor’s reluctance to do anything violent unless he felt he had no choice.

      And that’s an interesting route for the show to take. The Doctor is described, I think even by myself, as a “pacifist,” but he isn’t–not strictly. He is reluctant to go to war or use violence, but he will do so as a last measure. It’s sort of like a take on the “just war theory,” this idea that violence is not condoned, but may sometimes be necessary. But it’s so powerful to see the Doctor struggling with determining what “necessary” means and even struggling afterwards. War MAY be necessary, but it’s still wrong and it’s going to have psychological impacts and other negative consequences. In a way, Doctor Who under Davies is very anti-war just by showing the nature of war and what it can do to people.

      I think one of the most powerful scenes in Doctor Who is at the end of series 4, when all the Doctor’s former companions come together. They are facing extermination by Daleks. But, even though the Daleks are the Doctor’s oldest and most hated enemy, he is appalled to find all his companions seeking violent solutions, like blowing themselves up with the spaceship to save Earth. He is appalled that his time with these people turned them into people who could easily seek violent solutions. That’s a key factor, I think, in his decision to be alone for awhile–not just Donna’s loss, but the recognition that he turns people into fighters. Then contrast that with Eleven’s run. In series 7, the Doctor is planning to blow a ship with himself on it to save the Earth from the Ice Warrior on board. He’s turned into what he hated. But, this time, we are supposed to celebrate his self-sacrifice instead of mourning the seeming necessity of a violent solution with innocent deaths.

      I’ve also been pondering River Song lately. She is mainly presented as this sexy, capable woman. I like that she’s capable, but, even after the revelation of her back story in series 6, she is, basically, just a woman who was pining after the Doctor and chasing him her whole life. She’s kind of like the anti-Martha? Martha left to have a whole life of her own. River just builds her life around the hope of meeting the Doctor one day again. And she does it over and over again because they are time travelers. She’s intelligent and fierce and talented–she could be so much more than “the woman who married or killed the Doctor, depending on the stories.” She could be someone with her OWN identity.

      I also rather disliked the whole Amy/River plotline since it neatly got around the issue of having to show Amy being pregnant or recovering from giving birth. They hide pregnant Amy away until she’s given birth, then they get rid of the baby so she doesn’t have to be something as unsexy as, heavens forbid, a MOTHER, and then she’s running around again in her short shorts like nothing’s happened and body changes don’t happen, etc. In a way, I thought that was problematic, too, just in a really subversive way you don’t think about. Because nothing’s being shown on screen. But the absence of pregnancy and motherhood because, you know, it might make Amy look less attractive is really troubling for me.

      I’ve just started watching Clara’s episodes, too. She is better than Amy, I think? So far? She hasn’t yet gotten much of a back story and there are a lot of innuendos about her and the Doctor, which is annoying. I mean, Amy, River, and now Clara are in love with the Doctor or at least physically attracted to him. Can we just…have a woman not mooning over him for once? This is why I loved Donna. But I think Clara ultimately gets more of a life/back story later on, which is something.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Michael J. Miller says:

        You frame the Doctor’s pacifism perfectly. He’s a pacfisit because, in part, of what he’s done. I tell my students all the time, I’m a pacifist because of my faith and my morals and my values…but it’s an untested pacifism, a pacifism I can foster in the relative peace and comfort of my life, an ideological pacifism that’s never seen trial and fire. For the Doctor, he’s seen the darkness inside himself and he’s done what he has to and he’s trying to atone for that. And that. I think, is such an important part of his character.

        His pacifism is rooted not just in his own ethics and his love for and joy of all creation, but in the attempt to correct his past sins. But as you said, he is willing to cross that line when it’s necessary. More than that, he knows he *has to* cross that line when it’s necessary and that tears him apart. Your point about the Just War Theory is brilliant, too. I think there’s a whole conference paper or journal article there :D.

        I was thinking of the Series Four finale as I was reading your reply here! I love that you went there, too! Haha, go us. But I was thinking of that ending as well when I rewatched “A Good Man Goes To War.” Everything the Doctor was sad about and struggling with at the end of “Journey’s End” he is actively engaging/reveling in in “A Good Man Goes To War.” He’s PROUD of everyone running from him. He’s PROUD of being able to destroy the entire Cyberman fleet to send a message. Even with the twist at the end of the episode, you don’t see any of complex emotional journey he goes on in Series 1-4. You just see him start off on another adventure.

        I’m with you on the Amy/River thing, too. Like River’s relationship with the Doctor, I never really feel I got a sense of a relationship – any relationship, really – between River and her parents. When she comes back to visit Amy at the end of “The Wedding of River Song” we’re supposed to have this emotional reaction to them chatting in the garden. But I’d never seen anything to have me invested in their relationship. I think what you say about their doing everything they can to avoid showing Amy as a mother is part of it. I never felt, outside of a few superficial monologues, Amy had any identity as a mother and I certainly never felt I saw her see/interact with/connect to River as her child. They could have really explored the vastness of a parent’s love or the heart and value of “nontraditional” families here. But I never really even felt I saw their relationship grow much beyond their running down corridors together.

        Maybe that’s part of my problem with Moffat in general? I feel like the relationships between the characters were always a very distant second to the action set pieces. The Doctor and Amy, Amy and Rory, the Doctor and River, Amy and River, River and Rory, even the Doctor and Rory – they were all just sort of draped along the world-saving warrior exploits. I don’t feel any of them were developed with the depth, nuance, and care of what we saw with Russell T. Davies.

        I think the reason I liked that short story book about River so much is because some of the authors do try to give her an identity outside of her pining after the Doctor. The Doctor isn’t even featured in some of the stories. So it’s fun to see her on adventures on her own…but it also underscores what we don’t get in the show.

        The “special” thing is so frustrating though. I thought about your point all last night and have continued to all this morning, the idea that now not just anyone can travel with the Doctor in these episodes. That’s losing something so important to the show! When you tie those two points – you now have to “special” in some way to travel with the Doctor and the sexualized/pining nature of the companions – it creates all sorts problematic messages and implications.

        I’m glad you think Clara may be at least a little better than Amy. But I will be watching with a far more critical eye now and I look forward to talking more about her presentation with you as it goes!

        Like

  6. Jackie B @ Death by Tsundoku says:

    I FEEL SO SEEN.

    I have always felt like Amy Pond is just a sexy plot device. It KILLS me. The one episode where I don’t feel like that is The Girl Who Waited. But all this does is show me how much I dislike Amy anyway. The person she “becomes” is so different from the Amy she was — this is supposed to be shocking, but I felt it just showed her true colors. She’s just… boring. She doesn’t seem to care about who she is or what she wants in life — she just wants to keep existing for no reason. I guess?

    My favorite character in the whole series? Rory. Freaking Rory Williams is the best character EVER and, I also think, a better Companion than Amy. He’s cool under pressure, he isn’t afraid to apply logic, he’s endlessly loving, selfless, and he kept the Doctor in check. He’s the only one who tried to keep The Doctor humble and focused on what matters. Ugh. The only reason I watch Seasons 5&6 are for Rory.

    Like

    • Krysta says:

      I think Amy exemplifies a lot of what I dislike about Moffat’s seasons as a whole. She’s just one of several woman who order their whole lives around the Doctor. “The Girl Who Waited” sounds cool on the surface, like she’s a dreamer waiting for adventure. But…waiting is so passive. It’s actually kind of sad she’s just always waiting for the Doctor to come and sweep her away and make her life better.

      Yes, the previous companions were drawn to adventure, too, but they seemed more active. Donna, for instance, didn’t just wait twelve years. She went looking for the Doctor by investigating weird phenomena. She made her future happen. In contrast, we get tons of shots of young Amy sitting on a suitcase being sad because no one came to rescue her.

      Rory is a really great character and under-appreciated by both the Doctor and Amy. It really bothers me how the Doctor is always making fun of Rory and referring to him as “Rory Pond” like he’s trying to make some sort of point like Rory’s identity is only tied up in Amy’s. It’s like a constant reminder that he wouldn’t be in the TARDIS if it weren’t for Amy. Amy and the Doctor are BFFs and Rory…is Amy’s tag-along friend.

      Rory is so devoted and kind and brave and he doesn’t get that recognition. Even though he’s arguably a better person than Amy. How many times did he die for her? How many times did he sacrifice for her? And his last episode? Again, he sacrificed himself to save the world. Does the Doctor care, though. No, he only cares about Amy. It’s actually really hurtful to watch.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Jackie B @ Death by Tsundoku says:

        Donna is my favorite companion. She is an active part of her own life, unlike many of the other companions who just live for experiences with the Doctor. I mean, I can understand how hard it would be to return to regular life on Earth after some adventures with the Doctor, But still– take charge of what you have and make the most of your life, ladies! It does make me think you’ll like Clara better.

        It really is hurtful to watch how Amy and the Doctor ignore Rory and treat him so poorly. Unlike Amy, he is trying to take control of his own life. He refuses to be left behind and constantly makes independent choices. I personally believe the Doctor never really acknowledges what Rory does (well, until the end of their time together, but you aren’t there yet, I don’t think) because the Doctor is constantly put to shame by Rory. Rory calls the Doctor out for his self-centeredness, or his inablity to see the big picture, or the fact that he’s only focused on Amy or having fun or whatever. At first, Rory might come across as a bit of a sour grape, but his dose of pragmatism keeps the show well balanced.

        Ugh, I love Rory so much. Now I want to rewatch seasons 5 – mid 7. Rory. ❤

        Like

        • Krysta says:

          I’ve actually finished season seven already. I never really felt that the Doctor being somewhat appreciate of Rory at the end made up for all the prior treatment. He even seems mainly sad about losing Amy, like it’s all fine and good for Rory to be trapped in the past as long as the Doctor still has Amelia Pond! I guess it’s supposed to be some transformative moment for Amy where she finally chooses Rory over the Doctor (and if forced to lead her own life). But I’d rather have her make a transformative choice that audiences get to see. And one not forced on her.

          I remember vaguely that Clara gets a teaching job. But I’ve finished season seven and we still only got a glimpse of her “real” life. Not really sure who the kids are or why we should care about them–or why Clara cares about them, even after they got a whole episode to themselves.

          And the finale of season seven bothers me. “I was born to save the Doctor,” Clara tells us. It makes it seem like we have yet another woman who orders her whole existence around the Doctor. Amy, the girl who waited. River, the woman who studied archaeology just to chase the Doctor through time and space. Clara, the girl who sacrificed her life so she can literally spend a bunch of lifetimes dying again and again to save the Doctor. The pattern is not one I like.

          Liked by 1 person

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