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The Girl Who Waited: Why I Hate Amy Pond

For a long time, despite urging from the various nerds in my life, I didn’t bother to get into the new Doctor Who. (I still have never watched the original series.) But about a year ago, my partner and I moved to a new state so I could go to grad school. Bereft of our former social life, we spent a lot of time snuggling on the couch watching TV, and we got a Netflix subscription, as you do, and then it turned out that the whole run of new Who was available streaming, and things took their natural course. We burned through the first five seasons in time to start watching season 6 in real time this spring. Also, as we do when we really like a show, we gave it a nickname that is far longer than the actual title—in our house we usually refer to it as “What’s-His-Fuck, M.D.”

Before I’d even started watching, I already knew the prevailing opinion of current Who fans was that the show did not become truly amazing until Steven Moffat took over as lead writer and producer at the beginning of the fifth season, the same time that Matt Smith became the new Doctor. (Up until then, the show was run by Russell T. Davies.) I was repeatedly assured that no matter how much I enjoyed Davies’s show—which I really did—the advent of Moffat would blow everything else out of the water.

It has since occurred to me that all of the people who told me this were dudes.

Now, my understanding, never having seen classic Who, is that in the old days the Doctor occasionally had traveling companions who were not hot chicks. But, except for a couple of episodes wherein David Tennant was accompanied in the TARDIS by a delightful grizzled dude whom my partner and I nicknamed “Lawn Gnome Grandpa,” the Doctor of the 21st century has never not had a gorgeous girl at his beck and call. First there was Rose, who was the Doctor’s true love, and eventually got to live happily ever after with a Doctor clone in an alternate universe. Then there was Martha, who lusted after the Doctor unrequitedly, then left the show and reappeared in several cameos where she was way more bad-ass than she’d ever been as a recurring character. (She ended up married to Rose’s ex-boyfriend Mickey, and if you can come up with a better rationale for their union than “hey, they’re both black,” I am all ears.) Finally, there was the glorious and all-too-brief season of Donna.

Donna was my favorite. She was loud and opinionated and made fun of the Doctor a lot and was capable of becoming extremely—and convincingly—shouty when she did not support the Doctor’s intended course of action. Unlike Martha, she wasn’t devastatingly intelligent; unlike Rose, she didn’t win the Doctor’s heart. She never even tried to get in his pants.  She was just this normal, originally kind of shallow girl, who found out there was a lot more to life than she’d ever realized. I’m not arguing that Donna was a flawless character—she crossed the line from “brassy and awesome” into “stereotypical shrew” more often than I would have liked—but she was flawed in a way that felt real to me. And I’d still prefer Donna at her worst to what we got after her, any day of the week. Because what we got, after her, was Amy.

Anything positive that Moffat has brought to the show—some extremely creepy villains, the promise of an entire season with no Daleks, the worldwide bow-tie revival I’m certain will happen any day now—is pretty much overshadowed, for me, by the intensity of my dislike for Amy. It’s not that I have a problem with her as a person. She’s pretty! She’s funny! She makes that weird pouty face whenever she’s annoyed! What else can you ask of a female character?  I think Amy would be a total blast to get drunk with (two margaritas in I would be like “Girl, the pouty face, what is up with that?”).

Amy as a plot device, however, drives me insane with rage.  The writers cannot seem to come up with anything for her to do that doesn’t involve being a sexual or romantic object, a damsel in distress, or—more recently—a uterus in a box.  This is primarily a show about the Doctor, not his companions; I get that.  Still, Rose, Donna, and even the tragically underdeveloped Martha all got at least a few episodes dedicated them and their problems and their families, not just who they wanted to bone or what was growing in their lady parts as a result of said boning. (Granted, Amy’s family was eaten by a crack in the wall, which sort of limits their narrative potential, but still.)

She does occasionally save the universe, as all the Doctor’s companions are contractually obligated to do at least once per season.  Her biggest universe-saving moment, however, came about in the most passive way possible—she just had to remember the Doctor really hard. And she had to do it by focusing on the words “something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue.” At her wedding reception.  Because if you want a lady to remember something, you need to make it relevant to her wedding. Am I right?

That, basically, is my problem with Amy.  She seems to have been conceived by sticking every terrible romantic comedy ever made into a blender and coming out with a slightly lumpy beige mixture of Stuff Girls Like.  Girls like weddings!  Girls like sex!  Girls sometimes try to have sex with boys who are not their boyfriends! Girls like making pouty faces!  Girls like having babies!  Girls enjoy engaging in banter!  Especially girls who are feisty, which is how a lot of people, including Matt Smith, have described Amy.  Can we all take a moment here to agree, unequivocally, that “feisty” is the single most condescending adjective in the English language, ranking even above “articulate” in its ability to convey disdain?  Thanks so much.  Moving on.

Amy’s dialogue is reasonably well-written, and Karen Gillan’s performance is funny and engaging.  But her storylines are terrible.  We spent all of season 5 (which, for me, was about three days) hopelessly enmeshed in the Love Triangle that Just Wouldn’t Die.  Amy was engaged to Rory, who had a smallish head, but she wanted to make out with the Doctor, who had a huge head!  How would she ever choose between two such different head sizes?  Then she had a moment of realization and went with Rory, presumably because their eventual offspring would do less damage on the way out.  But every two or three episodes since then, we’ve gotten these teasing “maybe she really DOES love the Doctor” moments, even though everyone, including all three characters, is sick to death of that plot thread.  It’s like the writers honest-to-God cannot come up with anything better for two dudes and a lady to do, with all of space and time at their fingertips, than worry over which dude the lady will end up with.

I hated that love triangle with a fiery passion.  But I did not know what it was to be truly annoyed until the mid-season finale, which happened just a few weeks ago.  (The rest of the season airs sometime this fall.)  That was when we found out why every episode for several months ended with the exact same shot of the TARDIS unable to decide whether or not Amy was pregnant.  She had been both pregnant and non-pregnant at the same time, because the person we’d seen walking around all season wasn’t really Amy—she was a flesh fascimile controlled by Amy’s real brain, which had no idea that it was trapped in a small white room in Amy’s real body.  A small white room that bore a remarkable resemblance to a refrigerator.  And in that refrigerator, waiting to be rescued, Amy was pregnant.

I’m certainly not saying this situation was her fault—who hasn’t gotten a little confused about which of their bodies was the real one?  But the fact is that the actual, physical Amy has not done a single thing so far this season except give birth and hope that her various men would come and save her.  And no matter how glad I was that Rory finally got to be a badass and do some rescuing, that underlines what I find so troubling about Amy:  the fact that the writers can’t seem to come up with anything for her to do that isn’t directly related to being a woman.

Obviously, lots of women really do have babies.  Lots of women really do get entangled in love triangles.  Lots of women would like to make out with Matt Smith.  And lots of women, if kidnapped by shadowy alien forces with unknown motives, would have a hard time coming up with a better plan than “sit around and wait for someone to come looking.”  None of these things are deal-breakers on their own, or even necessarily in combination.

But when it becomes clear that a female character is defined solely in male terms, as someone to be macked on, fought over, knocked up, or rescued, there’s a problem.  It’s not even that any of these cliches are insulting. It’s that they’re everywhere, and they’re boring.  So much of popular culture is devoted to telling the exact same love-marriage-childbirth story over and over, as though it applies to all women in the world, and peddling the lie that deep down inside that’s all any of us really care about.  And lots of us care about those things deeply, but not to the exclusion of everything else.

Female characters don’t have to avoid traditional women’s roles to be realistic and compelling.  They just have to do other things at the same time.  A mother with dreams and regrets and a rich emotional life is a character.  A woman who exists to bring a baby into the world (so that it can grow up and make out with Matt Smith) might as well be made of cardboard.

I worry sometimes that two-dimensional depictions of women in television and film may be warping our cultural understanding of real women’s lives and capabilities.  But, more often, I just think it’s astonishingly dull.  We’ve all heard this one a million times.  Tell us something new.

[Lindsay Miller is an MFA student, poet, and occasional nerd.  She writes the advice column “Ask A Queer Chick” for The Hairpin.]


  1. Scarecrow wrote:

    Oh and I forgot; Moffat actually said in a printed interview he *had* to give them a baby because it’s not a marriage without a baby, its just two people living together. Honestly. he said that.

    of course, the fact that at the moment it looks set for her to do ZERO raising of this child (hello MAJOR emotional turmoil right there) seems to be ignored. Yeah, I still love DW, but emotionally I think Moffat is just much more conservative.

    Monday, August 15, 2011 at 10:05 am | Permalink
  2. Chris wrote:

    Very much appreciate and agree with Linday’s analysis. I found the “Amy in a box” plotline very disappointing for a character who was beginning to show some promise.

    There were problems with her portrayal in Season 5, but to my eyes at least Amy arrived on the show as a damaged, complicated, interesting character, did actually get to do some stuff in Season 5, worked through her infatuation with her childhood imaginary friend made flesh (but reserved the right to have a “snog in the shrubbery” if she felt like it), and at the end of Season 5 was set up to be potentially something more than yet another companion with a crush on the Doctor (if they NEVER do that again, it will be too soon).

    But in Season 6, she has gotten to do almost nothing other than tag along and comment on the action, while Rory has slowly morphed into a man of action. This is especially noticeble in “The Doctor’s Wife” where it’s Rory who shepherd’s a terrified Amy through the TARDIS and “The Rebel Flesh”, where Rory gets to do stuff that affects the plot while Amy mostly just provides colour commentary. I really like that Rory got to grow as a character, but really disliked that it seemed to happen directly at Amy’s expense. As well as having sexist overtones, it’s lazy writing, as if there’s only ever enough story space for the Doctor, the villain of the week, and ONE companion to do anything interesting. See Firefly for a show that gives a cast of nine (9!) characers something consequential to do in almost every episode.

    And the Amy-in-a-box, Amy as damsel to be rescued plot from the mid-season finale not only recycled Amy-needs-to-be-rescued from “Day of the Moon”, but it just takes all the interest out of a character. Which is really a shame.

    So, really, just a big “agree”. Thanks for putting a finger on this. But I do have an interesting story which I’ll submit in another post.

    Monday, August 15, 2011 at 10:25 am | Permalink
  3. Chris wrote:

    Interesting story:

    A while ago I reconnected, through Facebook, with an old college buddy of mine whom I hadn’t spoken with in fifteen years. This was right around the time that “Waters of Mars” came out. Now, “Waters of Mars” is actually one of my favourite episodes. There are several reasons for this (including Lindsay Duncan as Adelaide Brooke, arguably the Doctor’s best foil ever), but particularly I like the fact that for the first three-quarters of the story, the Doctor is reduced to the role of passive observer of a horrible painful event, happening to people he cares about, that he can do nothing to prevent. It gave the episode this wonderful air of tragic bleakness. It was a refreshing break from the Doctor’s weekly heroics. And also, this situation happens in real life! Having to watch bad things happen to people you care about is, in my experience, much much more common than being able to rescue the people you care about from bad things.

    Back to my old college buddy: the Facebook contact led to a phone conversation, in which we discovered our shared love of Who. “What did you think of Waters of Mars – wasn’t it awesome?” I asked. “No” was his reply. “Why not?” “Because the Doctor spent most of the episode being a whiny pussy.”

    Yes, the phrase “whiny pussy” was used, to describe a character acting in the only way he could (or should) act in a situation that is more realistic to life than the heroic fantasy we consume week after week. On top of the pejorative use of “pussy” being itself misogynist, my friend was pissed off that he didn’t get his wish-fulfillment fantasy because the Doctor wasn’t being masculine enough.

    So these guys with these expectations are part of the audience for the show. Alas.

    Monday, August 15, 2011 at 11:13 am | Permalink
  4. Liz wrote:

    1. Yes, Donna. Donna is the best. So so so much the best. Have you guys seen the Comic Relief sketch where Catherine Tate is playing her “not bothered” character and David Tennant is her English teacher? Because…do that.

    2) I like Amy. I hate what the writers are doing to Amy. Yes, I know she’s a fictional character and therefor “what the writers are doing to her” is inextricably part of who she “is” but I guess I feel like they established this cool character with all this potential, and I like HER.

    3. I didn’t mind the love triangle at first because it served as mostly a metaphor for Amy’s choice between safe/comfortable and exciting/scary. I thought it was nice that the show acknowledged that this woman could love Rory, but need more than husband/wedding to be happy.

    4. I hated that after she chose Rory, making a life for herself that included adventure and love, they continued to flirt with the idea of the triangle. Boring. Bo-ring.

    5. Pregnant-in-a-Box Amy makes me a sad puppy.

    6. River Song is annoying.

    7. I am curious as to the idea that people vastly prefer Moffat’s seasons. I have not experienced that. I have definitely heard that his episodes on the Davies’ seasons are the best, and I agree that they are totally boss, but most Who nerds I nerd out with prefer the Davies seasons as a whole.

    8. Donna Noble 4eva!!!!!!

    Monday, August 15, 2011 at 4:55 pm | Permalink
  5. Mitchell wrote:

    Love this post.

    I’ve always seen Amy as a poorly executed but heartfelt attempt to have a genuinely polyamourous character on television. In that context, she’s not a stereotype (She’s capable of long term relationships, despite having feelings for two dudes! She’s a woman who likes sex who doesn’t have “slut tropes” aside from maybe a profession ,which she doesn’t enjoy despite enjoying sex!) But that doesn’t prevent the fact that yeah, aside from her love interests, she’s Just a Girl Who Likes Stuff Girls Like. Even if the poly part of her is the intention (which it’s likely not) Generic Strong Poly Character doesn’t have any more depth than Generic Strong Female Character. At the beginning they were kind of going somewhere with the “meeting the Doctor messed Amy up for life” angle, which seemed to be on the path to some depth or at least fleshing out the reasons she is written like that in a more genuine way. If she ever comes out and says “Yeah, I love both of you, neither of you are my everything, and I am not giving either of you up, be mature about it please” than maybe all this will have meant something aside from BABY IN THE TARDIS WOOO COMEDY TIME. I am not holding my breath.

    I still don’t get how she’s any less sexist than Donna’s “GOTTA GET A MAN OR LIFE IS OVER” which she doesn’t grow out of even after leaving the show. Have we all forgotten for how long Donna was defined by OMG MY WEDDING? But at least Donna had experiences with the heavy mindfuck of travelling around the fabric of time and space itself that didn’t involve her feelings for men. At least I believed with Donna that I was watching a kind of sad shallow person, as opposed to watching a possibly awesome character be sadly written. But I’d like to hear how Amy’s boycraziness is any less sexist than Donna’s. Davies is just better at writing females, I think, and Moffat is trying to show that he can deal with female themes in the most hamfisted way possible.

    tldr: Poly Amy is easier to handle but likely not intentional, Donna was sexist too but better written.

    Tuesday, August 16, 2011 at 11:38 am | Permalink
  6. Chris wrote:

    Agree about Amy as polyamorous. I read the Amy-Rory-Doctor relationship as having a distinct poly undertone. Too bad it wasn’t better written.

    Here’s a general question: doesn’t the whole premise of Doctor Who lean towards sexism? He is a masculine hero-fantasy identification figure: an alternative one, because he doesn’t use guns or beat people up, but still he’s the invulnerable, aloof, superior man who saves everyone, especially women. I love the show, but I’m uncomfortably aware that my love for it is partly based on the fact that the main character fulfills a nerd-boy masculine ideal: everything more macho heroes achieve by force, the Doctor achieves by the brilliance of his mind (and some inherited aristocratic privilege).

    I’m surprised as many intelligent feminist women are into the show as there are (including my ex-partner, bless her). Uncharitably, one could say it’s yet another show about an overgrown boy saving the universe while remaining emotionally aloof, yet again. So, question #1: what about this show is attractive to (some) feminists? Because *something* about it is…

    Question #2: What would a genuinely feminist Doctor Who look like?

    Wednesday, August 17, 2011 at 12:55 am | Permalink
  7. Alden wrote:

    I definitely see where you’re coming from, ESPECIALLY with season 6, but I read Amy’s journey in S5 as completely differently. If only at the time.

    Amy’s journey was very familiar to me, because I’ve seen it a thousand times before – notably with Seth Rogen’s character in Knocked Up or Josh Duhamel’s in Life As We Know It. That is, ‘dude movies’ where the dude doesn’t want to grow up because dudes don’t want to grow up, then mommy-ladies come into their lives and force them to give up their pot and booze and video games and be adults. That is to say, Amy’s journey resonated to me not with feminine stories, but to stories typically told about male characters. And I thought that was a pretty cool role reversal. I wish that her struggle between ‘marriage’ and ‘adventure’ didn’t even up being represented by a love triangle, especially as it messes up her eventual decision to ‘have both’ emotionally and not romantically. But I liked it.

    And then season 6 came and Amy was just a uterus in a box. But for a moment there, it seemed that Amy was being offered a story that, yes, reflected stereotypes about women (stories about getting married and babies), but also subverted ideas that women are the ones tying men down to marriage and men are the adventurers who want to never settle down. And ultimately, though she did get married, she didn’t do it in a way that ended her adventures – she did it by re-orienting her ideas, and Rory’s ideas, of what marriage looks like. It said that marriage doesn’t have to follow gender roles or be about settling down, but can be the launching point for more adventure.

    And then… uterus in a box. Go figure.

    Wednesday, August 17, 2011 at 11:42 am | Permalink
  8. Ella wrote:

    no! Mickey and Martha got together because his surname is Smith & the Doctor went by the name Smith. It’s all a “clever” tactic so that Martha could end up as Martha Jones-Smith.

    Thursday, August 18, 2011 at 4:53 am | Permalink
  9. Kay wrote:

    What a great set of posts! I just read every word, and I can’t tell you how cool it is to find pages that are not all caught up in the frankly nauseating worship of the Eleventh Doctor and his latest companion.

    I liked Chris Eccelston, loved David Tennant, and I can deal with Matt Smith; I find him rather likeable, in a mumbly and bumbly sort of way. It’s like he doesn’t quite know where to go with the character. Still. In the second season.

    I adored Rose, Martha, AND Donna, but I have nothing good to say about Amy Pond. Not because she’s a “plot device”, a mobile womb, or the incarnation of Moffat’s version of a woman, but because Karen G. simply cannot act. Shallow writing notwithstanding, poor character development aside, Karen G. is by far the most colorless of all the companions in the “New Who” series so far. Her emotional range runs the gamut from A to B, her facial expressions — all two of them — are wooden, and shallow. Unlike the other three, I don’t CARE about her. In fact, for two seasons I have wondered why the Doctor could possibly have any interest in her at all, especially if he “remembers” traveling with Rose, Donna, and Martha — all smart, independent, beautiful, women with some depth! Maybe if Matt had a strong, versatile actress to play against, his version of the Doctor would be less tepid.

    And me, I love River Song! Give me River over Amy ANY DAY!

    Meanwhile, I’m still watching, and hoping the show will improve…

    Thursday, August 18, 2011 at 8:34 pm | Permalink
  10. Trevel wrote:

    But isn’t Stephen Moffat the guy who wrote the wonderful “Coupling”, which had three male and three female leads, and was all about showing relationships from both points of view? So not someone who struggles with writing complete characters for women. I is puzzled.

    I loved Coupling, but it didn’t have six main characters. It had six main stereotypes, and relied a lot on stereotypical male/female behaviour for its humour.

    These stereotypes are funny, but wildly inaccurate and occasionally damaging.

    Rose, Martha, and Donna were characters, and although they had their stereotypical moments they also tended to transcend them. Character arcs involved them changing. For that matter, the Ninth doctor had a great character arc. (The tenth doctor I never quite cared for, from when he first destroyed Britain’s Golden Age in of a moment of spite, to when he decided he hated everyone because, after teaching them that life was worth protecting, got snippy that they decided to try protecting it on their own. So not much of an arc there, I guess?)

    The ninth doctor was a wounded, lonely soul, shattered from a war that took everything from him. “It’s all my fault” — even when it wasn’t. The tenth doctor was The Benevolent Patriarch, who was fine as long as you did things His Way, and threw a fit when you didn’t; who would torture his enemies for eternity, or kill them; but wouldn’t use a gun because *that’s* just wrong. I can only assume that he simply didn’t want “The Great Equalizer” in the hands of lesser beings — i.e., anyone who isn’t him.

    I like the eleventh doctor just for not being him.

    But RTD was a character writer; he explored characterization and (IMO) pretty well sucked at trying to write plot. He reminded me of a six year old telling a story, all waving arms and kabooms without caring if any of it made any sense. He loves firing guns in the third act without putting them on the mantle in the first. Moffat can tell a story — but he sacrifices characterization to the plot; and worse, sacrifices characterization for humour. It’s pretty good humour, generally, but Doctor Who isn’t a sitcom. And when he DOES let a plot grow out of characters, it’s pretty good.

    He’s also pretty sexist, in the “mars/venus” way.

    But I like the character of Amy, because she’s a strong, sex-positive woman. She’s married, but her life doesn’t revolve around her husband — although she does want him around. And she IS poly, whether that ever comes out as official (and even though it seems to be the sort of poly that demands monogamy in others.)

    I like that she’s Amy Pond and they’re Her Boys. Even if it is the simple inversed-patriarchy, it’s so much nicer than the normal patriarchy that we had under RTD. And they DO seem to be moving towards some sort of better balance between them, if slowly and perhaps accidentally.

    I’m withholding judgement on the current season for now. I do think we’re going to continue to see characterization secondary to plot, with Moffat as runner.

    I hope it stops being tertiary to humour.

    Saturday, August 20, 2011 at 3:49 pm | Permalink
  11. Trevel wrote:

    Hm. My attempts at quotifying the first paragraph there got wiped away. I didn’t say it! I just quoted an earlier comment!

    Saturday, August 20, 2011 at 3:50 pm | Permalink
  12. Herb Finn wrote:

    There’s a good reason why Martha and Mickey could hook up – a common connection.

    They have seen things, and done things and are aware of things only a handful of people have the privilege of experiencing thanks to the Doctor.

    That sorta thing can bring people together. I mean who else is going to understand what you’ve experienced?

    Saturday, August 20, 2011 at 9:48 pm | Permalink
  13. Joy wrote:

    Thank you, UnicornsForSale. I can understand where this post is coming from, but just can’t agree.
    More thanks for Kirsten.
    Thanks for those calling out slut-shaming on Amy’s outfits. Actually Karen was quoted as being the one to want to dress that way. She has legs and likes to show them. As a feminist, I approve of this! Show them! Be proud and happy of looking the way you like to look, as an actress or as a character.
    I am a Moffat fan. Also a female. Can’t stand RTD anymore though I admit to adoring Tennant as the Doctor, despite all Teh Angst RTD put him through. I also love Jack Harness, but OH, TORCHWOOD, you hurt me. RTD writes great characters, then he hurts them. It gets really old.
    Great thread of comments all around, even if I disagree with many.

    Monday, August 22, 2011 at 10:54 pm | Permalink
  14. callie wrote:

    Thank you for expressing how I felt about Amy’s development. However, you forgot to add that in Season 6, Amy has really turned into a scream queen. In fact, every episode has one scene where she is just screaming her head off! A very disturbing pattern here, since she seemed to face all kinds of scary monsters in Season 5 and managed to keep calm. It’s like there’s a conscious effort to reduce her character to a stereotype. And I just can’t see her as a married type. I agree with the posters who blame it all on bad writing. Unfortunately, I’m starting to think that while Moffat is a good writer, he’s not a good producer. He was at his strongest when he wrote individual episodes. Running the show however, seems to require a different set of skills.

    Sunday, August 28, 2011 at 9:07 pm | Permalink
  15. andrew wrote:

    I know it’s been a while since this was posted–a month-ish–and people have addressed most of my thoughts in the post and the comments, but I just wanted to say I’d love to see another post when this season ends, if only because most of the DW discussion I’ve found is fannish and no one wants to talk about things like this. THINK ABOUT IT, LINDSAY. Anyway, great thread, all.

    Thursday, September 1, 2011 at 2:43 pm | Permalink