Last year, I wrote about the overwhelming optimism that drove the characters of the Eleventh Doctor’s era to overcome dark situations that could have destroyed them, and this year I want to return to that theme having now seen the last two episodes of series 9 and how that optimism had transformed but ultimately still triumphed.
Where the Eleventh Doctor’s era could be described much like a children’s fairy tale with characters who are put into truly horrifying situations that they overcome through the power of love, the Twelfth Doctor’s era brought the darker side of those stories into focus. Love remained one of the most powerful forces in the universe, but this era explored the reality that love doesn’t always last a lifetime, even for the main characters.
Rory and Amy left the show when their story was finished, and they lived long, happy lives, dying of old age off screen. We all know Cinderella will one day die and so will Amy Pond, but the picture book ends long before that day. When Amy Pond stopped being the Girl Who Waited, it was the beginning of the end of her time on the show, but River Song and Clara Oswald remained on the show long after the stories of ‘The Woman who Killed the Doctor” and “The Impossible Girl” had been resolved.
And they lived until their lives were cut short in tragic, yet heroic deaths. With the direction the show had been taking in series 8 and 9, their stories could have been bleak reminders of the reality that many people die before they ever reach old age, and what we think of as happily ever after is rare (if not impossible), but instead, their endings came with an acceptance of the inevitability of death, while at the same time allowing these women to control their fate in a way we can only dream of in the real world.
The show did not lose all of its optimism as it grew out of it’s fairy tale era, and instead of telling us that River and Clara won’t get their happily ever afters, it asked us to examine how we define happily ever after. Clara Oswald will face the raven and River Song will go to the Library, but those endings do not prevent them from having their own happily ever afters. These two characters are given the opportunity to seize the time they do have and live it the best they can so that when they die, they will have lived full lives on their own terms.
Happily ever after does not mean forever.
It’s a message we can all take to heart knowing that we too will not live forever.
Clara flies off to see the universe with her new companion, and River Song spends 24 years with the man she loves (and with a vortex manipulator and a time machine, it could easily be more than 24 years). They will both die, just as we will all die, but their stories are neither tragedies nor fairy tales. Their stories are examples of what fantasy does best - addressing the harsh realities of life while allowing the characters to do the things we wish we could do, taking both time and death into their own hands.
“I love coming here ‘cause they hate that I do. […] They wouldn’t let women in the doors until the mid-80s, and then it was only supposed to be well-behaved wives with tiny feet, not hellions like myself. I helped kick open those doors!” – Alex Kingston as Naomi Shropshire in Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life, “Winter.”