“Fourteen years since fish custard. Amy Pond, the girl who waited, you’ve waited long enough.”
There exists lot of contention around the use of monikers of Steven Moffat’s female characters on Doctor Who. One of the more fascinating questions relates to how the titles “The Impossible Girl” and “The Girl Who Waited” are bestowed upon Amy and Clara, and what conclusions can be drawn from this. While it is true that they are given to them by the Doctor early in their stories, reading a problematic nature into this is, in my opinion, a mistake. In fact, I would argue that at the basis of this lies a rather simple misunderstanding.
RTD wrote about ordinary people doing extraordinary things and so it is unsurprising that the companions’ monikers represent their shining moment at the culmination of their season arc. The monikers of Moffat’s women mean something entirely else. Amy finishes her story as neither a child nor as someone who waits. The execution and resolution of Clara’s series 7 arc tells us she is so much more than “impossible”. And that, exactly, is the point. RTD era titles signified the final stage in constructing a character, whereas in the Moffat era they represent a character’s beginning and serve as a place of deconstruction.
Neither of these approaches is better or worse, but judging Moffat by the standards of the former is not only wrong. It misses the depth and beauty of his character writing.
First of all, no real human being could be summed up in a few words and neither should fictional characters. As such, monikers cannot fully represent a character, whatever sentiment they express, and to assess characters by their moniker rather than by their characterisation or development is a fallacy. It is self-explanatory that any meaningful analysis will have to consider context and information not embodied in their title.
We cannot primarily see Rose as the otherworldly creature she became when she looked into the time vortex. Donna’s importance extends beyond touching the Doctor’s spare hand, with the resulting meta crisis and the incredible heroics which followed. Martha was breathtakingly amazing before she saved the world by telling the whole earth about the Doctor on foot. Nevertheless, “Bad Wolf”, “The Most Important Woman in the Whole of Creation” and “The Woman Who Walked the Earth”, whether established on the show or fandom-given, suggest a certain spirit, an achievement, a triumph. This does not imply that these are truly their most amazing moments, if such a ranking is indeed possible; instead they should be seen as symbolic for the full range of awesomeness displayed by Rose, Martha, and Donna.
If judged in this context, Moffat falls flat; it almost seems like fails to give his female characters “proper” monikers. It would be difficult to accept “waiting” as something which is representative for Amy’s accomplishments, however much it relates to endurance and survival. Clara’s main title could potentially serve a purpose in this context, but she is called “The Impossible Girl” long before she steps into the Doctor’s time stream and saves the day.
There are two possible conclusions to here. Either this reveals a significant flaw in Moffat’s writing. It would suggest that the man who has shown a predilection to provide his characters with monikers like no other writer on New Who is actually pretty bad at it. Clara has no fewer than three – “The Impossible Girl”, “Soufflé Girl”, “The Woman Twice Dead”, and that’s not even counting Oswin’s “The Girl Who Can” – and none of them fit the bill perfectly.
Or, alternatively, the context is wrong. Considering the larger picture, I would argue that Moffat’s use of monikers is decidedly different, because it reveals a very different approach. All his main female characters are given their names early in their time with the Doctor or in their timeline. Amy starts out as “The Girl Who Waited”. Clara was “The Woman Twice Dead” when she had not taken a single step into the TARDIS yet, and “The Impossible Girl” not much later. What they are called is their starting point. They are ultimately more complex than that, they make different choices, and they are shown in contexts in which their title proves to be either incorrect or flawed – and deliberately so.
Amy exemplifies this. “The Girl Who Waited” is a catchy phrase at a time where a rough sketch of her is most valuable and useful to the viewer, in her very first episode. Waiting is not a romanticised act, even in the enchanted place which her garden appears to be. It arguably othered her further in an environment in which she never fit in in the first place. Like the crack in her bedroom wall, it ate away at her ability to trust and fed her fear of being abandoned.
“Fourteen years since fish custard. Amy Pond, the girl who waited, you’ve waited long enough.”
It is meaningful, because it tells us something essential to her backstory, about what formed her as a character. She is purposefully presented in the context of her childhood, because growing up is a central theme to her character development. Waiting that night, waiting all those years, is the beginning of the journey of Amy Pond, and while it is not an exclusively passive one – waiting is persistence, holding on to what you believe takes strength – its resonance is multifaceted.
“Poor Amy Pond. Still such a child inside.”
Childhood is belief, it is wonder, and it is adventure. It is flying in space, red hair flowing among the stars, in a nightgown. Amelia Pond, out of a fairy tale, has shed the name, but she is still chasing the story. And yet, “The Girl Who Waited” is deconstructed immediately. The girl waited, but she waited for leaving, and now she does not stay. Instead she runs, runs from growing up, runs away from that empty house and the wedding dress hanging in her closet. She runs together with the man who’s always been running.
“I grew up.” – “Don’t worry. I’ll soon fix that.”
But where the Doctor keeps running, at least until that fateful day when he reaches Trenzalore, Amy does not stagnate. The Doctor cannot keep this rash promise, and neither should he – she changes, develops, grows. The theme of “waiting” is always there, in the background, playing its role in constructing and deconstructing her character, in its depth. Most importantly, Amy learns that she can depend on others, that other people will wait for her, and if it takes multiple life times.
“Two thousand years. The boy who waited.”
The Girl Who Waited finds her match in the legend on a man who guarded the Pandorica for 2000 years, and the reality of the boy who has always been there for her. She demands for the Doctor to appear at her wedding and he appears as she summons him, as she creates him with nothing but the power of her memory. Amy Pond can know now, that when she waits, the universe might just bend to her will, there will be someone who comes for her. But she also comes to understand that while trust matters, blind faith is not the answer.
“For The Girl Who’s Tired of Waiting”, the billboard reads, turning her beginning on its head.
But the major events of her life never represent the end of her story. Getting engaged isn’t, falling in love isn’t, marriage isn’t – these are all just stepping stones in her development. It is of great credit of to the writing that it always strikes a balance between showing how she grows and considering what came before, driving forward the former, but always acknowledging the effect of the latter. And so we see how she finds value in “real life”, apart from the magic of adventure, but she still struggles with it, as anyone with her history would.
“Yeah, well, I can’t settle. Every minute I’m listening out for that stupid TARDIS sound… I can’t not wait for you, even now.”
But she gets better at it. Her relationship with Rory weathers the storms of both lives, and their intersecting tragedies. In writing she finds a profession which she will hold onto, even as she can’t quite make herself let go of the Doctor just yet. (The girl with the name of out of a fairy tale, whose childhood tales were true, whose imagination breathed life into an Auton soldier, of course she would end up as a storyteller.) And then, finally, she turns to the Weeping Angel, away from the Doctor. And much more significantly, can find happiness there.
“We think it’s been ten years. Not for you or Earth, but for us. Ten years older. Ten years of you, on and off.” – “Look at you now. All grown up.”
By then, she isn’t a girl anymore and she has decided against waiting. The Doctor didn’t fix her “problem” of growing up, he just became part of her story to get there. Her moniker is the first chapter, not meaningless, just incapable of describing who Amy Pond becomes. There was once a girl, in her garden, waiting. But we don’t need any title for her now; we know who Amy Pond is in all her glory.
Clara’s introduction to the show is as a mystery. Meeting Oswin Oswald at the Dalek Asylum and Clara Oswin Oswald in Victorian London, sparks not only the Doctor’s interest, but the viewers’ as well. This is how we first get to meet her, balanced by the fact that Clara is simply likeable. She has a charming personality, she is smart, she holds her own even when she is visibly afraid, and insights into her history and her everyday life make her appear real. That young woman, confronting the Old God with nothing but a leaf in her hand, is very much a person of her own. And yet the open questions surrounding her remain…
“She can’t be. She is. She can’t be. She’s not possible.”
But as the story progresses, we see the Doctor’s and our perception of Clara challenged repeatedly. Clara does not accept being seen as somebody else’s ghost. The Doctor’s actions in Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS scare her and frame his behaviour as genuinely disturbing. His secrets don’t protect her, in fact, her remembering is essential for Clara’s ability to make her decision later, in the finale. Emma’s words might be the most poignant assertion that treating Clara as a mystery is wrong.
“She’s a perfectly ordinary girl. Very pretty, very clever, more scared than she lets on.” – “And that’s it, is it?” – “Why? Is that not enough?”
This is found again the culmination of the arc, which is in fact a subversion of the audience’s expectations. Clara Oswald turns out to be… just Clara, who made a brave choice to save the life of her best friend and entire star systems with him. Guided by the knowledge that she can be successful, she scatters herself in all of time and space. The Impossible Girl was a normal one, after all. And she is led back into her own world by the leaf which brought her parents together, the impossible achieved once again, because of who she was, long before she met the Doctor.
“I was born to save the Doctor, but the Doctor is safe now. I’m the Impossible Girl, and my story is done.”
The Impossible Girl the story of Clara’s echoes, which she created to save the Doctor. (They were born to save the Doctor, not she.) But it is not Clara’s only one, not a summary of everything Clara was, is, and will be. In a rather tongue-in-cheek turn, the only time “The Impossible Girl” is invoked in series 8, it is in the literal form of a riddle.
“Impossible Girl. Lunch on the other side?”
The same episode ends on a heart-felt plea to be seen. It is a mirror to the Doctor’s and Clara’s dynamic in series 7, not only deconstructed but turned on its head. This time it is the Doctor, who begs to be recognised for who he is, not Clara asking to travel with him as herself. This time it is Clara looking, where previously the Doctor proclaimed, accused even, that he could not understand her. A new face stands in the place of two ghosts, separating them.
“You look at me, and you can’t see me. Have you any idea what that’s like?”
Clara accepts him and with that new stories follow. And Clara holds so many of them. The story of a teacher, the story of a new, more abrasive form of heroism. Not tragic self-sacrifce, but bold problem-solving and judging events on balance. So as time progresses, should there have been any doubt before, she is revealed to be much less flawless than the Eleventh Doctor presumed she was.
“Clara. My Clara. Always brave, always funny, always exactly what I need. Perfect. Too perfect.”
She’s a control freak and a liar, and she is very much capable of making the wrong choice. She almost did not push that button in Kill the Moon, after all, in spite of the infinite faith the Doctor held that she could be trusted to make the right decision. Under a mask of cheerfulness, bravery, and cleverness hides a much more ruthless, imperfect person. Clara is human. She isn’t any more an ideal than she is a mystery, and pushed too far, she will even betray her best friend.
There should be little doubt that Amy and Clara are compelling characters with great achievements, both in their travels with the Doctor and outside of it.
Amy saves the star whale and Starship UK, saves Earth from destruction by the Daleks, negotiates peace with the Silurians, and she remembers the Doctor back into existence. Amy is the first one to realise out how the Silence works and rescues River from torture by the Teselecta, and figures out what is wrong with a star ship full of dinosaurs. She murders the person who took her child from her. And just as importantly, she learns that there are people she can count on and she strives to make a life for herself she can be happy with. It is nothing short of inspiring to see how Amy lives vivaciously even when terrible things happen to her.
Clara saves an alien civilisation from the Old God, she convinces an Ice Warrior not to destroy Earth, and rescues the Doctor when he gets stuck in a pocket universe. She scatters herself in all of time and space, and saves her best friend and whole star systems with him, and prevents the Doctor from committing genocide against his own people. She effortlessly manipulates the Sheriff of Nottingham and successfully tricks the Boneless. Clara recognises the value of fear, even as she grows more naturally unafraid, and casts herself in the heroine of her own story, closer and closer to the Doctor’s role as the series progresses.
They learn and change, not necessarily always for the better, but to make them all the more fascinating. Their titles becomes a place for this change, an idea to be challenged and deconstructed. But they have the names of people who loved and lost, who made mistakes and wrote history. These names are Amelia Pond and Clara Oswald. The story never forgets it. So make it count.
“The Moffat Era and Monikers: ‘The Girl Who Waited’ and ‘The Impossible Girl’ in Context,” ©tillthenexttimedoctor, originally posted on November 18, 2014