Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Fates Worse Than Death : Gillian Philip

I knew it. I knew he couldn't leave her like that. I mean, look at her! She's fab!

I'm still recovering from the Doctor's character development of Sunday night (I'm sorry, it's breathless-fangirl time. If you don't know what I'm talking about it's probably best to move along... but I should add, I'm not giving away any spoilers about Sunday night's episode). My heart was thumping, my kids were going, 'Mum, what just happened?' while I snapped unmotherly things at them about keeping QUIET.

It was a stunner of an episode. It wasn't a weepie, though. It wasn't like the Doctor being separated from Rose forever (BAWL!) in the tradition of Will and Lyra. It wasn't like... Donna Noble.

I would say *Spoiler Alert* at this point, but I think if you want to see Series 4, you'll already have seen it...

The 'death' of Donna Noble at the end of Series 4 was up there with the saddest things I've seen on TV. Oh, heck, it was one of the saddest things I've seen on film or in books or anywhere. 'Worse than death,' says Russell T Davies in The Writer's Tale. He cried when he was writing her fate. I've done that. But that was only when I killed them.

How do you cope with doing what he did to Donna? Killing your darlings, that's one thing. That's nice and final. You can have a good session with the Kleenex and a second bottle of red, go on Facebook and blub (virtually) to your mates.

But taking from your darling everything you've put them through, every experience, every bit of character development, and restoring them to how they were? Like restoring your laptop to factory settings? I don't know how he did it. I mean, I admire him, because what a story! What a tragedy! (I howled, I did.) But I don't know how he could bring himself to do that to her. Oh, it must have hurt.

And then I saw the trailer for the Christmas denouement, right after Sunday's episode. And she's back (or seems to be). Oh joy! I knew he couldn't leave her like that, I just knew it. (Though I probably won't be so delighted when I see what he has in store.) (And if it's just a tease, I'll never forgive the trailer director.)

The funny thing is, Donna's story wasn't meant to happen. The Writer's Tale begins with the chaos of what RTD calls the Maybe in his head - the place where he's planning a life, a history and a future for a new character called Penny. (He describes the Maybe so beautifully - all those ideas roiling away in a stew in the writer's head.) But when Catherine Tate's Runaway Bride makes an unplanned return as the Doctor's companion, it's Penny who dies.

She never really existed, of course - she never got that far -but you can sense RTD mourning her anyway. It was Penny who was supposed to have the stroppy attitude and the stargazing grandad, but she never got the chance. There's a sad little sketch in the book, done by RTD, that shows Penny walking past the Tardis, on into a Doctorless future, never knowing what she's missed.

RTD wonders if Penny does still exist, out there in the Maybe, living a life that isn't the one he planned. I've had characters like that; I'm sure we all have. Now, I often wonder how the characters who lived are doing. (I don't just mean the ones who didn't die, I mean the ones who came into existence on the page.) I wonder if they're still together; if they're happy or tormented or still alive, even. But how often do I think about the ones who were strangled at birth?

OK, there were the characters who just didn't work. Somewhere they're preserved in jars of mental formaldehyde, freaks and mutants and ugly failed experiments, poked and prodded occasionally by brain gremlins who shake their heads and move on, knowing there's nothing to be done with them.

But what about the minor characters who could have lived and breathed, but just didn't have a plot to do it in? What about Will, rudely elbowed out by Nick who I liked better? I told myself it was a name change; it wasn't. Will was a different boy (probably a nicer boy). And how about the lovers from those failed romance novels, the ones that (fortunately) never saw publication? Did they not get their happy-ever-after, then?

I'm never going to know, because they don't belong to me any more. They walked past in the rain, and went off to live out their lives in the Maybe.

But don't mind me, I'm just melancholy from having to wait till CHRISTMAS! to find out what happens to Donna, and the Master (gasp!), and most of all, the alarmingly altered Doctor...



madwippitt said...

I'm still reeling from it too! Donna was my favourite assistant (and I remember them all eeek) ... I just hope her brain doesn't explode ...

Stroppy Author said...

What a fantastic post, Gillian - thank you :-) You and me both, we kill and torment our characters, but only those lucky enough to make it to the page. Those who don't get kidnapped as sex slaves, pursued by ghosts, mutilated and slaughtered - they're the ones we should be sorry for, you're so right!

Catherine Czerkawska said...

Excellent post Gillian - and very thought provoking too. You're so right. Some characters arrive almost 'whole' and some never quite make it, but what of those whose futures we delete? I've just done that to one of the characters in the novel - it's still there in my head, I know what happens to her - but it's one of those things that detracts from the main story, so nobody else needs to know. And at the same time, I've been forced to interrogate the past of another character - and what a can of worms that opened!
As for the Doctor - that was mind-blowing! How can we wait for Christmas?

Anonymous said...

Everyone who thinks they want to write should read The Writer's Tale - even if they're not a Who Fan! It is such an honest account of how difficult the whole process is.

Oh and by all accounts you'll definitely need the tissues out for the two final episodes over Christmas.

Danielle said...

I too love Dr Who, but too be frank your post really reminded me why I loved reading the Inkheart trilogy. I'm sure there must be a world out there where all characters just live their lives without the writers (or readers) interfering.