Night of the Living Mary Sues

I don’t really read comics these days, but I used to quite a bit, starting in the 90s. I kind of drifted out of them a few years ago, partly to save money with babies on the way, but mostly because the writers I followed weren’t really producing much anymore, and I wasn’t motivated enough to try out anyone more recent.

On the other hand, fuck it

It was Warren Ellis, Garth Ennis and Alan Moore who really got me into comics – comics fan or not, if you’ve never read Transmetropolitan or Preacher, you’re really missing out. (And if you only saw the movie version of Watchmen, you owe it to yourself to read the original comics*.) A word of warning, though – it’s not always a good idea to go through the rest of their back catalogue. After Preacher ended, a friend recommended Goddess, one of Ennis’ earlier mini-series, and I have to say, reading that made me like Preacher less, because it made me realise that many of the characters I’d loved in Preacher were just iterations of the stock characters that showed up right through Ennis’ body of work.

He’s not the only one to recycle old ideas of course, but where, say, Warren Ellis’ City of Silence feels like just a rough draft of Transmet, the things that annoyed me about the Goddess characters were still there in the later characters, just less so, but seeing their earlier iterations really brought their flaws to the surface.

Which brings me to Doctor Who. I was going over older episodes since its re-launch at the hand of Russell T. Davies, and noticed two things:

  1. The best episodes of every season were, without exception, written by current showrunner Steven Moffat.
  2. Viewed together, Moffat’s episodes seem to show a progression of Mary Sues becoming more and more Mary Sue-ish. The number of times he’s written a female character who’s the most remarkable and amazing person the Doctor’s ever met is becoming a little worrying.

There was Reinette, who utterly entranced the Doctor with her intelligence and strength of character, and who appeared to be able to see into his mind, giving her insight into the Doctor that no-one previously had.

Sally Sparrow (strong, intelligent, etc) wasn’t as overtly fawned over as the others, but that was because she barely met the Doctor, on account of how the whole episode was devoted to her.

Then came River Song, who fascinated the Doctor with her intelligence and strength of character and who appeared to know things about the Doctor no-one else did, hinting at a relationship closer to him than anyone else previously had.

Then Amy Pond, to whom the Doctor was drawn like a month to a candle, who dominated the Doctor with her strength of character and who, over the course of her time with him, developed a stronger relationship with him than anyone previously had (essentially ending up as his mother-in-law).

And now we have Clara, who, in her first appearance, beguiles the Doctor, amazing him with her intelligence and leaving a lasting impression on him with her strength of character. Then a new Clara shows up, and impressed the Doctor with her etc etc to the point that he’s throwing TARDIS keys at her practically as soon as they’re introduced. And now she’s the mystery at the centre of the whole series, a mystery that the Doctor is obsessed with figuring out, creating an obsession in the Doctor in a way that no-one else previously had.**

Ironically, her latest incarnation, despite being the centre of the Doctor’s universe, is probably a step down on the Mary Sue scale – while she can match wits with the Doctor, she doesn’t seem that remarkable as a character at all. As a friend pointed out the other day, in focussing the mystery on who or what she is, the writers have ended up making her actual character flat and relatively uninteresting.

Clara could still pay off if the mystery surrounding her does turn out to make for a good story (similarly, I’m not fussed either way if we find out what the Doctor’s real name is, as long as there’s a good story in it). At the moment, though, I’m not convinced, and more than a little worried that Moffat is running out of ideas.

On the other hand, fuck it – it’s Doctor Who, so it’s still better television than 99% of whatever else is on.

*Technically that goes for all of Alan Moore’s movie adaptations, but Watchmen was the only one that actually had a stab at staying faithful to the source material.

**Now, to be fair, you could say that a lot of this applies to Rose as well, but she was the first companion of the new series, and acted as an audience surrogate for a lot of the earlier episodes, so it made sense to put her at the centre of everything.

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