SCARVES AND CELERY – “Worse than Everybody’s Aunt!”: Authority Figures, Childhood, and Trauma in “The Eleventh Hour”

I’m going to start this essay with a content warning. Towards the end of this article, I will be discussing themes of child sex abuse and PTSD, and the way they relate to “The Eleventh Hour”. A fair chunk of this essay won’t be discussing those themes, so I’ve made it clear in the body of the essay when we do start approaching them. But if people would rather not read at all for the sake of self care, then I fully understand. I hope I’ve handled the discussion of those themes respectfully.


As the Moffat era draws to a close, let’s go back to where it all began. The Eleventh Doctor clinging on to a crashing TARDIS, and a little girl with a crack in her wall praying to Santa.

Rory, and setting up subversion of the Mickey Problem

Let’s start our analysis with Rory, who has the slightest role in the story out of the Pond era’s three regulars, but nonetheless gets material that is particularly significant on rewatch. While it’s easy to miss on the first watch, a rewatch does a lot to show that Rory won’t just be straightforwardly taking on the “Mickey role” – the boyfriend the companion leaves for adventures with the Doctor*. His pictures of Prisoner Zero are key to the resolution of the plot, granting him narrative worth and respect Mickey isn’t given in “Rose”.

Where, for example, Mickey and Jackie are introduced in relation to Rose, Rory isn’t introduced in relation to Amy, but as a part of his own story, focusing on his struggle to convince Dr Ramsden that he has seen coma patients walking around town, being held back from advancing the plot and dismissed as delusional and overworked by the authority figures in his workplace. We’re meant to sympathise with him being dismissed for blatantly being right, not see him as an obstacle to the fun of Amy’s adventures with the Doctor. This is especially clear dues to the nature of his conflict with Ramsden: he recognises the signs of an alien invasion, unlike Ramsden, and is, as a result, positioned as a character who recognises the signs he is in a sci-fi story. And this is significant: unlike Mickey in “Rose”, Rory is immediately established as being a character who understands a Doctor Who narrative, and who can fit into it even as it doesn’t come naturally to him.

That’s of course egregiously simplify ing Mickey’s storyline, when he is frankly a more complex character than that summary implies. I think understanding what I’m now going to dub “The problem of Mickey” requires an understanding of the context of several things. Firstly, the fandom’s response to Mickey, the way this response stems from the framing of his storyline in series one and two. Secondly, the way this framing colours the assumptions, both in show and in fandom, about the nature of the companion-Doctor relationship, with some form of romantic connection between the Doctor and Compnaion being treated as inevitable throughout the RTD era: even Donna and the tenth Doctor’s platonic friendship is made clear only by having the Doctor and Donna deny that they’re in a romantic relationship on a more or less episodic basis. Thirdly, the way this affects the role of the tertiary companions, particular “companion boyfriend” characters like Rory and Danny, both of whom have been called “the new Mickey” by parts of fandom, both in the early stages of their story, and after their time on the show had ended.

 

The Doctor, and Relaunching a Show

The first thing to note about the way “The Eleventh Hour” portrays the Eleventh Doctor is the way it’s structured around showing off it’s leading man. It’s a sensible approach given that the episode’s following on from David Tennant, still a fan favourite, and the man who’s very much the face of Doctor Who in the public consciousness. Having Matt Smith’s Doctor present in almost every scene really gives him as much of a chance to win the public over to the new Doctor as possible. It’s a trick “The Pilot” later applies equally effectively when introducing Bill as Pearl Mackie. And the script and actor go on the charm offensive in the biggest way possible, pulling out all the stops to win us over to the new Doctor, culminating in the “Hello, I’m the Doctor” rooftop speech.

The Doctor’s storyline in this episode is structured around breaking everything that makes him the hero he is, before building it up again. He starts the episode in an exploding TARDIS, is wearing the ragged remains of David Tennant’s costume, and loses the old sonic screwdriver halfway through the story. But by the end of the episode, having vanquished the alien threat without these items, he can claim his own, original, versions of them: the bow tie and tweed costume, the wonderful steampunk TARDIS, and the green sonic screwdriver.

But as well as establishing Smith’s Doctor as the new hero, and a worthy replacement for Tennant, the episode asks some interesting questions about the Doctor. This highlighted by Amelia asking him “Are you a policeman?”. Throughout the episode, the Doctor is compared to multiple authority figures: an actual Doctor (with Rory assuming the comatose patients are calling out to Dr Ramsden when they are calling out for the Doctor), a policeman, Santa, and even a fireman when he drives a fire truck, but the episode refuses to pin down what type of authority figure he is, is even suspicious of the notion that we should think of him as one. It’s notable that the Doctor makes multiple comedic failed attempts at being a figure of authority, claiming he’s “worse than everybody’s aunt”, and awkwardly shouting “who da man?” before finally successfully being a greater authority than the Atraxi, and calling them out on their abuse of the laws of Shadow Proclamation. And this final invoking of authority will be directly critiqued later in the same era, when we get to “A Good Man Goes to War”.

 

Amy, Childhood, and Buried Trauma

Just as Amelia asking the Doctor if he’s a policeman asks important questions about his relationship to authority, his question in response asks important questions about her relationship with Authority. “Did you call a policeman?” he asks Amelia, but we know she didn’t. Or, she did. But not in the usual way:

Dear Santa. Thank you for the dolls and pencils and the fish. It’s Easter now, so I hope I didn’t wake you, but honest, it is an emergency. There’s a crack in my wall. Aunt Sharon says it’s just an ordinary crack, but I know it’s not, because at night there’s voices, so please, please, could you send someone to fix it? Or a policeman. Or a…

The hint that we’re meant to take from the dialogue is, of course, that Amelia was about to ask Santa to send a Doctor: the first line of the episode groups the Doctor with other figures of protection, authority, and fictional heroes like Santa, a comparison that will, of course, be explored in a few series’ time. Amelia choosing to pray to Santa is also a quick way to establish the key themes of her character: the fairy tale tone of era, and the coming of age story central to her development. It’s also a telling example of the episode undermining traditional authority, as she prays to a fictional figure, not to any God.

And the Doctor’s question about Amelia calling policeman also gets at another important aspect of her character: the sense that something might have happened to her that necessitates calling a policeman. But her mistrust of adult authority runs throughout the episode: she doesn’t feel safe calling the police directly, but still asks Santa to send for them. And when the Doctor tells her he’ll come back for her, she responds by saying “People always say that”. Her abandonment issues, and the sense that she doesn’t believe the adults in her life will be there for her, are established straight away. With these notes recognised, let’s put a pin in this thread in the episode, and come back to it at the end of the essay.

But it is not just the Doctor Who is compared to the police in this episode: Amy also poses as a police officer, tricking the Doctor into thinking she has called for back up when she is in fact just wearing one of her kissogram costumes. It’s another example of the episode questioning police based authority, this time by subverting our understanding of the nature of the scene where Amy captures and handcuffs the Doctor: we are lead to believe he has been arrested for breaking and entering, but slowly learn that Amy’s actions instead stem from her shock at seeing her childhood imaginary friend return to her twelve years too late.

Completing the episode’s motif surrounding police and authority figures are the Atraxi. And they visibly represent the flaws of the justice system (“prisoner Zero will vacate the human residence or the human residence will be incinerated” being a blatant homage to the “hyperspace bypass” joke in “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”, itself a parody of the extremes of bureaucracy), being a parody of violent, heavy-handed police officers, who flout the laws they are supposed to follow when pursuing prisoner Zero, attempting to incinerate an entire planet in response to the dangerous prisoner they were supposed to be guarding escaping their prison. I’ve seen fans complain that it’s unbelievable that River would be arrested for the Doctor’s murder in series six, but when these guys and the Judoon are in charge of law enforcement in the Doctor Who universe, can we really be surprised at the miscarriage of justice that is River’s imprisonment?

And the police aren’t the only adult authority invoked in this episode:

AMY: Twelve years and four psychiatrists.

DOCTOR: Four?

AMY: I kept biting them.

DOCTOR: Why?

AMY: They said you weren’t real.

This quote establishes a key characterisation detail for Amelia: that she is a violent child. She will be consistently written as something of a tomboy, and a misfit: “the Scottish girl in the English village”. That she is somewhat out-of-place in the everyday world is a key theme of her story. It is also the first explicit link to themes of mental illness for her character, and another example of her being let down by the adults in her life, as the psychiatrists (admittedly not unreasonably) dismiss her belief in the Doctor as a childhood delusion, much as Rory seeing the patients out of the hospital is dismissed by his superiors in the workplace.

Also significant to the episode’s exploration of Amy are the following quotes:

AMELIA: Are you all right, mister?

DOCTOR: No, I’m fine. It’s okay. This is all perfectly norm-

(A breath of golden energy comes from his mouth.)

AMELIA: Who are you?

DOCTOR: I don’t know yet. I’m still cooking. Does it scare you?

AMELIA: No, it just looks a bit weird.

DOCTOR: No, no, no. The crack in your wall. Does it scare you?

“AMELIA: I don’t even have a mum and dad. Just an aunt.

DOCTOR: I don’t even have an aunt.

AMELIA: You’re lucky.

DOCTOR: I know. So, your aunt, where is she?

AMELIA: She’s out.

DOCTOR: And she left you all alone?

AMELIA: I’m not scared.

DOCTOR: Course, you’re not. You’re not scared of anything. Box falls out of the sky, man falls out of a box, man eats fish custard, and look at you, just sitting there. So you know what I think?

AMELIA: What?

DOCTOR: Must be a hell of a scary crack in your wall.

The first thing to note here is that Amy’s relationship with her aunt is visibly not a happy one: aunt Sharon left seven-year-old child alone in the house at night, making her another adult authority figure in the story to fail their duty of care for Amelia. Significantly, Amelia thinks the Doctor is “lucky” not to have an aunt, and later in the episode, adult Amy tells the Doctor he’s worse than her Aunt for being shocked by her career as a kissogram. The Doctor’s response of “I know” to Amelia’s claim he’s lucky not to have an Aunt is also interesting. It can be read as an example of the Doctor’s unwillingness to talk about Gallifrey Smith’s Doctor will later be described as “the man who forgets”, after all. But it can also be read as the show reestablishing the Doctor’s uneasy relationship with his home planet, often de-emphasized in the Davies era, with the Doctor usually remembering the positives of Gallifrey due to his grief at losing his entire race. This response serves as a subtle hint that the Doctor may not be the biggest fan of the authority figures on his home planet, and at his lonely childhood, hinted at in Moffat’s Davies era scripts and explored in greater depth in “Listen”.

But on the subject of “Listen”, for me, the most interesting aspect of these quotes is the way the show approaches the theme of fear, and childhood fears. In both quotes, an emphasis is placed the things conventional wisdom dictates Amelia should be scared by: the crazy man who climbed out of a box with glowing energy coming from his hands, and being a child left alone in her house at night, and Amelia assumes that those things are what the Doctor thinks scare her, presumably because these are things adults usually expect her to be scared by, so she insists that she isn’t scared of them. But on both occasions, the Doctor recognises her real fear of the crack in her wall, and her lack of fear of the things that would scare most people. As a result, he doesn’t dismiss her fear of the crack in the wall as a childhood obsession, as Amelia’s prayer to Santa reveals Aunt Sharon does, and instead helps her address it, listening to her fears about it, and helping her address why it scares her.

And the final piece of “The Eleventh Hour” that needs to be understood when addressing the ideas the episode is communicating comes through the themes of perception and sight. Much like Moffat’s other “Doctor introduction” story, this is a script built heavily around the theme of perception, and what we see. It’s an interesting and relevant theme to explore when your main character gets a new face. Unlike “Deep Breath”, which builds this idea around the theme of faces and veils, “The Eleventh Hour” explores the theme of perception through the act of looking. Eyes are a visual motif throughout the episode (and will continue to be throughout the Moffat era), with the Atraxi’s giant eye looking through the crack in space and time, and a close up on Amy’s eye as she sees the extra door in her house for the first time. And her seeing Prisoner Zero after disobeying the Doctor and going into the extra room is key to capturing prisoner Zero after it exploits its mental link with Amy: “Remember what you saw” the Doctor says to Amy.

But what did Amy see? Well, here I’ll need to be sensitive, because we’re going to be addressing some dark, potentially triggering themes here. So, the earlier content warnings about discussion of child sex abuse and PTSD apply directly from here on out. For anyone who wanted to  read the rest of the essay, but understandably doesn’t want to read about those issues here, this is the place to stop.

The brilliant Jane Campbell discusses the way “The Eleventh Hour” invokes said themes better than I ever could, in her fantastic essay “The Circle in the Square”:

“Prisoner Zero has been “in” Amy’s house since she was a little girl.  When she finally enters that room as an adult, what does she find?  A phallic symbol covered in viscous goo, and a monster that’s fairly phallic in its own right.  To me, the subtext is practically screaming childhood sexual abuse.  Which her parents or guardians failed to protect her from.  We see that she’s often left alone, hence her issues with abandonment. […] This, I would argue, is what the “crack” in her wall actually points  to – two parts of space and time that should never have touched, pressed together.  A trauma that should never have happened.  It could be any trauma, really – the image of a Crack is non-specific enough that it could stand for anything.  Anything.  Getting diddled by the babysitter.  Bit by a dog, or accosted by the gardener.  Hell, losing your parents. Ostracized by your peers, or at war with your own body.  Whatever it was that happened that shouldn’t have happened, but still happened.

This is all subtext, I realize that.  But what a subtext.  I’m not suggesting that it was the Doctor – the figure that emerges from that “forgotten” (i.e. repressed) bedroom in that old house isn’t the Doctor, it’s another man, the angry man with a dog.  Later, in the first climax of the episode, Prisoner Zero practically tries to gaslight Amy, who’s rendered unconscious, by pulling up an image of her holding hands with the Doctor […] as if to implicate her, but the Doctor’s able to help Amy dig deeper into her subconscious and identify the real monster who’s terrorized her since she was a little girl. Those shots of her rummaging around in her memory are jagged, edgy, difficult.”

To be clear, Amy isn’t explicitly or canonically abused as a child. As Jane Campbell says, this is all subtext. But here, it’s worth rembering the type of story “The Eleventh Hour” is: The Moffat era as a whole, but particularly the early Eleventh Doctor’s era, establish a fairy tale tone from the start (once again, see Amy’s prayer to Santa). So we’re in the realm of “Goblin Market”, “Little Red Riding Hood”, or “Peter Pan” (the latter two of which are invoked in relation to Amy’s character throughout the season, particularly through her outfits in “The Beast Below” and “The Time of Angels/ Flesh and Stone”) all children’s stories that subtextually address heavier themes of coming of age, child abuse, and sexual awakening through their subtext. This is notably different to the way the Moffat era will be addressing these themes come Capaldi’s time as the Doctor: trauma, loss and grief are addressed far more directly, without the fairytale metaphor. In many ways, this shift in approach reflects the way the Moffat era ages with its audience. This isn’t to say that the Capaldi era’s approach to difficult subject matter is more mature or inherently better than that of the early Smith era, just different. But when the series addresses these themes through Amy’s character, particularly in series five, it’s on those fairytale terms.

But the themes surrounding Amy’s character in “The Eleventh Hour”, along with some pointed dialogue, build on this dark fairytale subtext to create a character whose behaviour, motivations, and concerns echo with real world abuse survivors. The line “did you call a policeman?”, that leaves one asking why Amelia might have wanted to call a policeman, her suspiscion of authority figures and lack of trust in adults, the abandonment issues, the pyschiatrists she went to see, and mental health issues that are linked to her character, all contribute to Amy coming across as a woman who is trying to process something terrible that happened to her as a child. Sure, Amy is canonically messed up by the Doctor accidentally leaving her behind for fourteen years, but it’s notable that the significant themes and characteristics: suspicion of authority, abandonment issues, the sense she doesn’t quite fit in the life she has been given, are established in the Doctor’s early scenes with Amelia. “The Eleventh Hour” makes it clear that there is something wrong in Amelia’s life before the Doctor arrives.

So the hidden room and the crack in the wall both serve as symbols of the childhood trauma that defines Amy throughout series five, and really for the whole of her run. As Jane Campell suggests, fairy tale metaphors that enables the show to explore themes that otherwise can’t be explored directly in in a mainstream family television show (1) . The extra room, fitting with the early novel tradition of rooms of the house representing parts of the mind, becomes a potent representation for Amy’s repressed memories, of something terrible she knows exists, but doesn’t dare to confront head on. And the crack in the wall becomes a symbol of everything Amy’s lost, the sense that there is a gap in her life that she can’t fully understand or explain, of her trauma eating away at her until her loss and repression have left her without a key part of herself.

“AMY: I grew up.

DOCTOR: Don’t worry, I’ll soon fix that.”

“The Eleventh Hour” is a story about what happens when a child is let down by the adults and authority figures in their life, about the trauma they have to deal with as a result. It’s about the role of the coming of age narrative, told in the form of a companion’s travels with the Doctor, in response to a story of loss and trauma. The above quote expresses the role of a Doctor Who coming of age narrative in that situation most clearly. Amy is defined as a character who was forced to grow up before her time, so her coming of age story gives her the chance to make peace with her childhood loss, discover the joys of a happy childhood, and truly reconcile her past with the adult she has become.


(1) Although here, it’s worth pointing out that Moffat’s first ever television show, Press Gang, directly addresses child abuse in its second series, with the two part serial “Something Terrible”, written while consulting the NSPCC. So while proving authorial intention isn’t necessary to make this reading of “The Eleventh Hour” and Amy’s  storyline, it is conceivable that Steven Moffat may have wanted to address these themes in a way that works for Doctor Who.

8 thoughts on “SCARVES AND CELERY – “Worse than Everybody’s Aunt!”: Authority Figures, Childhood, and Trauma in “The Eleventh Hour”

  1. so coincidentally the dwm that just came out has a long fact of fiction feature on the eleventh hour which is chockful of interesting stuff (since moffat had a year to write it he actually wrote five formal drafts so there’s plenty to pull from) including that there originally was actually a scene w/ aunt sharon at the beginning that basically showed her ignoring amy’s concerns & abandoning her to go out

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Speaking to the themes of perception, one of the things I’ve always loved about this episode is how adult Amy is introduced. The shots are full of male gaze-y cinematography, and in some ways create for the audience the idea that Amy is just a pair of legs or a pretty face. This style of shooting is immediately done away with when it’s revealed who Amy is, and the rest of the episode challenges those ideas by showcasing her complexity and her intelligence (particularly in the climax, when she uses her brain to reveal Prisoner Zero to the Atraxi).

    Liked by 1 person

    • Great points! Jane Campbell makes some similar observations about the episode’s use and subversion of the male gaze, which I didn’t want to rip off too much in this essay – she points out that after the camera pans up Amy’s legs in a textbook example of the male gaze, the scene transitions to focussing on Amy’s gaze, and the hidden room that she couldn’t previously see. And when she disobeys the Doctor and goes into the room, she sees Prisoner Zero’s true form, a moment that is later used to defeat prisoner zero.

      Like

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