Sunday, December 13, 2015

Susan : In the Beginning


Susan (Carole Ann Ford) was the Doctor's first companion and the first to leave the series. The Doyleist reason for leaving was that Carole Ann Ford didn't feel that Susan was the part she was promised it would be. And, watching her stories, you can see what she means. Only in The Unearthly Child and The Sensorites is Susan anything more than a slightly hysterical peril monkey. Too many writers treat her like a child - see the slightly uncomfortable 'smack bottom' line from The Doctor in The Dalek Invasion of Earth as the most egregious example.

The thing is she is supposed to be the child of an advanced civilisation. There are hints of her having telepathic powers - which flower in The Sensorites - but which never get seen again. It isn't the best part for an actress, especially when hopes of something more have been wafted in front of your face.

Susan also seems to have always been less keen on the wandering lifestyle that the Doctor seems to enjoy. She wanted to settle down on Earth for a bit and go to school, even though she can't really be learning much - particularly in sciences - that she doesn't already know. She refers to wanting to 'belong' and when the Doctor talks about going home she seems keen. Perhaps keener than he is. It all comes to a head in The Dalek Invasion of Earth when she meets David Campbell and seems to have found a place and a person to 'belong', even though she is caught between her desire to stay in one time and place and her worries for her grandfather.

The potential for Susan was, alas, never realised.

The other issue with Susan, of course, is that she's created a problem for Doctor Who fans ever since. Because she's the Doctor's granddaughter, which implies a family for a character that, for a long time afterwards, avoided any of the baggage of family. Until New Doctor Who picked up on it. Although we've still never seen Susan in the new series - despite Capaldi's recent pitching that as a thing he'd like to see. We've seen her, and her son, in Big Finish though. Used quite effectively.

Also there's not just all the questions of relatives and sex that follow on from Susan's existence but the questions of her Time Lordness. Some people have tried to suggest that she's not really the Doctor's granddaughter but some kind of waif that he picked up and who calls him grandfather as some kind of sign of affection. That fails to take into account their talk of their home world and Susan knowing what Gallifrey...

In fact here's a clunking point with Susan. We've had to retrospectively question who she is because during her time in the series we don't get to know much about her or the Doctor at all. There's no real strong hint that they're not human beings. Even the line about her home planet in The Sensorites doesn't preclude them being humans from the future. The TARDIS is clearly technology beyond the realm of current humanity but that doesn't mean much in a science-fiction series. There's no hint that the Doctor has two hearts or is capable of anything as drastic or impressive a regeneration. There are no Time Lords. This isn't the 'First' Doctor. This is just The Doctor. The only Doctor.

When Susan was created no one had any idea of what was to follow. So it is us as fans and those fans who now write for Doctor Who either on television, in novels or Big Finish that have created - or tried to create - theories of Susan.

So here's mine. I think there is a difference between Time Lords and Gallifreyans. Something - a ceremony of some kind (see The End of Time & the Untempered Schism) - is what divides the two. I assume this includes regeneration, which can also be in the gift of the Time Lords as we have seen in The Five Doctors and Time of the Doctor. It might not even be a natural process. So the Doctor fled Gallifrey with Susan before she'd become a Time Lord. The fact that when she appears in The Five Doctors she appears to have aged and that the same thing seems to apply in the Big Finish stories that she is in.

If she was a Time Lord - and could regenerate - then the Doctor abandoning her on Earth seems cruel. To both her and David Campbell. Unless he was intending to come back and pick her up at some point. But just keeps getting distracted.

Of course, there is the possibility that he picked her up in some unseen adventure and took her home finally. Or realizing the Time War was coming along hide her somewhere safe and out of the firing line. Or...

Theory on theory on theory.

And that is Susan's enduring legacy. The possibilities she represents. The stories she could be involved in.

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