Saturday, March 09, 2013

Doctor Who: 1964

Episode 29: The Bride of Sacrifice
First broadcast: 5.15 pm on Saturday, 6 June 1964
<< back to 1964

The Doctor surprised in The Bride of Sacrifice, nabbed from Doctor Who Gifs.
The above grab shows the Doctor surprised to learn he's just got engaged to be married, in the third episode of The Aztecs (just rereleased on a special edition DVD). It's a gem of a story, about "truth", cultural relativism and the opening of a door. But it's the getting engaged bit I want to focus on here.

Nowadays, we're used to the Doctor snogging ladies and the occasional gentleman. He's been doing it since the TV movie in 1996. But in Doctor Who on TV before that, he pretty much never kissed anyone. Some people see him kissing people now as a kind of betrayal.

Yet, when we first met him he had a granddaughter, Susan, travelling with him - and there's never any indication that she's not exactly what she claims. (The Doctor also refers to his "family" in part three of The Tomb of the Cybermen (1967) and part two of The Curse of Fenric (1989), and to having been a father in  Fear Her (2006) and The Doctor's Daughter (2008).)

In The Aztecs, the Doctor uses his friendship with Cameca in his efforts to get back to the TARDIS, stuck behind a door in a tomb that can only be opened from the inside. But when he first singles Cameca out from the crowd of other pensioners in the Garden of Peace, he doesn't know she'll be useful. The Doctor asks Autloc about this woman he's spotted, and Autloc says, "her advice is most sought after ... You will find her a companion of wit and interest". The Doctor goes over and chats to her about flowers - and it's only then he learns that she might know someone who can help him get back to the TARDIS.

What does he see in Cameca? The Doctor objects to being dumped in the Garden of Peace with the other old folk, who he says must be "bored to tears doing nothing". He later tells her that, "their minds are old, Cameca, and that's something I'm sure yours will never be". We know from his later companions that he's drawn to the young at heart.

The engagement is a misunderstanding and the Doctor is shocked. Yet he doesn't object before that when Cameca nuzzles up to him, calls him "dear heart" and speaks of the bliss in her "thirsty heart". Even after they're engaged, the Doctor still pats her hand and calls her "my dear" - more than he'd need to were he simply using her to get back to his Ship. In fact, at that point he thinks there's no way back into the tomb.

Later, Cameca knows the Doctor will be leaving. We don't know how she puzzles it out, but it conveniently means that the Doctor doesn't have to lie to her or sneak off without a word. He tells her, "You're a very fine woman, Cameca, and you'll always be very, very dear to me". She in turn tells Autloc, "I have just lost all that is dear to my heart" - but still takes the risk of bribing a guard to rescue Ian and Susan.

The Doctor is grateful in their last scene together. "That was a very brave thing for you to do, Cameca, but you can't stay here". Yes, there might be a reaction because of what she's done, and we might wonder why the Doctor doesn't offer to take her with him in the TARDIS. She responds, "I'd hoped I might stay by your side." But the Doctor doesn't answer, and won't look at her, either. "Then think of me," she says. "Think of me."

As she hurries away to her uncertain fate, we hold on the Doctor's face, but what is he thinking? When at last he gets back to the TARDIS, he thinks better of leaving behind that the token Cameca gave him. She does mean something to him.

What makes this so compelling is how little we're told and how much we're left to infer. But also, this early in Doctor Who and with the rules still being established, we don't know how unusual romance is for him. We know precious little about what he got up to prior to meeting Ian and Barbara. In the first year of Doctor Who, there are six references to previous adventures:
  • In An Unearthly Child (#1), Susan says she's lived on Earth in the twentieth century for "five months" and can't understand why Ian and Barbara won't believe that the TARDIS travels in time and space. The Doctor says, “Remember the Red Indian. When he saw the first steam train, his savage mind thought it an illusion, too.”
  • In The Cave of Skulls (#2), Susan says that the TARDIS has previous been disguised as “an Ionic column and a sedan chair.”
  • In The Edge of Destruction (#12), Susan refers to an adventure “where we nearly lost the TARDIS, four or five journey's back.” The Doctor adds, “Yes, the planet Quinnis, of the fourth universe.”
  • In The Brink of Disaster (#13), the Doctor says he acquired the coat Ian puts on from Gilbert and Sullivan.
  • In Strangers from Space (#31), the Doctor refers to “that extraordinary quarrel I had with that English king, Henry the Eighth. You know, he threw a parson's nose at me!” When Barbara asks what he did in response, the Doctor says, “Threw it back, of course. Take them to the Tower, he said. That's why I did it.” Susan explains: “The TARDIS was inside the Tower.”
  • In A Desperate Venture (#36), Susan tells the Sensorite First Elder, “Oh, it's ages since we've seen our planet. It's quite like Earth, but at night the sky is a burned orange, and the leaves on the trees are bright silver.”
We know the Doctor can be selfish and amoral, we know he doesn't like to get involved, and we've seen him be charming to get what he wants. But we don't know his history with women.

The one person who could tell us is Susan. Her reaction would tell us everything: would she roll her eyes because the Doctor always got caught up like this, or look on horrified and wonder what her Grandmother might think? As far as we know she never learns about Cameca or the Doctor being engaged. The only person who does is Ian - who laughs. Perhaps it's that reaction that makes the Doctor more wary about such things until his eighth incarnation. Or perhaps it's the hurt he can see he's inflicted on Cameca.

In part, Susan doesn't comment on the Doctor's affair because she barely appears in the middle episodes of the story. Actress Carole Ann Ford was on holiday for two weeks, so appears in one pre-filmed scene per episode. In those scenes, Susan faces forced marriage and refuses: "I'm not going to be told who to marry". There are similar sentiments in an earlier story, Marco Polo (by the same writer), so who taught Susan her attitudes to marriage? Was it her time at Coal Hill School - or was it the Doctor?

Ironically, in Flashpoint (#51) the Doctor locks Susan out of the TARDIS and abandons her to be with the young man she loves, so she won't have to make the decision herself. The Doctor is heartbroken by his decision - and it's an extraordinarily moving sequence. Doesn't that suggest that he's a romantic? So there's every chance he's left broken hearts behind him all through time and space.

Next episode: 1965.

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