Friday, 20 May 2011
Why Romana is more interesting than River Song (and it's not just that Burberry cap!)
Forget for a moment all that continuity about the Time War and imagine if the character of Romana had been introduced in a Moffat story and had been a regular feature in the last two seasons. I think it is safe to imagine that Romana's identity as a Time Lady would be concealed and only revealed as a dramatic discovery at the end of the season.
If that had been the case, we would have missed out on an awful lot. Romana was not a character that was always served well by script writers; at times they did not seem to know what to do with her. Nevertheless, when Romana was used effectively, her Time Lady status was always fundamental to her. If the viewer was unaware that Romana was a Time Lady, so much of her dialogue and character development would lack impact. Right from the start when Romana first appear in The Ribos Operation, we see how her status colours her introduction to the Doctor. She knows who he is, but she is disappointed by him. She embarasses him by pointing out his low grades at the academy and speculates about his psychology. Having a Time Lady in the TARDIS shines a completely new light on the Doctor. Her regeneration scene might be silly, but it was interesting in the way it contrasted with the Doctor's regenerations (we could not have had that had we not known she was a Time Lady). When Romana became more pro-active than the Doctor, in Androids of Tara, and more frequently in Season 17, we were able to think of her as being a sort of female Doctor.
City of Death would not be nearly as good a story without the knowledge that Romana is a Time Lady. It allows her to approach saving the world in a completely dispassionate way, to be haughty to Duggan and justifies her closer, more affectionate interaction with the Doctor.
Contrast this with River Song. She interacts with the Doctor in a way that no other human character does. It seems wrong and we want to know why, but this is kept secret. In fact, the secret of River Song's identity is constantly being dangled in front of us. It is really the only interesting thing about her. However strong Alex Kingston's performances, River Song is essentially a cardboard character. She is simply there to fuel speculation and to tantalise the viewer in the wait for the big revelation. There is no character development to enjoy, no subtlety in her interaction with the Doctor (they just behave like a bickering couple with the odd racy comment here and there) and her only good lines are cheap laughs.
Romana is a character that survived her onscreen appearances. She returned in the Virgin New Adventures and then regenerated as Lord President of Gallifrey in the BBC books. Big Finish have given us an whole audio series featuring the Lalla Ward Romana as Lord President. It seems unlikely that River Song will last so long as a character. Once we find out what the deal is with her, she will be dropped from the show and nobody will care about her any longer. Big mysterious story arcs will never beat simple ande effective character development.
Posted by Matthew Celestine at 03:22