Last week I wrote a post in which I said I wasn’t a fan of terrible things happening to characters I love. I suppose that sounds like a bit of a silly thing. Of course I don’t like it when bad things happen to a beloved character. Duh. But what I meant specifically is I’m dismayed when it’s something truly horrific and it only happens because the script says it needs to.
Crappy things often need to happen to main characters (and also not-so-main characters sometimes). That’s part of the hero’s journey. I’m all for seeing characters overcome adversity in order to grow and create a good story. But in my mind growth means a continuation of the same basic character. The change is a natural progression, based on the external (or sometimes internal) pressures and events they experience.
What I’m less fond of is when it doesn’t feel like a natural growth. Sometimes it feels like the creators decide a character should fundamentally change in a rather drastic way. And what’s the easiest way to make a great big change in a character’s personality? Why, have them experience something awful. Something so awful it’s scarring to their very being.
This can be tempting especially when a character has been gone for a good long time. Simply bringing back the character exactly as they were before might not feel right if it’s years later and the world has moved on. I can understand the impulse to have the character move on as well. I just don’t usually like it when creators bow to that impulse. No, that’s not quite right. When creators give a little bow to that impulse, it’s fine. When they prostrate themselves on the ground before it, that’s when I have trouble.
And here’s where I dip back into spoilery territory for Romana in the Big Finish audios. So jump ship now if you don’t want to know!
The Romana I’ve heard in Big Finish doesn’t feel to me like the Romana I loved on television. My emotional reaction is that that character is gone and has been replaced with a completely new version. If she’d regenerated, I’d be much more comfortable with this. Regeneration is itself a fairly intense trauma, but it’s built into the fabric of the life of a Time Lord. Romana 2 didn’t regenerate. Instead she was put through a terrible experience and came out the other side acting very different. That’s what makes me sad.
I understand they wanted to make her tougher, but I thought Romana was plenty tough already—when she needed to be. When she didn’t need to be tough, she was delightful—smiling, witty, friendly, funny, charming. And yet you always knew that hard edge was there below the surface. I would have liked to see her a few (hundred) years down the road, more world weary, perhaps. Certainly wiser (which would be saying a lot). But not fundamentally different. I do feel that she’s now fundamentally different.*
That said, this is what they decided to do with her, and I’ve (mostly) come to terms with it. As I said, I really enjoyed the stories I listened to, and I look forward to hearing more. I’m not going to hold this decision against Big Finish forever (probably). I’ll make my peace and move forward. Not every creative decision needs to bow to my taste. That would be kind of awful. And probably boring–if not for me then certainly for the rest of the world.
Still, somewhere in my heart, there’s a universe where Romana was given the chance to grow into whomever she was going to become without needing quite such a harrowing, scarring experience to shape her. I see her in my mind’s eye.
And she’s smiling.
*Reminder: I’ve only heard a few stories. I’m perfectly willing to revise my opinion as I fill out my Big Finish listening, something I quite look forward to doing as soon as I find the time and money.