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Doctor Who Ruminations: Good Guy Rory Williams (Part 1)

As we wait for the perfectly set up Doctor Who 50th Anniversary, Whovians have plenty of time to rewatch seasons past and reflect on some of the things which make the BBC’s biggest crossover hit so fascinating. Outside of questions of the Doctor’s past and the intricacies of wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey stuff, one of the most interesting elements to examine is the show’s take on relationships. One need look no further than Captain Jack Harkness to see that Russell T. Davies, Steven Moffat, and the rest of the Doctor Who creative team, have no qualms about depicting relationships which defy cultural conventions.

Captain Jack Harkness. A striking vision of the future.

In the Whoniverse, humanity is promised a future in which homophobia and enforced gender roles no longer have a place. Gay couples are a mainstay of the show and heterosexual couples rarely involve anything resembling a damsel-in-distress.

Let’s turn our eye for a moment to the five female companions who have accompanied 9, 10, and 11. While Rose, Martha and Amy all spend some time pining for the Doctor, all of them also exhibit plenty of self-sufficiency throughout their tenures as companions. And though Donna never falls prey to the Doctor’s charms, her story centers around her personal evolution from insecurity (as a flustered bride) to inner strength.

Clara? She’s just a bad-ass. That’s the beginning, middle and end of her character arc.

Given the tendencies of the show, perhaps it’s unsurprising that in both of the prominent heterosexual relationships on the show (Rose-Mickey, Amy-Rory), the males are ridiculously overmatched. As it turns out, Rose has better things awaiting her than Mickey, and there are few who would argue that Rose makes a mistake in leaving him behind. But the story of Amy and Rory is substantially more nuanced, and it leaves room for all sorts of discussion about gender, power, commitment, and even something called the Nice Guy Syndrome.

Rory may just be about as divisive a character as you can find in the Doctor Who Universe. While some defend him as the ultimate model of love, commitment and goodness, others find him duplicitous, grating, and just plain boring. Arguments can be made that Rory’s commitment to Amy is misguided, because she doesn’t value him in the way that he deserves. And an argument can also be made that Rory lacks any compelling characteristics and only wins Amy because of his refusal to ever give her up or let her down (or to run around and desert her, for that matter).

Rory’s face upon learning that some consider him to be a perfect example of the “nice guy.”

The Rory detractors construct an interesting argument, and it centers around the concept of the “nice guy.” “Nice guy” is a piece of feminist terminology used to describe unassertive guys who mask their true desires under the guise of supportiveness. The idea is that “nice guys” want the same things as the “bad boys” (love/sex) and feel that they somehow come to deserve these things because of their “goodness.” For Mad Men watchers, a good example of the “nice guy” is Peggy Olson’s Season 4 boyfriend, Mark Kearney (in a Christmas episode, Mark can’t understand why Peggy won’t sleep with him, because after all, he did bring her a present). Another good example of the “nice guy” is this XKCD comic.

So, is Rory Williams nothing more than a long-suffering “nice guy?” Is Amy settling for Rory just because she feels obligated to “reward” him for his devotion? (How do you break up with someone who has waited 2,000 years for you?) Is anyone really “nice” for completely altruistic reasons? Find answers to these questions (and, dare I say, all of your questions) in Part 2 of this rumination…