First of all, for all of my concerns, the 50th anniversary episode of Doctor Who was amazing. I was left more than satisfied. Indeed, the only major complaint I have with it is its treatment of Queen Elizabeth I.
The Marriage Proposal
In 1562, the Doctor is suspecting that shape-changing aliens called Zygons have infiltrated the Elizabethan court. In order to test the Queen, he makes a variety of statements she would be unlikely to simply accept. Some of them reflect the fact that the doctor is an alien and can, for example, change his face. I’m not really going to complain there. If we can accept alien time travelers, we can accept that Elizabeth has perhaps had some experience with them.
However, the real kicker was the marriage proposal. The Doctor proposes to Elizabeth as a final proof of her being an imposter. She happily agrees…as does her actual alien double, once it finally shows up. For the next half hour we get Elizabeth and faux-Elizabeth falling over themselves to get their hands on the doctor, until finally the Doctor is forced to marry the real one.
The entire situation is a set-up for a couple jokes revolving around how often the Doctor ends up kissing in the new series and how every time he kisses the disguised Elizabeth he’s actually kissing a rubbery monster, plus the silliness of a queen of England chasing a guy around like a schoolgirl.
Why it Doesn’t Work
Elizabeth’s state of marriage was a constant headache for her government. Women in general were expected to get married. It was seen as unnatural for a woman to not get married, not to mention a great temptation for sin, since all extra-marital sex was a sin.
The job of a queen consort (a woman who is queen because she married a king, which is the case for 99% of queens in history) is to provide heirs. Things go horribly wrong if the king doesn’t have an obvious successor. In fact, England just got out of a civil war revolving around that very problem. One of the reasons Elizabeth’s father, Henry VIII, had all of those wives was because he desperately needed an heir.
While a queen regnant (a female monarch, like Elizabeth) has the job of ruling her country, she still also has the job of providing heirs. Legitimate heirs require marriage, and Elizabeth never even marries. Her advisers tear their hair out over the issue.
Why Doesn’t She Marry?
While it was really important for Elizabeth to marry, there were complications to it:
- There would be the question as to the rank of her husband. When her sister, Queen Mary, was married, her foreign husband became king of England, which was not ideal.
- If she gave birth to a son, she would have been expected to abdicate at some point, quite possibly when the boy was still a child. Child monarchs are always problematic.
- Having an heir made Elizabeth disposable. She never named an heir (a cousin) until she was on her death bed for just that reason.
- Monarchs commonly seal alliances with the marriages of their children. Elizabeth built alliances around the possibility of marriage. Yes, those alliances were temporary, but most are. There was no bigger marriage prize than a queen.
In addition, Elizabeth may have had personal issues with marriage:
- Her mother, Anne Boelyn, was executed by Henry VIII when Elizabeth was three. What prompted the execution was Anne’s inability to bear a son coupled with the fact that Henry had fallen in love with another lady at court (just as he had with Anne). While Elizabeth couldn’t have been executed in a similar circumstance, she could have feared her life being made horrifically miserable by a husband.
- It’s possible Elisabeth was concerned she couldn’t have children and didn’t want to expose that flaw, which would have been significant in her culture. Her sister never had a child, and her father only had four across six wives and a variety of mistresses.
- Elizabeth was in love with an Elizabeth noble named Robert Dudley, who she was never able to marry for political reasons. Royals generally don’t get to marry for love, but it still may have soured her.
And yet she throws herself at the Doctor, insisting they immediately get married. Why would she do that? Is he really that cool? Is she really that daft? Were the jokes really worth it?
Off With his Head
There are a few other silly things they do with Elizabeth. When the Doctor rides himself and Elizabeth out of the TARDIS on a horse, she quip about how the top of the door almost took her head off, when normally that’s what she did to other people. In truth, Elizabeth was greatly troubled by a number of executions she had to order. She’s not the Queen of Hearts, nor is she the Elizabeth portrayed in Blackadder. Having to kill members of her court was not a laughing matter.
And as a quick aside, let’s talk about that dress. The BBC is known for its historical dramas. It’s put out a good half-dozen about Elizabeth alone. They have a phenomenal costume department. So why is this Elizabeth dressed in home decor fabric? Seriously, my JoAnn Fabric store carries that taffeta fabric, and you find it in home decor. They expect you to turn it into curtains.
The cut is neither flattering nor historical. I only need one to be happy. The costumes on The Tudors, for example, were nowhere close to historical, but they were gorgeous, and it wasn’t like the show was a documentary. But you have to give me one. And note her hemline: it’s about four inches past her feet, dragging along the ground. No one wears a dress like that. Among other things, you can’t walk in the damn thing, as actress Joanna Page attests to in a behind-the-scenes interview.
It’s like Elizabeth was wearing a hand-me-down from an Amazon.
The dress is awful, especially by BBC standards and I’ve been trying to rationalize it since the 50th. There are several scenes where I suspect they needed doubles even if it was just Page and her stand in. I’m not sure how many doubles of Elizabethans exist in the vault. Or, even if it is just one dress, I’m sure the BBC head costumer wasn’t about to let one of the vintage Jean Hunnisett costumes out to run around in the woods outside Cardif and potentially be destroyed.