As a long-term fan of Doctor Who, I’ve seen a lot of companions come and go, from the grating Adric, to the gleefully destructive Ace all the way through to Donna Noble, one of the few mature female characters in the history of the show, and I’ll tell you: I have had trouble liking Clara Oswald.  In her earliest appearances, Clara was a collection of quirks and catchphrases, and fit the definition of a ‘Mary Sue’ almost to a T.  As a fan of clever female characters, it’s a tough spot to be in, especially since a careful analysis of characters like James T. Kirk, Batman and Sherlock Holmes (Downey or Cumberbatch) reveals that Clara would be quite comfortable in their midst.  Being a hyper-competent wish-fulfillment character that the writer believes everyone should admire isn’t an uncommon trait *coughHarryPottercough*, which leads us to today’s entirely fictional query…

The MS-QOTD (pronounced, as always, “misquoted”) also finds it telling that he has found himself slowly warming to Clara as she actually *DOES* things that are clever, rather than just having the main character tell us she is, asking: Are you bothered by the use of just-too-perfect “Mary Sue” type characters in fiction?

The Author

Matthew Peterson

Matthew Peterson

Once upon a time, there was a young nerd from the Midwest, who loved Matter-Eater Lad and the McKenzie Brothers... If pop culture were a maze, Matthew would be the Minotaur at its center. Were it a mall, he'd be the Food Court. Were it a parking lot, he’d be the distant Cart Corral where the weird kids gather to smoke, but that’s not important right now... Matthew enjoys body surfing (so long as the bodies are fresh), writing in the third person, and dark-eyed women. Amongst his weaponry are such diverse elements as: Fear! Surprise! Ruthless efficiency! An almost fanatical devotion to pop culture!

And a nice red uniform.

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6 Comments

  1. Doctor Dinosaur
    October 1, 2014 at 11:53 am — Reply

    A companion’s Mary-Sueness is easily overshadowed by the Doctors and therefore rarely a problem. Clara’s former “plot-deviceness” however was a distraction, luckily she’s a real person now instead of a cosmic ingrown hair.

    And Harry Potter while (annoyingly “the one”, the very, very chosen one) isn’t hyper competent at anything besides attracting soul crushing trauma and death book after book. Which kind of means he’s like a male Buffy. If only he had a male goofy friend, a very intelligent female friend and an older mentor with a ludicrously British name.

  2. Rome
    October 1, 2014 at 12:14 pm — Reply

    Nah, the notion of a Mary Sue doesn’t really bother me, because there are so many male versions of the exact phenomenon- i.e. the perfect physical and mental specimen that serves as author insert or viewer POV character.

    The Mary Sue is better than the ‘peril monkey’ type of character, whose only purpose is to get captured and scream alot and be generally helpless. So if it is a competition between the helpless damsel in distress or the clever and capable companion, I gotta go Mary Sue all the way.

    Clara, is definitely more in the Mary Sue mold, but her roles and characterizations in Season 8 have been worlds above her previous existence, and I’m actually growing more and more fond of a character I found to be boring and bland.

  3. October 1, 2014 at 12:52 pm — Reply

    As with many of my responses, the answer is “It depends”. In some stories or settings, the Mary Sue type character actually works out pretty well.

    My issue isn’t so much that the characters are used, but rather that some people throw the label around far too casually as if any character that even has a sliver of the traits of a Mary Sue that it MUST be a Mary Sue. By that logic, almost any main character could be labeled Mary Sue. I’m not saying Clara isn’t, just that the term gets thrown around more than mass email forwarding of cute kitten videos and it seems like some folks cannot differentiate between a true Mary Sue and a character they simply dislike.

  4. M. Walsh
    October 1, 2014 at 3:41 pm — Reply

    Hyper-competent wish-fulfillment characters are not necessarily Mary Sues.

    I think a more accurate assessment is the Mary Sue is a character portrayed as infallible, despite everything else in the story saying otherwise, and without genuine flaws. There’s often a ripple effect on surrounding characters…around a genuine Mary Sue, other characters will either cower in awe of the Sue’s greatness, or resent and hate the Sue out of jealousy (and ultimately suffer some comeuppance because of it).

    Batman, for instance, CAN be a Mary Sue in stories where (as just an example) all the other members of the Justice League are portrayed as incompetent, indecisive, and always wrong….while Batman is always right, always on point, and ultimately saves the day in spite of his teammates never listening to him–even if he was acting like a sanctimonious dickhead the entire time.

    I don’t think Mary Sues are best defined by certain traits, because on paper, many characters can be labeled ‘Mary Sues.’ It has more to do with their portrayal and execution.

    And yes, I find straight-up Mary Sues to be insufferable.

  5. Oldcomicfan
    October 1, 2014 at 10:47 pm — Reply

    Batman cannot be a Mary Sue because his is the main character, which automatically disqualifies him from the role. At least in the 1967 TV show, Batgirl was the epitome of a Mary Sue while good old Robin fulfilled male equivalent as did Will Robinson and Wesley Crusher – they played roles that when boiled down to gravy served no real purpose other than to attract a specific age group or gender to the TV show. Their roles were unrealistic, with the characters being thrown into situation nobody of their age or gender would have been able to cope with, and they have special powers or abilities that defy logical analysis, solving problems or crimes that none of the adults, who had far more experience and knowledge to work from could not solve, being automatic friends with the main characters even though their friendship were either highly unlikely or completely nonsensical, etc. Right. A kid hasn’t finished school yet, and has never had any practical experience or training jumps to the controls and either flies the starship in the middle of a crisis or fixes the antimatter reactor just in the nick of time. Right. Go down to your local grade school. Ask to meet the smartest kid in the school. Hand the kid the keys to your semi-truck and tell him to drive it to the next town over. On the Freeway. In rush hour. Now, get a broom and sweep up the pieces.

    I’ve encountered a lot of Mary Sues in the many JRPGs I’ve played since the NES days, and I don’t mind them as much in video games as I do in television shows and movies. I think the best – or perhaps the worst – example of Mary Sue I’ve seen recently is the character of Ahsoka Tano in The Clone Wars. Okay – the producers had a problem. The main characters were pretty much in stasis since nothing important could happen to them since the series took place between two movies, so they had to create a new cast of characters who could face real challenges and potentially be injured, killed, subverted, etc. in the course of the series. In fact, the new characters were almost guaranteed to have something dramatic or tragic happen to them since they had to disappear between the last episode of the series and the movie which followed. But did they have to give us a Mary Sue? Young, inexperienced, and supposedly only a padewon learner but she is instant friends with the main characters, has powers that rivals or surpasses those of the main characters and is constantly getting them out of jams even though they should have more experience, better control of the force and therefore be more powerful. Ahsoka Tano and other Mary Sues of her ilk irritate me no end. I haven’t seen the final season of Clone Wars yet, but during the first five seasons I kept hoping she’d stick her head into a power coupling and put herself out of my misery.

    • October 2, 2014 at 8:46 am — Reply

      You really should watch the final season. Except for a small cameo in a vision/hallucination, she doesn’t appear at all.

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