This article contains spoilers.
The pains of motherhood are a staple of TV programming. Some are literal, as seen in the sticky platter of amniotic membranes and umbilical cords served up by fly-on-the-wall maternity ward docs. Some are figurative, as experienced by reality show, soap, and period drama mums, the ones whose kids refuse either to go to bed on time, stay out of prison, or come back from WWI with a full complement of limbs.
Being a mum on the telly is a tough old business, but one genre has it toughest of all: nobody suffers like a geek TV mum.
The survival rate isn’t great for a start. Should a character in a sci-fi or fantasy show find themselves up the duff, they’d be well-advised not to start any long books. Before we even come to the gravidic death rate of sci-fi and fantasy mothers, there’s the small matter of finding out just what you’re pregnant with.
Twilight’s Bella Swan may grumble, but she at least has the advantage of knowing who her babydaddy is. Would that life were so simple for most geek TV mums. Anonymous alien and demon impregnations come along as regularly as the apocalypse in sci-fi and fantasy TV shows, mostly fast-progressing and mostly putting the expectant mother in grave danger.
The X Files, Angel, Torchwood and Star Trek: The Next Generation are just some of the genre shows that have had characters wake up with a swollen belly and no knowledge of what’s growing inside it. Dana Scully, Gwen Cooper and Deanna Troi were all initiated into the alien branch of the pudding club in the course of their shows, while Cordelia Chase’s womb was host to not one, but two demons (seriously Cordy, aren’t you familiar with the phrase “Impregnate me once with demon seed, shame on you, impregnate me twice, shame on etc. etc.”?).
Whilst Gwen and the first of Cordelia’s unwelcome pregnancies disappeared, Scully, Troi and pregnant Cordy#2 all give birth, though none results in what you’d call a normal mother/child relationship. For his own protection, Scully has to give up her part-alien son for adoption, Troi watches hers grow to old age and expire within the space of a day, while Cordy’s turns out to be a fully-formed higher being intent on bringing about world peace through, erm, eating people.
And they were the lucky ones. At least they survived the process, there are plenty of sci-fi and fantasy TV mums who don’t. Alleyways seem to be particularly dangerous locations for expectant or new geek TV mothers, what with Angel’s Darla choosing to stake herself in one, and Being Human’s Nina being dragged into one and getting beaten to death. As far as I know, no alleyways were involved in the expiration of Ben from Lost’s mum, or that of Arthur’s on Merlin, though both fell foul of the popular death-in-childbirth storyline.
Right then, let’s imagine that a mother on a sci-fi or fantasy series gets pregnant, has the child, and survives to tell the tale. What next?
Abduction, more often than not. Once her flesh-self had been disintegrated, Doctor Who’s Amy Pond gave birth to TARDIS-infused daughter Melody, who was promptly whisked away to be raised as an anti-Doctor weapon. Understandably this really bothered Amy, until she mostly forgot about it and got on with the important business of looking great in mini-skirts.
Geek TV mums aren’t all as forgetful as Pond though, there are some who actually manage to raise a human child to a relatively successful age before it all starts going wrong for them. Chief amongst these is Buffy the Vampire Slayer‘s Joyce Summers, mother first to the chosen one, then to a ball of energy disguised as a sulky teen.
By all accounts, before Buffy was called to become the slayer, Joyce had raised herself a perfectly average bubble-headed daughter, it was only after the intervention of Buffy’s watcher that things became derailed. What better metaphor is there for the transition from little girl to secretive, sneaking-out-at-night-dating-older-men teenage daughter so many mothers experience than Buffy’s supernatural destiny? If only all mothers could pin their teens’ difficult phase on a mystical calling.
Joyce Summers brings us to an important quality in the geek TV mother: protectiveness. When she wasn’t being held hostage or dating homicidal robots, Joyce could be pretty badass. One of her top moments has to be season two’s axe-wielding “Get the hell away from my daughter” threat to a freshly-introduced Spike. Classic geek TV mum work, there, right up there with Jackie Tyler slapping The Doctor for bringing Rose back a year late without so much as a phone call.
You don’t have to be human to be a protective geek TV mum of course, in The Devil in the Dark from the original Star Trek series the egg-guarding Horta held her own against Spock and Kirk to protect her young, just as countless other mother critters have done since.
The most memorable non-human mother of recent times has to be Battlestar Galactica’s Sharon ‘Athena’ Agathon, who had a hell of a time holding on to baby Hera thanks to the evil machinations of her fellow number eights. It’s a good job she persevered though, what with Hera turning out to be mitochondrial Eve from whom all human life is descended. Just where would we be without these mums? I’ll tell you where, sans Slayer, sans Superman, sans mitochondrial Eve, sans everything.
On Sunday then, spare a thought for the lot of the geek TV mum. For Joyce Summers, Sarah-Jane Smith, Martha Kent, Beverly Crusher, Jackie Tyler and their ilk. It’s not easy to raise children who aren’t really children but Kryptonian exiles, adopted fleshkind bombs and human archetypes. It’s also not easy doing so only to be abandoned in favour of vampire slaying, ice fortresses, Starfleet Academy, or life aboard the TARDIS, but these mums handle their business and do the geek world proud.
Of course, there is a whole other kind of geek TV mum, and one that merits a very different kind of celebration, but we’ll deal with the likes of Game of Thrones‘ Cersei Lannister and Alias’ Irina Derevko another time…