Archive for Courtney Stoker

Just this once, everybody linkspams

If you haven’t seen it yet, this beautiful TARDIS dress cosplay is stunning.

A cosplayer wears a blue TARDIS dress, opening the bottom of the dress to reveal a beautiful, detailed, hand-painted TARDIS interior on the fabric.

Unsurprisingly, but sadly, the cosplayer faced a bunch of fat-shaming on Facebook where the pictures were uploaded:

Various Facebook comments with large words that read "THIS IS BULLSHIT." The comments: Johnny Hinsley: Shes bigger on the outside; Andros P Parker: Shes bigger on the outside; Jeffrey Cosgrove: Would be better if she wasn't fat; Daniel R. Celhay: She's almost the same size as the real tardis!; Jon Kelsey: So it's big on the outside too lol; Daniel Marquis: Cool, but not particularly attractive. How about a sexy dress inspired by The TARDIS?

As stfuconservatives on Tumblr pointed out: “I think my favorite fat-shamer here is Daniel Marquis, saying ‘Cool but not particularly attractive.’ Remember, ladies: your pursuits are meaningless if you can’t express them in a way that’s sexually pleasing to all men.”

Over at Wired, they have a great article on women in film called “Leia Is Not Enough: Star Wars and the Woman Problem in Hollywood“:

Criticisms about representations of gender (or race and other diversity) are often countered in fandom by sociological or scientific analyses attempting to explain why the inequality happens according to the internal logic of the fictional world. As though there is any real reason that anything happens in a story except that someone chose to write it that way.

Fiction is not Darwinian: It contains no impartial process of evolution that dispassionately produces the events of a fictional universe. Fiction is miraculously, fundamentally Creationist. When we make worlds, we become gods. And gods are responsible for the things they create, particularly when they create them in their own image.

(TW: rape) At Kotaku, there’s a piece by a female gamer about why she will no longer say “I raped you” to a fellow gamer:

The power dynamic was already set in place before the match even started, and it wasn’t in my favor. Trash talk makes it obvious that the implicit understanding of the language of dominion isn’t just sexualized. It’s gendered. That power struggle is culturally understood to be a man versus woman thing, even though rape doesn’t just happen to women. Most of the slurs of choice point toward the same thing. Someone is a bitch, they’re a faggot—feminine—and if you beat someone, then you raped them. The imagery there for most of us will be the same: a man physically assaulting a woman, not the other way around.

That’s the tragic thing about rape and its surrounding culture. It’s not just that it’s so potent as an image of power dynamics, but that that potency also has the ability to pull even survivors like me into using it against others. It’s not just what I did in Gears of War. There’s plenty of other things that I’ve been guilty of in the past, before I started giving a damn—like slut shaming, like thinking that a woman could ‘ask for it.’

I can’t help but ask myself, then. Who really won that match? Me, who completed the objectives successfully? Or them, who, despite as hard as I tried, made me complicit in the rape culture that has taken so much away from me?

Would you like some more cosplay? You know you would.

A cosplayer dressed as a transformer stylized as the TARDIS at Toronto ComicCon.

A black man with fabulous short spiky hair cosplays as the 11th Doctor at a con.

Source for transformer and source for 11th Doctor.

And what about you? What have you been writing and reading lately?

Cosplayers are not “fake geek girls.”

Two white women in tutu cosplays. One is the fifth Doctor and one is the TARDIS.

My friend and I cosplaying at Gally. How adorable are we? Unsurprisingly, we didn't care much about boners when making or wearing these.

Of course Cosplay Appreciation Day devolved into some asshole decrying cosplayers for being fake geek girls. Because, honestly.

Look, geek men. We’re all tired of saying this.

You are not the judge of who’s a “real” geek. Not even if you have a penis. Not even if you’re white. Not even if you work in the industry. Not even if you’ve been a geek for decades. No one crowned you gatekeeper of the geeks, and it makes you look like a pretentious douche to act like you are one.

Women who cosplay, whether they are doing “sexy” cosplay or not, do so for a variety of mostly complex reasons. I’m going to hypothesize, from my conversations with cosplayers, that approximately none of them do it to give you boners and then turn you down for the pleasure of seeing you be sad about it. Even the ones who hope to get attention from men generally have other reasons.* Those reasons? All related to being a fan. Cosplayers cosplay because of love. They love the characters, the media, and/or the fan community. They are creating something beautiful and they are performing. This isn’t attention-seeking, this is fucking art.

Lots of women are geeks. Lots of women you don’t think are hot are geeks. Just because some cosplayers have the absolute gall to be fat, small-breasted, butch, or otherwise not conventionally beautiful doesn’t mean that they are just unsuccessful fake geek girls. Again, we’re not all trying to give you boners. I’m one of those cosplayers you’d probably call “con hot,” and my cosplay has nothing to do with you. I’m not going to cons because it’s the only place I can get men to pay attention to me. I don’t think so little of geek men as to believe that they’re so pathetic, awkward, and inexperienced that they would be desperate enough to hit on women like me who they don’t find that attractive. Come to think of it, I don’t think so little of myself to buy that scenario either.

In short, the geek world does not revolve around you. It doesn’t even revolve around men. Most cosplayers are not thinking about men or you when sewing their bustles or screenprinting their costumes or combing local thrift stores for the perfect jacket. And if you haven’t met a “real” geek woman who cosplays, it could be because you’re a dickhead, and women don’t want to talk to you.

 

 

*Seriously, if you wanted to get men to pay attention to you, would you choose to wear a low cut top and mini skirt, which you could buy in a store and wear to parties afterward, or would you spend hours of labor constructing and collecting pieces for a costume you’ll wear very few times only to cons?

Chicks Unravel Time comes out today!

(Note: Thanks Nightsky for that announcement yesterday!)

COURTNEY SAYS:

I’m really excited about today’s publication of Chicks Unravel Time: Women Journey through Every Season of Doctor Who. Chicks Dig Time Lords felt a bit all over the place, for me, with some thoughtful and provoking pieces paired with more shallow commentary. However, from its table of contents, I gather that the sequel is more comprehensive and meaningful, consistently tackling issues of gender, race, sexuality, and power dynamics throughout the volume. And I can’t wait to read it.

Both Tansy and I have essays in this book! Mine is titled “Maids and Masters: The Distribution of Power in Doctor Who Series Three,” and is an exploration of the power dynamics between the Doctor and his companions (focused, of course, on Martha) and the Master and Lucy.

What’s so compelling about the Doctor? Why do so many different kinds of people jump in the TARDIS to travel with him? Is it his boyish charm, his goodness, his sense of humor?

I would argue that for most of the companions in the new series, the most attractive part of the Time Lord is his power. To convince Rose to leave her life for adventure, the ninth Doctor expands on the power he has: “Did I mention that it travels in time?” Later, Martha says to the crowd in the tenement in Last of the Time Lords, “I know what he can do.” That’s her vote of confidence for the Doctor, how she convinces the people of the Doctor’s importance: what he can do, not how good or brave he is. The adventure the Doctor offers his companion is inseparable from his power, from his ability to manipulate space and time, from his ability to threaten and fight enemies unimaginably evil and powerful. Power impacts every relationship the Doctor has, but it’s not something Who fans talk about often. We like to pretend, I think, that the Doctor’s extraordinary power isn’t important. We like to think that it doesn’t affect him or his relationships with others. We like to think that if companions are “strong” enough, sassy enough, smart enough, they are his equals. But no matter how many times a companion saves the Doctor, or how many times a companion stands up to him, they don’t have his power. The Doctor can manipulate space and time, travel through them in a manner even the humans of the future could only imagine. He can fix practically anything with his magic sonic screwdriver. He can hold the knowledge of infinite lifetimes in his head. He can read minds. He can (and does) force his will on others: he takes away Donna’s memory; he disables Jack’s ability to time travel; he traps a girl in a mirror. His power outstrips any possible capabilities of his companions.

The disproportionate power dynamic in the Doctor/companion relationships is something each companion in the new series struggles with at some point or another. When Rose protests in School Reunion, “I’m not his assistant,” she voices the frustration that many of the companions have felt with the Doctor. The truth is, they know that they are small next to the Doctor, who is practically a demigod. But they, along with most of the audience, resist that reality, insisting that they are as good as, as clever as, as important as the Doctor. And perhaps they are all those things. But they are not as powerful as him. And this crucial fact is never more evident than it is in Series Three, where it seems that unequal power distribution in close relationships becomes a near-constant theme.

I argue that Martha as John Smith’s maid is a visual exaggeration of, but not a departure from, Martha’s position as companion. Because I like to be provocative, apparently!

TANSY SAYS:

I am ridiculously excited to be in this book! I’ve enjoyed all of the ‘Geek Girls’ books from Chicks Dig Time Lords to Whedonistas and Chicks Dig Comics, but it’s great to see them coming back to the original idea of many female voices talking critically and squeefully about Doctor Who, with such a dynamite concept.

Personally I’m desperate to get my hands on a copy to see what Diana Gabaldon has to say about the Second Doctor and Jamie McCrimmon!

My own essay is “The Ultimate Sixth,” dealing with the problematic and erratic final Colin Baker season, Trial of a Time Lord (Season 23, 1986). Which I happen to love like the blazes, even though it’s broken in a million places.

There’s plenty of crunchy feminist discussion in my essay, of course – after all, there are some brilliant, strong female supporting characters in the story, most of them played by middle aged women such as Joan Sims, Honor Blackman and Lynda Bellingham. But perhaps of most relevant to Doctor Her readers is my discussion of the fate of Peri (Nicola Bryant), one of the more controversial production decisions of this era. Peri actually has two potential endings to her story, both problematic in different ways, and it’s one of those issues that has kept fans arguing for decades:

[SPOILERS!]

But that’s the problem, isn’t it? The marriage. Peri has two fates – to die twice at the hands of Crozier and Yrcanos, and to marry Yrcanos and live as a warrior queen. Neither of these are good options. The Doctor’s behavior to Peri takes on huge repercussions (never dealt with) upon her death, but the alternative is that she gets to live on an alien planet with a crazy warlord king whom she never displays any attraction to whatsoever. The closest thing to affection we see from her is exactly what you might reluctantly offer a large, vicious dog who almost bit your arm off, but was distracted at the last minute by a packet of sausages and now thinks it is your friend.

“There’s a good warlord” is not a basis for a lasting marriage. Neither is the moment when Yrcanos stops being funny for thirty seconds and strokes Peri’s cheek. She flinches, and you see how afraid of him she is. It’s chilling and creepy and I know it was the eighties but really, really? That’s her happy ending? That’s the best she can expect? I would so much rather hear that she went back to Yrcanos’ home planet, introduced his culture to democracy and kicked his arse in the polls. Peri for President!

COURTNEY SAYS:

We hope you’ll go and buy the book, and read the rest. We’re both proud of what we’ve contributed to this anthology, and I hope that this is just the start of Doctor Who fan books that contain numerous essays meaningfully analyzing Doctor Who with a feminist lens.

And if you’re interested in a book giveaway (let’s be honest, who isn’t), there’s one at Love & Monsters! Go enter before the 16th to be eligible!

EXTERMINATE: Are the Daleks Scary? (Part 2)

Wow! It’s been a long time since part one! Sorry about that! I’ve been getting new jobs, moving, finding homes for my now-stray kitties. But enough excuses, let’s get to the Daleks.

In part one, I talked about fan art seems to indicate that many fans find the Daleks cute, silly, and ridiculous as often as they find them scary. In part two, I talk about why I think the Daleks are supposed to be scary: namely, that they are modeled after the terrifying Martians from H. G. Wells’s War of the Worlds.

Cross-posted at From Austin to A&M.

While science fiction is often posited as a kind of “what if” genre—What if aliens landed? What if we had interplanetary spaceships? What if we could genetically engineer people?—I don’t think that’s a great definition for the genre. After all, not all “what if” questions have anything to do with science, technology, or ray guns. My own definition of science fiction, based on my time as a fan and scholar of it, is pretty broad. I consider something science fiction if it has all or most of the following characteristics:

1. It is about sci­ence or the prac­tice of science.

2. It stays within the bounds of mate­r­ial reality/natural laws orit is con­cerned with appear­ing within the bounds of mate­r­ial reality/natural laws. This means that if it tries to explain its real­ity within the con­fines of our own nat­ural world, even if this is tech­nob­a­b­ble or lamp­shad­ing (á la Doc­tor Who’s “magic door” in The Girl in the Fire­place), then it could be sci­ence fic­tion. I don’t agree with def­i­n­i­tions that say sci­ence fic­tion must be strictly pos­si­ble in the real world or accord­ing to con­tem­po­rary sci­ence, because that is a ridicu­lously lim­it­ing def­i­n­i­tion, and would exclude sci­ence fic­tion like Star Trek, H. G. Wells’s The Time Machine, Doc­tor Who (actu­ally, pretty much any sci­ence fic­tion that uses time travel), Armaged­don, Char­lotte Perkins Gilman’s Her­land, and Red Dwarf. What these nar­ra­tives have in com­mon is not that they are sci­en­tif­i­cally fea­si­ble, but that they are con­cerned with mate­r­ial real­ity, and explain their real­i­ties as the same as ours. Of course, the extent to which they are concerned with this explanation will vary.

3. It forces the reader to leave the famil­iar world of here-and-now. This is the char­ac­ter­is­tic that is most often absent, but I think, when it appears, it is extra­or­di­nar­ily impor­tant. When this char­ac­ter­is­tic is present, it becomes imper­a­tive that the nar­ra­tive adhere to the second characteristic listed above, because this means the narrative can make the famil­iar unfa­mil­iar, which can func­tion in a num­ber of ways. By mak­ing char­ac­ter­is­tics of our cul­ture, for exam­ple, dis­ap­pear (like gen­der or racism), sci­ence fic­tion can denat­u­ral­ize those con­cepts within our real­ity. By paint­ing a utopia (like Star Trek), it can make that utopia seem not so out of our reach. It can take a neg­a­tive human behav­ior, and com­pletely exag­ger­ate or trans­form it; Dis­trict 9 por­trays how racism dehu­man­izes peo­ple, in a really stark and lit­eral (and thus unfa­mil­iar) way. With­out exist­ing within our own real­ity, how­ever, that lit­eral dehu­man­iza­tion loses some of its power.

If a narrative has this characteristic, but does not adhere to the second, it is very likely fantasy.

4. It is con­cerned with the mate­r­ial nature of human­ity or human society.*

Because science fiction is a literature about science, about the material condition of humanity, it is a well-suited space for authors to explore the anxieties and concerns we feel about our relationship with science and technology. To say science fiction is a “what if” genre ignores this relationship it has with the cultural identity of science; it suggests that science fiction is about prediction, caution, prescription. (“Don’t create a society based on genetic manipulation and bodily fitness!” warns Gattica, while 1984 cautions us on the dangers of the police state. Star Trekshows us a utopian future, which somehow came about with a government run by the military.) This is a shallow way to look at science fiction, which is very rarely any good at predicting the future. What science fiction does do well is give us a glimpse into our cultures’ view of science: what scares us about it, what makes us anxious about it, what excites us about it, what role we think it should play in our society.

***

H. G. Wells’s War of the Worldswas published in 1898, the tail-end of the Victorian era. The 19th century saw a transformation in the culture of science in Britain. Science went from being a gentleman’s hobby, with the “dirty work” done by underappreciated and uncredited middle- and lower-class laborers, to an institutionalized profession, with researchers who got their hands dirty for money, funded by universities and the government. Science fiction of the era was often concerned with the corporeality and dirtiness of science, distrusting the body and the material, as opposed to the cleaner and more rational mind and spirit. The fact that the material of science is detritus (flesh, organs, blood, brains, plant matter, insect corpses, dirt, rock) made science a problematic institution, made more acceptable by removing the gentleman scholar from the material practice of science and limiting him to theoretical work. The fact that observational science relied on the imperfect instruments of the human body (eyes, fingers, skin, eardrums) was also of concern, made more acceptable by supplementing them with machines like microscopes, telescopes, chronometers, daguerreotypes, and scales.

This distrust of the material and the body carried over into anxieties about evolution, which was something much of Wells’s fiction is concerned with, including War, The Time Machine, and The Island of Doctor Moreau. In War of the Worlds and a related piece he published in 1893, “The Man of the Year Million,” Wells suggests that our suspicion of the physical and glorification of the mental could actually lead to the end of humanity as we know it. In “The Man of the Year Million,” a tongue-in-cheek prediction, he argues that

man is the creature of the brain; he will live by intelligence, and not by physical strength, if he live at all. So that much that is purely animal about him is being, and must be, beyond all question, suppressed in his ultimate development.

In the article, he outlines a course of eventual evolution, in which humans will lose much of their bodies, and will end up mere brains, in helpless, useless bodies that consist only of heads and hands.

We notice this decay of the animal part around us now, in the loss of teeth and hair, in the dwindling hands and feet of men, in their smaller jaws, and slighter mouth and ears. Man now does by wit and machinery and verbal agreement what he once did by bodily toil; for once he had to catch his dinner, capture his wife, run away from his enemies, and continually exercise himself, for love of himself, to perform these duties well. But now all this is changed. Cabs, trains, trams, render speed unnecessary, the pursuit of food becomes easier; his wife is no longer hunted, but rather, in view of the crowded matrimonial market, seeks him out. One needs wits now to live, and physical activity is a drug, a snare even; it seeks artificial outlets and overflows in games.

He argues that technological innovation will guide our evolution, and that as we create more ingenious devices to take care of our bodily functions, those functions will cease to be possible in our bodies.

[Man] has a new organ, a mandible not of irreparable tissue, but of bone and steel—a knife and fork. There is no reason why things should stop at partial artificial division thus afforded; there is every reason, on the contrary, to believe my statement that some cunning exterior mechanism will presently masticate and insalivate his dinner, relieve his diminishing salivary glands and teeth, and at last altogether abolish them.

All that will be left of the future human is his brain and his hands, since Wells believed the hands to be “the teacher and interpreter of the brain.” Because Victorians believed that emotions were seated in the body, not the mind, since they were far too messy and not intellectual, Wells also pictured these future humans as emotionless and cruelly self-serving.

And so at last comes a vision of earthly cherubim, hopping heads, great unemotional intelligences, and little hearts, fighting together perforce and fiercely against the cold that grips them tighter and tighter.

It’s a horrifying vision, in which technology and intellect have, through the processes of evolution, done entirely away with the body, empathy, and emotion. It reminds me a bit of the way modern science fiction will romanticize about people becoming pure consciousness in computers or online; we haven’t lost our desire to be rid of the bodies that tie us to the material world, that cry and shit and piss and digest and orgasm and bleed. Our bodies make us uncomfortable, make us feel dirty and vulnerable. But Wells didn’t think that transcending our bodies through evolution was a good thing at all; the vision in “The Man of the Year Million” is purposefully horrifying. And if it wasn’t obvious enough, that vision came back to haunt us in his The War of the Worlds.

All the things that were scary about the future man are what is scary about the Martians in War. They are also great brains, with only eyes and hand-like tentacles. They are vastly intelligent and emotionless. But what is far more terrifying than their inability to feel is their technological prowess. Like the future human, they have replaced their bodies with machines. While Wells only explicitly imagined eating machines in “The Man of the Year Million,” he imagined the Martians as a people with machines instead of bodies, which they can change for the purpose like so many changes of clothes. The machine body we actually see is the spider-like tripod:

A monstrous tripod, higher than many houses, striding over the young pine trees, and smashing them aside in its career; a walking engine of glittering metal, striding now across the heather; articulate ropes of steel dangling from it, and the clattering tumult of its passage mingling with the riot of the thunder.

In these machines, the Martians literally eat human bodies; they drain them of their blood for sustenance, like vampires. And Wells draws a direct connection between the lack of a material body and the lack of emotions. Their reliance on technological bodies makes them capable of escaping emotions altogether. By pairing War with “The Man of the Year Million,” we can see that Wells is trying to flesh out a fear that the end-point of human evolution is the destruction of the human body and thus of emotion, compassion, and morality. By valuing intellect, science, and technology, we could lose our humanity. Corporeality, Wells suggests, is a constitutive part of humanity, and the use of the machine to overcome the limits of the body could lead to a loss of our compassionate natures. Wells values the human body and its material nature, the way that our bodies cause us to depend on one another, the way that our bodies tie us to the world we live in.

***

Okay! So why am I talking so much about Wells’s Martians? Because I think the Daleks were modeled after the Martians.** After all, they’re bodiless brains who lack all emotion and compassion, and they have replaced organic bodies with machine ones. They even look like the Martians: gray, gross, and full of tentacles.

Kaled_mutant

The machine body comes apart to reveal the organic body of a Dalek, from the “Dalek” episode of Doctor Who. The Dalek is a mucous-covered, gray mass, with a brain at the top and multiple tentacles at the bottom. He has one eye. Source.

Unlike the Martians, the Daleks are genocidal, but their inability to feel compassion, coupled with their cyborg nature, makes them dead ringers. (The Martians were actually kind of scary in part because they didn’t hate humans. We were merely in their way as they colonized a new planet. Cold fuckers, those Martians.)

But, I still don’t think the Daleks are scary, because I think they are poorly executed versions of the Martians. A lot of the things that made the Martians frightening are missing from the Daleks, in particular their machine bodies. Like the Dalekanium body of the Daleks, the Martians are hard to kill or disable. But that’s where the comparison seems to end. The small Dalek machines are slow and clunky, whereas the Martian machines are terrifyingly huge, fast, and efficient.

  Woking_tripod

A shiny 23-foot statue of the Martian tripod machine from Wells’s War of the Worlds. This sculpture was designed by Michael Condron and is located in Woking, Surrey in England. The design is true to the source, with a small body, two metal tentacles, and three long, flexible, mobile jointed legs. This thing would own the Daleks. Source.

The Martians were also quite alien and removed; for all the hate the Daleks seem to spend on the Doctor and the rest of the universe, they sure do talk to them a lot. The Martians never bothered to communicate with the humans, because the humans were food. It’d be like if we started having conversations with cows. The Daleks spend so much wasted time and energy on talking to the Doctor and his companions. The Daleks obviously don’t think they’re thatsuperior to us, or they wouldn’t bother communicating. Communication necessitates seeing another being as something on (about) the same level as you; it creates a connection between the communicators. And the excessive amount of communication between the Doctor/humans and the Daleks makes the Daleks feel less threatening.

And as a viewer of only NuWho, I’m starting to wonder how the Daleks got powerful in the first place. The advantages of being a brain in a machine is supposed to be that you’re smart. But the Daleks seem pretty stupid a lot of the time. They waste time talking and scheming. They get fooled by jammie dodgers. They get captured by rich morons. They spend more time yelling EXTERMINATE than they do actually killing people.

The Daleks just don’t do it for me the way the Martians do. They don’t have the cruel, heartless grace, the efficient killing and maneuvering power. They don’t feel alien and utterly unintelligible.

The Martian model makes it clear that the Daleks could have been frightening. But they simply weren’t well-executed, and lack the terror of Wells’s Martians.

______________

* (This definition, altered slightly, originally appeared in my post on Eli.) You’ll notice I don’t have any­thing about tech­nol­ogy in this def­i­n­i­tion, and that is for a rea­son. While most people’s con­cep­tions of sci­ence fic­tion have a big focus on tech­nol­ogy, I find that focus prob­lem­atic. This kind of def­i­n­i­tion is invested in the idea that old tech­nolo­gies are not tech­nolo­gies that mat­ter (in the sense that we no longer think of them as tech­nolo­gies) or count in sci­ence fic­tion. But it is wrong to sug­gest that books, pens, print­ing presses, chairs, cars, scis­sors, cameras, alarm clocks, DVD play­ers, elec­tric lights, laun­dry deter­gent, air­planes, ad nau­seum are not tech­nolo­gies that sig­nif­i­cantly shape the human con­di­tion in many parts of the world.

** Thanks to Amy Montz for originating this idea!

______________

Works Cited

Wells, H. G. “The Man of the Year Million.” Pall Mall Gazette6 November 1893: 3.

Wells, H. G. The War of the Worlds. 1898. Ed. Martin A. Danahay. Peterborough, ON: Broadview Press, 2003.

EXTERMINATE: Are the Daleks scary? (Part 1)

A comic by Peter Birkett, from Punch magazine on 5 August 1981. The image is a simple black line drawing on white. In it, a small group of Daleks are at the bottom of a short flight of stairs, looking toward the top of the stairs. At the bottom text reads, “Well, this certainly buggers our plan to conquer the Universe.” The comic is signed “birkett.” Source.

I’ve never much understood fear of the Daleks. They’re clunky and awkward, and way more adorable than frightening. (As a friend pointed out, the cutest thing about them is the way they sound increasingly frustrated. “Explain. EXPLAIN! EXPLAAAAIIN!!” Adorbs.) But the show and many fans insist that they are scary. They were even voted the scariest Doctor Who villain in a 2007 BBC poll. I find this confusing, because so many fan works (like crafts, fan art, cosplay) represent Daleks are humorous, cute, and/or silly. And it’s not like all villains are vulnerable to this. How many crafts do you see that make the Silence look adorable? Or that dress up the automatons from “The Girl in the Fireplace” as tiki-themed? Do people make plushies of the water monsters from “Waters of Mars”?

And it would be possible to read cute fan-made versions of the Daleks as studies in juxtaposition. We can create humor by making something truly horrifying look loveable or sad.

worst-thing-about-being-a-silence-21135-1317125684-13

A photo shows one of the Silence sitting at the end of a table. The table has a birthday cake on it, as well as several brightly colored paper plates and cups set on the table. The Silence wears a brightly colored striped party hat, and sits beside a bunch of colored balloons. He is the only one at the table. Text at the bottom reads “no one every remembers my birthday…” Source.

The humor of this image comes from two different contrasts. It riffs on the fact that the Silence can’t be remembered by anyone, and that would make it difficult for them to have normal lives. They couldn’t have friends, or dates, or jobs. But imagining villains (and particularly monsters) having normal lives is a weird contradiction, and that contradiction is funny. Imagine the Joker buying toilet paper, or the Silurians walking their dogs. Further, by giving the Silence the same kinds of feelings that normal people have, by making it seem vulnerable and lonely, the picture invokes the same kind of humor. A sad Silence is also a contradiction. Taking evil villains and monsters outside of their evil-doing contexts is funny, but not because it makes the actual villain/monster any less threatening. It works because they’re frightening; if they weren’t, there wouldn’t be any contradiction, and the humor wouldn’t be there.

Some Dalek fan works operate with the same kind of humor, but most do not. Popular themes are mocking the Daleks’ lack of motor functions, ridiculing the Daleks’ appearance, and poking fun at the Daleks’ catch phrase.

Can the Daleks do anything? Unlike the Silence picture, which makes fun of the Silence’s inability to have normal lives (not actually necessary for villainy), Dalek works often make fun of the Daleks for being clunky and awkward. The comic at the top of the post is a prime (and rather famous) example of this. The comic makes it explicit that the Daleks’ inability to navigate stairs would actually make them incompetent (and not that frightening) villains. One doesn’t need to have memorable birthdays to conquer the world. Stair-navigation, however, is probably necessary. We can see another example of this type of humor below.

Doctor-Who-Discombobulate-Dalek-T-Shirt

The detail on a dark grey t-shirt. In the image, a bronze-colored Dalek stands confused over a boxed light bulb on a table. His plunger and whisk “arms” are poised over the light bulb, and a think bubble above his head reads, “…how the heck?” Source.

While Daleks don’t need to change lightbulbs to be good villains (probably), the t-shirt is ridiculing the Daleks’ lack of motor functions. I mean, they have a plunger and a whisk. No fingers. No hands. They can’t pick anything up, or manipulate anything manually. That makes them a little less threatening as villains, which this t-shirt picks up on.

Why do they look like that? The Daleks’ clunky and low-budget appearance has been made fun of almost universally. Even people who think the Daleks are scary rarely think they look scary. The Daleks literally look like they were put together with scrap metal, stuff lying around the house, and some tape. It makes them hard to take seriously.

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The detail on a bright blue t-shirt. The image is a simple white line drawing. It shows a salt shaker, a plus sign, a plunger, a plus sign, a whisk, an equal sign, and a Dalek. Source.

This popular t-shirt posits that the Daleks are literally slap-dash. They humor comes in part because each of the objects is a domestic object (a salt shaker, a plunger, a whisk), which places the construction of the Daleks (or at least the aesthetic of the Daleks) squarely in the home. This makes them feel less threatening, because they are portrayed not as alien machines, but as objects that are extremely familiar. Further, the objects chosen here are, individually, so benign it would be difficult to imagine someone hurting you with them. How would you even attack someone with a whisk?

This kind of fan work doesn’t normally rely on contradiction; it’s a straight-up mocking of what the Dalek looks like and what parts he’s made of.

EXFOLIATE! ELUCIDATE! PONTIFICATE! The catch phrase for the Daleks is, I think, supposed to represent their horrifying, single-minded focus on killing all non-Daleks. But when you repeat a word enough, it starts to lose it’s meaning. I think this is what has happened to EXTERMINATE. Partially because the Daleks are so ridiculous, fans have easily and frequently taken the catch phrase and played with it for humor.

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The detail on a dark blue t-shirt. The image is a simple bright blue line drawing. It shows a a Dalek lounging on a recliner. He is watching TV, using a remote, and eating popcorn on a side table. There’s a can on beer on its side on the side table, and one on the arm of the recliner. On a bulletin board next to the Dalek are pinned three different sheets of paper. One shows the sonic screwdriver, one is a technical drawing of the TARDIS, and one is a “To Do List” with three items, all reading “EXTERMINATE!” Source.

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 The detail from a handpainted white greeting card. A bronze-colored Dalek sits in the suds of a bathtub, with soap hanging from a rope on his plunger arm. Text above the image reads, “EXFOLIATE!” Source.

These examples rely somewhat on the contradiction of Daleks having normal lives (watching TV, taking a bath), like the Silence example. They are also showing, though, the ridiculousness of the way the Daleks approach actions. If the Daleks want to do something (or want someone else to do something), they just yell commands. (Explain! EXPLAIN! EXPLAAAAIN!!) By showing how humorous it is to do that in real life (PROCRASTINATE! EXFOLIATE!), these fan works reveal the ways in which the Dalek catchphrase is silly, in part because it unnecessarily narrates the Daleks’ actions. Instead of just, you know, shooting the Doctor, they yell EXTERMINATE about 10 times while looking at him first. That’s about as stupid as screaming EXFOLIATE while you’re in the bathtub. The PROCRASTINATE image is even funnier, because it seems to directly comment on the way the Daleks say actions to delay doing them, as the “To Do List” on the wall makes clear. This is certainly a characteristic that makes a villain less threatening (like a Bond villain who explains his whole plan to you and walks away after putting you in a slow-moving death trap).

Soft Dalek, warm Dalek, little ball of hate. There are, however, some fan works that seem to resemble my Silence example, that rely on the contrast between scary killer monster and domesticity/everyday life, snuggliness, and/or vulnerability and loneliness.

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A screenshot from spastasmagoria’s Tumblr blog. The post, from 4 May, has an image that is a close-up of a bronze-colored Dalek’s head. His glowing blue eyestalk is central, and text below the eyestalk reads “I am alone in the universe.” A comment from Tumblr user missrenholder reads, “’‘Help me.’ Poor little thing.” Spastasmagoria’s commentary reads, “LET ME HOLD YOU, LAST DALEK IN THE UNIVERSE. LET ME CUDDLE YOU AND WE CAN HUG THE GENOCIDE OUT.” Source.

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A hand drawn set of images on white that parody the “Soft Kitty” song from Big Bang Theory. In the first panel, the text reads, “soft dalek” and a red Dalek is covered in something white and fluffy. In the second panel (“warm dalek”), the Dalek is on a lounge chair under the sun. In the third panel (“little ball of hate”), the eleventh Doctor casually looks at the Dalek, who is much smaller, about waist-height. The Dalek has little “hate lines” above his head. In the fourth panel (“happy dalek”), the Dalek is look upward, with his “arms” raised. In the fifth panel (“sleepy dalek”), the Dalek’s head and arms are facing downward, and a talk bubble reads “zzz…” In the last panel, the Dalek’s head and arms are facing upwards, and a talk bubble reads “EX-TER-MI-NATE.” Source.

Both of these examples contrast snuggliness with hatred and violence. The first image is funny because spastasmagoria explicitly juxtaposes hugging with genocidal creatures, and the second because it pairs a “little ball of hate” with kitties. Like the Silence example, this kind of fan work functions best if the viewer sees the Daleks as frightening and threatening. That way, the contrast is at its highest. Unlike the Silence example, however, these two works feel the need to explicitly remind the audience that the Daleks are genocidal murderers (“WE CAN HUG THE GENOCIDE OUT” and “little ball of hate”). I would suggest that they do this because without doing so, the audience(s) might see the Daleks as ridiculous, as already adorable, and then these works would be less humorous.

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A silver-framed cross stitch on a striped wall. In the cross stitch, a dark red Dalek faces an R2D2. A speech bubble coming from the Dalek had a pink heart in it. Source.

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A chubby red felted Dalek. He has twisty metal arms, and is holding a banner reading “EXTERMINATE” in stamped letters in front of him. Source.

Many examples of snuggly/lonely Dalek fan works, however, don’t rely on humor at all. They’re just cute. There are knitted Daleks, plush Daleks, crocheted Daleks, felted Daleks. There are cookie Daleks. There are Daleks that just want to love. There are baby Daleks. All of these examples aren’t really meant to be funny. They’re meant to be adorable. And that there are so many of them suggests that a lot of fans already think the Daleks are adorable, or at least think the Daleks are non-threatening enough to be fashioned as adorable.

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A “tiki Dalek” at Gallifrey 22 in 2011. The Dalek has bamboo trim and a straw “skirt” trimmed in green grass and Hawaiian flowers. His bumps are half coconuts, and his eyestalk is made of one, too. He has a cocktail umbrella behind his eyestalk, and his whisk arm is a tiki torch. The other arm holds a drink topped with Hawaiian flowers and cocktail umbrellas. The rings on his “neck” are plastic leis. Source.

So are the Daleks scary? My exploration into Dalek fan works suggests that even fans don’t really think so. When at least half of fan works of a villain mock or domesticate that villain, it seems unreasonable to say that fans are truly frightened of it. We seem to think the Daleks are ridiculous, silly, and cute at least as often as we think they are scary.

The upcoming part 2 of this post will explore how the Daleks are similar to H. G. Wells’s Martian in The War of the Worlds, and how that comparison affects how scary, or not, the Daleks are to modern audiences.

Quick Hit: Telos AM podcast interview about Doctor Her

A while back, I was interviewed on the Doctor Who podcast Telos AM about Doctor Her. The whole podcast, which is about women and Doctor Who,  is interesting, so give it a listen, but my interview starts about 16 minutes in. We talk about Doctor Her, but also about how Doctor Who could be better, the relationship between science fiction and progressivism, and how fans are the badass part of Doctor Who.

I also wrote some thoughts about Doctor Who and intersectionality on Tumblr afterward, inspired by the interview.

It’s sure quiet around here…

You may have noticed that the posting has been slow around here lately. We’ve all been busy, and hit a lull. Life, school, kids, you know.

But a slow period is a great time for guest posts or post suggestions. Is there a topic you’d like to see us write about? Is there a post you’d like to write for us?

We’d love to hear from you! Just email courtney@doctorher.com.