Archive for Nightsky

Why the Doctor can’t visit Night Vale

Like every other geek on the Internet, I’ve spent the summer and fall getting caught up with surreal horror darling “Welcome to Night Vale”, a podcast that’s ostensibly a community radio show aired in a sleepy little desert town where every conspiracy theory is true. The radio host is local Night Vale journalist Cecil Palmer–voiced by actor Cecil Baldwin as the mathematical average of Ira Glass and Rod Serling–who calmly reports on things like PTA meetings marred by inexplicable rifts opening in local spacetime, in between updating listeners on the community calendar and his love life.

The central conceit of the show is that, in Night Vale, “normal” and “strange” have been inverted: the eerie is ordinary, and the commonplace is suspect. The central joke is that this turns out not to matter very much. People living together even in a place like Night Vale–where a sentient glow cloud not only inexplicably glides over town shedding dead animals but also settles down and joins the school board–have the same pettiness and personal dramas as people anywhere else.

Doctor Who is said to be able to go anywhere and do anything, but here, I think, is one story it can’t do, because its central structure is exactly the opposite. In Doctor Who, a strange superhero comes to an ordinary town to solve a problem that the locals cannot–typically, because the threat is so far beyond their comprehension that the Doctor’s specialized knowledge is required–and then leaves again. In Night Vale, a scientist-hero brings his specialized knowledge to unravel the secrets of a strange town where pretty much everything seems outside his comprehension, but finds out that it’s actually normal underneath, and makes his home there.

A statement of trans-inclusive feminism

I wholeheartedly endorse this statement of trans-inclusive feminism, because feminism–hell, womanhood–without our trans sisters is stunted and incomplete.

I’m not sure how I feel about the utility of this–I have been on the Internet for twenty years now, which is more than long enough to get really cynical about online petitions–but I think it’s important enough that I sign on anyway.

Congrats, Tansy!

The 2013 Hugo winner for Best Fan Writer (well-deserved, as regular readers know)… blogs right here.

Now go check out her blog if you haven’t already.


By now, most of you are probably aware of Steven Moffat’s categorial denial that he would consider a woman doctor: he considers it as unlikely and improbable as casting a man to play the Queen.

(Obligatory Kids In The Hall link.)

Regular readers may have noticed that I have cut Steven Moffat a lot of slack. I’ve met him. I like him–honestly, he’s smart and funny in person, with this wonderfully dry, self-deprecating charm–in the weird asymmetrical way that people who go to cons get to like guests of cons. But here I have no hesitation in saying that I think he’s catastrophically wrong.

Let’s review, shall we?

The Queen The Doctor
A real person An imaginary person
A human from the planet Earth A Gallifreyan/Time Lord from the planet Gallifrey
Member of a species whose gender identity is innate (though it may not match the gender assigned at birth) and stable Member of a species that can change apparent gender under some circumstances
Could certainly be played by a man; in fact, was always played by a man on the Elizabethan and Jacobean stages. Could certainly be played by a woman; in fact, was played by a woman in “The Curse of Fatal Death”, though admittedly Moffat may not have heard of that obscure–oh, he wrote it?

I think Moffat means well, and that he really does think he isn’t sexist. Unfortunately, this leads him into the classic privileged mistake: thinking that his good intentions (or, more accurately, lack of bad intentions) is a magic get-out-of-sexism free card. Even if his behavior and writing is sexist… well, sexists are those terrible people over there who hate women. Not him. He doesn’t hate women! He loves women! He just doesn’t want to cast one, or hire any to write for him, or write women who fall outside of a narrow range of stock types. And he really doesn’t want to examine his own reasons for his behavior, or to listen to people unless they agree with him:

“[A female Doctor] didn’t feel right to me, right now. I didn’t feel enough people wanted it […] Oddly enough most people who said they were dead against it – and I know I’ll get into trouble for saying this – were women […] [They were] saying, ‘No, no, don’t make him a woman!’”

(Here we see a glimmering of self-awareness–the hazy notion that he’ll “get in trouble” for voicing an opinion–struggling to make itself known. It gets shot down, but it’s there all the same.)

Ultimately, Steven Moffat’s major failing is that he doesn’t or won’t listen. Don’t get me wrong: I don’t believe that the voice of fandom is sacrosanct. Fandom doesn’t always know what it wants. But I do think that fandom should be listened to.

Not obeyed.

Listened to.

Not dismissed out of hand with condescension and an absolute refusal to consider the way that one’s actions belie one’s noble motives.

This ‘n’ that

Two quick things. First, as Doctor Who bloggers, we are contractually obligated to give opinions on the casting of Peter Capaldi as the Twelfth Doctor. Mine is that Capaldi is a marvelous actor–which is, like, two or three of my top five qualifications right there–and that casting such a respected and accomplished figure (seriously–dude has an Oscar[1]) is a serious coup for the rubbish-looking kids’ program that Michael Grade axed. (Suck it, MG!) That Capaldi is a lifelong fan is just icing on a pretty spectacular cake.

He’s also the twelfth white guy in a row.

This does not mean he’s a bad choice or that I’m unhappy with his selection. I just would have preferred a riskier, less “safe” choice, and I’m disappointed that the legions of non-white-guys who are also stunningly good actors were apparently never even considered. My own personal pet pick for Doctor is Paterson Joseph; if you don’t know why, go rent Neverwhere [2] and watch his remarkably Doctor-like portrayal of the Marquis de Carabas.

Update: Or, having just caught up on my podcasts, “what Chip at the Two Minute Time Lord said.”

Second, your life is not complete without this picture of John Barrowman being exterminated by what I can only describe as a Dalek fairy princess.

On a convention floor, actor John Barrowman is collapsed against a TARDIS after having been "exterminated" by a small girl wearing a homemade Dalek costume that incorporates a tuile skirt and a halter top.

On a convention floor, actor John Barrowman is collapsed against a TARDIS after having been "exterminated" by a small girl wearing a homemade Dalek costume that incorporates a tuile skirt and a halter top.

You’re welcome. (Via

[1]Albeit not for acting. His multiple BAFTAs, however, are for acting.
[2] Which also has, in a supporting role, Peter Capaldi!

You’re a beautiful woman, probably: My life as an ace Who fan

Some weeks ago, the Daily Fail wrote a spectacularly condescending article on a new book of social justice Who criticism, Doctor Who and Race. There’s a lot to dislike in the Fail’s piece, but I want to draw your attention to one of its most cynical and effective tricks: an insistence on a binary. In writer Chris Hasting’s view, you’re either with the Doctor or against him. He pits evil killjoy academics determined to suck the fun out of everything against a venerable, beloved British institution. On one side, checking your privilege and learning to acknowledge the problematic. On the other, kneejerk affirmation that Doctor Who rocks. Hastings’ readers knew which part they’d been assigned. Result? A book with important points to make will almost certainly get less exposure than it deserves.

We’ve written about moving beyond fandom binaries before–here’s my own piece. There’s another fandom binary that revolves around whether the Doctor is a sexual being, and the players in this one (as I experience it, anyway) are “prudish anoraks terrified by sex” vs. “sensible adults”.

This puts me in a bit of a bind. I am aromantic asexual, and, yes, it is important to me that the Doctor be asexual. In a world where people like me either don’t exist or need to be cured (The 40-Year-Old Virgin, that one episode of House), I like knowing that there’s one character who’s like me. When, in “City of Death”, the Fourth Doctor tells Countess Scarlioni “You’re a beautiful woman, probably”, it’s a beautiful shock to me because I can relate so completely. When Tegan, in “Enlightenment”, steps out in a beautiful Edwardian ballgown and shows off for the Doctor, clearly expecting his jaw to drop and his eyes to bulge out of their sockets, and he kind of glances her up and down as if to say “Yep, that’s an appropriate dress for a party”, and then turns away and starts down the hall–that, again, is me. Whereas today, we have a married Doctor kissing people (sometimes against their will) and going “Yowza”. Under Davies and, especially, Moffatt, I have less and less room to pretend that the Doctor is ace.[1] That hurts. We have a tiny handful of asexual characters out there–most of whom are never identified as ace–and now we can’t even have those?

Worse, fandom is not exactly a refuge: I’ve sometimes said that Doctor Who fandom is the only place I feel that asexuality and feminism are somehow in conflict. I don’t object to shipping. (Why would I?) What I do object to is what I experience as fandom insisting that shipping represents an advance over the old “prudish anoraks terrified by sex” days–that because, broadly speaking, shipping is associated with female fandom, therefore enthusiasm for shipping is feminist; and its opposite, preferring an asexual Doctor, is somehow anti-feminist. And when fans ritually denounce the sad caricature of the stereotypical fan as mid-thirties and virginal… well, as a mid-thirties virgin fan myself, I’ve had about enough of it. (Should I carry around a sign explaining that I’ve had offers? Maybe have a t-shirt made? Would this make me less pathetic, or more?)

I suppose I’m asking for a bit of room: room to not ship Sherlock/John, room to think UST is really overused in new Who. (Does everyone have to fall for the Doctor? Is romance the only way male and female characters can relate?) Room to imagine a Doctor Who that kinda sorta includes me–because right now, it’s feeling a lot like when I was a kid and suddenly all the other girls wanted to make Barbie and Ken kiss. I didn’t want to make them kiss. I wanted them to go on adventures.

[1] Matt Smith, bless him, is on record as thinking the Doctor (or at least his Doctor) is ace.

Linkspam of the Daleks

First up, reader Lauren writes:

Greetings! I just launched a Kickstarter Project that is related to Dr. Who. Just take a look at the short video I made, and you can get an idea of why your followers might also be interested in learning about the project: Link to Kickstarter

I’m sure you can sense my excitement about melding Dr. Who with education in an intriguing way. I would appreciate if you took the time to post my project along with a few comments of your own. Please email me if you have any questions. Thank you for your time!

Lauren’s project is a really pretty ingenious DIY planetarium. She has prepared a few astronomy guides drawn from science fiction–Doctor Who included–so you can get help finding the constellation of Kasterborous. I love space, personally and professionally, and I love getting kids interested in science.

Here’s an intriguing spinoff forty years in the making: actor Damaris Hayman reprises her role as Olive Hawthorne–a smart, educated, unapologetic Pagan woman who befriends Jon Pertwee’s Doctor (and faces down the Master, who’s posing as a vicar) in 1971’s “The Daemons”–in “The White Witch of Devil’s End”. It’s out Oct. 31 on region-free DVD.

Author Patrick Ness wrote the new Fifth Doctor book in the BBC/Puffin series of ebooks out this year, Tip of the Tongue. Yr humble linkspammer, who loved Ness’ Chaos Walking trilogy, is most pleased. There’s a review here. N.B. “Ebook” is a bit generous–these are quite short. More like an “eshortstory”.

Wuh-oh. The Daily Mail discovers social justice critiques of Who. Click through if you ever want to see a really condescendingly written dismissal of our corner of fandom. I don’t suggest reading the comments.

As a palate cleanser: Queers Dig Time Lords is coming next week from Mad Norwegian Press. w00t! The always excellent Philip Sandifer has a thoughtful review up here.