Archive for Personal Essays

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.

OH STEVEN MOFFAT NO

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.

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.

Why I Didn’t Cosplay (But Now I Do)

Last year, on this blog, I wrote the most personal blog post I’ve ever written called “Why I Don’t Cosplay.” In it I opened up about my fears about cosplaying as a plus sized girl. It was a hard post to write because normally I’m extremely confident. I have a very strong “you don’t like me? That’s fine!” kind of attitude. Except when it came to cosplaying.

Yet, the response to the blog post was resounding and supportive. I found out that I wasn’t alone in my fears and I wasn’t alone in being a plus-sized cosplayer. One of the comments led me to two very inspiring tumblrs: f*** yeah fat cosplay and fat positive cosplay (which has sadly shut down). Between your comments and those tumblrs; I finally ventured into cosplay.

There’s still folks who post comments even a year and a half later, so I thought it was time to write a follow up.

Tabz as the TARDIS at ComicCon 2013

After writing that blog post, I attended ComicCon in San Diego (2012). For the first time I dressed up. I did a very simple Apple Jack (from My Little Pony) and my friend agreed to be Twilight Sparkle. The experience was amazing. People called out at us from across the con floor (hey Apple Jack! Hi Twilight!). People asked us to stop for photos. No one mocked us. It was a fantastic feeling.

I took cosplay easy. I didn’t go for the high-detailed designed cosplays. I mostly put things together from clothing items you could buy. I didn’t get thousands of people asking for my picture like some of the scantily clad girls, but I got enough to feel good about what I was doing. Having my friend dress up with me gave me extra confidence (hey at least we’ll look dumb together if nothing else) and it’s a moment we could both share. I found myself wanting to take more pictures of myself as well, something I normally never do at conventions. It was a success.

This year at ComicCon my best friend and I did three cosplays. One of them is pictured above, I did a TARDIS dress. This year we leveled up a bit and had some professional hair and makeup help. I cobbled my outfit together from online and handmade pieces. The makeup artist was so into it that she looked up Gallifreyan and wrote “Tabz and Kim are Cool” on my face.

Again, it was extremely positive experience. At one point a girl came over to both of us nearly hyperventilating because she loved our costumes. When I showed her that my hat lit up and made the TARDIS sound she said, “you can’t do that to me!” She then asked, shyly for a photo. It’s the closest I can get to being a rockstar.

Our two other cosplays didn’t get as widely recognized, but we had a blast anyways because we were dressed as characters we loved.

So, if you were like me and feeling self-conscious about your size. Just do it. Don’t rob yourself of a really fun fan experience.

And if some jerk makes fun of you try and ignore them. The rewards for making your own cosplay and having a blast with it are way more than some negative person can understand.

Domesticating the Doctor Part V: Divorcing the Ponds

[Cross-posted at my blog, tansyrr.com]

The Christmas decorations are still up, we’ve only just started eating the pudding (if I’d known it only took 3 minutes in the microwave I might have cooked it on Christmas Day) but the festive season is pretty much over in our house. Time to chew over the 2012 Doctor Who episodes (Series Pond & the Christmas Special) with a couple of new installments of DOMESTICATING THE DOCTOR.

Previously on Domesticating the Doctor, we looked at our hero’s distaste of the domestic sphere throughout the Classic Years (with a brief holiday from it when he was Jon Pertwee), we looked at the three Mother-in-Law characters from the RTD era and how this new, rebooted version of our hero coped with jam, Christmas dinner and housing estates, we delved back into pre-war Britain with a very human Doctor, and finally we poked holes in his new Moffat era family with Marrying the Ponds.

Before I get to the 2012 episodes, I wanted to touch briefly on the Night and the Doctor shorts, which were released last year as part of the Season 6 box set, but which I personally failed to watch until somewhere around the beginning of Season 7. These little sketches not only answer some rather intriguing questions about the actual timey wimey physics involved in the Doctor’s marriage to River Song, but also expands on his relationship with Amy, cementing it once and for all as being far closer to a familial connection than anything else.

This Doctor doesn’t get why married people should want to share a bed, but is in his element when talking about his best friend’s childhood – children make sense to him in a way that grown ups don’t, and he seems far less threatened by their domesticity. If this wasn’t fully clear from The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe (which probably deserves a post of its own, to be honest) in which the Doctor upcycles a house to be a child’s paradise but sneers at the functional adult rooms, it should certainly be clear from the scene in which he shows Amy the power he can have over her childhood and her memories, using only a theoretical ice-cream.

» Read more..

Triumph of the Dinosaurs

An episode with a deliberately jokey title turning out into one of the most straightforward and fun episodes recently? And, after all I’ve bitched about this never happening, the story has feminism front and center and unashamed? By Chris Chibnall, whose record on Who* has been at best mixed?

I wasn’t expecting THAT.

O “Dinosaurs on a Spaceship”, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways:

  • I love the story’s categorical opposition to objectification.
  • I love Nefertiti’s agency.
  • I love Amy’s agency.
  • I love the way Riddell learns. He starts out straight-up misogynist, but he learns. This is so cool, people.
  • I love that no one makes excuses for Riddell’s behavior. No, the problem is him and his views of women, and Amy is quite right when she suggests a course of gender politics.
  • I love Amy fangirling over Nefertiti. (“She’s cooler than you.”)
  • I love Amy and Nefertiti getting along rather than catfighting.
  • I loved thatin the future, lots of countries have space agencies and seem to take turns defending Earth.
  • I loved that, after the Doctor kissed Rory, Rory just made this hilariously weird face (Arthur Darvill shines in this episode, especially his reaction shots) and then that was it; nobody lost their shit or anything.

* I’m being unfair to Chibnall here. He’s clearly a hell of a writer, because he wrote the hell out of some episodes of one of my very favorite TV shows ever, the exquisite Life On Mars.

Radical Inclusiveness 2: or, Dear Mister Moffat

Now, the point to all this blustering about qualifications is to get at something the Grand Moff said a while ago:

“It’s just a question of who credibly is going to agree to go in the TARDIS? Who’s going to do it? Is it going to be a mother of 15 children? No. Is it going to be someone in their 60s? No. Is there going to be a particular age range? I mean… who’s going to have a crush on the Doctor? You know, come on! It’s more than a format. It’s evolved from good, dramatic reasons.”

With respect to Moffat, and with pains to point out that he is an award-winning screenwriter and I am not: bullshit. For one, the Sixth Doctor’s run with sixtyish history professor Evelyn Smythe is one of Big Finish’s real triumphs, a perfectly tuned relationship that works precisely because of Dr Smythe’s age and rich life experience.

And why not a mother of 15 children? Because she has responsibilities towards them? The Doctor has a time machine! She can kiss them goodnight, be off adventuring for as long as she likes, and be back before any of them so much as turn over in bed! Martha Jones’ arc explored this! For heaven’s sake, Moffat himself spent large swaths of series 5 doing the same!

I’m not really sure how to parse Moffat’s comment about companions having crushes on the Doctor, but I do want to stipulate that this trend of everybody falling in love with the Doctor is one of my least favorite aspects of the new series.

In short, I think that the very best thing Moffat could do for the show would be to write down all the requirements he thinks a companion should have, and then deliberately scribble them out and write a companion that violates as many of his requirements as possible. Because fuck “the rules”. Because adventures are for everybody, or they should be, and it breaks my heart to see the Doctor, of all people–a trickster figure uniquely qualified to break rules–endlessly select from the tiny subset of society that is young, well-off, abled, cisgender, pretty white British women.