Archive for Personal Essays

Radical Inclusiveness: or, Why Hufflepuff is the Best House

We spend a lot of our lives being told that we’re not good enough. (Enough for what, the obvious question, doesn’t come up nearly as often as it should.) You don’t get to do X–sorry, you just don’t meet The Qualifications. Thirteen women met or exceeded NASA’s requirements for the Mercury program, except that NASA required experience as a pilot. The women started pilot training. NASA changed the rules to require experience piloting military aircraft, and the military at the time didn’t let women fly. See how neat that is? Sorry, we’d love to qualify you for spaceflight, but it’s these requirements, see?

And the truth, then and now, is that a lot of The Rules are bullshit, and are there to keep the “wrong sort” out. Therein lies a bit of the genius of Doctor Who, by the way: the Doctor is a trickster figure, who isn’t always bound by rules, who has the power to distinguish the sensible rules from the bullshit ones. The Doctor has invited princesses and hooligans aboard the TARDIS, and he’s treated them the same. That’s a powerful message. There’s no entrance exam. You don’t need experience piloting any sort of aircraft. You’re companion material just as you are. Not just inclusiveness, but radical inclusiveness. Not only Hollywood-anyone, but anyone-anyone.

It makes me think of the least defined and most overlooked house in Harry Potter, Hufflepuff. Nobody seems to know much about Hufflepuff for the first few books; they’re just sort of… there, unlike Gryffindor (brave!), Ravenclaw (smart!) or Slytherin (inbred elitists!). It isn’t until book five that we finally find out what the organizing principle behind Hufflepuff House is:

Said Slytherin, “We’ll teach just those
Whose ancestry’s purest.”
Said Ravenclaw, “We’ll teach those whose
Intelligence is surest.”

Said Gryffindor, “We’ll teach all those
With brave deeds to their name.”
Said Hufflepuff, “I’ll teach the lot
And treat them just the same.”

Catch that? Hufflepuff isn’t the house of last resort; it’s the only house that deliberately eschews bullshit entrance exams. Because fuck them; there’s no guarantee that they’ll produce a better wizard or whatever–it’s the Hogwarts curriculum and the student’s own work ethic that determines thatand every indication that they both raise meaningless walls between people who really should be working together and create feelings of inadequacy in at least some of the students in them. You don’t have to prove yourself, in Hufflepuff. You want to learn? That’s all that matters. Pull up a chair and let’s do magic.

And that, in the face of a relentless onslaught of stories about the chosen one, the special one, the one marked by destiny to do great whatever, is a radical notion. One that Doctor Who, thanks to its trickster hero, is uniquely qualified to propagate. And that’s why my fondest hope for a companion is an unlikely one–one unlike companions of the past, maybe one selected by the Doctor before s/he has a chance to prove him/herself.* Because you know what’s bullshit? It’s our stories telling people who are female/Black/Native/Asian/queer/disabled/whatever that the best they can hope for is to be inspiration and help to the people who really matter to the story.

It’s time for us to call it bullshit, loudly, and say that everyone matters. No more tests. No more proving yourself. You’re fine. You’re exactly what the Doctor ordered, not despite whatever’s slowing you down, but because of it.

(Continued at Radical Inclusiveness 2: or, Dear Mr Moffatt.)

* It’s true that some past companions have stowed away–I mean, “self selected”. But, as I’ll discuss when I finish my piece on Tegan, the show never really explored the ramifications of this, and I’d really like it to.

 

Time Lord’s Road To Global Domination – Anticipation Of Year 49

I opened my mailbox and found the Doctor inside….Well, on a magazine actually BUT it’s a wonderful article in EW.

My beloved Doctor, this amazing creature I share with millions around the world, is ready to return.

The article, and some of the comments made there in,  started my wheels turning. The impact if the Whoniverse and The Tao of Who on popular culture. Especially the impact this very Brit style of thinking/ ideals has on American Culture.

How do these questions impact this blog and the ideals, outlook and discussions we provoke?

I don’t know as of yet……I can’t wait to find out. 

We face the loss of old companions and the introduction of new. There are rumors flying about the return of River Song AND my beloved Captain Jack Harkness.

I’m excited, the anticipation of new adventures, new characters and brilliant writing have me twitching like a chihuahua after a meth cookie. I hope the rest of you are as “GIDDY” as I am, and we happily dissect each episode and have spirited witty debates over every nuance of amazing writing.

 

The Russell T. Davies Parent Trap

“When you wake up, you’ll have a Mum and Dad.”
-The Doctor, Big Bang Two

One of the elements that Russell T. David bought to the show in the reboot was the companions’ family, which are used to ground the character in reality and show us more about the character by showing us the nature and nurture elements that made the companions who they are.

Rose was raised by a single mother.  They were poor, but Jackie did her best for her daughter, standing up to the strange man who abducted her, putting herself in danger to protect her and most impressive, letting her do the right thing even though it goes against what Jackie wants and her instinct to protect her baby girl.

Rose’s father died when she was very young, but through the magic of the TARDIS, we get to meet Pete Tyler.  Pete is likable and gave his life up to save his wife, child and world despite failing as a husband, father and man in other areas.

To be honest, I never warmed to Pete Tyler from the alternate world (hereby known as Pete 2.)  He was not a father and did not seem willing to take on that role until Doomsday when he saved her but considering he didn’t return with Jackie and Mickey in Journey’s End, I feel that really had more to do with Jackie giving him an ear full.  He just lacked what made Pete 1 a good man.

Her parents are perfectly crafted to see why Rose is how she is through both nature and nurture.

When Pete was alive, Jackie needed to be constantly yanking on his lead to keep him from wasting money on crazy schemes, to keep him from cheating with every other woman who even glances at him and knock sense in to him.  Because of that, Jackie’s view of men was that they were on good-for-nothing animals that have to be controlled, something that without a strong male role model to counterbalance this, she imprinted on to her daughter.  That is part of the reason the Doctor amazed her so much.  “He’s not a boyfriend, he’s better than that.” (The Christmas Invasion.)

But Pete wasn’t completely useless.  Although he wasn’t always moral when it came to getting his leg over, he had a strong sense of right and wrong, a sense of adventure and an open mind when it came to things that are possible in the Whoniverse.  These are three qualities that Rose did not get from her mother.

 

Martha’s mother is shown as a villain for most of the series, working with some shady seeming people poisoning her against The Doctor.  She is not doing this to get the Doctor, but her love for her daughter is being used against her.  She is a pawn in the Master’s game, trying to protect her daughter but ultimately working against that.  Francine gets her redemption by not killing the Master.

Martha’s father had far less screen time than her mother.  We first see Clive siding with his young gold digging girlfriend over his aggressive ex-wife in the fight that ruined his only son’s 21st birthday.  It’s a quick flash of the family but it shows a lot about Clive.  He is a man in a mid-life crisis trying to have fun now that he’s free from Francine’s iron fist and being taken for a fool by this other woman.  I had very little sympathy with him but when it comes time for him to play his part in the Master’s plan, he warns Martha, even though he is very clearly putting himself at risk.  He, like Pete before him, is willing to give his life to protect his family.

 

Donna’s mother is also a very dominating woman.  She loves her daughter and wants what’s best for her but instead of encouraging her, the way The Doctor does, Sylvia is constantly nagging at her in order for Donna to improve her life.  Sylvia was never really given a chance to shine like the other mothers but we saw her potential in how quick and resourceful she was to save her father from ATMOS.

Donna’s father, Geoff, died between The Runaway Bride at Christmas 2006 and season 4 in 2008.  Geoff was meant to be in season 4 as Donna’s ally under Sylvia’s iron first, however the actor Howard Attfield passed away in early production so Wilfred Mott was re-modelled from the extremely minor character in The Voyage of The Damned to Geoff’s role as Donna’s grandfather and the other side of the generation gap.

Geoff and Sylvia Noble were meant to be together and that would have made them the first only parents-of-a-companion to be together during Russell T. Davis’ era.

 

…Except they wouldn’t have been.

 

Jackie and Pete 2 were paired up at the end of Doomsday.  There are cultural and social differences that make them different people.  They can’t just replace the dead spouse like nothing and it never come up again or cause problems later in the relationship.  It’s implied they are still together in Journey’s End but I don’t buy it.  Pete 2 didn’t join Jackie and Mickey.  Surely they could afford a babysitter so Pete 2 can come and save his daughter?  I don’t see him ever accepting Rose as his and rescued her in Doomsday because Jackie told him to and I don’t see Jackie/Pete 2 lasting.

 

And they aren’t the only parents hurried stuck back together at the end of the season.  It is heavily implied Clive and Francine got back together by how Clive talks about protecting his family in The Last of the Timelords?  Stockolm syndrome! Yes, it may be the Master who has them prisoner but they are prisoners together and there is that strong traumatic bond.

They are not working over the issues that went wrong in their marriage that led to the divorce.  They will still be there.  Clive and Francine along with daughter Tish were left traumatised by the year that never was with Martha, implying lasting affects when she returned in season 4.  If those two have rekindled their relationship, it’s probably not all that healthy or won’t stand the test of time.

For Martha, her parent’s divorce, or rather it’s dramatic aftermath, was why she needed the escapism of The Doctor’s lifestyle.  It was not a childish “I want them to be back together because” but because all members of the family was relying on her and no one was looking out for her because they expected her to keep it all together.

A better ending would be for her family to see how much they are hurting Martha, for them to find a better way to deal with their issues rather than screaming in the street and putting everything on Martha’s shoulders.  Having three fifths of the family scarred is not how families should solve their problems.

 

With divorce as common as it is today, teaching kids that their parents will magically get back together at the end of the season is a bad idea.

The annoying thing is, in The Sarah Jane Adventures, RTD does this story right.  He has Maria dealing with her parents divorce but through character development she accepts it and the show doesn’t just stick her parents back together at the end of Maria’s arc because…that’s what happy endings look like.

Goodbye Dr Liz Shaw

[Crossposted from my blog at tansyrr.com]

We’ve lost many actors and creators from Classic Who over the last couple of years. When Elisabeth Sladen died, I was gutted, and simply couldn’t talk about it. Her character had been so important to me as a child, and had continued to be relevant and important through my adult life. The fact that she was still working, still playing the character on screen, made it more immediate. I never blogged about the loss of Elisabeth Sladen, or talked about it much, and even turned down the request to give a toast in her honour, because I couldn’t find the words.

Only when I heard in the last week that Caroline John had died did I start thinking about how important her character had been to me, too. I’m a lot less emotionally invested in Liz Shaw as a character, but she was a huge influence and role model for me – specifically the Liz Shaw of Spearhead from Space, the story which rebooted Doctor Who from the black and white 1960’s to the colour 1970’s.

Everyone remembers the Jon Pertwee era of Classic Who as being about the Doctor, representing the hippies and the scientists, in regular conflict with the Brigadier and UNIT, representing the military solution, despite taking resources from them without any apparent qualms. In fact, the Brigadier is quite accommodating to the Doctor, who rarely does more than roll his eyes at the use of guns in dealing with aliens, and the two of them riff good-naturedly against each other while saving the world.

Liz Shaw, who is our point of view story for a large part of Spearhead from Space, criticises the military and their way of doing things more in that first story than I think the Third Doctor does for his entire five year run. She is cynical and amused by UNIT and its military solutions, but also very much a skeptic about aliens, who has to learn fast that she is wrong (about the aliens thing) and adapt. Which she does – she may start out as something of a Dana Scully, but once she sees what is happening, her scientific mind proves to be more than up to the challenge. She is an assistant to the Doctor, yes, but she is very much portrayed as his intellectual equal, and while she never wanted to be part of UNIT, the scientific challenge is enough to keep her around (for a while).

And oh, it burns me every time one of them calls her Miss Shaw. I know it’s the 70’s, but she’s a freaking DOCTOR, she earned that title, and the script still occasionally treats her like she’s a dolly bird brought in to make the tea (though that, of course, is Benton). Still, Caroline John rose above it, and despite the mini-skirts and big hair, proved to be a capable and inspiring female scientist.

More importantly, she left. Now, Caroline John left for two reasons – because the production staff felt that having a companion who was the intellectual equal of the Doctor wasn’t the direction they wanted to go in, and also because the actress was pregnant and needed to quit in any case. Because this was decided after the filming of Season 7, there was no ‘final’ story, no leaving scene for Liz Shaw. Fans have often complained about this, because that is what fans do. But I kind of love the way she’s written out – the beginning of Terror of the Autons, the first story of the next season, makes it clear that Liz has gone back to Cambridge to continue her work, and that the Doctor isn’t happy about it.

She has, in short, better things to do. “It was fun, Doctor but… I’m busy.” (The Brigadier even says at this point that she was overqualified for the role as the Doctor’s assistant as he only needs someone to pass him test tubes and tell him how brilliant he is – which feels like a bit of a dig at the behind the scenes decision!) Liz’s independence is part of what makes her such an original and awesome companion character, and the critical regard so many viewers have for season 7 has a lot to do with the role that she played.

i09 article on How Caroline John Helped Save Doctor Who.

Calapine posts about Caroline John and Liz Shaw and provides time stamps for the following long YouTube interview:

A lovely tribute to an unforgettable character, and an important woman in the history of Doctor Who, by Babelcolour:

The Darkest Doctor – Falling In Love With the Damage.

  In my previous posts I constantly reference The Doctor’s high moral code and aversion to violence. 

  The character of the Doctor was developed and is portrayed as someone who practices non-violent conflict resolution. He’s a hero that solves crisis through engagement – NOT violence. The Doctor is never cruel or cowardly and takes a long-term perspective on the ways of the Universe. The show explores with simplistic beauty some truly wrenching themes of loss and morality.

   With that being said I would like to introduce you to The 9th Doctor.

 The 9th Doctor comes to us as a child of war. Brutal at times, confrontational and inflexible, he states himself he sometimes creates carnage.

 This is The Doctor I fell in love with.

  I don’t mean fan girl SQUEE, I mean I fell in love with the darkness. This tough as nails Doctor damaged by war and guilt. Those events shaping his outlook and interactions, causing him to hide his sorrow inside a facade of manic energy and off beat humor.

 Not only is he the bad boy of the Whoniverse, The 9th Doctor is something of an action hero, subsequent to The 4th Doctor, The Doctors had a tendency to be camp, overly knowing and lovable. The 9th Doctor is brusque, snarky and virile. You can just taste the edge of insanity, from destroying two civilizations, bubbling right under the skin.

 This is The Doctor that tortures a Dalek and attempts to kill it in cold blood. Only the intervention from his companion stays his hand.

  This Doctor sets out to teach his companion (Rose) about the wonders of the Universe. She teaches him to re connect with humanity. Together they make each other better than they would have been alone. She sets him on the path to his 10th and 11th self.

  What has this got to do with the point of this blog, you ask?

  Who among us is not damaged due to something that’s been done to us or we’ve done or been ordered to do? I myself identify with Doctor 9’s darkness because I see my reflection and the reflections of all those who’ve faced significant trauma.

  How easy is it to cross the line and want to torture and kill your enemies or those that have committed violence against you. Does it matter if the violence was caused by gender, sexual orientation, political outlook or just being in the wrong area at the wrong time.

  Perhaps like so many you’ve been in combat and the actions done there haunt you.

  Rose has been criticised for being weak or an unflattering portrayal of a woman as a companion. I have to say it takes a deft hand to be a Doctor-Whisperer.

  For the thirteen episodes you see The 9th Doctor, you watch her reel him back, teach him to love and re instill his humanity.

  In the end he gives up everything because of her influence. The 9th Doctor tells his enemies he would rather be a coward than a killer.

 At that point, the 9th Doctor is ready to become the 10th. He’s let go of the rage and learned to master the pain. I wish we had an army of Roses to put in all the VA Hospitals.

 I have huge amounts of love for many of The Doctors. Numbers 4 and 10 do elicit that SQUEE so discussed earlier. The 9th Doctor showed me that you can regain your humanity, you don’t have to answer with violence. 

 

 

Love After The Doctor

“Well… there was this one guy. I traveled with him for a while. But he was a tough act to follow.”
– Sarah-Jane Smith, School Reunion

With this quote, Russell T. Davis points out why he shouldn’t have made The Doctor a romantic hero.  From Mickey Smith to Rory Williams, nu-Who always had the competition for the companion’s attention, attractive men with decent qualities of their own, but did they stand a chance when The Doctor were ruining all other men for these women?

Sarah-Jane herself, had one canon relationship in her spin-off show.  That storyline opened with the kid companions tracking her on a date because they were freaking out by her ‘strange behaviour’ lately.  This shows that Sarah Jane has pretty much given up on love after The Doctor but the quote implies that she has seen other men between Doctor 4 and Doctor 10 and none of them interested her.

Not that there is anything wrong with her not being interested in romance…but then she goes all giddy and bashful when Jack Harkness says ‘Hello.’  She’s not fourteen!

Likewise Rose seemed to close herself off from love after Doomsday, focus on getting back to The Doctor and hearing those words he never got to say.  On one hand I hate hate HATE the ship and the character and that going back to that finished storyline only opens plot holes but on the other: this incredible young woman knows what she wants, fights impossible odds to get it and succeeds – more or less.

Martha Jones is a woman who tracked down the deliciously handsome and heroic Doctor Thomas Millican who is good with children, does relief work and got engaged to him within a half a year because he’s dreamy, good with kids, died for her in another reality and played by Tom Yummy Buns Ellis.

So why did she end up with Mickey Smith of all people?  Mickey!  Smith!  …Well they both change and grew throughout their experiences with The Doctor.  The Doctor did to them what he does for his companions and brings out their best, their heroic side.  He has shown them things that others may find hard to believe.  Like when Donna Noble spent a year searching for him after rejecting his first offer to travel with him and she had no romantic attachment to him whatsoever.

Unlike Sarah Jane, Martha found a suitor that understood the world she lived in and could live in it too.  She didn’t have to keep secrets or risk him not believing her.

When it comes down to it, experiences changes people and traveling with The Doctor would be quite an experience. We’ve seen characters that change just because their lives were touched by The Doctor: Harriet Jones, Craig Owens, Sally Sparrow, Amy’s friend Jeff, Lady Catherine de Souza and the members of LINDA.

The experience made them see the same things at a different angle and that will apply to what they look for in a partner and their relationship.  It’s not all about love.  Love is just a part of it.

Love is a powerful story telling tool but the stories of Sarah-Jane’s return and Martha could be told without the romance.  At least with Sarah-Jane it’s undertones to appease the shippers but Martha’s story could have been so much stronger if her story wasn’t mutually conclusive with a love story.

It does make sense that Martha was ‘the rebound companion’ as she was always good, but finding that self-belief that one could argue she had in Smith and Jones and The Doctor’s been chipping away at since making her feel second best.  However having her interest over The Doctor and jealously over Rose be romantic it makes Martha slightly petty.  When Donna meets Martha, Donna sees how good this young woman is and ups her game, not competition with Martha but to earn her place on the TARDIS which she does in one act.  Having a series with Martha trying to prove that she is worth that ‘one more trip’ and make that a more stable position on the TARDIS would be far more interesting, speaking to anyone who ever felt ‘not good enough.’

I hope with the new companion we see new interesting character arcs being explored and experiences change her without it been driven by romance.  It’s not needed, it’s been done more than once and rather than building up a doomed romance they can put in fresh plot and character moments.

The 51st Century and The Future of Sex

“You people and your quaint little categories.” – Captain Jack Harkness

I don’t get to see a lot of bisexuals/pansexuals/queers who love people of multiple genders on television. Usually, even if a character takes up with a person of a not-heretofore-preferred-by-said-character gender, the typical reaction is “Oh, so you’re gay now?” or “I knew you were straight all along!”. If the possibility that someone can be attracted to more than one gender is raised, it’s generally scoffed at.

Captain Jack Harkness is different. A consummate “omnisexual”, Jack is shown in Doctor Who and Torchwood to flirt, have sex, and develop romantic relationships with men, women, and non-humans. He is believable when he grieves for the wife he watched age and die every bit as much as he is swooning over The Doctor (and nearly everyone else on screen). Amazingly, the rest of the Torchwood team all more or less join him on the middle of the Kinsey scale. The Whoniverse avoids suggesting that these people are fooling themselves, confused, or doing it for attention. I cannot think of any representation of my sexuality in pop culture that compares, and I can’t emphasize enough how much I appreciate it.

But there’s still something that bugs me. See, it’s not just Captain Jack who flies the pansexual flag; It’s stated several times that his attitudes and behaviors are typically 51st Century. Add to that the fact that the present-day Torchwood team is on board too, and all this seems to reinforce the old “everyone is at least a little bisexual” Kinsey-inspired cliche.

Which really, everyone is not.

In the queer community, the polyamorous community, the BDSM community, it’s easy to give in to the attitude that these orientations are more evolved, that their members have grown beyond the need for the more traditional “quaint little categories” that populate mainstream culture. The implications of the 51st Century attitudes presented in the Whoniverse seem to be that the human race is destined to outgrow heterosexuality, homosexuality, and quite probably monogamy, in favor of sexual expression that is more or less exactly like Jack’s.

Is a future that has eradicated our current diversity of sexual identities indeed a more mature one? Many portrayals of our species’ distant future, most notably those playing with utopian themes and their deconstruction, involve humanity moving toward–or being forced into– homogeneity. But wouldn’t true evolution and social progress involve social pressure to embrace increasingly different otherness? Of course, the 51st Century is not portrayed as the pinnacle of human evolution by any means, but with their 30,000 years on us, the message is right there: one day we will be beyond such petty things as sexual orientation, which is clearly a cultural construct because deep down we’re all omnisexual, obviously. Oh, and we will also smell fabulous.

But back here in the 21st Century, who are we to claim that pansexuality or any other specific orientation is more evolved? Limiting who people love and have sex with is, as we can hopefully all agree, backward. But pretending that whatever limits a person’s own attraction may naturally fall within is atavistic and closed-minded is equally flawed. Personally, I’m waiting for a future where we all celebrate and embrace one another’s identities and categories, no matter how unlike our own they may be. Captain Jack would deliciously fit into my future, but so would straight people, gay people, asexuals, sapiosexuals, queers of every stripe, people who prefer missionary position with the lights off, and every other permutation of loving, not-loving, shagging, not-shagging, and being ourselves.

Let us outgrow none of our amazing shades of love, not ever. Only our present day’s pathetic shades of fear.