Archive for Doctor Who

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.

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 Tor.com)

[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.

Domesticating the Doctor Part VI: Soufflés in the TARDIS

[Crossposted at TansyRR]

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, we poked holes in his new Moffat era family with Marrying the Ponds and then examined the final act of that relationship in Divorcing the Ponds.

As it turned out, the new companion of 2012 provided me with a brilliant coda to my Domesticating the Doctor series – a girl with an egg-whisk in her belt who moonlights as a Victorian governess!

Thank you, Mr Moffat. I’ll take it from here.

To me, the most baffling element of Asylum of the Daleks was not what the hell Jenna-Louise Coleman was actually doing there, five months before we expected her to arrive. It was: how does the Doctor know that you require fresh eggs and milk to make a soufflé?

I mean, seriously. It took him nine hundred and one years to get the hang of jam.

OswinOswaldColeman’s character of Oswin Oswald is explicitly domestic, from the cozy home she has set up for herself in the belly of a crashed spaceship to the egg whisk she wears in the utility belt of her little red dress. She even dictates letters home to her Mum. It’s all a cruel trick, of course, but it’s a clever one. Oswin is hanging on to the precious shreds of her remembered humanity, and the burnt birthday soufflé that was ‘too perfect to live’ is a part of that illusion.

Domesticity – the place we live, the everyday tasks that heroic stories tend to ignore – is an important aspect of humanity. We don’t all have to be 1950’s housewives who make perfect soufflés, or even switch on an oven, but to me the most interesting science fiction (and indeed the most interesting history) is that which explores how people actually go about their daily lives.

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The Girl Who Fell Out Of The World: or, The Importance of Being Tegan

Before we begin: Janet Fielding is battling cancer. I’d like to take a moment to wish her the very best of outcomes, and to point you all to her online support group slash charity page: projectmotormouth.org.uk

Actor Janet Fielding as Tegan Jovanka, in a screencap from the 1982 serial "Black Orchid". In this closeup, she is wearing a flapper-style green headband ornamented with a pink rose, and is smiling or laughing at the camera.

Actor Janet Fielding as Tegan Jovanka, in a screencap from the 1982 serial "Black Orchid". In this closeup, she is wearing a flapper-style green headband ornamented with a pink rose, and is laughing at the camera.

Mouth on Legs

Tegan Jovanka, everyone’s favourite trainee Australian flight attendant, is one of the Doctor’s longest-serving companions. She even eclipses the legendary Sarah Jane Smith, though only by a couple of weeks (and SJS was in more episodes). She’s pretty inarguably the Fifth Doctor’s companion, serving in all but two of Peter Davison’s televised serials. But you’d never know it from fandom. What is it with Tegan? Why is her sarcasm “stroppy” and “mean-spirited”, while Donna Noble’s is endearingly sassy? Why is her ambivalence about adventuring across time and space versus forging her domestic, Earthbound life–her real life–”whiny”, when Amy Pond’s very similar arc is portrayed much more sympathetically? I think it’s time to take another look at Our Tegan, the Classic Who companion who most clearly anticipates the New Who companion, and this time see the seeds she planted.

I hate those transmat things. I’d be afraid of coming out puréed.

Me, I had a soft spot for Tegan from early on. In “Castrovalva”, the newly-regenerated Fifth Doctor is looking for a Zero Room–a place, he says, that’s cut off from the rest of the universe. Tegan snarks that if she’d known that’s what he wanted, she would have suggested her native Brisbane. And lo, my little heart went “pwing!” What kid raised in suburban or rural environs–convinced that their parents had deliberately chosen the least interesting place on earth for them to grow up in– wouldn’t feel a twinge of empathy?

I love moments in Who that ground the fantastic in the earthy, that reach right past the high concept of the show to reveal how real people might react in such bizarre circumstances. I love the moment in “Forest of the Dead” where Donna, bewildered at the revelation that her life is a Matrix-like simulation, snaps, “But… I’ve been dieting!” All her discipline and willpower, and she could have had the chocolate cake anyway. Who wouldn’t feel frustrated? I love Martha worrying, in “The Shakespeare Code” whether Elizabethan London is a safe place for a black woman, and I’m annoyed that the Doctor brushes off her valid concerns.

And Tegan, with her shots at Brisbane and her entirely understandable wariness of this strange new world she finds herself in; Tegan, who never travels with a fellow human aboard the TARDIS; Tegan provides that essential grounded viewpoint.

Tegan’s character establishes itself early, and is remarkably consistent: she’ll speak her mind even when her voice shakes, she tries to be self-reliant to the extent that she won’t always ask for help when she needs it; she hides her fear and vulnerability behind a facade of snark and bravado. In short, she has a lot in common with one of the best-liked recent companions: Donna Noble. The two redheads are characterized by their fiery natures–both have tempers, neither is willing to take the Doctor’s crap, and both almost delight in puncturing his self-importance. Both remind the Doctor of the impact his plans have on the ordinary people caught up in them; indeed, they each almost consciously take on the mantle of the Doctor’s conscience. Both women were abducted aboard the TARDIS for their first experience(s) with the Doctor; leave when the Doctor finally returns them to their own time; and, later, dissatisfied with what had, pre-Doctor, been perfectly satisfying lives, chose to return for more adventures. [1]

So why is Donna beloved while Tegan, generally, isn’t? Is it the quarter century that elapsed between the two? I think that’s a large part of it. Nyssa and Tegan are both good examples of some of the problems with the way womens’ roles were written in the early Eighties: one was sweet and childlike; the other, adult but shrewish, and guess which one was allowed to be intelligent? Nor was the series at the time very interested in the companion’s story. We learned much more about Donna’s past, her family, and her character in one year than we did about Tegan in three, and the depth of Donna’s character helped make her sympathetic. So where Donna was a well-rounded character with flaws and strengths, Tegan, despite her much longer tenure in the TARDIS, is much more of a cipher.

I happen to think that human lives are just as valuable as yours!

Tegan’s original character brief is… kind of offensive.

Tegan is twenty-one, an attractive and intelligent Australian trainee air stewardess, whose brash confidence in her own abilities actually conceals inner insecurity, a state of affairs that becomes clear in moments of stress. On her way to her first real flight she accidentally blunders into the TARDIS and thus finds herself being inadvertantly [sic] abducted by the Doctor. Characteristically her inner bewilderment at the new situation in which she finds herself causes her to assume an attitude of overweening self-assertion, and she begins to take charge of the Doctor and Adric. During the course of three stories, Tegan’s superficial self-assurance will build until it becomes a real problem for the other two occupants of the TARDIS, and it will need drastic action on the part of the Doctor to put things to rights and show her the error of her ways. She may or may not continue with the Doctor thereafter.
(“Doctor Who – The Eighties” by David J Howe, Mark Stammers, Stephen James Walker; p.13.)

Oh, joy: the Uppity Woman Who Receives Her Well-Deserved Chastisement At The Hands Of A Wiser Man. (See, also, a remarkable fraction of the plots involving Lois Lane in mid-century Superman.) Way to smack down any female character who thinks herself a man’s equal!

But what’s remarkable here is how little of Tegan’s planned arc made it into production. Tegan had her flaws–rashness, a short temper, a bad habit of lashing out at people when she felt overwhelmed or frightened–but I think it’s very hard to argue that she was arrogant, much less that she “took charge” with “overweening self-assertion”. She makes her opinions known, but defers to the Doctor and Nyssa, less brash than she but more experienced. Certainly her comeuppance, as planned in her character brief, never happens.

Long shot showing Tegan exiting the TARDIS. Her inexpert landing has left the TARDIS sticking out of a hill at a strange angle, but she is proud to have landed it intact. Screencap from the 1981 serial "Castrovalva".

Long shot showing Tegan exiting the TARDIS. Screencap from the 1981 serial "Castrovalva".

Tegan gets away from the bitch in the character brief as early as her debut story, “Logopolis”. We meet her as she heads to Heathrow to begin her new job as a flight attendant, a job she is clearly looking forward to. She seems eager for independence, for a chance to prove herself in–yes–a man’s world. Tegan herself identifies her desire to fix her own car as feminist self-reliance.

Even when Tegan stumbles into the TARDIS and gets lost, she manages to maintain much better composure than might be expected of a human confronted with the overwhelming implications of a dimensionally transcendent alien spacetimeship. (Remember that, unlike nearly every other companion, Tegan doesn’t have the Doctor as a tour guide.) She is clearly terrified, but doesn’t let her fear disable her. She knows that she is in some sort of craft: she realizes that the console room is the equivalent of a cockpit; she tries to use the communication devices at the console; she reasons that there must be a pilot aboard, and asks to see that person. She, in short, displays a rather astonishing degree of analytical ability and sang-froid–and that’s just in her first serial.

Peter Davison’s been heard to say that he thought Nyssa was the companion best suited for his Doctor, but I think he’s wrong. Nyssa may have been the one the Fifth Doctor got along with, but Tegan–spiky, ornery, brave Tegan–was the one he needed. It’s Tegan who wants to know why the Doctor can’t go back and save Adric (“Time-Flight”), in a scene that–as the companion confronts the Doctor over a heartbreaking failure to save a fellow companion–is right at home in the new series:

Tegan: Aren’t you forgetting something important, Doctor? Adric is dead.

Amy: Save him. You save everyone. You always do. That’s what you do.
The Doctor: Not always. I’m sorry.
Amy: Then what is the point of you?

 

It’s Tegan who who commits to freeing the Frontios colonists when the Doctor is trying to butter up the villain (“Frontios”), Tegan who’s willing to throw knives at people in the Doctor’s defense (“The King’s Demons”). And, finally, it’s Tegan whose departure forces the Doctor to admit that his hands are bloody. The Doctor doesn’t last long without her–two serials after she leaves, he regenerates.

Tegan vs. Eurocentrism

"McArthur's Universal Corrective Map of the World": a 1979 world map by an Australian cartographer that is oriented so that it has South at the top.

"McArthur's Universal Corrective Map of the World": a 1979 world map by an Australian cartographer that is oriented so that it has South at the top and Australia in the center.

Beneath its glossy science fiction trappings, Doctor Who is a direct descendent of Victoriana: specifically, the Victorian traditions of the gentleman adventurer and the gentleman inventor. This is not an era known for its transgression or its diversity, and Who has at times struggled to rise above the colonialist subtext of “nice white man from advanced civilisation arrives to save backwards civilisations from themselves”.

As our own Courtney Stoker has put it, Doctor Who is:

… not a particularly progressive, transgressive, or subversive show. It’s just a show about a White dude who wields all the power and paternalism of a British imperialist force…

John Nathan-Turner’s reasons for creating an Australian companion probably didn’t include venturing outside Doctor Who‘s comfort zone or introducing a non-European perspective–accounts of the era suggest that he was mostly interested in selling the show to Australia.

But Tegan does bring a non-British, non-European perspective to the TARDIS, maybe most notably in “Four to Doomsday” when she can communicate with Kurkutji, a temporally displaced Aboriginal Australian, and the Doctor can’t.[2] The scene has some problematic elements that imply a screenwriter who seems not to have thought much about either linguistics or Australia’s diversity of languages, including the odd implication that Kurkutji’s language hasn’t changed over 40,000 years (by contrast, a mere 10,000 years separates English from Proto-Indo-European), and the extraordinary coincidence that Tegan happens to know that one particular language among the hundreds native to Australia. But Tegan’s achievement remains: she can do something that the Doctor cannot, and it is extremely important to the story.

It’s tempting to wonder how much of her pointed refusal to be impressed by the Doctor is that, from her perspective, he may well be the Ultimate Pom: representative of an allegedly superior culture who condescends to hang around hers.

It’s stopped being fun, Doctor

What does Tegan want? Does she want to stay with the Doctor or leave? Certainly she’s one of the companions most ambivalent about traveling with the Doctor. But her story is nearly unique among the companions: she stumbled aboard the TARDIS without meaning to, and the Doctor’s attempts to take her home repeatedly failed. She never asked for adventure; it was thrust upon her.

But how do you reconcile a life of adventure with a mundane Earthbound life? This is a major theme of the new series and its spinoffs, but it’s in Tegan’s story that we see it first broached.  The confident young woman we met in “Logopolis”, looking forward to her new job, has her horizons so shattered by her adventures that (per “Arc of Infinity”) she doesn’t last three months as a flight attendant.

So she returns to a life of adventure. This time she wants to be there. She seems happier, now that it’s her choice; she’s more of a participant than a bystander. She is increasingly concerned with the lot of the little people caught up in the mayhem that surrounds the Doctor, and is increasingly determined to give them a voice.

And things start going wrong. Gradually, Tegan realizes that the exhilaration of adventure is not worth the psychic toll it’s taking on her. She’s seen too much. She’s… outgrown him.

So she makes the excruciating choice–the only possible choice–and leaves. On her own terms, with her head held high. Brava.

 

There’s a woman in Australia… fighting for Aboriginal rights

I’m of the opinion that Who has, ultimately, just one lesson for us to learn, over and over again: we are the same.

Tegan learned it.

[1] It’s pretty common in the new series for companions to alternate time with the Doctor and time at home: Rose, Mickey, Martha, Donna, River, Amy, and Rory have all had adventures, left the Doctor, and then come back to have more adventures. But it was vanishingly rare in the classic series; I think Tegan’s the only example. (Sarah Jane didn’t come back until the new series.)
[2] Interestingly, this translation oddity didn’t make any sense at the time (I think it’s the first time the translation magic didn’t work) but does fit in remarkably well with current Who canon, which holds that the TARDIS can’t translate exceptionally old or obscure languages. (“The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit”)

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.

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Verity!

Completely self-promotery, but I wanted to point you all at Verity! (or the Verity podcast), a brand new Doctor Who podcast featuring six women. Our first few episodes are up, including a teaser, a practice ‘get to know you’ episode, and the first real one, in which we review The Snowmen.

The mission statement of Verity! is to add more female voices to the Doctor Who podcasting community, and to chat with our friends. We hope to bring more reviews, meta-discussion, humour and wildly differing opinions to the table over this anniversary year, covering Classic as well as new Who.

Hope you give us a listen and enjoy!

The Voices:

Email: veritypodcast@gmail.com
Podcast: RSS
Blog: RSS
Twitter: @VerityPodcast