Archive for Old Who

Love After The Doctor: The Classic Years

Jo: “In a funny way, he reminds me of a younger you.”
The Doctor: “I don’t know whether to be flattered or insulted.”
–Jo Grant and the Doctor discuss her new love interest, Cliff Jones

Rose: “He’s a lot like you, Doctor, only with dating and dancing.”
–Rose Tyler, on Jack Harkness

Does traveling with the Doctor ruin companions for romance after they leave him? What mere man could ever compare to a charismatic Time Lord with all of time and space at his fingertips? Inspired by Bumble Toes‘ post on the Doctor as a romantic rival in the new series, here’s my take on the same dynamic in the classic series.

As the above quotes show, companions do seem to appreciate some Doctor-like characteristics in their romantic partners. It seems equally clear to me that the idea of companions perpetually pining over the Doctor, incapable of moving on, is native to the new series. I think it was born of RTD’s penchant for deconstructing the series, and an excellent example of how this deconstruction can backfire.

To me, the most genius decisions that RTD made were the most straightforward:

  1. He realized that the companion has the hero’s arc, not the Doctor, and
  2. He took the questions that the series had spent forty years studiously avoiding, and placed them front and center: How does the Doctor pick companions–what does he look for? What kind of person would leave everything she knew behind to go adventuring in time and space with an alien? She’s usually young–do her parents know what she’s doing? Do they approve? Do they know about the Doctor’s history of absconding with young women, not all of whom make it home? Might the companion ever look upon the Doctor with romantic intent? Might the Doctor ever return that glance? What would happen? Finally, and maybe most devastatingly, what happens to her after the end? Is the TARDIS door perpetually closed to her, or could the Doctor return for more adventures?

The classic series seems to have given companions exactly two possible exits: a) status quo ante, dumping you back into your old life, or b) permanently stranded in the alien society of your choice. (Hope that marriage works out!)

There’s an orthodoxy in some corners of fandom that the classic series never went anywhere near Doctor/companion UST, that the new series focuses too much on Doctor/companion UST, and that the new series is inferior for that reason. Mostly you hear this from men, and mostly this charge is levied along gendered lines–“attracting female viewers” being given as a reason for the new series’ willingness to have Doctor/companion ships.

But for all that everyone insists that the classic series never ever went anywhere near Doctor/companion romantic tension, they did go there a little bit. The best example is Jo Grant, companion to Jon Pertwee’s Third Doctor.

The Doctor and Jo seem to relate primarily as father/daughter: when he realizes, in episode 1 of “The Green Death”, that she is outgrowing him, his response is to compare her to a fledgling leaving the nest. Yet there are also hints that the Doctor has deliberately interfered in Jo’s love life: she’s about to leave on a date with Mike Yates, at the very beginning of “The Curse of Peladon”, when the Doctor drags her along with him. In fact, “The Green Death” keeps the Doctor physically elsewhere as Jo and Cliff bond, perhaps aware that they can’t do so if the Doctor’s disruptive presence is about. And, famously, the Doctor looks deeply hurt at Jo’s decision to leave. He even slinks out of the engagement party and drives off alone. It’s all subtext, but taken all together it’s difficult to avoid the conclusion that the Doctor may just have been a little bit into Jo. Certainly he behaved possessively towards her in a way he hadn’t for other companions, and that we would rarely see again.

But Jo married, and the marriage seems to have been stable and long-lasting, per the Sarah Jane Adventures episode “Death of the Doctor”, so it’s hard to argue that her adventures with the Doctor ruined her for an ordinary life with a human partner.

So, even though the Doctor may have been a little bit into Jo Grant, it’s not true that she was necessarily into him, and certainly not true that the Doctor as a romantic rival outshines human suitors.

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:

Caroline John

The actress Caroline John, who played Dr Elizabeth Shaw alongside John Pertwee’s Doctor, has died.

Elizabeth Shaw was an inspiration to me when I was young. She showed me that women do not have to fit into traditional roles. Of all the companions, she was one of the few that treated the Doctor as an equal rather than a demi-god.

You can read her obituary in The Guardian.

Crafty Doctor Who: Subversion through Patchwork

One of the great joys I have taken from modern Doctor Who fandom (post 2005) is the crafty goodness that has exploded across the internet. This was still around in the old days, of course – my mother used to take me along to her Doctor Who fan club in the 80’s and I remember a beautiful oil painting one of the women in the group had made based on a still image of The Abominable Snowman, with Jamie and the Doctor (in his fuzzy coat) in the foreground and the TARDIS resting on a Tibetan mountain.

The same fan club used to distribute homemade badges, and my Mum still wears some of the: a silver K9, or a flock of Daleks on the lapel of her tweed jacket. I wonder if she’s still got the TARDIS badge that changes colours like a mood ring…

Then there was the Doctor Who Pattern Book, released in the flush of early Fifth Doctor merch, which included patterns to make your own cybermat (my mum did this!), TARDIS console cushion, Tegan’s boob tube, the Doctor’s celery brooch, and the piece de resistance, Classic Doctor Who costumes to fit a Ken doll collection.

It’s enough to make you want to collect Ken dolls, isn’t it?

These days, however, Doctor Who craft is a booming industry. You can see marvels and wonders displayed across Etsy, Spoonflower and Pinterest. All manner of Doctor Who fans are expressing their creativity by knitting Adipose, screen printing t-shirts, moulding jewellery and of course (one of my favourites) decorating the most extraordinary cakes.

Meanwhile, the BBC and their merchandise don’t seem to be able to keep up. They briefly flirted with the idea early on, but you’ve only recently been able to buy Doctor Who cookie cutters – I’ve been serving gingerbread daleks to my family for years because my honey made me a cutter by reshaping one that used to be a teddy bear, not because I bought the cutter in a shop. But surely they’re missing out on a trick here. Where is our TARDIS yarn, our make-your-own-pyjamas Dalek flannel, and our TARDIS console cake tins?

Look at the number of Doctor Who non-fiction or tie-in books that concentrate on the monsters, the machines, the aliens and, okay, the characters. Look at how many books there are about the show. Now look at how many books have been released which look at, say, the costumes of the show? The crafts you can make that tie into the show?

WHERE IS OUR DOCTOR WHO PATTERN BOOK FOR THE TWENTY FIRST CENTURY?

I’m more than happy with the creativity shown by the fans who love the show, and it’s particularly exciting to me because so much of this craft is in areas that are traditionally seen as female or feminine. Knitting, dollmaking, cake decorating, jewellery making and quilting (my own craft of choice) are firmly coded female regardless of who practises them, and much though I’d like to claim otherwise, there is something deeply subversive about combining those underrated “feminine” artistic skills with the kind of hardcore science fiction geekery that many fans still think is (or should be, grrr) largely a male domain.

Quilting has always been a subversive act. Sure, the story is that women of pioneer America and pre-industrial England had to piece together patchwork to save every scrap, but COME ON. Patchwork isn’t remotely efficient, and it tends to create almost as many scraps as it uses. What patchwork and quilting have always provided is an excuse for women to gather together and make art, to appear industrious and frugal because their lives weren’t supposed to be about anything else. The beauty of the quilts found through history are there because women wanted to take time to make something beautiful, and yet the same practical function that allowed them guilt-free time to play with colours and fabrics has meant that their work has not traditionally been considered an ‘art’ akin to the expensive oil paintings and marble statues traditionally made by male artists.

As a quilter, I’m well aware that there are few men who have any interest in that particular craft. All my quilting friends are female, the quilt shows we go to are maybe 90% attended by women, and many guys who will happily listen to me talking about Doctor Who or urban fantasy or pdocasting or even feminism may glaze over with boredom if I start talking about patchwork templates or seam allowances. Including my own partner – whose lack of interest in my sewing activities meant I was able to work on his birthday present completely under his nose. As it turns out, he thinks quilts are AWESOME when they are finished, especially robot quilts.

Quilts don’t have to be about floral patterns and applique bows – not that there’s anything wrong with that, if it’s your cup of tea. But I’ve never been the kind of quilter who, well, follows rules. I’m far more excited with taking the boundaries of the craft in question, and then seeing how far I can push them. I’m pretty excited that I can get hold of, say, TARDIS fabric now, thanks to the creativity of fandom. Or, using the print-your-own-fabric technology, I can even design my own… and that’s what I’m planning to do!

I’ve been collecting a bunch of sparkly silver roundel fabric for a while now, because it reminded me of Daleks, and as it turns out I have a lot of 60’s ish black and white and grey fabric, which works out well, because THIS WEEKEND I am totally piecing together a Black and White 1960′s Doctor Who Hexagon Quilt.

The theme of this year’s Australian National Science Fiction Convention is ‘Craftonomicon’ so where better to piece my silvers and blacks and mod stripes with photographic fabric depicting Daleks, Ben and Polly, the First and Second Doctors, Jamie and Zoe, Victoria Waterfield, Cybermen, Sara Kingdom, Katarina, Steven, Dodo and of course Barbara, Ian and Susan. And Quarks. I’ve tacked down nearly a hundred pieces and I plan to start sewing the quilt together at the convention, and to see how much I get done over the course of the weekend, while having some fabulous conversations.

Wish me luck!

Kingdom and Katarina

"The whole plot? In that tiny box, Doctor?" "Mmm, yes, my boy..."

The Daleks’ Masterplan is one of the most sprawling, epic, flawed, fascinating and utterly space opera-y Doctor Who stories of all time. It was the fourth ever Dalek story, screening as part of the third season of the show in 1965-6, and it marks the end of Doctor Who being a safe kids show.

I had heard so much about it in my years as a Doctor Who fan – I knew that it was the first story that killed the companion (and it did it twice), that it was twelve (and an extra) episodes long, not only a record at the time but for many decades to follow, I knew about the weird Christmas episode, and Nicholas Courtney playing a character called Bret Vyon, and all manner of plot details.

If you feel knowing all the plot twists & who dies in The Daleks Masterplan would spoil enjoyment of the story (it doesn’t, honestly, it can only help) then please look away now.

Jean Marsh now, with current Doctor Who companion Karen Gillan

It wasn’t until I actually listened to the story (available as an audio recording as most of the original TV serial was wiped) that I saw all of those facts in context, however, and began to fall in love with it as a story. Yes, even (especially) the silly Christmas episode.

I was reminded of that love again recently when listening to The Anachronauts, a great Sara-and-Steven Big Finish Companion Chronicle, set in between a few acts of The Daleks’ Masterplan, and featuring the greatly talented voices of Jean Marsh and Peter Purves. (as those of you who tuned in for my Upstairs Downstairs post know, I’m on a Jean Marsh kick at the moment)

In the behind the scenes bits of the Anachronauts, they mentioned the audiobook of the novelisation of The Daleks’ Masterplan, read by both Peter and Jean, and I was interested because they are both so very good at audio work – Peter Purves does a killer Hartnell impression which really brings the story alive. Also, it occurred to me, while the audio-only version of TDM did drag on a bit at times, making me wish I could see the televised version, the good old Target novelisation, which I’d never read, might prove otherwise.

Luckily for me, both volumes of the audio book: Daleks: Mission To the Unknown and Daleks: The Mutation of Time, were available at my local library. I’ve just finished listening to the first of these, which brings me up to the middleish of the Great Doctor Who Space Opera.

I’ll start by saying that the performances are, as I had expected, brilliant. But the format of the audiobook really brought home to me how excellent the work by Big Finish is, because this BBC production was far more by-the-numbers. Peter Purves and Jean Marsh take turns reading large sections of the book, which means they end up at times reading each other’s parts – a Big Finish audio book or two-hander narrative play, like The Suffering starring Peter Purves as Steven and Maureen O’Brien as Vicki, would always edit in the actual actor playing his or her own voice. A lot more work, but far greater effect to the reader!

I definitely felt like Sara Kingdom was given a disservice by the audiobook at times by this method – Peter Purves does not do as good a Jean Marsh impression as he does William Hartnell, and by necessity he is busily trying to make his voice sound less male in those scenes and thus ends up making Sara sound a lot more wet and passive than she actually is – our kickass Emma Peel in space.

Then there’s the book itself (or themselves) – both volumes were written by John Peel and it’s important to remember that authors tended to take quite a lot of liberty when writing the novelisations – that’s part of the fun of a Target, you don’t quite know what you’re going to get, whether it’s sudden scenes in the Doctor’s POV, plot developments being switched around, authors explaining motives that weren’t quite clear in the story, or on one memorable occasion, the Doctor’s entire Trojan adventure being told as if through the eyes of Homer, who was mysteriously not present in any of those scenes during the televised version.

But I can’t help noticing that Peel’s version of the story, while it rattles along with great pace and invests the villains with some marvellous motivation and character work, isn’t very kind to two rather important characters in the story: Sara Kingdom, and Katarina.

Poor Katarina. Possibly the companion least remembered by fandom as a whole – except for her death, which makes her the first Doctor Who companion to be sacrificed to lazy writing. I was quite intrigued by her on my first listen to The Daleks’ Masterplan, and found her to be a much more interesting character than that book I have by Peter Haining made out. (there’s a nice lament for the mishandling of Katarina here)

But oh, John Peel’s novelisation puts paid to any hint of that. While Katarina acts no differently in the book than it sounded like she did on screen, the other characters are constantly thinking about how stupid she is. I don’t mean once or twice. CONSTANTLY. The three men around her: the Doctor and Steven and then Bret Vyon (who joins the TARDIS crew by holding them at gunpoint, but falls instantly in love with them and joins their merry band, only occasionally remembering to point guns at them again at regular intervals) simply cannot shut up their inner commentary about the dumbness of Katarina. At one point, the author is particularly meta, having the Doctor think what a mistake it is to travel with a companion from a pre-technological era, which was the offical production reason for jettisoning the character almost as soon as she had arrived.

"If you won't be BFFs with me, Doctor, I can give you the address of my ancestor the Brig."

Vicki, played by Maureen O’Brien, had been let go at very short notice (we never hear an explanation given for that one!) and as they wrote her out in the story set during the Trojan War, they replaced her with a handmaiden who was in the right place at the wrong time, and had barely featured in the story.

The story goes that the production crew realised their mistake instantly, that a companion from pre-industrial time who saw time travel and space ships as evidence of gods and magic, would never work. So they wrote her out early on in the Daleks’ Masterplan, “replacing” her with Sara Kingdom.

None of which is, as it happens, reflective of the story we see. For a start, there is no way Sara is a replacement for Katarina, except as being the token female character, because they are so deeply different, and serve the story in different ways. Also it was only a couple of years later that the Second Doctor was running around time and space with the bekilted Highlander Jamie, who also saw space stations and Cybermen as evidence of magic, and was an adored fan favourite as well as an extremely well-matched-to-his-Doctor companion.

"Trojan handmaidening is not unskilled labour!"

Katarina’s death, while problematic in many ways, is handled remarkably well in the story, and indeed the novelisation (as audiobook). After several episodes trying to wrap her head around an enormous cultural shift, mostly believing herself to already be dead and certainly believing the Doctor to be Zeus, she is beginning to ground herself in this bizarre science fictional world of flashing lights and gear sticks when she is taken captive by a Plot Extender Maniac who holds her at gunpoint and forces the TARDIS crew (not actually flying the TARDIS at this second but a different space ship) to go to a planet full of Daleks instead of the Earth, where they were heading to warn humanity about the impending invasion. The men are all stuck in a moral quandary, and indeed Bret is the only one who seriously considers sacrificing Katarina’s life for the greater good.

Katarina takes control. She has been shown rudimentary controls of the ship and she knows what the big button does. For the sake of the mission and saving the galaxy from evil (concepts she grasps, coming from a time of great war, even if she can’t quite take in the scale) she sends herself and her captor out of an airlock.

It’s a shocking, brutal moment. My favourite bit is that Steven says immediately ‘she got the wrong button’ and the Doctor knows otherwise. Katarina the handmaiden was a lot of things, but she sure as hell wasn’t stupid. I was pleased that this scene and the emotional followup to her death was respectful to the character in the novelisation, and that the author managed to convey the meaning of her sacrifice rather than falling back on the unpleasant character sabotage of previous chapters.

Much though I defend Katarina, and I am deeply attached to Bret and his ridiculously cuddly relationship with the Doctor and Steven (they work as a unit for several episodes) the moment that Bret Vyon’s body hits the floor is the moment that, for me, the story really gets its groove on.

Kingdom, Sara Kingdom.

The actual plot of the story (yes there is one) is that the Daleks are about to invade the solar system, and Earth’s glorious, best-beloved, deeply trusted Bloke in Charge has sold out his own people to said Daleks, because he’s evil. That’s pretty much it. Oh, and there’s a Terranium Core (magic rock) which is super rare and hard to put together, which fuels the Dalek Doomsday Plot and the Doctor accidentally gets hold of it quite early on, leaving Mavic Chen and the Daleks to run around like headless chickens trying to get it back off him. Only instead of slapstick comedy (that comes later) this first half of the story is grim, unrelentingly grim, with shootings and political conniving and only occasional bits of banter.

This is the first time that I have really put together in my head that yes, the Terry Nation who “always” wrote the same Dalek story, really is the same Terry Nation who wrote the first season of Blake’s 7. It’s space opera, shoot-you-in-the-back style.

"Even my gun belongs in Blake's 7... Avon stole his sinister smile from ME"

I love the fact that the novelisation teases out Kingdom’s reputation as Mavic Chen’s top agent, ruthless, smart, dependable. I don’t remember how much her gender was deliberately unreferenced before her appearance in the show itself, but it’s very effective here.

Of course, most people who go out of their way to listen to an audiobook of a novelisation of a 1965 Dalek story are probably the sort of people who read Programme Guides back when there were still two mm’s and an e in ‘program’ and thus already know that Kingdom is a woman. But still, it’s a nice little anachronistic touch – this is a future in which women are equal, GET THIS, 1965 TV WATCHERS, SHE’S GONNA SHOOT HER BROTHER WITHOUT BLINKING. AND THEN SHE’S GOING AFTER THE DOCTOR. SHE’S THE FUCKING TERMINATOR.

Have I mentioned how much I love Sara Kingdom?

Check out this post with screencaps of one of her extra-curricular appearances as a kickass comics character.

I was greatly disappointed that the key emotional scene in which Sara Kingdom discovers that the brother she shot was telling the truth and that it’s her employer, not her brother, who betrayed the solar system to the Daleks, and makes the painful transition from ‘person who wants to kill the Doctor’ to ‘person who asks, what’s happening, Doctor’ is read by Peter Purves and not Jean Marsh. As I mentioned earlier, his Sara Kingdom is not a patch on Jean’s (for obvious reasons), and while I really enjoy his reading, it would have had greater emotional punch in her voice. Also, returning to the author rather than the voice artist… really? I get that you’re trying to make Sara Kingdom a more likeable character, but did she REALLY cry that much in the televised version? There’s a lot of crying upon crying and wobbling lips and wailing in these scenes, and it did make me cranky.

"Did I mention I have an Emmy for stoic restraint? Just sayin."

Yes, she’s devastated. We know that. So she should be. But she’s SARA “MY MIDDLE NAME IS STOIC” KINGDOM, and it’s really noticeable that it’s the narrative, not the dialogue, that utterly depowers her, and turns her into a quivering heap of feelings.

To my great pleasure, though, after these uneven moments, the story kicked into another gear, and I ran out of things to complain about. Steven and Sara together make a great team, working with the prickly Hartnell Doctor. The Peel narrative does feel the need to repeat how handsome/pretty they both are, and how hot they are for each other, which doesn’t seem entirely necessary, but this passed the point of being mildly irritating all the way into funny for me.

I have greatly enjoyed the many hours listening to Daleks: Mission to the Unknown, especially the way that the novel format accentuates the dystopian space opera feel of the story, and makes all the planet-hopping feel more epic that it probably ever looked on the small scratchy black and white scene. I love how the whole thing has this amazing Blake’s 7 vibe, fifteen years before the Liberator turned up. The characterisation, even of minor characters, is very effective, and I feel I’m getting a much better grip on the story than I did before (though of course it’s not entirely the same story in some places). Peel’s real brilliance is in the way he puts scenes in the point of view of the Daleks, making them feel like individuals, which serves to make them more effective villains (especially in the transition to the page). He is a very good at effective adaptation.

"Stick with me, kid. We'll ditch Dodo and pick you up just in time for The Gunfighters."

Peter Purves and Jean Marsh do a fabulous job – and while an audio book in which she gets to say all of Sara’s lines and he gets to say all of Steven’s and the Doctor’s lines would have been a zillion times better, there is something to be said for the single voice doing big chunks technique, and at least we do have proper Dalek voices edited in, they’re not total barbarians. I’m looking forward to the second half of the story, not least because I’ve been reading recently about how the second half was almost completely written by NOT Terry Nation at all but Dennis Spooner, and I want to spot the seams where Blake’s 7 sneakily transforms into Red Dwarf. I’m even looking forward to the Christmas episode because COME ON, pyramids and policemen and random vaudeville! I’m totally voting that we save that one first when we really get time machines and are allowed to go back and find all the missing episodes.

I do think, however, that it was important to note the way that the novelisation imposed a few problematic gender issues on to the story that simply weren’t there in the original. I remember coming away from listening to the sound recording of the 1965 The Daleks’ Masterplan delighted at how feminist it felt, particularly the futuristic equality vibe between Steven and Sara, but also that Katarina’s death was less of a throwaway moment than I had always been led to believe. Sara Kingdom is the first female companion since the original Barbara to be a grown woman rather than a teenage girl, and she got to act as if that was the case most of the time. I will enjoy the second novelisation far more if it refrains from making her sob uncontrollably, moon romantically over Steven, or sprain an ankle.

Most importantly, when Sara dies at the end, trying to save and protect the Doctor, I want very much it to be portrayed as the epic end to her own story, not simply a plot detail used to make Steven and the Doctor sad. So no pressure at all there, Mr Peel.

*takes deep breath*
*goes in*

Doctor Who: Daleks: Mission to the Unknown
An audiobook of a TARGET novelisation (by John Peel)
of half of a lost Doctor Who story (The Daleks’ Masterplan) from 1965-66.
Read by Jean Marsh, Peter Purves, with Dalek warblings by Nicholas Briggs
BBC Audio

[cross-posted from tansyrr.com]

Companions in Comics: Miranda, the Doctor’s Daughter

This post contains spoilers for Lance Parkin’s novel Father Time and the comic Miranda.

A girl in school uniform stands surrounded by aliens.

The first issue of Miranda, published by Comeuppance Comics.

How might the adventures of a Time Lady differ from the Doctor’s? One answer to this question is offered by Miranda (2003), a comic devoted to the Doctor’s daughter.

My previous three posts focused on companions in Doctor Who Magazine. Miranda is a very different kettle of fish. The publication was launched independently, marketed at Buffy fans, and unlike the long-running DWM, expired before its fourth issue. (The reasons remain unclear, but this statement from publisher David Whittam suggests the cause may have been lack of funds). So the following critique comes with caveats. Miranda is an unfinished story, and can’t be judged in its entirety. Still, its relationship to Doctor Who raises some interesting questions from a feminist perspective.

The character Miranda was originally developed for Lance Parkin’s book Father Time (2001). I want to devote some attention to Father Time for contextual reasons. This well-written, unsettling, novel describes the Eighth Doctor adopting Miranda—a little girl with two hearts—and raising her on Earth. Although she is brought up to believe she is human, the Doctor knows that her birth father was a tyrannical Time Lord who was murdered in an uprising while she was still a baby. There are hints, never confirmed, that the tyrant may be a future regeneration of the Doctor. Until Miranda’s teens, she is unaware that she is both heiress to the universe and an assassination target for her father’s former slaves. In the mean time the Doctor does his utmost to keep her in material comfort, primarily by becoming a millionaire entrepreneur. He also articulates a depth of feeling for her that we rarely see expressed towards companions. Parkin describes the inspiration for the book as follows:

The Doctor can do all these fantastical things, but he’s not quite a full human being, he’s not quite emotionally literate. As I’ve said before, when I’m writing a Doctor Who book, I think of the most absurd non-Who like idea that I can, and try to get it to work. And the idea here was an image of the Doctor hugging a young girl, and saying ‘you’re my daughter, and I’ll always love you.’ It’s just not the sort of thing he does. So how did he get there? I was really worried about Miranda stealing the limelight, but in the end she’s a wonderful mirror for the Doctor – she really helps define him.

Quoted from a 2006 interview with the BBC

Parkin overstates the incongruity of the Doctor as paternal figure; after all, the First Doctor was introduced as a grandfather. However I agree that a Doctor who commits to “always loving” his daughter feels unfamiliar, for reasons nicely explored by Tansy in her posts on domesticity. The scenario suggests a permanent bond, or a personal tie placed before his public, itinerent, adventurer role. That’s quite a far cry from the mentor-like, but temporary relationships he often forms with young companions.

As Parkin claims, Miranda is a “mirror” for the Doctor; she possesses the same abilities, the same mannerisms… and the same class privileges. The domestic setting gives a new emphasis to the Doctor’s economic independence. His ability to cosset Miranda derives from material riches that are unavailable to other people in the book. Many of Miranda’s reported thoughts express a sense of superiority over her friends. This self-regard is focused on her extraterrestrial levels of intelligence and physical strength, but there is a clear class dimension to a young rich girl feeling innately superior. It is interesting to note that, unlike many companions, Miranda is not offered as a point of identification for readers–even though much of the story is related from her point of view. Instead she comes very close to functioning as a female equivalent to the Doctor. And while his love for her is moving, as a pair they regularly feel alienating and exclusionary. It is intriguing that the Doctor becomes harder to like as he ostensibly becomes more human by putting Miranda first.

If Miranda ceases to be a “mirror” for the Doctor, it is in the treatment of her sexuality. As a teenager she veers between feeling asexual and attempting to fit in with her peers by mimicking their sexual behaviour. Her asexuality is not maintained into adulthood. Rather, her indifference to sex is presented as a temporary adolescent confusion. Worryingly, her first genuine desire is for her would-be alien assassin, Ferran. The attraction partly derives from recognising him as an equal with powers comparable to her own (powers which her human boyfriend does not possess). That might be all well and good without the threat of murder. It troubles me that Miranda’s lust for a man who can match her becomes entwined with lust for a man who wants to kill her. By contrast, the Doctor pursues a quasi-romantic relationship with at least one human woman, seemingly at ease with the inequalities in his favour. There is little challenge to the idea that men should dominate women within the context of heterosexual relationships.

In the comic, also written by Parkin, much of the story’s peril derives from threats of (implicitly sexual) violence to Miranda, which include Ferran’s attempt to coerce their marriage. This is curious as the comic, in theory, has a female-friendly goal. Unlike Father Time, where Miranda is included to illuminate our understanding of the Doctor, the comic makes Miranda the protagonist and doesn’t refer to the Doctor at all. Parkin stated in 2002 that the strip aimed to provide “stories with aliens and robots and fast-paced action, but with a strong female central character” .

Yet the comic’s artwork, combined with certain narrative choices, make Miranda seem much more vulnerable here than in Father Time. She enters the story as a newcomer to space, ignorant of her ancestry; this tried and tested trope for getting readers up to speed with an alien world removes many of the privileges she possessed on Earth. Her physical strength no longer seems exceptional, and she knows less than everybody else. A more vulnerable Miranda would be fine, but isn’t really explored in terms of her feelings or reactions—a feature I’m willing to give a pass because we only have three issues to assess here. We can’t know how her character would have developed.

Miranda’s visual presentation is more problematic. All three issues of the comic are attractively drawn with dynamic panel layouts, but Miranda’s posture sometimes borders on the Escher-like contortions that have become so familiar to comics readers over the past decade. More generally, she’s drawn for the implied male reader’s titillation. In issue two, for instance, Ferran attempts to spy on her in the bath, resulting in illustrations like these (click to enlarge the picture):

Miranda rises from a bath. She is naked and on all fours. In the next panel she dries herself with a towel.

Miranda in the bath.

Her dialogue regularly opens an ironic gap between her thoughts and the image, but that just strikes me as an attempt to have your cake and eat it. See, for instance, her comments on an attractive male acquaintance, while the focus of the panel is clearly on her own body:

Miranda is drawn from behind, so that her rear is the focus of the image. She is saying to a friend, "Oh right...Um...Someone should watch his bum...er... his back. I'll go."

Miranda viewed from behind.

So to come back to the question I asked at the start of this post: how might the adventures of a Time Lady differ from the Doctor’s? On the basis of Miranda, the likelihood of being sexually objectified is a lot greater. How depressing. The comic has so much potential that isn’t realised, partly because of its untimely end. I can heartily recommend Father Time, though.

Chicks Dig Being Interviewed: Lynne M Thomas and Deborah Stanish

Chicks Dig Time Lords (edited by Lynne & Tara O’Shea) was released from Mad Norwegian Press in 2009 and its focus on female fans of Doctor Who and their experiences in personal essays seemed to be exactly what fandom was looking for. The book exploded several myths about the ‘lack’ of women in Classic Who fandom, and gave a celebratory voice to women in the new fandom too.

The success of Chicks Dig Time Lords (culminating in a Hugo for Best Related Work) led to follow up projects including Whedonistas (edited by Lynne M Thomas & Deborah Stanish), this week’s new release Chicks Dig Comics (edited by Lynne M Thomas and Sigrid Ellis) and the to-be-released-later-this-year Chicks Unravel Time (edited by Deborah Stanish and L.M. Myles) which brings the series back full circle to the Doctor Who universe. As a reader, I love the fact that this series of books is treating women’s experiences with fandom seriously, and that I get to read some great essays with so many different female bylines at once.

Thanks to Lynne and Deb for agreeing to be interviewed by Tansy about their work for Doctor Her!

DOCTOR HER: Let’s start with Chicks Dig Time Lords. How did you get involved with the project originally?

LYNNE: Well, it all began in 2007 when Tara O’Shea had the publisher (Lars Pearson) and his wife (Christa Dickson) locked in her apartment…erm, I mean, when Lars and Christa stayed with her for a weekend as they attended an event in Chicago. It also began with a tshirt that Tara designed to wear to the Gallifrey One 2007 convention, which sported the words “Chicks Dig Time Lords” that many of us fangirls (myself included) coveted.

I should note that Tara attended college with my husband Michael, and all of us (Tara, Michael and I, and Lars and Christa) were friends through Doctor Who fandom. Christa and Tara had been doing Fangirl-Squee! and slash-type panels for years, and I soon joined in. Lars had been running Mad Norwegian Press for quite some time, putting out guidebooks that did things like put all of Doctor Who continuity in order, or reviewed all of the Doctor Who books published while the show was off the air.

During that fateful weekend, Tara pitched the anthology to Mad Norwegian Press, with the title based on the tshirt. The pitch was accepted, work began, and then about 6 months later some family issues came up for Tara that were making it difficult to complete the book herself on the original timeline. I was brought in to lend a hand as co-editor, based upon my experience as an academic writer and editor. I curate the literary papers of SF/F authors as part of my day job, so I brought a lot of additional contacts to the table.

Tara and I sat down and figured out how to move forward from that point together.

Mad Norwegian had never published an essay anthology before. We had never edited one. So there was a lot of figuring out how to do things in that first year, both before I came onto the project, and after I joined it.

DOCTOR HER: So what are the most important lessons about editing that you took away from that first book?

LYNNE: Can I say “everything”?

It was a huge learning curve for all of us.

Our associate editor, my husband Michael, ended up doing a lot of the legwork researching how to put an anthology together.

We learned how to contact writers. We learned to use our current network, but not to be afraid to approach people cold. For instance, Elizabeth Bear, Catherynne Valente and Seanan McGuire were friends, and thus easy to approach for the book. On the other hand, we emailed Carole Barrowman cold through her website.

Another lesson, I think, was in organization. Spreadsheets help you to know where you’re at (who has turned in what, whether it’s been edited, etc.). Which we figured out in time for the second book, Whedonistas, that I did with Deb Stanish. The spreadsheet for Chicks Dig Time Lords was in Michael’s brain and our email accounts. Not as easy as Deb’s spreadsheet.

We also learned how to work with writers, publishers, etc. We had to develop a vocabulary to describe what we were looking for, and to explain what we wanted as we worked with them. Most importantly, knowing the difference between when to leave something alone, and when to assist a writer in developing something further. That took practice.

Fortunately, we had phenomenal luck with the people we worked with. They were talented, enthusiastic, and willing to work with us.

DOCTOR HER: You both wrote essays for the first book – how did you choose your topic? Or did it choose you?

LYNNE: Tara gave me my topic, really. She had a list of potential topics that essayists might use, and one of them was about marrying into fandom. Which is what I did, so I grabbed that topic with both hands. It evolved from there, of course, into being about found family and community, but that was where it started.

DEB: My topic actually grew out of a presentation I gave at a local con on fandom hierarchies. As I was thinking about what I could bring to the Chicks Dig Time Lords table I decided that, in addition to the idea of hierarchies, I really wanted to explore my experiences not only as a new fan, but also as a new female fan in what had long been presented as a “boys club”. My experiences writing for the Doctor Who Information Network fanzine “Enlightenment” was the perfect vehicle to tie all of this together. Plus, who can resist a good anecdote about face-painters and the very mainstream acceptance of sports fandom?

DOCTOR HER: What kind of support did the book get from Doctor Who fandom? Was there any resistance to the idea of a book about “Doctor Who and girls”?

LYNNE: Well, the response really depends upon where you are. Here in the US, we were welcomed with open arms, and, to put it mildly, it has been overwhelming. We won a Hugo. So I think it’s fair to say that we have gotten a ton of support in the US.

In the UK, however, it’s been a bit quieter–we didn’t even make the Doctor Who Magazine top 5 nonfiction book list in their 2010 annual poll, for instance, despite a really lovely review of the book from Andrew Pixley in DWM. We’ve not really experienced actual resistance; it’s been more a matter of polite disinterest in most cases.

Internationally outside of the UK, we have seen pockets of fans here and there being excited, but since all of our events have been in the US, we really haven’t have had much opportunity to squee in person.

DOCTOR HER: So let’s talk about THE FREAKING HUGO. What was it like to win Best Related Work on the night? Has it changed the way the book is perceived?

LYNNE: Frankly? I’m still kinda in shock, nearly a year later. I was speechless for most of the night, which, if you know me, does not happen very often.

We made history. This is the first time in the history of the Hugos that a nonfiction book about fictional media of any kind won, and only the seventh time that a nonfiction book about media was even nominated. There aren’t terribly many female editors who have won Hugos, either. Winning the Hugo has also opened up some new opportunities for me, such as taking over the helm of Apex Magazine as Editor-in-Chief, guesting on podcasts, or doing occasional Doctor Who programming at local public libraries.

[interviewer note: since completing the interview, Lynne’s podcast the SF Squeecast received a Hugo Nomination for this year’s new Best Fancast category]

I am, and remain, very, very grateful, and humbled. I can’t thank our publisher, Mad Norwegian, my co-editor, Tara O’Shea, and all of our contributors enough. I’m very proud of our book, and I’m thrilled that these fandom communities have embraced it to this level, given that it really is a love letter to the fandom experience that happens to be about Doctor Who in particular.

Has winning the Hugo changed how the book is perceived? I doubt it. But I’m viewing the perceptions of the book from inside the SF/F and Doctor Who fandom communities, who knew about it already. :-) It has garnered a certain amount of additional attention outside of those communities, of course; people who might never have come across the book have now heard of it. Which is never a bad thing. :-)

DOCTOR HER: Next came the follow up book Whedonistas, the one that you worked on together as an editorial team. What challenges did writing about the Whedonverse bring, compared to Doctor Who?

LYNNE: I think one of the biggest challenges was that as the book was being put together, there weren’t any Joss Whedon shows currently running. So it was much more retrospective than Chicks Dig Time Lords in that sense.

DEB: I agree. There is a certain vibrancy and cohesiveness associated with a “live” fandom. At the time we commissioned Whedonistas the Buffy comics were really the only Whedon property in current production so we found the vast majority of essays were more a contemplative look at the impact Whedon’s work had on their personal and creative lives. There was a lot of nostalgia and it was beautiful.

DOCTOR HER: Why do you think there’s so much crossover between Whedon fans and Doctor Who fans – especially women?

DEB: My personal introduction to Doctor Who was through my Whedon friends. In 2005 Whedon fandom was buzzing with talk of this “new show” and I had friends who insisted that I needed to watch this amazing thing so, anecdotally, I’m going to say there is a fair amount of crossover. I think this is particularly true with New Who. Whedon fans tend to gravitate toward smart, thoughtful television with complicated interpersonal relationships so New Who is pretty much tailor made for that audience. And now that Whedon alum Jane Espenson has been brought into the Doctor Who family, via Torchwood, the crossover is officially canon!

DOCTOR HER: And now Chicks Dig Comics too, which was officially released this week! Lynne, was this topic an obvious next step for the series? What excites you most about this book – and what’s in it for Doctor Who fans who loved Chicks Dig Time Lords?

LYNNE: I think that it was a fairly obvious next step for the series, particularly so once you take into account some of the controversy about the lack of women writers and artists initially announced for the DC Comics “New 52” relaunch. It was one of many sequel books pitched by Tara when she pitched Chicks Dig Time Lords, but then she moved on from Mad Norwegian to other projects. So Chicks Dig Comics moved forward with her blessing, with myself and Sigrid Ellis as the editors. Sigrid has been a comics fan her entire life, and has been actively blogging about comics at Fantastic Fangirls for several years. She’s also an air traffic controller in her day job, which means that she’s organized and decisive, both of which made her an excellent editorial partner.

The format of Chicks Dig Comics is roughly the same as Chicks Dig Time Lords: a diverse group of comics professionals, SF/F writers, and fans, all talking about the comics that made them squee. What excites me the most is the contributors: we really got a bunch of stellar contributors: Gail Simone, Marjorie M. Liu, Greg Rucka, Seanan McGuire, Louise Simonson, Amanda Conner, Terry Moore, Elizabeth Bear, Sarah Monette, Delia Sherman, Jill Pantozzi. Mark Waid wrote us a fantastic introduction.

For Doctor Who fans who loved Chicks Dig Time Lords (who don’t happen to also be comics fans), it’s more essays by smart women talking about something they love deeply. I suspect, though, that there’s a fair amount of crossover for female geeks who love Doctor Who and comics. :-)

DOCTOR HER: Deb, what can you tell us about Chicks Unravel Time? Is it a direct sequel to Chicks Dig Time Lords, or doing something different?

DEB: Chicks Unravel Time: Women Journey Through Every Season of Doctor Who is more a sister anthology to Chicks Dig Time Lords than a direct sequel. The concept was born out of my own experience in being asked to write an essay on Season Eight for Enlightenment. My editor, Graeme Burke, couched the request with a rueful “you’ll have to deal with a lot of Jo Grant”. The prevailing wisdom being that she was a ditzy screamer in a short skirt. I, however, adored Jo. I found her to be a bit sly and subversive while deftly playing the early 1970’s hand she was dealt. She may not have had Liz Shaw’s credentials but she held her own with charm.

In Classic Who there are a lot of absolutes, the sacred cows of fandom: Jo Grant is a ditz, The Fourth Doctor was the best Doctor, The Caves of Andronzani was one of the best episodes ever, etc. I wondered how many of those sacred cows would stand up to a fresh perspective, particularly a very diverse, female perspective. So, with Chicks Unravel Time, we asked 35 women to each take on a season of Doctor Who, including the TV Movie and The Specials. We have diverse group of contributors, ranging in age from their early 20’s to 60’s, from all over the world who bring their unique viewpoints to what has been, traditionally, a very male dominated field. Besides the contributor base, the anthology also differs from traditional review/critique volumes in that it is a collection of smart, witty essays that look at each season as a whole rather than story-by-story reviews.

DOCTOR HER: As this interview is for a feminist Doctor Who blog I’d like to finish with two vital questions: who is your favourite female Doctor Who character of all time, and who would you cast as the first female Doctor if you ruled the BBC?

LYNNE: I really hate to play favorites, because there are so many female characters on Doctor Who that I adore, but if I am forced to choose, my favorite female Doctor Who character of all time is, and remains, Dorothy “Ace” McShane, companion to the 7th Doctor. My love for Ace is true.

If I was in charge of the BBC and could cast the first female Doctor (knowing that whomever it was would say yes), I’d ask Kate Winslet. Because I love her work and I think she’d make a splendid Doctor.

DEB: My answer to this question changes on almost a weekly basis! I think your first companion, like your first Doctor, will always hold a special place in your affections so I have to say that Rose Tyler will always be the companion of my heart. However, I am a huge fan of the Big Finish Audios and love their take on the companion story, often going in directions the series can’t, or won’t, go. Sheridan Smith’s Lucie Miller absolutely blew me away during her run with the Eighth Doctor and she’s currently at the top of my Companion Hall of Fame.

As for the first female Doctor – Helena Bonham Carter, hands down. She is absolutely bonkers, in the very best way, and would be absolutely delicious in the role.

Thanks, Lynne M Thomas and Deborah Stanish for being the first interview subjects on Doctor Her! We look forward to hearing about more of your projects in the future.

You can find out more about these books at the Mad Norwegian Press website. You can also find Lynne M Thomas at her blog, her podcast The SF Squeecast, and as the fiction editor at Apex Magazine. She is on Twitter as @lynnemthomas. You can find Deborah Stanish at her blog, and on Twitter as @debstanish.