Archive for 27 February 2012

The Doctor and the Subtext of Loneliness

I last waxed poetic on the constant theme of acceptance woven throughout the series, now I would like to point out another thread. This thread weaves a dark subtext but one every being no matter what their views has experienced.

The Doctor most times is joyful, full of discovery, defending the oppressed, basically saving the universe and the Earth repeatedly.

Sometimes this bitterness is subtly touched upon and others times its thrown at the viewer with brutal force.

This sharp blade is loneliness; the realization that YOU are the one that is different, and no matter how much you strive this can never change.

In his extensive life with all his vast knowledge The Doctor knows that sooner or later he will again be alone. As the only one of his kind he can never hope to find that constant companion that could turn into a full time partner.

What individual has not faced this pit? It matters not if you were or are the perfect social butterfly, beloved and respected by your peers. You don’t have to be the individual struggling with your sexuality, discovering and processing your views on life and injustice. You can be absolutely the vanilla definition of normal and still be struck down by the thought that no one can ever understand you and you face the onslaught of life alone

This is why he searches and collects his companions but never allows himself to be too close. Of course the subject of love and attachment was explored with the companion Rose. Even this was fleeting and ended, changing his attitude and outlook even more with regards to emotional connections.

The current Doctor, Matt Smith, of course is not near as serious as The Doctor portrayed by Tenant, but his first companion is essentially already taken and attached when she joins him in his adventures.

The Doctor teaches us that even if we are different and exist in an environment where no one is fully able to relate to our thoughts and feelings; there is still joy to be found. You can still strive to find happiness and teach those around you to understand your views, if not help them to accept and embrace them.

To place this subtext in the real world, do we not strive to teach others that all genders, race, religion, beliefs and sexual orientation are something to be embraced and respected? Learning about these views and accepting them is not something evil but a new adventure to be explored. Is there anyone that at one time was the only individual in a group with a different slant or view of importance that others couldn’t understand? Thus leaving us “ALONE” with our outlook and misunderstood?

The Doctor shows us these feelings and situations can be dealt with and overcome. Although we may be alone we can persevere and make a difference. We may have too,time and again, face the pain of loss and  return to being on our own. This being said The Doctor shows us you should never give up and sequester yourself away from others. With belief and knowledge you can open eyes and set others on a path to explore the universe.

 

 

The Bechdel Examination: Rose & The End of the World

I’m pleased to announce that I have high hopes for the Bechdel Test scores. The first two (NuWho) episodes pass the test. I’d assign an extra few points to “The End of the World” for treatment of gender reassignment as completely incidental. Happily, 5 billion years in the future, we are a gender-enlightened people: When the Lady Cassandra O’Brien.Δ17 mentions her boyhood on Earth, Rose doesn’t register so much as a flicker of surprise or interest. (Sadly, Cassandra is a blatant racist. So I guess we’ll still have that.) I’ve always loved her character as a funny hyperbole showing the (il)logical extension of our obsession with beauty and thinness.

Also funny? Jackie. I fucking LOVE Jackie. Her attempt to seduce the Doctor is hilarious to me. I read this as some inherent feminism from the mind of Russel T. Davies as if he thought, See how ridiculous it is two have a one-dimensionally sexualized character for a minute there? This was my first Dr. Who episode, and the first time I saw it I read the Doctor’s reaction as an assurance that sexual tension wasn’t going to be a crutch to give the characters emotional depth. (I’m looking at you, every American television program ever.) The dynamic between Jackie and Rose rounds out the depth of their characters. Almost the entirety of the Bechdel-qualifying dialogue in Rose is Jackie and Rose arguing about money and Rose’s job. Their relationship feels very textured and authentic.

I wanted to present the introduction of the reboot with some care, but I’ll be condensing more episodes into each future “Bechdel” post.

Current score: 2/2

“Not Just a Journalist But a Woman Journalist!” [Review: Planet of the Spiders]

I once tried to convince Raeli to cosplay this outfit for a party - she had the stripy top but refused to add the spider!

“Planet of the Spiders” (1974)
Season 11: Production Code ZZZ

Written by: Robert Sloman & (uncredited) Barry Letts
Directed by: Barry Letts
Script Editor: Terrance Dicks

Starring:
THE DOCTOR: Jon Pertwee & (uncredited) Tom Baker
SARAH JANE SMITH: Elisabeth Sladen
BRIGADIER LETHBRIDGE-STEWART: Nicholas Courtney
SGT. BENTON: John Levene
MIKE YATES: Richard Franklin
LUPTON: John Dearth

crossposted from my blog, tansyrr.com

I didn’t mean to rewatch Planet of the Spiders this weekend, but when your seven-year-old daughter voluntarily suggests a touch of Jon Pertwee, you don’t turn her down!

This final story of the Third Doctor’s run is one of my absolute favourites, and has been since… wow. Probably since I was about the age my daughter Raeli is now. It’s a complete love letter to Jon Pertwee and the UNIT Years, with callbacks to previous stories. We even get a letter and a parcel from Jo Grant, a year after she left the show – a very rare example of a companion getting a chance to ‘call in’ after making her farewell, even if we don’t hear Katy Manning’s actual voice. We also get some cute character moments from each of the UNIT regulars, including Benton being adorably domestic, and the Brigadier unexpectedly (against his will!) revealing a snippet of his romantic history with a young lady called Doris.

I’ve been surprised in recent years to hear quite scathing criticisms of this story, especially the indulgent but completely awesome many-vehicles chase sequence, and the not-so-great acting among the Metebelis Three colonists. None of which bothers me at all, because I was raised with an Ignoring the Bad Bits lens through which to view classic Doctor Who stories. If you don’t have one, bet you wish you did. I try never to use this power for evil.

» Read more..

Not Just A Nurse

Being part of the Whoiverse on Twitter, I have noticed a lot of Rory role players tend to make Rory a doctor rather than a nurse.  I have seen far weirder and extreme breaches to canon but this one really irks me.  The implication of a nurse not being good enough; be it for the player or for the character himself.

The job ‘nurse’ sums up Rory’s character and his relationship with The Doctor rather neatly.  A nurse’s role is different than a doctor’s.  They are in the care profession, not medical.  They are more patient orientated than problem orientated: in The Doctor’s Wife it was Rory comforting the dying Sexy  while The Doctor focus on the threat of the episode.  They apply aid on behalf the doctors: in A Good Man Goes To War it’s Rory that blows up the cybermen fleet as a ‘message from The Doctor.’  The can be often overlooked: in The Eleventh Hour it is Rory that has put in the prep work of all the photos of Prisoner Zero in human disguises and isn’t thanked.  They care for the emotional needs of the patients as well as psychical: in The Rebel Flesh Rory cares for Ganger Jen, listening to her story, caring what’s going on in her mind while The Doctor just ‘outs’ Ganger Miranda in front of Jimmy and Buster.

It’s a different job and for the most of it, the show captures the different outlooks of both professions in the characters of The Doctor and Rory.  These role players seem to miss this and latch on to that Rory is ‘just a nurse’ and ‘not a doctor.’  I blame Amy’s Choice for this.  The fact of in Rory’s dream world that Rory is a doctor stuck with people.  First, this was not a Moffat episode and he can’t micro-manage everything so it’s possible that this slipped past him or didn’t stick out as something major that he had to correct.

Secondly, we don’t know for sure that this is Rory’s dream but how The Doctor perceive what Rory’s dream would be.  He is the one that pointed it out.  The Dream Lord was psychic pollen feeding on the darkness in The Doctor’s mind who says if it was feeding off the companions it “would starve to death in an instant.”  I choice to believe that The Doctor gave Amy and Rory the ‘normal life’ that he was envious of in Father’s Day to the extent to pushing things – the pregnancy, Amy’s nesting instinct, Rory’s PhD and possibly even the ponytail – to give them the adventure that he can’t have, once they have ‘grown up’ and left him.

The Sontaran Nurse is the one that expressed feelings of being just ‘a nurse’ as he died when Rory stared at him with a stony grieving expression.  In the audio commentary Arthur Darvill adds the deleted line of ‘So am I’ which was cut.  Apparently that line and scene was to show that Rory is no more a nurse but as much as a warrior as the sontaran.

What?

The sontaran was made a nurse as a punishment.  He is a member of a race that wars for sport.  He doesn’t want to be a nurse.  He tells his patients that he looks forward to crushing them in the field of battle when they are all better.  He is ‘just a nurse’ because he wants to be a warrior. [See the first comment for Tansy Rayner Roberts' take on the Sontaran.]

If Rory is ‘just a nurse’ it’s because of Amy’s perception on The Doctor.  He doesn’t want to a doctor.  He wants the woman he loves not to hero worship another man.  It’s not just romantic jealously.  He was there with Amy the fourteen years that The Doctor wasn’t and seen Amy instance that her Raggedy Doctor was real as she got transferred between four therapists yet he was only the boy who dressed up as her magical mad man when The Doctor was the flesh and blood fantasy he had to compete with for his wife’s attention.

And that does come full circle.  In The Wedding of River Song Amy draws what is described on the script as “an impossibly handsome picture of Rory” and goes to save Captain Williams rather than going with The Doctor and River Song.

He doesn’t need role players giving him a job that will take him out of care industry for a title and higher pay check.  He worked at least three years to become a nurse.  He has Amy’s love and respect.  That is Rory’s happy ending.

The Doctor: a God Among Women?

This guest post was written by Chris Emslie. Chris is a poet and editor living in Scotland. He blogs intermittently at Q.L.P. but spends most of his time yelling at his relatives for saying things they don’t realize are offensive. He co-edits the online poetry journal ILK and frequently gets angry at the TV. Who aside, Chris loves Buffy, True Blood and Dead Like Me. Also he tweets.

God and the doctor we alike adore
But only when in danger, not before;
The danger o’er, both are alike requited,
God is forgotten, and the Doctor slighted.

John Owen

*

“It’s always the women.”

Some of the many ‘dying words’ of Doctor Who arch-villain The Master. These come in the 2007 episode ‘Last of the Time Lords’, immediately after he is shot by Lucy Saxon, the human woman he seduces, marries and—ostensibly—brutalises and drives insane.

This scene is dominated by a tearful farewell conducted exclusively between men, but there is more to note here. While the  Doctor in this scene is literally all forgiveness and light, the only dangers to the Master’s life come from wronged and vengeful women: Francine Jones and Lucy Saxon. The impulse to revenge immediately casts these women as morally inferior to the Doctor.

This unspoken assertion of the Doctor as the superior / rational man among hysterical / inferior women is symptomatic of a larger trend in the series’ history. What are unendingly termed ‘strong women’ are permitted space in the narrative to display their charm / wiles / independence, but only to a point—only so long as they do not present a sustained challenge to the Doctor’s supreme position at the centre of the Whoniverse.

The best examples, distressingly, can be found in the rebooted series, from 2005 onwards. The Doctor’s female cohorts might flirt with equality, but it cannot last. In ‘The Parting of the Ways’, Rose Tyler is granted superhuman abilities by her contact with the heart of the TARDIS, but at a cost: the power will kill her without heroic male intervention (“I think you need a Doctor”). Similarly in 2008’s finale ‘Journey’s End’, Donna Noble achieves the vaguely-defined ‘metacrisis’ that puts the Doctor’s Gallifreyan brainpower in her ickle human (read: female) head. But again, the sudden upsurge in agency is too much for Donna. Indeed, she gets so close to true equality with the Doctor that she has to be punished—“all those wonderful things she saw” have to be stripped from her, reducing her to the bridal archetype she represented at her inception.

More recently, River Song has been repeatedly been billed as ‘[more than] a match’ for the Doctor.  She almost succeeds in killing him, and her ‘human-plus-Time-Lord’ physiology removes the impassable disadvantage of species. But let’s stop and consider the fate of the Time Ladies (or variations thereof) who have given equalling or surpassing the Doctor a real shot:

  • Romana Mk. I is shown as stuffy and narrow-minded in comparison to the Doctor, and only outsmarts him very occasionally. She regenerates into the more submissive Romana Mk. II, who conveniently departs for E-Space and never comes back—at least not in the television series.
  • The Rani is arguably a cautionary tale against allowing Gallifreyan women access to education (they’ll only end up as evil geniuses, ultimately dropped without much ado from the programme).
  • 2008’s ‘The Doctor’s Daughter’ gives us Jenny, genetically a female offshoot of the Doctor. She is born a morally misguided killing machine, reformed by the reason of a Doctor at his most literally patriarchal, and then swiftly killed off, resurrected and sent on her merry way.
  • And then we have River Song herself. She has all the makings of a true equal, on the Doctor’s own turf: she is ingenious, heroic, brave and appealing. Her knowledge of the Doctor’s personal future puts her at an unprecedented advantage. This is balanced initially by her being homicidal—no one can be that badass and morally righteous but the Doctor—and latterly by her domestication. Okay, ‘domestication’ might be a strong word. But the bulk of River’s considerable ability is used to preserve the Doctor’s place on his pedestal, cohesion of reality be damned. The woman who almost defeats him gives up her regenerations to save him because (of course) she has fallen in love with him. Is anyone else noticing a trend in Steven Moffat’s writing here? And of course, River’s threat to the Doctor’s role as patriarch is neutralised by the fact that we know from her first appearance that she is doomed to die, while he can potentially live forever. Take that, woman!

Let’s end with a nice, light-hearted moment from 2006, when Rose Tyler meets Sarah Jane Smith, the celebrated damsel-in-distress from the days of the third and fourth Doctors, in ‘School Reunion’. Sarah-Jane ribs the Doctor:

“You can tell you’re getting older [...] your assistants are getting younger.”
“I’m not his assistant!” Rose rightly protests.
“No?” Sarah Jane shrugs and smiles to herself.

We cannot help but infer from this brief exchange that Rose thinks herself equal to the Doctor. Quite reasonable, really, to assume that about your best friend. Sarah Jane’s smile tells us that Rose, like countless other women to have travelled with the paragon Doctor, will inevitably learn otherwise.

*

Femme Doctors and crossplayers: Not that different

Cross-posted at Geek Feminism.

Post-Gallifrey, I was interviewed at i09 about the phenomenon of femme Doctor cosplay. If you’re not familiar with it, femme cosplay is when female cosplayers alter the costumes of male characters to make them feminine. Femme cosplayers add ruffles, lace, heels, alter the silhouette of a costume (often with a corset), etc.

A femme Jackson Lake A femme Jackson Lake sports a corset and long coat. Photo by Alex Halcyon.

This trend is often contrasted with crossplaying. Crossplayers are usually female cosplayers who alter their bodies to costume as male characters. (Male crossplayers dress as female characters.) Unlike their femme counterparts, they will bind their breasts, wear men’s wigs, and wear makeup designed to mask feminine features. Generally, people think these trends are at odds; they believe that femme Doctors and crossplay Doctors are doing very different things.

A femme Eighth DoctorsquirrelyTONKS is a bit of a femme Doctor superstar at the Gallifrey convention. Photo by Alex Halcyon.

A snippet from the interview:

Both crossplay and femme cosplay draw attention to gender. Women passing as men are destabilizing gender by illustrating how easy it is to perform the opposite gender, by showing that all gender performance is performance, since cosplay is fundamentally performative. Femme cosplay does the same thing: it draws attention to the performance of gender, but this time femininity. [...]

So really, crossplay and femme cosplay are not that different. Both alter their bodies, showing that no matter what gender they are playing, their bodies often don’t match any ideal. While crossplayers wear binders, femme cosplayers wear corsets and heels. But their motivations are the same: they emphasize the performative nature of gender, and thus destabilize it. Women do this more because they have more to gain by destabilizing gender, being at the bottom rung of the gender hierarchy.

I have quite a bit more to say about how I think femme Doctor cosplay (and crossplay) is a feminist critique of Doctor Who and its fan community, so go read it!

two femme fivesTwo femme Fifth Doctors with cropped jackets…and celery! Photo by Alex Halcyon.

Why do we watch Doctor Who?: A fan scholar’s perspective

Cross-posted at Geek Feminism.

This line from ellecleg’s last post really got my attention:

But let’s be honest – the series is called Dr Who. We tune in every week to watch the man who flies the blue box.

It got my attention because I really wonder if many fans watch Doctor Who for the Doctor. It seems unlikely, given how irreverent most fans are towards source material (the TV, films, or books they are fans of). Fans are all about re-interpretation, re-invention, and analysis based on their own experiences. That stuff doesn’t start with their fan and slash fic, with their cosplay, with their fan vids. It starts with their actual experience of watching the show. And ellecleg’s point was that most of us understand we’re watching a show about a White dude with a British accent, and so to complain that the female characters aren’t up to snuff is silly, since we all tune in knowing they’re secondary anyway. But I would hypothesize I great deal of female viewers don’t tune in to watch the Doctor at all.

Yes, the female characters are secondary. But that’s a production decision. And fans don’t generally let production decisions get in the way when there is still something to scavenge from the show. This is the beautiful thing about fans: they don’t let creators tell them how they get to experience the show. I mean, the creators often do tell us how to experience the show (*cough, cough,* George Lucas), but fans don’t comply. And I would say that fans don’t just ignore the voices from on high that directly tell them “You can’t read it that way,” but they also ignore plot details, the structure of casts, and other elements in shows that tell them how to read it indirectly. So even though the companions are definitionally sidekicks to the Doctor, plenty of women will still read those companions as the heroes. They’ll still read the Doctor as a genderqueer character they can relate to. And they can do all that while complaining that Doctor Who needs a lady protagonist every once in a damn while.

In John Fiske’s Understanding Popular Culture, he describes a study done on female Charlie’s Angels fans. I don’t know if you remember that show, but the endings of the episodes were awful. Fiske claims,

The narrative closure of each episode is strongly patriarchal, as is the pleasure offered by the visual style of the program, and a textual or ideological analysis would conclude that patriarchy is recuperating signs of feminine liberation. Yet many women have reported reading Charlie’s Angels selectively, paying attention to the strong women detectives and almost ignoring the signs of the patriarchal closure. Some said that they would typically leave the TV set before the end of the episode and thus avoid altogether one of the main moments of patriarchal narrative power. (143)

That last bit made me laugh out loud when I first read it. The women who saw Charlie’s Angels as a pro-woman, feminist show, just walked away during the part of the show that put the ladies back in their place. As Fiske argues, we can’t make any assumptions about fans based on an assumption that readers sit still and read/view the way the creators want them to, because “popular reading is often selective and spasmodic” (143).

I don’t have to walk away from actually watching it, but I can tell you that when I rewatch River Song episodes, I conveniently pretend that her entire existence was not predicated on the Doctor. I pretend she’s just a woman who happened along the Doctor and became her badass self because she’s badass, not because she wanted “to find a good man.” (For serious, Moffat?) Because I loved River Song before “Let’s Kill Hitler,” and I’ll be damned if Moffat is going to ruin her for me.

Cartoon Jenny and River dance together.

Cartoon Jenny and River do a dance. From Comic Who, by Marco Castiello & Elisa Moriconi. Licensed under Creative Commons.

Some fans may not excise parts, but add parts. An immigrant or refugee might read the Doctor as similar to them–an alien who doesn’t quite fit in, whose home is far away or lost. An LGBT person might read the Doctor as queer, a character who shares their experiences. An asexual person might read the Doctor as asexual, focusing on the Doctor in particular seasons. And all of them may have these “selective and spasmodic” readings and experiences of the show without giving up the right to critique the show for not having enough people of color, queer people, or asexual people, or for portraying those people’s experiences poorly. I can love my version of River Song without giving up the right to tell Doctor Who that it needs to feature more independent, badass, older women who aren’t literally revolving around the Doctor.

Even if you look at this blog, we seem to talk about the Doctor not at all, and the companions a whole lot. Even ellecleg’s post is a love song to the female companions. (I think we can never have too many love songs to the companions on Doctor Who.)

So why do we watch Doctor Who? I imagine the answers are as varied as the viewers are. And the man in the blue box may be so much less important than the creators think he is.