Archive for 22 March 2012

#include std_disclaimer.h

When I was in high school, I loved English class. If you believe, as I do, that human cultures are the stories we tell ourselves, then there is no subject more fit for study than stories. I got enormously excited about it all, this wonderful lit crit toolkit we were being given that let you poke at the innards of culture itself, to see what its programming was like, and I was always faintly mystified and sad that none of my friends wanted to talk lit crit once we’d all finished AP English.

Needless to say, when I first found fandom, I had that familiar “OMG I HAVE FOUND THE MOTHERSHIP” feeling that so many fans have. Finally, people who also wanted to take the lit crit toolkit and turn it on pop culture! But, alas–in the AP English class that is fandom, there are also those kids who whined about “being allowed to just enjoy something”, rather than “analyzing it to death”. And they outnumber you; and, now that there’s no AP test looming to provide at least a short-term motivation for using their minds, there is nothing they love better than to glance at your analysis and boil it down to a dismissive sentence or two.

It’s true that the Internet makes this easier. People can be jerks on the Internet in a way that they’d never tolerate in meatspace. But if I’m going to spend my time writing a detailed analysis of why the character of Abigail Pettigrew bothers me, only to see some asshole toss off a sneering “Hey @steven_moffat! Some twerp at @Doctorher thinks you’re sexist!”, well damn–I’m certainly going to provide my side of the story, which is that I love Doctor Who. I love watching it, thinking about it, and most of all thinking critically about it. I love Steven Moffat’s writing. For that matter, I love RTD’s writing, too. I think we’re living in television’s golden age, and I think that they’re a large part of that. Also, I’ve met Steven Moffat. I’ve bought him beers. I like him, as much as a person can like someone she’s spent a handful of tongue-tied minutes in the presence of, and I don’t want him to think I think he’s a sexist bigot. I don’t. I think his writing of women is sometimes problematic, which isn’t the same thing. All of us are biased, and the best we can do is to try to be aware of our biases and work past them. It comes from living in the kyriarchy. Stuff gets burned in, and it doesn’t come out easily. The US has plenty of people wringing their hands over, say, academic achievements of Black children, and no one remembers that we’ve spent the last approximately 400 years discouraging Black literacy. It won’t happen overnight. But that doesn’t mean it won’t happen, or that it doesn’t need to happen, or even that it will happen by itself without people using the lit crit toolkit to debug our culture’s stories.

So ok, do I just post that disclaimer at the head of every post I make from now on? Should all my posts be larded with caveats to the effect of “WARNING: ANALYSIS NOT INTENDED AS A PERSONAL CRITICISM”, “WARNING: WRITER IS PROBABLY NOT ANY MORE SEXIST THAN ANYONE ELSE, REALLY”, or “WARNING: I KNOW THE WRITER DIDN’T MEAN IT THAT WAY, BUT I’M ARGUING THAT SEXISM STEMS FROM UNCHALLENGED ASSUMPTIONS, NOT PERSONAL FAILINGS”? Or can we, dear readers, agree to include them in all our posts as if they were written out?

Thanks. I knew I could count on you.

 

I have linkspam now. Linkspam is cool.

Hoyden About Town looks at knitted sonic screwdrivers.

In Bitch Magazine, Carrie Nelson writes about the representation of bisexuality via the character of Jack Harkness in Torchwood:

Jack’s characterization is refreshing simply because his sexuality is presented so naturally. Though it’s frequently referenced, it’s never overanalyzed or challenged. It just is. This is a rarity in depictions of bisexuality in the media. So many bi-centric storylines in movies and television shows tend to focus on overwhelming problems and pressure to change one’s sexuality or pick a side. But this isn’t the case with Jack. Not only is he allowed to be who he is, he’s allowed to be happy with that identity.

In case you missed it, the BBC released the first official picture of new companion.

Maybe you heard! The movie Hunger Games was released on March 23, with great success! A few Hunger Games-related links:

Courtney Martin wrote a lovely article on fan activism at the New York Times, focusing on the Hunger is Not a Game campaign by Hunger Games fans. Shortly after the movie’s release, Lionsgate decided to be completely douchey, and try to shut down those fan advocates for diluting their IP.

There was a great piece on why you should watch/read Hunger Games at Alternet. The last paragraph, in particular, is excellent:

Perhaps its adolesent core of distrust is what makes The Hunger Games so appealing. Teens begin to notice the lie behind claims of a meritocracy, the way certain kinds of privilege are rewarded and bad authority, from a corrupt president to an arbitrary teacher, is obeyed. The Hunger Games, true to its YA nature, is propelled less by a specific agenda and more by a feeling – the feeling that the system is rigged and the adults are just sitting around doing nothing about it. Perhaps that’s why the series has legions of adult followers–it allows us to give expression to a loud, seditious frustration that our sensible society has deemed unseemly and unrealistic.

And in your daily dose of “humanity is awful,” Jezebel talks about how some Hunger Games fans are distressed that the Black character in the book, Rue, is played by a Black actress. This also inspired a rather decent article with a brief history of whitewashing, also at Jezebel.

Jack Harkness and How We Judge LGBT Characters

If some passages sound familiar, it’s because they appeared in an early version of this post that was published at Change.org in November 2010.

It’s that time of year again. That time when I – and the rest of the world, for that matter – am out of new Doctor Who episodes to watch. I guess it’s something we can live through (if you can even call it living). But even more tragic is the lack of Torchwood, Doctor Who‘s more mature and tortured cousin. » Read more..

Two Women in the TARDIS

So the TARDIS is a lady. We’ve always known that, right?

The Doctor’s Wife, which made concrete the Doctor’s characterisation of the TARDIS as female, and a living being with her own thoughts and feelings, makes re-watching older episodes a fascinating exercise. It brings an extra layer of meaning to almost every story since 1963.

But crucially, it shakes up the Doctor Who “formula” which, to so many people, sums up what the show is about: One Doctor, One Female Companion.

If you actually watch the show for any length of time, you know that this formula isn’t actually essential at all – but it’s amazing how often the media surrounding the show, official or otherwise, prioritises this depiction of how Doctor Who works. We all know that Jack, Mickey, Rory and River count companions (there hasn’t been a single full season of New Who in which the Doctor has one lone female companion at his side) and yet somehow they disappear in the way the show is pitched to the audience, in the newspaper and blog coverage, and even the merchandise (Arthur Darvill, after one year as occasional companion and a second year as a billed co-star, is only just receiving his first action figure).

[Ritch discusses why this might be the case in one of his Ritch and Space YouTube vids: New Companion, Old Companions]

It happened in the old days, too. JNT, a previous generation’s RTD, famously set up all manner of sexy photo shoots for the Doctor’s co-stars, to the point that you would easily believe that Sarah Sutton’s Nyssa or Janet Fielding’s Tegan travelled with him alone. Most non-diehard-fans remember a Doctor-companion combination that is singular. There’s a kind of mythic resonance to the concept of the “Doctor Who girl” and yet for huge chunks of the show from 1963 all the way through to the present, the Doctor travelled with more than one companion, often a man and woman together, but sometimes as many as three.

In fact, only the Third, Sixth and Seventh Doctors followed the ‘one Doctor Who girl’ format for their whole TV run, and considering that the Third Doctor had an ensemble cast as well as his female companion, it’s really only the late 80’s (and a few chunks of the Fourth Doctor’s era, depending on whether or not you count the robot dog) which completely support the ‘crew of two’ concept.

Now, of course, we know that the TARDIS *always* made three.

But I thought it was worth talking about one of my favourite companion combinations: when the Doctor has two women in his life at at time. (Well, okay, three.) Having more than one woman in the regular cast allows for multiple “types” of female character (yay diversity) plus we get to see them gang up on him, and when is that not fun?

So here are the best examples:

SUSAN AND BARBARA:
The Doctor’s grand-daughter and her history teacher, worlds apart in so many ways. It was Barbara’s curiosity about (and concern for) Susan which got she and Ian into this mess in the first place, and she often takes on a motherly (or at least, cool auntie) role with the alien teenager. I particularly like that they both have such different spheres of expertise, and often have something to learn from each other.
From The Unearthly Child (1963) to The Dalek Invasion of Earth (1965)

BARBARA AND VICKI: Just as Vicki was the substitute granddaughter figure for the Doctor, she had a similar relationship with Barbara as had Susan, though perhaps they erred closer to be being friends rather than teacher-student. It didn’t hurt that Vicki was human, if from the far future, which meant she had extra reason to think that Barbara (and Ian) were like, SO OLD, MAN. When the crew split up (as often happened back then) it often meant we had the Doctor and Vicki going one way and Ian and Barbara going the other, but we still get plenty of great scenes with these two very different women working together.
From The Rescue (1965) to The Chase (1965).

TEGAN AND NYSSA: After a very long gap including the entire Troughton and Pertwee years (and most of Tom Baker) the Fourth Doctor accidentally took on a random assortment of urchins and orphans in his last stories, including two women: Tegan, a mouthy Australian air stewardess and Nyssa, a demure alien aristocrat with mad science skills, along with alien boy genius Adric. While the scripts didn’t always give them the best material to work with (often the writers dealt with the three companion dilemma by making one fall mysteriously asleep for a whole story or otherwise disappear) we did get to see the forging of a strong friendship between these two young women, which was further developed after Adric left and we got to see them working together as the Doctor’s companions. More recently, in Big Finish, their friendship has been further explored with a series of adventures based on the premise that a much older Nyssa has returned to the TARDIS crew – fifty years have passed for her, while only a few weeks for Tegan.
From Logopolis (1981) to Terminus (1983) [TV]
From Cradle of the Snake [Big Finish Audio]

PERI AND ERIMEM: Not only does Big Finish provide us with a bunch of new stories for Doctor-companion combinations that didn’t get much time in the TV show (like Five-Peri) they also create new ones! Erimem, the feisty female Pharaoh who chose a different destiny for herself by leaping into the TARDIS, makes a great offsider for Peri, and their stories involve a lot of girl talk as well as culture clashes between them – for the most part it’s a warm, supportive friendship. I haven’t listened all the way through to Erimem’s end, though!
From: The Eye of the Scorpion [Big Finish Audio]

DONNA AND MARTHA: After two years of Rose, it felt like Martha Jones left too soon, and so it was lovely to have a story in which the Doctor returned at her summons to help with a UNIT mission that turned out to be a Sontaran attack. Even better, we got to see new companion Donna join forces with her predecessor without a hint of jealousy between them. The scene in which the Doctor watches, baffled, as they hug and shriek and mock him, is pure Doctor Who gold. It’s particularly nice because Martha’s era had been overshadowed by her cranky jealousy of her own predecessor Rose, and it’s the first time we get to see a Martha who isn’t in love with the Doctor any more. The Doctor and Donna then manage to kidnap Martha for at least one more spin in the TARDIS.
From The Sontaran Stratagem to The Doctor’s Daughter, plus Journey’s End

AMY AND RIVER
While River’s travels in the TARDIS are rarely chronological, she does manage to pop in quite often when Amy is there – and as we realise in Season 6, it’s not all about the Doctor’s charisma. Even before we learned that Amy and River were mother and daughter, we saw them as friends. The lack of jealousy (so crucial) between them was evident from the start, and Amy is delighted at the weird possibility that River might be the Doctor’s future wife. We also see River work to save Amy by her own methods, proving the Doctor wrong and showing her own capability. The two of them come into their own as a team many times over, across several adventures, often overriding or challenging the Doctor.
From The Time of Angels on and off until The Wedding of River Song.

HONOURABLE MENTIONS:

MEL AND ACE: In the story Dragonfire, we get a rare overlap/handover from old companion to new, but most of the story actually has Mel and Ace working together as a team while the Doctor does his own thing. At the end, it’s Mel who nudges the Doctor to take Ace along on his adventures.

ROSE AND SARAH-JANE: In the episode School Reunion, New and Old Who collided, and Rose discovered she wasn’t the first young woman to be important to the Doctor. Sadly, jealousy was a big issue in this story, though Rose and Sarah-Jane did work through their issues and boy, wasn’t the Doctor worried when they started laughing at him together?

ROSE AND JACKIE: Obviously this mother-daughter team had been hanging out for a long time, but it wasn’t until Army of Ghosts and Doomsday that Jackie actually hopped aboard the TARDIS and came for a ride. Only across the city, but still… it was very cute to see the Doctor claim Jackie as an aged Rose, and while the mother-daughter team were mostly separated (as they were also in Journey’s End) it was enough evidence for me to claim Jackie as a companion.

DONNA AND ROSE: In Turn Left, Rose became the Mysterious Enabler of Donna’s adventures – with the Doctor nowhere in sight! Lovely to have two companions get a story entirely to themselves. Donna was always a bit of a Doctor/Rose shipper, and while they didn’t get to recreate their Turn Left relationship in Journey’s End, we do get to see the two of them (and Jackie and Martha and Sarah-Jane) all jammed into the TARDIS together. Five women in the TARDIS!

ACE AND BENNY: While Bernice Summerfield was introduced in the Virgin New Adventures novel that wrote Ace out, the two of them didn’t stay strangers. Ace returned several times, the two of them wrangling over all kinds of issues (including I think some rivalry over Jason Kane – boo for jealousy but yay for it not being the Doctor in the pointy end of the triangle for once). Big Finish recreated the Seven-Ace-Benny team a few times, and will be bringing them back together again for the anniversary of that first story, Love and War, later in 2012.

EVELYN AND MEL: in the Big Finish audio Thicker Than Water, the Sixth Doctor brings Mel back to meet Evelyn, the companion who has had the most effect on how he lives his life. And the two of them get into all kinds of trouble together!

LUCIE AND SUSAN: Rose wasn’t the first companion to be faced with the Doctor’s distant past – in Big Finish audio Relative Dimensions, she cooked Christmas Doctor for the Eighth Doctor, his granddaughter Susan, and great-grandson Alex! Together, Lucie and Susan discussed what it meant to travel at the Doctor’s side… and whether it was something either of them wanted to do now.

SARAH-JANE AND JO: In the Sarah Jane Adventures episode Death of the Doctor, these two iconic 70’s companions met and were delighted to do so, even if it was at the funeral of the man they both thought of as their best friend. There was a hint of jealousy here and there, but not of the romantic kind – plenty of wistfulness too, especially when Jo discovered that the Doctor’s current companion got to bring her hubby along on the adventures. But mostly it was two awesome women who had fabulous lives, with fond memories of that crazy bloke they both knew in their youth. And I would have watched whole seasons of them together!

LEELA & ROMANA II: in another spin off series, Big Finish’s Gallifrey, two of the Fourth Doctor’s companions work together in war, death and politics, and barely even mention that crazy bloke they both knew in their youth. Luckily for us, there are whole seasons of them together!


HARDLY WORTH MENTIONING:

But for completion’s sake…

VICKI AND KATARINA – a hand-maiden introduced late into the Trojan story The Myth-Makers was sent on her way to the TARDIS by Vicki, who had a better offer.
DODO AND POLLY – They got along quite well in the opening episodes of The War Machines but Dodo was sent “to the country” halfway through, leaving Polly to carry on with Ben instead.
ROMANA I AND PRINCESS ASTRA – liked each other so much in The Armageddon Factor that Romana stole her body – well, the intellectual property surrounding her body, anyway. She wore it better, too.
ROMANA II and CHARLEY – Disapproved of each other mightily in Big Finish’s Neverland mostly because Romana II had a problem with Charley’s status as a time paradox. How awesome that they didn’t conflict over their feelings for the Doctor, though!

Quick Hit: #YestoFemaleDoctor on Twitter

A tweet today from SFX Magazine’s Twitter account started the #yestofemaledoctor and #notofemaledoctor hashtags (the latter is about as douchey as you would expect).

A tweet from @SFXmagazine reading "So oustide of a Who con, is the world either #yestofemaledoctor or #notofemaledoctor ? Tweet now" Click the picture for the original tweet.

It’s started a fairly interesting conversation on Twitter that you might want to check out. Some of the highlights:

A tweet from @maria_siulee reading "#yestofemaledoctor science fiction that can cross time & space but not gender is a pathetic failure of imagination" Click the picture for the original tweet.

A tweet from @cnstoker reading "And while we're at it, #yestoDoctorofcolor. This isn't the US presidential elections. We can have both. #yestofemaledoctor" Click on the picture for the original tweet.

Tweet from @erinpuff

A tweet from @erinpuff, reading "I'm team #yestofemaledoctor, but not with Moffat as showrunner! A team of awesome feminists needs to stage a coup first." Click on the picture for the original tweet.

It’s encouraging that so many Who fans would like to see a lady Doctor, and would like to see a feminist Doctor Who. (They’re not, after all, the same thing.) I think we’re probably a long way from actually having a Doctor who is a lady, or a person of color, or (dis)abled, or trans*, because fans don’t run things, or worry about ratings and appealing to the lowest denominator. But it’s nice to know that even if they aren’t listening that hard, the fans are telling the BBC what we want, and it isn’t a show that participates in oppression.

Why I Don’t Cosplay

I’ve been a geek all my life. From the time I was a little girl I grew up on Star Trek and had a deep, undying love for Sherlock Holmes. I lived blissfully unaware of the mocking geeks get as I grew up because I was homeschooled. My peers were fellow kids at church and clubs. It wasn’t until I was about 12 that I realized I was different. A girl at summer camp teased me for using large words, which I thought were normal, every day words. It was also around that same time I started getting teased for being overweight.

I’m not going to say that I’ve been brutally teased like some people I know. My incidents of being bullied for my weight are very few (several have happened online with extremely rude comments or emails). We’re talking a handful of incidents over a very long period of time. Personal attacks are rare, but the general overall feeling about overweight women, especially in the geek fandom is intense.

While my body image and confidence are usually fine, going to a big convention filled with scantily clad hotties sends my shields up. I’ve been in earshot of people who snicker and laugh at the plus-sized Batgirls or other cosplayers who don’t fit the skinny actresses they’re portraying. Once I asked one of these curvy girls to pose for a picture and genuine shock crossed her face. Othert imes it’s been a large man in a Roman gladiator outfit who gets laughed at or the plus-sized Princess Lei. Every time I heard these snickers and laughs I was less comfortable with dressing up.

I’ve only dressed up at a convention once, despite having attended many. It was DragonCon, I was on a panel for my audio drama podcast and I dressed up as my character, Anya. My mother made me a skirt and I painted a shirt to resemble her Once More With Feeling costume. In a large group of costumed people (my best friends were Buffy and Drusilla), I felt more able to handle my perception of dressing up. It helped my costume wasn’t too far out there (I mean, it was a skirt and shirt). Even so, I was ill at ease despite the euphoria of celebrating an amazing production and having a packed out room to hear our performance. I rushed back to my hotel room and changed as soon as I could.

So when I saw all of the Doctor Who cosplayers at Gallifrey One again this year it brought up those emotions. I remembered the poor girl who asked on a forum who she could dress up as being plus-sized, the only answer she got was ogre Princess Fiona. I wanted to scream.

I can’t even say it’s Hollywood’s fault per say. When I considered dressing up as an actress who is plus-sized and was figuring how to do her costume I read a glut of nasty YouTube comments and the emotional response just flared up again. Here was a wonderful actress, who I so admired, being skewered online because of her weight (I know, I know it’s YouTube, what should I expect, but still it’s awful).

Cosplaying is supposed to be, at least for me, an escape. It’s a chance to be someone else for awhile and to live in their skin. I love walking around Gallifrey One and seeing the responses people get to their costumes. One girl, dressed as Sherlock, was walking away and another girl caught a glimpse of her and yelled out, “I believe in you, Sherlock!” It was like when little kids see their favorite characters at Disney and believe, in that moment, that they’re real. It warmed my heart. But, I can never have that experience because of the reactions I have heard in the past.

So, I won’t cosplay. It’s the one area of fandom I’ve barely tried and it kind of makes me sad.

So why write about it here? Well, I didn’t want to really. I’m not a big fan of pity parties or being vulnerable in a public forum. I finally realized I should get the conversation going and perhaps make people think twice before they snicker at the plus-sized costumed fan walking through the hallways of your next convention. The cosplayer you save might just be me.

 

 

EDIT! Follow up post about this is here.

That Other Time The Doctor Was a Lady: Unbound Exile

The Doctor Who Unbound series of audio plays at Big Finish were one of their earlier experimental series – you can tell it’s early because a) the plays are all the in the ‘Big Finish for Under a Fiver’ grab bin on their website and b) David Tennant is in it.

David Tennant actually turns up a lot in early (pre-2005) Big Finish plays because he was taking any opportunity he could to be involved with the franchise – previously I’ve heard him as an unrepentant Nazi in Colditz (with the Seventh Doctor and Ace) and as an outrageous Scottish hard-ass UNIT commander in UNIT: The Wasting.

This time around, in Unbound: Exile, Tennant is a bumbling, second string Gallifreyan CIA agent (that’s Celestial Intervention Agency, yes really) trying to hunt down the Doctor on that planet where you usually find the Doctor.

The trick of course being that the Doctor has managed to regenerate, rather sneakily, into a woman, and thus is even harder than usual to track down.

The Unbound series provided some seriously batty premises, the idea being that the production crew could play around with the very idea of what a Doctor Who story was, canon bedamned. The stories are mostly stand alone (though a few have sequels) and include such premises as: the Valeyard killed the Doctor and now Mel is trying to redeem and/or kill him; the Doctor and Susan never left Earth; and my personal favourite, what happened to the Brigadier if the Doctor was never exiled to Earth in the 70′s?

Taking such a bold step to the left allowed them to cast all manner of alternative Doctors, including Derek Jacobi, David Collings, Geoffrey Bayldon and David Warner, and to explore a variety of alternate time streams. At the time, it probably seemed fairly controversial to make one of those Other Doctors into a woman – these days, I suspect we’d wonder why they only picked one.

All I knew about this play coming in was that it was widely regarded as being a bit crap – and my feminist spidey senses had sparked up, wondering whether it was truly bad or if the listeners were just trying to justify why they felt uncomfortable listening to a woman play the iconic “male” role. But I still hadn’t got around to listening to it until recently when the actress in question, Arabella Weir, appeared in DWM talking about her recent experience performing in the Christmas special.

Among other things in the interview, she talked about how she was close friends with David Tennant, and how he had been part of her previous Who experience when she played the Doctor (long before he got to on TV). So I had to check it out!

And… oh. Right. Um.

It’s not a great play, not by Big Finish standards, and certainly not by the standards I expect of the writer, Nicholas Briggs, who turns out stellar material these days. It’s not as bad as I expected, but I can see why people turned away in droves as the first twenty minutes of the story is basically the (female) Doctor getting repeatedly drunk off her face, belching and throwing up with all the sound effects you would expect from such a thing.

Once the story settles down and there’s a bit less vomiting to listen to, it’s actually pretty good. Arabella Weir herself does an excellent performance, though I prefer it when she’s playing the part straight than all the comedy stuff – as would be the case, I think, of any male Doctor too.

I wonder at their choices, long before the script was written. Why is it that the only female Doctor in this series of cool, alternative Doctor Who stories is also the only one that’s a slapstick gross out comedy? Did they think that the listeners wouldn’t accept a serious story with a female lead? Why, if one of the Doctors had to work in a supermarket, was it the woman?

On the other hand, women are often derided as ‘unfunny’ because we’re not used to respecting them as comedians in our culture. Am I the one with the problem, by thinking the female Doctor SHOULDN’T get to be funny? Would I feel differently if it was Tina Fey or Dawn French in the role?

I think, in the end, it’s a bit of all those things. I actually really enjoyed the play when I wasn’t having to listen to burping and vomiting – I thought the plot twist as to why the Doctor was female and how she had got that way was interesting, I liked the friendships she had made on earth, and I thought it did some interesting things to interrogate the role of the Doctor in a domestic setting. Even the issue of characters drinking all the time on weekends to balance out their crappy lives (this was written at the height of “ladette” culture as a media buzzword) was discussed with a certain degree of gravitas. Plus, David Tennant.

I actually REALLY liked Arabella Weir as the Doctor. When she (and that script she’d been lumbered with) wasn’t grossing me out.

Ultimately I suspect that they didn’t quite think through the ramifications of depicting gross-out humour in audio (directly into your ears rather than on TV/film screen at a nice safe distance) and that it sets the play up to fail (or at least scramble to recover from the awful introduction). It’s a shame because if played far more straight, a noirish mystery about the female Doctor, why she was that way, and her attempts to stay under the radar, could have been a far more powerful piece of drama than the mixed bag we ended up with.

And maybe by now, nearly ten years later, Big Finish might have had enough encouragement from fans to portray a female Doctor more than once.

I’d love to hear other opinions on this one, if anyone else has downloaded this play.