Archive for 13 March 2012

The New Companion?

Apparently there will be an announcement tomorrow about the new companion (or later today for those of us already dabbling with Wednesday)! A press conference and everything.

So state your guesses now, and your wishlist.

Who do you want as the next companion?

What qualities do you THINK the next companion will possess?

Male/female
Racial appearance
Straight/queer
Human/alien/robot
Contemporary/historical/future
Madam De Pompadour/Canton Everett Delaware III/Captain Jack Harkness/River Song
Giant cabbage on shoulder

UPDATE: And here she is: Jenna Louise Coleman. Soap star, white, conventionally pretty, slim, etc. The exciting bit is that buzz suggests she might be playing a non-human. She will appear first in the Christmas Special which will be the 6th episode in the new season.

A Bit Too Fairytale

 

“I like Amy Pond.  She’s very funny.”

Yes, seven-year old daughter, she is quite funny and so is her boy Rory.  Funny is important when you are seven.  Funny gets your audience’s attention and gets them on your side—at least, this is what I teach my Drama students.  There are many things about Amy Pond that I have enjoyed over the last two series.  I think her love story with Rory is truly beautiful and moving.  I love the way themes of waiting are explored throughout her character arc.  “The Girl Who Waited” episode utterly broke my heart.  My daughters love her.  But is Amy Pond worthy of their adoration?  Is she a Feminist Fan Girl Icon?

A Feminist Fan Girl Icon must embody a positive body image.  Amy Pond possesses a physically imposing physique.  She is not a frail little flower; she is a gigantic, ginger glamazon with extra glam.  I read an interview with Karen Gillan when she was first cast in which she claimed Amy would be the sexiest Whopanion audiences had ever seen.  Who can doubt Miss Gillan’s intentions?  Long red talons, long, long red hair, long, long, long red legs (when she’s wearing red tights which I am not sure she ever does).

Sexuality filters through the wardrobe and make-up selections for Amy Pond into her chosen profession.  It was a clever trick in The Eleventh Hour episode: present the audience with a Whopanion police officer—a sexy police officer.  Oh wait, no…not a sexy police officer—a Cosplay Kissogram.  I confess that I giggled.

And flirty—oh my yes!  From her first adult meeting with the Doctor, Amy asserts her erotic interest in him.  She does not want a meaningful relationship like Rose, she does not want to worship at his genius shrine like Martha—she wants to watch him strip, shove him up against the Tardis and make time stop.  Who can forget the “Invasion of the Hot Italians” history essay which you just know includes every spear-related innuendo possible.  She even flirts with Vincent Van Gogh!  Then there is Rory: the lovely boy wrapped around her little finger who wins her heart after a couple thousand year’s persistence (bless).

Amy is a hottie fully aware of her sexuality and its power, which makes her controversial feminist territory.

Feminists have been historically divided on issues of sexuality, but something we all seem to agree upon is choice and control.  Part of the feminist mission must be ownership of our bodies in every respect: legally, spiritually, intellectually, reproductively and sexually.  When you compare Amy Pond to Rose, Martha, Donna, Sarah Jane or even the oh so fit and skimpily-clad Leela she is one of the few  Whopanions to declare herself visually and textually as an erotic being (unless you count River Song as a companion, but I think she’s in a different category).  Amy Pond comes across as a woman in charge of her own sexuality.  She decides who, when and how, she takes initiative and seems blissfully ignorant of the patriarchal rules concerning sexual engagement.

That’s all on the Sex-Positive Feminist Good List.  On the negative side Amy only follows through on her wedding to Rory under the influence of the Pandorica’s Universal Re-set.  For me, this is akin to sex under the influence of drugs.  It makes the act suspect whether or not both parties would have agreed freely to it under normal circumstances.  Similarly, every aspect of Amy’s pregnancy falls under the control of external forces.  Amy Pond might present herself as a modern woman who takes the reins, makes the rules and calls her husband Mr Pond, but she is neither her own Fate Master nor her Soul Captain.

So what impact does all this have on the under-tens?

The question of what do my daughters get out of this is a tricky one when it comes to Amy Pond and the body image she presents.  Sexual imagery bombardment begins from birth with pink babygros.  This rapidly escalates into a brand of gender indoctrination which seldom treads down a liberal route when it comes to the visual media.  The creators of children’s programming do not want our daughter’s exposed to things like sex, birth control, homosexuality but they have no problem drenching them in patriarchal standards of womanhood.  Even my beloved Velma slims down to chase Shaggy as a boyfriend in the most recent incarnation of Scooby Doo.  So very wrong!  Disney Princesses, Barbie and Winx Club (to name some of my daughters’ viewing choices) present impossibly beautiful female characters whose stories invariably end with a boy and a veil.

Just like Amy Pond.

Aside from being more aggressive and taller, is she any better than Snow White or Cinderella?  Does the fact that she presents herself as a spunky (pun intended) sex-positive Whopanion have any real bearing on how she will come across to my daughters?  Probably not.  Amy Pond is seldom valued for her intelligence, she does not save the day and I have no clue what she believes in except for Rory.  She had such potential but Amelia Pond goes nowhere as a character that a hundred bird duetting Princesses have not gone before.

She truly is a bit too fairytale.

I find this frustrating as a viewer and a mother.  I hoped so much for Ms Pond.  I had such high hopes for the man who brought us Sally Sparrow, a Whopanion far more worthy of my daughters.  But Steven Moffat has let me down and I am at a loss to understand why.  Is he attempting to present a Fairytale arc for Amelia Pond?  If so, can someone please give him a copy of Tangled?  Fairytale Princesses can save the day, be smart, duet with the animal of their choice, experience romance and even get a trendy new haircut at the end.

Fairytales can mean whatever we want them to.  Isn’t that the whole point of speculative programs like Doctor Who?  I want a Fairy Princess Companion my daughters can admire for more than her humour.

“Battlefield” and the Woman Warrior

Shou Yuing, Brigadier Bambera, the Seventh Doctor, and Ace pose with the Whomobile.
A Black woman of middle years, wearing camouflage and a beret with the UNIT insignia, gazes forthrightly at the camera.

This is Brigadier Winifred Bambera. Your argument is invalid. (A Black woman of middle years, wearing camouflage and a beret with the UNIT insignia, gazes forthrightly at the camera.)

What happens when two great British institutions–Doctor Who and King Arthur–finally meet?

Why, you get a darn good late-80s serial (first serial of the IMHO criminally-underrated season 26), with heaping helpings of mytharc for both sides, AND simply loads of women. Two of them are even women of color!

Some aspects of the story are problematic, true. As wonderful as it is to see Nicholas Courtney’s Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart again, UNIT’s decision to recall him to active duty in order to deal with the events of this story feels like a slap in the face to his successor, Brigadier Winifred Bambera. (Yes, she threw the Doctor and Ace out on their asses. That was the correct decision given what she knew at the time.) Now, you may argue that Lethbridge-Stewart was the person best equipped to deal with the person claiming to be the Doctor, given their shared history, but it’s still a usurpation of Bambera’s command. She did not ask for him, or even for help; she asks only for information on the Doctor. Both in-universe and in terms of the story, having Lethbridge-Stewart around puts Bambera in the uncomfortable position of being technically in command but being expected to defer to someone else. Nor is it really warranted–there being no indication that Bambera poofed into existence ex nihilo on Lethbridge-Stewart’s retirement, she presumably got to her position by rising through the UNIT ranks, which means she’s been a few rounds at the Rodeo of Weird that is UNIT life, and shown herself equal to it. UNIT should have realized that Lethbridge-Stewart won’t always be around to run interference between UNIT and the Doctor, and trusted Bambera to work out a solution. UNIT’s treatment of Bambera, IMHO, edges uncomfortably close to what TV Tropes calls “Quickly Demoted Woman“.

Interestingly, the story’s villain is also a woman: Morgaine. Despite, y’know, the evil, she’s a surprisingly nuanced character. Her titles–The Sunkiller, Dominator of the Thirteen Worlds, and Battle Queen of the S’rax–establish her as a formidable warrior, and that’s the role she occupies for most of the serial. But she’s also a mother; and her breakdown in part 4 when she learns of Arthur’s death makes it clear that she loved him deeply.

Morgaine also has her own notions of honor and honorable combat. That connects her to Ancelyn, the knight… and, not coincidentally, to the UNIT soldiers as well, all of whom embody the highest chivalric traditions of honor and duty. (Compare that to their much more ambiguous portrayal in the new series.) The serial even advances the idea that UNIT is superior to Ancelyn’s forces: Ancelyn has an important lesson to learn in humility (another important chivalric virtue) when he brushes Bambera off as a “peasant” and promptly gets his ass kicked; Bambera needs no such lesson herself.

Finally, there’s Ace and Shou Yuing, the footsoldiers. Ace gets a lot to do in this serial–including, awesomely, emerging from the lake bearing Excalibur aloft–and it’s her self-awareness that saves both herself and Shou Yuing from Morgaine’s trap. But Shou Yuing, as a character, is barely sketched in. We know she and Ace share an interest in explosives. We can see that she’s smart and brave. But that’s about it.

Really, though, there are too many secondary characters around to really flesh out any of them. The rest of the supporting cast–crusty archaeologist Peter Warmsly, psychic innkeeper Elizabeth Rowlinson and her husband Pat Rowlinson–get evacuated halfway through and are never heard from again. And it’s a shame, because all of them (and especially Shou Yuing) are fun characters, and we could have gotten to know them a lot better.

But there are moments of great win, as well. The Doctor’s declaration that Ace is much more important than any old alien artifact is breathtakingly sweet. It’ll be undermined over the course of season 26 (and even further in the New Adventures), but it’s lovely to hear the Doctor say something he needs to say a lot more often, and Sylvester McCoy’s performance is perfect.

It’s also terrific to see Bambera and Ancelyn’s relationship evolve. Ancelyn tries to write off Bambera when he first shows up, but after Bambera kicks his ass in combat… Ancelyn, to his great credit, responds with maturity and grace, and thereafter the relationship between the two warriors is one of deep mutual respect.

Shou Yuing, Brigadier Bambera, the Seventh Doctor, and Ace pose with the Whomobile.

Shou Yuing, Brigadier Bambera, the Seventh Doctor, and Ace pose with the Whomobile.

Finally, there’s a little grace note at the very end: the Doctor, the Brig, and Ancelyn are staying at the Lethbridge-Stewart house to clean up and cook supper, and none of them seem particularly bothered by this; meanwhile Bambera, Mrs. Lethbridge-Stewart, Shou Yuing, and Ace are going into town to have some fun. It’s nice to see the “men get to play after the adventure’s done, but women still have to do chores”  thing subverted– especially fitting in a serial that has a lot of great women.

The Seven Plots and Doctor Who: Part 1 – Overcoming the Monster

overcomingthemonster

In his book The Seven Basic Plots, Christopher Booker explains that, if you boil down every fictional story we tell, there’s actually only seven stories. The characters, setting, and details might change, but (if Booker is right) this means we can fit everything into seven very large buckets.

Recently, Ritch pointed out that Russell T Davies supposedly once told Moffat that we all write the same story over and over again. If we take Booker’s hypothesis of the seven plots and couple it with Doctor Who could we classify each story based on this literary theory?

Since the plots are quite in-depth, I’m going to try to dissect them using episodes of NuWho (sorry, I am not as familiar with the classic episodes yet to really delve into them, I’m working on it).

First plot: Overcoming the Monster
It’s no accident this is one of the first plots in the list. After all it’s the plot of the oldest Anglo-Saxon story we have, “Beowulf.” Overcoming the monster seems ideally suited for Doctor Who which deals with some sort of monster in almost every episode. In this plot the hero must learn of an evil threatening the land and overcome it. We can see this plot played out in episodes like, “The Idiot’s Lantern” when the Doctor arrives Muswell Hill, London on the day before the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II and discovers that something odd is happening. He uncovers the monster, a being called the Wire, who is using the highly televised event to soul suck people through their televisions. One of the more recent episodes that dealt with this plot is “The God Complex.” Vital to the Overcoming the Monster plot line is the steps that the hero usually takes to the conclusion.

The Anticipation Stage
The monster/danger makes itself known, but from a distance. Usually the reader/audience doesn’t see the monster right away, but the fear is very real. The monster must be the stuff of nightmares, something not entirely human. In this case the beast turns out to be a Minotaur-looking alien. While the monster in this plot may be different in appearance, they must have some kind of beastly quality that makes them the evil. If it’s a humanoid character than they must be malformed (or really big like the giant in Jack in the Beanstalk). If it’s an animal, like in “The God Complex,” then it must be cunning or capable of something that makes it partly human. Usually the monster is the representation of the darker side of humanity (in this case, it seems, the darker side of faith and possibly instinct, as he tells the Doctor later all that’s left is instinct).

We see the monster from a distance when the episode opens. We never catch a full view of it, always quick closeups (mostly the beast’s eye, which is significant). In this first case it’s Lucy, a police woman, who narrates the end of her life without much exposition, leaving the audience perplexed. As Lucy scribbles notes down in her pad we see more closeups of the beast. The beast’s animal noise growls and breathing (which aren’t entirely natural sounding) and heavy footsteps tell us it’s fierce and ferocious. Though there’s something more in the reaction the victims have which gives us our supernatural twist. A scream signifies poor Lucy’s demise.

The monster in the Overcoming the Monster story takes on three basic forms:

  • The Predator – Stalking victims (like in this story).
  • The Holdfast – the beast that guards a treasure or princess (wary of strangers, and suspicious). This beast is often sleeping when the hero comes up to claim the treasure.
  • The Avenger – the beast that’s awakened once the treasure/princess has been taken and hunts down the person(s) who have taken it.
Obviously, the monster can be all three of these forms in one story, but “In the God Complex” there’s no treasure or princess to rescue.

Hero’s Call to Action
The Doctor, Rory and Amy Look down the staircase in The God Complex

Once the story has established that the monster poses a great threat (in this case with Lucy’s death) the hero must receive his “call to action.” As with many of the Doctor’s adventures this call to action happens because the TARDIS has landed somewhere other than where the Doctor was planning on going. The Doctor was going to take Amy and Rory to Ravan-Skala, but instead is dropped off in a replica 1980s hotel. “Something must have yanked us off course,” The Doctor says dismissively.

When the Doctor, Amy and Rory are set upon by four frightened hotel guests, he receives his call to action. The exposition goes quickly with the Doctor asking questions of the four guests. The hero has a simple solution, The TARDIS, but discovers quickly his simple solution is gone. He then sums up their situation:

“Okay, this is bad. For the moment I don’t know how bad, but it’s certainly three buses, a long walk and a taxi from good.”

Once the hero receives his call of action he has choices (or does he). He can accept the call or try and run away from it, in the Doctor’s case he’s rarely run from a fight, so he starts right away to figure out the problem. He questions Joe, whose “tied up at the moment” because he’s very close to the same stage we saw Lucy at (acceptance that the Beast will kill him). This propels the story into the next stage.

The Dream Stage
The creepy dummies from The God Complex
In this stage the hero sets off after the monster (or the monster comes to him), but the monster is still at a comfortable distance. Everything seems to be going okay. In this case, the monster’s presence is very far away. Joe’s creepy recitation of a nursery rhyme, the awful elevator music resumes playing, and a low growl reminds us the danger is real, but there’s still a lot of humor like the PE teacher who tells the Doctor he’s doing PE “in his pants” (pants means underwear American folks, not anything dirty… well, wait…) and Rory telling Howie that his conspiracy theory is “amazing” because he’s found a theory more insane than what’s actually happening.

We’re clued in that the threat is far away in several places in this stage. Even when Howie finds his door (filled with teenage girls making fun of his stutter), Howie dismisses it as a “messed up CIA stuff.” When The Doctor and Amy finally hear the monster growling (again from a distance), Amy says: “it’s not real, yeah?” The Doctor says it’s not, but that they should run away and hide anyways. Rory’s spotting the exit door also confirms this comfortable distance (though his entire storyline is a bit different than the rest of the characters).

Of course, during this stage every one of the newly introduced characters (Joe, Howie, Rita and Gibbis) find their doors, but not Amy, Rory and the Doctor [though, there’s a slight mislead with the Weeping Angels room, as we’re meant to think it’s Amy’s room at first]. The monster comes after Joe, but the rest of the characters are safely behind doors. We catch more glimpses of the monster as the Doctor looks through the peep hole. In this case, the scene mirrors the Doctor’s eye with the monster’s eye (indicating their relationship, now our hero and monster are tied). Joe’s inevitable death still is comfortable, because of the implied inevitability of it.

The comfortableness is continued as the characters are safe in the giant dinning room/kitchen. Rita hands out tea, which the Doctor finds surprising. She smiles and says:

“of course, I’m British, it’s how we cope with trauma, that and ‘tutting’.”

The danger is not immediate enough to keep them from enjoying the tea. This also allows for more exposition in the form of Lucy’s notepad, it echoes some of the information we received at the beginning of the episode, but it’s meaning is clearer. When Howie falls into the monster’s thrall the danger slowly creeps closer and closer. The Doctor decides to use Howie as bait to catch the monster because, at this stage, everything needs to appear to be working. We see more glimpses of the Monster (giant, impossible horns that scrape the ceiling, hooves, etc.). The confrontation between the Doctor and the monster is assured now, taking us to the next stage.

Frustration Stage
At this point, the hero has met the monster and the monster is impossible to beat. Defeat seems to be just a matter of time. During this time the hero may fall into the monster’s clutches or under his power/thrall. In the episode, once the monster is trapped, the Doctor tries desperately to understand it after it realizes that it is not the source of the nightmares or trapping the people in this giant maze. He can’t gather all of the words (a callback to the idea that the TARDIS can’t translate very old languages, and the monster is so old that his name is lost) and asks how to defeat the monster. The monster doesn’t answer.

Interestingly, the Doctor and the monster have a conversation in a room full of water and mirrors. Reflective surfaces such as water and mirrors have a huge significance in most religions (not surprisingly because religion/faith being a theme in this episode). Mirrors steal your soul, mirrors reflect your true self, mirrors are gateways to other worlds, and so much more. The Doctor is inches away from the monster, but the two are separated by falling water. Again, the scene invokes the relationship the hero and the monster have… are the Doctor and the monster opposites? Or is there something more under the surface? could it be that the monster the Doctor’s reflection?

The Monster and the Doctor looking at each other through water

There’s little time for the Doctor to truly grasp all of this because Howie’s convinced Gibbis to let him go and is heading up to the monster. The monster cracks most of the reflective surfaces, including Howie’s glasses and the trap has failed. To add to the frustration, Amy has now seen her door (the number being 7, the age she was when she met the Doctor).

Throughout the episode, from the first time meeting her, the Doctor has grown to admire Rita, who questions the Doctor’s calling (as the hero). He offers to take her away with him on the TARDIS, but (after the Doctor leaves) Rita utters the “praise him” line that seems to seal her fate. As with most frustration stages, the Doctor falls under the monster’s thrall, and opens his own door. Then he has to watch, helplessly as Rita goes to her death. True to her final wish, he does not watch her death. Her death causes him to smash things in (you guessed it) frustration. Finally, Gibbis points out the helplessness of their situation, after the Doctor has said he’ll figure out how to change it:

“You keep saying that but you never do. And while we wait, people keep dying and we’ll be next.”

Finally, the Doctor realizes that it’s not fear that’s killing them, it’s faith. The fear just caused them to fall back on their faith. The Doctor also realizes that he’s caused the deaths by asking people to dig into their faith, the things that make them strong. He’s fallen into the deepest frustration a hero can have. This leads us to the climax of the episode.

Nightmare Stage
The Doctor watches Rita go to her death

It’s time for the final battle between the monster and our hero. In this case though, the battle is not with the monster directly it’s with Amy and the Doctor. Much like Lucy’s haunting words, you never know what’s behind your door, but when you see it you realize it can be nothing else. Amy and the Doctor’s relationship has been leading up to this event. Amy, whose life has been so ruled by the Doctor’s presence in it, whose character is shaped by being “the girl who waited” has the strongest faith of the characters. Her faith in the Doctor.

For the final battle the Doctor must break Amy’s faith in him to save her. He admits that he knows what will happen to his companions, but takes them anyways because he needs to be adored. That it’s time that the Doctor and Amy see each other “for who we really are.” The long standing mythos of the Doctor as Peter Pan (as I pointed out in a previous post) is now broken. The Doctor has this realization earlier with Rita when he likens his offer of traveling through time and space as offering children a suitcase of candy:

I brought them here. They say it was their choice, but offer a child a suitcase full of sweets and they’ll take it. Offer someone all of time and space and they’ll take that too. Which is why you shouldn’t. Which is why grown-ups were invented.

Unlike Peter Pan, the Doctor realizes that Amy must grow up, that’s its better for her. He also acknowledges that (despite his age) he is not a grown up. Instead of forcing her to remain child-like (like Peter Pan tries to do with Wendy) the Doctor becomes the person who makes her grow up.

The Thrilling Escape from Death, and Death of the Monster
The Doctor comforts the beast before he dies

For this stage the monster’s power must be broken, the people liberated, and the hero rewarded. In the episode, the monster’s power is broken the Doctor “sacrifices” Amy’s faith in him to save the monster from the torment of his capture. The word choice is very deliberate with the theme of faith. We fully see the parallel between the Monster and the Doctor: both feed on faith, on the worship of those around them and now the Doctor has cut off the supply to both himself and the Monster.

The monster (which I should point out is related to the Nimon, a race who appeared earlier in the Classic Who episode “The Horns of Nimon”) dies, at first comforted by the Doctor and then he offers the Doctor a warning before dying (ancient beings must always offer the Doctor warnings as they die, we learned this from the Face of Boe). The Doctor translates what the creature is saying as he dies:

An ancient creature, drenched in the blood of the innocents. Drifting in space through an endless shifting maze. Such a creature, death would be a gift.

The Doctor tells him to “accept it. And sleep well.” The Doctor pauses and then says the creature’s final words, “I wasn’t talking about myself.” Haunting the Doctor’s thoughts, indicating there’s more evil to come, and sealing the parallel between the two.

Usually, the hero at the end of the Overcoming the Monster story is rewarded. It can be some sort of treasure, or the ultimate other half (prince/princess), or a kingdom to rule over (or being the boss of one’s own company). Here’s where the story slightly turns, because it’s Amy and Rory who receive the treasure (Rory’s favorite car and a new house) not the Doctor.

Because of this one may think that this means there’s no treasure at all left for the Doctor, but as the episode ends, Rory runs out to the street and asks, “what happened? What is he doing?” Amy’s response comes as she looks up to the sky (again, religious symbolism), and says, “he’s saving us.” The final image of Amy is her at the window, looking up, indicating that she (once again) is full of faith in the Doctor. She once again is the girl who waited. The Doctor’s ultimate desire, the thing he sacrificed, has returned. Despite the solemness of the ending, it gives us the Doctor’s version of a happily ever after.

Amy watches out the window

Domesticating the Doctor II: The Missus, the Ex and the Mothers-in-Law

In the last Domesticating the Doctor post I talked about various instances from Classic and Big Finish Doctor Who of the Doctor being domesticated against his nature. Now it’s time for the New Who story! Or the RTD years, at least, as it got a bit longer than I expected.

The Ninth Doctor puts his cards on the table right from the start. “I don’t do domestic.” No previous Doctor had ever had to make such a statement, but right from the start, the writing team of New Who seemed to relish throwing kitchen appliances and chips and the telly at the Doctor’s head, to watch him squirm.

“I’ve never been slapped by someone’s Mum before,” he complains in Aliens of London, one of the stories that most deeply explores the collision of the Doctor and domesticity. He’s never had to deal with anyone’s Mum before – he’s met a few companions’ Dads, but they’ve mostly got themselves conveniently killed before the credits rolled.

Imagine, oh imagine, if Jo Grant’s Mum had turned up to see what her new boss was like? Or if Romana’s Mum had arrived in the TARDIS to demand the Fourth Doctor tell her why her daughter’s postcards home had suddenly stopped…

Jackie Tyler, even more than Rose, drags the Doctor kicking and screaming into a world where you watch the alien invasion on the telly, and the TARDIS needs to start considering a regular parking space in London. He allows Rose phone access to him, something we’ve never seen him do before – and even occasionally, as in Father’s Day, marvels at the “ordinary people” life that he is completely not a part of.

For the most part he stays that way, largely because Rose is so desperate to escape her life on the housing estate that she doesn’t push him to embrace her home life (except for occasional day trips to catch up with her Mum and get her laundry done). This is a Doctor who breaks the rules and thumbs his nose at any kind of domestic restraint: quite literally, in Bad Wolf, when he is trapped in the Big Brother house, he escapes using rudeness and an inability to follow social conventions.

Rose’s own journey is one of choosing the Doctor over a domestic everyday life: not just once in the first episode, but several times, as she regularly returns home and then leaves with him all over again. This is key because we have never seen companions do this before, except those of the Pertwee era where the Doctor himself had a home on Earth, and being a companion did not mean being tied to the TARDIS.

When the Doctor changes, his relationship to domesticity is one of the key personality shifts. The Tenth Doctor embraces Jackie and Mickey instead of snarking at them (well, he does that too, but he hugs them first) and he is perfectly willing to stay and eat Christmas dinner with Rose’s family rather than sulking in the TARDIS or insisting they leave right away.

Indeed, the time lapse between The Christmas Invasion and New Earth suggests they have hung around the Powell Estate for several days or weeks – certainly long enough for the snow to melt and for Rose to have her hair done! She no longer has to choose between her family and her Doctor… though of course, she chooses travelling, every time.

Season 2 is the one where the Doctor and his companion are at their cosiest, and he is at his most sympathetic towards domesticity – he still doesn’t really understand how humans work (witness the licking of the jam in Fear Her) but he is actively interested in trying to do so. Also, like the Third and Seventh Doctor eras, this is a season with several stories that themselves portray the domestic world as a source for horror and fear: we see families torn apart by the technology they take for granted in The Age of Steel and Rise of the Cybermen; alien dinner ladies and school children turned into computers in School Reunion, ordinary people having their lives destroyed merely because they are fans of the Doctor in Love and Monsters, and alien invaders causing havoc in suburban streets in Fear Her and The Idiot’s Lantern.

All this, and Rose learns through the return of Sarah Jane that the Doctor doesn’t have a habit of keeping his companions in the TARDIS forever – he leaves them behind, and doesn’t look back. In the same story, we see her unsettled when the Doctor allows Mickey to join them – her domestic life and TARDIS life have suddenly got a bit too close together, and it’s clear that she’s not ready to have both spheres of her life collide together.

(I was disappointed they did so little with this, ridding the TARDIS of Mickey the story after next – there was so much story potential in this clash of Rose’s two worlds)

It’s the spacey two-parter The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit that really brings home the limitations of the Doctor’s relationship to domesticity: when it looks like the TARDIS has been lost forever, Rose tries to plan for a life without her, in which she and the Doctor live in a house… and it’s clear from his reaction that the thought is utterly unimaginable. It’s the first time it sinks in to Rose that the Doctor’s travelling life, onwards and upwards forever, is not something that has a use by date.

Jackie also has concerns that her daughter’s relationship with the Doctor is turning her into something less than (or more than) human. While her own relationship with this Tenth Doctor has become that of a mother-in-law who accepts the new bloke into her family, warts and all, she also feels threatened by Rose’s alien experiences, and worries for her daughter’s future – understandable, considering Rose isn’t past 20 yet and doesn’t realise what ‘forever’ actually means!

Ultimately, the Doctor chooses that Rose will stay with her family and lose him forever; Rose, not liking that choice, chooses to never see her family again in order to stay with him forever, and almost dies; finally, Pete saves Rose which also means she stays with her family and loses the Doctor.

While this can definitely be read as the two men in her life making patriarchal decisions about what’s best for her, it’s hard for me as a parent to wish it had gone any other way. The thought of Jackie stuck in that other universe with her husband returned to her, a new baby and never seeing Rose again is every bit as devastating.

The Doctor’s own loss is conveyed not only through David Tennant man-paining at the cameras, but also by the fact that he never tries to embrace domesticity again. He takes far less interest in the families of his next two companions, Martha and Donna, with the exception of Wilf who becomes a friend in his own right rather than someone who comes with the Donna package.

One of the big differences between Rose and Martha as companions is that Martha has nothing to run away from. Travelling with the Doctor is temporary, an adventure and an experiment. She’s not only settled in her career and flat and studies, but she is completely wrapped up in her family and their problems – indeed, getting a break from those problems can be read as one of the reasons she hops ship upon the TARDIS, though she wasn’t looking for more than a brief holiday from responsibility.

Francine, Martha’s mother, is also very different to Jackie: influenced by the Master and his cronies (though this isn’t obvious at first) she never embraces the Doctor as a necessary evil, but sees him as the enemy right from the start. She’s that other kind of stock character mother-in-law, the one that won’t even pretend to be nice to the strange man her daughter brings home. It’s Tish, Martha’s bubbly sister, who welcomes him into the family, assuming he is Martha’s new man.

It’s Martha, not Rose, who actually does experience a TARDIS-free domestic life with the Doctor, but this happens offscreen in Blink – all we really know about it is that she is the one working to support them.

When Martha leaves the Doctor, after a horrific year in which she thought of little but him and how important he was to humanity, in which she fought a war with words and lost part of herself, she makes the opposite choice that Rose did: she chooses the needs of her family over the Doctor. She’s not choosing to never see him again, but she is making it clear that her family’s general welfare is far more important to her than travelling in the TARDIS. It’s also fairly clear that the Doctor doesn’t entirely grasp why she needs to stay with them – it’s not life or death, it’s about those squishy human feelings, and he’s falling short.

And yes she does cite her romantic feelings for him as being another reason why she has to stay behind, but that is a secondary revelation, not the primary one. It also has the benefit of keeping him from making too much of a fuss about losing her.

Donna brings a wave of domesticity with her – she chats endlessly about the kind of social details and gossip that the Doctor has never had to deal with, because Rose never tried to make him care about her life or her friends. Donna is confident enough in herself that when she’s interested in something, she’ll just MAKE him listen to her.

At the same time, there’s little about Donna to challenge the Doctor’s disinterest in domestic issues, because like Rose, she wants something bigger. She’s an even more enthusiastic space tourist because for her, it’s far more about the adventure than it is about the Doctor specifically. As Courtney noted in her post about poverty and the companions, the financial freedom is a pretty major carrot offered by the Doctor, too.

But you get the impression that if Donna was stranded in another time and place, she would keep travelling and having an awesome time – any place except her own time and place. And that is the tragedy of her ultimate end. She has every memory of her extraordinary life wiped from her, and is literally stuck in a small domestic setting. She looks and thinks she is happy, and it’s only because we know she wanted something different that her ending feels so awful.

There’s nothing wrong with her finding a nice guy and settling down (and never having to worry about money again thanks to a certain lottery ticket) but the fact that it goes against Donna’s previous dreams makes it heartbreaking, and makes the wedding scene in The End of Time seem far more grim than it appears on the surface. Donna has come full circle, replacing the bad fiancé of her first story with a good one (according to her granddad, anyway), but losing her adventurous spirit.

Sylvia has less of a direct relationship with the Doctor as his “mother-in-law” or equivalent for most of Donna’s run, mostly saving up her antagonism for her actual daughter, though she does flap at him a bit by association. While Turn Left shows us Donna’s strength even without the Doctor around (something that makes her loss of memory and character growth even more sad later on), it’s only when the Doctor finally brings Donna home that Sylvia gets to have a proper confrontation with him.

And it’s absolutely fair that she should be not only furious, but fiercely determined to rid him from her daughter’s life once and for all – after all, he has himself told her that Donna will die if she recognises him. While Wilf is gutted at Donna’s loss of her adventures and her history, it’s Sylvia who protects the Donna she knows, the one who isn’t a hero, valuing her daughter’s life over anything else, and oddly it’s something that puts her entirely on the Doctor’s side.

It’s pretty clear that the Tenth Doctor, towards the end of his time, has become so embittered that he avoids any kind of domestic entanglements. He wouldn’t have checked in on Donna at all if Wilf hadn’t drawn him back, and has actively avoided taking on the commitment of a regular companion.

Still, this is still the Doctor who once tried to understand humans and their families, and in providing the lottery ticket for Donna with a pound borrowed (given) by her late father, he reveals that he’s not completely dense when it comes to understanding humanity. Sylvia, proud as she is, would have rejected anything that smacked of charity, but comes undone in the face of him using time travel to allow Donna’s dad to give her a wedding present.

It makes you wonder how often the Doctor is in fact faking it when he pretends to be so very alien.

When the Tenth Doctor regenerated, so did the production team making the show. And all of a sudden, domesticity in Doctor Who was about to look a lot less scary…

Domesticating the Doctor WILL RETURN in Domesticating the Doctor III: Marrying the Ponds

Companions in Comics: Can Frobisher Lay an Egg?

One of the delights of Doctor Who comics is that they offer different creative opportunities from television. In 1984, Doctor Who Magazine introduced Frobisher: an alien companion who seemed tailor-made for the format. He belongs to a shape-shifting species, and habitually assumes the form of a wise-cracking penguin. Perhaps the TV programme could have rendered his characteristics well, but I doubt it, given the show’s record of dubious special effects. In the strips Frobisher becomes a very effective source of irony and visual gags. More covertly, his shape-shifting also raises interesting questions about the comics’ treatment of gender.

Frobisher features in forty-eight issues between 1984 and 1987, as a regular companion to the sixth and, briefly, the seventh Doctor. Occasionally he crops up in later comics, prose fiction and Big Finish audio stories too.

Like many companions, he has a life he wants to leave behind. At the outset he is a jaded gumshoe, working under his original name of Avan Tarklu. He intends to capture the Doctor and claim a substantial reward. Of course they end up travelling together instead. En route Tarklu adopts his new moniker and hints at the recent failure of his marriage. Although Peri accompanies them on several adventures, much of the time the Doctor and Frobisher travel alone, providing a rare instance of a long term male-male pairing in the TARDIS. Their interactions are fun, yet bring a few depressing implications; Frobisher’s friendship with the Doctor is closer to a buddy story than the father/child dynamic we normally see with female companions.

But is Frobisher male? I want to consider that more closely.

Over three years of strips, Frobisher metamorphosises into forms as varied as telephones and hamburgers, human beings and birds. He also periodically acquires a disease called monomorphia, where he is no longer able to change his form at will. Throughout these many transformations, Frobisher is framed as a male character. His gender identification is by no means clear from the dialogue (my suspicion is that the authors didn’t distinguish between identification and presentation in their thinking). But we are led to read him as male. When Frobisher wears clothing, it is always normatively masculine clothing. If he appears in humanoid form, he tends to adopt roles – like the gumshoe – that are culturally marked as masculine roles. And even when these markers are absent, the Doctor, and all the other characters, consistently refer to Frobisher as “him” and “he.”

Big Finish would later be willing to confront the possibility of shape-shifters changing gender; Frobisher’s wife Francine, for instance, temporarily presents as a man in The Maltese Penguin. The comics shy away from this idea. I suspect the authors were trying, with partial success, to uphold the gender binary. Categorising Frobisher as male within that binary is a conservative act: the majority of characters from the mid-eighties comics are also framed as male, with the implication that female characters are less interesting, compelling, or important. But the act is not wholly conservative. Consistently assigning one gender to a shape-shifting character has subversive potential, in queering associations between assigned gender and morphology.

The relative silence on Frobisher’s gender identification, rather than assigned gender, also gives us some freedom of interpretation. As a demonstration I want to look closely at a particular incident in the story Time Bomb, which was first published in issues 114 to 116 of Doctor Who Magazine. The story relates how a time cannon hits the TARDIS, propelling Frobisher and the Doctor into prehistoric Earth. Previously the cannon has been used by aliens called Hedrons to eliminate genetic imperfections in their species. The genetic waste is transported alongside Frobisher, and on arrival, he mistakes it for an egg he has laid in shock.

This picture shows a drawing of Frobisher, lying on the ground with a spherical object between his legs. He is saying, "Doctor, I feel sick, something terrible has happened... I've laid a blasted egg. That's what! And it's all your fault!"

Frobisher thinks he's laid an egg. From Doctor Who Magazine, published by Marvel Comics.

As a joke, this sequence makes me uneasy. The humour is premised on combined misogynist, ablist and transphobic assumptions (“Haha, childbirth is like incontinence! Haha, you can’t be male and give birth!”). But there is plenty of potential for resistant readings. It interests me that online references to the incident, like this one, suggest that Frobisher has misunderstood penguin physiology, as though his shape-shifting is a type of impersonation that can be held up to an external standard of accuracy. Can’t we instead wonder whether Frobisher identifies as male at all? Perhaps Frobisher doesn’t even present as male here, if we take that to mean appearing normatively masculine; as cartoon penguins go, Frobisher looks androgynous to me. Assuming Frobisher does identify as male, maybe his reaction is a sign he construes a fluid relationship between gender and physiology? Perhaps he knows he can lay eggs, even if he hasn’t this time? Might his understanding of what it means to be male encompass that capacity? Alternatively, perhaps laying an egg is incompatible with his gender identity, and the anger and anxiety he shows here is an expression of dysphoria? Certainly Frobisher has lots of moments of feeling trapped in a body that he wants to change.

Ideally, it wouldn’t be necessary to address unsatisfactory representations with resistant readings. I hope in later posts to discuss less problematic portrayals of queer characters.

But in the mean time: all the above questions make as much sense as Frobisher not understanding how penguins work; and they can be accommodated just as easily by the text.

Lucy Saxon: But He Was So Good To My Father

This is heavily edited from the original post.

“There was a time when we first met, I wondered…
But he was so good to my father.”

Lucy Saxon
“Sound of the Drums”

For me, this short, rather simple line does not just sum up Lucy Saxon in a nutshell but it’s possibly one of the scariest line in all of nuWho. This was the line that revealed seemingly normal woman was not Harold Saxon’s wife but The Master’s. She is aware and supportive of his evil deeds.

That one line shows us The Master’s ‘in’ to get Lucy’s loyalty but it’s the past tense that is really unsettling. Instantly I assume The Master killed his father-in-law and Lucy is oblivious. It’s logical. By giving Lucy reason to grief, he can comfort her and gently slide into the the hole in her heart and take over that power vacuum.

Lucy is an important part to the new introduction of The Master as a shorthand of how they see humans. Where The Doctor befriends humans, falling in love with some and generally treats them as equals ignoring or ignorance of any Time Lord privilege where The Master marries a woman through manipulation only to help him achieve his end goal.

Though Lucy is used as a plot device (character arc device?), abused by the character she spent most of her scenes and have very little lines, she is not neglected as a character. Alexandra Moen is acting if small background screen she’s in. She has a character arc. True, most of that is off-screen in the year between Sound of the Drums and The Last Timelord but we are given hints of the physical, mental, emotional and possibly sexual abuse she’s gone through without it going too dark for the kiddies and hints to her strengths and weaknesses in her actions and the few times she’s allowed to talk.

I always felt that Lucy would be excellent for companion in End of Time. After rejecting Lady Catherine in Planet of the Dead, The Doctor needed a reason to be working with someone and stopping Lucy from killing The Master seems in character, even for the Timelord Victorious. Lucy would be a brilliant way to show The Doctor what he’s becoming going down the Time Lord Victorious path because she already seen where it leads. It would be an interesting an new dynamic of a Doctor and companion genuinely not liking or trusting each other but helping each other through issues.

Have The Doctor raise the question what Lucy might be like if she met him first.

Have Lucy raise the question what Rose, Martha and Donna would be like if they met The Master first.

And give Lucy a chance to say those words with understanding in her voice:

“There was a time when we first met, I wondered…
But he was so good to my father”