Archive for 10 April 2012

Companions in Comics: Miranda, the Doctor’s Daughter

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

A girl in school uniform stands surrounded by aliens.

The first issue of Miranda, published by Comeuppance Comics.

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

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

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

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

Quoted from a 2006 interview with the BBC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Miranda in the bath.

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

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

Miranda viewed from behind.

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

“Where is the Beauteous Majesty of Gallifrey?” Ophelia played by Martha Jones


Martha Jones is the lost companion, the forgotten companion, the rebound girl after Rose broke our Doctor’s heart before he found a friend.

She sets her demanding life aside to be what the Doctor needs because she loves him.  Meanwhile she tries to be the dutiful daughter to a family in crisis. She strives to save her sister, her brother, her parents…the world.

She does all this and more for love of the Doctor and gets nothing in return but grief and a fractured life.

She is Ophelia.

Ophelia strikes a powerful image in the feminist imagination.  In Shakespeare’s tragedy Hamlet, Ophelia tries to be an obedient daughter to her over-bearing father, a loyal sister to her protective brother, an affectionate sweetheart to her mad Prince and a dutiful courtier to her scheming King.  Her world is dominated by the men she tries hard to please—to be what they need her to be with little thought for what she wants or who she is.  The result of her adherence to everything patriarchy tells her to be is abandonment by her dear brother, betrayal of her regal lover who rejects her then murders her beloved father, and ultimately madness and suicide at the bottom of pretty river after singing some sweet folk songs.

It ain’t called a tragedy for naught, folks.

More than any of Shakespeare’s heroines, feminists are fascinated by Ophelia.  They write scholarly articles examining her, paint and photograph her, dedicate songs and poetry to her.  The source of this obsession is what Ophelia represents.  She is a young woman without agency, surrounded by men and defined by her connections to them.  She suffers horribly at the hands of these men in her life: abandoned, rejected, used, abused and humiliated.  Ophelia is a feminist’s cautionary tale with a clear moral: if you let men dictate the circumstances of your life it will eventually drive you mad.

What does all this have to do with our Miss Jones?  Perhaps it was learning that Gugu Mbatha-Raw, the actress who played Martha’s sister, portrayed Ophelia on Broadway opposite Jude Law a few years ago that started the connection in my head between Martha and Ophelia.  Perhaps this harmonised with seeing David Tennant play the title role himself.  Perhaps it is this week’s celebration of Shakespeare’s birthday and my decision to fill Dr Her’s Martha void that linked the two concepts.  And of course The Shakespeare Code episode—one of my favourites.  But these are superficial connections between the two women.  The comparisons between Martha and Ophelia run deeper and strike at the heart of what has made this five-hundred-year old character an enduring feminist icon.

When we first meet Martha in Smith and Jones, she cheerfully plays mediator between her battling family members.  It is a role she keeps up throughout her season as the Doctor’s companion.  Just as Rose did, Martha often finds herself placed between her new loyalties to the Doctor and her life-long loyalties to her family.  In The Lazarus Experiment, the Doctor finally meets the Joneses.

The Doctor: Lovely to meet you, Mrs. Jones. I’ve heard a lot about you.
Francine Jones: Have you. What have you heard, then?
The Doctor: Oh, y’know, that you’re Martha’s mother, and… Uhm… no, actually, that’s about it. We haven’t had much time to chat. You know, been… busy.
Francine Jones: Busy? Doing what, exactly?
The Doctor: Oh, y’know… stuff

Then later….

The Doctor: [sees Martha's mother walking towards them; smiles] Ah, Mrs. Jones; we never finished our chat.
Francine Jones: [without preamble she slaps the Doctor round the face]
Francine Jones: Keep away from my daughter!
Martha Jones: Mum, what are you doing?
The Doctor: [rubbing his jaw] Always the mothers! Every time!

In the end, Mrs Jones gives her daughter a more direct warning about the Doctor.

Francine Jones: [on the phone] Martha, it’s your mother. Please, phone me back, I’m begging you! I know who this Doctor really is! I know he’s dangerous! You’re going to get yourself killed! Please trust me! This information comes from Harold Saxon himself. You’re not safe!

Ophelia faces similar difficulty juggling her family with her feelings for the man she loves.  In her first scene of Hamlet, her brother Laertes is about to leave for France to become a soldier.  He demands that she write him often to assure him all is well, then lectures about her relationship with the young Prince of Denmark:

Fear it, Ophelia, fear it, my dear sister,
And keep you in the rear of your affection,
Out of the shot and danger of desire.

Her father Polonius echoes these warnings, finally forcing Ophelia to swear she will not see Hamlet any longer.  “These blazes, daughter,” says Polonius, “Giving more light than heat extinct in both, you must not take for fire.”  What an eloquent way of expressing life with a Time Lord: all flash and fireworks but over far too soon.  What a prophetic way of expressing Martha’s feelings as she takes the blaze of her admiration for fire, though the Doctor gives her more light than heat.

Despite the opposition of her family Martha, like Ophelia, does her best to do right by all the people in her life.  Also like Ophelia, the effort of meeting these demands tears her apart.  Nowhere is this more evident than in The Last of the Time Lords, but we see her strain earlier in the Human Nature/Family of Blood episodes.

The men in Ophelia’s life abandon her: Laertes leaves for France, Hamlet leaves for England and Polonius leaves for the after-life.  Ophelia never realises her lover mistakenly murdered her father—in fact, no one shares any facts about her father’s death with her.  In Shakespeare’s tragedy this leads to Ophelia’s break with sanity and eventual suicide.

Like Hamlet, the Doctor escapes from his life in order to hide from an enemy.  In Hamlet’s case it is a scheming family member, in the Doctor’s it is the scheming Family of Blood.  Fortunately our Miss Jones is made of stronger stuff than Ophelia.  When she is abandoned in 1913 with a Doctor who is literally out of his mind she makes a new life for herself rather than fall to pieces or into a river.  She does all that is asked of her: keeps the Tardis safely secreted, stays close to the humaned Gallifreyan and maintains a cover identity until the time is right to give John Smith his watch back.  But it is not an easy mission for her.  She endures humiliation from the pampered school boys, looks on helplessly as John Smith falls in love with a human that isn’t her and finally takes on the Family of Blood single-handedly.

 

Martha and Ophelia even share a grisly end: drowning.  For Ophelia it is an intentional end to her pain—suicide by the riverside.  In the episode The Sontaran Stratagem, Martha experiences her own drowned moment.  For her it is not an end but a transformation—and not of her own making.  The imagery of her clone rising from the thick liquid in the basement of Unit is a powerful water image, one which conjures up connections with Shakespeare’s tragic heroine.

 

MARTHA

He is everything, he is just everything to me and he doesn’t even look at me but I don’t care because I love him to bits.

 

OPHELIA

O, what a noble mind is here o’erthrown!
…The observed of all observers…
And I, of ladies most deject and wretched,
That suck’d the honey of his music vows,
Now see that noble and most sovereign reason,
Like sweet bells jangled, out of tune and harsh;
That unmatch’d form and feature of blown youth
Blasted with ecstasy: O, woe is me,
To have seen what I have seen, see what I see!

These quotes illustrate another profound comparison between Ophelia and Martha: unrequited love.  There are many interpretations of Hamlet’s feelings for Ophelia, but his rejection of her affection in clear in the text:

HAMLET

If thou dost marry, I’ll give thee this plague for
thy dowry: be thou as chaste as ice, as pure as
snow, thou shalt not escape calumny. Get thee to a
nunnery, go: farewell. Or, if thou wilt needs
marry, marry a fool; for wise men know well enough
what monsters you make of them. To a nunnery, go,
and quickly too. Farewell.

Though the Doctor never makes his rejection of Martha quite this brutally clear, he does spurn her advances.  However, like Hamlet the Doctor does not fully spurn Martha.  He does not send her away.  He keeps her as his companion.  Similarly, in the next scene Hamlet and Ophelia share together he lays his head in her lap before the entire court and propositions her.  At her funeral Hamlet declares true love for Ophelia—so what are we to believe?  What is Ophelia to believe? What should Martha believe?

Like Ophelia, Martha is a cautionary tale for companions.  The Doctor does not love—not the way human women want him to.  It is only as a human (or a Time Lord-Human Metacrisis) that the Doctor is capable of romance.  Anyone who forgets this is ultimately doomed to heartbreak, pain and the end of life as they know it.  And though Martha bears the most striking similarities to Ophelia, the Beauteous Majesty of Gallifrey leaves a trail of drowned Ophelias in his wake: Rose abandoned to an alternative universe (though her love story turns out rather well in the end); Donna stripped of her consciousness, of woman she became on the Tardis; Astrid Peth denied the life she might have had on the Tardis; Sarah Jane dumped unceremoniously in Bournemouth…sorry Aberdeen; and so many,  many others fall by the wayside in the Time Lord Hamlet’s seemingly endless quest to escape the ghosts of his past.

The love in vain, they strive to be who he needs them to be, he abandons them, they go mad, they drown…  Time and Space are littered with his Ophelias.  If only Hamlet’s lady had access to a sonic screw driver…how different her life might have been.

Did I mention my linkspam travels in time?

From Are Women Human?, a list of race-swapped Doctor Who characters that is absolutely fucking awesome. SO MUCH I want Richard Ayoade to play Rory.

From The Murverse, a post telling the author’s daughter that they are hated for being female:

There is nothing worse than being a girl. I’m not saying this as a former girl- I quite liked being a girl. I’m saying this from the POV of the entire rest of the world. There was a lovely feminist TED talk – A Call To Men – where a man discussed his conversation with a twelve year old boy, and the boy said he would rather die than be called a girl. And the man thought, Good Lord, how do these boys view girls, if being compared to them is the worst thing in the world?

An old post from The Border House explains why the super-muscular male hero is not as sexist as the sexualized and objectified female character in video games.

Via Graphjam (a website I am continually irritated by), an adorable picture illustrating the TARDIS if it was from IKEA:

IKEA TARDIS

The IKEA instructions for putting together a TARDIS.

And finally, the Feminist Whoniverse points out that Moffat has a real problem when it comes to addressing critiques of his female characters: he is usually dismissive and fails to meaningfully engage with feminist critiques.

Domesticating the Doctor III: Marrying the Ponds

The Eleventh Doctor crashes literally in Amelia Pond’s back yard, and from that point on is irretrievably tangled in her life and her family – though with the exception of dancing with them (presumably) at her wedding, he remains largely apart from, and free from any association with, her parents and aunt. Indeed, the whole of season 5 not only has Amy’s family literally removed from her life (a mystery to be solved by the Doctor) but frames the Doctor himself as her imaginary friend, a character who, in the land of child logic, would never interact with her parents and guardians anyway.

The Doctor has always been an abductor of young people, but here we see him set up as an ostensible kidnapper of children. He not only gets himself invited into her house at night, he agrees to take young Amelia off on adventures with him, without any kind of permission from the adults responsible for her.

The Eleventh Hour is for me one of the most perfect pieces of Doctor Who storytelling of all time, but my inner parent is still going, HANG ON A MINUTE. It also raises all kinds of interesting questions of where he got hold of Susan in the first place, back in the 1960’s…

The Doctor’s first main scene with young Amy, in which he tries all the foods and spits them out in dramatic fashion, demonstrates quite clearly that he is still a fish out of water in a domestic environment (and shouldn’t be let out in public).

Like Rose, the adult Amy alternates between dragging the Doctor into her domestic life, and using him to escape it. Amy’s house is a symbol of domesticity gone wrong: the house with missing family members and too many rooms. In that first episode, there’s a monster hiding in a room she can’t even remember, let alone see – the Doctor can see her house more clearly than she can.

At the end of the Eleventh Hour, the big reveal is that Amy, who may or may not have “something” to come back for in the morning, has hightailed it out of her spooky house with the Doctor, leaving behind a certain wedding dress. We return later that same night, at the end of Flesh and Stone, because Amy thinks the best place to proposition the Doctor is back at hers, rather than the far more convenient TARDIS. Why there? Was she expecting him to dump her and wanted to make sure she was back where she started? Or was the TARDIS emanating some kind of ‘no unmarried nookie in here thank you’ magnetic field?

It’s fascinating that the Doctor goes to so much trouble to set up Rory and Amy in The Vampires of Venice, in response to her failed seduction. I know there are some who might view this as him being all patriarchal, but I think his general comedic incompetence balances out his assumption that he knows what’s best for them. He doesn’t understand how humans work, especially the romantic aspects, and his bumbling attempts serve to show how alien he really is. It’s certainly preferable to how the Tenth Doctor dealt with Martha’s feelings for him by ignoring the issue.

The Eleventh Doctor isn’t completely dense, though. He figures out that Amy and Rory’s relationship won’t survive her having otherworldly adventures without him (much as travelling in the TARDIS changed Rose into someone her mother almost didn’t recognise) but he is still flailing blindly in the dark. The obvious solution – to leave Amy with Rory and start again with a new companion – doesn’t occur to him. Instead, he’s determined to keep Amy even if that means bringing her feller along with him. Something he never offered any of his previous companions… and a good thing too, really, or (back in the 70′s) Jo Grant would have had a TARDIS full of alien toyboys by the time Cliff Jones came along.

Amy’s Choice is one of several stories in Season 5 to deal overtly with the issue of the human desire for domesticity vs. The Doctor’s aversion to it. There are two dreamworlds created in this story, one recreating the TARDIS, and the other recreating the life that the Doctor thinks Amy and Rory want for themselves. You’ll note that he’s already thinking about the fact that someday, Amy and Rory will leave him to settle down planet side. Of course they will. The companions always do.

So dream Amy is pregnant, dream Rory is a qualified GP with a silly ponytail, and they are living in an idyllic but deeply boring country village. The dullness is accentuated by the fact that the characters actually fall asleep as they shift between dreamworlds.

The ‘choice’ of the story title is implied to be Amy choosing between the Doctor and Rory, as symbolised by the two dreamworlds. But that’s a cheat, because the village dream isn’t something Amy craves at all (and it could be argued, is only tangentially what Rory wants for them). Her choice has nothing to do with the Doctor – it’s about figuring whether she loves Rory. She chooses a future with him, regardless of where they are, and that’s a choice she holds to from that point onwards, even when she doesn’t remember him.

Arguably the most important story of the Eleventh Doctor vs. Domesticity is The Lodger, which has nothing to do with Amy Pond at all, but crystallises this particular Doctor’s interest in how humans work.

Stranded without the TARDIS, the Doctor investigates a new creepy house, one which, like the one Amy grew up in, is not what it seems. Again we see him trying to fit in with humans by parodying their behaviour, not always successfully. Where he does succeed, it’s often by accident – he cooks and plays football brilliantly, but is less than convincing when it comes to toothbrushes, money or emotional signals.

The story revolves around the top floor of a house that lures and kills people – a floor that was actually never there. It’s a neon sign as to what has been going on with Amy all along, but also represents one of the greatest horror tropes, the idea that the place where you live might not only not be safe – but might be trying to kill you.

It’s interesting really that this trope is so rarely applied to the TARDIS itself, the Doctor’s hearth and home. Though of course it is, many times during this season, and Amy herself is finding out how dangerous the TARDIS can be while all of the Doctor’s tea drinking and footballing is going on.

The mystery of Amy’s house is unravelled in the finale of Season 5 (though the mystery of the TARDIS blowing up is not) and she leaves the house behind without a backward look, wending her way into the universe with “her boys” as a married woman ready for adventures. This felt revolutionary at the time – the idea that a wedding doesn’t have to be the coda for ‘time to stop having fun’ or ‘second best to travelling with the Doctor’. I think it’s dangerous to only imagine weddings are the end of a story, a happy ending to strive for rather than the beginning of something new. We need more pop culture that says you can have your domesticity and swashbuckling at the same time.

It was a magnificent end to a great season of Doctor Who, but I’m not convinced that what followed was anything close to the married-in-the-TARDIS hijinks we were promised.

Having a married couple in the TARDIS (and a baby of sorts) is a huge change of focus for the show, and while it’s good in some ways that it didn’t change the format too drastically (we don’t actually want the show to turn into The Pond Sitcom however cute that YouTube trailer was) it also felt like the show didn’t change enough. A cute married couple can absolutely bomb along with the Doctor in his rackety old TARDIS without making him change his habits too drastically, especially as they were doing so in the previous season as a romantic couple anyway – but why do something different with the companions only to then NOT do anything different with the companions?

The Time and Space comic relief scenes are actually the closest we come to seeing ‘married person chatter’ or any real acknowledgement that something has changed. The funny revelation in The Doctor’s Wife that the room the Doctor set up for Amy and Rory features bunk beds (and he can’t imagine why they might not think they were awesome) and his embarrassed discussion with Madam Vastra about the conception of the baby go to show that actually, the Doctor has not had to compromise in order to make space for the Ponds in his life. They are still travelling with him on his terms, and he’s not even letting them partly set up home for themselves.

Indeed, we see that Rory is still unsure of where he stands with Amy well into Day of the Moon, and episodes like the Rebel Flesh two parter still prioritise the relationship of Amy as the Doctor’s main companion, with Rory as a sidekick. The controversial kidnapping of Amy by Madam Kovarian may put Amy in a traditionally passive role, but at least it forces the Doctor and Rory to work as a team, something we haven’t seen nearly enough of, and makes the TARDIS crew feel more united in the second half of the season by comparison.

Then there’s The Doctor’s Wife, another story about houses that are quite literally trying to kill you. It is a loving tribute to the TARDIS as the Doctor’s faithful companion (or rather, the Doctor as her faithful companion) and makes it clear that the show is really just about the two of them. Companions come and go, but the TARDIS, the Doctor’s hearth and home, is always going to be there for him, and vice versa. The reason he has always fled domestic spheres in the past is not necessarily because it scares him or confuses him, but because he already has a wife and house waiting for him within those blue doors, and no one else compares to Her Indoors.

Wait, I’ve forgotten to address something.

The baby.

But that’s okay, because the show forgot to address it too!

I’m all for babies in my science fiction and fantasy. I’m a mum, and I love to see motherhood explored in my favourite genres. It’s not done nearly enough… and of course, it’s rarely done well. It drives me batty when a pregnancy or baby story is introduced to an ongoing science fiction series, usually to a female character, and then whisked away again, leaving little to no emotional ramifications. Think Deanna Troi and “The Child” in Next Generation. Also there’s the rapidly ageing baby trick, as with Connor in Angel or Eve/Livia in Xena. I don’t even like it when the show in question properly acknowledges how horrible an experience that is for the parent/s, because I’m well aware that the emotional trauma is a side effect of a cynical production choice, to dabble with a baby story but not bother with the realistic long term issues of how that would change a character’s life and priorities.

Which is relevant in the case of Season 6 of Doctor Who, because not only did they take the easy escape by writing the baby out almost as soon as it was born (and indeed skipping the inconvenient pregnancy period too) but they didn’t properly address the emotional ramifications of this to Amy or Rory for a full half of a season. Especially Rory, actually, as Amy at least gets to express her feelings in The Wedding of River Song, while we have to read his loss as a father from subtext in stories where he openly expresses other reasons to be dissatisfied with the Doctor.

It’s a shame, because one or two sentences per episode throughout the second half of Season 6, to show the characters were still thinking about and dealing with this enormous loss would have made it a far more powerful, worthwhile storyline. My only hope is that the story isn’t over yet, and there’s a twist still to come. Recent revelations about the setting of the episode in which the Ponds will be written out only further support my theory that the story of baby Melody is not yet finished. (And you can see HERE my argument for why Amy Pond should not be killed off)

Domesticity and parent-child relationships are a huge part of Season 6, despite the baby-fail. The Doctor can barely turn around without being faced with more children, daddy issues and haunted and/or murderous houses. In Closing Time, he slapsticks his way through Two Men and a Stormageddon, and we are treated to a fun comedy of errors which deals with all kinds of great issues to do with the clash of domesticity, danger and dads. I particularly enjoyed the whole issue of – how do you save the world if you can’t get a babysitter?

So… why couldn’t this be done with Melody Pond? Why couldn’t we have a baby in the TARDIS, stick a robot nanny in with the Gallifreyan crib, and tell the story that way? It’s not like we were going to be stuck with her forever, they’re only keeping the Ponds another five episodes into Season 7!

(James, a regular commenter on Doctor Her, expresses fan frustration with this issue beautifully in a comment on another post, which had me punching the air in agreement)

So, the Doctor has a married couple in the TARDIS (mostly) but he doesn’t have to change his spots. They have a baby, but while there are all manner of timey wimey consequences, it’s hardly even worth the Doctor dusting off that old cot of his. Then, to cap it all off, the Doctor gets married (to someone who isn’t the TARDIS though you could definitely say River is TARDIS-approved) and is in no way expected to live with, change or compromise anything for his new bride.

And yet… maybe he isn’t living as fancy free as we think – at least, not by choice. If we learn anything from The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe, it’s that this Doctor rather likes playing house. He creates a Christmas home for Madge and her children, and afterwards, goes home to Amy and Rory – the same home he bought for them, something he’s never done for a companion before. Another Doctor at Christmas dinner, but this one is all his idea.

Somehow, the Doctor has ended up with a real family, not one he visits in order to placate his current companion, but one that includes him as official, full fledged son-in-law. It’s not a permanent thing – Amy and Rory’s days with the show are numbered, and they’ll be gone by Christmas – but it’s hard to imagine that the Doctor hasn’t somehow been irretrievably changed by this development.

Looking back over the Seasons 5 and 6, I wonder if maybe all the kids and killer houses were not about showing us what the Doctor (and those who travel with him) can’t have, but about what this Doctor might be looking for in the future. Eleven didn’t have to marry River, or provide a home and car for Amy and Rory. He certainly doesn’t have to fly through space with a cot in his TARDIS, all ready for some future occupant.

Is this as domesticated as our hero is ever going to get, or is it the beginning of a new direction for Doctor Who? As long as Moffat is involved in the show, it’s pretty clear that it will be daddy issues ahoy. And that means there’s one fairly obvious next step that the show could take.

Could the Eleventh Doctor become a parent – a real, involved, doing-the-dirty-jobs-while-saving-the-world parent – without breaking the show irretrievably?

It would certainly make a change from all those romantic companions, if the next woman to join him in the TARDIS was his daughter…

"Booties... doesn't look too hard!"

PREVIOUS DOMESTICATING THE DOCTOR POSTS:
Cocoa, Test-tubes and the Classic Years
The Missus, the Ex and the Mothers-in-Law
John Smith’s Human Nature

“Oh, You Sexy Geek!”: “Geek Girls” and the Problem of Self-Objectification

Cross-posted at The Cosplay Feminist.

I just returned from the PCA/ACA conference in Boston this year. I’ll be doing a write-up on the other fan studies/geek presentations I saw, but I wanted to post mine first. I think it is relevant to our interests here.

My presentation had a powerpoint. I’ve embedded it below. You can also download it, if you like.

Oh, you sexy geek!

I’m fairly certain the embedded video for “G33k and G4m3r Girls” won’t work, so here it is:
And here’s the actual presentation I gave:

In July of last year at Comic-Con (the largest media convention in the country), a panel titled “Oh, You Sexy Geek!” purported to address the trend of female geeks dressing “sexy.” From the panel description:

Does displaying the sexiness of fangirls benefit or demean them? When geek girls show off, are they liberating themselves or pandering to men? Do some “fake fangirls” blend sex appeal with nerdiness just to appeal to the growing geek/nerd market, or is that question itself unfair? And what’s up with all the Slave Leias?

The discussion at Comic-Con was framed in terms of individual choices, not structural influences, and this limited the conclusions the panel could come to. The dichotomous choice offered—“Does displaying the sexiness of fangirls benefit or demean them? […] are they liberating themselves or pandering to men?”—fails to take into account the complexities of women’s positions in geek culture, the politics of cosplay, or how cultural ideals of beauty influence women’s fashion decisions and choices.Geek cultures—centered on video games, science fiction and fantasy, and comic books—are traditionally thought of as boys’ clubs. Even though women often make up half of geek populations, their roles in geek culture(s) are limited by the perceptions and actions of advertisers, producers, designers, marketers, and fans. Women are considered valuable additions to many geek cultures, but usually as decoration. Which means that most of the women “celebrated” in geek cultures are conventionally beautiful, thin, white, abled cis women who position themselves as sexy objects for male geek consumption, usually via cosplay. For the uninitiated, the term cosplay is a combination of “costume” and “roleplay” or “play,” and refers to when fans costume as characters or objects from their favorite media (like video games, movies, and TV shows). Cosplayers usually wear their costumes to conventions, and the “roleplay” aspect of cosplaying is often minimal in North America, and limited to the poses struck for photos or occasional interactions in the convention hallways.

This presentation will explore the ways in which female geeks’ choices are limited by geek cultures, how the trend of self-objectification among geek women can signal both a hostility towards women as equal participants and a resistance to that hostility, and how blaming women’s performances is a hand-waving exercise intended to gloss over the culture(s)’ problems.

The sexism that persists in geek communities is not special. It is not separable and inherently different than sexist institutions and behaviors in the “real world.” This means that the sexualization and objectification of women is not unique to geek cultures, though it is particularly severe in geek media. Video games, comics, science fiction, fantasy—these media forms are often at fault for promoting unrealistic (and, pretty regularly, physically impossible) standards of beauty for women. They fashion their female heroines and villains as sexy objects to be consumed, unlike male counterparts. Further, geek industries bring the objectification of women into the real world, hiring, for example, booth babes for conventions. Booth babes are conventionally attractive models hired by media companies to wear skimpy clothing and entice convention-goers to their respective booths. Geek women exist within this culture, which devalues their contributions as producers of media and meaning, but values their contributions as adornment.

This project is about self-objectification, not objectification by others, but the two are not wholly separable, any more separable than my putting on makeup and high heels this morning and the objectification of women in advertising and fashion magazines. Just as media representations of women influence women’s decisions to diet, wear cosmetics, get plastic surgery, lighten their skin, relax their hair, shave their legs, and wax their bikini lines, geek media representations of women influence geek women’s decisions to dress in “sexy” cosplay.

By “sexy” cosplay, I mean cosplay that appeals to heterosexual male fantasies, participates in the objectification of the cosplayer, and (purposefully or not) positions the cosplayer as an object for consumption by male geeks. There are two ways to participate in sexy cosplay; one is to choose a character whose costume is already sexy, and another to alter a character’s costume in order to make it sexy.

First, let’s look at cosplayers who do not alter their costumes. A rather visible example of this kind of sexy cosplay is women who costume as “slave Leia.” The Star Wars character has two main costumes that cosplayers choose from.  [Next slide] The first, and least popular, is the costume from A New Hope. This is the costume with the iconic buns. [Next slide] The second, and more popular, Leia costume is “slave Leia,” the bikini-style costume worn by Leia in Return of the Jedi when she is the prisoner of Jabba the Hutt. At major science fiction media conventions, like Comic-Con and Dragon*Con, it is common to have an official group slave Leia picture, because of the popularity of this costume with cosplayers and other convention-goers. In the slave Leia cosplay, we see a classic example of sexy cosplay in which the costumer chooses a costume that is already heteronormatively “sexy.”

Next, let’s look at an example of a cosplayer who alters their costume to make them sexy. [Next slide] This is LeeAnna Vamp as Chewbacca from Star Wars, who is on the left. This cosplay was featured on IGN, a website about gaming and entertainment. Notice how Vamp positions herself compared with the actual Chewbacca. Chewbacca stands firmly and aggressively, feet apart to keep him stable. LeeAnna, on the other hand, stands off-center, with her legs together and crossed: a passive position. In the kneeling photo, her position suggests sexual availability and exposure (not sexual aggression), with a slightly open mouth and legs parted. These positions, along with her revealing costume, position LeeAnna as a sexual object for consumption. [Next slide]

In both altered and unaltered sexy cosplay, we thus see a desire to be seen as attractive by straight men. These women visually signal to a viewer (there’s always a viewer for cosplayers) that they are conforming to heteronormative beauty standards. They do this by positioning themselves as sexually receptive and passive; by wearing costumes that emphasize body parts that our culture associates with sex appeal, like breasts, hips, buttocks, and navels; and by emphasizing their femininity and conformity to beauty standards.

As Naomi Wolf points out The Beauty Myth, women in the U.S. are rewarded for capitulating to narrow and often impossible beauty standards. She claims that beauty is a currency, with which “women must unnaturally compete for resources that men have appropriated for themselves” (12). Ariel Levy’s exploration of raunch culture in Female Chauvinist Pigs demonstrates, however, that women must often do more than merely perform beauty work. She argues that “hotness doesn’t just yield approval. Proof that a woman actively seeks approval is a crucial criterion for hotness in the first place.” In a world of booth babes and sexy cosplay, this is apparent. What makes the sexy cosplay sexy is not merely that the cosplayers are thin, young, and buxom, but that they are performing and actively seeking male approval. [Next slide] For a particularly egregious example of this, I’m going to show you the video created by some geek women, mostly actresses, who formed a group called Team Unicorn. [play to 1:28] The video is very repetitive, so we can stop it there.

Almost everything about this video marks it as a performance in the service of geek men. Of course, the participants in the video, Team Unicorn, consist of young, thin, light-skinned women who conform to cultural beauty standards. There are a number of particularly porn-like shots, in which the young women are naked, strategically covered by light sabers, video game controllers, or DVDs, and on piles of geek toys, movies, or comic books. Meanwhile, the men in the intermittent shots do not match cultural standards of male beauty or masculinity. They wear cheap costumes and dance in awkward or silly ways. The women in the video wear sexy and high-quality costumes, and their dances mimic those of pop stars, which is to say, their dances are meant to appeal to straight male viewers. The video is also framed by Seth Green saying, “Hello friends. Don’t you want to meet a nice girl?,” positioning the video as an introduction to women as dating partners or sex objects. The video is not meant for geek women to view, and feel empowered by seeing representations of other geek women. It is meant to be viewed by men who wish to believe that, despite their own inability to meet cultural standards of masculinity, there are geek women available to them who are “sexy” in two ways: 1. These women do fit a physical standard of beauty, and 2. These women want to please men, want to be sexually appealing to them.

The video’s YouTube description claims, “This music video parody proves Geek and Gamer Girls really do exist.” Since, at the time, there had been multiple headlines proclaiming that women make up 50% of gamers and Comic-Con attendees, this description seems disingenuous. This is because geek women who are not “hot” are routinely ignored or erased in geek culture. This video would more accurately describe itself as “proof that conventionally sexy women who are also geeks want to have sex with you, presumed straight geek male viewer.”

Because geek women are often clearly aiming their performances at geek men, geek men and women often place blame on the women who dress this way. [Next slide] A comment on Geek Tyrant, written by a blogger who is posting a collection of “cosplay cleavage,” is illustrative. Venkman writes, “And ladies, maybe some of you will find these images offensive, but these are women that are dressing like this. We didn’t ask them to, they do it on their own, and if women dress like this, the fact of the matter is…guys are going to stare [sic].” This sentiment lands the blame for the objectification of geek women squarely on the shoulders of women, and characterizes men’s responses to these women as inevitable, natural, and uncontrollable. [Next slide] Needless to say, however, the images included in the blog post make it clear that these geek men feel they have nothing to apologize for. The blogger is not suggesting that men do not objectify women (after all, they go to cons to see “cleavage,” not to meet women or fellow geeks), but he refuses to accept responsibility for this. Rather, he suggests that women need to just accept that “guys are going to stare” at women who perform a certain version of “sexy.” It is thus women’s responsibility to prevent their own objectification. [Next slide]

There are some obvious problems in this kind of hand-waving exercise, but the most important one for us today is that one of the reasons geek women seek the approval of geek men is that geek men have positions of power and privilege in both geek industries and in geek fan communities. While women understand that sexy cosplay won’t get them respect, per se, they also know that it is most likely to get them positive attention, recognition, and limited acceptance in geek communities. Women who do not or cannot seek sexual approval from the male geek community are more likely to be ignored, derided, or dismissed. They are more likely to be called harpy feminists or annoying squeeing fangirls than to get approval and acceptance. Team Unicorn, for example, was rewarded generously for their performance with relative fame and funding for a slick new website. They also managed to buy legitimacy in this video with the inclusion of Seth Green and Stan Lee. One has to wonder, would Seth Green have agreed to a video proving the existence of female geeks if those geeks had been fat, queer, or disabled?

The pressure is on for geek women to position themselves as sexy consumable objects for geek men. When they do so, their decision is framed as a freely-made choice. On the other hand, men’s behavior in reaction to sexy cosplay, like leering, sexual harassment, or other forms of objectification, is usually framed as inevitable and natural. The pressure women feel to perform “sexy” for their fellow geeks is usually ignored or dismissed, and the conversation becomes similar to the “Oh, You Sexy Geek!” panel at Comic-Con, in which the problem is framed as about geek women, not geek culture. Are women selling out, or being empowered?

The answer to that question is that it’s more complicated. While women performing sexy for their fellow geeks are unquestionably doing so within a culture that encourages this performance and values women merely as decoration, they may also be using sexy cosplay to subvert that culture’s objectification of women.

In John Fiske’s Understanding Popular Culture, he describes jeans as objects of popular culture that can embody contradictory meanings. Jeans, he argues, have multiple meanings given to us by jean producers, such as associations with heteronormative femininity, youth, toughness, and/or hard work. These meanings come from the top, and represent the interests of those in power. People can tear their jeans (or write on them, or bleach them, or cut them off) to subvert and resist those meanings, but this doesn’t mean that the original meanings just go away. Rather, both meanings coexist in the garment simultaneously. According to Fiske, this means that popular culture objects, like jeans, “can entail the expression of both domination and subordination, of both power and resistance. So torn jeans signify both a set of dominant American values and a degree of resistance to them” (4). Sexy cosplay works in the same way. There are ways in which individual sexy cosplayers incorporate meanings resistant to the culture’s demand that they proffer themselves as consumable objects.

[Next slide] Olivia Waite, a geek and erotica writer, wrote about her personal experience with the slave Leia cosplay, after I had blogged a version of this essay at the Geek Feminism blog. Waite was a big fan of Star Wars when she was a child, and her favorite character was Leia, who she describes as “badass, intelligent, and passionate.”

She writes that when watching Return of the Jedi,

as soon as [Leia] shows up in the gold bikini, with the high ponytail and the neck-chain, every cell in my being went, She must be so pissed about that.

Because what people forget, when they talk about Slave Leia outfits, is that it’s the one costume she doesn’t choose for herself. She’s forced into it, compelled to wear that bikini for Jabba’s dubious and slobbery pleasure. And I can see why people are upset that this happens—because if there’s one thing we do not need to gratify so much, it’s the male gaze in film—but at the same time, I think it’s important that this happens to Leia, because it happens to plenty of women, all the time, every day, around the world, with or without help from a gold bikini.

And here is what Leia does, when you force her into a scanty outfit and choke-chain: she takes that chain, and she kills you with it. She doesn’t let her clothing get in her way or limit her more than she can help—she waits for her moment to strike, and then she conquers her would-be conqueror and saves the day.

And I was a little kid, not yet desensitized to violence [...] Jabba’s death scene freaked the hell out of me. It wasn’t a clean blaster shot to the chest or a slice from a lightsaber that sent sparks flying or made you turn invisible. There were struggles, and flailing, and twitching limbs. The shots are close-ups, and very dark—it’s vicious, and vengeful, and physical, and very very personal.

So for me, wearing that gold bikini does not mean Here I am, a sexy toy for your amusement and gratification.

To me, that gold bikini says, If you fuck with me, I will end you.

It says, What I wear is not the same as who I am.

 

Waite’s is a particularly powerful example of how women can create subversive meanings in their sexy cosplay. Hers doesn’t even require an alteration in the costume, though it may include a more aggressive stance for pictures, or even a performance of the chain choking. But it is, all the same, resistant to the cultural meanings put onto the costume by the producers of Star Wars and by the powers that be in fan communities. In Waite’s cosplay, the gold bikini is a symbol of female power and resistance to objectification. At the same time, it holds those dominant meanings as well. It contains the raunch culture assumption that women are primarily valuable for their performance of “sexy” and a resistance to that gross objectification. It symbolizes the titillation of women in sexual slavery and a challenge to women’s subordinate status as the sex class. From my own experiences in geek fan cultures, I don’t believe Waite is an anomaly, a pioneering feminist geek who uses sexy cosplay to challenge the messages found in geek media and geek culture. There are others like her, whose sexy cosplays are also challenges to the status quo.

It is also important to note that not all cosplay (sexy or not) is progressive or oppositional, either. As Henry Jenkins points out in Textual Poachers,

To say that fans promote their own meanings over those of producers is not to suggest that the meanings fans produce are always oppositional ones or that those meanings are made in isolation from other social factors. Fans have chosen these media products from the total range of available texts precisely because they seem to hold special potential as vehicles for expressing the fans’ pre-existing social commitments and cultural interests; there is already some degree of compatibility between the ideological construction of the text and the ideological commitments of the fans and therefore, some degree of affinity will exist between the meanings fans produces and those which might be located through a critical analysis of the original story. [...] Readers are not always resistant; all resistant readings are not necessarily progressive readings; the ‘people’ do not always recognize their conditions of alienation and subordination. (34)

That is to say, not all geek women recognize their conditions as alienated and subordinated members of geek cultures. Not all sexy cosplay is (or can be) oppositional or progressive, as Waite’s reading of the costume is. However, this does not mean that geek women are somehow to blame for their objectification. As Jenkins notes, fans make their choices in the context of their cultures, and not in isolation of social factors. The beauty myth, raunch culture, and the male domination of geek culture(s) all contribute to female fans’ choice in sexy cosplay, even if they choose to resist the meanings handed down from those in power. In order to fix the culture of objectification in geek culture, we cannot look to individual women and cosplayers, but rather to those in power, whether they be content creators (like George Lucas, Stan Lee, Felicia Day), influential commentators (like Chris Hardwick, Jerry Holkins, Mike Krahulik), convention organizers, or forum moderators.  The problem here is not “self-objectification,” as my essay title suggests, but the pressure to perform sexy (or be ignored, derided, or dismissed). The fact is, “sexy” is not the only way that geek women represent themselves; it is merely the representation recognized and rewarded by geek culture at large. That has to change before the position of women in these culture(s) can change.

  Works Cited

Fiske, John. Understanding Popular Culture. 2nd ed. London: Routledge, 2010. Print.

Jenkins, Henry. Textual Poachers: Television Fans and Participatory Culture. New York: Routledge, 1992. Print.

Levy, Ariel. Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture. Kindle ed. New York: Free Press, 2005. AZW file.

“Oh, You Sexy Geek!” Panel at Comic-Con, 21 July 2011, 10:45 AM. My Comic-Con 2011 Sched*.  Comic-Con, n.d. Web. 25 September 2011. < http://mysched.comic-con.org/event/c31518fe1aa3bb6b788ba63757b84fba>

Venkman. “Collection of Cosplay Cleavage.” Geek Tyrant. Geektyrant, 15 July 2011. Web. 9 April 2012.

Waite, Olivia. “In Defense of Slave Leia.” Olivia Waite. Olivia Waite, 29 August 2011. Web. 8 April 2012.

Wolf, Naomi. The Beauty Myth: How Images of Beauty Are Used Against Women. New York: William Morrow and Company, Inc., 1991. Print.

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Let me know what you think! And keep an eye out for my PCA/ACA write-up.

Chicks Dig Being Interviewed: Lynne M Thomas and Deborah Stanish

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LYNNE: Can I say “everything”?

It was a huge learning curve for all of us.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Epic fail Abigail

We Whovians are prone to a linear view of social justice progress in Who: a more or less direct march from the Bad Old Days to the present enlightened times. Only trouble is, it’s nonsense. Classic Who was occasionally way ahead of its time… and current Who is sometimes appalling.

Case in point: who’s the worst character, from a feminist standpoint, to grace Doctor Who in a long time? For me, any of the screaming women of yore is preferable to Abigail from “A Christmas Carol”, and the 2010 Christmas special itself is a small master class in paternalism and women as property.

When we meet Abigail, she is being kept as collateral against a loan, like a pawned watch or something.  Women and poor people have a long and ignoble history of being viewed as the property of others; a system that makes this explicit without ever criticizing it is marching straight into Problematic Land. Viewers are meant to sympathize with Abigail (and, presumably, the other frozen people), but the classist and sexist collateral system is never even examined within the context of the story, much less denounced as the abomination it is.

Worse yet for Abigail, she continues to be a prop long after she wakes up. She’s consistently othered:

Young Kazran: Abigail’s crying.
The Doctor: Yes.
Young Kazran: When girls are crying, are you supposed to talk to them?
The Doctor: I have absolutely no idea.

Girls! They’re so mysterious! Not like proper people!

Abigail functions, in fact, as nothing so much as a toy: the boys take her out of her box once a year, play with her, and then put her back in her box. Her feelings are foreordained by the script. She falls for Kazran because he needs saving. She defends him to her family. She completely lacks any agency at all. The Doctor and Kazran treat her remarkable singing ability as theirs to use, not hers. I’m reminded of a similarly odious bit in Stephen King’s novel The Green Mile where the protagonist discovers that a prisoner under his care has magical healing powers and immediately starts a plan to smuggle him out of the prison so he can heal someone. His opinion is never asked; it’s just assumed that he’ll do the healing. He’s not a character, he’s a plot device.

We’ve talked before about Moffat’s unfortunate tendency to draw women from buckets of stock characters: the vamp, the shrew, etc. Abigail is another of these: The Ingenue. If she has any character traits beyond being sweet, she does not make them known. To her generic niceness we can add Friend To All Living Things, Tragically Ill, and Beautiful Singing Voice, for a complete package of Victorian Novel Heroine. Not only has Moffat gotten Abigail from stock, he’s gotten her from stock that was discredited 100 years ago.