Archive for 1 April 2012

Always take a linkspam to a party, Rose. Linkspam is good.

An oldie but goodie post at A Dress a Day, “You Don’t Have to Be Pretty“:

Now, this may seem strange from someone who writes about pretty dresses (mostly) every day, but: You Don’t Have to Be Pretty. You don’t owe prettiness to anyone. Not to your boyfriend/spouse/partner, not to your co-workers, especially not to random men on the street. You don’t owe it to your mother, you don’t owe it to your children, you don’t owe it to civilization in general. Prettiness is not a rent you pay for occupying a space marked “female”.

It’s excellent, go read the rest.

From Racialicious, “How Felicia Day and Chris Hardwick (Unwittingly) Reinforced Geekdom’s Whiteness.” And you should also read the essay by Pam Noles they link in the beginning, “Shame.”

Feminist Harry Potter is one of the best Tumblrs on the internet. Behold:

Luna Lovegood with the caption "A real feminist takes risks without fear & always prioritizes justice, even when everyone else thinks she's crazy."

Hermione Granger with the caption "Because our culture marginalizes the experiences and perspectives of women, this book is called 'Harry Potter' even though I saved Harry's butt a hundred times."

Via Doctor Who News, David Yates says they definitely ARE making a Doctor Who movie, but probably not for 5 or 6 years.

Graham Norton interviews Lalla Ward about her work on the recent audio book of Shada by Gareth Roberts (and Douglas Adams), her time playing Time Lady Romana, and so on. Worth a listen.

On Tor.com they discuss seriously (despite dismissing the idea as silly on Twitter) who they’d like to see cast as a female Doctor – some great casting ideas there along with those we’ve already discussed!

At the Social Justice League, how to be a fan of problematic things.

At i09, they list 10 times the Doctor acted like a total bastard on Doctor Who.

At Tor.com, they discuss Paul Cornell’s decision to forgo being on SF/F panels that do not have 50% women contributors.

Feel free to discuss on any of the above links in the comments!

 

The 51st Century and The Future of Sex

“You people and your quaint little categories.” – Captain Jack Harkness

I don’t get to see a lot of bisexuals/pansexuals/queers who love people of multiple genders on television. Usually, even if a character takes up with a person of a not-heretofore-preferred-by-said-character gender, the typical reaction is “Oh, so you’re gay now?” or “I knew you were straight all along!”. If the possibility that someone can be attracted to more than one gender is raised, it’s generally scoffed at.

Captain Jack Harkness is different. A consummate “omnisexual”, Jack is shown in Doctor Who and Torchwood to flirt, have sex, and develop romantic relationships with men, women, and non-humans. He is believable when he grieves for the wife he watched age and die every bit as much as he is swooning over The Doctor (and nearly everyone else on screen). Amazingly, the rest of the Torchwood team all more or less join him on the middle of the Kinsey scale. The Whoniverse avoids suggesting that these people are fooling themselves, confused, or doing it for attention. I cannot think of any representation of my sexuality in pop culture that compares, and I can’t emphasize enough how much I appreciate it.

But there’s still something that bugs me. See, it’s not just Captain Jack who flies the pansexual flag; It’s stated several times that his attitudes and behaviors are typically 51st Century. Add to that the fact that the present-day Torchwood team is on board too, and all this seems to reinforce the old “everyone is at least a little bisexual” Kinsey-inspired cliche.

Which really, everyone is not.

In the queer community, the polyamorous community, the BDSM community, it’s easy to give in to the attitude that these orientations are more evolved, that their members have grown beyond the need for the more traditional “quaint little categories” that populate mainstream culture. The implications of the 51st Century attitudes presented in the Whoniverse seem to be that the human race is destined to outgrow heterosexuality, homosexuality, and quite probably monogamy, in favor of sexual expression that is more or less exactly like Jack’s.

Is a future that has eradicated our current diversity of sexual identities indeed a more mature one? Many portrayals of our species’ distant future, most notably those playing with utopian themes and their deconstruction, involve humanity moving toward–or being forced into– homogeneity. But wouldn’t true evolution and social progress involve social pressure to embrace increasingly different otherness? Of course, the 51st Century is not portrayed as the pinnacle of human evolution by any means, but with their 30,000 years on us, the message is right there: one day we will be beyond such petty things as sexual orientation, which is clearly a cultural construct because deep down we’re all omnisexual, obviously. Oh, and we will also smell fabulous.

But back here in the 21st Century, who are we to claim that pansexuality or any other specific orientation is more evolved? Limiting who people love and have sex with is, as we can hopefully all agree, backward. But pretending that whatever limits a person’s own attraction may naturally fall within is atavistic and closed-minded is equally flawed. Personally, I’m waiting for a future where we all celebrate and embrace one another’s identities and categories, no matter how unlike our own they may be. Captain Jack would deliciously fit into my future, but so would straight people, gay people, asexuals, sapiosexuals, queers of every stripe, people who prefer missionary position with the lights off, and every other permutation of loving, not-loving, shagging, not-shagging, and being ourselves.

Let us outgrow none of our amazing shades of love, not ever. Only our present day’s pathetic shades of fear.

Domesticating the Doctor 2.5 – John Smith’s Human Nature

Previously in “Domesticating the Doctor” I looked at The Classic Years, which included a granddaughter in the TARDIS, an unexpected Aztec cocoa marriage and the Third Doctor being house-trained by Benton and the Brigadier. I also looked at the RTD era of New Who, with particular reference to the three central female characters of this period, and their mums, with The Missus, the Ex and the Mothers-in-Law.

However, I did miss out one particularly important bit…

Human Nature/The Family of Blood is the most significant New Who story to fully address the issue of the Doctor v. Domesticity, so worthy of a post all on its own.

Adapted from the original New Adventures novel, Human Nature (featuring the Seventh Doctor and also written by Paul Cornell) this story introduces us to John Smith, a man who dreams of being a Time Lord who saves the world and has fantastical adventures, but in reality is a rather quiet, unassuming teacher at a boys school in England, 1913.

Except of course, he isn’t. The Doctor is hiding from a devastating if short-lived alien family who want to drink the Time Lord right out of him. The only solution (apparently) was to use a Gallifreyan fob watch to transform himself into a human, with no memories or knowledge of the Time Vortex.

Martha, in disguise as a maid at the school, is the only one who knows the truth about her Doctor, a man who can no longer recognise her.

The Family of Blood are closing in, the country hovers on the brink of a different kind of war, and in all this, John Smith manages to fall, rather awkwardly, in love with Joan Redfern, the school matron. The Doctor planned for every contingency except the possibility of romance… and Martha has no idea how to handle it.

The contrast between John Smith and the Doctor is noticeable in every scene – this is not just a mortal, one-hearted version of the Time Lord we normally follow around. John Smith is nervous around women, he gabbles about his strange dreams and is a bit wet, frankly. But he takes on a different persona around the boys, not flinching from the casual violence that is part of the school routine, and getting offended when Martha gets ideas ‘above her station.’

There are class issues running rampant through this story, and it’s noticeable that Tennant affects a far posher accent than usual to play the educated gentleman teacher John Smith.

When people start dying, the Doctor is desperately needed, but that means that John Smith has to die. And he doesn’t want to. He protests at having to give up the simple life he has here, and his newfound love with Joan, to let the madman in the box take over his body again.

Paul Cornell has provided some fascinating insights into the Doctor in this story, and I particularly like the way that he portrays the uncomfortable aspects of this time period – from the racist comments directed at Martha from the privileged male students, to the maids drinking outside the pub because women can’t sit inside, to the boys volunteering to give each other beatings, and practicing with real guns for the coming war. Most discomfiting of all is the revelation of how ruthless the Doctor can be, and what a lonely figure he is.

Joan, who might look on paper like the kind of passive female character SF fans deride and dismiss in favour of the girls with low cleavage and big guns, is actually strong and secure enough in herself to call the Doctor on his bullshit, despite the fact that he looks so much like the man she loved. Both she and John Smith, in fact, are equally scathing of the kind of person the Doctor is, and his priorities. Considering we most often see the Doctor through the eyes of people who adore him – such as Rose, Martha and Jack – it’s always refreshing to have characters who are good people, and yet completely disagree with the Doctor, and are not proved wrong in the context of the narrative.

There’s not actually a lot of domesticity evident in the story, despite the premise. John Smith may be sacrificing a future as a husband and father to let the Doctor save the day, but apart from that brief glimpse of the lost future with Joan, we mostly see him at work, or at war. But domestic scenes are used, to illustrate how comfortable John Smith is in this school (his study is so cozy that I want to live there!) and the contrasting horror of the Family of Blood, who literally steal bodies and kill families.

The scene in which Joan shows that she has already figured out not only that the Cartwright girl possessed by Sister of Mine is dead, but her whole family is dead too, is quietly horrible. It shows what kind of person she is, though – thoughtful, compassionate and very pragmatic. The Cartwrights are dead, but their house might shelter the rest of them.

And while we’re talking about domestic horror, let’s look at the Family themselves – a parasite group of aliens who take over bodies of humans, including children, in their quest for immortality. Their use of familial names and language with each other only make their more sinister acts more horrible – but also make them feel like rich, developed characters, which is in turn more disturbing when the Doctor gets his revenge on them.

More than anything, this story explores the idea of what the Doctor would need to lose, in order to have an “ordinary” life. Which is an odd sort of thing, really, because an “ordinary” life for the Doctor shouldn’t involve Earth or humans at all.

What shall we do tonight, guys? Pizza, booze, telly?

What was Gallifreyan domesticity like? We never got to see those parts, on our brief visits. Do they have robot maids to dust all those shiny white surfaces, or nano genes to do the washing up? Certainly we get the impression that Time Lords, the educated aristocracy of the Doctor’s home planet, are at the very top of the class pyramid, which makes the comparison to the boys at this school all the more apt.

There’s a lot in this story about the traditional ideas of masculinity, and the historical tradition of incredibly young men going to war. Which nicely foreshadows a story coming later in the season, of two very particular men at war with each other, and the planet they have lost.

In this particular duel of Domesticity vs. The Doctor, the Doctor wins, but it’s a Pyrrhic victory (nobody really wins). Having seen John Smith react in horror to the idea of turning back into a man who is the very definition of inhuman, it’s oddly anti-climactic to realise that the Doctor is back, pulling switches and blowing up spaceships like usual. And he killed a man to do it. Took him over with his own personality… just like the Family of Blood did with their victims.

Tennant is brilliant in this episode. Both characters feel so utterly him, and yet you never doubt the difference between them for a moment. Jessica Hynes (I can’t get used to her not being Stevenson) is also brilliant as Joan Redfern – subtle and affecting. The final scene in which she faces the Doctor with all that anger and hurt pushed down deep inside her is incredibly powerful.

We’ve seen the power the Doctor has to hurt Martha with his romantic indifference to her, but that’s nothing to the casual cruelty he demonstrates at the end of this story, when he suggests Joan come along in the TARDIS, as if she can set aside her grief and loss as easily as he removed John Smith from himself, joining him and Martha for great intergalactic larks and cherry cake. He honestly doesn’t seem to realise what he has done, and how badly he has treated her – and yet how else do you explain the other cruelty he displays just before this scene, when he condemns each of the Family of Blood to eternal life? Was it the Doctor or John Smith who decided on their fates?

One thing seems certain, the ultimate message of this story is that if the Doctor stops running, and falls in love, and gets a job and a home, and has a family… then he wouldn’t be the Doctor any more. Or at least, to have and do all those things, he would have to stop being the Doctor first.

Which all ties in to the ongoing theme of these essays – that domesticity and the Doctor don’t fit together comfortably, unless one of them is prepared to change pretty radically. And the Doctor never changes. Right?

Companions in Comics: The Coming Out of Izzy Sinclair

The Eighth Doctor’s arrival kickstarts an exciting period in Doctor Who Magazine. Old patterns are disrupted. This Doctor is fallible in ways that would have been unthinkable during the comic’s early days. We get numerous female companions with proper character arcs. And we begin to see slightly more space given to the characters’ sexuality. No doubt there’s a post to be written about the Doctor’s transition, in this incarnation, from asexual alien to half-human, heterosexual romantic. But for now, I want to focus on Izzy Sinclair—the Doctor’s companion from 1996 to 2003.

Izzy has geekish interests. She enters the story as a science-fiction-obsessed teenager from Hampshire, in England. After helping the Doctor fight off the Celestial Toymaker she eagerly accepts an invitation to join him in the TARDIS. Her presence makes the stories more knowing and intertextual: her speech is smattered with allusions to Star Trek, the X-Files, Iain Banks and Lovecraft. The pop culture references haven’t all dated well but serve a purpose for her character. Namely that, because she brings her own expectations of space and time travel, she is not a passive sounding board for the Doctor’s exposition. (This was definitely a problem with earlier female companions—I’m looking at you, Sharon).

However, Izzy hints that her SF love only partially accounts for running away with the Doctor. She is also trying to escape a range of identity issues which can no longer be ignored in her home life. These include her resentment at discovering she was adopted as a baby. Less explicitly, her closeness to a fellow TARDIS companion, Fey Truscott-Sade, demonstrates an unspoken attraction to women. Although Izzy intends to return to her family eventually, her plans are thwarted when, against her will, she swaps bodies with a genetically modified alien named Destrii. Izzy must adapt to living in a part human, part fish body, and is certain that her changed appearance will attract fear and hostility on Earth. (To be cynical for a moment, her figure still complies closely with the norm for comic book women. In fact her new swimming prowess grants lots of opportunities for looking at her breasts).

Gradually she comes to terms with her changed form. She continues to believe she will be rejected on Earth, and accepts she will not return home. It takes several stories, across a period of months, for her to reach this acceptance. Nevertheless Destrii turns up again and Izzy is happy to return to her original physical self. Restored to her own body, Izzy acknowledges her attraction to Fey by kissing her. A few panels later, she tells the Doctor she is ready to go home. He drops her off, hugs her goodbye, and she is reunited with her mother.

Izzy and Fay are kissing.

Picture of Izzy and Fay from Doctor Who Magazine, published by Panini.

As a denouement to seven years in the TARDIS these final scenes are poignant. Izzy, unlike many of the eighties’ comic companions, gets a satisfying exit that resonates with her character development. However, there are a few problematic aspects to highlight in her storyline.

Although Fay and Izzy’s relationship has a sexual subtext long before they kiss, the allusions are veiled. Whisking Izzy home as soon as her orientation is acknowledged brings her into line with a wider cultural pattern, in which lesbian, gay and bisexual characters tend to be limited to coming out stories.

Additionally, Izzy’s bodily transformations are a problematic metaphor for the numerous ways in which she feels “different.” By endowing her with an alien form, the body swap literalises her sense of feeling alien in her family as an adopted daughter, and in society as a woman who is attracted to women. (There is also a brief attempt, in the 2001 story The Way of All Flesh, to draw parallels between her transformation and acquired disability.) What then are we to make of her regaining her old body? Anticipating hostility on Earth because of an alien appearance is a realistic fear; but it is solved in the story by simply swapping back again. Obviously this is a troubling “solution” when alien embodiment is positioned as a symbol for being gay or disabled.

This picture shows Izzy with an alien body. Her face resembles a fish and her torso is humanoid. She wears a swimming costume that accentuates her cleavage.

Picture of Izzy in Destrii's body, from Doctor Who Magazine, published by Panini.

My suspicion is that nervousness about presenting openly LGBT characters prompted this use of alien embodiment as a metaphor. Some of the artwork also panders to readers who might feel threatened by attempts to diversify Doctor Who’s range of characters. For instance, the body swap not only coincides with Izzy’s most intense attempts to accept herself, but with a sexualisation of her appearance, as though to assuage an implied heterosexual, male reader who might otherwise feel disturbed he has no place in the story. He gets to ogle her, and accordingly she is less threatening.

Before her transformation, Izzy already complies fairly closely with conventional beauty standards—she is white, slim, and youthful. Still, the way she is drawn doesn’t objectify her. Her clothing is recognisably high street garb, she seems to dress for practicality, and her posture is naturalistic. After her transformation, you see a lot more flesh, and not in a particularly sex positive way; she frequently becomes an object for looking at. (It doesn’t help that Destrii isn’t presented in a sex positive way either: she is more forthright about her desires than Izzy, but she is also presented as manipulative and emotionally damaged. Her character development, which is genuinely compelling, sometimes strays towards pathologising her sexual behaviour).

So much for my misgivings about the way Izzy’s sexuality is handled. This isn’t to minimise the importance of showing a same sex kiss in the TARDIS. I’m sure, too, that Izzy’s success as a companion—because she is a great companion—made introducing openly LGBT characters more feasible for the revived television programme.