Archive for 24 May 2012

Wibbly wobbly, timey linkspam

Via Fan Studies Network, a call for papers for a book about Doctor Who fandom published by Intellect. The book is meant to be accessible, so don’t be discouraged if you aren’t an academic.

From The Mary Sue, the Doctors as dinosaurs!

The tenth Doctor as a dinosaur. He is an anthromorphic brontosaurus stegosaurus, with green skin, red plates on his back and tail, a spiked tail. He is standing on his back feet, with his "hands" in his pockets. He has Tennant's blue suit with a brown trench, as well as his sticky-uppy brown hair and square black glasses.

Via The Atlantic, in the category of “completely obvious” news, a study shows that the objectification of women is a measurable and observable phenomenon. This isn’t the first study to show that sexualized women are perceived as objects by viewers.

From Doctor Who News, as I’m sure you’ve heard, Matt Smith bore the Olympic torch this year!

Matt Smith, holding the gold Olympic torch aloft , flashes the crowd a peace sign.

Feministing reports that One Million Moms (the optimistic name of a conservative hate group) is outraged by gay comic book characters. This after their important campaigns to keep representations of happy gay couples out of retail advertising.

An upcoming issue of Marvel's Astonishing X-Men will feature the wedding of Northstar and his boyfriend. In the image, Northstar and his boyfriend embrace at the altar, about to kiss. They are centered in the foreground, with other X-men in the middle ground, and city buildings in the background.

At The New Yorker, William Gibson writes about seeing the future in science fiction:

To a curious, anxious, white male child coming of age in an incurious and paranoid white monoculture, there was literally nothing like it—though a great deal of science fiction, possibly the majority of it, I was starting to notice, depicted futuristic monocultures that were dominated by white males. The rest, however, had as much to do with making me the person I am today as anything else did. Things might be different, science fiction told me, and different in literally any way you could imagine, however radical.

If you have a suggestion for our linkspam, please email it to: courtney (at) doctorher (dot) com.

The Darkest Doctor – Falling In Love With the Damage.

  In my previous posts I constantly reference The Doctor’s high moral code and aversion to violence. 

  The character of the Doctor was developed and is portrayed as someone who practices non-violent conflict resolution. He’s a hero that solves crisis through engagement – NOT violence. The Doctor is never cruel or cowardly and takes a long-term perspective on the ways of the Universe. The show explores with simplistic beauty some truly wrenching themes of loss and morality.

   With that being said I would like to introduce you to The 9th Doctor.

 The 9th Doctor comes to us as a child of war. Brutal at times, confrontational and inflexible, he states himself he sometimes creates carnage.

 This is The Doctor I fell in love with.

  I don’t mean fan girl SQUEE, I mean I fell in love with the darkness. This tough as nails Doctor damaged by war and guilt. Those events shaping his outlook and interactions, causing him to hide his sorrow inside a facade of manic energy and off beat humor.

 Not only is he the bad boy of the Whoniverse, The 9th Doctor is something of an action hero, subsequent to The 4th Doctor, The Doctors had a tendency to be camp, overly knowing and lovable. The 9th Doctor is brusque, snarky and virile. You can just taste the edge of insanity, from destroying two civilizations, bubbling right under the skin.

 This is The Doctor that tortures a Dalek and attempts to kill it in cold blood. Only the intervention from his companion stays his hand.

  This Doctor sets out to teach his companion (Rose) about the wonders of the Universe. She teaches him to re connect with humanity. Together they make each other better than they would have been alone. She sets him on the path to his 10th and 11th self.

  What has this got to do with the point of this blog, you ask?

  Who among us is not damaged due to something that’s been done to us or we’ve done or been ordered to do? I myself identify with Doctor 9′s darkness because I see my reflection and the reflections of all those who’ve faced significant trauma.

  How easy is it to cross the line and want to torture and kill your enemies or those that have committed violence against you. Does it matter if the violence was caused by gender, sexual orientation, political outlook or just being in the wrong area at the wrong time.

  Perhaps like so many you’ve been in combat and the actions done there haunt you.

  Rose has been criticised for being weak or an unflattering portrayal of a woman as a companion. I have to say it takes a deft hand to be a Doctor-Whisperer.

  For the thirteen episodes you see The 9th Doctor, you watch her reel him back, teach him to love and re instill his humanity.

  In the end he gives up everything because of her influence. The 9th Doctor tells his enemies he would rather be a coward than a killer.

 At that point, the 9th Doctor is ready to become the 10th. He’s let go of the rage and learned to master the pain. I wish we had an army of Roses to put in all the VA Hospitals.

 I have huge amounts of love for many of The Doctors. Numbers 4 and 10 do elicit that SQUEE so discussed earlier. The 9th Doctor showed me that you can regain your humanity, you don’t have to answer with violence. 

 

 

How Accessible Is The TARDIS Anyway?

At the end of March I hopped over to Cardiff for the BBC convention, and one of the things that came up was the question of whether we could see a disabled companion in the future. A member of the audience asked Steven Moffat whether he thought there could ever be a wheelchair user like herself as a companion. (Moffat’s answer being ‘sure, why not?’ though clearly it wasn’t something he’d ever given much thought to before.)

Which got to me to thinking about what life would be like in the TARDIS for disabled travellers. Travelling with the Doctor does seem to require the ability to escape from monsters at speed, frequently over the steep inclines found on all the mysteriously quarry-like planets the Doctor is so fond of, but a little futuristic assistive technology could help out with that. I imagine that many wheelchairs, scooters and other mobility aids have the potential to be a little more sonic if so desired. In fact, with all of time and space as your back yard, not to mention a spaceship who can redesign herself, companions do have access to the best the universe has to offer in terms of health care, medication, accessible facilities, assistive devices and anything else that might be of use to them.

I think there’s enormous potential for companions with all kinds of different disabilities, whether they would be a wheelchair user like the woman at the convention or something else. I’d love to see the universe through the eyes of a companion on the autistic spectrum, for instance. I’d also get a huge kick out of there being a companion who, like me, had an invisible illness or two, and had to juggle taking different medications at different times and trying to figure out how on earth you assess the nutritional value of food on alien planets and so on.

All of this would only work out if the character was written by the right person, of course. Doctor Who’s history with portrayals of disability is far from stellar. This is the show that gave us Davros, after all, and during RTD’s tenure actually added to the roster of evil meglomaniacs who use wheelchairs by adding Lumic (Age of Steel/Rise of the Cybermen) and Max (Voyage of the Damned). Moffat gave us Abigail (A Christmas Carol), a terminally ill woman who appears to suffer absolutely no symptoms or discomfort but will simply drop dead – in a tragic yet beautiful fashion I’m sure – on a particular day. (I like Abigail a lot, but the framing of her illness was a Dickensian trope that really didn’t need resurrecting along with the Ghost of Christmas Past, thank you.)

So what would a disabled companion look like, ideally? For a start, they’d be a person and not just a cypher for a very special message about disability.

There are a number of overused tropes regarding disabled people in stories that I’d like to see avoided. Davros, Lumic et al represent one; Abigail another. Then there’s the ‘supercrip’ trope (see s. e. smith’s It’s a Bird! It’s a Plane! It’s … SUPERCRIP! for more on that topic) where the character in question is capable of ‘conquering’ their disability with no outward signs of hardship, which frustratingly is yet another way in which the real lives of disabled people are not represented.

Ultimately, I’d want someone whose disability does not define them but is a part of them, something that impacts what they do without dictating it. I’d also want their arc to not be related to their disability, e.g. not something about how miserable their life was before they met the Doctor, or how they are on a quest for a magical cure. I’d also ideally want it to be a real disability, not a sci-fi equivalent that doesn’t really exist, because although those kinds of metaphors in sci-fi definitely have a place in the way we explore diversity and difference, they can also be a way to neatly skirt the messy bits by not having to conform to real world rules.

That’s what I think, anyway. What would a disabled companion look like in your ideal world? How would you like the series to handle it?

EXTERMINATE: Are the Daleks scary? (Part 1)

A comic by Peter Birkett, from Punch magazine on 5 August 1981. The image is a simple black line drawing on white. In it, a small group of Daleks are at the bottom of a short flight of stairs, looking toward the top of the stairs. At the bottom text reads, “Well, this certainly buggers our plan to conquer the Universe.” The comic is signed “birkett.” Source.

I’ve never much understood fear of the Daleks. They’re clunky and awkward, and way more adorable than frightening. (As a friend pointed out, the cutest thing about them is the way they sound increasingly frustrated. “Explain. EXPLAIN! EXPLAAAAIIN!!” Adorbs.) But the show and many fans insist that they are scary. They were even voted the scariest Doctor Who villain in a 2007 BBC poll. I find this confusing, because so many fan works (like crafts, fan art, cosplay) represent Daleks are humorous, cute, and/or silly. And it’s not like all villains are vulnerable to this. How many crafts do you see that make the Silence look adorable? Or that dress up the automatons from “The Girl in the Fireplace” as tiki-themed? Do people make plushies of the water monsters from “Waters of Mars”?

And it would be possible to read cute fan-made versions of the Daleks as studies in juxtaposition. We can create humor by making something truly horrifying look loveable or sad.

worst-thing-about-being-a-silence-21135-1317125684-13

A photo shows one of the Silence sitting at the end of a table. The table has a birthday cake on it, as well as several brightly colored paper plates and cups set on the table. The Silence wears a brightly colored striped party hat, and sits beside a bunch of colored balloons. He is the only one at the table. Text at the bottom reads “no one every remembers my birthday…” Source.

The humor of this image comes from two different contrasts. It riffs on the fact that the Silence can’t be remembered by anyone, and that would make it difficult for them to have normal lives. They couldn’t have friends, or dates, or jobs. But imagining villains (and particularly monsters) having normal lives is a weird contradiction, and that contradiction is funny. Imagine the Joker buying toilet paper, or the Silurians walking their dogs. Further, by giving the Silence the same kinds of feelings that normal people have, by making it seem vulnerable and lonely, the picture invokes the same kind of humor. A sad Silence is also a contradiction. Taking evil villains and monsters outside of their evil-doing contexts is funny, but not because it makes the actual villain/monster any less threatening. It works because they’re frightening; if they weren’t, there wouldn’t be any contradiction, and the humor wouldn’t be there.

Some Dalek fan works operate with the same kind of humor, but most do not. Popular themes are mocking the Daleks’ lack of motor functions, ridiculing the Daleks’ appearance, and poking fun at the Daleks’ catch phrase.

Can the Daleks do anything? Unlike the Silence picture, which makes fun of the Silence’s inability to have normal lives (not actually necessary for villainy), Dalek works often make fun of the Daleks for being clunky and awkward. The comic at the top of the post is a prime (and rather famous) example of this. The comic makes it explicit that the Daleks’ inability to navigate stairs would actually make them incompetent (and not that frightening) villains. One doesn’t need to have memorable birthdays to conquer the world. Stair-navigation, however, is probably necessary. We can see another example of this type of humor below.

Doctor-Who-Discombobulate-Dalek-T-Shirt

The detail on a dark grey t-shirt. In the image, a bronze-colored Dalek stands confused over a boxed light bulb on a table. His plunger and whisk “arms” are poised over the light bulb, and a think bubble above his head reads, “…how the heck?” Source.

While Daleks don’t need to change lightbulbs to be good villains (probably), the t-shirt is ridiculing the Daleks’ lack of motor functions. I mean, they have a plunger and a whisk. No fingers. No hands. They can’t pick anything up, or manipulate anything manually. That makes them a little less threatening as villains, which this t-shirt picks up on.

Why do they look like that? The Daleks’ clunky and low-budget appearance has been made fun of almost universally. Even people who think the Daleks are scary rarely think they look scary. The Daleks literally look like they were put together with scrap metal, stuff lying around the house, and some tape. It makes them hard to take seriously.

fig,royal_blue,mens,ffffff

The detail on a bright blue t-shirt. The image is a simple white line drawing. It shows a salt shaker, a plus sign, a plunger, a plus sign, a whisk, an equal sign, and a Dalek. Source.

This popular t-shirt posits that the Daleks are literally slap-dash. They humor comes in part because each of the objects is a domestic object (a salt shaker, a plunger, a whisk), which places the construction of the Daleks (or at least the aesthetic of the Daleks) squarely in the home. This makes them feel less threatening, because they are portrayed not as alien machines, but as objects that are extremely familiar. Further, the objects chosen here are, individually, so benign it would be difficult to imagine someone hurting you with them. How would you even attack someone with a whisk?

This kind of fan work doesn’t normally rely on contradiction; it’s a straight-up mocking of what the Dalek looks like and what parts he’s made of.

EXFOLIATE! ELUCIDATE! PONTIFICATE! The catch phrase for the Daleks is, I think, supposed to represent their horrifying, single-minded focus on killing all non-Daleks. But when you repeat a word enough, it starts to lose it’s meaning. I think this is what has happened to EXTERMINATE. Partially because the Daleks are so ridiculous, fans have easily and frequently taken the catch phrase and played with it for humor.

detail-110313

The detail on a dark blue t-shirt. The image is a simple bright blue line drawing. It shows a a Dalek lounging on a recliner. He is watching TV, using a remote, and eating popcorn on a side table. There’s a can on beer on its side on the side table, and one on the arm of the recliner. On a bulletin board next to the Dalek are pinned three different sheets of paper. One shows the sonic screwdriver, one is a technical drawing of the TARDIS, and one is a “To Do List” with three items, all reading “EXTERMINATE!” Source.

il_570xN.299353473

 The detail from a handpainted white greeting card. A bronze-colored Dalek sits in the suds of a bathtub, with soap hanging from a rope on his plunger arm. Text above the image reads, “EXFOLIATE!” Source.

These examples rely somewhat on the contradiction of Daleks having normal lives (watching TV, taking a bath), like the Silence example. They are also showing, though, the ridiculousness of the way the Daleks approach actions. If the Daleks want to do something (or want someone else to do something), they just yell commands. (Explain! EXPLAIN! EXPLAAAAIN!!) By showing how humorous it is to do that in real life (PROCRASTINATE! EXFOLIATE!), these fan works reveal the ways in which the Dalek catchphrase is silly, in part because it unnecessarily narrates the Daleks’ actions. Instead of just, you know, shooting the Doctor, they yell EXTERMINATE about 10 times while looking at him first. That’s about as stupid as screaming EXFOLIATE while you’re in the bathtub. The PROCRASTINATE image is even funnier, because it seems to directly comment on the way the Daleks say actions to delay doing them, as the “To Do List” on the wall makes clear. This is certainly a characteristic that makes a villain less threatening (like a Bond villain who explains his whole plan to you and walks away after putting you in a slow-moving death trap).

Soft Dalek, warm Dalek, little ball of hate. There are, however, some fan works that seem to resemble my Silence example, that rely on the contrast between scary killer monster and domesticity/everyday life, snuggliness, and/or vulnerability and loneliness.

spastasmagoria

A screenshot from spastasmagoria’s Tumblr blog. The post, from 4 May, has an image that is a close-up of a bronze-colored Dalek’s head. His glowing blue eyestalk is central, and text below the eyestalk reads “I am alone in the universe.” A comment from Tumblr user missrenholder reads, “’‘Help me.’ Poor little thing.” Spastasmagoria’s commentary reads, “LET ME HOLD YOU, LAST DALEK IN THE UNIVERSE. LET ME CUDDLE YOU AND WE CAN HUG THE GENOCIDE OUT.” Source.

softdalekwarmdalek

A hand drawn set of images on white that parody the “Soft Kitty” song from Big Bang Theory. In the first panel, the text reads, “soft dalek” and a red Dalek is covered in something white and fluffy. In the second panel (“warm dalek”), the Dalek is on a lounge chair under the sun. In the third panel (“little ball of hate”), the eleventh Doctor casually looks at the Dalek, who is much smaller, about waist-height. The Dalek has little “hate lines” above his head. In the fourth panel (“happy dalek”), the Dalek is look upward, with his “arms” raised. In the fifth panel (“sleepy dalek”), the Dalek’s head and arms are facing downward, and a talk bubble reads “zzz…” In the last panel, the Dalek’s head and arms are facing upwards, and a talk bubble reads “EX-TER-MI-NATE.” Source.

Both of these examples contrast snuggliness with hatred and violence. The first image is funny because spastasmagoria explicitly juxtaposes hugging with genocidal creatures, and the second because it pairs a “little ball of hate” with kitties. Like the Silence example, this kind of fan work functions best if the viewer sees the Daleks as frightening and threatening. That way, the contrast is at its highest. Unlike the Silence example, however, these two works feel the need to explicitly remind the audience that the Daleks are genocidal murderers (“WE CAN HUG THE GENOCIDE OUT” and “little ball of hate”). I would suggest that they do this because without doing so, the audience(s) might see the Daleks as ridiculous, as already adorable, and then these works would be less humorous.

3487964783_e288183530_o

A silver-framed cross stitch on a striped wall. In the cross stitch, a dark red Dalek faces an R2D2. A speech bubble coming from the Dalek had a pink heart in it. Source.

tumblr_m0hxmidOey1qlscpwo1_1280

A chubby red felted Dalek. He has twisty metal arms, and is holding a banner reading “EXTERMINATE” in stamped letters in front of him. Source.

Many examples of snuggly/lonely Dalek fan works, however, don’t rely on humor at all. They’re just cute. There are knitted Daleks, plush Daleks, crocheted Daleks, felted Daleks. There are cookie Daleks. There are Daleks that just want to love. There are baby Daleks. All of these examples aren’t really meant to be funny. They’re meant to be adorable. And that there are so many of them suggests that a lot of fans already think the Daleks are adorable, or at least think the Daleks are non-threatening enough to be fashioned as adorable.

22-058

A “tiki Dalek” at Gallifrey 22 in 2011. The Dalek has bamboo trim and a straw “skirt” trimmed in green grass and Hawaiian flowers. His bumps are half coconuts, and his eyestalk is made of one, too. He has a cocktail umbrella behind his eyestalk, and his whisk arm is a tiki torch. The other arm holds a drink topped with Hawaiian flowers and cocktail umbrellas. The rings on his “neck” are plastic leis. Source.

So are the Daleks scary? My exploration into Dalek fan works suggests that even fans don’t really think so. When at least half of fan works of a villain mock or domesticate that villain, it seems unreasonable to say that fans are truly frightened of it. We seem to think the Daleks are ridiculous, silly, and cute at least as often as we think they are scary.

The upcoming part 2 of this post will explore how the Daleks are similar to H. G. Wells’s Martian in The War of the Worlds, and how that comparison affects how scary, or not, the Daleks are to modern audiences.

The Importance of Being Harkness

Re-reading through prior posts involving this companion, I see and enjoy the happiness and gratitude at the portrayal of a bi-sexual character in mainstream media. I have to admit I fell instantly in love with Captain Jack and followed him to Torchwood with reckless abandon.

I’d like to take a look at this companion from outside the box AND outside my comfort zone. This blog is a place to start educated debate and illicit discussions on views and ideals. I don’t even want to focus on Captain Jack’s sexuality or his importance in popular culture.

My point in this post is to show that Captain Jack Harkness is the ying to The Doctors yang. He is the necessary roughness, the doer of bad deeds, the man that gets what needs to be done, done. When The Doctor is unable to pull the trigger due to his conscience or the stance of values he must follow. Captain Jack is behind him taking care of business.

In contrast to The Doctor, Harkness is a man of extreme action more than willing to apply a hands on solution to a problem. This is the companion that brings his moral ambiguity to the forefront.

Captain Jack wears the cloak of Byronic heroism, with that ever present glint oozing the fact he will hurt you to protect whats his. Through this he creates a new character archetype, allowing us to embrace the Devil’s Advocate. Captain Jack holds a pivotal place in the change an evolution of modern science fiction heroes.

When The Doctor scolded Jack for joining Torchwood, an organization he views as xenophobic and aggressive, Jack shrugs and explains he is doing what must be done to protect the human population they both care for.

We see this companion evolve from a selfish egotistical prat to one of self-sacrifice. On his journey of discovery he studies the value of life. He looks beyond his narrow view and explores the complexity of negotiating different world views, cultural values, beliefs and moral codes through a framework established by The Doctor.

 

This does not mean that Captain Harkness will not make the hard choices and bring destruction or death to his enemies when needed. It is that spark of darkness encased by the teachings of The Doctor that keeps Captain Jack close to my heart.

 

This companion shows his humanity in every gray decision made, every secret kept and each manipulation. He wields his flaws as effectively as he wields his weapons against all enemies. Like all of us in the Whovian fandom he sets The Doctor as his North Star and futilely attempts to steer that same strict and often angelic course. Most often he fails, like the rest of us, but still uses the principals to navigate the wreckage.

 

Am I grateful Moffat chose to create the first openly non-hetero sexual character in the history of televised Doctor Who? Am I over the moon about the ongoing depiction of bi-sexuality in mainstream TV not too laced with stereotypes? ABSOLUTELY!

I just want to point out that Captain Jack Harkness is not just the sum of his parts; he IS a VICTORY of his parts. He is the culmination of flawed, messy, dark and lovable humanity.

Good as Gold!

Not especially feminist (or indeed unfeminist) in nature, but couldn’t resist sharing this first snippet of Doctor Who we’ve had in a long time, from Script to Screen 2012 (debuted on Blue Peter earlier today).

I kind of love that they are giving kids the opportunity to do this – I would have killed for such a chance when I was nine, even if most of my classmates had no idea what Doctor Who was! If only they let Australians enter, I have a pack of young writers raring to go!

Quick Hit: Telos AM podcast interview about Doctor Her

A while back, I was interviewed on the Doctor Who podcast Telos AM about Doctor Her. The whole podcast, which is about women and Doctor Who,  is interesting, so give it a listen, but my interview starts about 16 minutes in. We talk about Doctor Her, but also about how Doctor Who could be better, the relationship between science fiction and progressivism, and how fans are the badass part of Doctor Who.

I also wrote some thoughts about Doctor Who and intersectionality on Tumblr afterward, inspired by the interview.