Archive for 9 September 2012

The First Face This Face Saw

[crossposted at tansyrr.com]

I know that most of us are thinking REALLY HARD about The Angels Take Manhattan right now, but I wanted to step back for a moment and talk instead about a thought that emerged from the previous episode, The Power of Three.

“The first face this face saw,” the Eleventh Doctor said to Amy, explaining why it is that he has been so very emotionally attached to her, and by extension, Rory, over the last several hundred years. Much like “I always took you where you needed to be” from The Doctor’s Wife, this one line throws the whole history of Doctor Who into a new light.

I’ve always subscribed to the idea that the Ninth Doctor was freshly regenerated in “Rose,” and that he went off to have a bunch of adventures in that instant before he and the TARDIS came back for her and he upped his offer: “Did I mention it also travels in time?” Not only is this a nice thought because it means he got to have a bunch of adventures on his own, but it allows him to appear at various points through history in his leather jacket, thereby catching the attention of Clive.

But Rose could well have been the first face that his Ninth face saw. At least, the first non-Auton, non-dead face. The first person he talked to, the first person he told to “Run.” Extending this thought further, this could be why he came back for her at the end of the episode, once he thought of something new to tempt her with. And maybe even that “run” was the first word he said, also imprinting itself upon the destiny of his incarnation of the Doctor.

Yes, I’m arguing that the Doctors set their own themes in the first moments of life. Bear with me.

I know that many fans are annoyed by the perceived “specialness” of Rose, while others love her best and most above all others. Well, she is special. Because she may well be the only person whom the Doctor saw first in two incarnations. With the Ninth, it’s arguable, but it’s definite with the Tenth. He regenerated in the TARDIS, and the first face his face saw was Rose, crying and angry and bouncing emotions off the walls. Rose, who loved him.

Yep, this explains a lot about the Tenth Doctor.

But does the theory hold up into the Classic series? I had a long walk this morning, which always does ferocious things to my brain, and I’m here to tell you that maybe it DOES.

Some are drawing a longer bow than others, I’ll admit. The first face the Eighth Doctor saw was that of a morgue technician screaming at him for being alive. But the surgeon who killed him, Grace Holloway, certainly can have had an effect on who he was as a Doctor. Did he see her through the anaesthesia? Does his grogginess explain the weird hallucination about being half human?

The Seventh Doctor is a way better example. The first face his face saw was his old enemy the Rani, pretending to be his companion Mel. No wonder he spent his whole incarnation as a sneaky, suspicious and manipulative dark version of himself! Apart from the whole spoon-playing phase which was obviously caused by the strobing effect from Mel’s psychelic apricot striped outfit.

The Sixth Doctor tried to kill the first face his face saw, the argumentative Peri, and his incarnation was certainly characterised by bickering and violence.

The Fifth Doctor saw three young people he barely knew: Adric, Nyssa and Tegan, and spent the rest of his regenerative crisis freaking out and impersonating his former selves. I have no idea what effect this had on his personality. But it does explain why he and/or the TARDIS failed so utterly to return Tegan to her workplace over and over again, despite her stated wishes.

The first faces the Fourth Doctor saw were Sarah Jane Smith and the Brig. Interesting then that he set out to distance himself quickly from UNIT and his previous life on earth. A born contrarian? Still, there’s no denying that he remained more closely attached to them both than almost any other companions of the classic era. He sent Sarah a K9, after all, and he always came back for Alistair Gordon.

The first face that the Third Doctor’s face saw was a random squaddie who shot him. He then spent five years living with and working for the military, despite the fact that this was dramatically against anything established for the character previously.

And finally, the Second Doctor. His very first regeneration, and the first people he saw were Ben and Polly. There was nothing particularly special about them, though it is worth noting that he spent his entire incarnation with companion pairs of a boy and a girl, except for the one time that Jamie stowed away.

The first faces that the first regenerated Doctor saw were human, though. And in fact, apart from Nyssa, Adric and the Rani, every first face his faces have seen have been human. No wonder he’s so attached to us all, to the humans who live on Earth. The First Doctor despised humans, and if he had any control over the TARDIS, would not have chosen to land on Earth nearly as often as he did. But the later Doctors… every one of them called Earth his home away from home.

And there we are, proof that I think about this stuff way too much.

Seven (or More) Queens That The Doctor Met Before Nefertiti…

[crossposted from my blog at tansyrr.com]

Forgive the frivolity of this post but it occupied my attention on a long drive on Monday afternoon, knowing that Dinosaurs on a Spaceship awaited me at the end of the journey.

Historical queens! Oddly enough, while the historical was an essential staple of very early 1960′s Who, and continued to be a feature in quite a few later stories even though the ‘true’ historical went the way of the Dodo (written out halfway through never to be seen again) very quickly, it’s only in New Who that the Celebrity Historical episode has become a true tradition.

Classic Who does have a few gratuitous historical figures, it must be said, and even more are name-dropped by the Doctor in his more grandiose moments, but many of its historicals are more about the time period than the famous faces.

But I wanted to write about Queens in particular, because I’m rather fond of them as a species, and it certainly seems from New Who that they have opinions about the Doctor too… though, spoilers, not as many want to snog him as you may think!

[Spoilers for assorted TV stories and Big Finish plays below, but not for the very recent Dinosaurs on a Spaceship, unless you didn't want to know that Queen Nefertiti is in it, in which case... oops? It was in the trailer?]

» Read more..

Don’t Believe Everything the Doctor Tells You: On Fear, Gender, and the Weeping Angels

If there’s one thing that seems to be ubiquitous among Whovians– those I encounter, at least– it is an appreciation for season 3 (NuWho)’s “Blink.” Indeed, my scathing critique of Steven Moffat has been met, on more than one occasion, with “but he wrote ‘Blink’!” clearly intended as a strong defense of his competence and value as a storyteller. And I admit, I’m not immune. The episode has long stood out in my mind as one of the most memorable of the show’s run (it may even be one of my favorites, though that’s a more questionable statement). The Weeping Angels are often described as vicious, troubling, even frightening. When rewatching the episode recently, however, I found myself increasingly puzzled by two seemingly different questions: what work was the Angels’ appearance as uniformly feminine in shape doing, given the West’s cultural frame of reference for gender? And just what was so frightening, or at least unsettling, about them, anyway? (That is, why did they work as a villain?).  Upon closer reflection, it became apparent that the answers to both were more closely linked than one might suppose.

The Angels, as described by the Doctor, are “the only psychopaths in the universe to kill you nicely.” Within the episode we’re compelled to agree with the Doctor’s assessment of their character– present are all the traditional hallmarks of a crazed killer: tense music, a suitably decrepit house, nearly palpable terror on the part of the protagonists. Once one stops to consider it closely, however, this narrative sows the seeds of its own destruction. After all, the individuals we see taken by the Angels can scarcely be said to be miserable. They both lead full lives, and die seemingly content. Even the Doctor himself is forced to note that this “death” involves the victims… living an otherwise normal life. How very terrifying. (Most refugees– the real world equivalent of being forcibly removed from one’s rightful place– should be so lucky!) Make no mistake, there is grief in it, for the partings and opportunities lost, but life is full of just such mourning. Thus, the havoc wreaked by the Angels seems unworthy of the amount of fascination, dread, and fear they’re accorded. What, then, makes them so unsettling? I would argue it has to do in no small part with their feminine form and the embedded gender stereotypes it triggers… or, more importantly, the ways the Angels transgress these stereotypes.*

Critical to this analysis is the stance commonly taken by the Angels when someone’s gaze is upon them, framed as “the most perfect defense system ever evolved.”  Shoulders bent, hands covering the face, it is a pose commonly associated with grief in the wake of death… or, more specifically, feminine grief. One article studying gender differences in grief has noted that

 

mothers scored higher on measures of coping difficulty, active grief, depression, preoccupation, sadness, difficulty in functioning, and finding resolution than fathers, whereas fathers scored higher on measures of specific anger… this apparent sex difference is related to male and female sex roles that are taught and heavily reinforced within the culture. It is believed, therefore, that gender-stereotypical grief behavior may result in more sympathy and may be considered to be more appropriate than gender-atypical grief behavior.

– Alexis Versalle and Eugene E. McDowell, “The Attitudes of Men and Women Concerning Gender Differences in Grief,” OMEGA, Vol. 50(1)  at 54, 57(2004-2005).

 

Note the linkage between passive/female and active/male when discussing grief: women were depressed, preoccupied, and experienced difficulty in functioning, whereas men were angry. At rest, then, the Angels are feminine enough– perpetually catatonic (that is, immobilized) in their apparent grief, unmoving, completely unable to be threatening.

 

The problem arises, of course, when one’s back is turned. Fears over female deception and women lying in wait for the unwary are everywhere in the popular imagination (rape accusations, lying about birth control use to “trap” a man, and the popular male lament that women change right after getting married immediately spring to mind), and it is within this frame of reference that the Angels become so striking. To look at the face of a Weeping Angel caught mid-motion is to see not passivity, as might befit their form, but ferocity and danger (with great restraint, I’m refraining from using the term ‘man eating’, even tongue-in-cheek).

 

This argument is not without its caveats: for instance, it utilizes a gendered frame of reference that is applied mainly to white men and women born and raised in the Anglo tradition, with no variance for class, sexual orientation, etc. Moreover, it does assume that the ostensible gender of the statutes is intended to be read as it’s presented (e.g., as female). In the absence of the markers noted above (well, and the plethora of female-presenting grieving angel images), the Angels themselves might appear androgynous enough. This uncertainty, however, does not necessarily make the argument irrelevant, it only serves to alter it: feminine cues utilized by those born with male anatomy (regardless of their self-identification) are themselves treated as alarming and deceptive within the manstream, after all. Nonetheless, I would love to see how the effectiveness of the Angels would be altered with a more masculine appearance– without conjuring up gender stereotypes and their transgression, would the Angels still seem to make sense? It’s an interesting question, though my suspicion is they wouldn’t.

 

*That’s not to say it’s the entire story, of course. Underlying the West’s moral and political philosophies is a fundamental belief in the right to choose one’s life for oneself, something the Angels’ intervention summarily denies their victims. For those socialized to such beliefs, the Angels likely should be met with a certain distaste and dislike on an  emotional level.

Triumph of the Dinosaurs

An episode with a deliberately jokey title turning out into one of the most straightforward and fun episodes recently? And, after all I’ve bitched about this never happening, the story has feminism front and center and unashamed? By Chris Chibnall, whose record on Who* has been at best mixed?

I wasn’t expecting THAT.

O “Dinosaurs on a Spaceship”, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways:

  • I love the story’s categorical opposition to objectification.
  • I love Nefertiti’s agency.
  • I love Amy’s agency.
  • I love the way Riddell learns. He starts out straight-up misogynist, but he learns. This is so cool, people.
  • I love that no one makes excuses for Riddell’s behavior. No, the problem is him and his views of women, and Amy is quite right when she suggests a course of gender politics.
  • I love Amy fangirling over Nefertiti. (“She’s cooler than you.”)
  • I love Amy and Nefertiti getting along rather than catfighting.
  • I loved thatin the future, lots of countries have space agencies and seem to take turns defending Earth.
  • I loved that, after the Doctor kissed Rory, Rory just made this hilariously weird face (Arthur Darvill shines in this episode, especially his reaction shots) and then that was it; nobody lost their shit or anything.

* I’m being unfair to Chibnall here. He’s clearly a hell of a writer, because he wrote the hell out of some episodes of one of my very favorite TV shows ever, the exquisite Life On Mars.