(Note: Thanks Nightsky for that announcement yesterday!)
I’m really excited about today’s publication of Chicks Unravel Time: Women Journey through Every Season of Doctor Who. Chicks Dig Time Lords felt a bit all over the place, for me, with some thoughtful and provoking pieces paired with more shallow commentary. However, from its table of contents, I gather that the sequel is more comprehensive and meaningful, consistently tackling issues of gender, race, sexuality, and power dynamics throughout the volume. And I can’t wait to read it.
Both Tansy and I have essays in this book! Mine is titled “Maids and Masters: The Distribution of Power in Doctor Who Series Three,” and is an exploration of the power dynamics between the Doctor and his companions (focused, of course, on Martha) and the Master and Lucy.
What’s so compelling about the Doctor? Why do so many different kinds of people jump in the TARDIS to travel with him? Is it his boyish charm, his goodness, his sense of humor?
I would argue that for most of the companions in the new series, the most attractive part of the Time Lord is his power. To convince Rose to leave her life for adventure, the ninth Doctor expands on the power he has: “Did I mention that it travels in time?” Later, Martha says to the crowd in the tenement in Last of the Time Lords, “I know what he can do.” That’s her vote of confidence for the Doctor, how she convinces the people of the Doctor’s importance: what he can do, not how good or brave he is. The adventure the Doctor offers his companion is inseparable from his power, from his ability to manipulate space and time, from his ability to threaten and fight enemies unimaginably evil and powerful. Power impacts every relationship the Doctor has, but it’s not something Who fans talk about often. We like to pretend, I think, that the Doctor’s extraordinary power isn’t important. We like to think that it doesn’t affect him or his relationships with others. We like to think that if companions are “strong” enough, sassy enough, smart enough, they are his equals. But no matter how many times a companion saves the Doctor, or how many times a companion stands up to him, they don’t have his power. The Doctor can manipulate space and time, travel through them in a manner even the humans of the future could only imagine. He can fix practically anything with his magic sonic screwdriver. He can hold the knowledge of infinite lifetimes in his head. He can read minds. He can (and does) force his will on others: he takes away Donna’s memory; he disables Jack’s ability to time travel; he traps a girl in a mirror. His power outstrips any possible capabilities of his companions.
The disproportionate power dynamic in the Doctor/companion relationships is something each companion in the new series struggles with at some point or another. When Rose protests in School Reunion, “I’m not his assistant,” she voices the frustration that many of the companions have felt with the Doctor. The truth is, they know that they are small next to the Doctor, who is practically a demigod. But they, along with most of the audience, resist that reality, insisting that they are as good as, as clever as, as important as the Doctor. And perhaps they are all those things. But they are not as powerful as him. And this crucial fact is never more evident than it is in Series Three, where it seems that unequal power distribution in close relationships becomes a near-constant theme.
I argue that Martha as John Smith’s maid is a visual exaggeration of, but not a departure from, Martha’s position as companion. Because I like to be provocative, apparently!
I am ridiculously excited to be in this book! I’ve enjoyed all of the ‘Geek Girls’ books from Chicks Dig Time Lords to Whedonistas and Chicks Dig Comics, but it’s great to see them coming back to the original idea of many female voices talking critically and squeefully about Doctor Who, with such a dynamite concept.
Personally I’m desperate to get my hands on a copy to see what Diana Gabaldon has to say about the Second Doctor and Jamie McCrimmon!
My own essay is “The Ultimate Sixth,” dealing with the problematic and erratic final Colin Baker season, Trial of a Time Lord (Season 23, 1986). Which I happen to love like the blazes, even though it’s broken in a million places.
There’s plenty of crunchy feminist discussion in my essay, of course – after all, there are some brilliant, strong female supporting characters in the story, most of them played by middle aged women such as Joan Sims, Honor Blackman and Lynda Bellingham. But perhaps of most relevant to Doctor Her readers is my discussion of the fate of Peri (Nicola Bryant), one of the more controversial production decisions of this era. Peri actually has two potential endings to her story, both problematic in different ways, and it’s one of those issues that has kept fans arguing for decades:
But that’s the problem, isn’t it? The marriage. Peri has two fates – to die twice at the hands of Crozier and Yrcanos, and to marry Yrcanos and live as a warrior queen. Neither of these are good options. The Doctor’s behavior to Peri takes on huge repercussions (never dealt with) upon her death, but the alternative is that she gets to live on an alien planet with a crazy warlord king whom she never displays any attraction to whatsoever. The closest thing to affection we see from her is exactly what you might reluctantly offer a large, vicious dog who almost bit your arm off, but was distracted at the last minute by a packet of sausages and now thinks it is your friend.
“There’s a good warlord” is not a basis for a lasting marriage. Neither is the moment when Yrcanos stops being funny for thirty seconds and strokes Peri’s cheek. She flinches, and you see how afraid of him she is. It’s chilling and creepy and I know it was the eighties but really, really? That’s her happy ending? That’s the best she can expect? I would so much rather hear that she went back to Yrcanos’ home planet, introduced his culture to democracy and kicked his arse in the polls. Peri for President!
We hope you’ll go and buy the book, and read the rest. We’re both proud of what we’ve contributed to this anthology, and I hope that this is just the start of Doctor Who fan books that contain numerous essays meaningfully analyzing Doctor Who with a feminist lens.
And if you’re interested in a book giveaway (let’s be honest, who isn’t), there’s one at Love & Monsters! Go enter before the 16th to be eligible!