Tag Archive for companions

The Girl Who Fell Out Of The World: or, The Importance of Being Tegan

Before we begin: Janet Fielding is battling cancer. I’d like to take a moment to wish her the very best of outcomes, and to point you all to her online support group slash charity page: projectmotormouth.org.uk

Actor Janet Fielding as Tegan Jovanka, in a screencap from the 1982 serial "Black Orchid". In this closeup, she is wearing a flapper-style green headband ornamented with a pink rose, and is smiling or laughing at the camera.

Actor Janet Fielding as Tegan Jovanka, in a screencap from the 1982 serial "Black Orchid". In this closeup, she is wearing a flapper-style green headband ornamented with a pink rose, and is laughing at the camera.

Mouth on Legs

Tegan Jovanka, everyone’s favourite trainee Australian flight attendant, is one of the Doctor’s longest-serving companions. She even eclipses the legendary Sarah Jane Smith, though only by a couple of weeks (and SJS was in more episodes). She’s pretty inarguably the Fifth Doctor’s companion, serving in all but two of Peter Davison’s televised serials. But you’d never know it from fandom. What is it with Tegan? Why is her sarcasm “stroppy” and “mean-spirited”, while Donna Noble’s is endearingly sassy? Why is her ambivalence about adventuring across time and space versus forging her domestic, Earthbound life–her real life–”whiny”, when Amy Pond’s very similar arc is portrayed much more sympathetically? I think it’s time to take another look at Our Tegan, the Classic Who companion who most clearly anticipates the New Who companion, and this time see the seeds she planted.

I hate those transmat things. I’d be afraid of coming out puréed.

Me, I had a soft spot for Tegan from early on. In “Castrovalva”, the newly-regenerated Fifth Doctor is looking for a Zero Room–a place, he says, that’s cut off from the rest of the universe. Tegan snarks that if she’d known that’s what he wanted, she would have suggested her native Brisbane. And lo, my little heart went “pwing!” What kid raised in suburban or rural environs–convinced that their parents had deliberately chosen the least interesting place on earth for them to grow up in– wouldn’t feel a twinge of empathy?

I love moments in Who that ground the fantastic in the earthy, that reach right past the high concept of the show to reveal how real people might react in such bizarre circumstances. I love the moment in “Forest of the Dead” where Donna, bewildered at the revelation that her life is a Matrix-like simulation, snaps, “But… I’ve been dieting!” All her discipline and willpower, and she could have had the chocolate cake anyway. Who wouldn’t feel frustrated? I love Martha worrying, in “The Shakespeare Code” whether Elizabethan London is a safe place for a black woman, and I’m annoyed that the Doctor brushes off her valid concerns.

And Tegan, with her shots at Brisbane and her entirely understandable wariness of this strange new world she finds herself in; Tegan, who never travels with a fellow human aboard the TARDIS; Tegan provides that essential grounded viewpoint.

Tegan’s character establishes itself early, and is remarkably consistent: she’ll speak her mind even when her voice shakes, she tries to be self-reliant to the extent that she won’t always ask for help when she needs it; she hides her fear and vulnerability behind a facade of snark and bravado. In short, she has a lot in common with one of the best-liked recent companions: Donna Noble. The two redheads are characterized by their fiery natures–both have tempers, neither is willing to take the Doctor’s crap, and both almost delight in puncturing his self-importance. Both remind the Doctor of the impact his plans have on the ordinary people caught up in them; indeed, they each almost consciously take on the mantle of the Doctor’s conscience. Both women were abducted aboard the TARDIS for their first experience(s) with the Doctor; leave when the Doctor finally returns them to their own time; and, later, dissatisfied with what had, pre-Doctor, been perfectly satisfying lives, chose to return for more adventures. [1]

So why is Donna beloved while Tegan, generally, isn’t? Is it the quarter century that elapsed between the two? I think that’s a large part of it. Nyssa and Tegan are both good examples of some of the problems with the way womens’ roles were written in the early Eighties: one was sweet and childlike; the other, adult but shrewish, and guess which one was allowed to be intelligent? Nor was the series at the time very interested in the companion’s story. We learned much more about Donna’s past, her family, and her character in one year than we did about Tegan in three, and the depth of Donna’s character helped make her sympathetic. So where Donna was a well-rounded character with flaws and strengths, Tegan, despite her much longer tenure in the TARDIS, is much more of a cipher.

I happen to think that human lives are just as valuable as yours!

Tegan’s original character brief is… kind of offensive.

Tegan is twenty-one, an attractive and intelligent Australian trainee air stewardess, whose brash confidence in her own abilities actually conceals inner insecurity, a state of affairs that becomes clear in moments of stress. On her way to her first real flight she accidentally blunders into the TARDIS and thus finds herself being inadvertantly [sic] abducted by the Doctor. Characteristically her inner bewilderment at the new situation in which she finds herself causes her to assume an attitude of overweening self-assertion, and she begins to take charge of the Doctor and Adric. During the course of three stories, Tegan’s superficial self-assurance will build until it becomes a real problem for the other two occupants of the TARDIS, and it will need drastic action on the part of the Doctor to put things to rights and show her the error of her ways. She may or may not continue with the Doctor thereafter.
(“Doctor Who – The Eighties” by David J Howe, Mark Stammers, Stephen James Walker; p.13.)

Oh, joy: the Uppity Woman Who Receives Her Well-Deserved Chastisement At The Hands Of A Wiser Man. (See, also, a remarkable fraction of the plots involving Lois Lane in mid-century Superman.) Way to smack down any female character who thinks herself a man’s equal!

But what’s remarkable here is how little of Tegan’s planned arc made it into production. Tegan had her flaws–rashness, a short temper, a bad habit of lashing out at people when she felt overwhelmed or frightened–but I think it’s very hard to argue that she was arrogant, much less that she “took charge” with “overweening self-assertion”. She makes her opinions known, but defers to the Doctor and Nyssa, less brash than she but more experienced. Certainly her comeuppance, as planned in her character brief, never happens.

Long shot showing Tegan exiting the TARDIS. Her inexpert landing has left the TARDIS sticking out of a hill at a strange angle, but she is proud to have landed it intact. Screencap from the 1981 serial "Castrovalva".

Long shot showing Tegan exiting the TARDIS. Screencap from the 1981 serial "Castrovalva".

Tegan gets away from the bitch in the character brief as early as her debut story, “Logopolis”. We meet her as she heads to Heathrow to begin her new job as a flight attendant, a job she is clearly looking forward to. She seems eager for independence, for a chance to prove herself in–yes–a man’s world. Tegan herself identifies her desire to fix her own car as feminist self-reliance.

Even when Tegan stumbles into the TARDIS and gets lost, she manages to maintain much better composure than might be expected of a human confronted with the overwhelming implications of a dimensionally transcendent alien spacetimeship. (Remember that, unlike nearly every other companion, Tegan doesn’t have the Doctor as a tour guide.) She is clearly terrified, but doesn’t let her fear disable her. She knows that she is in some sort of craft: she realizes that the console room is the equivalent of a cockpit; she tries to use the communication devices at the console; she reasons that there must be a pilot aboard, and asks to see that person. She, in short, displays a rather astonishing degree of analytical ability and sang-froid–and that’s just in her first serial.

Peter Davison’s been heard to say that he thought Nyssa was the companion best suited for his Doctor, but I think he’s wrong. Nyssa may have been the one the Fifth Doctor got along with, but Tegan–spiky, ornery, brave Tegan–was the one he needed. It’s Tegan who wants to know why the Doctor can’t go back and save Adric (“Time-Flight”), in a scene that–as the companion confronts the Doctor over a heartbreaking failure to save a fellow companion–is right at home in the new series:

Tegan: Aren’t you forgetting something important, Doctor? Adric is dead.

Amy: Save him. You save everyone. You always do. That’s what you do.
The Doctor: Not always. I’m sorry.
Amy: Then what is the point of you?

 

It’s Tegan who who commits to freeing the Frontios colonists when the Doctor is trying to butter up the villain (“Frontios”), Tegan who’s willing to throw knives at people in the Doctor’s defense (“The King’s Demons”). And, finally, it’s Tegan whose departure forces the Doctor to admit that his hands are bloody. The Doctor doesn’t last long without her–two serials after she leaves, he regenerates.

Tegan vs. Eurocentrism

"McArthur's Universal Corrective Map of the World": a 1979 world map by an Australian cartographer that is oriented so that it has South at the top.

"McArthur's Universal Corrective Map of the World": a 1979 world map by an Australian cartographer that is oriented so that it has South at the top and Australia in the center.

Beneath its glossy science fiction trappings, Doctor Who is a direct descendent of Victoriana: specifically, the Victorian traditions of the gentleman adventurer and the gentleman inventor. This is not an era known for its transgression or its diversity, and Who has at times struggled to rise above the colonialist subtext of “nice white man from advanced civilisation arrives to save backwards civilisations from themselves”.

As our own Courtney Stoker has put it, Doctor Who is:

… not a particularly progressive, transgressive, or subversive show. It’s just a show about a White dude who wields all the power and paternalism of a British imperialist force…

John Nathan-Turner’s reasons for creating an Australian companion probably didn’t include venturing outside Doctor Who‘s comfort zone or introducing a non-European perspective–accounts of the era suggest that he was mostly interested in selling the show to Australia.

But Tegan does bring a non-British, non-European perspective to the TARDIS, maybe most notably in “Four to Doomsday” when she can communicate with Kurkutji, a temporally displaced Aboriginal Australian, and the Doctor can’t.[2] The scene has some problematic elements that imply a screenwriter who seems not to have thought much about either linguistics or Australia’s diversity of languages, including the odd implication that Kurkutji’s language hasn’t changed over 40,000 years (by contrast, a mere 10,000 years separates English from Proto-Indo-European), and the extraordinary coincidence that Tegan happens to know that one particular language among the hundreds native to Australia. But Tegan’s achievement remains: she can do something that the Doctor cannot, and it is extremely important to the story.

It’s tempting to wonder how much of her pointed refusal to be impressed by the Doctor is that, from her perspective, he may well be the Ultimate Pom: representative of an allegedly superior culture who condescends to hang around hers.

It’s stopped being fun, Doctor

What does Tegan want? Does she want to stay with the Doctor or leave? Certainly she’s one of the companions most ambivalent about traveling with the Doctor. But her story is nearly unique among the companions: she stumbled aboard the TARDIS without meaning to, and the Doctor’s attempts to take her home repeatedly failed. She never asked for adventure; it was thrust upon her.

But how do you reconcile a life of adventure with a mundane Earthbound life? This is a major theme of the new series and its spinoffs, but it’s in Tegan’s story that we see it first broached.  The confident young woman we met in “Logopolis”, looking forward to her new job, has her horizons so shattered by her adventures that (per “Arc of Infinity”) she doesn’t last three months as a flight attendant.

So she returns to a life of adventure. This time she wants to be there. She seems happier, now that it’s her choice; she’s more of a participant than a bystander. She is increasingly concerned with the lot of the little people caught up in the mayhem that surrounds the Doctor, and is increasingly determined to give them a voice.

And things start going wrong. Gradually, Tegan realizes that the exhilaration of adventure is not worth the psychic toll it’s taking on her. She’s seen too much. She’s… outgrown him.

So she makes the excruciating choice–the only possible choice–and leaves. On her own terms, with her head held high. Brava.

 

There’s a woman in Australia… fighting for Aboriginal rights

I’m of the opinion that Who has, ultimately, just one lesson for us to learn, over and over again: we are the same.

Tegan learned it.

[1] It’s pretty common in the new series for companions to alternate time with the Doctor and time at home: Rose, Mickey, Martha, Donna, River, Amy, and Rory have all had adventures, left the Doctor, and then come back to have more adventures. But it was vanishingly rare in the classic series; I think Tegan’s the only example. (Sarah Jane didn’t come back until the new series.)
[2] Interestingly, this translation oddity didn’t make any sense at the time (I think it’s the first time the translation magic didn’t work) but does fit in remarkably well with current Who canon, which holds that the TARDIS can’t translate exceptionally old or obscure languages. (“The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit”)

My bustle’s stuck!: Women vs. Victorian values in “The Snowmen”

tl;dr: Steven Moffatt brings us the very best Christmas gift of all: his A game. Spoilers for “The Snowmen” (a.k.a. the 2012 Christmas special) » Read more..

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.

Radical Inclusiveness 2: or, Dear Mister Moffat

Now, the point to all this blustering about qualifications is to get at something the Grand Moff said a while ago:

“It’s just a question of who credibly is going to agree to go in the TARDIS? Who’s going to do it? Is it going to be a mother of 15 children? No. Is it going to be someone in their 60s? No. Is there going to be a particular age range? I mean… who’s going to have a crush on the Doctor? You know, come on! It’s more than a format. It’s evolved from good, dramatic reasons.”

With respect to Moffat, and with pains to point out that he is an award-winning screenwriter and I am not: bullshit. For one, the Sixth Doctor’s run with sixtyish history professor Evelyn Smythe is one of Big Finish’s real triumphs, a perfectly tuned relationship that works precisely because of Dr Smythe’s age and rich life experience.

And why not a mother of 15 children? Because she has responsibilities towards them? The Doctor has a time machine! She can kiss them goodnight, be off adventuring for as long as she likes, and be back before any of them so much as turn over in bed! Martha Jones’ arc explored this! For heaven’s sake, Moffat himself spent large swaths of series 5 doing the same!

I’m not really sure how to parse Moffat’s comment about companions having crushes on the Doctor, but I do want to stipulate that this trend of everybody falling in love with the Doctor is one of my least favorite aspects of the new series.

In short, I think that the very best thing Moffat could do for the show would be to write down all the requirements he thinks a companion should have, and then deliberately scribble them out and write a companion that violates as many of his requirements as possible. Because fuck “the rules”. Because adventures are for everybody, or they should be, and it breaks my heart to see the Doctor, of all people–a trickster figure uniquely qualified to break rules–endlessly select from the tiny subset of society that is young, well-off, abled, cisgender, pretty white British women.

Radical Inclusiveness: or, Why Hufflepuff is the Best House

We spend a lot of our lives being told that we’re not good enough. (Enough for what, the obvious question, doesn’t come up nearly as often as it should.) You don’t get to do X–sorry, you just don’t meet The Qualifications. Thirteen women met or exceeded NASA’s requirements for the Mercury program, except that NASA required experience as a pilot. The women started pilot training. NASA changed the rules to require experience piloting military aircraft, and the military at the time didn’t let women fly. See how neat that is? Sorry, we’d love to qualify you for spaceflight, but it’s these requirements, see?

And the truth, then and now, is that a lot of The Rules are bullshit, and are there to keep the “wrong sort” out. Therein lies a bit of the genius of Doctor Who, by the way: the Doctor is a trickster figure, who isn’t always bound by rules, who has the power to distinguish the sensible rules from the bullshit ones. The Doctor has invited princesses and hooligans aboard the TARDIS, and he’s treated them the same. That’s a powerful message. There’s no entrance exam. You don’t need experience piloting any sort of aircraft. You’re companion material just as you are. Not just inclusiveness, but radical inclusiveness. Not only Hollywood-anyone, but anyone-anyone.

It makes me think of the least defined and most overlooked house in Harry Potter, Hufflepuff. Nobody seems to know much about Hufflepuff for the first few books; they’re just sort of… there, unlike Gryffindor (brave!), Ravenclaw (smart!) or Slytherin (inbred elitists!). It isn’t until book five that we finally find out what the organizing principle behind Hufflepuff House is:

Said Slytherin, “We’ll teach just those
Whose ancestry’s purest.”
Said Ravenclaw, “We’ll teach those whose
Intelligence is surest.”

Said Gryffindor, “We’ll teach all those
With brave deeds to their name.”
Said Hufflepuff, “I’ll teach the lot
And treat them just the same.”

Catch that? Hufflepuff isn’t the house of last resort; it’s the only house that deliberately eschews bullshit entrance exams. Because fuck them; there’s no guarantee that they’ll produce a better wizard or whatever–it’s the Hogwarts curriculum and the student’s own work ethic that determines thatand every indication that they both raise meaningless walls between people who really should be working together and create feelings of inadequacy in at least some of the students in them. You don’t have to prove yourself, in Hufflepuff. You want to learn? That’s all that matters. Pull up a chair and let’s do magic.

And that, in the face of a relentless onslaught of stories about the chosen one, the special one, the one marked by destiny to do great whatever, is a radical notion. One that Doctor Who, thanks to its trickster hero, is uniquely qualified to propagate. And that’s why my fondest hope for a companion is an unlikely one–one unlike companions of the past, maybe one selected by the Doctor before s/he has a chance to prove him/herself.* Because you know what’s bullshit? It’s our stories telling people who are female/Black/Native/Asian/queer/disabled/whatever that the best they can hope for is to be inspiration and help to the people who really matter to the story.

It’s time for us to call it bullshit, loudly, and say that everyone matters. No more tests. No more proving yourself. You’re fine. You’re exactly what the Doctor ordered, not despite whatever’s slowing you down, but because of it.

(Continued at Radical Inclusiveness 2: or, Dear Mr Moffatt.)

* It’s true that some past companions have stowed away–I mean, “self selected”. But, as I’ll discuss when I finish my piece on Tegan, the show never really explored the ramifications of this, and I’d really like it to.

 

Time Lord’s Road To Global Domination – Anticipation Of Year 49

I opened my mailbox and found the Doctor inside….Well, on a magazine actually BUT it’s a wonderful article in EW.

My beloved Doctor, this amazing creature I share with millions around the world, is ready to return.

The article, and some of the comments made there in,  started my wheels turning. The impact if the Whoniverse and The Tao of Who on popular culture. Especially the impact this very Brit style of thinking/ ideals has on American Culture.

How do these questions impact this blog and the ideals, outlook and discussions we provoke?

I don’t know as of yet……I can’t wait to find out. 

We face the loss of old companions and the introduction of new. There are rumors flying about the return of River Song AND my beloved Captain Jack Harkness.

I’m excited, the anticipation of new adventures, new characters and brilliant writing have me twitching like a chihuahua after a meth cookie. I hope the rest of you are as ”GIDDY” as I am, and we happily dissect each episode and have spirited witty debates over every nuance of amazing writing.

 

Love After The Doctor: The Classic Years

Jo: “In a funny way, he reminds me of a younger you.”
The Doctor: “I don’t know whether to be flattered or insulted.”
–Jo Grant and the Doctor discuss her new love interest, Cliff Jones

Rose: “He’s a lot like you, Doctor, only with dating and dancing.”
–Rose Tyler, on Jack Harkness

Does traveling with the Doctor ruin companions for romance after they leave him? What mere man could ever compare to a charismatic Time Lord with all of time and space at his fingertips? Inspired by Bumble Toes‘ post on the Doctor as a romantic rival in the new series, here’s my take on the same dynamic in the classic series.

As the above quotes show, companions do seem to appreciate some Doctor-like characteristics in their romantic partners. It seems equally clear to me that the idea of companions perpetually pining over the Doctor, incapable of moving on, is native to the new series. I think it was born of RTD’s penchant for deconstructing the series, and an excellent example of how this deconstruction can backfire.

To me, the most genius decisions that RTD made were the most straightforward:

  1. He realized that the companion has the hero’s arc, not the Doctor, and
  2. He took the questions that the series had spent forty years studiously avoiding, and placed them front and center: How does the Doctor pick companions–what does he look for? What kind of person would leave everything she knew behind to go adventuring in time and space with an alien? She’s usually young–do her parents know what she’s doing? Do they approve? Do they know about the Doctor’s history of absconding with young women, not all of whom make it home? Might the companion ever look upon the Doctor with romantic intent? Might the Doctor ever return that glance? What would happen? Finally, and maybe most devastatingly, what happens to her after the end? Is the TARDIS door perpetually closed to her, or could the Doctor return for more adventures?

The classic series seems to have given companions exactly two possible exits: a) status quo ante, dumping you back into your old life, or b) permanently stranded in the alien society of your choice. (Hope that marriage works out!)

There’s an orthodoxy in some corners of fandom that the classic series never went anywhere near Doctor/companion UST, that the new series focuses too much on Doctor/companion UST, and that the new series is inferior for that reason. Mostly you hear this from men, and mostly this charge is levied along gendered lines–”attracting female viewers” being given as a reason for the new series’ willingness to have Doctor/companion ships.

But for all that everyone insists that the classic series never ever went anywhere near Doctor/companion romantic tension, they did go there a little bit. The best example is Jo Grant, companion to Jon Pertwee’s Third Doctor.

The Doctor and Jo seem to relate primarily as father/daughter: when he realizes, in episode 1 of “The Green Death”, that she is outgrowing him, his response is to compare her to a fledgling leaving the nest. Yet there are also hints that the Doctor has deliberately interfered in Jo’s love life: she’s about to leave on a date with Mike Yates, at the very beginning of “The Curse of Peladon”, when the Doctor drags her along with him. In fact, “The Green Death” keeps the Doctor physically elsewhere as Jo and Cliff bond, perhaps aware that they can’t do so if the Doctor’s disruptive presence is about. And, famously, the Doctor looks deeply hurt at Jo’s decision to leave. He even slinks out of the engagement party and drives off alone. It’s all subtext, but taken all together it’s difficult to avoid the conclusion that the Doctor may just have been a little bit into Jo. Certainly he behaved possessively towards her in a way he hadn’t for other companions, and that we would rarely see again.

But Jo married, and the marriage seems to have been stable and long-lasting, per the Sarah Jane Adventures episode “Death of the Doctor”, so it’s hard to argue that her adventures with the Doctor ruined her for an ordinary life with a human partner.

So, even though the Doctor may have been a little bit into Jo Grant, it’s not true that she was necessarily into him, and certainly not true that the Doctor as a romantic rival outshines human suitors.