Open Thread: Doctor Who

(Posted by chris the cynic)

I’m told that it’s the 50th anniversary, so people might want to talk about it.  (Not the anniversary, just the show in general.)  So, here is a place to talk about anything Whovian.

[As a reminder, open thread prompts are meant to inspire conversation, not stifle it.  Have no fear of going off topic for there is no off topic here.]

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23 thoughts on “Open Thread: Doctor Who

  1. Firedrake November 23, 2013 at 3:22 pm

    I’ve been rewatching the show from the start — for a few years now, since I do it among other things to try to keep something of the feel of a weekly show. I’m six series in at this point. What’s been striking me very strongly is that the cast and crew are normal BBC workers, who aren’t particularly thrilled to be working on this particular programme; they do their jobs, then next week they go off and do something else (like working on Z-Cars, or some other long-running series). Hardly anybody specialised in making Doctor Who. Contrast the modern show, where “working on Doctor Who” seems to have become people’s primary employment and career goal.

    I think the modern show suffers because it’s run by dedicated fans — the sort of people who don’t mind if the story’s dire, as long as they can make a passing reference to something that happened forty years ago. (That most of them seem to be able to write women only in terms of their relationship to some man may be a coincidence.)

  2. depizan November 23, 2013 at 10:16 pm

    I like the old show, mostly the Tom Baker and Peter Davison doctors, but then I’ve mostly seen those years of the old show, because they were what ran in repeats on PBS late night some years back. I have a ton of problems with the new show, and have only sporadically watched it because of those problems.

    See, in the old show, the Doctor was a wandering busybody. He wasn’t special, not really – he had the advantage of being a Time Lord, yes, but that’s special like… like MacGyver was special, not special like Chosen One special. So he had unusual knowledge and a few other quirks of being Gallifreyan. He was basically just a person, if one who really, really liked sticking his nose in whatever was going on and had a talent for showing up when there was trouble. Yes, some incarnations (including Tom Baker’s) thought rather highly of themselves, but reality didn’t agree. The Doctor made mistakes, got himself in trouble, and sometimes spent a lot of time kind of flailing about. He was a basically good (little g) person who generally tried to do the right (little r) thing, but he wasn’t special. (Sure he’d made some major enemies and had something of a reputation, but, again, we’re talking normal hero level stuff.)

    Also, in the old show, sometimes humans were bad, sometimes humans were good, sometimes humans were just…there. Sometimes the non-humans were bad, sometimes, they were good, sometimes they were just… there. Yes, there were always evil groups like the Daleks, but a lot of the time the show had a…I almost want to call it an optimistically gray morality. I’m not even sure how to explain it. Mostly of the time, it wasn’t good vs evil; it was better vs worse, but not in a depressing way.

    Related to that, people – ordinary human people – were treated as genuine threats. Also as genuinely useful allies.

    I don’t know, I just never got the sense from the old show that the Doctor was special or that we were all doomed without him. It…the new show is like a superhero/chosen one show, not a show about a wandering busybody. I liked it better when it the show wasn’t about the Doctor, it was about what weird situations he and his companions would stumble into. I also liked it better when it felt like a more optimistic show. In old Who, the universe was complicated (and dangerous, yes, but like reality is dangerous), in new Who, the universe is horrible.

    Also really fucking horrible things happen and aren’t really acknowledged as horrible. (Though that’s always occasionally happened. It just happens more. And to the Doctor’s companions sometimes.) A lot of stuff makes no fraking sense, but ooooh, it’s dark and supposedly deep so we’ll pretend it does.

    I’ve liked a lot of the companions on new Who, but that just makes it worse because some of them had really horrible things happen to them.

  3. depizan November 24, 2013 at 8:05 pm

    Saw Day of the Doctor and man, I just don’t know. It was kind of what I want Doctor Who to be, except it needs the sexism and romance removed, please. Optimism, finding another way, making things work out for everyone who’s not evil, yeah, I like those things. But the sexist bits bother me. And I really preferred the show when the Doctor was, essentially, asexual. (But that’s probably just because I am.)

  4. christhecynic November 24, 2013 at 9:46 pm

    And I really preferred the show when the Doctor was, essentially, asexual. (But that’s probably just because I am.)

    I can comment on this!

    I haven’t seen Doctor Who since the Sci-Fi channel stopped carrying it which means the last I saw of it was a very, very sour note. As such I have a tendency to think — actually I’ll stick that in a footnote* so I can get to the point.

    Beyond the self derailment issues (see footnote) it also means that I’m totally not up to date on the goings on of the show. But, since the franchise has been around fifty years there are some things that not being up to date on is not a problem with. This is one.

    It is (probably) not because you are asexual. There are a lot, a metric fuckton, of people who liked things better when the Doctor was portrayed in a completely asexual manner and got pissed off about character derailment every time anything even implied he wasn’t asexual.

    For some people it was slightly more complex because they didn’t have a problem with him being a sexual being per se, they just had a problem with the fact that the people he was being portrayed as being maybe sexually interested in were human and he wasn’t. For them they just were very insistent that he never be in any way sexually interested in anyone remotely human (or humanish, or anything that didn’t ring “100% Time Lord” bells. Sexual attraction to a Dalek was right out.) Sure, a lot of aliens, and humans as well, look like Time Lords, but they’re not. So the argument goes.

    However, I always got the impression that that was a minority and the majority was just, “The Doctor is asexual, that’s one of the constants of who the Doctor is, change that and he’s not the Doctor any more. You might as well have him join the Daleks and say, ‘Exterminate! Exterminate! Exterminate!’ because that would be way more in character than him being non-asexual.”

    Given the number of the people, or probably more importantly the proportion of people, historically insisting that the Doctor is best portrayed as asexual it is, at best, highly unlikely that preferring the show when the Doctor is, essentially, asexual is a result of being asexual yourself.

    Of course this did always run into pushback about, “Well then how is he a grandfather?” But then there were many possible explanations put forward (“That’s in his past and he is no longer a sexual being” “In that case it really was for procreation only” “Adoption!” so on) including one that was being implemented at the time the original show was cancelled** which would have made it so that the Doctor was a sort of reincarnation (it involves Time Lord tech and stuff) of someone who was similar enough for him to recognize and be recognized by Susan (after traveling to a place and time to which travel was forbidden) but none the less a distinct being who was in this life asexual.



    * I have a tendency to think, “I know it’s called mind rape, but did they have to emphasize the rape part so heavily and for the love of [insert expletive with such force the English language cannot contain it here] he’s supposed to be the good guy!” And just get into massive derailment there. I mean do you know how many times Donna said, “No”? Also, “Don’t.” Did you not see how she begged? Even after indicating that she was fully aware that the alternative was almost immediate death. That thing –that thing that’s the opposite of consent– that’s what she was giving. Good fucking god is that a bad place to end a story.

    At some point the Doctor has to create a massive paradox, cross his own time-stream, bring in those things that devour paradoxes (reapers?), and just shoot himself on the spot to stop that from happening because it’s just evil. It’s not crossing the moral event horizon, it’s setting a course for the singularity itself and going to ramming speed.

    ** The idea was apparently that Gallifrey and its culture had been explored to the point that the Doctor’s life as a modern Gallifreyan had lost all sense of mystery (much debatable) and in order to combat that they wanted to push his origin further into the past by having a sort of technological reincarnation thingy.

    If the plan had gone down then it would be like this: a very early Time Lord, of whom almost no records survive (not even his name), ended his life by jumping into a device used to create Gallifreyans in a sexless manner. Much, much later the device spat out the Doctor who had some of that early Time Lord’s memories (one example that did appear in the show was when he said “we” about a certain event that predated him in Time Lord history where he should have said “they”) and personality traits.

    But mysterious past origins and memories of another life aside, the Doctor was a product of post-sex Gallifrey and thus asexual himself.

    There are very mixed feelings about this whole plan thingy. One example I saw was the argument that it makes the Doctor stop being special because of who he is, and start being special because of what he is. (Though I think that gets into some room for debate because if the Doctor is special because he’s someone reincarnated via technobable but the previous incarnation was special because of who they were doesn’t that… [logic collapses into a rip in the fabric of whatever here])

    Interestingly the Time War of the new series was a different approach to making the Doctor more special again. Just make him the only remaining Time Lord and then he’s automatically special because unique = whatever. What he is over who he is. But in this version he gets to have implied sexy fun times with Nefertiti (the one post Sci-Fi drop episode I did see was Dinosaurs on a Spaceship) wanted to have them with Madame de Pompadour, didn’t seem that opposed to Jack’s affections, carried such a torch for Rose, and I’ve heard has gotten way more romancy since I lost the ability to watch.

  5. depizan November 24, 2013 at 10:37 pm

    Yeah, you’re right, it’s probably not just because I’m asexual. I’ve always been fond of fiction that centers around friendship, and that would likely be true regardless of my orientation. (Or lack there of?) I liked that the Doctor wasn’t interested in people and they weren’t interested in him. I was sort of okay with the mild interest level that Nine seemed to have. Like it wasn’t clear if _he_ was interested, but Rose and Jack showed some interest in him. (I’d still have preferred none of that, but as long as he seemed sort of like “huh, people interested in me?” it was tolerable. And – on a different level – nice that he seemed to see their interests as equally “huh”.) But even that got a little too much toward the end of that season.

    Which is probably why I just sort of drifted away and only saw the occasional episode there for a while. Until Donna… and then I didn’t finish that season because I’m with you on what the Doctor/the show/the writers did to Donna being so much no, it’s hard to even know where to begin except ” It’s not crossing the moral event horizon, it’s setting a course for the singularity itself and going to ramming speed.” sounds about right. That I liked Donna and liked having the show be more what it was made the fact that that season went down in evil flames even worse. It was like they went “here’s what Doctor Who used to be. like this, do you? Well FUCK YOU!”

    I liked the show when it was “here are these people who are friends – maybe kind of odd friends, but friends – who wander around the universe getting in trouble because the Doctor can’t keep his nose out of anyone’s business.” I don’t like adding sexuality, both because I liked asexual Doctor and because it’s lead to really fucking CREEPY not okay do not want storylines. And I don’t like superspecial Doctor. Which means I basically just like the old show. Ah well.

  6. christhecynic November 25, 2013 at 8:00 am

    The parts of the new series I watched always seemed to lack stability.

    For example, I was ready to watch the adventures of Rose, Jack, and the Doctor for a good long time, That lasted one episode with Jack and the current incarnation of the Doctor both dying off in the next. (Only to both be reincarnated in their own separate ways after.)

    But also I think, again this might have changed, it missed the opportunity for there to be more and different companions. Consider the episode Dalek, the episode was basically to show how much the Time War had warped the Doctor and how he still had a hell of a lot of healing to do. It did it by having the Dalek show empathy (noting that, as the only two (known) survivors of the Time War, each the last of their species, they were alike) and the Doctor being in “Exterminate!” mode.

    What if it had ended differently? What if the Doctor had a Dalek companion? Imagine that for new and different directions to go in while maintaining the show’s core.

    The episode also set up the season finale by introducing the Daleks to people who hadn’t seen old-Who. Which brings up person the Doctor promised to, and failed to, keep safe. If not for the failure to keep her alive then he’d probably have ended up with a new companion in her. Not the format of the Doctor and a single female companion that the new-Who kept for the entire time I was able to watch it (though I gather from Dinosaurs on a Spaceship that they did eventually allow him to have a male and female companion for more than a couple of episodes.)

    So, considering the first season alone, if Dalek hadn’t ended with suicide and the finale hadn’t ended with everybody dies, you’d have:
    –The Doctor
    –Rose
    –A Dalek who isn’t evil
    –Jack
    –Lynda

    As the central cast going into season two.

  7. Firedrake November 25, 2013 at 8:20 am

    I think that the Doctor being the Most Speshul Person Evar is another bit of fallout from the show being run by fans. I agree; it’s a very unwelcome development for me. Now every story ends up being an Even Bigger Threat. Oh no, the entire universe will be destroyed! Again!

    As for the sexuality, I’m old enough that I can recognise a subtle hint; I don’t need the sex shoved in my face and made the most important thing in the world. The guys in a classic war film are presumably sexual beings too; they just have more important things to do while we’re watching them, so they don’t need to bang on about sex all the time. (And if we are the sort of people who like to picture them with a boyfriend rather than a girlfriend back home, then not talking about it makes that a subcreation that’s consistent with the source material.)

    It doesn’t help, I think, that both Davies and Moffat seem to have trouble writing women as anything other than an appendage of a man — and they’re almost always either sexy girlfriends or sexless mothers. As Matt Smith portrays the Doctor, he’s a twelve-year-old boy who goes on adventures but thinks Girls are scary, inferior, and not worth listening to — and don’t we have enough stories about people like that already?

  8. Firedrake November 25, 2013 at 8:28 am

    Chris, while that setup might have worked in the early days (there have been as many as three ongoing companions at a time as far as I recall), I think it wouldn’t be compatible with the Doctor as sole important person, everyone else as a background for him to sparkle in front of, that drives the new series. I’m in favour of your approach.

  9. depizan November 25, 2013 at 11:54 am

    “So, considering the first season alone, if Dalek hadn’t ended with suicide and the finale hadn’t ended with everybody dies, you’d have:
    –The Doctor
    –Rose
    –A Dalek who isn’t evil
    –Jack
    –Lynda

    As the central cast going into season two.”

    And I would have kept watching. Because that would have been interesting and much more in keeping with the old show. (And because that’s a really odd lot, it would have taken away from the Doctor’s superspecialness before it really got out of hand. Which is also a win. I mean, really, there’s no way he could be the most special person evar when he’s traveling with a good Dalek. He’s no longer even the oddest person in the TARDIS. Yay!)

    “I think that the Doctor being the Most Speshul Person Evar is another bit of fallout from the show being run by fans. I agree; it’s a very unwelcome development for me. Now every story ends up being an Even Bigger Threat. Oh no, the entire universe will be destroyed! Again!”

    And very quickly threats to the universe become boring. If you’ve managed to make threats to the universe _boring_, you have failed storytelling very badly. And yet, they managed to do just that.

    I also have a suspicion that what they were fans of was less the old show and more their own headcanon. (Which is probably always a bit true of fans.) So we’re seeing their headcanon brought to life rather than a continuation of the show as it was.

    “both Davies and Moffat seem to have trouble writing women as anything other than an appendage of a man”

    Yup. The old show was far from perfect, but at least the writers generally grasped that women were _people_. And any effort the current writer(s) make in that direction is undermined by other things they do – like in Day of the Doctor, when nearly all the women shown reacted to the Doctor as if he were dipped in pheromones. Come ON, people. Seriously?

  10. Firedrake November 25, 2013 at 12:23 pm

    The star of the show has become a Mary Sue. All the women fawn over him! He can do anything! But he’s so tortured!

  11. depizan November 25, 2013 at 12:40 pm

    Boring.

    It also turns it from a wish fulfillment show for anyone* (see yourself as the Doctor, see yourself as a companion, they’re all important), to a wish fulfillment show for guys who want to be the tortured hero women fawn over (or possibly for women who want a tortured hero to fawn over). Either way, it’s a serious audience narrowing.

    *Though I will note that the old show was disturbingly white. Then again, the new show hasn’t really done all that well with race issues, either. And, after Mickey and Martha, pretty much went back to being disturbingly white.

  12. Firedrake November 25, 2013 at 1:27 pm

    And the two non-white people ended up in a relationship because… er… because… they’re both not white, so they have that in common? (The old show had slightly more excuse for being white most of the time. But I always try to read or watch things in the context of their time, and I may be too willing to make allowances.)

  13. depizan November 25, 2013 at 5:31 pm

    I don’t feel particularly qualified to discuss the show’s race issues, since I’m about as white as you get – and stereotypes may be different there than in America – but I wasn’t very comfortable with some of the ways the new show treated either Mickey or Martha, and the fact that the show is nearly as white now as it was back then just seems deeply wrong. It wasn’t okay for the old show to be so white, but it’s even more not okay for the new show to be because they’re not -fixing- it. Not that they seem to be doing much else right. *sigh*

  14. christhecynic November 25, 2013 at 7:25 pm

    The thing about Martha and Micky ending up together is that Martha was in a relationship, and not like Rose who was in a relationship she didn’t feel very committed to, as I recall when she met the Doctor she was fucking engaged. Thus not-so-randomly pairing her off with someone because they share the same skin color (which the off-screen person she was engaged to may or may not have) isn’t just, “Let’s stick the people of color together,” it’s also, “Let’s break up a serious relationship to stick the people of color together.”

    Um… yeah. That’s totally kosher. Because… I got nothing.

  15. Brin November 30, 2013 at 11:07 am

    CN: mention of sexual assault

    So if you disagree with what was said in that thread, please go there and speak up.

    Thing is, I compensate for being a bit too quick to pick a fight offline by being conflict-averse online. (And I prefer this way. I’d do it more often if people ever gave you any time to think in spoken conversations.)

    Besides, I pretty much agree with all these points. Liking the show says more about my low expectations for it than its goodness. There’s enough entertaining bits that I find it generally worth the watch (though in increasingly-many cases, not worth the rewatch)

    Re: the Doctor’s asexuality, I note that nobody has brought up the deleted scene at the end of “Flesh and Stone”*, which basically goes like this:
    Amy: So, if you’re not into me, who are you into?
    Doctor: I’m not into anyone! I’m like Yoda, I’m like Gandalf, I’m like someone who doesn’t know the word “asexual” and is dancing around the hole in his vocabulary, or possibly someone whose sex drive decreases with age and is now old enough for it to be nonexistent, but either way I’m not into anyone!
    Amy: Yeah, right.
    TARDIS (via willful misinterpretation of orders): No, but really he’s straight. Look at how many female companions he’s had!
    Doctor: Oh yes, leave out the tin dog why don’t you.
    Author: *clearly siding with Amy and the TARDIS*

    (Last I checked you can find the scene on Youtube, but I’m not watching it again. Once was more than enough.)

    *Which is to say, it’s set a few minutes after Amy forcibly kisses the Doctor. (It takes two to do the near-death-experience-“celebration-of-life” tango, Amy.)

  16. depizan November 30, 2013 at 3:37 pm

    Brin,
    “Doctor: Oh yes, leave out the tin dog why don’t you.”

    Wat. Adric, Turlough, Jamie, Harry, the Brigadier… and that’s just off the top of my head! The first set of companions included a guy (whose name is escaping me at present)! What about Jack, or at least Mickey – he should definitely count – from the new series? But, no, the only non-woman he traveled with was K-9.

    *headdesks to infinity*

  17. Brin November 30, 2013 at 3:59 pm

    Depizan: Adric, Turlough, Jamie, Harry, the Brigadier… and that’s just off the top of my head!

    Actually, that was about the only part I didn’t have a problem with. K-9 is the hardest companion* to believe the Doctor had/wanted-to-have a sexual relationship with, and therefore the best evidence for “just because he takes on people doesn’t mean he’s attracted to them”. Skewing the data to make him look bi instead of straight would be…well, I suppose it would probably have one or two fewer layers of wrong, but it would still be a wrong thing to do.

    *Of the ones I’ve heard of, anyway.

    The first set of companions included a guy (whose name is escaping me at present)!

    Ian Chesterton, says my fandom osmosis. The Doctor Who wiki agrees.

  18. christhecynic November 30, 2013 at 4:03 pm

    So I bumped into this quote today, the producers of, “The Five Doctors,” (the 20th anniversary special) apparently told Carole Ann Ford (who plays the Doctor’s granddaughter) that they didn’t want her character to call the Doctor’s character her grandfather because, “We don’t really want people to perceive him as having had sex with someone,” so, yeah.

  19. depizan November 30, 2013 at 4:39 pm

    Ah, see I interpreted it differently. Yes, by your interpretation, K-9 is the perfect choice. I saw it as the Doctor being unable to come up with a viable argument against him mostly traveling with young women. But, you’re right, then they could just say he’s bi.

    I don’t know, the whole thing kind of pisses me off, since it invisibles the idea of meaningful non-romantic/non-sexual relationships _and_ suggests than men and women can’t be friends. It’s sometimes difficult to parse exactly what’s being said when you mostly want to send the show nasty letters for deciding that romance is the only important relationship. (Which isn’t me being opposed to romances, necessarily, but when there are damn few works of fiction that hold friendship up as important, much less that hold up cross-gender friendship as important, it upsets me to lose any.)

  20. Brin November 30, 2013 at 5:44 pm

    I saw it as the Doctor being unable to come up with a viable argument against him mostly traveling with young women

    And unfortunately, that probably is the intended meaning. It was, as I said, pretty clear we weren’t supposed to be siding with him.

  21. froborr November 30, 2013 at 6:50 pm

    I think the best argument in the show for meaningful non-romantic/non-sexual relationships, as well as utterly destroying any suggestion that men and women can’t be friends, is Donna. Best companion of the new series, easily. What the Doctor did to her in “Journey’s End” is the worst thing he’s ever done, period.

    I have actually always read the Doctor’s sexuality as changing from incarnation to incarnation, because One very clearly displays sexual/romantic interest in women and is a grandfather, Four is just as clearly asexual and aromantic, and Five displays sexual/romantic interest in men (Turlough, mostly) as clearly as 1970s BBC would allow. Nine and Ten seem pretty clearly bi to me, although I think Ten has a noticeably stronger sex drive than Nine.

  22. christhecynic December 1, 2013 at 5:19 pm

    The reason for the tendency toward female companions is, apparently, that the Doctor got more actiony by, say, the third regeneration (mind you, the Brigadier) which left the stock role for male companion (do actiony stuff so old man Doctor doesn’t have to) already filled.

    At least that’s what I’ve been told but then when Carole Ann Ford was recruited to play Susan she was told Susan would be “an Avengers-type girl – with all the kapow of that – plus she would have telepathetic powers. She was going to be able to fly the Tardis as well as her grandfather and have the most extraordinary wardrobe.” That… didn’t happen.

    Ford left the show, and Susan with her (I don’t think regeneration had been thought up yet, though I’d have to check the relative order of events to be sure) because Susan wasn’t allowed to develop and did get stuck in the role of pretty screams-a-lot teenage girl.

  23. Firedrake December 2, 2013 at 4:26 am

    depizan: I very much agree, the framing of every relationship as either a romance or unimportant is one of Moffat’s biggest failings. I am a non-poly married man; I have close friendships and working contacts with quite a few women; I don’t regard this as a problem, and neither does my wife, who in turn has close friendships and working contacts with quite a few men. In Moffat-world this would be impossible.

    If anyone were ever stupid enough to put me in charge of making a TV show, I’d make it clear that pretty people of appropriate genders didn’t always automatically generate unresolved sexual tension.

    chris: Actually, the need for a male companion to do the action stuff had vanished when Troughton (Doctor #2) came in, but they still kept Ben, then cast Jamie. I think I could argue that Zoe, coming on board late in series 5, was the first companion who was shot as eye-candy (and even then her main narrative characteristics were very high intelligence and an eidetic memory; she just happened to look good while doing smart things). It’s the complete revamp of the show in series 7 (colour, Pertwee, earthbound, single female companion) that really goes towards the pretty girl aspect; Liz Shaw was supposed to be a brilliant scientist in her own right but always ended up in the Doctor’s shadow, and Jo Grant didn’t really have much in the way of skills. I’m very much in favour of the earlier (and later — Sarah Jane Smith sometimes, Leela, and especially Romana) approach, where the companions have things they can do other than screaming and telling the Doctor how clever he is.

    I’ve read that interview with Carole Ann Ford too, and I think one has to remember that it’s fifty years since the events she’s talking about — there are enough errors of fact that I don’t think her memory can be regarded as fully trustworthy. Which is a shame. I do agree that Susan was never able to reach her potential as a character; her farewell scene is some of the best acting she’s been allowed to do (along with her mad scene in The Edge of Destruction).

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