Geeky Travel: Long Island Who

This weekend I’ll be attending my first Doctor Who convention, traveling down to Hauppauge, for Long Island Doctor Who.  This is the fifth year of said convention, and the main guests are Sylvester McCoy, Lalla Ward, Katy Manning, and Ingrid Oliver.  As you might expect, I’m super excited about Katy Manning, as Jo Grant Is My Favorite Classic Companion, thought I’m also excited about Ingrid Oliver, and plan to get a photo of her with one of my 12th Doctor outfits.

Possibly (if I remember and am not too tired), I will post pics and updates while I’m down there.  I still haven’t really decided which programming events I want to attend, though there are a couple Star Trek panels that my husband is interested in, so in the name of keeping him happy I will probably go to those.

I’m also excited to see, and possibly meet, members of the Verity and Radio Free Skaro podcast teams, as well as others who I probably know of but don’t specifically right as of this moment know are going.

Are you going?  See you there!

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In Darkness We Are Revealed: A (More) Authentic Look at Blindness in Doctor Who

Hello all, you are in for a treat today, as I’ve convinced my husband to talk to me about Doctor Who!  Much as I enjoy listening to various podcasters’ opinions about the show, the past few episodes have left a bit to be desired, specifically in representational voices. If you’ve been keeping up with S. 10, you’ll know that the Doctor lost his sight at the end of Ep. 5 (Oxygen), and was blind for all of Ep. 6 (Extremis) and nearly all of Ep. 7 (The Pyramid at the End of the World).  And this plot twist has enjoyed a lot of talk, but the thing I haven’t heard yet is opinions from actual blind people on the representation of blindness in Doctor Who that has been created.

So, why is this blog post relevant?  Well, my husband is legally blind, and has been watching Doctor Who with me for the past 4 or so years, so he’s conversant with the major themes of the show (in its NewWho iteration), and he’s seen all of the 12th Doctor’s episodes, and pretty much all of the 11th, which we have been watching with my stepson.  The following is a transcript of our conversation in which we talked about the blindness arc in S. 10.  The format was basically that I asked questions and he answered them, with some extra discussion thrown in.

But first, in his own words, a little bio of James, just for some context.

“First off – we can start right out with the real reason why I was asked to this interview – I’m legally blind.  It’s difficult for me to describe exactly what my vision is like to those who can see because I’ve never been able to look through your eyes.  I’ve been told that what I see at roughly 20 feet away is what a person with good eyesight sees at 200 feet away.  I hold all my books close, I’ve never seen a whiteboard in my life, and when I watch tv I rely heavily on the dialog and sound to tell me whats going on.  And sometimes, my wife.  Because to me the television screen is very blurry at best despite us having a 60” television.  Thank goodness for great speakers.

I’m in my mid thirties.  I have a 9 year old son.  Despite my low vision, I graduated college among the top of my class with a degree in computer science.  I’m a computer nerd.  I’ve gone on to have a successful career as a software engineer or leader / manager of engineers.  In my spare time, I love long distance running, brewing beer, spending time with my family and working on my house.  I’ve never let my vision slow me down – I just figure out how to adapt my actions in order to accomplish what I want – anything from carpentry and hanging drywall to playing soccer or flying drones.
As far as television goes, I’ve never been a huge television watcher.  I prefer reading.  There aren’t that many television shows that have really been able to capture my attention and keep me hooked for long.  Lost, Star Trek (the Next Generation), and a handful of sitcoms like Seinfeld come to mind as noteworthy for me.  Mostly I end up falling asleep within a few minutes of turning the TV on.  It drives my wife crazy.
I started watching  Dr. Who casually with my wife a couple of years ago because she enjoyed it.  I’d say its been interesting but it hasn’t been able to capture my attention like it has hers.  Some of my favorite episodes were the ones involving the the Weeping Angles.  And my favorite companion has been Clara.  A while ago my wife tried to get me to watch some of the classic Dr Who, but I found it impossible to be interested in.”
And now, our discussion of Doctor Who, helped along with liberal application of Scotch (for me) and Gin and Tonics (for him).  Enjoy.
M = Me;
J = James;
Disclaimer, I tried to start out with some softball questions just to get things going, but of course he had to be difficult and go all “I don’t analyze my tv,” so the first few minutes were slightly comically unproductive.  Don’t worry, it gets better!

M: So we’ll start with some general questions.

Ok, you’ve watched DW as a bit of a captive audience for the past 3 or 4 years, what do you think about the show in general?

J: I find it… it’s interesting. I don’t find it as addictive as I’ve found other shows, but I do find it interesting, because it’s… I dunno, there’s a lot of creativeness that goes into it.

M: What do you like and dislike about it?

J: I like the creativity that comes in dreaming up what creatures, or whatever, are happening in the show, you know, I like that. I like seeing what somebody thinks the future’s going to be like and some of the stuff from the past. Some of my favorite episodes seem to have been the ones where they go back in time and they’re either in the past or in some mythical world like the Robin Hood one, I just remember that one and I liked that quite a bit.

M: What do you dislike?

J: What do I dislike? Right now I’m not really sold on the new companion. I don’t think I like that very much.

M: What do you think of Peter Capaldi’s portrayal of the Doctor?

J: I think it was better last season, when he had a different companion. (laughs) I don’t really know how to compare that really, cuz, I dunno, it’s just not really my area of expertise.

M: Well, do you like the character that he is? Like, the Doctor as a character right now? What do you think of him?

J: I dunno. As a character… I don’t know, in comparison to what? That’s what I’m trying to figure out.

M: You can compare him to previous Doctors that you’ve seen, or main characters of other shows that you’ve watched, or anything.

J: I don’t know. I guess when I watch television I watch it for entertainment value and I get some amount of entertainment out of watching him but I don’t analyze it, I just sit there and watch it and let it, you know, be, and don’t put mental energy and thought into it whatsoever, generally, for most things, and he’s never really made me put mental thought into it.

M: So is that a good thing or a bad thing?

J: It’s just a thing. It basically makes it hard to answer this question. What do I think of his character? I dunno, it’s alright, he exists.

M: If you watch it for entertainment, do you find it entertaining enough to want to keep watching it?

J: Sure, I keep going back and watching it. Let’s say you and Ayden decided to go on vacation for a month, it wouldn’t be on my list of things to do to watch Doctor Who, it never had been, it just isn’t. And watching Doctor Who now and seeing the show and the episodes and stuff like that, I still.. I’m not addicted to it, it just is, it exists.

M: What do you think of Bill and Nardoll?

J: Not thrilled. I like the characters who seem to drive the plot along more than the ones that just kind of hold back. And so, she’s like the student and kinda getting dragged along and asks a lot of questions but doesn’t seem to have any… until this episode, this episode that we just watched, she was just kind of like, always confused about what’s going on and just was sitting back and learning and watching, and, I dunno, it didn’t really do it for me.

M: Ok, what has been you favorite episode of the season so far?

J: Favorite one so far? I’m trying to think back through which episodes there actually have been. I only remember the last couple.

M: There was The Pilot, the first one.

J: Yeah, I fell asleep in that one. Guess that wasn’t it.

M: And the second one was the emoji one, Smile, in the far future.

J: Yeah, mmhmm.

M: And the third one was Thin Ice, the Victorian, yeah, that one.

J: And then the last to were these…

M: And after that was Knock Knock, the haunted house one.

J: Oh.

M: And then Oxygen, and then Extremis, and then…

J: Alright, Oxygen was probably pretty good. I like the concept of the capitalist… like capitalism to extreme, and how it had gone horribly awry.

 

And then we moved on to some more topical questions. This is where it gets interesting.

M: At the beginning of Oxygen it is broadly suggested that the Doctor’s blindness is a result of his hubris, for example when the Doctor expands the air shell from the TARDIS to the whole station, Nardoll comments, “So cocky,” and when both Bill and Nardoll want to leave the Doctor sees himself as a savior who must rescue the four survivors. What do think about this suggestion?

J: That’s who the Doctor’s always been. Just because they put Nardoll in there to point it out, I dunno, doesn’t really seem… like, sure, maybe his hubris actually caused him to get blind, but that’s just his character, so…

M: So in the past, he’s done things out of arrogance that have caused him to be killed and regenerate, but this time instead of regenerating, he was blinded, so I guess did you see anything different in that, or anything notable about that? Because it always seems like he gets a big run up and then he gets to the end and has a big crashing ending and then becomes a new person, and this time he didn’t, he just had to go on with what he had.

J: Do I see anything big in that? Not really. I dunno, it’s just a plot twist. The writers were like, hey, that sounds like something interesting to do. Let’s see what happens here.

M: What was your first reaction to learning the Doctor had been blinded during the space walk?

J: At first I thought it would be kinda neat to see where they would go with it. What are they gonna do, how are they gonna let him accomplish the stuff that he accomplishes without his sight, so it sounded intriguing to me, to figure out, to see what other people would come up with to do.

M: Did the Doctor’s companions’ reactions to, and treatment of the Doctor after strike you as any way familiar?

J: I’m trying to remember what the reactions were… Ok, oh my god you’re blind, or something like that. Did they seem familiar?

M: Or, I dunno, the way that they acted around him, the way that Nardoll tried to lead him.

J: Eh, people kinda tried to lead him. I guess, in a way, sometimes, you know, people figure out that I can’t see and then they try to help me do things that I can do on my own or whatever, but then again it’s a different scenario for somebody who has had sight and always had sight and then all of a sudden it was like, ah, we took your sight away! They don’t know how to move around quite the same, you know, so the Doctor’s a smart guy but there’s the initial not being able to see factor that he needs to figure out how to deal with, so the fact that other people were reacting like, holy crap what happened to your sight let me help you, it just seemed like a relatively normal thing.

M: When the Doctor is in the core trying to wire up his solution and Nardoll keeps assuming he knows what the Doctor is trying to do and telling him it’s not going to work, did this strike any chords with you, such as Nardoll possibly assuming the Doctor is no longer thinking as clearly because of his blindness?

J: No. Nope, never really put the two together at all, because Nardoll, since the inception of the character as far as I’ve seen has always been telling the Doctor, like, “whatever you’re gonna do, you shouldn’t be doing that. You shouldn’t leave that person in the tomb, you shouldn’t do this, you shouldn’t do that,” so the fact that Nardoll was sitting there saying, “whatever you’re thinking right now, it’s not going to work,” that’s just his character and I never really saw it as having anything to do with him being blind.

M: So you just saw it as a plot driver?

J: Yep.

M: How did you feel when we found out at the end of Oxygen that the Doctor is still blind, and why did you feel that way?

J: I guess continued to be excited and intrigued to see where they would go with it, because he had to figure out how to do more than just one mission, but whatever comes next, he had to keep working with the fact that he couldn’t see and figure out how to solve whatever problems were being thrown at him.

M: A lot of people have commented that it doesn’t make sense for the Doctor to continue hiding his blindness from Bill in the episode Extremis, so do you agree with this, and what about him hiding it with everybody else?

J: I think that, so, first of all I have to put myself in the world and pretend he’s a real person, which seems kinda funny to me, but (laughs), if it was a real person, then it’s the real person’s choice as to whether they feel like exposing that part of themselves to anybody else because there are a lot of times where I don’t feel like being blind and showing that I can’t see and I will do a lot to stop other people from noticing including writing terrible signatures on non-existent lines of receipts or whatever else it is that, you know, I just don’t feel like dealing with the fact that somebody else can tell that I can’t see, so it’s the Doctor’s choice. The fact that he wants to hide it from Bill shows that he doesn’t want to expose something that he is currently feeling as a weakness, and that may lead her to not trust him as much, or at least he thinks that it would, and having Nardoll there to help him is in a way gotta be nice for him because sometimes having someone that will just help and know your situations and then help you get around is helpful and comforting and nice.

M: So, as much as he feels close to Bill, there’s still a line that he’s already crossed with Nardoll, or maybe he’s just accepted that somebody has to know and that’s who he wants to know, and that’s who he’s willing to deal with that situation with?

J: So, in a way, Nardoll is just as much a companion in every episode of this. Even though the Doctor was leaving him behind initially, now Nardoll seems to travel around with the Doctor and he is the second half of the companion just like when there was two with Amy and Rory, and in a lot of ways the Doctor has to trust a companion to get things done and to push plots along and do the stuff, and I don’t feel like—this goes back to the whole Bill being just a student who is just long for the ride and watching, and as I said is not my favorite position for a companion to be in—but Nardoll is the plot driver-alonger, the person who the Doctor trusts, the one who’s guiding him along and helping him see stuff that he can’t see, taking actions that the Doctor can’t take—go take the TARDIS and move it over here—and all this stuff, and in past episodes it would have been Amy, or somebody,

M: Or River…

J: Yeah, like River, and now it’s Nardoll, it’s not Bill, and so, Bill is basically there because the Doctor likes to pick her up and take her places but she doesn’t really do anything, so why would he trust her?

M: Ok, that makes sense. So at this point you see it as more of a writing tool, like the writers need someone who’s gonna do that, and that’s who they decided on.

J: Yeah.

Probably the most surprising–ok not surprising, but thing that made me glad I asked that question–was the fact that James has real experience, pretty much on a day-to-day basis with having to decide who is going to know that he’s legally blind, and so his reaction to the Doctor’s having to make that decision is authentic and is the kind of thing people should be listening to.  Essentially, only the person with the disability gets to make the decision about how they deal with it, including who in their life needs to know about it.

Ok, moving on to Extremis

M: In the scenes when Nardoll is trying to surreptitiously describe what he’s seeing in order to cover for the fact that the Doctor can’t also see it, did you feel those scenes rang true to your experience of having to rely on others for cues, or did Nardoll’s attempts to obfuscate the Doctor’s situation undermine his ability to be helpful?

J: Well, honestly, I felt like that was really dumb, because anybody with any tiny amount of perception would’ve figured out the hell was going on, so it didn’t take any amount of perception, so the fact that they wrote all of that in there, and Bill never picked it up, I just felt like that was kinda stupid. There was plenty of ways they could have written it where maybe it wasn’t so, let me just lay it out there and be… stupidly surreptitious… is that a thing?

M: I feel like they were playing it more for laughs than actual, like, this is a real thing that’s happening.

J: Maybe, but I didn’t really find it funny.

M: Yeah, and I’m not saying you should have, but maybe the writers thought that it would be funny if it was so obvious and yet nobody was figuring it out.

J: Yeah, I really felt that all of that stuff was kinda dumb.

M: So there was a point where Nardoll was actually being helpful, but then he was also trying to cover for the Doctor, so did it tip more into someone who knows him trying to be helpful, or someone trying to cover for him and just, you know…

J: There’s been a mix of both. I can’t put specific examples on it, but it feels like when the writers decided to write Nardoll saying something on his own, of his own thinking, then at those points in time it felt more like Nardoll was doing a helpful thing, that was helpful genuinely, and even not stupidly surreptitious, as I’ve decided to call that thing, but when the Doctor is literally cuing the whole thing along all the time, that’s when it felt stupid. And I wouldn’t say anything about undermining, so if we put all the stupid factor aside I would say that it was hepful?

M: To me sometimes it seemed like Nardoll was either being resistant to helping or waiting for the Doctor to force him to help, and if he had just taken the initiative and just been his self, his independently thinking self and helpful, do you think it would have been more helpful overall?

J: Probably. So, when we’re just walking along and you point out a step for me, that’s super helpful.

At this point I think James was going to make a connection to when people get self-conscious about thinking they need to help him all the time–particularly people who just meet him or just find out that he can’t in fact see the thing they just tried to toss to him or whatever–and how it’s really the opposite of helpful, versus when we’re hanging out or doing errands in normal life and I have a general idea of things that he needs to know about so as not to fall on his face on a step he can’t see or whatever, but he kinda lost the thread of his thought so I skipped over it.

M: Given that it kinda went back and forth, did that seem realistic to you, that someone not really understanding how all this works would act in the way that Nardoll did?

J: Probably. It seemed mostly realistic I guess.

M: How did you react to Nardoll’s continuing insistence that the Doctor “face” what had happened to him? Did you feel that Nardoll was trying to dictate how the doctor face his own disability, and if so do you think that the show left room for the Doctor’s own feelings about his blindness to be a priority?

J: I guess that’s just part of Nardoll’s character. In the same way that he’s always telling the Doctor that his plan isn’t going to work, or that he shouldn’t be doing what he is doing, he’s telling him now what he’s supposed to be doing instead. Most of the time Nardoll’s the voice of reason, right, and the Doctor’s the crazy one. And Nardoll’s like, you should probably do this thing which is the right thing to do, so I was pretty ok with Nardoll saying that. What was the second part of the question?

M: Did you feel that Nardoll was trying to dictate how the Doctor dealt with it?

J: Well, yeah, that is what he was doing. There’s no doubts about that one. But everybody knows that the Doctor doesn’t listen so you can dictate whatever you want to and the Doctor just does what he wants anyway.

M: Ok, so given that, did the show and the writers leave room for the Doctor’s feelings about his blindness to the priority within the story?

J: Mmm, no. There wasn’t… I still don’t know how the Doctor feels about his own blindness, I have no idea. Of all the shows that we’ve watched, that doesn’t feel like a thing that ever came up.

M: So when he’s doing all the quotes about “In darkness we are revealed,” and at the end of the pyramid episode that we just watched he’s talking about how, when you realize what your fear is you realize something about yourself, does that just feel like him quoting stuff to keep avoiding it, or…?

J: I don’t know, I haven’t even thought about what the heck that was, just ramblings about crap that… I thought he was talking about the alien situation and talking about how they were going to invade, or something, that’s what I thought he was doing, so. And if that’s how he talks about his feelings, well whatever, but I can’t actually interpret that.

M: What did you think of the Doctor’s use of the sonic shades as a visual aid?

J: It’s alright, but he could get way better tech. (laughs). Come on now, like, all the technology he’s got he must have come across something better than green wireframes. With like, little squares that maybe represent people or something and he can’t even tell when a pyramid door’s opening. He should be able to do way better than that.

M: So you think it was poor writing?

J: Yeah, kinda dumb.

M: How did you react to the Doctor’s borrowing sight from his future self?

J: I thought that was crappy. So I didn’t like it all because I felt like, the Doctor was faced with a serious challenge that he actually had to figure out how to do and what’s the first thing they ran to but was where can I find another source for some sight. I need actual eyes so that I can solve this problem. Well, that’s kinda stupid, because, I dunno, I don’t get to go do that. Why don’t they figure out a different way to solve the problem where you don’t need your eyes? So I was really disappointed with their first chance to actually show how to overcome a disability and what they ran to immediately was, the way they overcame it was to just steal some sight. It’s just dumb.

M: So do you remember the episodes Under the Lake, Before the Flood where they go to that underwater base with the alien space ship on it and they had the deaf character who was the leader of the base?

J: No.

M: Oh ok, because they had a scene in there where she was being sneaked up on by a ghost, so she couldn’t hear anything coming up behind her but the ghost was dragging an ax that was vibrating the floor, so the reason that she saved herself and figured out that she was almost about to be murdered was she touched the floor and felt the vibration and realized what it was…

J: That’s way better, way better.

M: So you wish that the writers had something more like that…

J: Yep.

M: Anything else, besides…

J: Anything besides going to steal some sight.

M: What about after the Doctor ran away and ended up using the text-to-speech on the laptop anyway? Did you feel it was a writer mistake to have him not think of that in the first place?

J: I don’t know. So, I was thinking about that trying to figure it out, and the one thing that crossed my mind was that everybody else had read it and gone crazy, and he decided not to read it, he listened to it instead, so he’s bending the rules in the way that the Doctor bends rules. “Oh, I just had listen to this, rather than read it, maybe that won’t make me go crazy.”

M: Do you think that that made the Doctor look less competent because he didn’t immediately look at the laptop and think, oh, here’s technology I can use rather than trying to get my sight back to read a book?

J: Hmm. Do I think it made him look less competent? I dunno.

M: The Doctor’s supposed to always be ten steps ahead, so the thing that you think he’s gonna do is not the thing that he does and you realize that half an hour ago he was already on to the idea that was going to save the world, whereas this time he didn’t pick up on it until he just happened to pick up the laptop and run away. Or is it the kind of thing that anybody could have missed.

J: I dunno. Not sure how to answer that one. I guess I just feel like that was the Doctor’s deciding to bend rules and I… dunno. Don’t know how to answer that one.

M: How does Doctor Who compare to other media with blind protagonists such as Daredevil?  And… I can’t think of any other examples. (laughs)

J: Daredevil is way better. Daredevil is more addicting by a lot, I mean just as a tv show, for me, at least. I enjoy the portrayal of a blind person who figures out how to overcome his disabilities by using his other senses and the rest of his brain, and didn’t go steal sight from somewhere although he can, you know, see, and I’m doing air quotes, he can see by way of using what he hears and the way that sounds bounce off of things and the way he feels heat and tastes and smells and all that stuff. I dunno, really interesting to me, but the Doctor just, he lost his sight but keeps running back to sight and then he runs into scenarios where he needs to figure something out and so far they’ve had a few opportunities and in one he borrowed sight from the future in order to solve it and the other one he was completely incapable of figuring out how to open a stupid door lock that had probably nine digits on it that, you only lay digits out in one of two configurations and I’m pretty damn sure that he should have been smart enough to try them both. He had to type in four numbers in a keypad with nine digits…

M: It was a flippy numbers, it had a pin and rotating things. So it would have taken more combinations, but still…

J: Unless the numbers were actually moving on him… if it wasn’t a set pattern that might have been actually complicated. But anyway I just generally feel like they’re not doing a good job playing up the fact that you can do things in the world without sight. So.

M: Oh the other example I just thought of was in Rogue One with the blind monk.

J: Oh the blind monk was also pretty awesome. He didn’t have sight and he just went on faith all the time, or whatever, I dunno how he made it work.

M: But he found a way to overcome it versus…

J: Yeah, exactly.

M: Ok, second part of that, do you think Doctor Who has done a good job and would you like to see this storyline continue?

J: I’m about done with the blind thing because so far since it happened I was initially intrigued and then disappointed repeatedly so. So they can be done with that now.

M: Well, apparently after the episode we just watched I guess it is technically done, so he can just go back to being blind in other ways.

J: Yeah, cuz look he had to go back to getting his sight back, because there’s no way the Doctor can save the world without his sight.

 

…there’s no way the Doctor can save the world without his sight.

That was the end of our interview, and though we’d originally thought we might talk a bit more about Ep. 7, it also kind of seemed like a good place to stop.  If that’s the message James got from Doctor Who’s attempt to portray a blind character (yes, I know there have been instances where companions have been temporarily blinded in Classic Who) through the Doctor, then I’m not sure they ought to try it again.

It makes one wonder if they actually consulted any blind people before they wrote these episodes.  If anyone knows, I’d like to hear about it.  But mostly it felt as though blindness were just another plot device and not something thousands of people live with every day and somehow manage to make a life around.  Given Peter Capaldi’s acting capabilities, it certainly seems as though if they’d made an effort, the creators of the show could have constructed a much more nuanced representation of blindness, instead of just setting it up as a way to examine the Doctor’s supposed flaws and, again, drive the plot.

I’d be happy to hear your comments, but please note that any ableist nonsense will be deleted without seeing the light of day.

Thanks for reading!

Doctors Prefer Lesbians: An Exploration of the Relationships between the 12th Doctor and Bill Potts

The Doctor has never been good at dealing with the relationships of his companions.  From the First Doctor, when he pretty much swept Susan out of the TARDIS, shoeless and with nothing but love in her heart and the clothes on her back, to the Twelfth official incarnation in Peter Capaldi when he gave Clara the cold shoulder for an entire season and then ignored her pain for another season for having and losing a relationship with Danny, we’ve seen some pretty passive-aggressive and downright odd behaviors in the Doctor when his companions seek companionship outside of him.

And then we had were given Season 10, wrapped up like a gift, and things changed.

It could be said that the Doctor learned from his experiences with Clara and her relationships, yet the Doctor has had all memory of Clara erased, so something else is causing his general aplomb over finding out Bill’s been having a strange experience with another college student, his ability to take human love in stride and even express empathy over Bill’s losing Heather at the end.  Heather is even a small part of why the Doctor decides to start traveling again, and asking Bill to go with him–he is once again willing to entertain the possibilities of the universe, instead of just repeating that she’s not human anymore and that’s that.

Bill, as every fan who’s seen season 10 should know by know, is openly gay, the first of the Doctor’s companions to be, so to speak, canonically gay, even though there are a few others who had bisexual or homosexual encounters written into their stories–most notably Ace.  The question is, then, does this have an effect on how the Doctor treats Bill?

The answer is, of course, that the Doctor treats each of his companions differently, and treats everyone differently depending upon which regeneration he’s in, but it seems that the Doctor is not only supportive but empathetic of Bill’s crushes and relationship woes in a way he never was previously, even going back to the Classic era.  The most notable relationship that was actually written into the show in the ’70s was Jo Grant’s meeting and eventually deciding to marry Dr. Clifford Jones in The Green Death.

Anyone who’s seen that story will recall that the Doctor was disbelieving at first when Jo wanted to go off to Wales to work with Jones instead of going with him to Metabilis 3, and then openly suspicious of Jones when finally drawn to Wales himself.  The Doctor was taken aback when Jo decided to get married and stop working with him, as though he simply didn’t understand how a mere romantic relationship could trump what he and Jo already had.

3rd Doctor and Jo Grant, with from Deep Breath originally spoken by the 12th Doctor and Clara
Hints of a future incarnation, perhaps?

Years pass, Doctor Who goes on a lengthy hiatus, and then the 9th Doctor returns, to meet another young blond who doesn’t yet know much about the world but is willing to go off on adventures with him.  The Doctor this time falls into the paramour role, particularly in his 10th incarnation, trying on the role of the lover as though he’s tired of being left out and wants to know what it is humans are constantly getting so worked up about.

Predictably, it doesn’t end well, but the Doctor bounces back and meets a nice young doctor who has a crush on him but makes the decision to separate herself from him, and in the ensuing departure the Doctor actually seems to learn something important about human relationships that will have a significant impact on his next regeneration.

Enter the 11th Doctor, whose reliance upon pantomime and bravado thinly disguises his inability to negotiate Amy’s relationship with Rory and what it means to be close to a young human woman without the complications of romance getting in the way.  The Doctor, after all, only decides to make sure Amy and Rory’s relationship doesn’t conveniently falter because there is something significant about her time and why he was pulled to her house with the scary crack in the wall and he’s worried that if anything changes because of him something terrible will happen.  But at least he hasn’t fallen into the old love trap like he did the last time.

The Doctor doesn’t seem terribly disturbed by Rory’s being forced to follow Amy around like a lovestruck orphan puppy, in much the same way Mickey did the same to Rose in series 1.  He seems to accept that heterosexual relationships among humans are unequal and in many ways deeply shaming for at least one half of the partnership.  Even as Rory gains traction and demonstrates his value as a real companion, his role is undercut by the drama, first of Amy’s being the mother of River Song and thus being the center of an entire season arc, and then of his own increasing desire not to be in the TARDIS anymore and lack of general enjoyment when he gets swept up into yet another adventure.  The Doctor doesn’t seem to mind as long as Amy is happy, and Amy seems to be happy until Rory gets sent back into the past by a weeping angel and she realizes she must choose real life if she ever wants to see him again, and even this ending undercuts Rory’s courage in ending his own life to create a paradox which saves himself and Amy.  The Doctor even tries to convince Amy to change her mind.

Clara’s relationship with Danny Pink was a disaster from the very beginning, not helped in the least by the Doctor’s view that he deserves to have an opinion about whom Clara dates; in this case there doesn’t seem to be anything significant about Danny or whether Clara is with him, and thus the Doctor has no rational reason–in his view–to support her in any way in this relationship.  Somehow, the Doctor even becomes face blind and doesn’t connect Orson Pink, whom he meets in “Listen,” with the very same Danny Pink who looks just like him.  It’s a very passive aggressive situation, not helped by the fact that often Clara only seems to be staying with both of them out of a contrarian desire to always be the best at everything.

With Clara, the Doctor seems to be at his most jealous, perhaps because she is the first human companion he’s had in hundreds of years who has come close to being an equal.  Clara’s character development resembles Ace’s, who was at one point being groomed to enter the Timelord Academy.  Clara, though she is no longer fragmented, is still something more than human, and for her to have such human urges as the one which drove her to seek a romantic relationship with Danny, is quite disturbing to the Doctor, who admits that may not understand humans at times but still believes he is deserving of honesty from his companions.

The tone of Series 9, the post-Danny series, is really set at the very beginning by Missy, when she explains the difference between Timelord and human relationships by comparing what the Doctor has with Clara to a lady and her pet dog.  Though Missy is generally unpredictable and often unhinged, she still grew up in Timelord society, and thus can speak to the more platonic, egalitarian relationships that she knew, and against which humanity will always fall short, in her estimation.  Too, though the Doctor has come to understand the power of human love in his many interactions with humans, he no doubt has a difficult time parsing the many nuances of relationships, particularly the heterosexual ones he’s witnessed as a majority and against which all his friendships with female humans necessarily are judged.  It may be possible that he’s always felt uncomfortable in the highly gendered human civilizations he’s encountered, and because he keeps regenerating into what humans consider male, found himself behaving like one out of constant social pressure–or simply having it rub off on him.

Which brings us back to Bill.  Given what we know about Timelord biology, and the fact that every Timelord has the potential to regenerate into a spectrum of genders and gender presentations, the Doctor’s understanding of relationships must be most comparable to what humans would describe as pansexual or bisexual, with the caveat that it was also most likely asexual/aromantic.  Indeed, given what we know about Timelord regeneration, it could be said that everything we understand about Timelord gender is false, and only judged through our own oppressively binary lens of gender.  It’s possible Timelords don’t even have gender, or that it doesn’t mean the same thing as it does to humans.  Referring specifically to the scene in “Hell Bent” in which the General regenerates into a female presentation and the guard refers to her as Ma’am instead of Sir, it’s entirely possible that the Timelords have absorbed a more binary form of address from those cultures with whom they have come in contact over the millenia, or even that whatever has been translated into English is just the best approximation of address that humans would understand.

Either way, the fact that Bill dates people of the same gender as herself must come through to the Doctor as a more equal sort of relationship, as he is able to judge these all-too-human functions, much like his relationship with the Master has always been–one in which they sparred, intellectually, for a sort of victory over each other, but in which both always respected and loved the other, to the point that when the Doctor thought he was dying he sent his confession dial to Missy, whom he considered his best friend.  Somehow the Doctor is more at ease in considering Bill’s potential relationships, and even in supporting them.  Just last week, in “Extremis,” the Doctor went out of his way to include a note about Penny in an email he sent himself from an alien computer simulation, so that he could tell Bill to call her, before it’s too late.  He’s never seemed compelled to push at Bill’s potential paramours, or conform to a semi-hostile heterosexual male posturing in the way he did with Mickey, Rory and Danny.  Even Jack often made the 9th and 10th Doctors seem more at ease–Jack’s disturbing inability to die aside–than some of his female companions did.  Perhaps the 10th Doctor’s manic effusion was directly related to the hetero mating urges of his companions.  He was considerably calmer and more measured when Donna Noble was in the TARDIS than with either Rose or Martha.

I believe that in his way the Doctor has always been a little in love–in his own way, in the same way he is in love with humanity in general–with all his companions, all the way back to Ian and Barbara, whether or not he would admit it, and to have to watch some of them fall into such petty things as heterosexual relationships, with their archaic mating rituals and painful lack of honesty until, generally, it’s too late, must have been particularly tiring for a Timelord who, although he’d left his people behind and often expressed distaste for them, was still raised on more egalitarian ideals.  I love that Timelord procreation and romantic relationships–if they exist–are still in the realm of mystery for viewers of the show, and that the Doctor really only brings out his feelings for his humans, who have such attachment to those sorts of things.  And I love that the Doctor and Bill’s relationship thus far has been so close, with often biting honesty, and that he has been so supportive of her in so many ways.

Jo Grant is My Favorite Classic Doctor Who Companion

Jo Grant is my favorite Classic Doctor Who companion.  Now, I’ve only watched about the first half of Classic Who (CW) seasons.  I’m somewhere in the middle of the Tom Baker/ Sarah Jane show (edit, I’m now in the Leela era, which I enjoy a lot more).  I can see why a lot of people love Sarah Jane and I understand how she fills a lot of holes in CW companions up till then, and I also have serious feelings about why she fills certain holes for viewers, but that’s for another post.

This one is about Jo.

Jo is not smart.  Is she?  She’s not talented, except somehow the Doctor falls for her in such as way that he’s jealous and quite heartbroken when she decides to leave.  She makes the decision to leave, despite her obvious close relationship with the Doctor, because she has other places to be.  She outgrows the Doctor.  But back to her being not talented.

Jo Grant is the punching bag for the men who would eventually create Sarah Jane Smith, those who channel all their misogyny into a small woman who has no choice but to take every hit they throw at her in order to go forward.  Jo doesn’t have the obvious intellectualism of Sarah Jane, the intellectualism that not only allows her to slink through the ranks of men with which DW is overwhelmingly populated, but also makes her more substantial in the eyes of the DW audience, those who are already suspicious of a loud woman in a tight skirt.  And yet Jo does make her way, learning as she goes, soaking up everything the Doctor can teach her, up to and including a deep and abiding loyalty that is coupled with her desire to do good in the world.

Although Patrick Troughton is often considered the avuncular Doctor, at the end of Pertwee’s tenure as the Doctor his relationship with Jo is that of an uncle with a young niece, or mentor with a young protege.  Jo never exhibits any evidence that she is in love with the Doctor, but she loves him a great deal and is willing to do almost anything to help him.  The Doctor, likewise, never exhibits any evidence that he is in love with Jo, but he is devastated at the thought of losing her, even though when she first enters the show the Doctor doesn’t want her as companion because he has just had Liz Shaw for a year and values her as a colleague.  Though Troughton was very close to those who traveled in the TARDIS with him, Jo Grant might rationally be called the first true companion, because she and the Doctor fulfilled a very specific and very personal role in each other’s lives.

And yet, Jo leaves.  Jo is able to maintain–at least in her own life–a personal and a professional life with the Doctor, and is able to separate the two when it becomes necessary.  Though I don’t feel that her marrying the next scientist to cross her path did justice to her character, even if she did go to Wales specifically because she respected Professor Clifford Jones, the noted environmentalist.  Jo is able to take what she needs in the world to get somewhere else, and the Doctor, in the end, respects her decision.  Much as I love “The Green Death” as a story, I’m not fond of the fact that it appears the Doctor is mostly okay with her leaving him because getting married is an acceptable choice for a young woman, but I’ve heard–and hopefully will hear–that in the Big Finish audio dramas Jo has a long and fulfilling life, including an appearance on The Sarah Jane Adventures, of all places.

The Doctor might be the hero of the show, but Jo Grant is my hero.

A Review of Earth and Sky, by Megan Crewe

Doctor Who meets Orwell.  That’s what I kept thinking as I read this novel.  It’s time travel science fiction with a dash of big brother and a twist of modern conspiracy theory.  Sort of.  I hate those types of comparisons, fun as they are to build.

Anyway.  Skylar–Sky–is the first-person protagonist of this novel, the first in a new trilogy by Megan Crewe.  She’s a high school student who can see things, a power that creates in her a sort of heightened agoraphobia, social anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder all in one.  She’s learned various coping mechanisms to deal with her responses, because no one can see or feel what she does, and she’s afraid of being labelled “crazy” by trying to explain it to people.  

This ability becomes a sort of super-power cure to the problems of the aliens who’ve come to liberate earth from their alien compatriots who are enslaving the planet through time travel.  Through a series of plot twists, Sky learns more about herself and her past, and helps her new-found alien friend find a weapon that might someday help to end the time-travel enslavement that’s been going on for centuries.  

It’s an intriguing premise and takes the reader on trips to various historical places and events around the world, and features a teen girl protagonist who makes tough choices that in the end help her to move forward in her life.  The themes of self-empowerment and self-determination are strong in this novel which, considering it’s a YA novel, are great themes to have.

I am a little suspect, though, of stories in which what would be classified as mental health disorders or diagnoses in the real world turn out to be “powers” or somehow fixable either through determination om the part of the sufferer or through fixing one big wrong thing in the world.  In other words, Sky doesn’t succeed despite her conditions–conditions which many people in the world deal with on a daily basis and who are rarely represented in fiction–she succeeds because an alien has come to earth and explained their causes and how if she just helps him do this one thing, she’ll be cured.

I’m also not particularly keen on the first-person-present narrator Crewe uses throughout.  It creates a feeling of disconnect through the novel, as the reader is constantly reminded that things are being narrated as they happen.  I kept having visions of Sky running through forests, speaking as she went with a constant rambling of narration even as she fought for her life or gasped for breath or experienced disabling injuries.

Taking into account the time travel/big brother aspect of the story, I can see the use of the present narration style if the next book in the series is going to switch and somehow have Sky reacting to what happened, but if this is the case the reader needs some kind of payoff to understand just why the entire first book had to happen in first-person present rather than past narration.  The prose itself, taking into account the narration style is serviceable.  It gets the point across, though again the present narration makes it difficult for the protagonist to really maintain a sense of introspection or reaction to events, other than immediate ones.  

Crewe sets the novel up well for the second book and has crafted a well-paced, satisfying story.