Month: August 2013

All Of Time And Space Means All Of Time And Space

Ah, poor neglected blog. I have felt guilty for leaving you in the lurch, don’t get me wrong. Most other writerly types tend to manage to keep their own immediate kitchen garden in better order. Real job, plus real life, plus (many) other writing projects have kept me away from you, and most of my thoughts have found a more widely circulating venue over at Nerdspan.

I return to your delightful Saul Bass inspired format today, however, to talk (again) about Doctor Who. Whilst this could go up at Nerdspan, it already has a Doctor Who correspondent, besides, I wouldn’t necessarily suggest that my thoughts should represent the website, or even the considered opinion of m’colleague. Not that I’d think that either one of them, would disagree, just that these are my immediate thoughts on a topic and this blog has now become the place for nonsense pop culture parody songs my off-the-cuff, from-the-hip, mixed-metaphorical musings.

Peter Capaldi has been cast as the Twelfth (or possibly Thirteenth) Doctor today. I love the fact that I live in the world where this is a top headline on that most general audience of all programming slots, breakfast television. Capaldi’s probably most famous for Malcolm Tucker, though he’s got estimable genre chops – he was in the original adaptation of Neverwhere, and has been in Doctor Who (and Torchwood) before. He’s a noted and lauded actor, amazing at finding an authentic way to portray depths of emotion, including rage and despair, whilst possessed of a legendary comic timing and ability to say ridiculous things with a straight face. Above all things, he’s able to find the authenticity in outrageous as well as domestic characters, and these are all great traits for a Doctor Who actor to hold.

That being said…

Although I’m very glad they skewed older for this Doctor (something I’d been angling for for a while) I’m somewhat disappointed it was neither a woman nor a Person of Colour. My personal choice remained Chiwetel Ejiofor in a monocle, 1880s moustache and smoking jacket, but we can’t have everything (besides, he’s a film star now). Many talking heads have spent a good deal of time on this topic, and I don’t propose to do so today. This issue doesn’t affect how I rate Capaldi, as my remarks above hopefully indicate, I’m pretty bullish about the job I think he’ll do.

My issue relates to the manner in which some elements of the fandom have reacted to this news, not by bemoaning it for being less inclusive than it could have been, but rather by postulating that the casting of Capaldi will thankfully make the show less inclusive.

Specifically, a remark that appeared across ALL CORNERS OF THE INTERNET (which talk about Doctor Who, and therefore all the IMPORTANT corners of the internet) was that it was excellent that they’d hired an “unattractive old man” which would disappoint and scare off the “fangirls” who watched the show because they thought the Doctor was attractive.

I’m not exaggerating the issue here. People actively celebrated the idea that female viewers would be “scared off” Doctor who because they no longer could have a crush on him, and that this was a good thing.

To ANYONE who says anything remotely resembling:  “This’ll chase those icky girls away from the show! Stupid fangirls who don’t REALLY love Doctor Who” I say this to you: YOU ARE A BAD DOCTOR WHO FAN.

There’s been a lot in the geek related media about the idea of “fake geek girls”, girls who go to conventions, who don’t participate “properly”, who don’t have the requisite degree of “knowledge” to participate. The idea that there is some sort of “entry bar” to geek hobbies is as bogus as it is offensive, and has been actively attacked by the major voices in the subculture (and rightly so – I’ll hand this over to John Scalzi, who says it better than I ever could).

In many respects though, this is even more of a deplorable failure to grasp certain basic human principles than it is for the geek audience at large. Because (even though it’s wrong) there’s a bunch of geek properties which exclusively (or near exclusively) feature white men as viewpoint protagonists and in which women are portrayed as passive sexual objects. The means to save the planet/dimension/kingdom/universe is seen to rest solely and wholly in their capable, masculine, hard-man-making-hard-choices hands. It is, in fact, regrettably too much a part of geek subculture.

But at least there’s a negative feedback loop that comes into play there which makes some kind of internal sense. It’s deplorable, but it’s also understandable, and you can see where people have gotten off track. If you surround yourself exclusively with media that promotes this viewpoint, that gives an idea of a hierarchical threshold based on a culture of privilege, then it’s no wonder when that’s the idea you end up with in your head. The media we view creates our vision of the world.

But that’s the opposite message of Doctor Who. Trying to gate off Doctor Who, say that there’s an invalid way to watch it, means that you’ve MISSED THE POINT of the show to which you claim to be devoted. Doctor Who is all about inclusion. Craig Ferguson once called it the triumph of humour and intelligence over fear and cynicism. There’s nothing as clearly indicative of fear than to ask part of the audience to go away. Fear that the show will change away from what you want it to be. Fear that your voice won’t sound as loud, that you might end up on the outs of something you’re attached to. That’s the fear that drives the entire notion of “fake” geek girls, or “fake” geeks of any kind – the fear that something that you thought was yours might cease to be so.

That’s a stupid fear, particularly in this case, but even if it weren’t, that fear is less relevant and less important than the hard fact of how much women are excluded for the cultural dialogue, particularly in regards to genre properties. On a hierarchy of needs basis, I hate to break it to those of you who crow at the idea of less girls in the clubhouse, but your FEAR of the hypothetical is less bad than the ACTUAL oppression that subgroups that aren’t straight white males have to go through when it comes to the media, and genre media in particular. That’s why, as a member of the straight white male subgroup, I feel it’s important to make some points as clearly as I can, so it can be understood what we’ve got and why that fear should be, in line with the best of the Doctor’s principles, triumphed over.

In brief:

1) It seems AWFULLY reductionist to suggest that the female audience homogenously crushes on the Doctor. Women (shock!) like men, have all kinds of different tastes in terms of what they do and don’t find attractive, and many, many, many women watch the show for other reasons than to crush on the main character. Many of them were watching it before you were.

2) It takes all sorts to make a world. What’s attractive is a very personal thing.  There are likely to be viewers who want to/do crush on Capaldi, and I say more power to them! Vive la difference! For every young girl alienated, there’s going to be a mother watching Doctor Who with her kids who enjoys the slightly curmudgeonly steely thump of Capaldi. Not to mention the legion of other people who might just go for that type. Or go for any type. Matt Smith and David Tennnant, after all, aren’t exactly what I’d call Hollywood leading man types either, yet as evidenced by your own argument, they have a substantial female following.

3) But (in as far as you look to say I’m missing the point here), the objection isn’t (theoretically) to women who watch the show WITHOUT crushing on the main character – it’s about those who do. Well, firstly, I like to think that girls (or duly interested guys, let’s not forget them) who came to the show for the attractively affable goofballs who have filled the role of late DISCOVERED more to like about the show. That possibly despite a degree of attraction to the main character, the themes and message and suspense and adventure have managed to penetrate and lead them to like MORE about the show. Because, you know, women aren’t one-dimensional creatures who fail to respond to art, and this show that I like so very much has something to say which I anticipate people will respond to. Important, grand, universal themes that speak to more people than just me – even if people initially came to the show for aliens or time travel or because they thought an actor or actress was cute, that they might learn to love all the (other) great things about it.

4) If they didn’t though, and their reason for watching the show relates only to man-candy, so fucking what? That in no way invalidates their viewing experience. There is no valid way to enjoy or not enjoy a programme and unless they’re watching it in the same room as you and shrieking over the top of the dialogue every time the Doctor is on screen or furiously masturbating to the point that you have to leave the room HOW THEY DO OR DO NOT ENJOY THE SHOW HAS NO IMPACT ON YOU. If they’re posting on Tumblr, that’s their affair. If they’re wearing Doctor Who t-shirts in the high street, you know what that means? It means Doctor Who has more money, which means you have MORE DOCTOR WHO. Isn’t that a good thing? Have people forgotten the lean years when we only had a telemovie? Have people forgotten the rubber masks of yesteryears shoestring effects budget? The general audience is a good thing that determines the survival of the show.  Particularly, my American friends, Doctor Who is not a niche programme hidden on cable in the Motherland. It is THE staple of family programming, one of the most watched shows in the country. It plays primetime to everybody, and there’s a tradition of the family gathering around to watch it at Christmas. It’s designed to be watchable for the casual viewer, which includes teenage girls.

5) It’s MASSIVELY hypocritical for genre audiences, who leap to defend Seven of Nine and Lara Croft and the Resident Evil movies and, of course, the always subtle art of most superhero comics to get bent out of shape about a degree of fan crushing – PARTICULARLY where unlike the examples I just mentioned, there’s little objectification of the subject of the crush in the presentation of the show. Funnily enough, the complaints regarding sexuality in the ACTUAL BROADCAST of the show relate to how the Companions have been presented. Particularly those companions whom Moffat himself has acknowledged are cast for a degree of sexiness, to appeal to the “Dads in the audience”. The big Doctor Who sexuality furores related to him kissing Rose, and to Amy saying she was hoping the Doctor would get her “sorted out” (wink). I must have missed the episodes where Doctor Who became innately sexualised to pander to the audience, what with all his shirtless battles with the Oil-People of Sigma-13 and the way he holds his sonic screwdriver suggestively whilst the wind blows back his hair. What people take from media is not what is put into the media, and, as in point 4 above, what people take from media has no impact on what you take from it. Any kind of rational look at the topic makes it clear that the objection isn’t to the presentation of sexuality in genre fiction, or even some degree of sexual appeal being determined to be in existence by the fans, it’s that the sexual appeal referred to is appealing to females, and that’s a problem for some people because they apparently believe that girls are icky.

Which brings me on to my final, and most important point:

6) Doctor Who is all about inclusion, okay? That is, in many respects, the entire POINT of the goddamn show, particularly in its revival. This is the same crap as when Russell T. Davies was accused of pushing a “gay agenda” by having gay people in his programming. Doctor Who attempts to present the entire universe in it, remember? ALL OF TIME AND SPACE. The universe is a place of infinite variety and wonder, admittedly with its dangers, but ultimately, a place where everyone has something to offer. The TARDIS stops, the Doctor walks through the police box door and encounters a new type of person, and what the Doctor is all about is FINDING THE WONDER in that new type of person.

That’s why Doctor Who is written to include kids and adults, men and women and straight people and gay people and everyone in between. People. Hell, the show includes talking trees and benevolent singing squidheads and a pansexual male model slowly turning into a giant hideous prosthetic head. All of time and space time includes everyone and everything in it, and if you don’t want to take a look around outside your insular little world and appreciate some of that goddamn variety, that makes you a BAD Doctor Who fan. You have MISSED the point.

Girls get to watch Doctor Who. Guys get to watch Doctor Who. Kids, and pets, and houseplants get to watch Doctor Who. Everyone gets to watch Doctor Who, in whatever way they like.

Warren Ellis, legendary British comic book writer  (who I understand to be a fan of the show)  designed some villains for his excellent comic series Planetary. They’re called the Four, and they’re basically the Fantastic Four written as villains.

Their credo is “We’re on the human adventure, and you don’t get to come.” That is the credo of the bastard. That is the credo of the bad guys.

The TARDIS is bigger on the inside. It’s got room for everybody, whether or not they’re like you, just as the adventure and excitement of the universe comes from the fact that not everyone is like you. Don’t be the bad guys, Doctor Who fans. Learn the message. Get with the programme.