Archive for January 2015
Continuing yesterday’s adventures with the Ninth Doctor era, first up is ‘Aliens of London/World War III’ by Russell T. Davies. These two episodes have very large casts, including neighbors, soldiers, reporters, and Slitheen, so I’ll try to focus on the more significant characters.
- Harriet Jones
- Margaret Blaine/Blon
- Dr. Sato
- Indra Ganesh
- Joseph Green/Jocrassa
- Oliver Charles/Slitheen
- General Asquith/Slitheen
- Sergeant Price
There’s really no reason the Slitheen couldn’t have been half and half. I’m sure someone’s made up some reason based on the native culture to explain it, but it’s still bogus.
These episodes are great for Jackie, Mickey, and Harriet Jones. Indra and Sergeant Price are good secondary roles. Blaine/Blon is decent but really gets her turn later in the season in ‘Boom Town.’ Dr. Sato is a good addition – among all the male soldiers, it’s nice to have a female doctor. (It’s also fun to see Tosh, pre-Torchwood.) Overall, casting is weighted heavily male, though strong speaking roles are weighted more female; does that make the story balanced?
‘The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances’ by Stephen Moffat
- Dr. Constantine
- Mr. Lloyd
Again, I’m skipping over the more minor roles.
The imbalance here is obvious, and to a certain degree explained by the soldiers. Would there/could there have been women in Jack’s unit? The casting people here can’t be bothered to wonder. But most of the children are also male, and as I recall a majority of the hospital patients as well. There is no reason for this but lazy casting.
Jack is an interesting item all by himself. Being explicitly omnisexual, he deviates from the straight white male standard. Algy too is implicitly gay. This doesn’t help women get television roles, but it does stretch the mold a bit in terms of character.
Nancy, of course, is the hero of the story, and she dominates. Young, homeless, and alone, she adopts a pack of children and helps them to survive war-torn London. She battles fear and grief, and the men of the world who would dominate her, in addition to facing the real dangers of falling bombs, starvation, and disease. She does it all with quiet courage and perseverance. She is one of the best characters New Who has ever produced, if not one of the best single-use television characters of all time.
Someone discussing the episodes, probably Moffat, expressed an interest in the ‘other side’ of London during the Blitz. Plenty of stories are told of heroes, and people coming together. Plenty of stories tell of children shipped out of the city and the hardships they faced among strangers far from home. Few stories deal with those left behind, those forgotten, children orphaned and abandoned, an unwed teenage mother alone on the streets. This one is beautifully told.
These episodes, like the two above, present an interesting question of balance. Does it matter how many roles go to men, when the best ones go to women? For actors, obviously, it does; numbers are important, both before and behind the camera. But the gift that is Nancy goes a long way for female characters on television.
‘Boom Town’ by Russell T. Davies
- Margaret Blaine/Blon
- Mr. Cleaver
- Idris Hopper
This episode is a great one for actors. Mickey and Jack weigh the main cast heavily in favor of men, but Blon’s role is so rich character-wise that she really dominates the episode. Cathy is a minor role of major importance. It would still have been nice to have more: a female scientist, perhaps, or other female staff.
The story features a lot of pairs. Rose, Mickey, Jack, and the Doctor make a comfortable foursome. Blon and the Doctor parallel Rose and Mickey in another scene. Jack and the TARDIS also make a sort of couple. Then Mickey gets exchanged for Blon in the TARDIS, providing a different kind of foursome, and in the end it’s a threesome that flies off into the sunset. Having Jack aboard, and including Mickey without Jackie, generally throws off the balance, and though the woman’s role is strong enough to remain at the forefront for viewers, it’s not really enough to compensate.
These explorations are interesting in part because they attempt to balance not just numbers – cast lists, lines, screen time – but also quality and richness of roles. This may not be possible: we may be looking at apples and oranges. Female characters linger in the mind but they remain few in the scheme of things. At the beginning of yesterday’s post I recalled research I had seen finding that audiences perceive more women than are really there. Audiences are accustomed to – and comfortable with – male-dominated fictional worlds. As such, the women of Doctor Who stand out brightly. But however good they are, can they make up for the paucity of numbers?
An interesting question.
Beginning with the Ninth Doctor’s era, I’d like to take a look at the side characters of New Who, with an emphasis on the women.
‘Rose’ by Russell T. Davies
- Clive’s wife (minor)
- Clive’s son (minor)
- Nestene voice
The first episode of the reboot skews male. This is hardly unusual in the grand scheme; research has observed (too lazy to find source) that a cast made up of 1/3 women will be perceived as dominated by women. Setting aside that particular wtf, what about these characters?
Jackie and Mickey receive roughly equal treatment in the story. Both are well realized, both are important to Rose as well as to the season arc. They ground Rose while giving the audience two different perspectives on the main character and her life.
Clive serves a couple of purposes in the episode. He delivers exposition, which could have been done by a character of either gender. He also represents a stereotype: the overweight obsessive, collecting mementos of his fandom in a backyard shed where his wife doesn’t have to look at them, single-mindedly gathering information, forming wild theories, and sharing them on the Internet. Years later Gatiss and Moffat would use Clive’s female counterpart – now a more widely accepted member of fandom – in the leadup to S3 of Sherlock. In ‘Rose,’ however, Russell T. Davies seems to be pointing to a very specific archetype in the character of Clive.
The Autons are split male/female, but the ones that get the most action – threatening Rose, fighting Rose and the Doctor – are all male.
‘The End of the World’ by Russell T. Davies
- Computer voice
- Moxx of Balhoon
- Assorted aliens and alien voices
Women dominate this episode in screen time if not in absolute numbers. Cassandra is the primary villain; Jabe steps in as companion while Rose explores the alien landscape. Raffalo, an afterthought of a character, has more lines and more personality than any male other than the Steward. She also has a traditionally male job. Both Cassandra and Jabe strike stereotypical notes – vanity, romantic interest – but both are also complex and interesting on top of that.
‘The Unquiet Dead’ by Mark Gatiss
- Mrs. Pearce
- Gelth voices
- Charles Dickens
- Stage manager
Period episodes are always challenging. The minor roles could for the most part not be filled by women and maintain an appearance of accuracy. I say appearance, because women often did things in the past that today are forgotten or overlooked; perhaps women could have filled these roles. It’s possible that casting women in these roles would upset the audience’s suspension of disbelief. It’s possible none of this matters, and casting directors need to get over themselves. It’s an interesting and challenging question.
Gwyneth and Charles Dickens roughly share importance in the episode. Both have depth of character and credibility, and only acting together do they save the day. However, only Gwyneth ends up dead. The habit of killing women while allowing the men to carry on heavy-hearted is one often criticized in television circles.
Nevertheless, Gwyneth is a strong and memorable character, and an excellent first look at the wonderful Eve Myles.
I’ll save ‘Aliens of London/World War III’ for another time, as the cast list for that story is a long one.
‘Dalek’ by Robert Shearman
- Van Statten
- Various soldiers and scientists
- Dalek voice
I consider the makeup of this episode to be a casting error. The character of De Maggio establishes that women are soldiers; that women are equivalently trained, competent, and professional; that women are not special, protected, or preserved when it comes to war. Yet she is the only one. Given the demonstrated facts, the bunker workforce should have been half female. Yet there are no other women soldiers; there are no women scientists; there is only De Maggio, and the executive Goddard. There is zero reason for this; it can only be a blind mistake.
Goddard is a decent character – questioning Van Statten, standing up to him, taking over from him in the end – but she is only third-string in importance after Van Statten and Adam. She only succeeds by becoming one of the boys. It may have been intentional, or it may have been an oversight, but Van Statten’s world is very much a man’s.
Notably, the audio story on which ‘Dalek’ is based – ‘Jubilee,’ also by Robert Shearman – takes place even more literally in a man’s world, where women are reduced to decorative status. However, it still manages to be more balanced character-wise than the televised version. Miriam Rochester is more a match for her husband, in terms of characterization, than Goddard is for Van Statten, and the companion carries more of the story than she does in ‘Dalek.’
‘The Long Game’ by Brian Grant
- Adam’s mother
- The Editor
This is an episode of powerful women. Suki the freedom fighter dies facing her enemy, and still defeats him in the end. Cathica discovers who she could be as a journalist and a force for good in her world. Adam is dominated by the women in his life: manipulated by the nurse, overshadowed by his mother. He gives in to selfishness, where Cathica overcomes it. Suki and the Editor represent the extremes: Suki dies to save others, while the Editor kills to preserve himself.
I’m not sure what that says about gender roles. It is something of a trope that women give while men take. Usually in such stories the women lose; they can only win by becoming more like men. In this story the women, the givers, win. Adam, failing to be Rose, is cast out of the TARDIS, while Suki’s mission succeeds and Cathica saves the day.
‘Father’s Day’ by Paul Cornell
- Various wedding guests
- Young Mickey
Being the story of Rose’s father, the episode is naturally dominated by Pete Tyler. Jackie, however, makes a very strong showing. The young couple preparing to marry are featured as a pair. The groom’s father tips the balance, in an interesting parallel/counterpoint.
There could have been more women in this cast. The registrar could have been a woman; the groom’s father could have been replaced or supplemented by a mother. But the story is so very much Rose’s story, and Jackie serves such an essential role, that it seems more like bean-counting than balance. Even the Doctor is nearly an afterthought in this episode. Ultimately Pete and Jackie’s romance forms a strong subplot through the run of the series, paralleling and counterpointing that of Rose and the Doctor. There is no Pete without Jackie; there would be neither without Rose.
I’ll be back for more exploration very soon.
This is interesting.
‘How Doctor Who Betrayed Matt Smith’
I almost entirely agree. I really enjoyed Matt Smith’s performances. I really don’t think much of his era. The 50th Anniversary special is a joyous exception, and the entire run has its moments – mostly Matt Smith moments – but it leaves this viewer disappointed.
S8, though not always successful in its choices, strives to be better. I have hopes for S9 as well.
I really need to go do other things, but I wanted to share this: RTD vs Moffat
Like the original poster, I am baffled by the hate and sharply aware that neither (nor any prior) showrunner is All That. Neither, nor any, is all bad either. Everyone has their favorite stuff and stuff that bothers them. That’s life.
I also agree that ‘fair and balanced’ does not mean equal. Personally I like RTD’s era better than Moffat’s, and Moffat’s contributions to that era better than anything else either of them has written. I’m never going to enjoy S6 as much as I enjoy S1, no matter how fair-minded I might like to be. That’s life too.
There’s really no need for people to be rabid about it either way.
In the interest of saving things which are awesome, and in the spirit of earlier conversations about companions, I give you Rose Tyler and the allegory of humanity.
Still thinking about it.
I did want to answer the questions posed in the Kasterborous article and add a couple of thoughts. Writer James Lomond asks:
Does Moffat write with a male gaze? Are his women mere tropes and negative ones at that? Or is this a skewed view and Moff’s Who has given us far more rich and engaging female characters that a lot of shows out there?
The first answer is obviously yes. It might be argued that a man can’t help but write for a male gaze, as that’s all he has to work with. I’m not sure that’s entirely true, given that writers, particularly SFF writers, must make heavy use of their imaginations. Still, in large portions of his work Moffat revels in the male gaze. Amy’s clothes, her work as a kissogram and then a model, River Song’s sexual repartee, Clara’s mystery, the Doctor’s discomfort with and lack of understanding of women, all are effects of the male gaze. What thousand-year-old alien, having spent centuries traveling space and time, finds female humans such a cypher – or even particularly distinct from male humans? Compared to all he’s seen, it’s not only unlikely, but insulting.*
The other two questions are a set, and the answer is of course somewhere in between. River Song is, ultimately, a mass of negative tropes; Orla Brady is a non-character; Amy and Clara each have their issues; hardly anyone manages to avoid some sort of fate-driven entanglement with the Doctor that bars her from independence or agency. However, Moffat also writes interesting, autonomous women with their own lives and stories. Liz X, Madge Arwell, and Kate Stewart all blossom under his pen. Nancy (‘The Empty Child’) and Sally Sparrow are among the best characters of the entire series. Even Osgood, described in the article as incapacitated by her infatuation, is in fact not: every time she stops to plead for the Doctor to save her, she ends up saving herself. Her situation is more parallel to Malcolm’s (‘Planet of the Dead’) than Molly Hooper’s. Not all of Moffat’s female characters are richly realized – the villains of S8 are a mixed bag – but the growing number of them can only be a good thing for women in the industry and in the audience.
As I’ve said before, a long way from perfect but not the worst thing in the world.
*Part of this is Matt Smith. He’s spoken in interviews about his view of the Doctor, which is very much a young male human perspective: to him, women are alien, unknowable, and hot. You’d think someone would have smacked him upside the head by now. Oh well, he’s still very young; there’s time.
This is actually the most reasonable and well-thought-out article on the topic I’ve yet encountered:
Women in NuWho
It also supports my theory that Moffat wrote his best characters for Davies’ era.
Still thinking on it, but imagine I’ll have more to say later.
ETA then there’s this, via Paul Cornell’s twitter: Moffat and the idea of a female Doctor.
When Peter Capaldi was announced, a clip of Moffat was included in the presentation. Someone asked about a woman playing the Doctor and he said he’d like to see a man play the Queen. It’s a false equivalency and insulting to boot. Given the above I wonder if that comment was taken out of context or if it was an expression of frustration with the question. It also didn’t occur to me at the time, but the producer/director of the presentation deserves at least as much side-eye as the Moff for including the clip, especially if it’s out of context.
I maintain that Moffat is a) marginally if any more sexist than the average straight white Western male in his position; b) by his nature inclined to the twelve-year-old boy point of view; c) subject to serious bouts of foot-in-mouth disease; d) disinclined to account for himself (justifiably, may I add, given the vitriol of some fans’ reactions); e) aware of what’s going on around him; f) not always capable of dealing with it. He’s a long way from perfect, in some ways not even all that admirable, but he is most certainly human.
He also has the distinct disadvantage of being the most visible figure at the helm of an incredibly popular show in an era of unprecedented access by thoughtful, intelligent fans and ranting trolls alike. It’s an unenviable position, and it’s unlikely anyone, however admirable, could manage it well at all times. Moffat is a writer and a super-geek, so it’s not surprising he’d be bad at this particular aspect of the job.
I still don’t much like him, but I don’t mind giving him credit where it’s due.