Archive for April 2015

Companion envy   3 comments

As I mentioned in my last post, Martha expresses occasional jealousy of the Doctor’s other women, for example in ‘The Shakespeare Code,’ ‘Human Nature,’ and ‘Utopia.’ But the biggest episode for jealousy in New Who is ‘School Reunion.’

It’s hard to say who starts it. Rose’s voice is a bit crisp when she asks ‘who’s this?’ of Sarah Jane. But Sarah Jane has venom on her tongue when she comments on Rose’s age, and it’s all downhill from there.


Rose knows little of the Doctor’s past, and nothing of his prior traveling companions. She hasn’t experienced much rivalry for him in the past – there’s a brief flare-up with Lynda in ‘Parting of the Ways,’ but mostly she has felt secure in her relationship with the Doctor. She’s startled to see Sarah Jane, but it isn’t until Sarah Jane attacks that the claws really come out.

And boy do they come out! Rose certainly has a ‘mean girl’ side. But she doesn’t unleash it until Sarah Jane has made two disparaging comments about her age and one about her relationship to the Doctor. Her guard was up, but she’s clearly not the one on the offensive.

And why does Sarah Jane attack? She’s delighted to see her old friend again. But once the glow has faded, thirty years of doubt and pain return. The Doctor abandoned her. She decided he must be dead, and mourned him, and got on with her life as best she could; admittedly, not well. Seeing him again, she realizes it was his choice not to come back. Seeing him with a younger version of herself highlights everything her life hasn’t been for the past thirty years. She got old; he not only stayed young, but replaced her with a younger model. She’s hurt, and she lashes out at Rose.

Rose too is hurt. She has traveled with the Doctor all this time, thinking – naively perhaps – that she was someone special. Now she knows she’s only the latest in a long line. Worse than that, the Doctor will likely leave her behind to be forgotten, just as he did Sarah Jane.


Fortunately, Rose quickly sees the ridiculousness of their predicament. She and her best friend only ever fell out over a man; she knows it’s a silly thing to do. She stops herself, and invites Sarah Jane to see what they really have in common instead. Sarah Jane leaps at the chance. The next thing anyone knows, the two are fast friends.


Of course, they have more in common with each other than anyone else either of them has ever met.

This experience effectively banishes jealousy for Rose. She has only compassion for Reinette, a woman admittedly in love. She admires Martha from their very first encounter. She grows up; she takes Sarah Jane’s advice; and when her heart breaks, she doesn’t let it stop her.


‘Smith and Jones’ and the problem with Martha   Leave a comment

I found a website of DW transcripts. You have been warned.

I previously discussed the problem with Martha here. Now we have the actual lines I referred to, with commentary:

DOCTOR: Just one trip to say thanks. You get one trip, then back home. I’d rather be on my own.
MARTHA: You’re the one that kissed me.
DOCTOR: That was a genetic transfer. (1)
MARTHA: And if you will wear a tight suit. (Clothes do not equal consent.)
DOCTOR: Now, don’t! (2)
MARTHA: And then travel all the way across the universe just to ask me on a date. (Ego much?)
DOCTOR: Stop it. (3)
MARTHA: For the record? I’m not remotely interested. I only go for humans.

The Doctor says no THREE TIMES. And if she’s not openly lying in that last line, she’s at least deceiving herself. In many ways Martha is a great companion: intelligent, adventurous, good-humored, and just a little bit bad-ass. Unfortunately, instead of building a real friendship with this strange new traveling companion, she spends her time in pining and denial.

There is no foundation for a romantic relationship between them. There IS no romantic relationship between them. Martha’s obsession with this non-existent romantic potential – and her groundless jealousy of Rose – prevents her from becoming a real friend.*

That’s her tragedy, and an injustice to her fans.

* I know the Doctor calls her his friend, and she acts like his friend here and there. In my opinion it’s a failure of the writing, to tell us these two are friends while showing us nothing. Rose spoiled us with her character development; we’ve had nothing like it since.

Watsonian vs. Doylist perspective   Leave a comment

Sherlock Holmes fandom: the gift that keeps on giving since 1887.

Briefly, Watsonian perspective is interior to the story: in-universe, from the point of view of Dr. John Watson, the biographer and friend of Sherlock Holmes. Doylist perspective is exterior, from the point of view of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, author and creator of both Watson and Holmes.

For a meta fan like me, both are great fun when applied to the rich story potential of Doctor Who.

In the much-loved and apparently also reviled 50th Anniversary Special, ‘Day of the Doctor,’ the Doctor crosses his own timeline and changes his own past, somehow without actually changing his past, as he knows it at least. Events occur through timelines which earlier/later have no impact on the story or the character. This apparently drives some fans – who haven’t been paying attention to the last 50 years – out of their minds. I’d like to look at these story choices from both a Watsonian and a Doylist point of view.

Doylist is easiest, in this case. For story reasons, to retire an aging throughline and refresh the show’s potential, it was advisable – if not essential – to bring back Gallifrey and the Time Lords. RTD made a wise choice in tossing the Doctor’s baggage back in 2005, rather than weigh down a new generation of viewers with all those years of history. It made sense, it worked, and it gave the character a depth and gravitas he hadn’t had in decades.

At the time, there was no sense of longevity. Davies didn’t know if he’d get one season, or three, or get pulled after six episodes. Now, we know. The show, being infinitely renewable, could last another 50 years. Moffat made a wise choice in bringing the Time Lords back, with all the potential for new adventures and new conflicts they present.

From a Watsonian perspective, pasts and futures change all the time on Doctor Who. Rose gets to meet her dad; Amy gets to marry her non-existent boyfriend; Donna changes the world with the turn of a wheel; Martha lives an entire year that never happened at all. There’s no reason to think the Doctor couldn’t shake up his own life a little. Perhaps he needs all those years – and all that regret – to come back around and make a better choice. Perhaps he needs that perspective in order to see what could be done differently. The War Doctor believes he doesn’t have a future; but once he’s seen that future, his own potential reveals itself.

In the anniversary special, as in all anniversary specials, the Doctor meets himself, crossing his own timeline. From a Doylist perspective, this is just plain fun: fans love seeing prior Doctors again, particularly longer-term fans whose favorite has been away a while. (OH that cameo!!) They don’t affect former Doctors’ stories because it’s impractical, if not impossible, to go back and change those already-aired tales. From a Watsonian POV, past Doctors are unaffected by events because they’re anomalies, and not part of those Doctors’ worlds. The Doctors appear, they have the effect they have on their successor’s timeline, and they return to their own timestreams as if nothing happened – because as far as they’re concerned, it didn’t. The War Doctor regenerates, waking up to a universe where the war is over and Gallifrey is gone. With no memory later than his acquisition of the Moment, of course he believes he is guilty of its destruction. Of course he believes there was no other way. He grieves; he broods; he meets Rose Tyler, and embarks upon the journey that will bring him full-circle to a place where he can change.



Not a bad story arc for a time traveler, and it frees up Twelve to have all sorts of new and different adventures – and whether you’re Watson or Doyle, that’s a good thing.

The Stowaway   Leave a comment

Once I found a stowaway
Upon my ship on Christmas Day
I was fair so I gave him a chance
“You shouldn’t be here, what’s your tale?
I ought to throw you to the whale,”
He just smiled and said, “Come here, let’s dance…”

So the Tenth Doctor charmed Astrid Peth, ill-fated serving girl aboard the Starship Titanic. She dreamed of seeing the Universe, but not like this. Not as servant to the posh and unpleasant, always wearing a smile in spite of their treatment of her, and hardly getting more than a glance through the window. But this handsome stranger wasn’t one of them. When he looked at her, she could believe he actually saw her, and he spoke to her as a fellow conspirator rather than mere staff. She didn’t know a thing about him; he could have been an escaped criminal, a murderer, a terrorist bent on destruction, and she still wouldn’t have cared. His smile snared her heart, and she could no more have turned him in than flung herself off the deck into space.

He told me of his girl back home
waiting patient all alone
As we danced I shed a little tear
He closed his eyes, all out to sea
I think he danced with her, not me
I’ll just have to wait another year

In him she sensed a fellow romantic. Together they yearned for what could not be: he for his lost love, she for the love yet to be found, each equally impossibly far away. She couldn’t be that love for him, nor he for her, but she could help him carry the burden. She could take away some of his loneliness and pain, if only for a while.

I think of him now and again
I wonder how his journey ends
As I sail upon my lonesome sea
The stranger with the haunting face
Here, then gone without a trace
Lying with his love, that’s where he’ll be

Astrid didn’t live to say goodbye. Instead, she drifted out among the stars, another speck of dust in the void. But in her last thought of him she wished for him to find what it was he sought, to have happiness again, to make her sacrifice worthwhile.

Beg, borrow, or steal, I’ll find a way
to be with my lover upon Christmas Day
and I’ll run and I’ll roam, I’ll cover the ground
Next Christmas I’ll see you, I’ll be around.

She would find the love she longed for. And someday, somehow, she would see the Doctor again.

Time Travel on my mind   Leave a comment

Last week I read Ted Chiang’s ‘Story of your Life,’ in which the primary character learns to see time non-linearly. This of course got me thinking about Doctor Who.

There are as many theories and ideas about time travel as there are writers and thinkers on the topic. I got a good overview in Time Machines by Paul J. Nahin. The one that stuck with me was the idea of the ‘time loaf:’ all of time exists in a single, eternal block, everything that ever happened all happening at once all the time. Humans only experience it linearly because that’s how we travel through the loaf. The Doctor can travel anywhere in the loaf, and he can see it all at once. He sees what is, what was, what will be, all laid out like a tapestry before him, every event in its place. Chiang’s character also finds she can see all her life all at once: the future is no longer invisible, and the past is as accessible as the present.

The major objection put forth in both works is the idea of free will. The future can’t have already happened, because humans have free will. Humans must have free will, because anything else is unthinkable. Nahin discusses this problem in depth, with all the arguments of philosophy at hand. But I didn’t buy it. I wasn’t persuaded that free will is even a thing.

Humans are attached to the idea of free will because they think it’s what makes them human. They don’t like the idea of a path laid out for them. But just because we don’t like something doesn’t mean it isn’t true. Maybe we don’t have free will, or maybe free will doesn’t work the way we think – much as Chiang’s character discovers.

In Chiang’s story, the question is posed: What if, upon learning her future, a person then goes on to make a different choice, negating the established future? This possibility shuts down the viability of a determined future: it can’t be, because humans can choose differently. But as the main character learns, just because you learn something doesn’t mean you’ll act differently. Dr. Banks learns to see her whole life laid out before her; she knows the pain she will endure, the mistakes she will make and the mistakes she will witness, and yet she changes nothing. She continues to act as she knows she acts – how she acted, how she must act. It’s as if she has no choice. But there are no monsters, no Greek pathos, no force of nature compelling her to act that way, preventing her from saving herself. She has free will. But her will is what had her act, what has her act, and she freely chooses her acts the way she chooses them, regardless of what she knows. Her future comes from who she is in the moment, and who she is doesn’t change based on what she knows. Her life is hers, her choices are hers, and she can do no other. Nor would she.

An example of this type of choice in Doctor Who occurs in ‘Fires of Pompeii.’ The Doctor knows that Pompeii is a fixed point, and he cannot change it. Instead he tries to escape. However, he and Donna learn that not only does Pompeii happen, not only must it happen, but they themselves are the agents of its happening. They cause/caused/must cause it to happen. The Doctor and Donna have free will in the face of events, but being who they are, they can make only one choice.


“Never mind us.”

The choices in ‘Fires of Pompeii’ make sense. Of course the Doctor and his companion would sacrifice themselves to save the world. The choices in ‘Story of Your Life’ make sense. Dr. Banks chooses to bear and raise her child, even knowing that her marriage will end and her child will die, because to her it’s all worthwhile. However, attractive as the time loaf idea may be, it doesn’t always work. For an example we look no further than ‘Father’s Day.’

‘Father’s Day’ is one of my all-time favorite episodes, and yet as a time travel story it’s quite terrible. The idea of monsters springing up to heal a crack in time is ridiculous to me. The idea of changing your own past by changing the future is equally implausible. However, there’s no other way for the story to work. There is no way Rose doesn’t choose to save her father’s life. And since the world isn’t a Greek tragedy or an open wound, there’s nothing to stop her doing it. There’s nothing to fix the rift she causes. In a time loaf, her father died alone. He will and must do so. But if time travel is possible, then Rose will save him. That choice is as much a part of who she is as Donna’s choice to sacrifice herself. The two are incompatible.

There are other theories of time travel that serve parts of the story. Parallel universe theory would allow Rose to save her father without changing her own past – she lives in an alternate stream. (Presumably the Doctor would be able to move among streams.) However, Pete’s subsequent sacrifice would be obviated. Rose could save her father; Baby Rose would grow up with her dad; but Rose herself would remain bereft. He wouldn’t be her father; he’d have his own Rose. Not only that, but he wouldn’t have to die to save the universe. He wouldn’t have the opportunity to step up and show his daughter the man he could be.

Another possibility is that Rose’s mother was wrong, and Pete never did die alone. Perhaps Rose’s attempt to save him fails, but she is able to share his last moments and vanish before the ambulance arrives. But once again, the heart of the story – Pete’s self-discovery and sacrifice – is lost. There is no way to tell it without monsters, however dubious they may be.

That of course is the benefit of fantasy.

Random writerly remarks   Leave a comment

The things I think of, sometimes.

First: Moffat. The annoying thing about being a broad-minded and undogmatic person is that I find myself wanting to defend Moffat, whom I do not like, because the hate out there is so strong it even has otherwise rational people seeing the worst in everything. Example: Moffat says that Clara doesn’t see herself as the ‘junior member’ of the partnership. Fans HEAR: Moffat thinks Rose/Amy/their favorite companion IS the junior member. Moffat says good on E.L. James for turning her fandom into something; fans HEAR that Moffat thinks 50 Shades is great. I don’t want to have to tell them how wrong they are, because I don’t like Moffat and don’t want to defend him, but at the same time they are being ridiculous. I’ve said it before; Moffat is a writer, and a supernerd, and as such would be expected to misspeak at every opportunity. Instead, he actually does very well a lot of the time, and still people make the worst of it. If he does say something cringeworthy, then we’ve got no leg left to stand on, because he’s already been destroyed for something innocent. The anti-Moffat fandom risks self-defeat.

Honestly, though, I shouldn’t be surprised. The fandom has been divisive since forever.

Second: Russell. The delightful Russell T. Davies was interviewed on Fresh Air, where they refer to him as ‘Russell Davis’ and he does not correct them. I could honestly listen to this man talk about anything, forever. Everything he says and does is infused with such joy and energy; I just want to be around him all the time. I commented once that what I like about RTD is his ‘lunatic, co-conspiratorial delight’ when talking about DW. I still think that’s the most descriptive and accurate thing I’ve ever written.

Interested parties can find the interview here. But be warned: it’s not about Doctor Who.

Posted April 7, 2015 by Elisabeth in Fandom, Writers and Writing

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Midnight Monster   Leave a comment

During yesterday’s Midnight Monday tumblr event, a fellow user commented on the similarity between the Midnight entity and the Gelth of S1. They commented that in treating the Midnight entity as a benevolent, or at least harmless, new life form, the Doctor hadn’t learned his lesson from the Gelth. (I can’t find the original post now, or I would link it.)

I disagree. It’s not about not learning his lesson. It’s about refusing to let a bad experience make him cynical. No matter what happens, no matter what he’s been through – and it’s a lot! – the Doctor always chooses to see the best in everything. The Fourth Doctor made some comment along those lines; again, I can’t find the quote, but he has some exchange about always expecting the best, and always being proved wrong. And still, he approaches each new situation with optimism.

This is one of the traits I admire in the Doctor. He may have met a thousand aliens that looked good but turned out to be bad. An ordinary being would begin to expect every alien to be bad. A human certainly would. The Doctor would not. He will always see each new thing as a new thing to be discovered for itself, with no preconceived notions. He comes to every new encounter full of wonder, not fear. He doesn’t hold one creature’s acts against another. He doesn’t hold the past against the future.

I suspect humanity could learn a thing or two from that.