Archive for the ‘Themes and Ideas’ Category
It is interesting to note that the three-episode arc of “Tooth and Claw,” “School Reunion,” and “The Girl in the Fireplace” has instigated more of my writing than anything else, anywhere, ever. (For example, this is the 4th post resulting from one conversation about one of the three episodes.) The reason for this I think is how much great character stuff happens in these three stories.
Across this arc we see the best and the worst of Rose. In “Tooth and Claw,” we see her compassion for the frightened maid, and her courage and leadership in helping the women escape the barn. But she’s also at her most callous in this story, provoking the Queen and joking with the Doctor in the face of others’ fear and grief. In “School Reunion” we see her petty jealousy, but we also see her overcome that jealousy for friendship and a unique bond with one of very few women who understands her experience. In “The Girl in the Fireplace,” we see the depths of her compassion and her commitment to help others, as she sets aside any feelings she may have about the Doctor in order to comfort and save Reinette.
This arc sets up Rose’s downfall. Rose spent S1 learning to trust the Doctor and herself, and expanding the boundaries of her own capability. In S2 she’s out to have a good time. She has stopped worrying about the risk, having perhaps too much faith in hers and the Doctor’s abilities. She never considers the real danger posed by the werewolf, and cares too little for Lady Isabel’s loss.
These three episodes are Rose’s last hurrah. Fans on rewatch can see the darkness gathering ahead. I don’t doubt the Doctor sees it too, though he’s happy to ignore it as long as he can. But not until “Rise of the Cybermen,” when she faces finding and losing her family all over again, when she loses Mickey, does Rose begin to understand the cost of her adventures. She’s young enough to think she’s invincible, and that the good times will last forever. After S1 she may even think she’s earned it. The balance of S2 serves as a nasty surprise.
Rose isn’t the only one who gets rearranged this season. “School Reunion” sees the Doctor face the consequences of his lifestyle. It sees Sarah Jane learn to accept what has happened to her, to see the good as well as the bad – setting her up for her own televised Adventures. “Reunion” and “The Girl in the Fireplace” set up Mickey’s final transition from idiot to savior of worlds. None of these characters is ever the same again.
There’s a quote from “The Doctor, the Widow, and the Wardrobe” that feels relevant here:
“Every time you see them happy, you remember how sad they’re going to be. And it breaks your heart. Because what’s the point in them being happy now if they’re going to be sad later? The answer is, of course, because they are going to be sad later.”
They’re going to be sad later.
The Verity! Podcast on “The Girl in the Fireplace” brought up an idea that I had never seriously considered in the context of Doctor Who, but which is clearly relevant: polyamory, or the ability to love more than one.
American society is fixedly monogamous. Any type of relationship veering from the man-woman-marriage-children prototype gets a raised eyebrow at best, violent discrimination at worst. “Soul mates” are a trope many people attempt to apply to real life, often with painful results. Yet many people love more than once. The widowed or divorced person who remarries doesn’t (necessarily) stop loving their original partner. A person may love a long string or collection of people, each one different and unique.
It may not have been intentional on the part of either showrunner, but modern Who definitely pushes the boundaries.
In “The Girl in the Fireplace” (and in real life) Reinette is a married woman who is lover to the King. In the story she also falls in love with the Doctor. In her world of eighteenth century France, this is normal, as the Doctor tries to explain to his companions. But it’s also normal in the Doctor’s world. The Doctor loves Rose, but he also loves Sarah Jane. The Doctor marries River, but he also mourns Clara. The Doctor loves the TARDIS, but he equally loves his companions. The Doctor had a family once: does he ever stop loving them?
In a long life one may love many times, or many people all at once. Love for one isn’t diminished by love for another. The Doctor has two hearts and dozens of lifetimes: it seems natural that he would love a lot. It seems natural too that anyone of his courage, compassion, and charm would be easy to love. (All of us have fallen for him, right?) And in this world, can too much love really be a bad thing?
All it takes is a big enough heart(s).
As a combined result of visiting a recent Star Trek exhibit at the Museum of Pop Culture in Seattle, and of listening to Verity! Podcast discuss “The Girl in the Fireplace,” I’ve been re-thinking what makes characters like Rose and Dr. McCoy my favorites. Earlier I theorized that it’s their courage and forthrightness that endears them to me. Now, though, I think it must at least equally be their compassion.
McCoy’s key trait on Star Trek is his humanity. His emotion balances Spock’s logic as the two help their Captain make his decisions. Caring for his patient comes first on his list every time, whether the patient is a friend, a Vulcan ambassador, or a lump of sentient rock. He risks his life to save others. He’s rough-edged, bombastic, sometimes unkind, but he is a doctor first in all things.
Rose, too, is defined by her humanity. Her first move in so many of her adventures with the Doctor is to comfort the fearful, from Gwyneth the maid to Toby the xenoarchaeologist. She allies herself with a damaged Dalek and the enslaved Ood. If she feels any jealously over the Doctor’s relationship with Reinette, she sets it aside in favor of saving a life. She is no more flawless than McCoy, but her heart is her dominant feature.
Compassion fatigue is a common problem. The modern world is full of suffering: there are so many causes to support, so many things to care about, that it’s easier for most people to just shut it off. It’s certainly a problem I have. To watch these characters fearlessly care is inspiring. It reminds me of the thousand starfish washed up on a beach: it’s true I can’t save them all, but maybe I can save *that* one.
And to that one, it makes all the difference.
I put on “Love and Monsters” tonight for the express purpose of cleansing evil Rochefort from my mind with adorable Elton Pope. It worked brilliantly, of course. But I also got something out of the episode I’ve never seen before.
At the end of the story, Ursula has to live out her life as a paving stone. Previously I’ve considered it just a bit of RTD silliness, a little icky if you think about it too hard, maybe a little bit dumb. Forgettable if nothing else. But on this pass I got a whole new take.
People go through terrible things in life. People lose limbs, get paralyzed, suffer disfigurement and pain – and in the end, often find they’re still themselves. Ursula and Elton don’t get the life they hoped for. Ursula doesn’t get the body she expected. But they’re still here; they’re still themselves; they still have each other.
RTD hasn’t been great at portraying disability. His sympathy here may be entirely unintentional. But in the end we have characters whose lives will never be the same, will never, in some ways, be right – and yet those lives remain worth living.
In sickness and in health, for better or worse, as long as we both shall live.
I can’t not wrap up with my favorite quote from the episode: one of my favorites of all time, and one of the truest things ever written:
When you’re a kid, they tell you it’s all… grow up. Get a job. Get married. Get a house. Have a kid, and that’s it. But the truth is, the world is so much stranger than that. It’s so much darker. And so much madder.
And so much better.
Last week Star Trek turned 50. The fabled Enterprise joins the club.
Star Trek and Doctor Who have more in common than just their venerable age. Both have captured the imagination of generations. Both inspire fans to achieve new heights. Both have impacted their culture far beyond their original expectations.
Doctor Who, of course, was an accident. The BBC needed to fill a half hour on Saturday evenings. The network’s first female producer and one of its first directors of color, both of them young and untried, took on the challenge and created something that turned out to be magic.
Star Trek, on the other hand, was intentional. Gene Roddenberry had a vision for his creation. He wanted to demonstrate that humanity could achieve peace and equality. Still, it’s unlikely he anticipated the reaction he got.
The art that is Star Trek – a television show made by actors and costumers and set people and lighting people, and made possible by the intervention of a certain famous comedian – inspires science. Fans grow up to be engineers, explorers, astronauts. The magic that is Doctor Who – the mad man in a box – inspires art. Writers, painters, producers, musicians, all touched with that fantastical brush. Together, they make up the right and left sides of the human brain.
The Doctor and all the various Star Fleet captains are scientists. They use their science to seek out wonder and magic across the boundless universe. We live in a world of physical laws and engineering miracles – and we do it with the magic of imagination.
Welcome to 50 years, Star Trek. May we prosper many more together.
Uhura of the Enterprise poses with some of the astronauts of color she inspired (source)
I have been known to ponder what “The Doctor’s Wife” might have been without the romance angle. Of course we know that the Doctor would love his TARDIS whatever she looked like, and that their bond in fact has no sexual element to it, but deep platonic love is barely a thing on television today. Given that environment, how could such a relationship be effectively portrayed?
TNT’s The Librarians reveals all.
The Librarians has shown flickers of DW in the past. Its creators established their fanboy cred on Leverage, and the pilot of their newer show displayed some strong parallels. In the S2 episode “And the Hollow Men,” Librarian Flynn Carsen – a brilliant, well-traveled eccentric – meets someone who turns out to be his Library – his bigger-on-the-inside box of wonders – in human form.
Instead of a beautiful woman, the Library manifests itself in a large, sweaty, bearded man. Sexual chemistry is notably absent. However, the love between them, the shared adventures, the need each has for the other, all shine as brightly as the bond between the Doctor and his TARDIS. Flynn loves his Library, and his Library loves him back. He grieves at having to say goodbye so soon, but he’ll never forget – and never regret – the time when they talked.
“It’s sad when it’s over.”
Well done, Librarians, well done.
Our new showrunner these days is best known for his creation of Broadchurch and its two spinoffs, the American Gracepoint and the French Malaterra. However, he has a long history with the Doctor Who family, as well as a range of other types of shows. His more conventional fare includes the TV movie United; the series Camelot; and 6 episodes of Law and Order: UK. But of course, we really want to know how he treats our favorite Time Lord and his friends.
- “42”(2007): This is a pretty good horror-style episode with great side characters, marred by appalling melodrama between the Doctor and Martha. I almost left it off my rewatch for that reason, but the rest of it manages to compensate.
- “The Hungry Earth/Cold Blood” (2010): A decent two-parter, once you overlook the rehash of “Doctor Who and the Silurians.” Good character stuff; a dark look at the underside of human nature; and another favorite in the form of Nasreen Chaudhry.
- “Dinosaurs on a Spaceship” (2012): A weird mix of silly and grim. Tricey and Brian are wonderful, and Amy has a good time too.
- “The Power of Three” (2012): Mostly dull, unless you’re a fan of Amy and Rory’s “ordinary” life. However, there’s lots of Brian, and the first television appearance of Kate Stewart. It’s not her best showing, but still it’s nice to have her.
I haven’t rewatched Torchwood in a long time, so my impressions aren’t as clear. Still, this is as I recall:
- “Day One” (2006): The second episode of the series and Gwen’s first day on the job, this episode sets the tone for the show and establishes a lot of essential character stuff. It’s weird, intriguing, fun in places, but made us wonder what the hell is up with these people.
- “Cyberwoman” (2006): This episode is, as I recall, terrible. Everyone is stupid. The sexualized Cyber-costume doesn’t help.
- “Countrycide” (2006): This episode is scary and gross, and put me off the series originally. I even skipped over it on my second pass at the show. I finally managed to watch it – in daylight – during my great rewatch. It’s classic horror, quite well constructed, but still hard to watch for the non-horror fan.
- “End of Days” (2007): The S1 finale doesn’t have a whole lot to recommend it – particularly coming on the heels of the spectacular “Captain Jack Harkness.” Everyone is pretty much terrible.
- “Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang” (2008): Not great, but
gay Spike James Marsters as Jack’s old frenemy spices things up. I also enjoyed sassy Ianto.
- “Adrift” (2008): A brutal, pessimistic (mis)handling of the mentally ill. This is one of the episodes flagged by fans comparing Moffat’s treatment of disability to Davies’. It doesn’t score well. (Interesting that Chibnall appears on both sides of the line, with this and the Silurian two-parter.)
- “Fragments” (2008): Cool backstory, not much else.
- “Exit Wounds”(2008): Jack’s personal drama gets more personal. I definitely remember rolling my eyes at this one.
A mixed bag of stories, to say the least. If anything I’d guess we’ll get more horror in Chibnall’s Doctor Who. We might even get some interesting character stuff: Chibnall aligns his audience with both Ambrose and Restac, both Jack Marshall and the community that turns on him, both acceptance and fear of the differently abled. I look forward to seeing what he does with Doctor Who‘s characters, what other writers he puts on his team, what new direction he takes from what we’ve seen in the past.